Mea Culpa

Bless me, Reader, for I have sinned. It has been several months since my last “weekly” blog post.

In that time the world has gone to Hell in a handbasket, with continued COVID outbreaks, a war in Ukraine, floods, the Chris Rock/Will Smith saga, and Married at First Sight.

Not me. Just very near our home.
Perhaps most heinous of all …

There’s been some pretty cool stuff, too. With restrictions easing, UOW’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Trish Davidson, was able to come and visit all our campuses, including presiding over graduations in Batemans Bay and Bega. I believe it’s the first time a Vice Chancellor has come to a Bega or Batemans Bay grad. My brand new boss also visited, making it to Shoalhaven campus in his first week on the job, and the others soon after. This feels like a recognition of the importance of the less well-known campuses, and has really buoyed spirits.

I was invited to sit in on a HDR review panel, which necessitated delving into the world of Outlander, which I’d been avoiding out of fear of how long the books are. It’s an adaptation project to boot, so the Spousal Unit and I started watching the telly version together. It’s not bad, and it’s caused some very amusing moments where he (born in Scotland) has turned to me (Scottish by heritage, but never set foot in the place) to ask questions about things like the finer points of the battle of Culloden.

Will my Scottish husband look like this if I convince him to wear a kilt?

I once again attempted to attend the Long Wet Autumn-ish Long Hot Summer Tour, this time in Berry, and we were once again absolutely drenched. That’s the third time, in three different locations and in three different months. We even thought about purchasing tickets to the Kiama version this weekend, but since most of NSW is currently building arks, have held off.

Yeah, those clouds don’t look ominous at all.

As for me, I’m currently in regional Victoria where there’s not a cloud in the sky, working remotely and being an extra adult family member for a little bit. This has some pretty big advantages–four feline ones, for starters.

Cutest co-worker ever
Then the cuteness factor doubled.

So yes: doing OK. And hoping to get back into a good blogging routine … after all, it is almost April!

Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey & Henny Penny Messy

Can anyone explain to me how the days are interminable at the moment, but the weeks roll by very quickly?

Not a lot is happening here on Cold Coleman Farm. The cat continues to monitor my work, stopping only to become distressed when her nemesis, a local roaming feline with buckets of attitude and little else to recommend it, harasses her through the front windows. Said feline usually waits until Scout is apoplectic and/or leaping against the glass and smacking her head, then heads into the backyard and starts in on harassing the chickens.

When I chase it away from there, it heads under the back fence to annoy the neighbours’ cat. Those neighbours are homophobic jerks whose kids only seem to communicate by screaming, so I’m OK with that as an outcome. Not that I have any proof that their cat isn’t as horrified by its owners’ attitudes and habits as I am.

The over-the-back-fence neighbours are the reason I had massive marriage equality posters facing into my back yard for a while there.

About the chickens: those little cluckheads have been causing chaos.

I was in a video conference yesterday when I heard a thump. The Spousal Unit also heard it. Neither of us investigated immediately.

Later, I walked past the kitchen door and saw an enormous amount of yolk on the patio and thought one of the chooks had had some kind of severe medical incident. I raced outside, to be greeted by this:

Scrambled eggs, anyone?

Currently, we have no ability to get our excess eggs to our kids, no workplaces in which to offload them, and Facebook Marketplace won’t let words like “eggs” be published in case it’s your own ova you’re trying to sell. So we had about a dozen lying uncollected in the nesting box, another dozen and a half inside, and three dozen or so that I’d brought in in this bucket. The bucket had been out in the coop and there was some wet straw around the eggs and Tony reckoned he could smell it in the kitchen (which was noteworthy in itself – he can be in the same room as a burning dinner and not notice!), so I stuck the bucket on the BBQ and thought I’d get to it later.

The chickens investigated and upended it before I got that far.

I saw the mess, cried out a slight character assassination (the kids next door paused in their loud play; maybe they thought they were the little a***holes in question), and burst out laughing. The clean-up provoked more laughter throughout the afternoon. I was really puzzled as to why I kept finding yolky drips, even elsewhere on the patio.

Turns out that if there’s yolk all over your pressure cleaner wand and you use the pressure cleaner to clean, you also need to clean the pressure cleaner. Who knew?

Same stuff, different day

I haven’t written for a while, but then again, there’s been nothing to say for a while. We’re in Week 2 of regional lockdown, and expecting an announcement tomorrow that it will be extended again. With cases surging in the West and sewage surveillance detection in the South, a pretty-underdone “plan” on the return to school across the state, and daily new cases now above the 900 per day mark, lifting restrictions seems pretty reckless.

So maybe our esteemed government will go ahead and do that, after all.

The NSW government continues to not make a real call about the HSC. They talk about certainty but really, if any Year 12 students gets a positive diagnosis, the whole year group will be out of exams for a fortnight or so. It only runs across four weeks from start to finish and it starts in seven or eight weeks. So proceeding is inherently uncertain and they only way to have certainty would be to say, exams are off and we’ll go by your assessments.

One of the big ideas has been that the students could sit exams outside. I laughed at that one. Better pray for no big winds. Also, I had really bad hay fever during my HSC and I’m thinking that being outside among the pollen probably wouldn’t have helped that situation.

I should add that I sat the HSC at Lithgow High School. My husband delightedly told me that Twitter was alight with people lampooning the “plan,” citing that it had snowed in Lithgow during the HSC last year. I pointed out that we’d had a bushfire during ours. It was a bit distracting when teachers came in and started collecting keys from my peers, so they could move the seniors’ cars before they all became potential bombs.

This is the view from my childhood bedroom window this morning. Quick, set up a desk and a chair and pass out the exam papers!

Closer to home we’ve had bucketing rain and gale-force winds. Thankfully, we had some trees trimmed and used a cherry-picker to take down our advertising banners at the Shoalhaven campus about ten days ago – right about the time lockdown was called.

Photo Credit: Leanne Windsor. NOT taken on campus.

Other than trying to disentangle the mixed messaging of the daily pressers, I’ve been extending my brain by undertaking some online professional development. I’ve done this through two main channels; one formal, and one informal.

First of all, I’ve enrolled in another short course from UNSW’s Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). I did one last year during my first WFH period, and the one I’m currently doing (Leading with Resilience) feels much more directly related to my role, so I may redo the budget and explore another option or two later in the year.

Apparently if you do enough short courses you can “stack” them into a certificate. I’m not sure whether I’m keen enough to pursue this option, but I love that it is there.

I’m also currently doing an AGSM leadership course that’s free to alumni, so while they overlap this week and it’s a bit busy, they kind of also fit in well together. The latter has probably ten times more people in it and the synchronous classes are in the evening, so it feels a lot more chaotic than our boutique little one where there are fewer than thirty of us and I’ve probably chatted to most people via breakout room by now.

Apparently resilience largely comes from all the things we’ve been told to do since forever, like eating and sleeping properly, and exercising, and showing ourselves some grace and taking an occasional break. With some actual references and neuroscience to back it up and the accountability of homework, however, I’m paying more attention than when it’s the fad de jour of a women’s magazine. A lifelong insomniac, I moaned about the data on sleep hygiene, because it’s not like I don’t *want* to sleep. Yet I did as I was told and started using a sleep monitoring app. Knowing it’s going to register if I faff around and don’t turn it on until midnight has made a difference. And much to my surprise as someone who rolls my eyes every time the spousal unit talks about meditation or chattering monkeys, I was OK with the pre-sleep meditation loops on the app. I rationalised it away as I had been falling asleep to podcasts, so it was just different talking. And I quickly culled the creepy-sounding bloke for a nice female voice. I suspect I’ve never made it to the end of her reel. But I’ve slept through the entire night twice this week, which probably hasn’t happened since I was like, 5 years old. Or severely jetlagged.

I even managed to sleep through audible wild weather this week, which has not been a thing. Possibly ever.

The informal professional development is taking place in the form of SheMentors, which is a mentoring membership for women.

I’ll admit at first I was completely skeptical, having previously joined something similar that I’d first heard about at my Uni. You paid for each event, you were “matched” with a mentor and placed in a small group for a one-off chat. They also took place in Wollongong (more than an hour away) at 7am, so I had to be up VERY early to facilitate this. In my case, the mentor didn’t understand my context at all, and advised me to take some annual leave in order to meet a writing deadline. The one that is part of my job. She actually told me to use my leave to do my work when I was trying to hold that boundary in the kind of career where boundaries between professional and personal life are already incredibly blurry.

SheMentors and the alternative both involve a fee for mentoring, and at least one senior colleague at Uni was absolutely horrified by this, but I get that businesses need to get money to cover their costs, so I can find a way to live with that.

The cost structure is different at SheMentors. It’s a monthly subscription, so I’ve budgeted that in until the end of the year and will see how I’m going then. It costs what it used to cost me to be a member of a co/writing support group, until their plans and fees all changed. The monthly fee covers up to two mentor hours I book with women who have acumen in areas I’m developing, and I am expected to donate at least one in return. (Side note: I still have slots available for August. So if this is of interest to you–hit me up). There are also lunchtime webinars and social events. So far I’ve been to two of the former and I’m booked in for a new member coffee catch-up.

I’ve had one mentoring session and booked another (with the second mentor being a recommendation from the first, based on our conversation).

First mentoring session, with the lovely Deborah. Pre-lockdown.

So far, I’m finding it to be really helpful.

I’m still an introvert, but–as my classes keep telling me–growth happens just outside of the comfort zone.

Update

There’s not a lot new to update since my last post.

The VC’s Strategy Event pivoted to online (remember when “pivot” was synonymous with this, and this alone?) and her visit was postponed.

I’m under regional restrictions but my husband, who works in a school in the Shellharbour area, is under stay-at-home orders, so I can’t really go anywhere or do anything, either. I could go places without him, I suppose, but that’s not really in the spirit of the marriage nor the lockdown–if he is in any way an infection risk, you’d have to imagine I would be, too, what with living here in close proximity and all.

Theoretically his order will lift on Monday because he’ll have been home for two weeks and revert to being regional. But we’re anticipating an extension of orders in a bit over an hour’s time which would mean that if he goes to work for their staff development day on Monday, the clock resets.

Today is a day or great excitement in our household because our new oven is being delivered. Unfortunately it’s also a day of some disappointment since the sparky can’t come to install it until next week. So my plans to bake up a storm as I head into my leave period are on hold.

Tony and I turned on the Aussie v Aussie Wimbledon quarter final at 1.30am.

Six years ago today I was en route to London to see my dear friend and longtime collaborator, Ros Weaver, and we just happened to squeeze in a trip to Wimbledon on the finals’ weekend. It was a longtime dream come true and I still get quite a jolt during the coverage when I see the local shops or the Dog and Fox and have “I’ve been there!” moments.

It was an amazing trip. In addition to watching the doubles’ finals on Centre Court, I had a few other pop culture and high culture highlights, as well–ranging from Womble-hunting on Wimbledon Common, finding Sun Hill Station, Abbey Road, and Mamma Mia on the West End, to watching Richard III at the Globe.

One day, we will travel again. But it’s just been confirmed that for the next week, we’re not going anywhere.

Update

Ten Fingers, No Frostbite

One week on, and I am again sitting here cursing the cold as we again have tradies here who “need” all the doors wide open. Despite my complaints, no fingers have actually frozen and broken off in that time.

This week, it’s the tilers. Now this is massive progress and has been the cause of much jubilation in our household. You see, we stopped using the ensuite quite some time ago, because we had leaks into the wall, the floor, the bedroom carpet; and from the shower, the vanity, the drainpipes; and just to make sure we had the whole set of malfunction, the toilet had a busted seal so would randomly start –and almost immediately stop–the flushing process several hundred times a day. And night. In the end I turned the water off to it and we moved out.

So we and the builder were anticipating some massive plumbing rectification works might need to be added to his otherwise reasonable quote.

Imagine our excitement when the main cause of the issues turned out to be just a small missing bit of waterproofing at the site of the leak, no bigger than a twenty cent piece! And when the drain problem turned out to be silt and gunk that had built up – much of it, apparently, from the last time we unexpectedly had to rectify waterproofing problems in there, just after we moved in thirteen years ago. Because obviously, shoving it into a pipe that is required for drainage makes more sense than sweeping it up and binning it.

(Well, I was excited. My husband is mostly cranky at the dudes from last time. Since I can’t even remember their names, I figure that ship has well and truly sailed).

So the upshot of this is that everything is progressing faster than expected, and the tilers did the floor yesterday and are moving onto the walls today. This is about a week ahead of schedule. Which is good, because I’m just beginning to struggle with the juggle.

Our tilers are what you might call “traditional” tradies. I’ve been having flashbacks to when my dad used to bring people in to “help” on our ever-changing and ever-growing family home. Think playing the radio from the car, lots of smoko breaks, beanies and flannos. Which is fine most of the time, but sometimes challenging when you’re working from home just on the other side of the open door.

For example, I’m having no problems listen to Outkast second hand while typing this. Yesterday’s Dua Lipa while trying to take notes from an academic journal article, however, was a bit trickier. And Zoom calls with the Boss while tiles are being cut are very interesting indeed.

Subtle background noise

I am sure I can deal with it for a few more hours. I’m hopeful the tiling will be done today. The floors are dry enough for them to walk on, so it’s all systems go. And the builder says he’s not coming back until Friday to start the reinstall, which gives me an opportunity tomorrow to sneak in some painting before the fittings go in.

We have a floor! Which looks exactly like our old floor, because in addition to not actually waterproofing 100% of the floor last time, dudes miscalculated the number of tiles required, so we had another ten plus sq m in the laundry cupboard. Surprise!

These days, my idea of bliss is being able to put a painting platform right up against a wall, rather than trying to suspend myself over the top of a toilet or perch atop a vanity.

It’s the little things.

#isolyf

Like the thug life, the iso life chooses you.

Strictly speaking, I’m not in isolation, and I’m certainly not in quarantine. I am, however, practising social distancing. Extreme social distancing, in fact. Since March 20, I’ve left the house just three times: to go to the chemist and top up the petrol tank; to mail some employment contracts to the HR department; and then last Saturday I went to the University campus when I knew no one would be there, so that I could print a long document I needed to edit.

You’ll hear more about that long document in due course, probably over at our Shapeshifters blog.

MH cover
Here’s a pretty big clue as to what Ros & I are editing … now available for preorder!

I’ll probably make a similar sneak trip sometime in the next couple of days, because I have another long document to read and critique: my PhD student’s complete draft. These are good tasks for long days spent sitting at your dining room table, and provide a welcome alternative to seemingly endless Zoom and Webex meetings.

My other big academic task is watching The Originals and later, Legacies, for another book project that’s a bit further behind in the queue. I’ve been trying to watch and take notes on episodes as my almost-last-task of the day, when my brain is sluggish but I’m not quite ready to start packing up/getting ready for the next day.

theoriginals
Another supernatural show with one token human.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that it would take me until July to even get up to Legacies. So I’ll be spending some of my weekends trying to turbo-charge these efforts.

As I write this, the Prime Minister is giving a speech about COVID-19 and its impact. Already this morning, the state premier has given a presser. It’s only a little after 10am. No wonder we are all exhausted. This feels like the daily updates during the bushfire crisis–which was, after all, only a couple of months ago. Students who lost everything in January are now transitioning to an online study environment, virtually overnight.

It’s tough.

There are other, less obvious ways in which university life is being impacted. Students are not able to lie on the lawn and plan the kinds of social activities that we all think of being pretty representative of that season of life. And then there are the really big milestones in the academic lives of some students. Graduations postponed, indefinitely, for one. And the international experiences are missing, almost in their entirety. Most of our expected international students are not here. And our own, who had planned to be studying overseas, are not.

My daughter was supposed to go on exchange this semester. Her high school bestie and she were both heading to Liverpool. I was well advanced in my plotting of potential leave dates so that we could go and visit her over Easter, and indulge in our greatest Beatles-fan fantasies.

Strawberry_Fields_History_from_1800's_to_Today

She couldn’t get credit for some of her subjects, so it would have extended her degree. And despite my protests that six months or even a year was very little in the course of a lifetime, especially when compared with traipsing around Europe with a dear friend, she withdrew.

I am a huge advocate of student exchange, having been both an exchange student to Japan in senior high school, and having done a short stay as part of my own university studies. One of my isolation tasks has been cleaning up and renovating the spare bedroom, which unearthed my long-forgotten travel diary and even photos from the latter trip. I’ve also been a support mum to incoming students, leading to our South American adventures last year, and multiple trips to the USA, usually in April, which is causing some bittersweet Facebook memories right about now. Jamie is herself no stranger to the benefits, having already completed a high school program to Italy and a short program in Argentina as part of her university studies last year.

It has only been in the last three weeks or so that I have thanked all that is good and shiny that she made what I had first deemed to be a bad call. My anxiety would have been in overdrive.

Her lovely friend Sky still went. Sky was recalled by our University a little over fourteen days ago. She had planned to spend her 21st birthday in Paris. Instead, she spent it quarantined; isolated even from her family, confined to her bedroom in Wollongong, with her family picnicking in the hall, and her friends video-calling her.

You can read Sky’s story, in her own words, here.

brisky
Hard to separate since Year 10 … Brianna, our Jamie, and Sky.

Clayton’s Lockdown

Our Prime Minister says we’re not in lockdown, and cautions against using such “alarmist” language. But we are only supposed to be leaving home to work or study (when that can’t be done from home), to buy essentials, to assist others or to get necessary healthcare. Our state Premier has listed 16 legitimate excuses to be outside your home, including the above. You can cop a fine of up to $11 000 if you’re in breach. It feels pretty locked down, I have to say.

This is Day 8 of working from home, for me. If I could actually sleep at night meaning that more than two neurons fired at any given time, I think I’d be quite productive. In my non-work time, I’ve cleaned the oven racks (!), baked, made soup, and painted a room that was badly in need of it.

 

In addition to dealing with whatever new crises COVID-19 throws at us, I’m watching The Originals because being aware of the full gamut of the Vampire Diaries universe may come in very handy if a book proposal on TVD–of which I will be co-editor–is accepted by our preferred publisher. Taking notes is about the right speed in these times, I think. I do have a couple of other deadlines in the next week or two that will require me to write and organise some cogent thoughts. But for now I’m trying to follow all the advice about transitioning to working from home (and in the face of a pandemic, no less), and show myself a little bit of the grace I’m extending to others in our newly-more-distributed team.

co worker
This coworker hasn’t left my desk.

relaxed coworker
She’s right at home.

Things remain oddly surreal. I sold a dozen eggs this morning – the customer, a semi-regular, works in health. So she organised to drop off the money in a zip lock bag, and asked me to leave the eggs out the front. We waved through the front windows and had a conversation via Messenger. This is our new normal.

As you can see from the images of Scout above, my laptop which comes home daily anyway, has now been joined by the computer monitors and webcam from work. We won’t be eating at the dining room table anytime soon. Last week some colleagues called me while they were having a socially distant lunch, and we all sat outside –they in their location and me in mine–and caught up on each others’ lives.

My husband has started working from home, but is rostered to go to work one day a week. That day is today. It is eerily quiet and somehow lonelier without him here.

The sky is grey and it’s threatening to rain, so the whole “go for a walk outside for your mental health and some Vitamin D” advice is unlikely to be followed anytime soon.

Big corporations like Coles and Woolies have stopped their home delivery services in order to redeploy their delivery trucks to the elderly and disabled. I typically used them because crowded shops can trigger my anxiety, even at the best of times. A local wholesaler and a local fruit & veg market have both started a home delivery service in the last couple of days. I’ve placed my order. I’m not sure the conglomerates will have as much of a market share when this is all over.

Unlike Scout who has taken up residence under my monitors, her litter-mate Tinkerbell is freaked out by the humans being home as much as they are, and is making herself scarce. (Yes, the ex-English teacher gave the cats literary names). Tink did decide, however, to join me yesterday after work, to survey the newly completed room.

TinkSo, yes there are some definite advantages to this working from home gig. I leave on time, and my commute is from the dining room to a couch or a bed to listen to a podcast and quickly decompress. I’m saving on petrol. I’ve cut my coffee intake back by two-thirds.

And I do get to have my pets in the “office,” which is a first.