The days of remembering begin

Actually, that's sort of misleading, since I've been remembering intensely for a long time. But five years ago today was the last day my life was normal.

I'm not going to post a daily link to the story of what happened in 2004. I'm not going to post about it every day.

But these are the days ...


School starts one week from Monday.

Today the boys and I will go to the school to pick up their packets, fill out forms, and pay tuition and fees. Then we'll check the resale shop for uniforms in their size (only $2 for shirts/shorts/pants, if I get lucky) before going to the uniform store for new clothes. Then we'll stop at Office Depot (or Office Max or Staples or BigBoxThis) for the last of the school supplies.

I'm not really ready for summer vacation to be over: I enjoy the long, lazy days at home with them. I enjoy the swimming and the Lego building and the sleeping late. On the other hand, I am quite ready for them to be separated from each other for 8 hours of the day, to have some breathing room from each other, and to not be tearing about the house for 8 hours of the day.

Out of alignment

I've already totally forgotten what happened at work on Monday and Tuesday, mostly because not much happened, but partly because I was depressed. Spells of depression are often wiped from my memory.

I really enjoyed Monday night's Italian class. Matteo is a great teacher; he makes learning Italian fun while still making sure we get it right. My knowledge of French has been useful for learning Italian grammar, especially irregular verbs, though no amount of French would have helped with the verb scegliere. You've got G's and L's swapping places, and it's hard to pronounce the various forms of the verb without your tongue ending up in knots.

Yesterday I rang up two of those job agencies. I had no luck with the first one - he told me not to move under any circumstances in the current job market; when I got off the phone I wanted to scream because I worry I might have a mental breakdown if I stay in my job much longer. My prospects weren't so bleak with the other agency, but even if I did miraculously find a job through them, it would probably be with a company not dissimilar to where I am now, so I don't know what that would solve.
Last night we had a record turnout at the men's group. Nine of us were there including two blokes I hadn't met before. There was one other chap who I hadn't seen for a while; I'd been wondering what had happened to him so it was particularly pleasing to see him there.
Today I spent pretty much all morning in a meeting. I found myself drowning in a sea of corporate buzzwords and acronyms. "Just as an FYI, alignment with our core business objectives will be key in determining your KPIs for FY10". Personal freedom is important to me, so I can't say I enjoyed hearing that word "alignment" repeated over and over.
Tomorrow I've got my meeting with Andy to look forward to, and I'll be going down south to see Mum and Dad in just ten days. I should mention that I opted for the half-measure after all, and am now on 187.5 of Efexor, or a browny and a grey-and-pinky if you prefer.

Good Day in Hell

Stella and a few others have done this; it's a fun challenge and a nice diversion from things I don't want to think about.

Using song names from only ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a song title. It's harder than you think.


Are you male or female: The Girl from Yesterday

Describe yourself: Busy Being Fabulous

How do you feel about yourself: Best of My Love

Describe where you currently live: New Kid in Town

The first thing you think of when you wake up: How Long?

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Hotel California

Your favorite form of transportation: Train Leaves Here This Mornin

What is the weather like where you are at: No More Cloudy Days

Your best friend is: Witchy Woman

Your favorite color is: Tequila Sunrise

If your life were a TV show, what would it be called: Get Over It

What is life to you: I Can't Tell You Why

What is the best advice you have to give: Love Will Keep Us Alive

If you could change your name, what would it be: Desperado

Your favorite food is: Long Run Leftovers

How I would like to die: Peaceful, Easy Feeling

My soul's present condition: What Do I Do With My Heart

What are you going to post this as: Good Day in Hell


Okay, now it's your turn! Post a comment if you decide to do this!

Balsa Banana bites the dust

Went for a fly at the top of the Mount today. It was a beautiful sunny day with a nice 5 - 10kts NW and nice smooth lift. Had a really nice fly with the Balsa Banana - a pod and boom style sailplane with my balsa wing.

Made two good landings and then on my third fly all these bloody paraponters turned up so I decided to let them have the slope to themselves. Unfortunately in my rush to land I got it all horribly wrong, and with an audience of maybe a dozen people I lost it over the back of the crest into the turbulent zone - rotor country - where no sloper should be on landing approach.

Of course I fought it tooth and nail - whipped off the brakes to attempt flying out but silly me still on high rates which I haven't applied any expo (exponential programming of the rate of aileron travel that softens the midpoint of the control stick) I found myself overcorrecting from one extreme to the other (or was it the vicious rotors!) until it ploughed into the hard rocky ground - with a wicked cartwheel for good measure :-(

As you can see from the pic, it snapped the tail boom clean off. Sigh. More repairs required.

On a brighter note, the Su27 Flanker jet is nearing completion and will soon be ready for a maiden. Tally ho for now.

Summer vignettes

June 2004

We're visiting my folks on the northern coast of California. After dinner, Nick and I grab a flashlight and take HardPlace for a walk through the meadows, along the bluffs, onto the beach. (Rock is not quite 2 years old, so he's already in bed.) The three of us walk along, smelling the salt air, listening to the crash of the waves, feeling the sand on our feet.

When we get back to my mom's house, we stay on the back porch, lying on the benches, gazing at the stars. Nick points out constellations; I tell the mythology stories; HardPlace soaks it in. The night was remarkable for all the satellites we saw; there were so many that we stopped counting.

It was a night of simple happiness, filled with love and contentment.

July 2009

HardPlace decided to go for a swim after dinner; I didn't want to (I'd just washed my hair!), but Rock coaxed me in. After a bit, Rock and I lounged on the chairs and looked at the stars. I saw a shooting star and started talking about the Perseid showers. Rock pointed out the Big Dipper and wanted my help finding Orion's belt. I told the story of Orion and Diana.

After a bit, Rock and I went inside; HardPlace stayed in the pool and then got out and sat on the lounge chair, looking at the moon through binoculars. I went outside to him, with my heart in my mouth.

Do you remember the summer that Dad died, right before he died, and we went to Grandma's house?

In California?

Yeah. And do you remember looking at the stars --
With Dad? Lying on the bench and seeing all the satellites.

He remembers. Oh, thank God; he remembers.

A night of simple happiness, filled with love and gratitude.

Positive chi, man

I didn't get a lot of sleep after writing my last blog post. The next morning I felt terrible, so after some deliberation I decided to stay at home. For some reason we can carry over sick days from one year to the next, so I've still got 46½ of them up my sleeve.

Mum thinks I should move out of my hermit pad. She's right. Spending so much time alone isn't good for me so I'm now seriously thinking of flatting. A lot of our shop windows here are covered in ads, some of them were for flatmates so I jotted down some details, but I was distracted by the number of ads for tarot card readings. Personally I think all that stuff is a load of baloney, but so many people here are into tarot (isn't the hermit one of the cards?), astrology, numerology, palmistry, feng shui, you name it. And what's more, go into any bookstore now and you'll find a whole aisle devoted to "mind, body, spirit" with titles along the lines of "Seven Steps to Eternal Happiness". Do people really think it's that simple? And why is seven always the magic number?

I got quite a bit done on Friday, far more than I would have at work. But that didn't stop me from being depressed. Yesterday was also fairly productive (I found ten recruitment agencies that I hope to contact over the next week), but again I was on my own all day. Today on the other hand was one of the most sociable days I've had for some time. I spoke to my gran first thing, then went to the French club. At lunchtime I saw Brendan who's certainly an interesting character. He even offered me a room at his place to rent. I won't take him up on that offer for a variety of reasons. He's a bit older than me for a start - I need to find people of my own age. Secondly, though I really like his house, living in that area with all its cul de sacs and funny little roundabouts and streets all named after birds would do my head in after a while. Thirdly, Brendan is big on his communications equipment and he likes putting up signs all over his house. I'd feel I was being watched.

This afternoon I played tennis, or tried to. It was a lovely day for it, but for me it wasn't much fun at all. They had seven games of doubles going on at once; all that sunlight and noise and all those flying fuzzy yellow objects were more than I could cope with. We played sudden death deuce - I lost nine of those deciding points in a row, but really I didn't care. I just wanted to get off the court and go home. It wasn't that long ago that I used to enjoy tennis; now it's as enjoyable as going to the dentist.

I've got tomorrow night's Italian class to look forward to, but Tuesday is a potentially scary day at work. I'll find out who's being restructured, streamlined and downsized, so I'll be on full tsunami alert.

That time of year

August is coming.
Inexorably coming.
That week is still hell.

We celebrated Rock's birthday yesterday, and we'll celebrate some more tomorrow. But always niggling in the back of my mind is the memory of his birthday in 2004. Nick was tired -- beyond tired, he was fatigued and he was telling some of our friends about the headaches that had been relentlessly wearing him down for the last month. I still remember the worry and anxiety, as well as the frustration and annoyance.

Rock's birthday was our last family party: Two weeks later, Nick lay dying in the ICU. Whenever Rock's birthday comes around, I always know what else is coming.

I'll always know.

Look what the years have done!

Is that the beginning of a mohawk I see?







It IS a mohawk!

Happy birthday to my wonderful Rock,
my big 7-year-old boy!

What's a proper job anyway?

This morning I was managing OK, but at lunchtime I saw Andy and I declined sharply from there. Almost vertically in fact. Somehow, after seeing Andy the outlook seemed even more bleak than it did before. By mid-afternoon I'd totally given up trying to make head or tail of one of our many Alice-in-Wonderland data systems, while by 5pm I had a headache from digging my fingers into my skull all afternoon. I was supposed to go to a French Society meeting tonight. I couldn't work out whether going to the meeting would be good for me or not, so I used the random number function in Excel to decide. It came out a "yes" so off I went. The meeting was relatively painless and I think I benefited from getting some human contact. When I got back though my parents rang and I was too far gone to disguise my depression. We ended up on the subject of jobs, which simply made me even more depressed. I should know by now never to talk about work with Mum and Dad; they have completely different priorities to me. Apparently if I do leave my current job I have to get a proper job, whatever that means. I guess that means a career. But I really don't care about career paths any more than I care about garden paths. I just want to get rid of this depression.

I saw the doctor yesterday. Tomorrow I'll be getting a supply of 37.5 mg Efexor tablets, which will allow me to go from my current 150 mg to either 187.5 or 225. I usually like to change my dose by small increments if I can, but after today I don't think I'll be messing around.

A piece of history

Today, July 20, 2009, the world is remembering the historic first steps of man on the moon. Like many people, I've watched the old footage and been riveted. But my fascination with space began before the moon landing, and it is actually personal. When I was a little girl, my family was good friends with the family of astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who flew on Apollo 9 and walked in space. I still have a scar on my forehead from where one of his daughters whacked me (accidentally) with a baseball bat.

Each astronaut takes a few personal items into space. Some treasured items are sealed into an envelope worn inside the space suit, in case of calamity -- in case they can't get back, in case someone finds them out there, somewhere, sometime. Generally, the astronauts include their wedding ring in the envelope, family photos, maybe a page from a book ... things like that.

When he was getting ready for his space flight, Rusty asked my mom to help him find appropriate quotations about space, about humanity, about our place in the cosmos. The way my mom tells the story, she couldn't find anything suitable; she sat down to write Rusty a letter telling him what she was looking for but couldn't find. The rest is family history: Rusty took an excerpt of my mother's letter with him on Apollo 9, along with the words of Martin Buber, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Thornton Wilder, and others.

Here are my mother's words:
Truth is a verb -- God is creating spirit -- and we're all here to do our little patch of work as best we see it. The tragedy of humanity is that we never know whether what we are doing is ultimately meaningful; the comedy is in our dogged perseverance in face of possible nothing -- "God" is known in every moment of deep joy that triumphs over our vain mockery and frightened tears.

If we're only animals with superior brains we could not do more than laugh or cry; but we modify, we invent, we create, we see and respond to challenge. These are all acts that say yes to progress, to life.

We are not going to the stars to satisfy an instinct for survival, or prove a political point. We go to the stars because we are men, who will always be as great as our imaginations and as small as our fears.

We don't have to call God by his name in order to be true worshipers. Every moment of caring, wondering, is a prayer; every generosity is devotion; every act of courage is affirmation of faith. When you have answered with one yes to another's need, spoken or silent, you have become a member of "God's family" -- the community of man. Have you ever known a human being who did not fulfill these "rites"?

I remember when Rusty went into space. I remember hearing the story of my mother's words going with him. Today, I learned that the pages my mom has had for the last 40 years, pages with all the quotes he took with him are the actual pages he took on Apollo 9-- that he carried inside his space suit when he left the command module and stepped out into the void. He took three copies with him: One for public record, one for his personal archives, and one to give to my mother. This very piece of paper has been in space:

It's amazing to realize that a piece of my family history is a piece of history indeed.

Choose a life, any life, any life at all

It's my turn to steal a blog idea from Annie.

What book do you wish you could inhabit, and why? What life do you want to live? What character do you want to be?

After rejecting the simple, pleasant life of an anonymous hobbit -- which has tremendous appeal -- I immediately knew that I want to be Harriet Vane, the heroine of three of Dorothy Sayers' mystery novels.

While the structure of British Society is starting to fall apart after the Great War, it’s not altogether unraveled. The rules of civilized behavior still provide an anchor in even the fiercest storm. Harriet is Oxford-educated, witty, and not unattractive; she stands on principle, onlookers be damned; she’s a successful novelist; Lord Peter Wimsey is in love with her, but not obnoxiously so; they speak to each other in obscure quotations; and Bunter the butler takes care of them both. What more could a girl -- a Lady -- ask?


Your turn. Where is your imaginary home? And be sure to answer the WHY part of the question, with details!

Il bloggo

Forty years ago today, man first set foot on the moon. I’m slightly envious of people like my dad who stayed up all night to watch it on a fuzzy black-and-white TV. He thought we’d be on Mars within a few years and have conquered pretty much the whole solar system by the end of the century. The Apollo 11 moon landing came at the end of a revolutionary decade, when there were no limits. Boris Johnson, who was five at the time, doesn’t think he’ll live to see a man walk on Mars, and despite being sixteen years younger than the Mayor of London, neither do I. By the way I think Boris is absolutely priceless – just watch this wonderful Youtube video of him talking about the Olympics.

I’ll never ever put other people’s stuff on TradeMe ever again. Ever. At the weekend things went horribly wrong. Fortunately the mess seems to have cleared itself up, and Julie now has a useful pile of cash, but working as a middle man is fraught with all kinds of difficulties I’d never even considered.

I felt down on Saturday, and with all those TradeMe shenanigans I couldn’t face going to the Bastille Day thing. Besides I was supposed to make something edible to take along, which I hadn’t done. I baked a quiche anyway, just for myself, but while the insides turned out fine the pastry was completely leatherised, and certainly not edible by anyone except me.

I broke my promise of no poker till September but I think I have an excuse. I got an email from PokerStars telling me I’d just received $2 but that I had to play at least one hand of real money poker in the next week or else I’d lose it. So I played five hands of ultra-low-stakes hold ’em and logged out. I still spent a fair chunk of the past week thinking about poker, even dreaming up new games that I know I’ll never play because who will I play them with?

Tonight I had my first Italian class. I got lost on the way there, and when I did arrive at the class I just wanted to go home. Everybody knew everybody and they all had worksheets that were full of complex Italian. It was all very intimidating. Eventually the teacher arrived - she was clearly not the Matteo I was expecting. It turns out they run three classes at the same time and I'd got the wrong one. When I found the right class, the real Matteo was great and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was very rusty but hopefully it'll start coming back.

I’ve got no idea what I’m doing at work any more, and even less idea why I’m still there. My colleagues are writing board papers and designing sophisticated computer models while I’m sitting at my desk trying not to go insane.

People in my life

A is in a loveless marriage, but there's not an easy way out. A has been unhappily married for practically as long as I've known her. She's also been half in love with her high school sweetheart for as long as I've known her. From time to time, she toys with the idea of leaving her marriage and going to the love of her youth, but but but ... there's always a but. I feel so bad for her; I hate seeing her so unhappy.

B is in a troubled marriage. He and his wife are both widowed, found happiness with each other, and now struggle to make each day work for themselves and their kids. They want it to work, but they don't know how. B is close to despair, looking for some guarantee that the effort he puts into the marriage will bear fruit.

C has been really cranky lately, and by "lately" I mean about a year. She admits that she and her husband have been through a rough patch. I don't know the details, but I do know that folks who know her -- myself included -- are getting tired of her bad behavior.

D is bipolar; he's struggling to stay balanced in spite of all the pressures of his life. His wife is self-centered and doesn't take his disease seriously. It makes me crazy to see her frivolous habits undermine all the progress he's made.

E is happily married with two sweet little girls. She has just been told that the breast cancer she thought she'd beaten is back, with mets to the liver and kidneys. I don't have to elaborate on my reactions to this situation, do I?

These are some of the people in my life.

My life looks pretty good right now.


Earlier this week I mentioned seismology. Well on Wednesday night a powerful earthquake shook the South Island but luckily its epicentre was in such a remote location that nobody was injured. Continuing the theme, I said a while ago that the tide was going out on my job. This week it's receded even further. I'm now concerned that a tsunami could be on its way and I won't be able to run fast enough.

Old pier

The old pier isn't used anymore, except by the Cormorants

Back to square one

Things went downhill quite quickly after I wrote my last post. This afternoon at work I ended up writhing around in the toilet, bashing into one wall and lunging into another. When I got out, the lights seemed very bright and my movements had slowed down a lot. I was back to where I was before I started the Efexor. When I got back to my desk, the bloody phone rang and it was someone asking me to take part in tonight's boot camp tennis session. I couldn't think of anything worse so I said no, but as I was about to hang up I changed my mind, knowing it would probably be good for me. Which it was. I still wonder how I'll cope with work tomorrow. At least I'll be seeing Andy at lunchtime. Human contact and exercise might be the answer.

Reading the signs

I spent much of Sunday running around like a headless chicken, not achieving a whole lot. I spoke to my grandmother (she was going to have her pacemaker replaced), checked the stuff I was selling on TradeMe for Julie, went to the market, emailed my brother, had a bite to eat, then helped Julie move some stuff into her new flat. I did my ironing and sat down in front of the computer to play a badugi tournament. At 11pm, after six hours, I was eliminated in 18th place out of nearly 4000. In that time I spoke to Mum and Dad on the phone – “yes it sounds like you’ve had gorgeous weather down there; [I’ll dump the jack] it’s been sunny here too but a bit cold; [ooh this one’s marginal, I think I’ll just fold] I’ve been really needing that fan heater.” I even managed to cook and eat a meal while playing. Half an hour into the tournament I was dealt a nine badugi and bet it aggressively, but no matter how much I bet people would call me, even with two-card draws. All my chips ended up in the middle, and in a four-way pot there was a good chance that someone would beat me. In hindsight I wish somebody did.

I took Monday off from work – the plan was to sort out various aspects of my life, but if anything the opposite happened. At 9am I met up with Andy at a cafĂ© in Devonport. I really appreciated him spending that time with me. We joked about my flat and how it’s a hermit’s cave that only I ever enter. I’m too embarrassed to invite anyone into my flat, and of course I have very few friends anyway. My flat is entirely functional, and lacks any nice homely things. I haven’t tried to change that because I feel I’ve had more important things to do, and I’d be better off waiting till I had my own place.
Later I went to see to a career counsellor on the fifth floor of a building on Queen Street. There were several doors on that floor, only one of which had a sign I could read – all the other signs were in either Chinese or Korean. I found it strange that here I am, in New Zealand, faced with a whole bunch of signs that I can’t even begin to read. I could make a reasonable stab at reading the signs in somewhere as far flung as Peru, but in my own country I simply haven’t a clue. On a similar note, roughly 90% of the names on the pass list for that Australian-based exam, the one I failed, were Asian. Now I’m not racist at all (at least I don’t think I am) but I don’t think that having a profession dominated by one group of people is a good thing.

Anyway, the career counselling was a bit of a dead loss. I had to fill in a questionnaire which categorised interests and professions in totally nonsensical ways. One category was elevated above all others even though it scored the highest by just one point. Other categories were ignored because I’d given a low score for a completely irrelevant question that just happened to be in that category. So I could forget any job which involves writing because I don’t like dancing, and anything financial was out of the question because I don’t like being on committees. So I was left with seismology, cartography, and feeling very confused. When I got home I felt overwhelmed by how many things I had on my plate. I’ve got to find a new job whilst holding down my current job. I’ve got to find somewhere to live. I’ve got to make some friends. I’ve got to sell all this stuff on TradeMe. I’ll be starting Italian classes next week. I’ve got the Bastille Day party with the French club this weekend and I was probably expected to organise something for it but I’ve ignored all emails about it because there’s no way I’d find the time. I need to exercise. My level of tennis deteriorated last season and I’d like to get better again. I need to watch what I eat because my cholesterol level is so high. I need to make sure I have a supply of pills. I’m learning how to play poker. I create word and number puzzles and have a website dedicated to them, which I’ve totally neglected over the past six months – in fact when I mentioned this the career counsellor, she gave me a lot of encouragement to get back into my puzzles again, so seeing her wasn’t a complete waste of time and money after all. A puzzle shop has just opened up in Devonport and even though it deals in mechanical puzzles rather than paper-based ones, I feel I should make contact with the owners.

I realised two things on Monday. First, I need to forget about the house thing for a while. When I looked at that place on Saturday I was going through the motions, and you can’t go half-arsed into the most important purchase of your life. Buying a house isn’t priority A. Or B, or C. So I should flag it, and maybe get some nice homely things for my flat after all. Secondly, I must stop playing online poker. I’ve promised myself not to touch it for two months. On the face of it, what I’ve been doing is harmless because it hasn’t cost me a cent, and could potentially make me money, but it takes up so much time which I simply haven’t got. Last week for instance I spent eleven hours on two tournaments alone. The tournament format just isn’t conducive to living a normal life. When the phone rings you have three options: (1) answer it and fold every hand until you finish the conversation; (2) answer it and carry on playing; or (3) ignore it. I’ve been doing a mixture of (2) and (3). Some people play insane amounts of online poker, saying they “12-table 14 hours a day” and so on. How do they do that without going completely loopy? How do they eat, sleep, exercise, buy food, talk to their loved ones, have anything resembling a life? The same goes for any online activity. Some people are constantly on TradeMe, Youtube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Twatter, and all kinds of other forums and social networking sites that I don’t even know about. How do they manage? I’m beginning to realise that internet addiction can be a real problem.

Yesterday was a bad day. I was depressed and able to think of just one thing – my depression. Seeing the psychologist after work helped, and going to the men’s group last night was a huge help. I think lack of human contact is the root of my problems. At the men’s group we watched the second half of Eagle Eye. Andy made the very good point that even though that kind of film could be disturbing to some people, we should treat those with mental health problems just like anyone else. Today I’m feeling marginally better than yesterday, but I’m still struggling. It’s only a matter of time before I’ll need to up my Efexor to 225. Just when I thought I was getting better, suddenly it’s all gone Pete Tong again.

July 12

The date my dad was born; the date he died. It's just a date.

I'm not going to repeat what I've written elsewhere (here and here, if you're curious), but I'm annoyed that the date still has the power to make the man loom in my thoughts.


If you walk along the banks of the Humber from the city centre towards the ferry terminals you will come across this wreck. It has been there as long as I remember (which is a very long time!) I am always intrigued as to the history of the boat, what it was used for, who owned it, how old is it etc.


I took this photo of what I thought was a Razorbill, and didn't realise until I downloaded it that there was a Puffin there as well (2 if you look very carefully)

Where did it all go wrong?

Talking about my lonely, socially inept childhood and adolescence with the psychologist wasn't fun (it's something I've always just glossed over) but I felt it was necessary. For the next day and a half I felt terrible; on Wednesday my depression affected my performance at work more than on any day since March. During my lunch break on Thursday I saw Andy, and just having someone to talk to made me feel much better. I mentioned to him that I thought I had a mild form of autism; he said I could use that to my advantage by helping people with more severe autism because I'd understand their condition. That's not a bad suggestion when I think about it.
I was fast out of the blocks, academically speaking. To help improve my vocabulary, Mum used a "word tin", which was a matchbox full of words written on small strips of card. The plan was that I'd get a few new words each day, but when I could memorise the whole box in one go, those plans went out the window. I'd label everything in the kitchen. "How do you spell ceiling, Mummy" I'd ask, standing on a chair on the kitchen table. She'd tell me and I'd never forget it. I was fascinated by the "grains of rice on a chessboard" problem and could quickly rattle off powers of two up to probably 131,072.

By the time I started school, my brain age was double my actual age (funnily enough it still is - when I'm trying to learn new things at work I'm like a 60-year-old). I had no idea how to make friends with other kids but I didn't care. I had a loving family and thankfully still do. Mum was a part-time teacher, Dad worked at home, I got on (mostly!) with my brother, and I regularly saw my grandparents. In '86 we went to New Zealand for a long holiday, spending endless summer days on the beach at Caroline Bay while Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al played on the radio - that song always brings back fond memories for me.

I did eventually make some friends, but three changes of school (including a term at a provincial school in New Zealand, which was an experience) didn't help. At the age of thirteen, I became deeply aware of what others thought of me. I suddenly found myself with no friends and no confidence, and things started to go a bit pear-shaped for me.

On Thursday evening I spoke to Mum and Dad on the phone - apparently things have kicked off again in the UK between my aunt and my 87-year-old grandmother. My aunt has a serious drink problem and suffers from severe depression, but at the same time is self-obsessed and extremely manipulative. She's unfortunately the only family my gran has over there, and she has the capacity to make the last few years of my gran's life an absolute misery. Dad will be making a trip to the UK fairly soon, and was trying to persuade my gran to come back to New Zealand with him. It's all so sad that it's got to this point.

I was playing poker (a deuce-to-seven freeroll) while I was having this conversation. I'm hopeless at multi-tasking, so it's no surprise I lost over half my stack (when I think about it, being on the phone probably made no difference). It was a funny tournament for me, though the ending wasn't so funny because I finished 61st, just five places outside the qualifying spots. I lost two huge pots with eights; I need to learn to fold eights occasionally, just like I can fold strong badugis. I kept bouncing back but towards the end I simply missed all my draws.

I went to bed far too late after that tournament, and I had to get up even earlier than usual because it was a special day at work. Once a month the company raises money for kids' charities (which is laudable, but I do wonder how much they really care about kids and how much is just a PR stunt). Somehow I made it to work on time, and though I'm out of my element on special days like that, it could have been a whole lot worse. I even bought a CD of OMC's How Bizarre for 50 cents from a mock garage sale.

Brendan was very helpful today when we looked at an open home in Browns Bay; he knows a lot more about real estate than I do. To be honest though, I'm not all that motivated. I'll still go to the auction next weekend (why is it that every house I look at is sold by auction?) though I doubt I'll be buying.

I'll be taking Monday off from work to sort my life out. I'll be meeting up with Andy for a coffee in the morning; that's something to look forward to.

A meme about Firsts

First Job: Cashier at a burger joint called -- I kid you not -- The Cow Pattie. I was 15 and it was 2 blocks from my house. I was let go when the manager hired his niece for the job.

First Real Job: Conference organizer for a now-defunct human rights organization in Chicago. I loved that job: I was passionate about the cause, I got to travel around the country, and I met amazing people.

First Favorite Politician: John Anderson. Remember him?

First Car: The first family car I remember was the Batmobile; actually, it was a Cadillac with wing fenders and pointy tail lights. The first car my mom bought after she left my dad was a decrepit Ford Falcon; it didn't last very long. I learned to drive on a Ford Pinto. The first car I bought used was a Ford Fiesta that I bought from my sister when the arrival of their third child made it impractical for them. The first car I bought new was a Mazda 323, which ran beautifully until ... well, never mind.

First Record/CD: The first record I remember choosing to listen to was Schubert's Trout Quintet. The first record I remember buying was a gift for my mom, Verdi's La Traviata. The first record I remember buying for myself was Chicago.

First Sport Played: I am not athletic. Does elementary school kickball count?

First Concert: I went to see Aida in the fourth grade; I can STILL see the set, the magic, the mystery. The first concert I went to as a teenager was James Taylor; he was playing at a small auditorium on the campus of SMU 3 blocks from my house. From where I was sitting, I could see Carly Simon standing in the wings ... it was such a THRILL.

First Foreign Country Visited: My family traveled all over South America when I was a toddler, but I don't remember that. The summer after 8th grade, my mom, sister and I went to Spain, Italy, and Greece.

First Favorite TV Show: Gilligan's Island!

First Favorite Actor: Sean Connery, always and forever unto ages of ages

First Favorite Actress: Katherine Hepburn

First Girlfriend/Boyfriend: Craig ... we recently reconnected on that social networking site. What a disappointment!

First Encounter with a Famous Person: I know I've posted this before, but it was (and is) a big deal ... I bought a t-shirt at a Harry Chapin concert: He leaned across the table, kissed me on the lips, and said, Beautiful.

First Brush With Death: I was only 2 or 3 when my paternal grandfather died. I remember his being very sick, and I remember going to the house after he died: I can see my grandmother standing on the staircase and coming down the steps to my dad.

First House/Condo Owned: A fabulous 2-bedroom condo in Maryland. Nick moved into it after we married; then we rented it out when we bought a house. I sold it at a $5K loss when we were tired of being landlords ... two years later the woman who bought it sold it for a $30K profit. It still makes me sick to think about!

First Film Seen: Fantasia

First Favorite Recording Artist: Simon and Garfunkel; I can still sing every word of every song they ever recorded together

First Favorite Radio Station: KLIF 1190 AM, in Dallas, Texas

First Book I Remember Reading: The Very Little Girl, by Phyllis Krasilovsky. I read that book over and over and over again; if it weren't so expensive (or if I had little girls), I'd buy a copy today.

First Meme You Answered on Your Blog: I had to page through my blog from the beginning to find this one from May 2006. Many of my answers are still the same, and many have changed. Maybe I'll redo it sometime.

On a lighter note

The ACL of my heart

The anterior cruciate ligament holds your femur (thigh bone) and your tibia (shin bone) together. Unless they are in the medical field, most people don't even know they have an ACL until it gets injured.

Both my ACLs are torn. Both of them. I tore the one in my right knee in 1984, the one in my left knee in 1999. The 1984 injury was well before arthroscopic surgery was readily available; the doctors wanted to make a 16" incision on my leg and move pieces of muscle around to take the place of the ACL. Ummm... no thanks. I opted for intense physical therapy instead.

By 1999, arthroscopic surgery was fairly routine, but since I'd already been successful with physical therapy, I didn't even consider surgery. It turns out that some people are not what they call "ACL-dependent." My physical therapist in 1999 said that most people he sees can't even bear their weight with a torn ACL, let alone walk around. He'd never worked with anyone with both ligaments torn in separate incidents.

The second round of rehab was challenging for me because I had -- unknown to myself -- made all sorts of compensations for my first torn ACL. I changed my stance, my balance, my walking. I'd been favoring my right knee and putting more stress on my left. When the left knee was injured, I had to start all over again.

I'm sure you're wondering why I'm telling you all this. Annie made a comment about her husband's death being like a bad knee -- I take care in situations where it might be aggravated and I rehab to prevent throwing it out of whack. Reading that one line was like having a light bulb go on in a dark room.

My experience of widowhood has been that it's like having torn the ligaments in my knees.

Usually, I'm not aware of my knees on any conscious level. But I've made adjustments. I walk down hills and stairs at a slant, because my torn ACLs no longer support forward-downward motion. I can walk, I can cycle, I can swim, I can climb, I can jog gently; but serious running is out, and my volleyball days are over. I can do almost anything I want, but when I'm rock climbing or going up and down ladders I have to pay attention to my knees.

When cold wet weather sets in, I have to take Tylenol for the pain in my knees. They are even sensitive to air conditioning. I can't cross my legs at the knee, and my knees need some support if I'm stretched out on the sofa. And sometimes, for no apparent reason, one knee will give out; the bones will shift out of alignment with a stab of pain that takes my breath away. If I'm lucky, I'll have something to grab onto; otherwise, I'll be crumbled on the ground wondering what else I just injured.

So it is with grief. Most of the time, I'm not aware of it. I can do anything I want, but I know that some activities (holidays, the kids' birthdays, etc) will always require a little more care to avoid injury. And just as my knees know when a change of weather is coming, my whole being knows that the anniversary of Nick's death is coming. The ache isn't debilitating, but it's there. I move through the pain a little more slowly than usual, but to the outside observer all is well.

The ACL of my heart has been torn. Major reconstructive surgery is not an option. I have made accommodations for the injury and move through my life with relative ease. But every now and then, it's going to slip out of place and hurt like hell.

Into the caves

We arrived at low tide giving us plenty of time to explore the caves.

The Battle of 16-14

I didn't see any of the men's final. My guess is that it was a very good match, but nowhere near as good as a 30-game fifth set might suggest, and not a patch on last year's final. Of course I'm just speculating here. Last year's final was a real clash of the titans with one mesmerising baseline rally after another, and I'd be surprised if this year's match captivated the audience in quite the same way.

Some facts and figures I picked up from the final:
  • Federer served fifty aces in that match, which is more than I've managed in my entire life.
  • Roddick led 6-2 in the second-set tie-break but blew all four set points. If you're reading this blog Andy Roddick, you can console yourself that I outdid you in this regard last season.
  • Federer won more sets (obviously), fewer games, but more points than Roddick.
  • Last year's final had 62 games compared to this year's 77, but was half an hour longer (and that doesn't include the rain delays).
  • Federer has played six tie-breaks in the last three Wimbledon finals and has won all of them.

It's about time the women started playing best-of-five in the Grand Slams too. Not from round one like Bazza suggested when I spoke to him last night, but certainly in the final and perhaps also the semi-finals. And if you (like Lleyton Hewitt) think women wouldn't last five sets, take a look at this article from 1990 about a match between Seles and Sabatini. Or maybe some women's US Open final results from more than a century ago. Or, for a bit of a laugh, this crazy match where a single point lasted almost half an hour!

Today I was invited to a Farrah Fawcett party which is happening on Saturday. Unfortunately there's just no way I could accept the invitation, which lost me at the words "dress up". If it had been a Michael Jackson party instead, I probably would have gone.

After work today I saw my psychologist. For the first time ever I spilled the beans about my messed-up adolescence (it was a totally different kind of messed-up to the one we all hear about, but it was messed-up all the same). I've been so lonely for so long, it's no wonder I've had depression. In fact I should be grateful things haven't been worse.

Winter Blues

With winter having us firmly in its grip, there hasn't been any flying lately. But I have been pottering a bit and have managed to complete my fencepost sentry in the form of a Mitsubishi A6 Zero.

The Flanker project is coming along slowly too. I now have the wing wrapped with fibreglass tape and the servos installed and some progress has been made on the tail. This pic shows it sitting outside on the picnic table about a million miles away from summer :-(

And finally for now - some sad news - I have decided to abandon the idea of building a Messerschmidt Me262. After much practical consideration I have decided it would just be too draggy to have such huge engine cowls along with having to land on these engine pods as well. In order to make it look right, it would just compromise performance too much - I'm not into building a plane just for "looks" alone - it also needs to be enjoyable to fly. But I am considering other designs for the future... stay in trim!


Anybody want to go and explore those caves?


Wargods of Aegyptus is running a 'World Campaign' at the moment, and one of the scenarios calls for cargo sledges (actually wagons, but I think sledges is more appropriate)

So I thought I'd build some... and then given how easy it was, I thought I'd share it.

5mm balsa for the sled
3mm MDF for bases
Something for the load : I used Hirst Arts blocks but chunks of extruded polystyrene would make a good alternative
Something to pull the sled
Spare charioteers

Small drill
Sharp knife

Cut up your bases

Work out what you're going to use for loads and pre-assemble them.

Cut out the sides and crossbars

Sides should not be more than 50mm long and I'd suggest about three times the thickness of your balsa

The crossbars should be about 12mm wide and the width of your load plus twice the thickness of your balsa plus about 20mm.

Take the crossbars and notch them down slightly so that the narrow down about 5mm wider than your load. Try and do this as evenly as possibe so that the narrower ends are identical.

Take a crossbar and push it into the sides a bit so that it indents the balsa where you want the crossbars to go.

Drill out the corners and cut out the slots for the crossbars. It helps to stack them so you can drill both sides at the same time. This keeps your alignment.

Assemble the sides and crossbars

Drill through the crossbars just outside the sides.

Whittle a little peg from a matchstick and put it into the holes you've just drilled. This holds it all together in a pleasing and authentic fashion.

Paint and put on base with whatever you have to pull the load and your charioteer.

A lucky find!

A few weeks ago at work I discovered that they were throwing away large sheets of polystyrene, used as transport packing... about 1200mm square and 70mm thick. Gloriously thick stuff.

So, after asking, I started grabbing it. :)

Now, all I have to do is (a) store it and (b) find a worthy use for it... and keep my eyes open for more.

I've already rebuilt my hot wire cutter and started cutting it up into 600mm squares.

I have visions of Omaha beach bluffs... and point du Hoc.

Lime Hawk-Moth

It's not every day you see one of these, so 2 is a treat. Apologies for the absence, many reasons, one of which was having my internet account suspended for being a naughty boy!

Late night

Last night was a very late one for me. For most people, a late night normally involves alcohol, parties and other people, but my late night was spent in front of the computer and the TV. I played a single draw freeroll, making it through to the money round from that tournament at my fourth attempt, and watched the women's Wimbledon final which finished at around three.

There are a lot of clueless players in the early stages of a freeroll, and this one was no exception. Some of them were clearly trying to make flushes and full houses. On one occasion I made a nine and thought long and hard before calling a biggish raise. He/she showed down something like A8652, presumably thinking aces were low. I got frustrated as I kept missing my draws, but eventually the cards went my way and I made the top 56 with something to spare. As soon as I'd qualified, I just went all in so I could bust out and watch the tennis.

Unfortunately I correctly picked Serena to win (I've always preferred Venus over her sister) and she didn't even need three sets, though she did need a large helping of good fortune to make it to the final in the first place. The dominance on serve last night wasn't unlike a men's match: we didn't really get those bruising baseline rallies until the very last game. I'd love to watch the men's final tonight but I really do need to get some sleep.

I spent this afternoon at Julie's, helping her move to her apartment in Cheltenham. I felt good after all that heavy lifting; I could benefit from doing physical work now and again.

Yesterday I went to another open home. I quite liked what I saw but once again it's being sold at auction, and I'm not sure I should be making that sort of commitment just yet.

Perfect result (but not for me)

The results of the early exams came out today; amazingly everyone passed. We had an unprecedented number sitting this time so it really was an incredible effort. It was suggested that the exams are getting easier, but they're not. I've got my own theories for today's perfect score:
(a) My department now has a virtual A-plus-only hiring policy, so we now have some very clever people in our midst. The academic bar has been raised several notches since I arrived on the scene. I was very much a B-grade student so if I hadn't got in when I did, I never would have made the cut.
(b) We've got far too many people working in our department. There just isn't enough meaningful work to go round. So all the new students have oodles of time to study.
(c) The number of students has reached a critical mass where they can study in a group and generally help each other out.

At the same time as all those results came in (one of my colleagues celebrated so wildly you'd have thought he'd just won the Powerball jackpot), I got a letter giving a breakdown of last week's result. I'd done even worse than I'd imagined, coming 142nd out of 177 and passing just one question out of six.

A celebratory barbecue had been planned for tonight (our whole department was invited) and I'd brought beers and a change of clothes to work. But by mid-afternoon I realised I simply couldn't face the thought of being with people tonight, and certainly wasn't in the mood for celebration of any sort. So at 5pm I went home, did a good half-hour on the cardio-glide thingy and downloaded Green Day's 21 Guns. I'll try and stay up for the men's semis tonight.

In one short month

It will have been five long years since I took Nick to the ER.

I'm not one to get all worked up about approaching dates, but the five-year mark looms large in my mind. I just read the CaringBridge journal update by a friend's daughter who has had more cancer surgeries than I can count. She's so upbeat and laughs that "you know you have had too many surgeries when you recognize the recovery room nurse."

I can't laugh about it. I can't be upbeat. It's like my entire being KNOWS that August is just around the corner. I hate this knowledge. I hate this feeling.

I want it all to go away.

Missing the target

Yesterday I found myself in another sticky situation at work - I had my appraisal report. As expected, I scored "below target" for a number of my objectives. With the country's economic report card looking as unhealthy as my personal one, I won't be getting a nice big fat bonus this time around. But that was the least of my worries. My boss didn't come down on me like a ton of bricks (I don't know why I thought she might - she's a good person) and she had no real problems with my decision to take a break from the next exam session.

Last night I went to the men's group where we watched the first half of Eagle Eye, an action thriller. I thought it was a decent movie but I wondered how appropriate it was for people with mental health problems. Apart from that, the week has so far been fairly uneventful. I went to the French club on Sunday and the boot camp tennis on Monday. Though Wimbledon is on poor man's TV this year, the coverage is woefully inadequate so I've seen hardly any of it. We're now down to just four women and eight men; I'm picking Serena to beat her sister in three sets in the women's final, while Federer is my pick to make it six Wimbledon titles with a four-set win over Andy Murray in the men's final. Those picks are based purely on gut instinct because I've unfortunately had nothing else to go on.