Tough Day at the Mount

With the equinox winds in full stride, the Mount would normally be pretty good in a big westerly off the top - but today it was as fickle as a feather - good strong lift one moment followed by sink the next. I was up there with Ralphie and Johnny but after a nice ballasted fly with the Flanker I tried for a second flight and the sink caught me out taking the plane way way down until it mushed out into the grass right down the bottom.

On a later flight from further round the top at the end of the day I got into differculties again. It was really hard to keeep orientaton of the beast as we were staring into the hazy glare of the late afternoon sun. Lost it again - this time over the back of the steep north face and had a mammoth task retrieving it. Had to climb up from the bottom, then I thought it was too steep to descend with plane, so, after overcoming my fear on a steep face, I managed to climb back to the top by chucking the plane up ahead a few feet at a time. Phew.

Hope you like the video here - one of Ralph's Graphite - the other of Johnny's new Banshee sloper.

There's a grief that can't be spoken ...

There's a grief that can't be spoken,
There's a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables,
now my friends are dead and gone.

Here they talked of revolution,
here it was they lit the flame,
here they sang about tomorrow
and tomorrow never came.

From the table in the corner,
They could see a world reborn,
And they rose with voices ringing,
And I can hear them now;
The very words that they had sung
Became their last communion
On the lonely barricade, at dawn.

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There's a grief that can't be spoken,
There's a pain goes on and on...

Phantom faces at the window,
Phantom shadows on the floor,
Empty chairs at empty tables
where my friends will meet no more.

Oh my friends, my friends don't ask me
what your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will sing no more.

I'm sending this out to all my widowed friends, who are painfully aware of the empty chair today.

May the sweetness of your love outlast the bitter taste of pain.
May gratitude for what you had outweigh sorrow for what you've lost.
May their memories be eternal.

That's a very good question

The fact that everyone now knows I'm leaving has made for a strange week at work. Naturally people want to know what I'll be doing next; my usual response has been, "actually that's a very good question." Getting into the mental health industry is still on the list, but my latest idea is funds management. It's something I think I'd be good at. Last night I had a drink with a bloke from the tennis club; a few years ago he did the Everest Base Camp Trek and his account of that certainly gave me the travel bug. In short, I really have no idea what I'll be doing in 2010.

I saw Andy today; I didn't have a lot to say. After our meeting I almost had an accident in the car park.

I hadn't bought clothes for a year (I remember when I used to buy clothes most weekends) so last weekend Mum insisted she would buy my two pairs of jeans at the mall in Takapuna. Mum had almost given up finding jeans for me, but then she clapped eyes on the shop called Just Jeans. Oh boy. Every pair I tried on was too short or too wide or too something, and by the time I'd found some that fitted I was rapidly losing the will to live. I should be grateful I've got a mother willing to spend money on me (maybe the jeans will be my Christmas present) but I can't hack being in a mall any longer than is absolutely necessary.

The three of us played Scrabble at the weekend. Mum likes to make interesting words. As it happens the World Scrabble Championship is currently taking place in Malaysia. Last time a Kiwi won it. I really enjoy Scrabble but I could never be interested in playing it competitively because so much emphasis is put on learning lists of words, or to my mind, non-words. In fact I think competitive Scrabble could benefit from giving the official dictionary a severe cull. The addition of Q-without-U words such as QI and QAT removes an important strategic consideration - what to do with the Q - from the game. Do I just get rid of the damn thing or wait for a better opportunity? Serious players can just slap down QI for maybe forty-odd points, no problem.

We've had lovely weather the last couple of days. Let's hope the recent pattern is broken and the sunshine continues into the weekend.

Twenty-one days to go

I've just got back from my latest Italian lesson. The brass band next door are now playing Christmas Carols instead of the usual Simpsons.

It was good to have Mum and Dad up for a few days. The highlight was probably the very tasty meal we had last night at Gina's (an Italian restaurant on Symonds Street). I was lucky enough to win a $100 restaurant voucher in a raffle. Using up the $100 was no problem.

Last Monday, as promised, I informed my boss of my decision. I confirmed this in writing on Wednesday. Writing a letter of resignation wasn't an easy task - it's not something I've ever done before - but because I have nothing specifically against the company or any of the people I work with, it was at least manageable. I think I made a good job of it. On Tuesday I felt very flat - perhaps I was in shock. Did I really just quit my job? Now I'm feeling a lot better, probably because I was able to talk things over with Mum and Dad. My last day will be December 22nd and I'm happily counting down the days.

On Saturday I attended the Autism NZ meet-up for the second time. The turnout was down on last time - maybe fifteen or so - and at times I felt a bit silly and unhelpful. I wonder if I should try to convince Bazza to go.

Finally an update

Well, finally getting around to doing an update. Lazy...

MOAB went off well, people had fun, and we've now got Cancon and Leviathan to look forward to.

I'll put up some photos soon...

Also going to a FOW D-day game this weekend. It should be fun.

I'll try and post more often now.

Promise :)

Photographs, memories, and field of vision

Being a mom, I take a lot of pictures of my boys: silly boys, handsome boys, costumed boys. Living in the desert Southwest, I take a lot of nature photos: spectacular sunsets, fascinating critters, pretty flowers. Loving to travel, I take a lot of tourist shots: churches, statues, quaint streets. I spent a day last week in my mother's house, taking a different kind of photograph: a catalog of jewelry, rugs, and artwork.  I didn't take those photos for insurance purposes (which is a good idea if you have valuable possessions), but to help my mother decide how she wants things to be divided upon her death.

For the last 20 years, every significant purchase that Mother has made has been accompanied by I want you to have this when I'm gone. Or You're going to get that one, so this one goes to your sister.  Or Your sister will be mad, but this is for you. Or You already have one so she should get this one. Since the inheritance allocation usually changes every time my mother talks about it, Jane and I have rolled our eyes and said, together and separately, Whatever you want (while thinking simply WhatEVer!).

But our mother's days are numbered now by ovarian cancer. The task of dividing her belongings is no longer an eventuality to think about some day, but is something to dread having to do too soon.  Both my sister and I have been urging Mother to write things down so that everything is clear-cut.  We both know families that have been torn apart by grasping relatives who want want want, and our own father wrote the most vicious and intentionally divisive will either of us could imagine.

Mother has resisted writing things down (because she, too, wants to escape the reality that is facing her), saying, Oh you two will work it all out. You're good girls who will take care of each other. I tried explaining to her that she was right, we would make sure that the distribution is financially equitable, but that money and value would not be the issue between my sister and me. We'll get upset over the little things that have no monetary value whatsoever, like the donkey our grandfather gave Mother when she was just 5 years old or the framed collage of photos of Jane, Lawrence (our brother, who died a few years ago), and me.  Jane put it best: We are each going to want 70% of your things, because they're YOUR things. But we'll both be good and settle for 60%.

That, my mother finally heard. So I went to her house last week and methodically photographed a lifetime of treasures collected from around the world. The things are so familiar to me that I hardly see them anymore when I visit her, but each item has a story, each item is a memory. Some of the stories I know by heart from hearing while I was growing up.  She bought the lithograph over the stereo when I was a little girl; she'd asked my father to buy it and he said that if he went to the exhibit and knew which one she wanted, he would get it for her.  It's been in her house for over 45 years. Some of the memories are mine as well, because I was there when she bought them. We stood in the gift shop at the Petrified National Forest for 25 minutes while she tried to decide which miniature Hopi pot to buy. (The one in the middle of the photo is about the size of a 50-cent piece.) They were exquisitely crafted but very expensive, so she struggled to choose which one to bring home.  My sister will be getting all three of them when it's time.  (But that's okay, because I get the three micaceous miniatures ... it all balances out.)

I left my mother with 50 pages of printed photos to sort through and mark, so she could label each treasure, each memory for her children and grandchildren. The act of zooming in on those memories made me realize that so much in my life has become so familiar that I don't see it anymore.  In photography, the field of vision is the area of the photograph that is most in focus.  Most general photos have a very broad field of vision, so that everything is in equal focus and everything gets equal attention.  Nature photography -- close-ups of small animals and flowers -- generally uses a very narrow field of vision: The outer area of the image is blurry, but the subject is in clear focus, allowing us to appreciate the texture of the petal, the details of the feathers.

I found myself wishing that I could automatically adjust my personal field of vision as needed to call attention to the treasures in my life that are so familiar to me that I no longer see them: my 7YO's sense of humor, my 11YO's design ability, the easy friendship my boys have with their much older cousins.  And I know that with my very broad default field of vision, which sees everything equally, I am missing texture and details that would help me better understand these boys whom I treasure so much.

Originally published on this date on the now-defunct 50-Something Moms blog

Where does the time go?

It's hard to believe it's already the middle of November.  Christmas is next month? Thanksgiving is next week?  The boys are all about I want - I want - I want, marking catalogs and pointing out commercials.  Their Christmas lists seem long enough to give one Lego set or one electronic gadget to every child in Tucson.

Mother and Jane are in India right now -- yes, India -- and won't be back until after Thanksgiving.  I'll be hosting her husband and kids at my house.  It will be very strange. Let me write down HERE the thought that has occurred to me, so I don't have to say it to anyone else.  When I moved out here two years ago, we were pretty sure that was Mother's last holiday season, and nobody was very confident about Jane's health status either.  So two years ago, the possibility of neither Mother nor Jane being present at the holiday dinner table was all too real, all too grim.  We never dreamed that they'd both be gone for a GOOD reason.  Good reason, or not, it feels very strange.  May they both be with us NEXT year.

NaNoWriMo is half over, and I am not, unfortunately, halfway through my book.  I wrote two really good chapters and then hit an emotional wall.  I've had to rub my head a bit and catch my breath.

On the other hand, I have a new post up at 50-something Moms.  Pop on over to read about Photographs, Memories, and Field of Vision.

And here's the Patriot at Raglan

Raglan Videos

Ok, here's my first attempt at posting a video to the flog. This is from a great day Ralph and I had at Raglan in early November.

Can it be.. The pool is clear..

Well the pool is finally clear (only took us like 3 weeks) and ready for summer. Next up Pool Party.

All White on the night

Last night Bazza and I watched New Zealand's World Cup qualifier with Bahrain. We saw it at Takapuna's Sin Bin; Bazza made sure we got there hours early to get the best seats. It was a good game between two evenly-matched teams. Obviously, with the exception of the Bahrainian (?) bloke who grabbed the third-best seat in the bar, we were pretty happy with the outcome. It wasn't until this week that Kiwis finally grasped the importance of the match. I'm hoping the national side can build on this. They should join the Asian confederation (surely next time FIFA won't let them get away with playing two matches each against New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu and Bahrain) and play meaningful matches against quality opposition on a regular basis. With the popularity of rugby in New Zealand seemingly at a low ebb, suddenly football has some real potential.

Tomorrow I've got a meeting with my boss about some work I'm doing, but I plan to hijack the meeting by informing him of my imminent move. I've spoken to Mum and Dad about this (they were supportive of my decision and the shock factor wasn't exactly of seismic proportions). We all agree that I should make my exit as amicable as possible, and besides, I have no feelings specifically against my company, or any of the people in it, anyway.

Mum and Dad are flying up on Wednesday, the same day that I'll be meeting up with my psychologist to talk about my "identity crisis". It was in 1998, when I started university, that I realised I was a bit lacking in that department. All around me people were putting up posters of Che Guevara, Cartman, George Best or Denise van Outen while my walls remained bare. I remember being confused. Why are you so desperate to tell everybody what you're "in to", how did all those posters suddenly spring up out of nowhere, and where did you get them from in the first place? I've only just scratched the surface of my lack of identity here; our meeting is sure to be an interesting one.

Check out our grapes!

Well this is the second round of grapes we are going to be getting from the vine since we have moved into our house. The first batch came just after we moved in, so we did not get much time to cover them all up before the birds got to them. This year the birds are not going to be so lucky.

Rooms Taken

Hey all..

All the rooms in Awesome Pad have been taken... Sorry to all the people that lost out, I know you were all holding thumbs..

Whacked again

Our night tennis competition is played in a large complex; at the start there would be fifty or so players on the courts. By 9pm we’re probably down to about twenty, and from there the numbers gradually dwindle until inevitably there are only two: him and me.

Such was the case on Monday. We began with the doubles which we lost 6-4 6-2. We didn’t play badly but were simply outclassed. I was a clear underdog for my singles; I knew I would need to be at the top of my game to stand a chance. To my surprise I won the first set 6-2 – in that set I was at the top of my game while my opponent made uncharacteristic errors. Winning that set was a bit scary; despite the decisive score I was at best only a slight favourite for the match. In the second set his mistakes dried up and I was soon behind, 2-4 15-40. I dug my way out of that hole and after an hour of play brought up a match point. I’ve had considerable trouble closing out matches, but this time I was determined to put him away. Only I never got the chance. I returned his booming first serve but he powered away the volley. From that point I got more and more frustrated. To their credit two of my team-mates stayed to watch the end of my match, but even they began to annoy me. If you’re going to stay, please get off your frigging cell phones and watch the match! I lost six games in a row to fall behind 6-2 5-7 0-3. At 1-4 in the third I knew I was toast. Yet another match where I’ve tried my absolute hardest but fallen just short because of, I don’t know, something I did in a past life maybe. I decided I would go down fighting and would run down every ball, and boy did I have to run down a lot of balls. The games got longer, the rallies got longer, and he had me seemingly on the end of a string. I surprised myself with my ability to dig in. An hour after my first match point, I conjured up another two as he served at 4-5. More impossible serves. Match point number four. I hardly got my racket onto this one. Number five. Another first serve, but unlike all the others it was half-way up the service box. If I’m ever going to win this, I thought, it’ll have to be now. In poker parlance I pushed all in. The longest exchange of the match ensued. When my opponent’s final shot of that 40-plus-stroke rally sailed long I lay on the court, totally spent.

After that match, which finished shortly after 10:30, I hardly slept a wink. At work yesterday (when I eventually got there) I needed several cups of coffee just to keep my eyes open, so when I got a phone call from someone asking me to play again last night, I was horrified. After some deliberation I gave in and agreed to play. We had a close win in the doubles, then everything kicked off again in the singles. I started appallingly – I couldn’t hit a barn door in the first set, nor could I keep away from his killer forehand – but I finished up a 1-6 6-3 7-6 winner, the final tie-break score being 7-4. I was fortunate – I was only two points from defeat in the 12th game of the deciding set and was handed a couple of crucial free points in the tie-break.

Just prior to last night’s tennis I met up with my counsellor – up till now I’ve been (incorrectly?) calling her a psychologist. We had an interesting discussion but she certainly struck a raw nerve as we moved on to the topic of my identity, or lack of it. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life, and will discuss it in a later post, but for now I’m just going to lie on the sofa and do nothing. After all that tennis I’m utterly whacked.

Watch this space

Yesterday's mystery team building wasn't as bad as I'd feared. Predictably we started with a planning session. In the past I'd have found all that marketing claptrap incredibly depressing, but because I've decided I won't be there much longer, I was able to let it all wash over me. And there was an awful lot of claptrap. We even had a quote from Nelson Mandela. I struggled to see how this particular quote had a deeper meaning of, er, "we need to make more money". The word silo was mentioned several times, or should I say a significant quantum of times. I thought a silo was one of those great big cylindrical things used to store grain; I couldn't really see how it related to an insurance company. There's also been a recent trend to use the word space when talking about subjects totally unrelated to square footage, or indeed interstellar travel. "We need to enhance our competitive position in the income protection space." "We need to achieve better results in the profit space." What's wrong with "we need to make more profit"? I really wish some people could do less talking in the bullshit space.

In the afternoon we went go-karting. Again. This is the second time we've been go-karting in a matter of months. When I finally do leave my job I still won't have a clue how to use Microsoft Access, or any of the other complicated programs we use, but I sure will know how to go-kart. I was a bit apprehensive about the go-karting yesterday, mainly because we were put into teams and raced each other in a potentially embarrassing relay format. But it was actually quite a lot of fun and there was nothing to be even remotely embarrassed about. Afterwards we had drinks, though I didn't stay for long. I did however get to meet our new CEO who happens to be a Pom, so we had something in common at least. He also does Iron Man (a.k.a. Bloody Stupid Man) triathlons, and that's where our similarities ended. But he did seem to be a really nice bloke.

Today I played tennis for the first time in a little while. Getting on the tennis court gives me a good indication of the state of my mental health. After today's marathon (but not quite Iron Man) effort it would seem I still have some way to go in my recovery. Fifty-eight games, six sets, 32 players competing, it was far more than my brain could handle. We lost the men's match 6-1 3-6 6-2, mainly because one of our opponents was very determined to win, far more so than me. It's funny how I'm a lot less bothered about the results of my matches than I used to be. In fact I'm less emotionally attached to most things than I used to be. Whether that's something to do with my medication I don't know.
It was in the mixed match that everything caved in on me. We'd both been playing well - we took a 7-5 3-1 lead - but I started missing a couple of easy shots and even though we still had our noses in front, suddenly I didn't want to be there. Our opposing bloke took an age between points; this frustrated me because I was desperate to get off the court. I resisted the temptation to bash myself over the head with my racket, instead taking my anger out on the fence, but a few games later I punched myself in the forehead. Not particularly hard, but I can still feel it now. Sitting here at my desk in front of the screen, I couldn't imagine wanting to injure myself. But there are certain situations (long interclub tennis matches being a prime example) where tension gradually builds up within me, until finally, crack!
My serve had been working well for me all day, and at 5-4 in the second set I served for the match. I threw in two double faults, dropped my serve, and in no time the set was gone, 7-5. The third set was all a bit of a blur. I talked to myself a lot ("this is too hard, life is too hard") and sometimes even relayed these sentiments to my partner, who had developed a real dislike to the bloke on the other side of the net. I'm not sure what happened, or how it happened, but from 2-4 down we won four games on the bounce to take out the match. After our miraculous win, I had a chat with my partner. This was the third time I'd played with her; I felt I ought to give her some idea of what was making me literally beat myself up.

I've got more puzzles to send off to the States, so I plan to spend a solid day on them tomorrow. It was good to meet up with my aunt and uncle on Thursday. We ate at Mint in Takapuna; I had a "meat lovers" pizza. They were encouraging me to come down to Christchurch and look for a job here, but I think I'll be staying in Auckland for the time being. In my current state I really think I need some stability.

The beginning of the end

I've finally set a date by which I'll leave my job, for good, come what may. I won't mention the exact date here, but it's definitely on the horizon. Drawing this line in the sand is liberating if a little scary. What (and how) will I tell my parents? What will I write in that letter?

Monday and Tuesday were bad days. The effects of my medication - or perhaps my lack of medication - didn't help. I took yesterday off work; that lifted my mood slightly in the office today, but really I'm just going through the motions. And that's on a good day. On my bad days I sit at my desk, head in hands, just wishing I could crawl into a hole.

I enjoyed the pétanque on Sunday. The weather on Waiheke was great. We finished third out of eight teams, winning two and losing two, but with a good "goal difference". Phil made the final, playing in a different team from me, and was a tad unfortunate not to win the whole shebang. One of our games didn't end particularly sportingly. Every time I've been, we've had to play this French hippie who has dreadlocks, is always puffing on a cigarette of some kind, and has about seven teeth, all of them varying shades of brown and yellow. He's also very good at pétanque. The first time I met him I thought he'd be a pleasure to play with but no. He is desperate to win and, knowing that we're hardly pétanque experts, creates rules seemingly at will. This game was no different. But on the whole it was a good day. Having lived in dark caves for the last two and a half years, I realise how important it is to get some sunlight every now and then.

My uncle and aunt (who live in Woodbury, not far from Geraldine) are in Auckland on a rhododendron conference. I'll be meeting them shortly.

We've got a mystery team building day tomorrow. Oh man. It'll be funfunfun all the way and I simply can't wait.

On the Fear of Failure and Progress

We had parent-teacher conferences at the boys' school last week. I've heard it said that if the parents are paying attention and the teachers are doing their jobs, there should be no surprises at this annual ritual. Since I'm an attentive parent, and I have every confidence in my kids' teachers, I walked in knowing exactly what I would hear: Rock has no problems academically, but he can't sit still. ... and ... HardPlace is a great kid, but he's not motivated. He could do the work if he tried. 

I was only half right: My second-grader IS a handful and a half. His report card was straight A's except for handwriting, effort, and conduct. But my sixth-grader's teachers stunned me. I was prepared to moan and groan and say "What can I do?" I was left speechless when his teachers had nothing but words of praise and enthusiasm. His report card wasn't stellar, but the teachers were utterly thrilled with the progress they have seen from last year to this.

He's laughing! He's smiling and telling jokes! He's participating in group discussions! He asks the most interesting questions! He props his chin on his hand, leans across the table, and says, 'So, Mrs. Jones, how was your weekend?' 

His academic performance? Oh, we're not too concerned about that. He's doing his homework this year, and his classwork is fine. When he decides that he wants to get A's on his report card, he'll start studying for tests, and he'll get them. We're just so pleased to see how comfortable he's gotten with himself! *
I walked out of the classroom shaking my head, not sure what to make of it all. A few conversations with family and friends later, I realized that HardPlace is struggling with Fear of Failure: What if he studies and doesn't get a good grade? What if he tries and can't do the work? What if he's not as smart as he thinks he is? as he's heard people say that he is? What if what if what if?  I recognized it because I, too, suffer from that particular form of perfection disorder. (No, "perfection disorder" is not a real diagnostic term, but it should be.) If I can't do something well, if I can't get it right the first time, I wind up procrastinating and rationalizing -- and more often than not, I don't do it at all.

For example, I agonized about writing for 50-Something Moms. Can I make this commitment? Do I have enough interesting things to say? It's one thing for my friends to want to keep up with my life, but are strangers who read this popular blog going to want to know what I have to say? I've also been talking for years about wanting to write, about "having a book inside me." And I've always been plagued with uncertainty about doing so. What if I can't do it? What if I can't finish it? What if nobody likes it? What if I fail in one of the myriad ways there are to fail? What if what if what if?

It's so much safer to say, "Well, I never really tried. If I'd tried, I'm sure I could have ... " Enough of that. I've made the commitment to write here, and I've registered with NaNoWriMo. If I want to call myself a writer, I have to write. And as I sit here writing, HardPlace is across the room -- working diligently on his math homework. We're making progress.

* A little background seems necessary: We moved across the country about one-quarter through fourth grade. HardPlace was pretty much shell-shocked all year. By fifth grade, he'd gotten his bearings and was starting to feel more secure with the new environment. He has the same team of teachers this year as he did last year. Apparently, this year, he's found his groove.

Originally published on this date on the now-defunct 50-Something Moms blog

My guys: Gotta love 'em

HardPlace may not have stellar grades, but his teachers selected him to receive a significant 6th grade honor. There are four categories of awards, with one boy and one girl receiving a certificate in each category:
  • Active Christian
  • Life-Long Learner
  • Effective Communicator
  • Problem Solver
HardPlace received the award for Integrated Individual, the person who best exemplifies all four characteristics. I am so proud of him.

Rock, on the other hand, followed some girls into their bathroom. He received a discipline slip.  It was totally innocent, just following them in while talking, but he still crossed a privacy line that the school takes very seriously. The child makes me crazy.

I love them both beyond the telling.


Maybe Mick Jagger couldn't get any satisfaction -- one of many reasons I am grateful for not being Mick Jagger -- but I can.

My first post is up at 50-Something Moms, and I am pleased.  Pop on over and read about my conferences with the boys' teachers. 

My participation in NaNoWriMo is also going well: As I work on one section of my memoir, my brain is already churning on the next one.  It's very satisfying.

For your amusement ...

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As promised

Here is the Headless Horseman, with his accomplices.

Rock had a great time trick-or-treating, of course.  HardPlace thought he was too old to wear a costume, but he dressed in black and grabbed his super-cool Nerf dart gun, the one with a laser sight.  As soon as we met some of the local 11YOs, HardPlace disappeared. Turns out all the neighborhood 10- and 11YOs had the same idea: There was a veritable band of boys in black with different weaponry.  What IS it about boys and guns?