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New Zealand is often accused of being behind the times, usually by people who have never been here, who don’t know anything about the social innovations throughout our history, who think (mistakenly) that their country is at the cutting edge of everything, or that the way they do things is “modern” and the way we do things is “old-fashioned” despite any evidence to the contrary, or based on anecdotes from the 1960s or 70s! (Don’t get me started on specific examples I’ve encountered over the years.) However, in the last couple of years, we have been blissfully behind the times. As you know, we’ve been living largely pre-COVID lives, with crowds without social distancing, and largely mask-free.

That was until we had an outbreak of COVID in the community in August. After a relatively brief lockdown, outside of Auckland the rest of the country is almost back to normal. We’re in our Alert Level 2, which means we are under restrictions that will seem very familiar to so many of you, even though there are no known cases in Wellington. There are limits on the size of gatherings indoors (50, increasing to 100 at midnight tonight), and for the first time, given the arrival of the delta variant, there’s a requirement to wear masks everywhere. It’s something I’ve watched on international media over the last year and more, and have marvelled at how strange it seemed. Yet now, it is something we’re getting used to seeing and doing, surprisingly quickly.

You will, no doubt, laugh at the next few paragraphs. My thoughts must seem so 2020 to my overseas friends! Until this latest community outbreak, I had worn masks only a handful of times – a few times to visit my father-in-law in his retirement home last year before he died, once to see my doctor, and once on a bus. 4-5 times in 18 months. But the last few weeks I have been out wearing a mask, and have decided I don’t mind wearing masks (too much). There’s even a major advantage to it, I discovered. I don’t have to wear make-up if I’m just dashing to the shops. No-one will see my face anyway. Mascara only may be necessary if I’m going to see someone I know (I have pathetic eyelashes), otherwise my face goes bare. And I love it!

But there are downsides. Masks with ear-loops and ear-rings do not mix. I discovered this today, and have probably worn a mask and ear-rings together for the last time! There’s the danger of hurting my ear, or losing my ear-ring, or becoming entangled at an embarrassing time. A small stud might be easier, but as my hair has now grown over my earlobes, I know I can skip the ear-rings and not commit a fashion faux pas. The hardest thing is that masks are so hot! They’re fine outside if it is cold or windy, but inside they get steamy. I remember my friend Cee (from DC) telling me this last year. Sorry, Cee, I never quite realised how bad it can be. And it’s not even summer here. I don’t know how people with hot summers have coped. (Yes, I can “hear” the collective eyeroll from my US/Canadian/European/Asian friends, and I’m sorry!)

I also hate the thought of wearing a mask for long periods of time. Yes, I know many of you have had to do this for a long time already, and I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who has had to do this. But we’re thinking of going to a movie tomorrow, and I’m not particularly thrilled about the idea of two hours wearing a mask! Likewise, the thought of wearing a mask on a long-haul flight – 12 hours with no relief – makes me shudder. But I’ll have to get used to the idea if I ever want to escape these shores.

Fortunately, there seems to be a high level of compliance here, perhaps because we still have the chance to kick COVID’s butt one last time. Restrictions are lifting. Case numbers are falling. Our measures are working. Early next year, and once our vaccination rates are high enough (the government is aiming at a rate of 90% of those eligible) we will be opening our border restrictions, letting the outside world back in, and along with that we will probably have to learn to live with COVID here in the community. But for the next few months at least, I can sit in a restaurant – as my husband and I did today, taking advantage of the restarted Wellington on a Plate burger festival – and feel confident that no-one in the restaurant is infectious. We’re all hoping for one last Christmas and summer free of this, at least, before we face the inevitable. And if achieving that means I have to wear a mask to see an amazing Surrealist exhibition as we did today, then I’m fine with that. Even if I’m behind the times, and I’m still mourning (in anticipation) the loss of our previous lifestyle. I’m going to suck it up. I hoping everyone else here will do that too. For one last COVID-free summer. That’s our hope.

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This week is World Childless Week. You probably didn’t know that. You may not care. It’s World Childless Week because a childless woman called Stephanie Joy Phillips who possesses (it seems to me) endless energy and foresight, made it so! There is a week of activities – webinars, publicity, articles and blogs. If you are childless, or if you have relatives or friends or workmates or acquaintances who are childless, go and have a look at some of the topics they are covering this year – everything from men’s perspective, to the legacy we leave when we don’t have children, to the old perennial, guaranteed-to-raise-an-eyeroll “have you considered adoption?” You might not feel quite so alone. You might learn something. Or it might give you insight into the lives of those who don’t have children, but had once hoped to do so. Maybe you’ll change the way you see them, question your assumptions or unintentional judgements, and maybe you’ll change the questions you ask or the way you talk to or interact with them in the future.

I have two pieces featured on their website – the first is here, and the second is to come on in a day or so (which I’ll link here too), along with my I am me picture.

I’ve been very torn about how much to publicise this. I’m being more active than usual on my No Kidding blog, because I know how important this is to the no kidding community, how it helps so many newly no kidding people who think they’re alone and that no-one understands, and how it helps us decide what is important. But talking amongst ourselves isn’t enough. Educating the rest of society is important, and that’s why I’m posting here, today, and have written about this before, most recently in April here. The more we understand about all our differences, the kinder we can be to both groups, and the more we will ALL benefit.

The reason I am torn though, is because I am much more than my childlessness. I don’t want it to be the first thing people think about me, and I don’t want it to consume my life. But I do want it to be recognised. It’s finding the balance which is always tricky. So I write here, because the people who read are interested in more than just a meme. But I’m torn over posting on social media (except my nokiddinginnz instagram page), because a meme becomes a label. And labels are complicated. I don’t like childless, for example, but use it sometimes in the absence of anything else. It’s the LESS part I don’t like. Equally, childFREE is relevant at times, but definitely not always. I guess we’re all much more than one label – my friends who are mothers are not only mothers. They are smart, and creative, and motivated, and ambassadorial, and managerial, and dedicated, and interesting, and funny, and much much more.

So I’m still figuring out where I’ll share this. In the meantime, I’ve included a photo (meme? heaven forbid!) that is essentially a brief version of the 100 things about me that I wrote seven years ago. (I updated it on my other blog in 2019, but this reminds me to do it here too.) Not having kids, and the work I do in that community, features in these lists, but in no way dominates. That’s the way I like it.

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Reading: I’m reading a wee bit more lately, and have been lucky to find several really excellent books, each one quite different from the other. I love reading a variety of books, and could never stick to just one genre.

Just this morning I finished the fabulous Elizabeth Knox’s Wake. I note that some of my book club friends read it about seven years ago, but it’s taken me a while to get to it. It was funny though – when I downloaded the book onto my e-reader, it asked me if I would like to go to the page last read. I said yes, curious to see how far I had read, because I had no memory of it! It was only a few pages in, so I reread those, then gobbled up the rest of the book in just a day or two, which is pretty remarkable given my lack of reading much of this year. I haven’t always loved the mystical nature of some of Elizabeth Knox’s books (The Black Oxen took a couple of attempts), but this one was pitched exactly right for me, and gets five stars on Goodreads.

I’ve also finished Kindred, by Octavia Butler, a time-travel history into the early 1800s in the US which was fascinating, as I always like anything historical. And listened to Kamala Harris’ memoir, The Truths We Hold. I like listening to memoirs as audiobooks, especially when they are read by the author themselves. It seems more authentic. This was fascinating for a few chapters when it delved into her childhood and family background, but much of it was a political manifesto, written before she ran for President. Still, I learned a lot about her, her history, her qualifications, and principles, even if it was – as I expected – somewhat sanitised.

Kazuo Ishiguro has long been a favourite of mine, so I was thrilled to find a new book from him. Klara and the Sun was very enjoyable, and an easy read. But it didn’t really deliver too much that was new for me, though I know others (including one of my former book club friends) who loved it.

The Quiet Girl by S F Kosa was a mystery that kept me gripped too, and although I thought I had figured out some of it in advance, I wasn’t 100% sure, which is the mark of a good mystery!

Finally, I read Grace Dent’s Hungry, a funny and honest memoir of The Guardian’s restaurant critic. (Thanks to Loribeth who reviewed it here). I read the memoir of Ruth Reichl (former NYT critic) years ago (Garlic and Sapphires) and loved it, so was delighted to find a UK story too. I could relate to the discovery of new food and flavours, after growing up with a very traditional NZ diet (though not nearly as “beige” as Dent’s childhood died) until I landed in Thailand as a 17-year-old.

I gave all of these books three stars and above on Goodreads, which means it was a great month or two of reading. I use their star standards – eg three stars means I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it, four stars means I thought it was really good, and five stars is a book I loved.

Watching: Wimbledon, of course, and the Olympics, of course (as I wrote here), and more recently I’ve been keeping a check on the Paralympics. I’ve been delighted and fascinated by the sports I didn’t know existed, the categories that have allowed so many different people to compete, and I have been beyond moved by the efforts of people who have faced such obstacles in life.

In between the two Olympics, I binge-rewatched some comfort series, namely Downton Abbey. The Husband and I have watched a few different series, the names of which now largely escape me (Money Heist over two days in the weekend), and we’ve just started The Departure, which looks promising.

Daily viewing for the last few weeks in lockdown has been the press conference by the DG of Health and the Prime Minister or Minister for COVID Response, when they announce case numbers and progress. We seem to have stopped the spread, with the R rate currently under 1, but new cases are still popping up in our biggest city, Auckland. We’ve just watched the announcement that the rest of the country will move to a lifting of many restrictions, going back to a more normal life on Wednesday, though with increased mask requirements. I know the rest of you are already very accustomed to this, but it is new for us.

Listening: Radio NZ, of course, which is on at the moment as I write this, and just a few things on Spotify. And when I walk, I have been listening to my audiobooks. I’ve just downloaded Shuggie Bain, so I need to go on a few walks to get through that one!

Following: The usual. Progress (or lack of progress) with COVID-19 and vaccinations across the globe. News. Photographers I envy. Yes, exactly the same as three months ago.

Drinking: Today for the first time in three weeks I had a flat white (coffee)! My husband came back from the supermarket with a coffee. We’re currently in a lighter lockdown than the first two weeks, which enables food and drink to be purchased to take away. I’m not a coffee addict, but I did enjoy that one this morning! Otherwise, alcohol-wise, we’ve been drinking a little more in lockdown than we would usually, though we still have several days a week when we don’t drink. Mondays would normally be a no-alcohol day, but I have a half-full bottle of chardonnay in the fridge that I opened for a Zoom chat with some friends on Saturday night. So in a few hours, it will be a case of “Cheers!”

Cooking: To keep supermarket visits to once or twice a week during lockdown, I’ve been trying to empty the freezer of meat and bagels, etc. A good excuse to spring clean the freezer and pantry! Not to mention that I quite enjoy planning out the week’s menu in advance. I experimented with burgers (not something my husband has ever particularly liked) including a brioche-like bun, because we missed out on the food festival Burger Wellington this year. I’ve made homemade pizza too, for a Saturday night meal. I have vegetable soup and pumpkin gnocchi in the freezer, and have generally been eating pretty healthy. Well, except for the sticky date pudding I made for the first time last week. Oops. Tonight on the menu we have pumpkin, feta and bacon pasta.

Eating: See above. I don’t mind eating home-cooked food. I sometimes complain that I’m in a recipe rut, but the truth is I really like eating my favourite dishes (curries, fried rice, lamb shanks, tagines etc), and they work so well as winter comfort food too, so not being able to go out, or buy takeaways, doesn’t bother me. Prior to lockdown we got out with some friends for a fun evening at the beginning of the August food festival, and we’re all grateful that we managed to do that.

Wearing: A more casual version of my winter uniform, which includes black thermal tops (I have several) and black yoga pants. The only time I dress up – or at least, put on a bit of makeup – is when I zoom. Even though I discovered the other day I can put on lipstick and eyebrows through the Advanced Video Settings, and so barely need to do that!

Appreciating: Our government. I look at the delta variant raging around the world, and am grateful that we have had so long living COVID-free thanks to their policies, and hopefully will be free again soon. Our vaccination programme has been slow, largely because the vaccinations needed to get to us after first going to countries that were much more needy. (I had my first dose in mid-August, and my second is scheduled for the end of this month.) It’s ramping up now, and I’m very appreciative too of my fellow citizens who have been rushing to get vaccinated the last few weeks. Of course, I don’t yet know what levels we’ll ultimately reach, so I really hope I’m not speaking prematurely!

Anticipating: Catching up with friends. I know we’ve only been in lockdown for a few weeks, but it will be lovely to see people face to face. It reminds me how tough it has been for so many of you for so long. And The Husband and I have a few travel plans for the next six months, figuring out where we can go in NZ and what we can do that would be fun, or new. NZ is pretty small, so we’re going to start running out of options!

Loving: My hair! (Well, almost!) Finally it has passed that really awkward stage I was at a few months ago, and I’m pleased that it’s looking closer to how I wanted it to look. I have very wavy hair, so as it gets a little longer, I’m keen to experiment with some “curly-girl” techniques. I’m not sure it will work, but it might be fun to try. And if it is a disaster, I still have my trusty straightener, because leaving it to wave naturally at the moment isn’t an option!

Still unashamedly copying Loribeth’s regular series every few months here on A Separate Life.

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