The Great Milk Palava

Child drinking a full glass of milk
Nothing like a nice glass of milk
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

This week we’re doing something slightly different. I was reminded of this story when searching through old blog posts, so I thought I’d take it out, polish it up, and share it with you again.

The story takes place in 2015 when I worked at the university of Tasmania. I worked in the chemistry department, but three times a week I would traipse up the hill, over the road, past the agricultural sciences building (holding zoology, botany and microbiology) and further up the steep slope to the old medical sciences building (OMSB) where medicine used to be taught (yes, I know, the name ‘old medical sciences’ is like ‘turn left at the new roundabout where the big tree used to be’) . 

I worked for the Foundation Studies Program (FSP), teaching chemistry to international students as part of the English Language Centre (ELC). The base of the ELC was not in the OMSB (acronyms galore) but it was on the next hill over, in a place called Hytten Hall.

My story starts with an email, sent to all ELC staff, asking  for someone to please pick up their milk from agricultural sciences, as the new milk delivery truck could not turn around at OMSB (due to the tiny carpark) and could only deliver the milk to the stop further down the hill. (I am very sad now, because as I write this post, I cannot find the original email.)

This email about the milk was a big surprise to me. The staff get milk delivered? Doesn’t happen in the chemistry department. It’s a luxury that I am denied, and these people aren’t even bothering to pick it up? It’s a two minute walk down the hill, people! Pick up your milk!

Anyway, it looked like the people weren’t listening:

Good morning

Another email about the milk, so I apologise.

I have just had a call from our milk suppliers that the milk delivered on Mondays hasn’t been collected by the Wednesday for the last couple of weeks and they have said that collection is sporadic.

Could somebody please get back to me to confirm who usually collects it on the Monday? I’d like to make sure it is in fact our staff collecting it and perhaps consider another method for the order. I also am aware that there are teachers who teach later in the week who would miss out if I were to cancel the order over there and have it delivered here instead. But that would mean somebody coming over to Hytten Hall. Currently the order is 1 full cream and 1 lite.

Several points here: is someone from another department picking up our milk?! That would not be good. Milk rustling in the zoology department! Call the milk police!

Then, point two: it’s important for everyone to know what the order is. Perhaps we have only picked up the full cream milk, not the lite milk. And one what? 1 litre of milk? 1 two litre bottle? It’s all too confusing! Perhaps the milk is not picked up because it’s too confusing!

And as for the Hytten Hall suggestion – no chance! If they can’t get down to zoology, there’s no way someone could walk down the bush path through the jack-jumper infested bbq area and then back up to Hytten Hall. Not going to happen.

A staff member responds:

I can only answer for myself but as a casual and not being present on Wednesday, I cannot collect it.  

I suggest that we order in long life milk once a semester to be delivered to our floor. Office works for example could do this with the photocopy paper, or we could order from Coles or Woolworths.  The milk could be stored in the staff room. There is often no milk here on the rare occasions that I want one at break on Thursday.

best wishes

Now here’s a problem solver. We could use long-life milk. There wouldn’t be a weekly issue then, just a once a semester delivery. There are even stores that do this – stores that have trucks that can make it to the OMSB. Let’s do that. Then the poor girl could have her cuppa tea on Thursday after her teaching.

But there’s a complication, and the reason for the tardiness may be discovered in the following email:

Hi 

Between Foundation Studies staff and the other people working on Level 3 we usually manage to get hold of a carton of milk each week from else where in the building (OMSB).

 I know that Level 1 still have a crate of milk delivered here (OMSB) each week (mixture of full cream and lite). They must have a different supplier.

I suggest we use the same supplier as Level 1 and have 1 carton of full cream and 1 carton of lite milk delivered with them and then we can just pick it up from the foyer as we did before.

Cheers

It is not the staff’s fault! The truck should be able to go to the OMSB – another truck does. And it gives both full cream and light milk. The supplier is just slack. 

And as the staff can go and raid the supply from level 1, there is no need to traipse down and back up the hill. Now that the lift is working, you can get milk without putting in much effort at all. (There is no mention of whether the level 1 staff are happy to lose their milk to level 3 staff. We may never know their true feelings – I don’t think they have the email address list).

Our secretary responds:

Good afternoon

I have just cancelled the milk order for FSP. We will be placing an order for long life milk capsules, which was something we were considering earlier this morning.

I believe there is still some milk at the Ag. Science building, if somebody would like to collect it for this week?

Long life milk has been ordered. The whole situation has been neatly resolved. Or has it?

Hi 

I’m not sure whether you have already proceeded with the new milk order, but I just wanted to mention that I think Erika meant for us to order cartons rather than capsules of UHT; I’m quite concerned about the waste generated by capsules and how this reflects the university’s commitment to being sustainable…

If it isn’t too late, I would really like to echo Michael’s suggestion that we incorporate our milk order into the SLIMS/SM order for level 1 – I’m not sure how many others would agree with me but I personally would prefer to not be drinking UHT milk on a regular basis.

I know that this isn’t an easy situation for you either so I do appreciate your help.

Nope, not resolved. 

This difficult situation remains ongoing. It’s a hard situation for everybody. We may need counselling – at least the secretary probably will. I wonder if her job description includes the arduous task of herding cats. 

UHT milk is not good, capsules are not sustainable and we are never going to get this situation sorted out. I am wondering how much paperwork will be required to order milk with a different department – it would be crossing departmental budget lines. I’m sure that comes under the heading of ‘impossible’. I am also wondering how much milk these people need? How regularly do they drink the milk? Is this a meal replacement, protein shake kind of situation? 

Some answers were forthcoming in a much more formal email:

Good morning everyone

Further to my email in relation to the milk order dated Monday, 18 May – the reason we are ordering the UHT milk is because the milk was not being collected from the drop off point and therefore going to waste.   The UHT capsules are recyclable which will mean you will be compliant with the universities sustainability commitment.  We chose the capsules over the cartons as the capsules can be used per drink without having to open a carton and it going to waste if not used.

The milk supplier advised that they deliver milk to all the departments at UTAS (except to the restaurants).  They also advised that they do not deliver milk to the OMSB any longer.  All orders for SLIMS ceased at the beginning of the year and the only deliveries that are being made in that vicinity are to Agricultural/Plant Science and to Zoology and they are very large orders. Perhaps somebody who is located  within the OMSB is collecting their milk and bringing it back to the building from this drop off point. If you would like the milk order to be reinstated and to go with the other deliveries, then it would mean going over to the other building and collecting it again.  We should not rely on other department’s staff to collect our milk for us.  

Please advise if you would like the milk delivery reinstated.   Could you also confirm who will collect the milk each Monday morning  – we can trial this for 1 month and if the milk is not being collected each week then the capsules will be the only option.

This appears to be the simplest and most sensible solution.

And so it does. Simple, sensible, and, in my opinion, this email has a slight ’slap on the wrist’ tone to it. Which had the desired effect:

Hi

I am happy to go with the capsules.

We’re not even going to try for a month to pick up our milk from Ag Science. We will just make do with capsules. Seeing as they are sustainable and all. However, there was a little hiccup even now: 

Thanks,

you will need to institute a recycling bin system in our area as we do not currently have one.

best wishes

And even this little problem was overcome in time:

All you will need is a box with a plastic bag in it, that’s what we do over here and the cleaners empty it. Maybe write on it that it’s for recycling only.

So that was that. The Great Milk Palava was sorted. All over. Almost.

One final email came just a little too late:

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you; I was waiting to hear back from my husband, who works for Student Systems (formerly SLIMS) on Level 1 of the OMSB. Here are the contact details for Betta, who deliver their milk to the OMSB.

Betta misses out on the milk delivery. Capsules it is. 

And for me? I continued to use the little carton of milk that I bought myself from the corner store and kept cool in the tiny camping fridge I kept in my office.

****

So that was a bit of fun. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, you might enjoy the murder mysteries I have written that are set in the university environment. You can find the Deadly Miss series at rjamos.com.

We will go back to talking about organised and peaceful living next time. Chat to you then.

Micromanaging

You know the situation. There’s a job that needs doing. You have a picture in your head about how it should be done but you don’t want to do it yourself. So you give it to someone else and they do it ALL WRONG.

This is what happened to me yesterday. I’ll tell you the story.

I am a member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. The RACI is 100 years old this year so we’re trying to do all kinds of interesting things to celebrate and our Chair has come up with a great idea – 100 reactions in 100 days (here’s our first one: RACI 100 Reactions in 100 Days #1). The idea is that we (we being chemists all over Australia) create small YouTube videos describing a reaction of some sort. We need 100 of these videos so we are reaching out to all sorts of people to have a go. Starting with us here in Tasmania, and that means me.

Now, DS has made some really fun YouTube videos on a whim. They are called Caleb “Cooks” and I encourage you to look them up if you want a laugh. So I said that I could provide a video and I decided that DS should be the actual person to do this.

We don’t actually have a chemistry lab in our house (though believe it or not, I know a family that does) but I knew a cool experiment that can be done with red cabbage and various household chemicals (vinegar, bicarb, dishwashing detergent – they are all chemicals). So I suggested (strongly) to DS that he do that experiment and do a video for me. He was happy to comply.

DH and I decided to go out for lunch yesterday and as we left, DS was happily story-boarding his ideas and coming up with a good video of the purple cabbage experiment. He said he’d do the recording while we were gone. I thought that was a great plan.

We had a delightful drive, a delicious seafood lunch at the Inn at Kettering overlooking the yachts in the harbour, a delightful drive back. The weather was gorgeous – sunny but not too hot. We were peaceful and in accord with one another and we felt like we’d had a micro-holiday.

When we got home the scene was slightly different: the house stank of cabbage, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it, there were bowls and cups everywhere and there were two more whole red cabbages being put through our Kenwood juicer (one whole cabbage having already received this harrowing treatment).

This is not what I had planned!

When I have performed this experiment I have made the purple cabbage juice by cutting up the cabbage and then pouring hot water over it. DS made the juice by using a juicer which provided a much deeper purple colour.

I would have poured some juice into a few glasses, added the different chemicals, and watched the colour change. I was actually a bit worried that DS’s juice was so strong that there wouldn’t be any colour change at all. I was concerned that he was doing it all wrong and I was severely tempted to step in and change things.

But I held back. I took my books and computer downstairs and I tried not to worry. I could hear the video being made and the first two times DS poured chemicals in to the cabbage water there was no change in colour. I got more worried. I even snuck back upstairs and peaked in through the doorway, ready to give my advice if it was needed.

But the third chemical – vinegar – did what it was supposed to do. The purple cabbage juice changed colour to become pink. I was relieved. I went back downstairs, stopped listening, and left him to it.

I haven’t seen the final video yet. I will post it when it’s done. But I had a chat to DS after he had cleaned up all of the mess in the kitchen and this is what he told me, ‘It felt a bit boring Mum. I looked for other reactions to do but they were all a bit boring too. So I made it big so that it would be more fun.’ And I’m sure it will be. It definitely looked more fun than my idea.

If I had made the video, or made the process my process, then all of the reason for asking DS to do it would have been lost. We would have lost the joy, kept it safe, and kept it boring.

By allowing him full creative control the process was messier, true, but so much more fun. And mess can be cleaned up. And yes, DS did clean the mess up, basically by himself. There are consequences to our actions and we need to deal with that.

I think sometimes we lose a lot of joy in life by trying to retain control over processes that we should leave in other people’s hands.

Take from this what you will.

Here is the link to the finished video:

Death at the high school

Oh it sounds like I’m introducing you to my first novel! I’m not. That one’s still a little ways off yet.

Instead I want to tell you of a tragedy that occurred recently at my son’s high school. Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit ‘tongue in cheek’ – just a little over dramatic. Alright, seeing as you’re pushing me, the story is about a goldfish.

Here’s how it went down:

In the tech class two of the students were making interesting goldfish bowls. They decided that it would be fun to buy a class goldfish and keep it in the common room. They used the goldfish bowl made from a gum ball machine and hence the fish was named ‘Gummy’.

The year 12 class became quite attached to little Gummy. They decided that if he survived to the end of the year he would some how be part of the Thanksgiving Service – the graduation ceremony for the grade 12s.

Then one day, things went wrong!

DH (a teacher at that self same school) was on playground duty when a student raced up to him, ‘I need the key to the store room! We need the other fish tank!’

The gum ball fish tank had struck a leak and poor Gummy’s life was in danger!

Fortunately, DH had the key to the store room and the crisis was averted. The new fish tank was installed and Gummy was installed in the new fish tank, with no loss of health (as far as we know).

Life went on as usual, homework was completed, games of werewolf were noisily played around Gummy’s new home. Students sat and poured out their troubles to his open ears. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating there.

But last Monday, when the students arrived back at school after the weekend, the tragedy had occurred. Gummy was no more.

What were they to do? How to commemorate their little friend?

Now this part I’m not making up. These were actually the suggestions made by students for Gummy’s funeral:

  • Cremate him in the microwave.
  • Cook him in the toasted sandwich maker.
  • And, (get this), make fish soup and pass around the cup so that everyone can have a sip! Yuck!!

But sense prevailed.

One of the students made a tiny black coffin in his free lessons and Gummy was buried in the flower garden with full honours. Two students gave eulogies (I wish I was there to hear what they said) and then each person attending the funeral put a tiny pinch of dirt onto the tiny teensy coffin in the teeny weeny grave. Gummy was gone, but he wouldn’t be forgotten.

Unfortunately, as far as we know, no-one had taken any photos of the little fish, so there’s no way that a memorial can be published in the school magazine.

I tell you something though – these students heal fast! Yesterday DS told me that there were now two new goldfish swimming in the little tank. They’ve been named Jaws, and Bear Gills, and we shall see whether they will make it to the end of the year, to graduation, and maybe even into the school magazine.

Algebra and miso soup

This afternoon I was tutoring a high school student in algebra. Now, DH tutors as well, and I had seen him use a fantastic example to explain that 3(x + y) = 3x + 3y so I thought I’d try it out myself.

The example goes like this: Suppose we are at the footy as you decide to have a pie and coke. And I want a pie and coke as well. So you go and buy two pie and coke. That is, two (pie and coke). That means that you get two pies and two cokes. So 2(pie and coke) = 2pie and 2coke.

It worked really well for his student. That kid went ‘oh yeah! I get it! Two pie and coke!’ and the lesson was learned and everyone was content.

So I thought I’d give it a go this afternoon for my student, who is learning the same thing. My student is in grade 9, she has the longest, sparkliest nails I’ve ever seen And she tells me that when she wants to memorise something she writes it out and sticks it to the mirror. “I spend a lot of time looking at the mirror” – it shows. Her makeup is perfect.

I say to her “imagine we’re at the footy together” we both imagined and then I said “yes, I know, it’s just never going to happen, but anyway, IF we were at the footy and I said to you let’s get a pie and coke…”

“Diet coke” says she

“Right, two pies and diet coke”

She says, “I’m vegan, I don’t eat pie.”

Right.

“Sushi” she says “we could have sushi and diet coke. Only not coke, miso soup. Coke doesn’t go with sushi, we need to have miso soup”

Sometimes I find tutoring a very complex activity…