Alternative view

An alternative view from Castle Bolton

Castle Bolton

If you look at the right hand window at the top of the left hand tower you will see the window that I took the other photo from. Got that?

At loose ends

I started three different entries yesterday, but didn't finish any of them. I had three different things on my mind and heart, but couldn't resolve any of them. The odd thing is that the situations are resolved, or are not mine to resolve... so there is nothing for me to do. Things simply are what they are.

Aunt Mary fell and hit her head last weekend -- the day after I posted about her, in fact. She was unconscious when Cousin Joe found her, and nobody really knows how long she'd been down. She's still in the hospital, doing okay, but not great. The good thing is that the hospital will not release her to go home; a social worker talked to her and determined that she needs to be under supervised care. So she stays in the hospital until Joe and his wife can find a suitable assisted living facility.

The lease of my house in Maryland expires at the end of June. The tenants asked for a 1-year renewal. Since I don't know "how long Mother will need me here," I offered 6 months, with the possibility of renewal or month-to-month. They countered with 7 months. So that's settled: I won't be going back to Maryland anytime soon. I'm here in Arizona until at least January 2010.

Finally, yesterday was one of those milestone dates in my life. A happy time, the memory of which makes me sad. A love once new, now gone.

There's nothing to be done about any of this; there really are no loose ends here. Things are what they are. All I can do is pick up my tangle of emotions, take a deep breath, and step gently into the next moment.

No news...

...which I guess is good news. I went to the inaugural fortnightly "men's group" meeting, chaired by Andy, on Tuesday night. Being the corporate zombie that I currently am, I only come into contact with a very small subset of society, but on Tuesday night the whole gamut of male Kiwi society was on show. I could write a blog post on that meeting alone - there's more than enough material for that - but I won't. On Thursday I met up with Andy again, this time for my one-on-one (though I was joined by a psychologist for some of the time - I thought she was very good).

Apart from that, it's been a very nondescript week. My exam is on 4th May and I'll be glad when it's over.


Dippers as promised, apologies for the delay.

Leviathan over

Well, Leviathan's over (last weekend) and people seem to have fun.

Here's some photos

Family values

I did have the opportunity to see Nick's family while we were back East.

Nick's brother and his wife were at church, of course, and we exchanged greetings appropriate to the season. I had let them know we would be in town, but they didn't make any effort to see us until a few days before we were leaving -- when they invited me to join them for an evening at a bar (their favorite hangout) 90 minutes from where I was staying. Drive for 90 minutes... drink for 2 hours in a noisy, presumably smoky bar... drive home (under the influence) another 90 minutes... Hmmmm... I declined.

All the local cousins and aunts gathered for Easter dinner, as is the custom. It was good to see them, and I did have a friendly conversation with my BIL and his wife. Two of Nick's aunts are in their 90s now, and it was good to see them doing as well as they are. The sons of Nick's youngest cousin are about the same ages as Rock and HardPlace; the four boys wrought havoc together and had a grand time running all over the place. The daughter of one of his cousins got married last fall, and it's fun to hear the family speculate and banter about when the next generation will arrive. Easter Sunday really was a lovely family time.

Two stories about Nick's cousins ...

"Joe" is 60-something and could retire anytime he wants, but he likes the money coming in (don't we all?). He and his wife built a huge addition on their house (AFTER their kids were grown and graduated college and totally out of the house) so that she could have a larger closet. They gave their daughter a new BMW when she graduated from college (and not just a "token" BMW but one of upscale numbers).

Joe's mother is the eldest of Nick's aunts. She's 93, virtually blind, and cannot walk around unassisted in a strange setting. She doesn't realize that Joe and his wife moved her into an apartment in Virginia; she thinks she still lives in Pennsylvania. She won't answer the phone between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., because she has to have dinner ready at exactly 5:30 or it upsets her husband -- who died 10 years ago -- and he likes to eat in peace (which I'm sure he does!). Bless this good woman for being alive.

I was shocked to learn that Aunt Mary is living alone, in an apartment 30 minutes from Joe, which (of course) makes it too difficult for anyone to visit her every day. I was appalled to learn that she is getting ONLY those services that the city/county/state provide for free. Joe is not willing to spend a single penny to ensure that his mother is safe and well cared for. She NEEDS to be in an assisted living facility. She NEEDS to have someone cook and clean for her. She NEEDS to have someone check on her well-being every single day.

But Joe won't pay for it. I can't help but wonder if his daughter, who has a beautiful new BMW, will see the value in paying for the care that Joe needs when his time comes.

I've never liked Cousin Joe -- not since he tried to grope me in the kitchen when I was still a blushing bride -- but I've ALWAYS liked Cousin Christie. She and her two sons are the only members of Nick's family who have been a consistent, loving presence in our lives since Nick died.

When Christie heard that the boys and I were coming to town, she begged us to stay with her for a few days, which I gladly did. She bought junk food for the boys and watched a silly movie with them while I went to dinner with the widows. She went with us to the museums (interacting with the boys about the exhibits on a better level than I knew how to) and took us to the zoo. She's wonderful.

Christie was laid off recently, but money isn't a crucial issue for her. She actually has the same BMW that Joe bought for his daughter -- except Christie agonized about buying it (used) and it was her way to celebrate having become a 5-year survivor of ovarian cancer (she's now at 10 years!). Her husband left her for another woman 15 years ago, and their two teenage sons were devastated when their father abandoned them to start a "new family." But Christie has raised them to be amazing, compassionate young men. How amazing?

When Christie was laid off, her 28YO told her, Mom, I have $24,000. It's yours.

I immediately appreciated the generosity, but I was really stunned when Christie pointed out what thrilled her: My TWENTY-EIGHT year-old son has SAVED $24,000! He actually LEARNED SOMETHING from me!

Wow. I think I want to be like Christie when I grow up. And my sons should emulate hers.

Catching up

Today started with delight and ended with pleasure. I saw my first saguaro blossom of the season this morning, a brilliant white star on a green giant. Then I cleaned the pool and adjusted the chemicals: The boys and I had our first swim of the season this afternoon. Both moments were glorious and wonderful.

Yesterday was a wretched day that started with a colonoscopy. Need I say more? I was not expecting the post-procedural pain but I got over it. Now I have to wait for the results.

Monday was a great day back at school ... and preparing for the colonoscopy. I won't say anything more about that.

Sunday was a quiet day of doing laundry and enjoying being back in our own space.

Saturday was our last day of vacation. We had a great trip to the zoo and an uneventful plane ride home.

Vacation highlights: The boys and I had wonderful "play dates" with all our friends. It was so good to be back in familiar territory, seeing familiar landmarks, walking my old neighborhood. And of course, being back in church was beyond wonderful.

The day after Rock made his first confession, HardPlace served at the altar, for the Divine Liturgy of Great and Glorious Pascha. It was heart-stopping to see my little one behind the iconostasis, where his dad stood so proudly, so humbly.

We came back to Arizona with a renewed appreciation of our church. We've started doing Compline at bedtime again; the boys eagerly participate, bickering over who gets to read which section. It makes me so very happy.

Finally, I derive a perverse pleasure in how HardPlace chose to complete one of his homework assignments. His assignment on Monday was to list the hierarchy of the church. He started with Patriarch Gregory III, then named Archbishop Cyril Bustros of the Eparchy of Newton. I told him that his teacher might not recognize those names and maybe he should list the Pope and the Bishop of Tucson. But that's not OUR church. Cyril is MY Bishop. Mom grins. Hugely. You're right, babe. You're right.

The mind gets dirty as you get closer to thirty

The above line is from Blur's End of a Century; who knows whether it's true, but I'll hit the big three-oh in just a year and a day. A bit scary really. Yesterday I got a cheque in the post from my mum for my birthday - after this weekend's finale to the tennis season, I could probably do with spending the money on some lessons. I played four matches all up and didn't win any of them. In two of those matches there was only ever going to be one outcome and I thought I played fine, but the other two were a real disappointment for me. We did enough to win our doubles competition (woohoo!) - I have the honour of being the winning captain, though going by my recent performances I feel we were victorious in spite of my presence on the team.

On Wednesday I went with Julie (who's already been to thirty and back) to see The Reader at the Bridgeway, the first time I'd been to the cinema since Christmas when I saw the latest Bond film (which I thought was total dross by the way) with Mum and Dad in Geraldine. The Reader wouldn't have been my first choice but I'm very glad I went. It was a great film I thought, and there was a slight irony in Julie and I watching a film involving a bloke having an affair with a much older woman, which wasn't lost on us. The various eats and drinks made it a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I don't know why, but I often find people easier to get on with the further their age is (up or down) from my own.

The following day I saw the psychiatrist, a shorter meeting this time, so it wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg but just a leg. I told him there had been a marked improvement (I think I've been extremely lucky) so I won't have to consume any substances beyond what I'm already taking.

Work is still, well, total dross. I spent a good deal of one of my work days (probably Friday) calculating probabilities for this newfangled poker game called badugi. In fact it's not really poker at all, but instead what could be described as four-card "anti-poker". The object of badugi is to make a badugi, which is a four-card hand with no pairs or cards of the same suit. You get three attempts to draw cards in order to achieve this. The probability that you'll be dealt a badugi from the start, known as a "pat badugi", is 6.3%, about the same as the probability that you'll one day meet somebody called Pat Badugi.

Been away

This is the view from the door of our cottage. We've been away in the Yorkshire Dales, just near a place called Keld. New birds for the year were: Bullfinch, Snipe, Skylark, Little Egret, Swallow, Sand Martin, Ring Ouzel, Dipper & Red Grouse, taking the years total to 89. Pictures of the Dipper will follow.

Bazza hits 80

A Stock Dove, not very exciting I know, but number 80 came along in my mothers back garden. Tomorrow I go to a place where I hope to add to this years list, more in a few days.

Something in the air

Every one of the Peacocks at East Park was displaying today, except for one, maybe he bats for the other side, or perhaps he just needs a bit of Viagra!

One of those moments

It has been beyond wonderful to be back in Maryland, among friends (and trees!), in the old neighborhood, in the old church. "Happy" doesn't begin to scratch the surface of how good it has been.

Much of our time so far has been at Holy Transfiguration -- after all, that's WHY I came here at this time, to be in church for the wondrous services of Great Week. One of the first things I did upon arriving at church on Thursday was go to confession. Being in the desert literally has isolated me spiritually, and it is so good to be welcomed back home.

Yesterday afternoon, during the vespers service for the Descent from the Cross, Rock told me he wanted to go to confession.

But you can't -- you're not old enough.
But I want to!
Because I've done bad things and I have to tell God I'm sorry.
You're not in second grade yet.
But, Mom, I really need to.
Okay. I'll talk to Father Joseph about it.

Fr. Joseph's response was exactly what I knew it would be: If he understands that things are not right in his relationships -- with you, with his brother, with God -- then he is ready for confession. Send him to me, and I'll walk him through it. So, after the Lamentations liturgy last night, after quick instructions on what to say when he got up to Fr. Joseph, Rock went for his first confession.

It was so different from HardPlace's first confession: Weeks of preparation in Sunday School, parents required to attend a lecture from Fr. Joseph, big to-do in the hall, photos and recognition. I remember standing in the back of the church, barely able to hold back the tears, because Nick should have been there. Nick would have been so proud to see our sweet little boy cross that threshold into an active, conscious faith. I was so proud, and in such pain.

Last night, I sat in the church, filled with love for my son and my husband, and I rejoiced in the faith that has brought us thus far. Pride. Joy. Love. Hope. And more love.

It's all good.

Much better

I'm a lot better right now. Whether it's the new drugs, a boost I got from my mum being here or just a random upswing, I don't know, but this is as good as I've been for some time. I feel like a changed man with all this extra (albeit normal) energy. I'm halfway through the feature-length Easter weekend and I've managed to get some study done, though I fear it might be too little, too late. Easter in the past has been a major depression black spot for me, second only to Christmas, but so far I've done fine even though I've hardly spoken to anyone.

Work is just as awful as ever. I'm trying not to let it affect my mood - that's easier said than done. On Wednesday morning I was asked a tough question about a particular acronym that I knew nothing about, but it was a measure of my improvement that I was able to bluff my way out of that tricky situation. I felt uncomfortable at work all day Thursday - everyone else seemed "full-on" with their work while I was the complete opposite, which I guess would be "empty-off". And I had to listen to one member of my team reciting the bands he'd seen at the Vector Arena - I can see the Vector Arena from my flat but I've never been there.

I've started playing poker online at though only for play money. I'm currently sitting on about three times what I started with, though I'm totally aware that play-money poker bears little resemblance to the real thing. You get used to the mechanics of the game and the online software but that's about it. For a start, I'm normally the only player at my table who doesn't play almost any hand, and you'll always get one or two players who'll raise the bajeezus out of just about anything. That said, I've got a good mathematical brain and I reckon I could succeed at the real-money game if it wasn't for the rake which looks prohibitive to me. I might struggle when it comes to reading my opponents, just like I have a hard time second-guessing people in real life, but then again maybe I'd be better at figuring out whether someone has ace-queen suited, say, than working out something far more abstract such as whether they like me.

More Leviathan preparation

Here's another update on the Leviathan preparations.

Been finishing up some jungle pieces for the swamp table.

Here's before painting and covering in dried coffee grounds

And here's After

Here are the boats for mucking around in the swamp

And here are the WIP shots of the Pits of Djau the Ravager!

The Amulets of Power!

Traveling again

Just checking to in to let you all know that all is well.

We leave tomorrow for Spring Break in Maryland, and I am BEYOND excited. I cannot wait to spend the great days of Great Week in our home parish, to hear the familiar music, smell the incense, and be among friends who have known me for years and years.

I have set up play dates for the boys with all their best buddies and play dates for myself with all my best buddies. Cherry blossoms are in bloom. We'll go to some of the museums on the Mall. We'll walk along the Potomac River. We'll go to Baltimore. We'll just hang with our friends.

I can't tell you how much I need this!

It's a Grey Wagtail and it's number 79 for the year.

On edge

Mum left yesterday. I was really sad to see her go. She's been so good to me. I just hope that she isn't so alarmed by my situation that she spends sleepless nights from now on worrying about me. I also hope she didn't get too bored up here. She did catch the ferry into town on one of my work days, but unless you're into Gucci watches and Louis Vuitton handbags, there isn't much there. At least she can have no complaints about the weather - we've had glorious autumn sunshine up here the last ten days.

I got a written diagnosis back from the psychiatrist on Thursday. There wasn't much in the report I didn't already know (social isolation - check; avoidant personality traits - check), but as I always try to hide my past, seeing it there in black and white was a bit scary. My father was described as being "a very ordered man" - I found that pretty funny as he's about as disorganised as me.

On Friday I had a tension throughout my body that felt almost paralysing. Even finishing work for the week (albeit a short one for me) made no difference - I was just totally unable to relax. Mum and I had our celebratory dinner at Buona Sera in Devonport. The place was humming. My plate of pasta was colourful, spicy and yummy. We shared a bottle of white wine and a large plate of garlic bread, and each had what I guess you'd call a chocolate brownie cake for dessert. But even though I thoroughly enjoyed my meal (the fact that it was free helped), I was still on edge and not in the mood for celebrating anything. A shame because it was the first time I'd eaten out in ages.

More tennis yesterday. If you're a regular follower of this blog (there must be thousands of you out there, you're just too shy to tell me), you'll be glad to know that the tennis season is almost over and you'll be spared my inane ramblings about hitting a fuzzy yellow ball over a net (or not as the case may be) for the next few months. I played with Bazza in the first match; I felt terrible and didn't want to be out there at all. The yellow ball seemed even fuzzier than normal. I'd calmed down a bit by the second set, but my head was still in my hands between points, I never won a service game, and we slumped to a 6-3 6-4 loss. I must have been visibly distressed as I walked off the court. I was asked "what's wrong?" and told not to emulate one poor bloke who recently jumped off a motorway overbridge. After all that, for some odd reason I was confident we'd win the mixed, which we eventually did thanks to the occasional slice of luck along the way. Facing break point on my serve at 5-all in the first set, I attempted a high smash which doinked off the frame and somehow just cleared the net, landing inches inside the sideline. We hung on to that game and broke for the set at the sixth time of asking. The second set was even closer; it went all the way to the tie-break where at 5-all their bloke, who had been ultra-consistent on serve all day, chucked in a double fault and my partner put away a smash on the next point (slightly more authoritatively than my earlier effort) to take out the match.

Our team won 5-3 which might mean we've won the competition with a match to spare, but that was only part of the story. During our mixed match I saw Bazza lying on the court, his face as white as a sheet. He got up and carried on for two more games before retiring, but still looked terrible. The colour gradually returned to his cheeks and I took him home where he lives with his brother; he pleaded with me not to tell his brother anything had happened. It was the first time I'd stepped inside their house which they've just sold following their mother's death last year. He showed me his bedroom which was even more untidy than mine and stank of, well, Bazza. I noticed on their fridge was a printed emergency checklist of what to do in the event of a heart attack, with the key points emphasised by Bazza's trademark red underlining. He definitely needs a serious lifestyle change or else he'll keel over one of these days - he's got to lose at least two stone, or quite a few kay gees, for a start - but I don't think he's capable of making those changes by himself. I feel I need to do something, but what I'm not sure.

Easter Bonnet Parade

The kids school gave us 24 hours notice that there was to be an easter bonnet parade, Tina has insisted that I tell you she worked wonders, all you have to do is let me know who the winner is.