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.

Lessons Learned: One Year On My Own

shutterstock_344193899

It is one year today since I started working as a freelancer full-time. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the year and the lessons learned.

This time last year I had just come back from a trip to visit my lovely sister in LA. I had seen her living her freelance composer life and had been very impressed. Now it was my turn.

I had big plans. My freelance life consists of three businesses: the Ruth Amos author business (non-fiction), the R. J. Amos author business (fiction), and the Fix My English business (editing). The idea was that the editing would help pay the bills as the author businesses got off the ground. I had listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books and I was eager to put it all into practice.

And it’s been a fantastic year.

There have been ups and downs – I wouldn’t recommend losing all thyroid functionality in the first year of starting your own businesses for one thing. But it’s been a joy to be able to run with my ideas, to see where they lead me, to experiment and try new things. I have launched two books in the last twelve months, both big highlights of the year for me. I don’t think that I have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve heard that the second year of full-time life at home is more difficult than the first. I guess we’ll see. I’ll let you know this time next year.

Anyway, here are some lessons I have learned in the last year:

1) Having backup savings is really important.

Every piece of advice you see when you’re thinking of going freelance tells you to have at least three-months and even six-months worth of expenses saved. I could not agree more. It has been a great comfort in the lean times (like over the summer where I didn’t get an editing job for four straight months) to know that there’s a cushion to fall back on. It takes the pressure off and allows you to be creative in your activities and to think more long-term when you are planning your future undertakings. It takes away the panic, and we know that panic leads to bad decision-making.

the writing den

2) Streamline Online.

All of my work is performed on the internet. Without the internet I wouldn’t have any of my businesses. This has meant that I have needed to learn some online marketing techniques. And it was around January when I realised that the editing online personality I was trying to build was different from the author online personalities and that one of them had to go.

I tried keeping the editing on LinkedIn and just advertising the author businesses on Facebook and Twitter. That worked better, but it was a lot of marketing work for very little return.

In the end I decided to go a different route for my editing business, working with other businesses who source the work (academic and technical editing) and not trying to do all the marketing myself. This was less satisfying than doing it all by myself, but I had to decide which business I wanted to build up, and that is my writing, of course. I just had to let go of some pride.

So now I am myself on social media, like I am myself in my books. A bit silly, hopefully fun, caring about my friends, sharing ups and downs, sharing about God.

And as far as the editing is concerned, well, now that I’m not trying to do it all myself, I’m actually getting work and managing to make some money. So that turned out to be the right decision.

time money

3) Flexible time does not mean unlimited time.

I was very fortunate coming into this work that I had been trained as an academic. In the work I had done before I didn’t have anyone clocking me in or out, I was responsible for getting the work done. Working for myself was similar, and I knew how to discipline myself to focus. I have not been spending my days lost in social media, YouTube, or Netflix as some warned me I might be. But I have enjoyed the flexibility of being able to get out for a coffee with my friends and doing extra activities at church during the day.

When the editing load was light, this was fine. But as my business has grown and the workload has increased I have realised that I need to be much more careful with my extra-curricular activities. I think I need to read ‘My Year of Saying No’ again, prioritise, and then say no to some of my activities.

Priorities

Related to this:

4) Book holidays first.

The year has a rhythm. Unfortunately in Year One you don’t know what that rhythm is. As the year passed I didn’t know when would be a good time for holidays so I didn’t book any. In freelance work, if you don’t have work to do for a client, then you have work to do to get the next client. I just kept going with the writing, marketing, editing, podcasting, all the bits and pieces that just roll on week by week. This, of course, has led to me feeling very tired and lately I have realised what a bad idea a holiday-less year is. So I have now booked myself two weeks of holidays to be taken in a few months time when the Very Big Editing Job I’m working on now will be finished.

I have a bit clearer idea of what the rhythm of the year is like now, but even if the next year turns out to be full of opportunities for the whole 52 weeks, I realise now that I don’t have to take all of them. I will be booking holidays and sticking to them in the future. Rest is important.

teapot and cup

5) Exercise must be booked in too – incidental exercise doesn’t just happen.

I work from home. My desk is about ten steps from my bed and another few steps from the bathroom. I don’t have to walk up two flights of stairs to go to the staff loo anymore. I don’t have to walk the three blocks from the carpark to the office. I don’t have to wander down the hill to the café to get a coffee at lunch time. If I am not careful I can walk less than a thousand steps in a whole day.

I have started using the pomodoro technique to help with this. This is a timer app I have on my phone. It runs for 25 minutes during which I work solidly, then it gives me a five minute break during which I jog on the spot, stretch, hang washing out, clean up the kitchen, and so on through the day. This is not enough, of course. I need to also make sure that most days I have a good hour-long walk, or head to the gym for some weights.

I want this lifestyle to continue on a long, long time. And to do that I need to take care of my body, give it good food, and good exercise. I am not just a brain and fingers, I am a whole person, spirit, soul, and body and I want to look after all of myself.

walking into sunset

6) Keep talking to your friends and family.

So much has changed this year and the change is continuing. I think that change is the only definite thing in my life.

In all this it has been essential to keep talking with Moz, to get an outside opinion on it all and to keep him appraised of all my goings on. He is not my boss, but it always helps to have a friend to share with and to be accountable to so that you don’t end up going off on a tangent accidentally.

The weeks slip by, the months follow them, and before you know it, a year has passed. By talking with Moz on the way through I have been stopped from spending too much time on the wrong activities, or pushing the wrong agenda for too long.

I have other family members I talked with regularly too that help me to see my life from the outside. And while I work online, I need to meet with my friends in real life and keep a grasp on what the real world is like. As I said, I love my coffee dates and the things I do for church.

Communication is essential. Community, both online and in-person is one of the most important things in this world. I hope that I am helping build that by what I write and what I do.

So there are a few things I have learned this year. There is so much still to learn. When I was brainstorming this list. I could think of so many things that I still don’t understand. So many lessons that I am in the middle of learning. Hopefully they will make it onto a ‘lessons learned’ list for a future year.

Thank you for being a part of my community as I walk this journey. I am hoping I will have many more years doing this, it’s great fun!

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They (usually) come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

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