On being away, and Skype

This Saturday morning I feel sad.

It is... it is something I know is my choice - a choice I am making every day and will probably continue on making every day - but it is nevertheless hard: it is hard to see someone cry on the other end of a Skype conversation.

I haven't been to Estonia in over four years. My family has never held my children. Friends have married, given births, been to funerals, moved - all whilst I've kept in touch from way over here, over a computer screen, and e-mailed.

It is hard to pretend that this screen is a real conversation, a friend said over a Skype conversation this morning and I can understand that. It is hard.

I understand the reasons I haven't visited Europe since that quick holiday back in 2010, nor do I feel guilty for having chosen so, but nevertheless it is hard to tell someone that I likely won't be coming in the next two years either. It's hard to hear someone say, I haven't seen you in almost six years, and just nod with understanding.

But there isn't much else I can do.

It's a choice I continue on making on an almost daily basis. Almost every purchase I make - whether it is an ice cream at a supermarket or a subscription to a yoga class - it is first met with that ever-repeated question of, is it more important than a house deposit?

Is it more important than a house deposit?

It has been a balance game of so many different inputs over the last few years. How important work is to our mental health balances, our respective earning potentials, how far our budgets can stretch and what sort of shocks it can absorb, what our children's needs are, where our own "down times" fit in that picture. One thing is a financial cost of flying to Europe and back with two children, whilst continuing to pay rent in New Zealand, boarding a dog and saying good-bye to such a chunk of money that could've gone towards a house deposit instead, but entirely another issue is the fact that we work so hard - so hard! - at keeping our life and finances in balance (hello 50-hour work weeks!) that if we spend a month we do have off in Europe, it is hardly going to be a relaxing vacation between children and jet lag, between unfamiliar beds and travels, between seeing everyone and keeping sane, between England and Estonia. That if we do spend that little time we have available in Europe, what are we going to do upon return? There's no-one to "chuck" the kids to whilst me and The Man catch up on sleep (oh my god, sleep - don't even get me started on this issue!) and then what, work our way through another 11 months of 50-hour work weeks before we can get another decent stretch of time together, as a family?

I don't know if someone living in their own house really appreciates the frustration we keep experiencing from the reality of needing to rent, but to us having Our Own Home is, like... important. The need to at least work towards it as a goal is important. Really, really important.

Which brings me back to that question of, is it more important than a house deposit?

And at the moment the simple answer is that - no, no it isn't.

And I know that most - if not all - of my family and friends understand that position, however it doesn't take away from the fact that it is hard to see someone on the other end of Skype and hear them cry.

Transportation development stage 1




On saunas and breast cancer

Another "breakfast post" of blogging. I wonder if I can knock it off before The Kid has finished his porridge? I already have finished mine!

An unrelated thought: those of you who also switch between two (or more) different languages on a keyboard, do you also find it difficult to type in English after you've used the other language? My keyboard has English markings only, but I use it to type in both Estonian and English (I type Estonian from memory of where the punctuation marks and "other" letters (like ü, õ, ö and ä) are) and when I switch between the two I keep typing @ instead of ", _ instead of ?, ) instead of =. Punctuation mess, basically.

But back to breakfast blogging: reading what Dooce has written overnight is part of my morning routine, along with a cup of herbal tea and oatmeal porridge. Today she has written about breast cancer her mother is facing - or, actually, she has shared what her mother is saying about the breast cancer she is facing.

And it has reminded me of Estonian sauna culture.

I come from a culture where public nudity is much more accepted than it is in British-origin cultures. I think all of Scandinavia is like that. We have a culture of saunas!

You see, part of growing up in Estonia, to me, meant going to a public bathhouse on the weekends - at least during the summers, and a little less during winters. It meant taking off clothes in the changing room, scrubbing and washing and splashing in the washing room alongside other nude women of all ages, and sitting the hot sauna room, sweating. I grew up being... accustomed to being nude among other women.

Then, when I was already in my twenties, I grew accustomed to being nude among both women and men. Our skydiving club had a shared sauna concept - something that is somewhat customary in Estonia anyway, but my family for some reason had never practiced it - and so I grew accustomed to not only breasts and butts of all sizes and shapes, but also penises and balls.

(I'm actually giggling to be writing this here. "I grew accustomed to penises and balls of all sizes." Man Booker prize for this sentence right here, please! :P)

So, anyway, where I am getting with this is that I feel much less... protective about my "lady bits" than a lot of the New Zealand women seem to be. Even going to a public swimming pool here is a bit of a cultural experience, for I just strip off and change, whereas a lot of the women around me do the cover-yourself-with-a-towel-and-change-underneath-it thing. Oh, that and the fact that showers are in cubicles, rather than out in the open.

So... where was I going with this? Oh, yeah: lady bits.

I am much less protective about my "lady bits" than Heather's mother seems to be. "This condition invades one of the most private parts of your body, one of the most beautiful parts of your body, a part of your body that IS womanhood. From nurturing and feeding your child to the intimate pleasure that is gained with your partner." I mean, don't get me wrong: I understand where she is coming with this and it's an entirely natural attitude to have, I think.

But here's where we also differ: being just short of turning 30 in a month I have already considered having a preventive double mastectomy sometime in the future, and I don't feel like I have a much of a hang-up about it. As much as I like my breasts they're somewhat... functional to me. I mean, yeah, sure, they make for a lot of fun in the bed, but having come across a lot of information about how prevalent breast cancer is these days, I don't feel like I have a hang-up about losing them. I've considered doing genetical testing to see if I am a carrier of the "breast cancer gene" (yeah, I know, it's a totally technical term, dude), but even outside of that - double mastectomy may be the way to go. Not in the next few years, probably, but a little further down the line when the odds start going up.

(Also, yes, I am aware that double mastectomy doesn't remove all the breast tissue, so please don't feel like you have to give me a lecture in anatomy, thank you very much.)

When I think about that it reminds me of the sauna culture, and the way it "normalises" a lot of the external anatomy. The way I've had a male gynecologist since I was, what, 16? I don't go around parading my bits, but I also don't have a problem stripping off in front of medical staff if need be.

And it's a very healthy side effect of having a sauna culture, I think.

Aaaaaaaand... phew! Got done with writing before the breakfast was over. Yuss!

Wednesday morning blogging!

On Wednesday mornings I drop The Kid off at the nanny's and return home for a quiet morning/afternoon of studying. Well, not just studying: I also get to lay on the bed with The Girlie, just the two of us, quietly, and eat ice cream without having to share, and play music from Youtube, and when she's in bed I get to study, like this:



It's Bonnie Raitt and John Prine playing on the background. I love the song!

I am an old woman 
Named after my mother 
My old man is another 
Child who's grown old 

If dreams were thunder 
And lightning was desire 
This old house would've burned down 
A long time ago 

Make me an angel 
That flies from Montgomery 
Make me a poster 
Of an old rodeo 
Just give me one thing 
That I can hold on to 
To believe in this livin' 
Is just a hard way to go

I study and I think back on the week that's just gone past. On the young cattle exploring the hillside...


...on cold, rainy mornings...





...on afternoons with friends on picnic blankets, watching a car race down below...





...on The Kid arriving home after a long day out and collapsing on the sofa...


...but most of all on the fact that we're doing good. Life's good. Love's good. Love of life's good!

29 seconds of Mark Wahlberg

So, I like the movie called The Departed. And I like the actor called Mark Wahlberg. (Doesn't everybody?)

But this came as a surprise: turns out, this cheeky little bugger worked as an underwear model for Calvin Klein back in the 90's! And oh wow, isn't this, like, one of the funniest 29 seconds you've seen? ;)

The earliest memories

When was your earliest memory?

I sometimes discuss this topic with various people I know and, on average, people's earliest memories seem to be from when they were 4 or 5 years old.

Mine is from when I was about, I think, 2.

I was sitting in a little blue stroller and somebody was pushing it along. We were rounding a corner by the red brick 9-storey dorm building, and there was a little "putka" (it's Estonian for a little market stall-like structure) on my left. An old lady passed us in the opposite direction.

It is probably the earliest memory I have - going by the size of the stroller I cannot imagine me being more than 2 at the time - and why I would remember such a non-event to begin with, I don't know. It was an entirely trivial piece of everyday life: a walk back from the shop, probably, and apart from that stroller, that little section of the road and the way the stroller was rattling on the pavement there is very little else I remember.

But for some reason, I remember.

***

Another memory - and this one is way cooler =D! - is from when I was about 3 or 4 years old and my parents bought me a fur coat.

Oh. My. Jesus. F*ckin'. Christ. Just thinking back on it now makes me giggle!

It was dead of the winter in Estonia and the ground was covered in snow. I was sitting on a sledge and someone (again, I don't remember who, but I guess my mother again?) was pulling it along on our way home from the kindergarten.

But we had a, khm!, little problem: the fur coat was thick, and very-very heavy, and probably very warm, too, but... I couldn't bend in it. The coat was rigid, and as I was attempting to sit upright in the sledge it kept "pulling" me back into a laying-down position and...

Well, somewhere in the world there probably exist a writer who can put what happened next into words that convey the horror of it better than I can, but: I was hollering. It was a full on, scream-and-cry sort of hollering - the sort that parents of "willful" toddlers ;) can probably recognise - and I was teeming with the injustice of it.

I actually remember screaming at a point where it was hurting the back of my throat. Whoever was pulling the sledge had to navigate a lip on the road from a parking lot onto a walkway and the motion made me fall backwards - again - at which point I broke down into some proper toddler fury.

I don't want to wear this coat!, I remember thinking.
But you can't take it off now, it's cold, we have to get home first, they said.

I don't want to sit on this sledge like that!, I remember thinking.
Well, walk then, they said.

But I don't want to walk! I want to sit on the sledge! But this coat doesn't let me sit! It makes me lay down and I don't want to lay down! I don't want to wear this coat!

And so I have this memory of standing next to the sledge, screaming and crying, whilst whatever adult I had next to me was trying to cajole me into either walking home or laying on the sledge - neither of which I was wanting to be doing - and how we got home in the end I don't remember, but I'm fairly certain they never made me wear that coat again.

Which reminds me: I should actually ask my mother about that coat. Being the end of a communist era it could not have been cheap nor easy for my parents to source a fur coat, and what it must've felt like to argue like that with a toddler, in the dark of a winter evening... Yeah.

I haven't got pictures of me being a toddler - here with me, I mean - but at three months old this is how I looked like: (with my grandparents)


Looking pretty... placid, don't you think? ;)

On drunkenness, and chocolate

Have I ever mentioned that I've never been drunk?

I don't know what a hangover feels like. I don't like the taste of alcohol - never have; and as a result, I have never been drunk. I just don't drink (alcohol), because I don't like it.

Chocolate and ice cream however! If chocolate and ice cream could induce drunkenness ;), I'd know what it feels like to wake up in a gutter of some random rural town, wearing an old sweatshirt with a Mickey Mouse print on it and carry around a hangover of the century =).

But it doesn't, so I don't.

Blue!


Referring to the color of her eyes, that is.

The good, and the bad

Living in this house has taught me about violent alcoholics.

Okay, I should probably elaborate a little.

I used to wonder about people who live with violent/addict/mean partners and think, "Why would anyone put up with that?" For example, a newspaper article would describe a woman getting beaten up by her husband for the upteenth time and I would wonder not so much about the brain capacity of the husband (for he is clearly nuts) but about the woman, for I couldn't understand, "Why won't she leave?"

But now I look at this house and wonder whether I have, in some ways, become that woman.

Because here's the thing: summers in this house, up on this hill, are glorious. I popped outside just now to grab a few quick photos and...

...it's the neighbors' crazy goat who will eat anything but grass and drives us bonkers as much as our neighbors love her (though she sometimes drives them bonkers just as much, or even more).


...it's the cattle who slobber on my car windows, moo! at 5 o'clock in the morning outside our bedroom window and who broke the side mirrors on my previous car (I guess by using them as a scratching post).


...it's the garden with a few edible bits, makeshift beds, a bench we sometimes sit on to stretch our toes out and grass that grows way faster than anything else does.


...it's the back yard, all tidied up and mowed, where The Kid and The Dog can now run amok without having to work their way through a jungle.


(I know I have used this photo way too many times, but it just keeps striking me how different it was back when we moved in:


Same place. Same angle!)

...it's the little "passageway" down the back where The Kid pushes his truck up the hill and then lets it roll down the hill.


...it's the little playground we've made for The Kid.


...it's the pictures on the walls around the house, in bright Crayola colours.


...the crazy bedsheets on the washing line.


All these things make it so difficult to want to move for at a time when the sun is shining and it's so wonderfully wonderful around the house, I struggle to remember how bad exactly the winters are.

And that makes me think that I am starting to understand the people who live with violent/addict/mean partners for... there's the good, and there's the bad. How do I weigh that up?

Just sayin'.

Random thoughts on a Wednesday

The Kid has this... I'd like to say a horrible habit, but I'm not sure if it's the right word.

So: with summer coming up the house is buzzing with flies. (Yeah, I know, it's gross, but we do live amongst hills of cattle and sheep, so...) A few times each day I walk around with a fly swat, knocking the little bastards dead, and some of them end up on the floor.

The Kid thinks it's great.

Why? Because he has discovered that dead flies fit nicely inside his toy cars, like passengers.

Here, I'll pause for a moment so you can picture it in your head: dead flies as passengers inside his toy cars. (You're picturing it? Good.) (You're welcome.)

He crams the flies in, shuts the door, and proceeds - happily - to zoom the car around the kitchen floor, brrrrrrrrrrrmmmm! And I'm standing there, thinking, "It's a spectacular thing, being a parent."

I guess I should just be grateful that he doesn't find, uhm, "useful" ways of playing with his poop, right?

Because that would be even more gross.

***

My children have a quilt each.

The Kid's quilt was made by a group called Aspiring Quilters from Wanaka. I hear the tradition has since been discontinued due to the number of children born there, but Aspiring Quilters used to - or so I've been told - make a quilt for every child born in Wanaka, and The Kid must've been one of the last ones to receive one, I think.





It is such a privilege, to receive hand-made gifts like that.

A privilege.

Talking of privilege: The Girlie's quilt was made by a lady who I consider my friend. Many of you know her: Treena of Creative Mama.




Both of these quilts are spread across my sleeping children's bodies at night and almost each time I see them or touch the fabric, I remember.

I remember the care it took their creators to make them.


***

I was sitting at a neurologist's waiting room last week, holding The Girlie up on my lap, when in came two women supporting a young man between them.

I'm not sure what neurological condition he had exactly, apart from having seen this sort of a thing before, but he was flailing his arms, grunting, and he couldn't support his own weight, hence these two women helping him walk between them.

They all took a seat across the waiting room, facing me, and I couldn't help but look and wonder.

He and The Girlie were doing essentially the same thing: both of their brains were firing somewhat randomly, making them flail their arms and grunt, drool and mouth their fingers. Except... The Girlie will continue on to develop - but he probably won't.

It made me wonder about the unsightliness of it: I didn't have a problem interacting with them as I would with any other person in there, but I do understand how the same thing, essentially, that makes people go, "Oh, she's so cute!" when looking at my daughter, will make some people look elsewhere when coming across that young man, and it made me a little sad.

Because neither of them is actually "guilty" of drooling and pooping their pants, but my daughter has the benefit of 6 kilos of weight, eyes that are large compared to the rest of her body, and a handsome outfit with a zebra printed on it.

That young man, on the other hand, doesn't.

***

This radio show made me go, "Whoa." (To those of you wanting an URL instead: it was Kim Hill talking to David Haywood about solar panels, http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/20153909)

David explained something I'd never thought about before, which is: coming from Europe, I was aware of the governmental subsidies directed towards people who install solar panels, as it takes pressure off non-renewable power sources and helps move towards greener energy as a whole. But! Here's where it gets tricky: because of subsidising people who install solar panels (and not being allowed to charge them more for power they do consume than a governmentally set upper limit), energy companies have to redeem their costs from elsewhere  - somewhere - and they end up charging everyone else instead.

Basically, the people who can afford the solar panels (or houses to put solar panels onto) the least are the people who end up charged the most.

And it really made me go, "Sh*t!"

And then add to it the fact that if even a person who specialises in photovoltaics - David Haywood - and who has worked for years calculating their cost efficiencies says that you need to be crazy to install a grid-connected solar panel in New Zealand (you don't believe me? I dare you: listen to David's talk and you may also go, "Whoa."), then...

I don't even know what to say to that.

Whoa.

***

Just because.







***

Every time I go to a petrol station I have to wash all the windows of my car because there is cow slobber everywhere.


Gotta love living in the country, right?

Right. 

Which is why I'm going to see another rental in town today.

On reading National Geographic; and Nebraska

I have a collection of National Geographics at home. Nothing major: probably around 150 issues (I've never counted them up before) but heavy enough to sink a book case into the carpet.



It's something I've always wanted - to have National Geographics at hand like that. It means that whenever I am wanting to "zonk out" for half an hour, I always have that shelf to turn to - to grab an issue, sometimes randomly, sometimes choosing it by the topic on the spine, and learn.

I love the feelings of... dreamy contentment or reminiscing I sometimes get when reading it.

(October 1978)
Yesterday I read an article on ranchers in Nebraska's Sand Hills, of people who are scattered across a vast territory of rolling hills and cattle, of one-room schoolhouses and pubs on crossroads. (National Geographic October 1978)

"From the main highway the road back to the ranch is nine tough miles of ruts and sand traps. The farther you go, the more you wonder where you made the wrong turn."

"The rare combination of low population and productive land has made for a warm and neighborly breed of people - men and women who cherish the company of others. When they get together, they usually talk land, cattle, horses, weather, and wildlife. All things worth talking about, and always salted with humor."

"I had supper in Valentine at the Home Cafe - not dinner, but supper; you eat dinner at noon. People were beginning to return from the Johnstown rodeo - the little ones tired now, their mothers glad to be eating out, and their sun-darkened fathers with pale foreheads walking with the short, careful steps of men wearing riding heels. The young men high-shouldered and lean; the older, heavier men carrying their weight well above their trophy buckles as old riders do, with thick torsos and slim hips. Howdying and laughter filling the rooms.

Of all the places this article reminded me of... Svalbard.









I remember sitting at Longyearbyen's pub in the evenings, sharing stories, a meal of reindeer steak and a mug of hot tea with travellers (and locals!) alike, and it was the companionship of far, remote places that drew me there. Svalbard is a place where a man can know almost every other "local" (by which I mean anyone who stays, say, a year or longer) by their name and where such a gathering place as a pub carries an importance of no less than a church to some other places.

Nebraska's Sand Hills back in the 70's were probably very different from Svalbard of today, but one thing I know: the warmth of hardened, wind-blown cheeks of men and women who work hard and live by the conviction of honesty is probably much the same in Nebraska as it was in Svalbard back when I was there.

And it's exactly the sort of a dreamy contentment and reminiscing I like about reading my National Geographics at home.