Monday musings

Friends have come for a visit. They've got 4 kids. Their motorhome only just fits in our back yard. Sort of!

My husband's already away. Tomorrow hers is leaving, too, so between us there will be six kids under the age 9 (say whaaat!) - four hers, two mine.

It's not even as much of a mayhem as I expected. It's hectic, yes, and we go through a lot of food, but the house is still standing and the kids keep each other busy, so... it works. I think. Sort of. I think :)


I am reading a rescue report from Yosemite National Park last year. A climber named Quinn Brett fell down a rock face and had - amongst other injuries, I think - T12 burst fracture, L4 compression fracture, 4 broken ribs, scapula fracture... etc etc etc.

I am looking through the photos she has posted on Instagram and I think, what a badass! I mean... really. Look at it. Can you look at her photos and read the captions and not be in awe of this wonderful character of a woman?

She also writes a blog. Have a read. It's worth it.


I am reading Catching Thunder (it's good story) and checking out some of their Instagram uploads, too. The Ship That Kept Giving was amusing :)


Meanwhile, I wonder about the juncture of where me and my son meet. His support services are gradually coming away - he is getting stronger, and better, and he doesn't need them any more. I, meanwhile, am heading the other way.

I am in no way incapacitated, but nevertheless I have a twice-daily reminder of pills that are on top of the fridge that I am needing to take, and how gradually I am amassing a list of health conditions to my name. Neuro-..., immuno-... etc. Sometimes I wonder at how I used to want to work in Antarctica, and how I am very aware that even if I did apply now, I probably wouldn't get on the support crew any more. There is still a chance that, one day, I will work in Antarctica, but it won't be through the support crew. Literary programme, maybe.

A lot of the time I wear a bright red medical bracelet on my wrist. Maria Grace. Epilepsy. ICE 006421**********. From Invercargill, New Zealand. It's a part of my life now that, say, if an ocular migraine hits at 10 am when I am at a local playgroup with my daughter, I know that I have to wait until about 10:45 when my vision is back so I can drive us home, and preferably not drive the rest of that day. I also wish I had a label on my forehead that says, "I am not trying to be unrespectful, sorry. I have sunglasses on whilst I'm talking to you, inside a building, because on some days it's hard to see daylight through windows. I know that, sometimes, bright lights set off ocular migraines (and make me lose parts of my vision) so I am trying to spare my eyesight. Please don't feel bad about it."


Life is not a literary masterpiece. It is, instead, an array of choices made along the way, in the hope of balance and a crack at happiness, and on Monday evenings at 10 o'clock it is not necessarily a comforting thought when a pile of washing is on the table and the kitchen, yet again, needs dishes cleaned, and lunchboxes packed.

What a relentless drive it requires, to raise little human beings. Geesh! I know I'm not the first (or the last) mother to say this, but... geesh!

Random thoughts on a Wednesday

I realised the other day that once we're done painting the house, it'll be very similar to Frida Kahlo's house in Mexico City, just with white windows instead of green.


I am still thinking about not-blogging and trying to find some sort of a balance in-between it all. This post is an attempt at that balance.


It's been about 2 months that The Man has been away Monday to Friday and I am doing... not well. I am coping, but being something similar to a single parent in a town where I don't yet have a strong social network, is hard. I have a couple of friends, but it's not enough. The little "stolen" moments of adult conversations between kids and their daily needs leaves me thirsty for more, but I haven't got water.


I almost cried at school yesterday when a replacement tutor (did I mention that the "jerk" tutor quit a few weeks ago? No? In the middle of a lecture? Just, basically, walked out? Yeah. We have a replacement tutor now) - when the replacement tutor said to me that he didn't have the assignments I had submitted. One of those assignments I didn't even have a copy of. It was all done in longhand and, normally, I scan my assignments before submitting them in case, you know, someone loses them.

But I hadn't scanned that one assignment and now the tutor was saying to me that he didn't have it - and I was sure that I had submitted it - and for about two minutes I stood in the hallway thinking, no. No, no, no, no, no. NO! I did NOT want to re-do assignments I had already done studiously and to high standard. But luckily, the tutor returned with a wide smile, "You were right, they were on my table!" and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But it did leave me feeling that, maybe, I do not want to have another year of this. I probably will go back to school and just DO IT, because I am capable of doing hard things, but... man. This year has not been awesome.


Having a garden helps. Seeing birds in the back yard, helps. It has colour and vibrancy a human eye is actually developed for, rather than a computer screen in front of me.


It's a year of hayfever. Again. I ended up at the medical centre asking for prescription drugs, and the nurse practitioner said to me that half the patients that day had come because of hayfever; some of them had never had hayfever before.


On Monday a friend is going to land in our back yard with a campervan and four kids, so I expect it to be... mayhem, sort of, for the next few weeks that they are going to stay. The Man has stacked the timber sleepers to create a massive (albeit temporary) table in the back yard. It will probably fit us all. I think. Maybe. Yeah? Four adults, six kids. Maybe.


Have asked a couple of quotes from window companies; sort of toying with the idea of putting in 'french doors' to a (future) deck this year. The numbers are... impressive.

A composite window/door made of aluminium AND timber would be $5,500. That's not even including instalment - it's the window/door alone. Makes for an interesting conversation about priorities!


The trees have leafed-out. The moment we start getting strawberries, I am calling it a summer - probably another month from now.



Universe, can we have O'Rourke / Harris 2020, please. Asking for a friend.


Who knew that within 2 days of hearing my son teach me lyrics to a song, I'd be in such love with the artist that I'd be buying tickets to go see him perform live!

Because, hey!, me and The Man will be going to George Ezra's concert in Auckland!

Do women tolerate hotter water than men?

It's a long-standing peculiarity of our marriage that I take much hotter showers than The Man. He, literally, cannot get in the shower with me unless I turn the temperature down for him. Taking baths together? No way. He cannot get in my bath water. I can lay in a bath for 30 minutes, let the water cool down and by the time I am ready to get out, it's tolerable enough for him to get in.

Today, out of interest, I googled "why women take hotter showers than men". I did NOT find any actual research with plausible theories - but I DID come across several internet forums that made me laugh out loud.

Here is a selection of quotes:

I'm sure my mother has asbestos hands. My brother and her once had a competition to see who could hold their hand nearer a hot stove - she won (and social services should have been called, but that's another matter).

My wife looks like a lobster when she gets out of the bath. I threw an egg in once to see what happened and it began to poach.

I cant put my hands in the sink if the wife has used it to wash up, its too hot.

When Mrs Celtic runs a bath for me I often suspect she is in actual fact trying to murder me.

i saw a comedian talking about this same subject a few days ago, it was hilarious. he was basically saying never take a shower with a woman you don't know, it could be your last.

I consider myself to be a guy who enjoys hot showers, but my wife can boil a cow with the water temp she showers with

I used to work in a kitchen so i can hold hot plates. But i can't stand under the shower with the gf. Water is far too hot

every morning my wife makes me feel like a wimp. She leaves the shower on for me after she gets out and I swear its like standing under volcanic lava, when I ask her how she can deal with the heat she just calls me silly

My wife will get out of the shower and her back will be red. We don't take to many showers together because of her likeness for hot water. Forget about shaving with her in there. If you can see through the mist to get to the mirror your lucky.

I think if my gf knew how to change the safety settings on the water heater, she would. I swear, the water she uses comes out of the showerhead as steam, not liquid.

Amazing isn't it. They can get into baths of boiling water, put sticky tape on their legs and pull the hair out without flinching and go through childbirth which, we are led to believe, is quite painful, yet they run a mile when they see a spider

Also, Kohler has a hilarious commercial on this very same topic:

New TED podcast

Have you seen that TED has launched a new interview-podcast? Elizabeth Gilbert was its first interviewee.

PS. Thank you for your comments under the previous post. I don't yet know how to reply to them, so I haven't.

On not wanting to blog any more

After 14 years, I am thinking of quitting blogging.

It doesn't feel right any more. My life is so intertwined with other people's lives that I am constantly struggling to figure out, is it my story to tell? Or is it somebody else's story? Sometimes I write up an entire blog post and right before hitting 'Publish' I think... nah. It's not my story to be putting it out there like that. And then I delete. Sometimes I do hit 'Publish' but later think: shouldn't have done that.

It was easier 10 years ago. There were fewer people involved in my writing, and my own moral compass pointed differently. Now I'm at a point where I am thinking, I should just keep my children out of it. When I deal with people at work or at school, same thing: the blog is not the right place to be venting it.

But I don't yet know what other medium to use instead. I do wonder about it though, and at some point, I'm gonna figure it out. When it happens, I'll probably share here. I think. We'll see.

Another problem is, a lot of the time the things I want to be writing are construction-related. And I don't want to just write - I want to discuss, and get other people's thoughts. What's a good way of detailing a window opening? Should extending a wall cavity be worth the savings from an extended layer of insulation? What about monolithic wall claddings - just rip them off? The blog is, simply, not the place to be discussing this stuff any more because the people I want to talk to are not here.

So I'll keep wondering about it, and finding my own balance somewhere in the middle of it all. For the moment though, I'm getting the paperwork ready for getting a building consent from the council. It's fun, working on it.

Bits and bobs

I said to a friend I met in London that, since having kids, I learned to choose what I do, rather than do what I want.

It's not black and white, of course (nothing ever is), but before kids I could pretty much do what I want, period. 1) Decide what I want, 2) go for it.

After kids I learned to choose instead. I do something not necessarily because I want it, but because I choose to.


The Kid and The Man are in Auckland today. Tomorrow they'll be part of a research lab - The Kid will be filmed in front of a green screen, and they'll create a computerised model of his body and his movements, which I think is a fair way of saying that we're definitely in 21st century today.

Their accommodation is in Takapuna, right on the beach, so the skyline will be looking something like this tonight.


This summer I'll be taking at least The Kid on an overnight hike with me, possibly The Girlie, too.

We're still talking about "easy" hikes in terms of terrain - possibly the first bit of Hollyford track (with an overnight stay at Hidden Falls hut), or maybe Kepler track from its back end and walk to Moturau hut (though being a serviced hut on what they call a Great Walk - that would be a very luxurious stay indeed).

Either way, the first what I'd consider "hill walk" we did this summer with kids - Omaui hill track...

... left me feeling that The Kid can do it, and I'm ready to go there with him. Wanting to go out there with him!


I'm getting a school assignment after a school assignment done, work-work-work, and I'm feeling it. Both in terms of progress (I've done a heck of a lot in the last 2 weeks since returning from Europe!) but also in terms of weariness. I'm tired.

But it has to be done, so I'm going to do it, and I'm going to graduate the damn thing.

But man I'm tired...


Still working on the house plans for the upcoming renovation. Wish I had the time to upload proper sketches and tell you what we're doing, but I don't have the time - not at the moment - so it'll have to wait. Schoolwork comes first.

I can do it

About to head out, I ask The Girlie to go tidy up her room first, and then we'll go.

She disappears into her room and as she then works on the tidy-up, I hear her mutter to herself: "I can do it, I can do it, I can do it."

I don't know where she learned it from, but that's exactly what I was telling myself today as I was working on a class assignment in school and struggling to figure out appropriate lintel sizes.

"Come on, I can do it. Two more tables. I can do it."

An American on a plane in Estonia

On the plane from Tallinn to London, I sat next to a young man from America who is spending a semester studying in Estonia as an exchange student.

John (*names and identifying details changed*) had up until that point spent his life in Missouri where, according to him, "Democrat" is a swear word - it's what you call someone instead of calling them a "dick". Basically the same thing, really.

He'd also never travelled outside of US and, prior to heading to Estonia, never even been on a plane. "Is that common?" I asked him when he told me about it and he said, yeah, pretty much. It's a rural region, the closest airport is 4 hours drive away, so people don't really tend to travel. Rural, deeply Republican area.

He said that when he was briefed about his upcoming study in Estonia, people in the US said to him that whenever someone in Europe hears he's an American, they are going to think it's awesome. "You're from America, that's so great!"they're going to tell him.

Instead, most people when John tells them that he's from the US, have replied with, "Oh, I'm sorry."

I laughed when he told me about it, but he said that the first instance was, literally, not even an hour after the plane had landed. He was standing outside of airport waiting for the bus, and he got talking to a young Japanese lady working in Estonia, who replied with exactly that: "Oh, I'm sorry."

John was gobsmacked. He didn't even know how to react to that. Since then, he says, only one person has reacted to the news that he's an American with genuine delight; everyone else has expressed a degree of pity.

Going back to America, he says, is going to be a culture shock - even more so than coming to Estonia was.

The thing is, within his American environment he is already seen as a left-leaning liberal. In a cultural studies class in high school, he told me, they discussed gays' right to marry legally and of the 30-odd students there, only him and one other boy supported the cause - everyone else was against it. One girl ended up crying, many people were shouting at John for supporting the gays' right to marry.

John even voted for Hillary in the presidential election. The word got out and the family, apparently, had been distraught. Many calls were made to his mother along the lines of, "OMG, did you hear John voted for Hillary!?!" - "Yes," she said to the callers, "I did." - "But what are you going to do about it!?" - "Nothing. It's his right to vote for whoever he chooses." She supports her son although she doesn't necessarily share in his political opinions.

I found John absolutely fascinating.

John said that, in America, (many) people think that America is the greatest country in the world. He's grown up in that environment and he's used to thinking, yeah, it probably is.

And now he's outside of US and he talks with people and he thinks, jesus, it's the opposite. They feel pity towards America instead.

A little argument I've been intrigued about

It's a statement I've heard several times in the last few months. I'm not sure why - maybe it's one of the urban myths making their way around the internet.

The statement is: the shape of humans' teeth is proof that humans aren't meant to eat meat. (Meat-eating animals have canine teeth meant for tearing up meat - humans don't have those, so conclusion being, humans shouldn't eat meat.)

This statement makes about as much sense as saying that humans shouldn't live in Finland because they don't have fur to protect them from the cold.

Well... humans didn't need fur to be able to live in Finland. They learned to make clothes and footwear instead.

The same with teeth: the shape of humans' teeth simply means that humans didn't use teeth to kill animals, or to rip up raw meat. They didn't need to. They used tools instead: arrows and stones and sticks for killing, and blades and fire for cooking/prepping. The shape of teeth is consistent with humans being omnivores - eating pretty much anything they can digest.

There is a bird living in Galapagos, a woodpecker finch, who uses pieces of stick to get insects out of holes it otherwise wouldn't be able to get with its much shorter beak. According to the tooth/meat argument, that finch shouldn't eat those insects either - it doesn't have a beak long and thin enough. But, the bird still eats them, because the finch uses tools which make up for the lack of physical features of its body.

Why would humans develop canine teeth if they didn't hunt prey with their teeth, like lions, and then rip up raw meat?

Besides, opposable thumbs are much more useful than canine teeth anyway...

Is it bedtime yet?

Almost everything becomes more difficult with kids.

Photos: the last two weeks in Europe

As we approached our last week in Estonia (by that time The Man and The Kid had already flown back to England) we did... hanging out, mostly, I think.

Walking little fluffy dogs.

One of the dogs even went into labour earlier than expected (picture walking down a hallway in the apartment and suddenly calling out, "The puppy's out! The puppy's out!") so The Girlie got to see first-hand a dog being born.

Cool stuff, she thinks :)

We visited several indoors playgrounds. At Toila Spa.

At √úlemiste Keskus.

We said bye at the airport.

Then in England, we did more travel. We waited at airports, and bus stations, and train stations.

We made friends on trains.

We got uncles to wear cute pink backpacks ;)

We walked quiet roads to old fortifications up the hill.

I watched a typically English scene unfold when my father-in-law (a Manchester United fan) and my brother-in-law (a Chelsea fan) sat down in front of the television to watch Manchester United play against Chelsea.

Oh dear gods. My father-in-law had prepped the house by hanging up various Manchester United gear (scarves, flags, t-shirts) so when it came to the match itself, my brother-in-law (wearing a Chelsea shirt) had to sit underneath a Manchester United sign.

At one point during the match someone called from the kitchen that if my brother-in-law expects to be fed dinner tonight, Chelsea better lose.

And guess what? It didn't :). Chelsea won.

Kids loved having their cousins around.

They watched grandad's train track be worked in the garage.

At the end, the extended family even came together for a party in the back yard.

And then, it was time to go home.

More airport playgrounds.

More time zones and movies and crisps (on the plane, the kids get to eat pretty much... anything).

And then, home.

We landed at about 5:30 am on a Friday morning and I cried when first lights of New Zealand from down below appeared in the windows. It was a mixture of elated tiredness of having returned home - recognising it very clearly as HOME - and the certain knowledge that come spring, I will be applying for New Zealand citizenship.

It is a decision I made in Estonia. I had been thinking about it for a while, but in Estonia I finally decided that, yes, it makes sense. It is partially a financial reasoning: with New Zealand not having an Estonian embassy renewing my Estonian passport is an expensive exercise of either travelling to Australia twice in 2 months, or North Island of New Zealand (which either way is a pain). But also, after 9 years of living here... I am ready.

But now it's 6 am, the day is starting, the kids are up, so I will go, too.

Have a nice day, guys.

"Reisikaja" podcast now available on Soundcloud

On my last day in Estonia I sat down with Agaate Antson (travel editor at Postimees) in their Tallinn studio and we talked about Alaska, Svalbard and New Zealand.

As usual, the recording is an excellent example of the fact that I do not stick to the topic when asked about something and tend to, basically, go off on random tangents all over the place :D. But if you'd like, the podcast is available to listen at:

* Postimees' website (there are also a bunch of photos there in a gallery), or


Whilst I was in Estonia a new batch of my book was printed (with an addition of one new chapter at the end) so here I am in the office of the publishing house showing it off - and, as is also usual, showing excellent style having just come from the swimming pool, wearing a size-too-large t-shirt and trying to put up the least awkward smile for the purposes of the photo.

Photo from

But, hey, my kids slept until 6 am today so it's all good, because life is starting to make sense again. So I'm not worried :)


The upside of The Girlie waking up at 4 am is that I can be out walking The Dog by 5 am.

It's frosty, so the cold has dropped moisture out of the air and the stars are out. Not that many people are out yet, or cars.

Downside is, by 7 am The Girlie is livid with grouchy-ness and as our morning continues, it does not get better.

By 10 am will I have spent two hours working out lintel sizes and loaded dimensions of a variety of structural members, and by 12 pm I will have spent two more hours doing the exact same thing, but for multi-storey buildings.

By 2 pm I feel like I could either 1) lay down and sleep, or 2) cry. I am typing this short blog post and The Girlie is telling me about a ballet class she wants to attend where she can "dance a unicorn dance" (what's up with EVERYTHING having to do with unicorns at the moment!?) and in her excitement I can tell that by 5 pm she is going to be livid with grouchy-ness yet again.

But there's not much I can do about that at the moment.

Travelling with kids is brutal, and so is trying to resume life afterwards. I'm at a point where The Girlie says, "Mommy, can I put stickers on your clothes?" and I reply, "Yeah, sure, whatever."

So don't mind me walking into Measurement/Estimation class with stickers down my back that I am not aware of.

But, seriously, at this point I have bigger things going on in my life than stickers down my back.

Going home

At the dinner table yesterday I said, I am grateful for the hospitality shown to us: the meals, the trips, the company, the time. But after a month of travel, I am ready to go home.

The plane leaves today.

Why travelling is important

This trip is reminding me why travelling is so important: it's to meet people with a different point of view, for to have cooperation I need to understand how other people think and feel - and so does everyone else, I think.

Looking at the prospect of travelling with children though, the word that comes to mind first is daunting because, at a point where one is 3 and the other one is 7, it is. It is!

But the good thing is, they're growing. In fact, they're growing very fast. Soon enough it'll be reasonable enough taking them along to long trips, and I am looking forward to that: to taking my children to places people don't agree with them, and for them to learn what that's like because in the 8 years of living in New Zealand I think I had managed to forget a lot of that.

And this trip is reminding me of that.

It's reminding me that travelling is to meet people with a different point of view.

PS. It's so hot here that it's been 5 days since I've worn a jumper or a long sleeve t-shirt. Basically, short sleeves and shorts all day, every day.

Welcome to Estonia in May, huh.

Photos! Second week in Estonia

When we arrived in Estonia, we weren't greeted with the (what is now an unseasonable) sweltering heat quite yet. At first, it was May like Mays go - think jackets, hats, layers against the wind and trees not quite in bloom yet.

It was... familiar.

We spent time in parks.

On the beach.

Then, very quickly, the weather turned - but not for the worse.

For better.

It's been solidly 20-25 for a whole week and to say that I've been making use of the various "cold wet weather gear" that we brought over from New Zealand would be a lie because I've, basically, been living barefeet, in t-shirts and shorts, and so have my children.

At first it was the weird juxtaposition of warm weather but still bare trees...

...and then the trees went, BOOM! Green.

...and now we're at a point where it's actually hard to sleep at night because it's... hot. I mean, seriously: hot.

The Man learned a little more about the quirky little Soviet-era towns near the Russian border where I grew up and used to call home (complete with the local taste for home decor).

We visited a science center (Ahhaa), a zoo (Tallinn), a toy museum (Miiamilla) which were all absolutely brilliant - especially the toy museum with its playroom which my children, tired from the travelling, found solace and joy in.

There was also family. Lots of family. And friends.

I'm mindful of uploading their photos here though, because for the most part I haven't asked any of their permissions, so I'll just stick to our own.

Then, on Friday when The Man and The Kid returned to England and only the girls remained - me and my daughter - it quietened down a lot. I think we all started to catch up on sleep, and just... lounging because that first week of whole-family-in-Estonia had been demanding, and challenging, so we just took our time and pottered around.

Showed my daughter the "big sparkly house" of a local Russian Orthodox nunnery which, unsurprisingly, she found sufficiently sparkly - as you do.

I also had a little personal moment of success when it somehow turned out that the book I've been wondering about for years - a copy of Winterdance by Gary Paulsen which I got signed by Randy Cummins who I often worked alongside in Alaska in 2006 - was... at my brother's house.

I was, like, "You've got it!? I'd been wondering for years who I'd left it with!" and, with a quick rummage through his bookshelf, it was once again in my backpack.

For the past couple of days I've once again been reading it and feeling lucky that I've somehow managed to keep most of my bladder intact because, just like I say in the back of my own book now, it is the funniest book about dog sledding, ever.

Less than two weeks to go.