Archive | April 2020

On the street where I live

I live in a lovely street with wonderful neighbours.

When the restrictions allowed four people to get together, three of my neighbours and I caught up for a Sunday pre-dinner drink, a check-in. We practised social distancing, of course. We all brought our own drink and nibbles so no needing to move around or touch the same food servers. I brought opera glasses! All the better to see you with!

It was wonderful to have a laugh and a chat; so uplifting and so needed in these times of added stress. We planned to do the same the following Sunday. But the laws changed to only allow one other person besides your family.

One of the lovely ladies, let’s call her Lovely Lady No 1, made dinner for my family and me during the madness of last term. She said it was the only way she felt she could help someone who was working extra hard during COVID. She said I looked exhausted and The Dreamer looked dead on his feet. (The Dreamer worked in a chemist and was doing huge hours during the madness of the binge buying. “Was doing long hours” because the chemist has since stopped all shifts for casuals and won’t apply for government assistance so he is out of work after 5 years with them.)

Lovely Lady No 1 organised a letter drop with contact numbers of people who were willing to help if anyone had difficulties or was quarantined.

Three of us walked down to sing happy birthday on the lawn of another neighbour who turned 50 but due to social restrictions couldn’t have a celebration. We took cake and gifts for her. No guesses who baked the cake and organised us. Lovely Lady No 1.

There’s always people out and about on our street: walking, gardening, bike riding, pottering, checking out what people are up to. It’s surprising how many people you can connect with, without leaving the street.

When I was gardening this week, one neighbour brought over some seedlings and cuttings.

Another neighbour helped out Mr S this week when he was examining the tree planted on the verge last year by our council. Some microscopic bugs are eating new shoots. During the long, hot, dry summer, Mr S watered most of the trees planted by the council on our street. He’s not much of a gardener, but he loves the trees. The neighbour popped over with some white oil and sprayed the trees.

Late afternoon on our front porch is a favourite spot for Mr S and me: our time to watch all the walkers, with or without dogs, and all the goings on. People often stop at our gate for a chat. The white oil sprayer told us about a bush track that we didn’t know about and on which we ventured the very next day. Local knowledge is so handy.

There’s still many people we don’t know in our small street. A townhouse development next to us seems to have people who come and go, which often happens in rentals. Still, we were surprised and heartened by the gift left on our front porch by one of the families in the townhouse right next to our house who we haven’t met.

Several of us have put up teddy bears for kids going on “Bear Hunts” with their parents. I rescued three from the council kerbside cleanup and shared them amongst neighbours. (Understandably, none of us wanted to leave our own or our children’s bears outside.)

I must admit, Mr S and I are very chuffed when we see bears peeking out of windows on our walks. I can’t help but sing, “There’s a bear in there…” (the theme song from the longest running preschool TV program in Australia) rather than the song “We’re going on a bear hunt”. Lots of the bears were decorated for Anzac Day too!

The last Saturday of the break was Anzac Day. For non-Australians and Kiwis, it’s a day of deep significance, almost sacred, as we remember those who served in war. With social distancing in place, there were no ceremonies, no marches, no wreathlaying at the memorials. The Returned Services League asked Australians to “Light up the dawn”; to stand on your front driveway with a candle at dawn in commemoration. We joined the many in our street who did just that. The four houses opposite us decorated their driveway and set up a speaker to play the speeches and service that was broadcast from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Afterwards, one neighbour who is in the navy, served spiced rum to warm us up.

A Very COVID Easter

Just when lots of people who had been isolating for weeks were over it, I started my isolation.

And I loved it. It has truely been a time of restoring my mind and body.

Before term ended, before the lockdown laws had come in, I popped into a major shopping centre to pick up some hair colour solution. (The restrictions would mean I wouldn’t be able to make my hair appointment so I had to risk doing my own colour. “What! You’re not a natural blonde?”)

Once at the shopping centre, I felt sorry for the businesses; even though the restrictions hadn’t come into effect yet, the centre was so empty. So I bought some stuff besides the hair colour stuff – clothing and Easter decorations.

I’d love to share the table setting and front door decorations with you, but I forgot to take any photos. And now they’re all packed away.

Easter autumn weather is among my favourite in Sydney. It’s finally cool. But still sunny. The light is soft. The sky a brilliant blue.

And now we could enjoy it with forced rest.

Long slow breakfasts on the front porch, in the morning sun. The new Easter plate held a hot cross bun. Hot cross buns – another reason to love Easter.

I am lucky to live in the suburbs but surrounded by national park and bushland. Nearly every day, Mr S and I have gone on a bushwalk, exploring tracks that we didn’t know about or rediscovering ones we hadn’t ventured on for years. I can feel myself getting fitter. Although the walks are only around 10,000 to 15,000 steps, they’re up hill and down steep paths, scampering over fallen trees and boulders, constantly paying attention to loose rocks and sticks and uneven surfaces. All while enjoying bird song, fresh air and golden light.

There have been moments on the shorter walks were it has felt like Pitt Street. Who are all these people? We don’t normally see so many on the bush tracks. (A neighbour who walks her dogs daily around our suburb, says she didn’t know there were so many dogs here – she’s never seen them out before.)

In other places it has been oh so quiet, hard to believe we are so close to suburbia.

Flannel flowers – they are soft, like flannelette, to touch. They don’t like domestication, always a joy to see them in the bush.

Scampering down the path

Contemplating jumping over the roaring creek. OK, it was more like a big step, but I psyched myself out. You had to walk down the rocks to the creek which was narrow at this point so made a lot of noise. I was sure I’d fall into the deep washpools and break a leg.

Here’s how loud it was:

On other walks, other creeks are quiet and prompt more calming contemplation.

One day, Mr S was heading off to work (his work is a 20 minute walk from home), and I accompanied him as a friend lived near his workplace and I wanted to drop off a birthday gift to said friend. On the way, we made a spur of the moment decision to turn right and take a longer bush track rather than take the direct route by road. I felt like Little Red Riding Hood – but without the cloak or the basket.

Our area has steep hills. The main thoroughfares stick to the ridge, so the area looks flat. Deep gullies are full of lush plants – not all natives.

Along with daily walks I’ve been pottering in the garden. I’ve put in sweet peas again. This year I won’t be going overseas, so I should hopefully enjoy the cut blossoms.

I’ve joined the world in tidying and organising my house. Our local council had the kerbside cleanup the Tuesday after Easter. I emptied out the junk from under the house. Mr S hates throwing things away. Or maybe he just hates making a decision? So he puts things under the house. Where they get dusty and dirty and damp – our house is on piers and underneath is open to the elements. My neighbours have never seen us dispose of so many things. A 27 year old heater – bought when Older Boy was born. Director chairs from before that. A fussball table bought by Opa years ago for the boys. Old rusty exercise equipment. Not nice to think of the landfill we created but so soothing to know there is clear space under the house. (And I got Mr S to agree to get rid of the beer home brewing bottles he has stored under the house for over 12 years without brewing. He used to be a home brewer. As soon as this social isolation is over I will freecycle the bottles – they are the old, pre-twist top type, perfect for home brew sealing.)

What else have I been doing?

I am trying to reclaim the junk room. I did this back in 2013, when it was called The Room You Cannot Enter, but shit has taken over in it again. First step was to bring together all the Christmas wrapping and cards. Packed away now with the Christmas decorations. Next step putting books on the bookshelf and making a hard decision about my French lesson papers.

I have been doing some German language study, via Deutsche Welle.

I haven’t read much – only finishing one book. My COVID mind just isn’t up to sustained concentration. But this book, Bruny by Heather Rose, is a book for this time. In parts too scary as politicians make decisions for their own power or financial gain. Stuff the environment, the people, quiet, peace, spirituality, culture. It’s all about “the economy”.

I know I say this every break, but I really don’t want to go back to work. I just don’t have time. Too much pottering to do. All this without yoga or personal training sessions as gyms are closed.

I have spent a day at work and hours on other days dealing with work stuff. Blurgh. I’d rather be pottering.

Of course, I’m grateful that I have employment, and that it is secure. I’m also very aware of how fortunate I am that I live in a place I can get out and walk straight into the bush.

Hope everyone is finding things to fill their day!

Another COVID post

I started writing this post a month ago. I didn’t finish it at the time and haven’t posted for a month because of the effects of COVID. (And I get that not feeling like posting , or not having time to post, is hardly a major disaster.)

I came back from Japan on Monday 2nd March. The plane flew in around 10am, and martyr that I am, I went to work for a special evening event. I was asked a lot if I was meant to be in isolation for a fortnight.

“No, I went to Japan, not China.”

Pointless now. Everyone has to go into isolation for 14 days, not that anyone who isn’t a permanent resident or citizen can come in. Even citizens are struggling to find a way in. And if I were to make it to Queensland, I’d have to go into isolation.

The first week of the March was much like any other week of work with a little bit of life thrown in. Meetings, paperwork, stuff, things to do, staff to talk with. Bookclub. My monthly massage. Gym and personal training session. A trip into the city for a professional learning day. But the latter was eerily quiet on the train. No sneezing. No coughing. No clearing of throats. People have never been like this in Australia. You could feel the uncertainty, the tension.

But it was really a week much like any other.

Until our federal government made an announcement about social distance. On my way to work on Friday morning, I rang my supervisor to see if I should cancel the upcoming excursion to the Easter Show. Up to the school but probably won’t matter, the show may be cancelled anyway. (Which it has been.)

When I got into work that Friday morning, I went to get details on the Easter Show excursion from the admin staff. Turns out we had quite a few excursions over the remaining five weeks of school.

Should I cancel them? All? Some? Why? Our PM says he’s going to the footy and that schools should continue as usual. I cancelled a few that were on later in the term and for which no notes had gone out to parents. I cancelled the Easter Show but was going to wait until the Monday to talk with the students and email parents. I set people to find out some more info about other places – like the zoo – and decided I’d make a decision first thing the next week.

Ummed and ahhed about the excursion that was going to Luna Park on Monday. Was it too late to cancel? Monday was meant to be cold and wet so there probably wouldn’t be many people from the general public.

That weekend the Easter Show was cancelled. And more people were being diagnosed. Why hadn’t I cancelled the Luna Park excursion?

On Sunday, I ran the teacher in charge of the excursion. Fuck, fuck, fuck. We can’t let the kids go. Calls and emails. All good. Cancelled. All the students were informed. The power of social media to get the message out.

Really, in the scheme of things, cancelling excursions, and our school based activities, is not something to stress about. But some said we were overreacting. Others that we weren’t doing enough.

And then things started speeding up and work went into overdrive.

Next govt announcement: no gathering over 500. That Friday night I went to the local club for dinner (my last, as it turns out, for a while) and then to the local high school for their musical. Another last – this time a mass gathering of people.

Every day in the week beginning the 16th was a week in itself. Events moved so quickly. Much of the advice from our employer was not realistic. Keep teens 1.5 metres apart? It can’t be done when they’re in the school bus. But anyway, they stand and sit close, are physical with each other, share phones and pens and food. I couldn’t imagine the difficulty at primary schools; if you have two Grade 2 girls together, they WILL be playing with each other’s hair.

“Schools will have special cleaning.” Except it never eventuated. Turns out the contractors knew nothing of the promised cleaning. Until the last week of school when we had only 5 students.

Hand soap, paper towels and sanitiser became impossible to get. Our dispensers had refills that come in a bladder. But they were sold out. So we had to improvise.

Bets were on as to when we’d close. The official talk was all about being open, but hey, you should prepare for online remote learning. Mmm.

And the farm animals. Who would take care of them if we closed? So I got my first lesson in how to care for all our animals – ducks, geese, chickens, goats and sheep. And the parrots.

How to hold meetings? I learnt how to run a meeting with Microsoft Teams. And practised twice from home in the evening. Once with three others. we all had alcohol!

Our Premier announced parents should keep their children home if they could. At my school, they did. We had around 10 students each day for the last couple of weeks; 5 on the last two days.

Having teachers turn the practice of decades (of centuries?) on its head was nothing short of amazing. Yes, we’ve have School of the Air and distance education but they have evolved and trained their staff over time and have structures to support teaching and learning, not least a much much smaller student load. In days, we went from full face-to-face teaching load to working from home and teaching remotely online. All teachers! Even those who professed limited IT skills were running Google Classrooms and Microsoft Teams, AND digitising their lessons, AND checking on the welfare of students AND continuing to mark, give feedback, plan work.

I was overwhelmed by the positive emails of appreciation, thanks and kind concerns from parents.

But it was bloody exhausting. I hadn’t slept properly for weeks. Waking every night, new problems I hadn’t thought of, things to do, people to check on.

When I went home on Thursday before Good Friday, I knew I needed to sleep. Soundly. And I did. Nine hours.

And now we are about to start up again with things changing every fortnight, meaning lots of planning and complex organisation; with parents and staff feeling very uncertain and confused, meaning lots of careful communication and comforting; with expectations of the impossible, meaning lots of … miracles?

I always like to laugh, and I don’t like to post a blog post without a picture, so I will share a moment of hilarity. At the end of term I was looking for a picture for a friend’s Facebook thread. I ventured where I hadn’t ventured before. Google image search “kids sitting on Easter bunny’s lap”. I shared it the next day with two colleagues at work. The hysterical laughter drew in more people, practicing social distancing, of course. OK, maybe it’s more a sign of how tired we were and how on edge, but I still think the photos are freaky.