Autumn and Level Three

Autumn in Wellington is beautiful-The wind is crazy, the storms roll over the hills like big black cloud soldiers, bringing rain down on our room late at night. Fog obscures our usual view and the autumnal leaves flurry down from the trees like dramatic dancers, their colours are costumes for an annual show.

Before writing this post I wrote a rather long post which will not be published, detailing all the fears and anxieties I am dealing with as we move towards level three at 11:59pm tonight. I deleted that post before it could ever see the cool autumnal sun-We are all scared, anxious, and upset. There is no reason to drag it out, get it off my chest. Everyone is carrying the sam rock, even if it’s slightly different shapes. Instead, I am taking this quiet writing time to appreciate the time I have had this year to enjoy the air, the ground, and the sun which during this time of year working 8-6 I really wouldn’t see more than once a week.

Today, I am grateful for the mushroom I saw on a walk in the hills around my house. She was beautiful, covered in polka dots that screamed “Don’t eat me. I am probably deadly.” It was too cute. I didn’t take her home, but I snapped a photo which I love. Looking at it cheers me up, even today when I am for lack of better words, thoroughly not feeling it.

On the same walk, I saw a fluffy black cat-He looked rather wise. He is grouchy and doesn’t want to say hello, but he quite liked being photographed in all his regal feline glory. Both he and the mushroom have made a pact, I think and agreed to rule some woodland fantasy. I have attached both images, for your looking, as well as the spoils of foraging along the trail near my home. They’re hung like bright autumnal trophies, bravely holding their colour and waiting for Jack Frost to bite their toes.

I have been making soup for the last couple of weeks, throwing all the warm ingredients into a pot. Instead of writing about how I am upset and anxious that my friends and family are so far away, I am going to share the recipe I hope to make for them whenever we see each other again, which surely cannot be far off.

Hearty Lentil Soup

  • Two Stalks Celery
  • Half of 1 Leek
  • Half of 1 Carrot
  • Oil
  • Half cup lentils
  • Italian Spice, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Tumeric powder, to taste
  • Red chilli flakes, to taste
  • 2-3 vegetable stock cubes
  • 2-3 cups water

Method

Chop the celery, leek, and carrot very thinly and heat in oil until soft. Add salt and spices, to taste, mixing in the half cup of lentils and 2-3 cubes veggie stock. Add 1 cup of water to every cube, and a further cup if you would prefer a more brothy soup. Cook down until lentils and carrots fully cooked, and serve with fresh bread or rice.

soup

On the days we haven’t been able to go out and enjoy the Autumnal weather due to the massive gusts of wind and rain I have been working on a list of local Wellington shops which have small name alternatives to big brands. You can find the list here,  if you want to check it out. If you don’t live in Wellington there are likely other community initiatives for your area to attempt to help local businesses as well. The Facebook group New Zealand Made Products is a good resource for finding local businesses in Aotearoa which may make the things you’d usually buy imported from Australia, or even further afield. I plan to try and purchase as much as I can from New Zealand makers, even when stuck inside. Another great community initiative is SOS Business where you can preorder/purchase vouchers for your favourite local cafes and food places. I am grateful that even though level 3 is scary and stressful businesses will be able to operate again, and I am excited that I have once again been able to support my favourite stores (such as Scorpio Books, referenced in my last post My Top 5 Graphic Novels. 

Even though I am anxious, there are many, many things I am grateful to this time for. Now please, please don’t let these past 5 weeks and the indefinite more be for nothing! Take care in level 3 everyone, see you there (from the safe distance of a zoom call!). Feel free to pop down some suggestions to keep busy, what you have been up to this autumn, or which local businesses you’re excited for in the comments!

My Top 5 Graphic Novels

I haven’t blogged over the last couple of days because with everything going on I haven’t been able to concentrate long enough to sit down and write a post. A short attention span is something I have never had an issue with ( in fact the more methodical and repetitive the task the more I tend to enjoy it), and typically I am quite good at keeping up with things. I couldn’t help but feel like I’d failed when I sat down to write over the last couple of days and found my brain a million other places, most noticeably, not writing down the thoughts I had been planning to.

Everyone who knows me will know how much I love to read, and how many books I have organized on several shelves in my bedroom (In order of most favourite – by my bed, to least favourite – closest to the floor). One of the most exciting aspects of moving to Level 3, for me, is that once again local booksellers will be able to sell their wares online. Over the last four weeks, I have amassed quite a list of “must-reads” which I can’t wait to be able to order from independent bookstores that I love (thinking of you, Scorpio Books and Unity Books), so I thought there was no better way to celebrate the last week of lockdown than by rounding up all my favourite books in one big post!

All the books referenced in this post are available during level 3 through local New Zealand book retailers, who will be needing our support following the lack of business during the last 5 weeks. I have linked each book to a local bookstore, should you want to purchase any of them, though some of them are currently out of stock. It is important to remember, most independent bookstores like the ones listed will be happy to special order any title you want to read, in addition to having their standard stock available.

One of my all-time favourite series is Heartstopper by Alice Oseman; There are 3 books out so far, following the romantic evolution of two boys falling in love. It deals with some tough subjects, and there is a trigger warning for the third book which involves disordered eating and references to self-harm. The main character, Charlie, deals with bullying and internalized homophobia throughout the series and Oseman deals with queer identities and teenagers in such a real and soft way. It is really a pleasure to read. I was gifted the first two by a very good friend following a really bad mental health episode, and they are the easiest books to zip through. Heartstopper is the perfect mix of tooth-rotting queer fluff and real issues in the LGBTQ+ community being handled with grace and kindness. Books 1 and 2 are from Scorpio Books, and Book 3 was purchased at Unity Books.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is another incredible graphic novel dealing with queer identities outside of the academic, adult world. It follows the story of a young Prince named Sabastian who finds happiness dressed in beautiful gowns, going by his alter ego, Lady Crystallia and his best friend, a young dressmaker, Frances who is both career-driven and friendly. The novel deals with Prince Sabastian coming to terms with his identity, friendship, and familial acceptance. Wang writes in a friendly, easy to read way and her book is in full colour, doing incredible justice to her beautiful and heartfelt drawings. It is a totally eye-catching read as far as the art goes, and honestly, I couldn’t fault the story in any way. The characters are adorable, and their personalities are realistic and fun to read along with.  This copy was purchased at Unity Books.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill is a beautiful children’s book, that I, at nearly 20 years old devoured unabashedly. The story follows the unlikely friendship between Greta, the blacksmith’s daughter, and Minette a young wanderer while learning the art of brewing tea from their mentors and friends, Hesekiel and Erik. The catch is that tea in this world is produced from the magical leaves of Tea Dragons which need very special care and love. The adorable dragons alone, are a good enough reason to read this book, not to mention the girls themselves. The Tea Dragon Society is stunning, dealing with young love and platonic/romantic intimacy, the meaning of whanau and friendship, and, as if we need another reason to support the quick read, it is written/illustrated by a kiwi! I purchased my copy at Unity Books.

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julie Scheele is slightly different than the above titles because though it is a graphic novel, it’s not really following a story or characters as such, but instead it is breaking the whole history of “queer”, queer identities, queer theory, and queer people into adorable bite-sized illustrated lessons. Through the beautiful illustrations and clear and concise writing Queer: A Graphic History makes the typically complicated and stringy subject that is “queerness” in modern society fun and easy to digest without dumbing down the subject matter to a point of losing impact and meaning. Though I will say, unless you have some previous knowledge of queer history, the book may be a little harder to get through because of some of the language used and the concepts it tackles. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in queer identity, history, or theory! I purchased this copy from Scorpio Books.

The last book on my list is definitely not G rated, and is possibly one of my favourite books of all time, full stop; Oh Joy Sex Toy (Volume 4) by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan is a hilarious, real and incredibly insightful compilation of sex toy reviews (the good, the bad, and the never to be spoken of), stories from the bedroom, and guest artists introducing a plethora of kinks and fantasies in an illustrated form. Moen and Nolan write insightful reviews for a wide verity of toys while acknowledging that every review is only an opinion based on their individual bodies and personal preferences. The space Moen has created for sexual beings is amazing, and every guest artist brings their own ideas and insights to the book. While Moen and Nolan focus mainly on the toys, they also offer advice on self-love, as well as partnership, sexual health, and identity. For anyone interested in sexual liberation, a good laugh, the kink community or simply a light-hearted read for an over 18 audience this is definitely the comic book for you! Also, while this book is not strictly queer it definitely includes queer identities. This copy was gifted to me by my partner, originally from Scorpio Books.

I hope you enjoyed this round-up, and I would love to hear what books you are hoping to purchase as soon as we move into level 3. Please consider supporting the above LGBTQA+ content, and the local book stores in your area. If you live in New Zealand, both Scorpio Books and Unity Books are proudly New Zealand owned and employ passionate book lovers with a huge range of backgrounds to help you find your ideal book. Scorpio Books is still offering their expertise and book recommendations through email and Facebook messenger, and both book stores will be going online for all your book needs on the 28th of April.

Isolation Baking

Since spending so much time at home I have taken up baking on another level. I have always baked, mind you, however like many others I have found it is an incredibly convenient (and delicious) way to pass the time lately as the days seem to drag on and on as we near the supposed end of lockdown. Everyone who knows me will be able to tell you that when I am anxious, or unsure, I bake! Like Laura Jean (played by Lana Condor) in All the Boys I Loved Before: PS I Still Love You, I too, am a pensive baker (and vacuum-er, tea drinker, and power walker…I am often pensive).

Spending Easter weekend in isolation prompted me to try and bake “hot cross buns”, something which since moving to New Zealand in 2011 I have found I really enjoy. They are a spiced raisin bread, of sorts, moulded into cute, little bread buns with a “cross” pipped in a flour and water past over the top. There is a huge variety found in modern hot cross buns, some filled with chocolate, or the crosses made of sugar or icing or simple ‘x’ shaped cuts. My partner prefers the traditional sort, and as I really haven’t tried enough types to have an opinion, I decided to bake the traditional raisin, spice, and orange peel buns. Once out of the oven they are smothered in golden syrup to give them that shine, and though they are technically a good Friday treat, we prefered to eat them easter morning while watching the digital church service broadcast from St. Matthews Church in Auckland.

I also bake bread, though, not in any spectacular capacity it does taste good and I have found that our family/flat can go through several loaves a week allowing plenty of time to experiment with shapes, textures, and recipes. I do tend to stick to a fairly similar dough, mixing yeast, sugar, water, flour and salt into a dough without adding too many extra things to keep the bread versatile (we serve it with soups, sandwiches, toasted and buttered, and made into pudding!),  though I let it rise for different lengths of time on occasion (at least an hour!) to find out how it might affect the crumb, crust, and texture! I also use the same recipe for pizza bases, letting it rise for an hour before rolling it our and prebaking it before adding toppings!

Something completely new to me since lockdown is making homemade bagels. I tried it because it seemed like a good way to kill an afternoon, and I can’t justify the $5-10 a typical pack of bagels costs from a supermarket every couple of days (we eat a lot of bread!). I didn’t bargain for how simple and fun it would be, not to mention just delicious! We add Korean toasted black sesame seeds to ours as it gives it a little bit of a deeper, smokey flavour on top! I use this recipe for “New York Style” bagels, meaning they are far more of the classic chewy bagel than the fluffy kiwi counterparts available at New World.

I also found time to make the scones my mama used to make while we lived abroad, though I didn’t have the same orange dark chocolate bars chopped into chunks. I had to improvise with orange zest and chocolate chips (though none of the above are apart of the original recipe). The smell brought back a lot of memories, though not real images, just sort of a feeling of memory being present. Scones have played a large part in my growing up-First a treat that Tia A and Muma would make for home-school playgroups, and social events, then a part of home when we made them while living abroad and following that as a piece of home once I moved out. They’re an incredibly comforting and nostalgic food for me; just the sort of thing you want around during this time!

Baking brings people together, all gathered in the kitchen. It has my whole life; My dad and I used to bake bread together, an infamous attempt at a french loaf when I was 10 which melted the wax paper I mistook for baking paper into the bread, the soda bread my friends and I made when I was 8 or 9…the large comforting loaves I would sit and bake while going through an incredibly hard breakup, and now, sitting in the kitchen with my flatmates talking about everything on our minds, our fear and anger at the situation the world has found itself in (pandemic aside) and whipping together my mama’s scones. It is odd that such an activity, one which brings people together, is taking place on such a large scale as people are told to stay apart as much as possible. A delicious Jux deposition, instead of bringing friends and family together from all around, quietly enjoyed inside a little university flat.

I think that I will try and carry this hobby over from lockdown, even when I do not have to kill time to keep myself busy and not worrying, as it is significantly cheaper and far tastier and more satisfying than store-bought bread/baked goods are. Since seeing how hard life can be when cut off, so to speak, from things like endless grocery store trips, warehouse runs, and take out nights I have decided it would definitely be valuable to move forward with more self-sufficiency, less reliant on business, as usual, to keep us ticking along-Next task is to learn to preserve and hopefully plant some form of winter garden when the shops reopen. Also hoping to knit some of the winter woollies we found ourselves missing when the cold hit earlier this week! Perhaps too ambitious, but heck, no harm in trying!

Day 25

I have been home for 25 days now, which is likely the longest time I have ever consistently been physically bound to a location, as such. I found a lot of the struggles which came with feeling “stagnant” and “stuck” have started to wear away, and instead, making room for a sense of calm; This is the most consistent sleep I have ever had, the most hydrated I have ever been. After all, there is little to do besides make another cup of tea and look out the window waiting for an appropriate time to return to bed for the night.

It is cold and grey in Wellington central, but the skies cannot quite decide whether or not to allow the rain to come tumbling down onto our waiting roof. I have already been for a walk around our neighbourhood, picked up the bare minimum of vegetables to get our vegetarian household through until next Wednesday, and had a meltdown because it feels like all I am doing from home is laundry, cleaning, making the bed…certainly not the tasks my 15-year-old self would have imagined as paramount during an apparent apocalyptic situation.

The wash, dry, repeat rhythm that my days have taken on in the past 25 cycles is starting to settle over me as a sort of “normal” routine…Wake up, 7.42am, drink tea, take a walk, another cup of tea, eat a sandwich (of course, with a large cup of tea), watch Instagram TV…wonder if I should be doing something more “productive” such as learning a language, or somehow pre studying for university with books I do not have yet, and classes which are up in the air. I received an email yesterday from my University, in fact, stating that classes will not be starting when anticipated and will begin a week later-Another week of waiting, apparent stagnation.

As we near the supposed end of the lockdown, 5 more days (possibly) until we move towards the comparative freedoms of the similar level 3 alert, it feels like the light at the end of an accordion tunnel. As if time was, in fact as suggested by Madeleine L’Engle in her book A Wrinkle in Time, something which can be scrunched up and shortened or stretched out and elongated as needed by whichever higher power we subscribe to. At the beginning counting the days felt productive, a way to see the end, while now, five days away from the supposed reveal, it feels quite the opposite-As if someone up there will hear me counting and decide to stretch out the sheet of time again, pulling out the end towards another part of universal time.

While all of the above sounds rather gloomy, it’s not. The rhythm and the time I have had here, at home, to listen to the news, draw a picture, blog, cook good food has been deeply rewarding and taught me things I really hope to take back into the outside world. I will be committing to working less so that I get to do things I enjoy more, I am remembering the importance of the local people, businesses, creatures all around me which I had momentarily allowed to get swept to the back on my mind with the overwhelming wave of new places and information that comes from moving far away from your childhood home.

Being at home with no ticking clock telling me I need to run to my next appointment has allowed me to work through some kinks in my brain that I’ve never allowed to time to work through, rather choosing to ignore the mental walls I’d hit running through the passages of my brain. I am oddly grateful.

As the above may suggest, I am working through a lot of very mixed emotions surrounding the pandemic and the subsequent national response. The fact that this was allowed to happen, that people are still debating the merits of universal healthcare, that my adoptive country responded so much faster than my country of origin…the shocking racism, and stomach-turning stupidity on display in comment sections and certain politicians twitter accounts. The sheer panic, the number of deaths, and the revolutionary kindness taking place around not only my country but the world. There is a lot to work through. I am still figuring it out, figuring out my feelings and how I want to go back into the world after this and the changes I could make to try and be a better part of a forever changing world.

How is everyone else feeling about this crazy time?

 

Living in Lockdown

Living in a level 4 lockdown, a whole country grinding to a near halt, is a totally surreal experience. For many of us, this is the longest period of time since secondary education with no job to rush to at 9am every weekday. A lot of us cannot work from home, and for me, university doesn’t begin until July. It feels as if myself and the members of my bubble (Auntie Jacinda coined the term to describe those you are isolating with) are simply bouncing around each other in a weightless capacity. It is dreamlike, not quite lucid…Time and days have lost a lot of the meaning that they had before the lockdown because there is no social/economic activity to mark Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

While everyone, including myself, is anxious and antsy to return to “life as normal” I am infinitely grateful at the massive response our government has had, and the overwhelming support my adoptive country has made available for the general public during this time; It is not perfect, and there are still jobs being lost, and families struggling. However, when comparing how this is shaping up for us (9 deaths in New Zealand total, at the time of writing) versus the deaths in even just Marion County, IN (155 confirmed, at the time of writing) I can see the merit in shutting everything down, even though it has disrupted us, and we are told, possibly destroyed our economy. To return to “life as normal” too soon would be throwing away the sacrifices we have made, the cuts in income, the businesses that won’t weather the storm even with the massive roll-out of government support. That would be a real shame. After all, what is an economy worth with no workforce?

I spoke to a friend in New York City yesterday, their income is totally gone. We saw that the beautiful, famous parks of new york are being used to store the bodies there is no capacity for in the morgues any longer, as new York City reaches nearly 11,000 deaths. It feels like a teen novel, something not real, designed to give you a thrill, a scare that lingers in the back of your mind…But this is real. This is real and happening all around us, and while the level 4 lockdown has rocked New Zealand, even more so, in a lot of ways than the 2011 Earthquakes, and 2019 Mosque Shooting because this is happening country-wide I am grateful to be floating, almost lucid in my bubble. I am grateful for the privilege I have here, grateful that the deaths and millions of cases world-wide almost seem unreal, so far away from us, a tiny island nation.

I am continually impressed by the ingenuity and kindness I see around me in the wake of crisis-Even just in my own house. Everyone offers support to the other, and are finding new ways to stay entertained and keep hobbies alive to help the days at home go by faster. The fact that we are at home baking bread, painting pictures, having movie nights, and drinking tea are, in itself, radical in a society in which “business” has been monetized. I am grateful to be able to take this time and reawaken passions I had as a child, while homeschooled…Starting a blog is one of them. The header of this blog was commissioned by my mom in 2012/13 (from memory)  for a blog I never got around to publishing and here it is now. I am baking, cooking, etc partially out of necessity but learning to like it as much as I used to. I have made friends with people around my neighbourhood and city via Facebook meetups, seen family and friends prompted to call by the shared sense of anxiety we all are feeling that I have not seen in years.

Despite the uncertainty, the weirdness, and frankly, quiet terror that I have felt going into lockdown I am grateful for the moments I have had…the breakfasts I wouldn’t usually have gotten with my partner, the digital church service that my great-grandfather tuned into with me (prompting me to burst into very, very ugly tears), and the strengthened friendships within my “bubble”.

Though there is so much bad, so much terror in the world, I am grateful to be able to be at home, a luxury many do not have. I am grateful for the support the government is offering. Grateful for my family and friends, and the acts of kindness I am seeing around the city, the acts of bravery taken on my student army, medical professionals coming out of retirement or leaving jobs in other industries to help the “war effort”, as it were. My dad, stepmother, grandmother, and aunties working tirelessly in the medical industry at this time are heroes, reminding me of how grateful I am for them, and how proud I am of them.

With all of this happening it feels almost like a rebirth period for me, the country, the world. Things will never go back to “life as normal”, there will be a new normal born from this. Hopefully this normal will value the front line workers, the supermarket workers, the take out places we are all missing. Hopefully the new “normal” will begin to value that there is no normal and that the “average” life we valued before was in itself a privileged view in a country which, while many falls through the cracks, catches more than other countries, lucky by comparison. People will hopefully vote for those that represent the value in universal income, living wages in typically minimum wage jobs (some of the only jobs now deemed “essential” to keep our country going) and public healthcare, which has been elusive for decades, in my home country, the USA.

I am unsure of what I am trying to say here…I am trying to rationalize the situation we have found ourselves in, a worldwide pandemic which is ripping through my home country (nearly 30, 000 deaths…), the observer, the small island nation which has gone totally silent, no cars on most roads, no bars open in our small student town, people’s jobs and educations paused for an unknown amount of time.