Ending lockdown

The removal of restrictions is happening quickly.

Our state government said there’d be fewer restrictions once we hit 70% and more at 80%. We’re nearing the 80% mark.

Given I am busy with work, I didn’t rush out to a pub or restaurants last week when we were allowed. My hair appointment isn’t for a few weeks as I only really have time on the weekend. (Well, this year. Have I told you lately I am having an Adult Gap Year next year?) I certainly didn’t line up at the shops to buy tat. (I sometimes despair at people – shopping for recreation.)

I did go back to my personal trainer in the gym. A few days after my PT session, I realised the benefit of continuous exercise. All the walking I did was no replacement for squats and abominable abdominals.

I had some joggers that I’d ordered online to collect. (All the walking I’ve done wore out my joggers!) They were meant to be ready weeks ago but went missing. The collection point was a local discount store that was only open for collection of online orders.

By the time my shoes were found, shops had reopened. I left it a few days, anticipating the shops would be packed. When I went, the car park was almost full. It was almost at Christmas level. Madness!

The biggest “freedom” was Friday evening spent with neighbours. We all brought nibbles and bubbles. Twelve of us. All sharing stories and checking in and shooting the breeze and celebrating birthdays.

Truth be told, the host originally wanted it for Monday – the first day of “freedom” and also one neighbour’s actual birthday. But he was busy. It was mooted that we sneakily meet on Sunday before “Freedom Day”. In our sleepy suburb, surely no one would see. And look at all the illegal gatherings in the beachside suburbs.

Well a visit by the police to my house on Sunday morning put paid to that. Someone had made an allegation that one of my sons held a party on the Saturday night. “No, officer, he most certain did not. I wouldn’t allow it.” Police apologised and left. (Son didn’t host a party but I could hardly say I don’t break the Public Health Orders, and then be found, less than 10 hours later, to be doing that same thing! And we don’t know made the allegation or why they did.)

So Friday night it was. Much better to allow some kicking back with no work the next day.

Next freedom: catching up with friends who live in other parts of Sydney.

Where have I been? What have I been up to?

Where have I been? Almost to Bathurst.

I left you at the start of August when I joined a friend’s family in the Tour de August. Our goal: to walk across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst. I walked more than 170km in August.

Of course I didn’t really cross the mountains. Stay at home orders meant I was walking in my own area. Luckily I live in an area with lots of bush. Everyday we logged our walk and the organiser mapped us on the road across the mountains.

Nearby rock face.

Turns out I’m a tad competitive. I walked and walked. And then walked some more. I found walks that didn’t involve many hills, so my energy would be expended in miles rather than gaining elevation.

Come the awards night, I won the Most Competitive Award. Apt but slightly embarrassing.

When The Tour de August finished, I lost the drive to walk everyday. Probably I’m just over doing the same walks, bush or no bush. Still, I have been stepping out. Somewhat. I do rise to having little challenges.

As well as walking, during lockdown, I’ve continued my never ending decluttering. Mr S calls it my new religion, as I practice it everyday. I call my challenge in this area Creating Space. A new spare room created where the boys’ junk was stacked, higgledy-piggedly. A study from the room where I had loads of paper from decades and Mr S piled up other stuff, including clothes and multiple pedestal fans and nanna shopping trolleys and stuff.

The study has proved very useful. For ten weeks of the term, my eldest moved home; as he was working from home and as we have more space, he would be less claustrophobic. That’s Teacher 1. Mr S was also working from home three days a week. That’s Teacher 2. The Dreamer was also doing his practicum from home, five days a week for six or seven weeks of the term. That’s Teacher 3. (The youngest moved home from his harbourside flat at the start of the term as he knew he’d not be able to earn money while doing his prac.)

I was working from home two days a week, with daily zoom meetings and phone calls. Mr S and oldest son are very loud (and as I’m known for being a loud speaker, that is saying something.) Working onsite was a relief.

Lockdown, originally meant to go for four weeks, went for the whole term. It was lovely having both boys here, but also a relief when the oldest moved back to his flat for the holidays. Not sure if he’ll return when term resumes but this week. Younger boy is not as messy or smelly as older boy.

In Creating Space, I have also been creating space in cupboards. You know that just because there’s space on a shelf, you don’t have to fill it?

By no means am I minimalist. And I still have clutter and hot spots. Still getting at least one thing out a day has kept me on track.

I’ve been following Diane in Denmark on Instagram and YouTube – she’s a FlyLady coach and Hygge & routine coach. And the Netflix show, The Home Edit, has given me ideas.

Seems I have converted Mr S to my religion. Amazed? Shocked? I am too. This week is our council cleanup and Mr S has released a huge quantity of stuff he’s stored under the house, “just in case” and for “maybe I’ll use it” and for “you never know” and “I like this” and “it’s my stuff” and “it’s still good”. Mostly it is “Im not ready to let it go yet”. But he’s letting it go!!!

I’ve also been gardening and reading. (And that thing that gets in the way of my life – work. But let’s not think of that.) Reading is part of my decluttering. I read to declutter. Clever hey? Read a book and then pass it on.

So it’s still winter?

We’re in lockdown again. Just finished the fifth week. (I think it’s the fifth week – time is both elongating and slipping away.)

We can’t go more than 10km from home which means the paths through the bush around our suburb and the footpaths along the streets of our suburb are like Pitt Street (Sydney’s main shopping drag).

I’m a little bored with the tracks. I would like to venture further afield. But of course, we can’t.

A friend has given me motivation. She invited me to a group where her brother will track our mileage from his home to a small town in the country. He had planned on doing a long distance walk – but, you know, lockdown. It’s not just the competition – will I hold my own? – it’s the joy of seeing my walks virtually mapped.

We also share snaps from our walk. Here’s my walk today:

We left for our walk after the 11am briefing on the current COVID numbers. (The briefing marks our day on the weekend – from long, leisurely breakfast to “time to do something”.)

“First of the month,” said Mr S. “Feel the warmth. You should have worn a short-sleeved t shirt.”

And I was instantly too hot.

“Yeah, but isn’t it still winter?” (I always forget what months are which seasons – only remembering summer is December, January, February so I have to work the season out every time.)

It is, dear readers. It is still winter. But it’s 25°! And the sun has bite. The cool as we descended to cross the little creek in the photo above was delicious.

I hate heat. Walking at midday in 25° knocks me about. I know. I’m meant to be an Aussie and used to the heat. But I don’t like it. And I don’t cope very well. Much prefer walking in the rain.

Yeah, that’s my winter gear. Bare ankles! Not really that cold. But oh how I like it.

From now on, we will have to start walking early in the morning, unless there’s a welcone cold snap.

Please can we have a cold snap!

Just start writing

More than seven months since my last post.

Should I just ignore the gap? Jump in with a post on the right shape of tea cups or the value of flannelette sheets?

Was it COVID that caused the pause?

In a way.

While things slowed down – no theatre, no going into town, no nights out, very little travelling for much of the year – other things ramped up – work stress (and not all due to COVID), exercise and “getting (most) things done”.

Isn’t it funny just as I let my French lessons go because I couldn’t fit in the needed time to study , COVID hit and I wouldn’t have been able to go to class anyway?

The age old question of how to spend the hours in the day! I decided that I needed to spend more time on physical exercise and I didn’t want to be rushing around on the weekend – French lesson, to the city for lunch and theatre, to the hairdressers, to the gym. Ha! They all stopped anyway.

So what did I do?

I turn into a pottering gardener who takes cuttings to strike! A regular Bunnings visitor. I exercised quite a bit when the gyms reopened. Read apace. Walked. And I started cleaning out the photos on my phone.

As the blog title commanded, I just had to jump in and start writing. And I am back! Like that poem – not Hughes’ The Thought Fox but something similar – just write and it is written. Start and it is done in the process of doing. (Wish I remembered the poem. I quite liked it.)

Going on a bear hunt in lockdown

I don’t know where it started, one of those urban trends that goes across countries, but during lockdown the call went out to put bears on your fence or front window. Somewhere that could be seen from the street.

It’d help parents get their littlies go out for a walk – “let’s go on a bear hunt!” They couldn’t go to a park. They couldn’t use the playground equipment. And a plain walk isn’t always that enticing for young ones.

But a bear hunt!!!

It you don’t know the book and song, here’s the story told by the author, Michael Rosen. Or a classic Australian version from Play School.

It gave me a smile when I spied a bear. In a parked caravan, spying out the window. Sitting on a verandah railing. Tied to a fence post. (Ouch!)

Here’s some from my neighbourhood. Some had added decorations for Anzac Day in April, when I took the photos.

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.

Covert COVID weekend

Social isolation is not an act of fear; it’s an act of love. Slow the spread.

I like alliteration. Hence the blog post title. And my weekend was covert in that I was not out and openly on display.

Here’s how I spent my weekend, minimising social contact.

1. Sleeping. I was exhausted. What a week! (I may post on it in the future.) I had a few naps. Heaven.

2. Catching up on my blog reading. Almost done. Just need to use my laptop to read ones on Blogger.

3. Mending a pair of shorts. Three, all three, buttons on the one pair of shorts came off. One on the front – kind of important to stop the shorts falling down. This was the last button to fall off. The other two were from the back pockets. I lost them. I really didn’t care that they’d fallen off. But when the one that made wearing of the shorts possible, that one needed to be sown back on or the shorts were useless. So I sewed that one on. And found two blue buttons that would do perfectly for the back pockets. I won’t imagine needing these shorts until next summer, but I feel a sense of virtuousness.

4. Bushwalking. After reading Nathan’s blog, I decided to venture out for a short exploration. I was soundly rewarded with sighting a TORTOISE IN THE WILD.

OK, not the wild. The edge of a bit of wilderness, 50 metres from the road of the suburb. But who would guess a tortoise could live in water that must have so much urban run-off.

The short walk led us through massive blue gums. We didn’t see such tall trees in Europe.

We enjoyed ourselves so much, we ventured out again on Sunday for a different section of the walk.

I love how this gum looks like it is melting over this rock, like a blog of melted plastic or fat.

5. Cleaning. Blah. Washed sheets and clothes and the floor. Recently, I’ve started wiping over high touch stops, like light switches and door and cupboard handles with diluted bleach. (You know why.) I also did two-fifths of the back French doors.

6. Some work emailing and an online course about COVID here

And in non-covert action, I popped it to the supermarket. No panic buying. Just out normal shop which we’ve been avoiding for months.