Tuesday, August 28, 2007

So far, so good

We spent the first night in Traralgon and the next morning headed out to Munro where Mum's fiance lives. The kids had a great time there, JE rode Keith's 3-wheeled motorscooter up and down the road out the front of his property while the Bunny took a turn sitting on the ponies out the back (pictures to come). There was numerous wildlife around, deer in the paddock up the road, lots of birds, including some cockatoos that are considering nesting in a tree at the bottom of Keith's backyard. Glenn, Keith's son, took us for a drive in his truck up through the forest, roo spotting, although we only got a good sighting of one wallaby as we rounded one bend and pretty much nothing else. Glenn took us to a couple of graves buried deep within the forest, discovered by the Rangers who have set up a memorial around it. Apparently they belong to mother and her son who were killed in a flood over 150 years ago. They were members of one of the first families to settle in the Gippsland region, and like many early pioneers paid the ultimate price in taming the land for those to follow.

Friday we headed back into Traralgon, briefly, before continuing back on to Melbourne to stay with my older sister and her family. We visited the Melbourne Aquarium, the Zoo, did a spot of shopping in the City, and while waiting for our train at the Southern Cross Station (formerly Spencer St.) got caught in a football crowd getting out of the Essendon Bombers & Western Bulldogs game. It was quite an experience for Liz, standing on the platform surrounded by a sea of people in Red & Black, and Red, White & Blue jumpers, scarves, hats, etc. Of course when the train arrived everyone boarded, so we were packed in and standing up for about half our ride back to my sister's house.

After a few days we headed back down to Traralgon. I drove down with the Bunny taking a nap, while everyone else rode the train down, taking in the sights.

Now Liz's parents are in town as well. The FIL is here sort of looking after the kids, while the MIL is down the street with Liz and my sisters, shopping, getting their hair done, nails, eyebrows, etc., all in preparation for the big day this Saturday.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Almost 20 hours later

and here we are.

The shuttle picked us up around 6:45pm and got us to LAX within 30 minutes, pretty good time, I thought, for a flight scheduled to leave around 11:40pm, 4 hours later. 11:15pm came and we hadn't yet begun boarding the plane, something to do with the Jetway at that gate. Finally the plane was towed out and back in to another gate where we were able to board, but we never made it off the ground. The take-off was aborted and we returned to the gate so an engineer could examine our plane. Over 3 hours later than scheduled we finally took off and were on our way to Australia.

We were met by my older sister, my Mum, and my future stepfather, who took us to my sister's for a lunch we'd been waiting 2 years for. Fish & Chips :)

We relaxed for an hour or so after lunch, then piled in the car and headed out to the Latrobe Valley and Mum's home. Practically a 2 hours drive on top of our 14 1/2 plane ride (not counting the 3+ hours delay). We managed to get a spot of sleep on the plane, but not much more than a couple of hours, so now we are pretty much running on empty, and just trying to hang on to a decent hour to go to bed so our body clocks adjust to Aussie Time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Life is like eating an elephant

I have a very good friend in hospital, I'm leaving for Australia next weekend, I'm working OT every day and have been for the past 2 1/2 weeks, and my Mum is getting married in 3 weeks time. Sometimes the only way to get through life is one bite at a time, which is also the same way you eat an elephant.

I got that 1,000 marbles email the other day. About the fellow who figured out that based on average life-expectancy he had about 1,000 Saturdays left to spend with his family, so he bought every marble he could find in three Toy Stores to get 1,000 marbles, which he kept in a jar and took one out every Saturday. As the level of marbles slowly decreased he said it helped him focus more on what was important in his life.

My father's parents both passed away when I was fairly young. I don't recall if they made it in to their 70s but I don't think they did. My father passed away at 62 years of age. My Mum's father died when she was still young but that may have been an accidental death rather than an illness (I honestly don't know). Of course my paternal grandfather was an alcoholic and had suffered from Alzheimer's before I knew him. My paternal grandmother was a habitual smoker until her final years. My own father had numerous things going on with him and we're still not sure exactly what was the cause of death, but there were several to choose from.

I didn't mention that I turn 38 in two weeks times. Two times 38 is 76. Seventy-six. If I make it to seventy-six years old I'll have had a good innings. If I make it to my eighties, I'll consider that a bloody miracle. Like my dad I've had my brushes with death over the years. At least three that I can recall where Death probably glanced my way and said, "NOT HIM, NOT YET."

In 38 years time my son will be 45 and my daughter 40 (Good Lord!), and if they bless me with grandchildren (Oh, revenge! Sweet, sweet revenge! >:) they'll possibly be in their teens.

Thirty-eight years. Fifty-two Saturdays per year. That's one thousand, nine hundred, and seventy-six Saturdays. And if I manage to empty that jar of marbles and I wake up the next day, that's a bonus; that's one more day I've been given to spend with my family.

*EDIT - I looked at my father's memoir and saw both his parents lived well into their 80s, despite alcoholism and smoking like chimneys, so this old dog might have a few years in him yet ;)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A tacky act for a sick kitty?

This afternoon one of the ladies at work, through one of the guys, sent out an email asking for help with a stray kitty she took in. Kitty has a skin disorder of some kind, and the Vet has told her it will cost about $500 to treat it, so the email asked for monetary contributions to help the lady pay for kitty's treatment.

You take in a stray kitty then ask your coworkers for help to pay for medical treatment? I thought about it for just long enough to hit Delete, then promptly put it out of my mind.

Then a folder arrived on my desk, with a picture of the kitty and a reprint of the email. This is the preferred method in our office of passing around a card (birthday, retirement, etc) with a collection envelope to raise funds for a gift for said birthday, retirement, etc.

The lady who brought me the folder asked if I'd seen it.

Aah, yeah, I've seen it, I said. I meant I'd seen the email, but I didn't care that my reply was misinterpreted, and the lady took the folder away. What I forgot was that normally a list accompanies these folders, a list of everyone's name, and before you pass on the folder you check off your name so the next poor sap to get the folder can pick a victim to keep the folder moving.

So the folder arrived back at my desk. This time I knew better, and I checked off my name before looking down the list for my victim. Aah, here was a name of someone who was still in the office and hadn't left for the day.

I took the folder around to this lady and handed it over, but I just couldn't contain the evilness within me that sometimes materializes as a dark, macabre sense of humor.

"She's raising money to have the kitty put down," I said, winking at my victim. She looked at me and gasped, but she has a wicked sense of humor, too, so she knew I was joking and found it funny in a dark, macabre, totally inappropriate way. "It's cheaper than the operation," I added, and we both shared an "Oooohhh," moment as I left her with the folder, and the list, and the envelope full of money, and her conscience.

Now before you say to me, "John, you've got a dog. What if he needed an operation? Wouldn't you ask your coworkers for money to pay for it?"

No, I would not.

I'd either find the money, or I'd have him put down. And if the Vet is incredulous that this is a simple, relatively inexpensive operation, but I'm choosing to have the animal put down instead, it's this simple. It's a dog. It's a pet. It's family, but not quite, and I'm not spending money on an operation our family can't afford, just for a pet. I'd sell everything necessary if my wife or kids needed an operation, but this is a pet we're talking about. And yes, I would hit up my coworkers for money for a life saving operation for my wife or kids, but not for a pet.

I had no issue with the woman sending out the email asking for help. It was a simple matter to hit Delete. But I had serious issues with her then passing around a collection envelope because it was obvious nobody cared enough about her stray pet cat to come by and give her money.

So when I said putting the kitty down was cheaper than the operation, I wasn't quite joking. Sometimes you have to weigh up your alternatives and say, yes, this is a tough decision, but when the alternative means going in to debt, and possibly losing my car or my house, that's not an alternative at all.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Knott's Berry Farm

Tonight after work we took the kids down to Knott's Berry Farm, and despite it being summer it was relatively empty and the kids were able to practically walk on to most of the rides as soon as they joined the queue. They also played a couple of the games, one had them picking out a plastic duck to win a prize, depending on the number of the bottom of the duck. For $5 they got three picks but they sort of had more than that because as soon as they saw the ducks they were grabbing them all. I handed over $5 and JE promptly showed the guy his duck, which had a #3 on it. Good lad. Amber turned over a #1 but the guy gave her a #2 sized prize because he said she'd turned over two #1 ducks, which she probably had...actually she'd turned over even more than that :D

JE also did the Strong Man challenge where you swing a large mallet and try to make the bell ring. He got an inflatable hammer for his effort and I almost passed out blowing it up for him :}

I rode with the kids on one ride, then Liz took them on the Merry Go Round, and while watching them go around memories came back of a childhood summer spent at Lakes Entrance in Victoria, where my grandparents currently reside. Every summer there is a carnival at Lakes Entrance, and it's also become one of the hot spots to see in the New Year. Or at least it used to be, not sure if it still is. As well as the carnival there was always a huge fireworks show right before midnight and the road along the esplanade would be closed as people lined up to watch the fireworks being set off from a barge in the estuary.

Many years ago one of my uncles was working the lucky ticket booth at the carnival. It was an early version of the lotto scratchies. You bought a ticket and peeled open the cardboard flap, and if the number revealed was one of the lucky numbers on the giant board you won a prize, probably cash. For some reason I have a feeling that my uncle had told my father he'd make sure he won, but the ticket he got was not a winner. I think this made my father mad at my uncle and we didn't go in to the carnival. Being a very young lad with a child's twisted sense of logic I recall thinking that because we hadn't won that meant we couldn't go in. I do remember asking my parents about that but they didn't seem to want to talk about it, which is probably why I think my dad was angry with my uncle.

I don't remember where we went, probably visited a few of the stores along the esplanade, but on our way back we did stop and spend some time at the carnival. Admission was free, you just paid for the rides and sideshow games. You actually bought a sheet of tickets for the rides and just tore off what you needed for that particular ride. I remember that we had some tickets left over at the end of the night, and before we left my parents gave the remaining tickets to another man for his family. I do the same thing myself now, although I think the actual physical tickets are getting phased out. The OC Fair had signs saying "This ride X tickets", etc, but they were actually credits on a magnetic card that you swiped each time you entered a ride, and when you ran out of "tickets" or credits you just recharged the card at the "ticket" booth.

Back to the past and the Lakes Entrance carnival. I had a turn on a Merry Go Round, but this one was a rather strange Merry Go Round. Instead of animals it had bicycles that you pedaled as the Merry Go Round turned. The lower platform was fixed in place and the bikes' wheels would actually turn as you rode around. Before the ride began I remember pushing on the pedals with all my might and I recall the Merry Go Round turning a little bit. My father also took a turn at the shooting gallery with the air rifles (BB guns). They were real working air rifles that you don't see these days for all sorts of legality issues, but back then you paid your $2 and got 4 pellets and you had to knock over 4 metal ducks to win a prize. 3 didn't cut it, you had to make every shot count. Being a more than decent shot my father was able to win a couple of prizes at the shooting gallery, and when I was older I followed in his food steps and the shooting gallery was always a guaranteed prize-winner for me. It's also a macho thing among guys visiting the carnival together, or maybe just with country boys where shooting comes as natural as breathing; if your mates can knock over 4 ducks you better be able to as well, or you can expect to get teased for the rest of the night ;)

So my memories of my childhood carnivals are mostly good, and I hope tonight's trip to Knott's will be remembered equally as fondly by my two children, even if remembering that carnival from yesteryear did make me a little melancholy.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Something strange...in your neighborhood

Last week Liz came to bed around 2am or so and woke me up looking for her book. She likes to read before going to sleep but her book could not be found and after a brief but thorough search (meaning I was kicked out of bed to help look) Liz reluctantly retired without reading. Over the next couple of days, when we had a spare moment, we looked for the book. I even lay down on the floor and looked under the bed and under the bedside tables, but the book could not be found. Strange.

A couple of nights ago I was woken up by a tap on my shoulder, so I rolled over and asked Liz what she wanted. With her head buried in a new book Liz didn't reply. Grumpy from being woken up at 2am and pissed off that Liz had promptly gone back to reading her new book I got a little snappy. Finally Liz responded and denied tapping me on the shoulder. Grrr. It's a good thing I can go straight back to sleep when I want to, because I did just that. But I was sure she'd tapped me on the shoulder.

Last night Liz came to bed and showed me her old book. It had been lying on the floor under her bedside table, where we'd both looked several times and somehow failed to see it. Liz said it was actually standing up on one edge, not lying flat. So somehow both of us failed to see a very obvious book standing up on one edge, several times.

But then things in our house have a habit of disappearing for a day or two, then reappearing in quite obvious spots as if they've been lying there all along and we've just somehow failed to see them. We would joke that it was a ghost hiding them. With the disappearance of the book last week, and it's reappearance in a spot where it's impossible to have overlooked it, the ghost explanation may be closer to the truth than we thought. Then again, we also have two young kids ;)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Something in the air?

I took JE to watch The Simpson's movie Saturday morning, and after dropping him with the in-laws, Liz and I decided to call Xinh to see if she wanted to see The Bourne Ultimatum Sunday morning. I got her voicemail so I left a msg asking if she wanted to watch the movie with us, unless she wasn't feeling well. I don't know why I said that.

Shortly after leaving the message my phone rang. It was Xinh. She didn't sound well. She was calling from hospital. After having abdominal pains Monday she'd gone home but she wasn't better on Tuesday, so she called her doctor who had called in sick as well. Wednesday, feeling even worse, she went in to ER and stayed there almost all day without being seen. Late in the evening someone who'd been there several hours prior to her also hadn't been seen, so Xinh went home and returned the next day. Finally she was examined and checked in under suspicion of appendicitis. She signed a form for a laparoscopic appendectomy with the option to open her up in case they found something more serious, which they did. They found a perforated intestine and an abscess the size of a cantaloupe, which is not a small fruit.

Liz and I pretty much canceled any plans and headed off to the hospital. Xinh was recovering ok but had not been able to rest because she couldn't get in to a comfortable position and the nurses hadn't been willing to go through the rigmarole Xinh felt was required to get her into a comfortable position. After raising and lowering Xinh's bed a few times, rolling her back and forth a couple of times, sliding pillows under various parts of her anatomy (I'm a good friend, but Liz took care of that assignment), we finally got Xinh into a position in which she felt comfortable.

With the battery in her cell phone running low, and it being Xinh's only contact to the outside world, we called her friend Natey (who'd already taken Xinh's dog to the kennel) and he stopped by her apartment and picked up her charger and came in. Another friend, Susan, also stopped by, and with four of us there now (five including Xinh) Liz and I decided to take our leave.

I couldn't resist snapping a picture of the room next to Xinh's. She's staying on the 6th floor of the hospital, and the room next to her we felt should have gone the same way of the 13th floor in most buildings.


Yup, that's the room next to Xinh's room at the hospital >:)

Notice how blurry it is? It's like it didn't want me taking its picture ;)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Buying a Kilt, pt II

Dr. Nicholas Fiddes has written an excellent guide to buying a Kilt, and it explains a lot about Kilts, tartans, the naming of such, and so on. Very useful information, and he's actually made his 58-page book(let) available online, free of charge, in Adobe's PDF formart. You can get it here, if you're interested.

And if you'd like to do a search of your own family name, to see if you happen to have a family/clan tartan, the Scottish Tartan Authority has an excellent tartan search site here.

Considering I want a good Kilt in the Fraser tartan, and an order for a good kilt in a select design can sometimes take a couple of months to be filled, I don't think I'll be wearing a Kilt at Mum's wedding. Not sure Mum, or my sisters for that matter, would have been willing to let me do so without a fight, anyway. It might have appeared a little disruptive.

But that's not stopped my desire for one...even if I do only wear it once or twice a year. Considering St. Andrew's Day (the patron Saint of Scotland) is November 30, if I did special order a Fraser Kilt I would have it in time to wear to work for St. Andrew's Day. That would be rather brave of me, I think.

Oh, except looking at my calendar, November 30 falls on a Friday this year, and that Friday just happens to be my Rostered Day Off. No Kilt for St. Andrew's Day this year. I might still send out an office-wide email on Thursday, November 29 telling everyone to remember to wear their family's tartan for St. Andrew's Day ;)