No more noughties

It’s been a tricky year and I’m glad it will soon be over. It’ll also be the end of a decade – the “noughties”. I wonder what they’ll call the next one. The teenies? The tweenies? And there’s still little consensus on whether next year will be “twenty-ten” or “two thousand and ten”. With the future still very much up in the air for me, it seems fitting that we’re about to enter a decade that nobody knows the name of and a year that nobody knows how to pronounce.

I can't believe it's been ten years since the millennium, and all that hype about why-two-kay and planes falling out of the sky. It's made me think about what I've achieved in that time, or rather what I haven't.

Mum took me out this morning for nine holes of golf. Some surprisingly good shots were interspersed with totally expected duffers. I had two par threes and a bogey five, but on other holes I struggled to stay in single figures.

Tonight I expect we’ll be seeing in the New Year at Caroline Bay. They put on a fireworks display at midnight. Historically New Year’s Eve has been one of the most painful days on the calendar for me so I’ll be hoping for an uneventful evening.

iPredict Annual Report

As 2009 comes to an end, I thought I'd give a quick rundown of my profits and losses so far on iPredict, arranged by stock in descending order of profitability. Everything is rounded to the nearest dollar, only stocks with a swing of $10 or more (up or down) are included, and all related stocks (usually these would form a bundle) are lumped together. Here goes (please excuse the iffy formatting):

October 2009 petrol prices ......................... +$315
Gordon Brown not to resign ........................ +$121
Special votes at 2008 NZ election .............. +$99
11 June 2009 OCR ....................................... +$82
June 2009 petrol prices ............................... +$72
Spelling of W(h)anganui ............................... +$52
Swine flu cases .............................................. +$28
30 Apr 2009 OCR ........................................ +$24
29 Jan 2009 OCR ......................................... +$23
Anti-smacking referendum turnout .......... +$16
July 2009 petrol prices ............................... +$15
4 Dec 2008 OCR ........................................... −$10
CPI for year to 31 Dec 2008 ....................... −$13
10 Sept 2009 OCR ....................................... −$24
30 July 2009 OCR ....................................... −$58

A few notes:
  • The Gordon Brown resignation stock is still ongoing: it pays $1 if he resigns before the next UK election which he could still do (though personally I doubt it). However I haven't been exposed to that stock for some months.
  • I might not bother with the OCR stocks in future - I figure there are many iPredictors who know a lot more about the economy, and the goings-on at the Reserve Bank, than I ever will.
  • I'm sitting on a handful of temperature-related stocks. Specifically I'm long on the stocks that pay $1 if this year's average global temperature ends up being higher than in 2008. I should make a thirty-odd-dollar profit here, despite the recent snow storms in Europe.
  • For all the stocks on the list above, my investment decisions were based on facts rather than gut instinct, with one exception: the W(h)anganui stock. I didn't know, or particularly care, what would happen there. I wasn't even sure what the definitions meant. I just figured that a 20% probability of some kind of compromise seemed a bit on the low side.

All in all 2009 was a successful year for me on iPredict. Who knows what will happen in 2010, or even whether I'll be in the country long enough to meaningfully participate.

Friends and family

Yesterday I didn’t feel like I was on holiday at all. I just wanted to get back to Auckland, away from Mum’s friends and family. Unfortunately I have little in common with many of the people I’ve met over the last week, particularly the blokes. I don’t engage in conversation, mainly because there is no conversation, just jokes, banter and anecdotes about the time Wayne O’Shea left a dead sheep in the back of his ute for six months. Then out of the blue someone asks me about my future plans, and suddenly I’m the centre of attention. I get fifty ideas chucked in my direction, some serious, some not so serious, and I’m overwhelmed.

For most of yesterday I was depressed and didn’t want to know. We went to the Caroline Bay carnival. For some reason halfway through one of their concerts I suddenly felt more relaxed. We had a go on the chocolate wheel but our luck was well and truly out. Then I tried my hand at a darts game where you have to hit paper stars attached to a board. I was lucky enough to come away with twenty bucks for an outlay of four. I found the darts game interesting: among the vast array of games it was the only one where a skilful player could earn a long-term profit. Indeed a professional darts player would surely clean up there. In my case, however, skill played a minor role, if that.

Monday After Christmas

Hope everyone enjoyed Christmas and didn't overdo the eating part. At the moment we are still getting all westerlies here - horrible bouncy flying conditions off the Mount and really only flyable from the top. But sadly we still give it a go... Here's a pic of John's Banshee blasting over the harbour entrance on a close fast pass.

On the construction side, I have finally settled on my method for building the 2m sloper - a combination of sheeted light ply ribs and EPP foam leading edge. Might have a go at glassing the wing and the fuse is looking like f/glass over a blue foam core. Yikes! My first attempt at a fiberglass fuse...

Here's a progress shot showing the layout of the ballast tube and valve with the servo and the two inner ribs. Yes, it's under way!

Happy New Year to everyone - let's hope 2010 is a better year all round.

... then the quail came

It's been a wonderful Christmas. The time with family has been so much fun. Four generations gathered for food and laughter in my sister's house.  When we came back from Christmas Eve with family, the boys and I put the angel on the tree. I tucked them into bed, made the preparations for Christmas morning, and sat on the sofa with my shot of B&B, resting with Nick in my heart. In the morning, after the tumult of presents, I put on Bach's Christmas Oratorio, playing it as loud as my little speakers could stand.

Nick adored the Wiehnachts Oratorium. He'd load it into the car CD player on Christmas Eve and BLAST it on the way home from midnight liturgy. He played it every day during the Christmas season, and only during the Christmas season.  So I have been playing it for him, with him.  Enjoying the powerful spirit of love in the music.  Enjoying. In joy.

This morning was tears. Tears for his birthday; he should have been 50 today. We should be having a big party. I should be teasing him. He should be feeling old. He shouldn't be forever 44. He was robbed of so much. The boys were robbed. I was robbed.

Then the music played, and the love surged forward, wiping away the tears. I made a little gesture to his parents, acknowledging the day. I was rebuffed and hurt and frustrated. But the music carried me through, allowed me to let it go.

I've been trying all day to write here, but haven't found the time -- and I don't mean chronologically.  I haven't found the right time and space to write about Nick's birthday. There are too many words that can't be said. When I finally put the boys to bed and sat down to write, the refrain of a song I have heard only one time -- at a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert in 1987 -- came into my head.

... then the quail came

It's a reference to the Exodus story and those grumbling Israelites.  They were hungry in the desert, so God sent them manna every morning.  They got bored with manna from heaven, so God sent them quail every evening. 

I couldn't imagine why that song came into my mind -- it was a solo piece that Paul sang, PP&M never recorded it, so it wasn't familiar to me. But it was singing in my brain, so I did the technological thing and googled the one line, found the lyrics, played the song.

The second verse sounded so familiar to this woman who's been walking a hard road for such a long time:
There we were, angry and naked, looking for someone to blame
Our bodies were aching, babies were crying
And each day was so much the same
"I tell you people, this journey is crazy."
I heard someone say in his rage
"How long will it be 'til we realize our folly
And get back to where we were safe?"

... then the quail came

I usually say that widowhood is a crazy journey, but really it's life itself that is crazy, filled with folly and rage, leaving us all looking for a safe haven.  I think that what widowhood, and other such crises, does is strip away the trappings we use to disguise the craziness, the folly, the fear.  We find ourselves exposed and vulnerable, and we don't like it very much.

... then the quail came

And the third verse of Paul's song:
Here we are, alone on a desert, fed dawn to dark, dusk to day
Every morning we wake up to find just the measure
Of food we need for the way
Oh once we would ask if we could have more
To see that our future survived
But we know now at last, that nothing is sure
Except that at evening the quail will arrive.

When everything we hide behind is stripped away, we are forced to admit that we don't know a damned thing. We can't be certain of anything. We aren't guaranteed a thing. Every act after that realization is either an act of despair or an act of faith.  And sometimes, it's a desperate act of faith, or an act of desperate faith.  The two become intertwined and indistinguishable.

... then the quail came
Then the quail came, falling like dew on the ground
The quail came, each evening our food to be found
And taking our curses and turning 'em round
And filling our ears with those ungrateful sounds
Unworthy to stand
I bow down

All this is to say, Happy birthday, Nick. I have missed you and yearned for you and wept for you. I have cursed and raged, wandered lost and afraid. But I always know where you are. I always find my way back to the love that brought us together. And I am always grateful.


Today is the first real day of my holiday. Officially it started on Tuesday night, but the last four days have been taken up with Christmas and family, which aren’t conducive to holiday at all.

My last day at work was a successful one. I was able to keep a fairly low profile, just like I have in the rest of my time with the company. My colleagues very kindly bought me two books – Andre Agassi’s autobiography (I’m just past the crystal meth, or gack, phase) and Vroom with a View, an account of a journey from Milan to Rome on an old Vespa. We had morning tea and lunchtime drinks (I was happy to pay for them), after which I cleaned my desk, packed a box of memorabilia, said my final goodbyes, then I was off.

I took the 7:30 flight to Christchurch and stayed the night at Uncle Dan’s – he and his wife Anne live on Memorial Avenue, just yards from the Airport. Dan has lost even more weight. Though his surgery was a success, the weight loss is a real concern, and his illness seems to have affected him mentally. Sadly he appears to have given up on life. He showed me some pills he’s recently been prescribed, supposedly to help him put on weight. Citalopram. I was on that for nearly eight years. During the first year I did indeed gain weight, though I doubt the medication had anything to do with that. Whatever, his illness has now become mental just as much as physical. On Wednesday morning we drove down to Mum and Dad’s place in Geraldine.

We spent Christmas Day up the Rangitata, at a place called Stew Point. There were seven of us – Mum, Dad, Dan, Anne, another of Mum’s brothers, his third wife, and myself. It’s nice to get out of Auckland; it would be hard to find a place less like Auckland than our Christmas picnic location. I sometimes think of Geraldine as being in the wops, but this was the real wops. It was blowing a gale up there. It wasn’t easy trying to eat ham and turkey without being savaged by a bull or my paper plate disappearing.

Yesterday I met up with Phil in Timaru. His mother lives in Waimate. The carnival had just started up so we tackled the crazy golf course. Phil beat me by six shots. The hole that replicates the Port Loop Road was my undoing. Phil flies back to Auckland today, and will soon be meeting his Danish girlfriend. Last night Mum and Dad had a barbecue; it seemed everybody was there. I wasn’t in the mood for all that food and drink, and having to explain my, er, career change. Now everybody has gone and I can breathe a sigh of relief. I no longer have to explain anything.


Just a short one today because, as is usually the case at this time of year, there really isn't much news. Yesterday I went along to the Autism NZ meeting. The turnout was back to the October level of 25 or so. The room is rather echoic, and unsurprisingly all that noise became too much for some people. I felt bad because I hadn't brought any Christmassy food - were we told to at the last meeting? - and again I wished I could have been more helpful. The main facilitator - the boss if you like - now knows that I'd like to play a more active role there in the new year. I'm in the middle of reading Congratulations! It's Asperger Syndrome, a book written by one of the more eminent people at Autism NZ. It's a fascinating read.
On a similar theme, I'll soon be helping out (I hope) a twelve-year-old boy who suffers from dyspraxia. We'll go to the beach, to the movies, for walks, that kind of thing. Basically giving him some much-needed stimulation when his parents are unable to (I'm hoping it might be stimulating for me too).

My shirts are ironed in preparation for both my remaining days at work. I'll try to enjoy them. On Tuesday night, after my leaving drinks, I'll be catching a plane down to Christchurch. I'll stay at Uncle Dan's for the night and travel down to Geraldine the next day. We'll be having a quiet Christmas, and if previous years are anything to go by, probably a hot one. In fact extreme weather is almost to be expected in that part of the country. Just last week they were bombarded by inch-wide hailstones.

PokerStars bankroll update: I'm now sitting a few cents shy of $30.

'Tis the season

As much as I love Christmas, as much as I love the holidays, as much as the boys and I have A Wonderful Life, I also hate this time of year.  St. Nicholas' Day, Christmas, Nick's birthday, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's Eve, my birthday.  It's relentless. One holy day after another; one family celebration after another; one spotlight on the vacant chair after another.

My upbeat post in 50-Something Moms notwithstanding (it got picked up for syndication, by the way, and was published in several small newspapers around the country -- how cool is that!), this time of year is just so very hard.  That gaping hole is still there; that painful wound is still there.

As long as I can stay in the moment, I'm "fine."  I enjoy the preparations, the decorations, the meal-planning, the wrapping, the giggling, the music, the boys' excitement.  But when I step back and look at the big picture, Nick's absence screams at me. When I look at the coming year, despair overwhelms me.  I can't get over the feeling that there is simply nothing to look forward to, no positive changes headed my way. 

And that's a miserable way to live.  So I'm not going to look too far into the future. I'm simply going to enjoy the moments of love and laughter with my family. I'm going to enjoy getting together with friends on New Year's.  The future isn't promised to any of us, so I'm not going to get into a morass of how bleak it looks.

(And I have a nasty head cold, which makes my outlook even bleaker.  My current doldrums made a lot more sense to me when I took my temperature last night and saw I had a fever.)

The final countdown

My new laptop arrived last Thursday so I’m back in the world of the living. I never thought a computer would become an indispensable tool for me, but I now realise I’m lost without one. Despite this, I still don’t like computers that much and generally feel more comfortable with a pen in my hand than a mouse. I see a computer purely as a tool – I’m pretty much oblivious to all the noughts and ones and nuts and bolts that make everything happen.

Ten days ago I attended the mental health support centre’s Christmas party. It was a very well-run event with close on 200 in attendance, many of whom are isolated at this time of year and rarely get to go to something like that. It was great to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while, and the food was a definite bonus.

On Friday I had another meeting with Mrs You’re Screwed, a.k.a. the careers advisor. Things didn’t seem so bleak this time, mainly because we didn’t get into the specifics of my future career options. Instead we concentrated on my CV – I showed her both versions. She took a real dislike to my choice of font in the old version. “It’s Times New Roman, that’s so old-fashioned.” I protested, saying it wasn’t Times New Roman (it was Garamond) but she insisted that fonts with those “little sticky-out bits” belong in a previous century. So serif fonts are dead then? Has she picked up a book lately? Or a newspaper? Once we’d done with the font debate (by the way, font design is something I’d like to get into) and focused on the content, she actually talked a lot of sense and was very helpful. We’ve got one final meeting, about interview tactics (hmmm) after Christmas.

I’m now in my last full week at work, and to be honest I’m relieved. I've worked with some good people (not least my current boss) but I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. Four months shy of thirty, it’s time I jumped off this conveyor belt. For too long I’ve been drifting along, letting everything happen to me. School just happened to me. University for the most part just happened to me. And for the last 5¾ years, work has just happened to me. In fact working in the corporate world has been similar to school, all the more so since we moved to our expensive new offices in a soulless business park two years ago.

Competitive tennis is over for 2009. My record since the start of the season (seven wins, nine losses) is disappointing. I lost my last match, a mixed doubles, by the unusual score of 7-6 (7-0), 7-5. Unfortunately I’ve played very little singles which is my forte (if I have one). Yesterday we had great weather for tennis so I turned up to club day, which I enjoyed more than usual. Bazza was there, perhaps for the last time: he’s moving to Papakura at the weekend. Though house prices are considerably cheaper there, I seriously question his move because he won’t know anyone. If he joins a tennis club down there, people won’t accommodate him like they have done. He won’t get away with making dodgy line calls all afternoon, tell his partner she’s a bloody idiot whenever she misses, and swiping food from the fridge afterwards. I tried to convince him to stay in the area, but when he’s made his mind up there’s no stopping him.

It’s a while since I mentioned online poker but I haven’t given up, although I no longer play those time-consuming freerolls. I deposited US$10, as a challenge to see how far I could get on just ten bucks. My bankroll (if you can call it that) now stands at $22, mainly from playing hold ’em at penny stakes. I think I’ve got the right skills and temperament for poker. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t frustrate me when that fourth diamond hits the river to give that muppet who played A 2 a higher flush, but crucially I don’t let it affect my play on subsequent hands. Obviously playing for inconsequential stakes helps in this regard, but when I was younger I’d have been far more susceptible to what they call “tilt”. I’ve played very little poker with real people and real hands, but at university I remember being dealt a king-high straight in a penny-ante draw game. The hand was dealt out of turn, we all had to muck our cards, and I went ape-shit.

I’ve just got home from my last Italian class of the year. Our teacher Matteo has done a good job of selling all things Italian. I’d love to go there some time next year so I’ve enrolled in a five-day intensive course at the end of January.

New Project - The Ultimate Sloper

Well it had to happen - sooner or later I was going to have a go at designing my Ultimate Sloper. Of course there are certain criteria for a beast like this (land amongst the Mount rocks with little damage, fast, energy retention, good looking etc) so it will have big boots to fill. But this is what I'm attempting to do.

From the outset I have decided that this plane will have jettisonable ballast (water) to allow softer, slower landings after a big heavy blast aroung the sky. And we're not talking "lead sled" dimensions here - I just want to try for about 400g ballast on a 2m wing to allow me to explore the possibilities.

So, without further ado, here are the plans with the ballast tube (square box section aluminium) including the water release valve.

And another shot showing a closeup of the valve - not that it shows much. I spent a long time searching for a suitable sized valve. In the end I have butchered and kit-bashed my own using a bit of TLAR (that looks about right) technology. Then I covered it in epoxy to hold it together.

More about the construction soon.

Moving In

Two new guys have moved into Awesome Pad, Kobus and Niel. Great to have you guys here.

Waiting for new beds to arrive, so on the floor for you...


Getting desk set up.


Moving Out

Marius and Mandy moved out about a week or so ago. Marks Awesome Pad's 1 year anniversary.

Moving the Beds...

The compromise that saved Christmas

I grew up in a household that started celebrating Christmas on December 1. The Firestone Christmas album with Julie Andrews went on the record player and alternated with the Harry Simeone Chorale's "Little Drummer Boy." The Christmas tree was fully decked out as soon as we could possibly bring one home. My late husband, on the other hand, grew up in a primarily Eastern European household in which the tree did not enter the house until Christmas Eve. Our first December together was a clash of cultures, but we arrived at a compromise that pleased us both.

Every year, we would go to the tree farm and cut down our tree as soon as we could. It would sit naked in the living room for a day or two, then I'd put on the lights. The next day, I would put my favorite ornaments on the tree: red and white globes we'd bought on our honeymoon. Every day after that, I would add a few more ornaments to the tree and put a few more decorations around the house. By the time Christmas Eve arrived, both our tree and our home were in full Christmas glory. We'd put the angel on top of the tree when we got back from midnight liturgy. We both looked forward to snuggling under the light of the tree, looking at the angel, and sharing a snifter of B&B.

When children arrived, our holiday compromise became a true family tradition. Every day, the kids are eager to see what decoration I'll pull out from storage. They can't wait for the various St. Nicholases to make their appearance on December 6. Each day builds the sense of waiting and anticipation that the season is supposed to have. Even my too-cool-to-care pre-teen smiled when he saw the nutcrackers on the piano this afternoon.

So I'm slightly amused by my Facebook friends' status updates: 
"... is exhausted, but 9 hours later the tree and house are completely decorated." 
"... has pulled out 12 boxes of Christmas treasures!" 
"... is really annoyed by her friends who have all their decorating done." 
"... wonders when she's going to find time to trim the tree." 
"... is so stressed out trying to get it ALL done."    And so on.

I didn't realize it back in 1992, but that first compromise of our married life has made the holidays so much easier for me. I don't have to block out several hours to decorate the tree. I don't have to surround myself with countless boxes of Christmas kitsch. I don't have an artificial time frame during which it "all" has to get done. I also don't have to be intentional about making sure the kids remember what Christmas is all about. Every day, we shift gears and slow down. For 10 or 15 minutes every day, we ignore the demands of the computer and television. The act of getting ready for Christmas reminds us what it is we are getting ready for.

When I became a widow, our tradition of slow preparation actually made Christmas possible. Nothing is harder for a newly widowed parent than trying to bring the holiday spirit into a house that is still shrouded in grief. We know that we "have to" for the sake of the kids, and we actually want to: Our children have lost so much, we don't want them to lose Christmas happiness as well. Go to any grief support bulletin board this week, read any recently widowed person's blog, and you'll see the anguish of parents unable to bear the thought of the holidays without their beloved spouse, unable to face the festive decorations, unable to contemplate the lifetime of happiness represented in ornaments lovingly collected through the years. And even though they are overwhelmed by the thought of all the emotion and all the work involved, you'll also see their fierce determination that Christmas WILL happen for their children.

The compromise that Nick and I reached that first Christmas we were married allowed me to make sure Christmas still happened that first Christmas he was gone. I could pull out a few ornaments at a time and cherish the memories of Christmases past; I could put on a cheerful smile for the 10 to 15 minutes that the boys were helping decorate each day; and when the kids had gone back to whatever they had been doing, I could turn and quietly cry for all that had been lost.

This is our sixth Christmas season without Nick, and our Christmas compromise still shapes our holiday experience. Grief no longer dominates the household, but simply being the only parent of growing boys is exhausting. Rather than being stressed out by the holiday tasks though, our family tradition actually ensures a little down time for me, a little restorative time. That 10 to 15 minutes of daily decorating brings a festive note to my voice and a twinkle to my eye. Instead of imagining how exhausted I will be by December 24, I am already looking forward to relaxing by the light of the tree, looking at the angel, and sharing my snifter of B&B with Nick.

Originally published on this date on the now-defunct 50-Something Moms blog. I've copied the comments from there to here, so they don't get lost.

Happy Feast Day, Darling!

The truth of thy deeds
hath revealed thee to thy flock as a canon of faith,
an icon of meekness,
and a teacher of abstinence;
for this cause thou hast achieved the heights by humility,
riches by poverty,
O Father and Hierarch Nicholas,
intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.

 -- Troparion of St. Nicholas

The boys and I drove up to Phoenix today, so we could go to church on this feast day, which has always been a solemnity in our household.  I missed Nick profoundly during the liturgy -- actually the first time that I've welled up during church in a long time.  The readings, the prayers, the homily -- all made me miss the anchor of the ship that is our little family.

This is the day that Nick and I always began observing the Christmas season in our home. I refused to begin the Nativity Fast before we celebrated his Feast Day.  Liturgical purist though he may have been, Nick gave his nod to this little transgression, perhaps because he loved the special cake I would always bake for him on his name day!  Oh, how I miss him.

Your priests, O Lord, shall be clothed in righteousness,
and your saints shall rejoice, for the Lord has chosen Zion.
-- Antiphon for the Feast of St. Nicholas

You can read more about Nick's and my Christmas traditions -- and how those traditions have helped me since his death -- in my latest post at 50-Something Moms.

Christmas is coming!

I've pulled out the handsome nutcrackers and the ticky-tacky snowmen. 

Christmas is coming!

Death spiral

I won't be doing much blogging in the next ten days or so. I've been having problems with my computer for some months, but this week it finally gave up the ghost. It wouldn't even start up - instead it went into an infinite loop: a neverending death spiral. This morning I bought a new one - a Toshiba costing $1500 including all that anti-virus stuff, but I won't get it for another week or two. As I write from an internet café I realise how much I rely on the internet.

I haven't been at my best this week. On Wednesday I saw a careers advisor in the city; she said my prospects of finding work are bleak. According to her, I've got nothing that any recent graduate doesn't have, with the exception of almost an extra decade on the clock. She also gave me some handy hints on writing CVs. I agreed with her regarding the content of a CV but wasn't so sure when it came to the layout. "You must use Arial." Well I think Arial is a perfectly good screen font, but on print it screams "I don't give a toss" to me. All in all, that meeting put me in a foul mood.
Myself and Francois started restoring this old coffee table. Was painted with a thick horrible blue paint. So we set at it with paint stripper and a new electric sander we bought. Check out the photos bellow.