Passive house presentation on Youtube

At the NZIQS* conference two weeks ago, Rob Bernhardt gave a presentation on what's called "passive houses". The presentation is available in its entirety on Youtube, if you're interested.

* NZIQS = New Zealand Institute of Quantity Surveyors

On the importance of showing support

We teach our kids that if they see someone being bullied, their job is to walk up to the victim, stand next to them and put an arm around their shoulder. They can say, "I'll help you." Letting the victim know they are not alone is a big step - probably, the most important step - towards resolving the issue.

I would not have expected to see myself do that at a tertiary education institution, but today I did just that. I watched a tutor say not-so-nice things to a student, and then leave the room. Everyone was looking around, with a kind of a WTF!? expression on their face.

I picked up my things, walked up to the student and asked if they'd want me to come along to the programme manager's office to back up the story. The student said yes, please. I gave the student a hug and off we went.

And now I've just spent 15 minutes in the office, mostly, just letting the student tell their story, backing it up on my end - yes, I saw it, too - and showing my support by just being there. I think it was important to the student to know, they were not alone.

And now I am back at home, about to start working on another assignment, and my heart is beating because I am thinking, I have no idea where this is heading.

I know the students need their voices heard. On the other hand, it's also pretty obvious that the tutors need support - above all, they need support! - but I am not convinced that the department is going to provide that. I am almost seeing the replica of 2017 happen all over again. Last year, so much pressure was put on teaching staff that, in quick succession, they left. I do not want to spend another term without tutors again.

But on the other hand, I do not want to see a tutor treat a student like that and just do... nothing. So I pick up my stuff and go up to the student and say, "I'll come with you," because among a variety of difficult choices with no perfect solutions, I need to make mine.

"It'll be easy."

"Don't worry, it's an easy assignment."

It is NEVER an easy assignment if your tutor feels the need to predate it with this sentence!



So, to give you the back story: two weeks ago our tutor gave us a class assignment. We were doing wall framing - working out loaded dimensions of walls and from there, calculating what size timbers we needed to put up walls in houses.

This was the plan view of the house the tutor wanted us to do in class:

This photo will probably say very little to people who aren't studying architecture, so let me just sum it up by: THIS ASSIGNMENT WAS A MAJOR PAIN IN THE HOLE!

The house was so "wonky" in terms of its layout and the roofline that there were 15 (!) different wall sections of different kinds of loaded dimensions. 15!

I think it took us a better part of an hour just to work out what the sections were. Even the tutor was visibly astounded that it had ended up such a mindf*ck, pardon my English, because he hadn't done the assignment beforehand and hadn't expected that it would end up such a pain.

But we got it done. The tutor then handed us the assessment papers to take home (ie, the stuff we have to do at home independently, so we can get graded afterwards) and said, "Look, guys, if you were able to do that, you'll find the assessment easy. Easy!"


No, no, no, no, no.


The assessment house has 1) rafters above the living room, 2) trusses above the bedrooms, 3) half-trusses above the ensuite and 4) rafters with a skillion roof above the master bedroom, held at the top end by a square-truss.


I don't mind doing hard assignments, but why do they insist on predating them with words, "It'll be easy!" ???


Two weeks ago a similar scenario happened at a construction documentation class. A variety of fictional scenarios got given to us and we needed to create paperwork / e-mails / letters to show how we would deal with situations like that.

The tutor, also, was saying, "Oh, it'll be easy!" and the girls were already laughing, "It's never easy when you say it's easy!" - "Oh, but trust me: this one is! It's easy! You'll have it done and over with in a couple of hours!"

5.5 hours I sat over that assignment. And not, as in, "sat" over the assignment, but "worked laboriously" over that assignment for solid 5.5 hours.

Classmates were later asking me, "Did you find it easy?" - "No. It was not easy."

And they laughed, "It wasn't, was it! I don't know why he even bothers saying it's going to be easy. It never is!"


Because the bottom line is: the assignment might be easy, yes.

But if the tutor says it's easy, it's never easy.

I think they just say it to make themselves feel a little better.

Oh I am SO DONE with this! :/

Imagine a person drowning - kind of, almost. They come up, gulp the air, and then go down again.

Well that's me. Doing my schoolwork.

Whilst I was in Europe for a month, tutors gave my class a bunch of assignments to do. Since I arrived back in New Zealand, I've been diligently working on getting it done. But every time I get close to catching up, they give out new assignments and then I feel, like, oh sh*t, here we go again.

And I go down.

I bet I'll be having dreams about this period in my life for years. Like a comic strip at

When kids talk funny

When The Man is hugging The Girlie, he often says, "My precious!" - like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.

The Girlie, of course, has her own take on that.

When hugging us, she'll exclaim, "My pleasure!"


When The Man is playing with the kids, he often says, "Do you want to explode?!" - like Dr Nefario from Despicable Me.

The Girlie, of course, has her own take on that.

She'll tickle The Man and exclaim, "Do you want to explore!?"


It's only recently that The Girlie learned to pronounce "beautiful" (rather than saying "buffalo", as in, "You look buffalo!")

There are more, too, but I can't remember any off the top of my head like that.

How I'm closing down my social networking accounts

I haven't had a Facebook account for 7 years. I did before, but it got to a point where I would sit in front of a computer, think, "I'll just quickly check this for 2-3 minutes," - and then realise that half an hour has passed.

And it wasn't just a one-off, either. Repeatedly I would waste an hour here, another hour there. It got to a point where I thought, "I won't want my life to look like that."

So I deleted it. Well, technically, I couldn't delete my account because Facebook never deletes them - but I emptied it of its contents and closed it, so it will forever sit there, empty, attached to my e-mail address.

For the most part, I've been proud of the decision. It has removed an important temptation, which I would have otherwise had to self-manage and impulse-control, so rather than putting my energy onto questions such as "How do I responsibly use Facebook?" and "How to keep myself from wasting time on Facebook?" I just... don't have Facebook, and it works for me.

There have been some "snags" when, for example, I've been part of groups that do their internet communication entirely on Facebook. A writers' group I'm part of, for example - they do all their online uploading/discussing on Facebook, so they've needed to e-mail me important documents, or if our meeting time gets changed, they need to remember to let me know by e-mail or by phone because otherwise... I won't know.

Or there used to be an interesting blog I followed, but I could never comment on it because the commenting worked entirely through a Facebook plug-in.

But these snags are little things. The big thing is, I feel my life changed for the better when I closed down my Facebook, and I haven't looked back since.


A couple of months ago, I closed down my Twitter. The same thing, kind of - I felt my life wasn't bettered by its presence.

I hadn't been that big of a user of Twitter anyway, but I had used it extensively to follow the American gun debate, and it got to a point where I had made a comment I wasn't proud of, which prompted me to think, "Until I learn to treat the person on the other side of the screen with the same respect I do people face-to-face on a city street, I'm not going to use Twitter."

And I haven't gone back yet. I've certainly learned a lesson, but I haven't felt the need for going back. I still have other digital social networks I use.


On Instagram, I made the account private about 3 months ago when I started to get uncomfortable with the fact that I was getting followed by people I had no idea who they were. For all I knew, they were a mixture of "bots" and some simply curious people from Asia and the US, but nevertheless, I wanted to share my life with people I actually knew in real life, so I blocked the people I didn't know personally, changed the privacy settings and... went on.


I've started to close down my blog content. I don't know if you've noticed, but only about the latest 100 posts remain public - everything beyond that has been turned into "draft" which is unaccessible to general public.

Again, it was a mixture of reasons, but because my blogging includes my children, the older they are getting, the more protective I am becoming of the content. (By the way, that started even before the John Parsons talk ;).) I don't want my blog to be a place where someone can come in and systematically "trawl" the content for several years back, so... for the moment, the blog remains public on its own, but not all of its content is accessible any more.

The older blogs from Alaska and Svalbard I have already closed down.


It's reminded me of a similar approach I have towards sugar.

4 years ago when I had gestational diabetes whilst pregnant with The Girlie, I needed to change my eatings habits so I could stay healthy throughout the pregnancy. I noticed how, once I tuned down the amount of carbs I was eating, I became much more sensitive towards sugar! A Snickers bar no longer tasted nice. It was overly sweet for me, and it showed to me how de-sensitised a human can become towards sugar if they have lots of it. The more sugar a person eats, the more sugar they need to keep eating to keep getting the "buzz" out of it.

Good in evolutionary terms, but bad in a modern society of rubbish food choices.

Then when my epilepsy was confirmed, I learned to change even more towards LCHF foods. Nowadays I almost never eat sweets any more.

At first, it's harder because the body still has the natural cravings for the carb-rich food. I would look at a chocolate cake my family is eating and ask myself, "What do you want more, Maria, the chocolate cake or to be healthy?" Almost always, the answer was, "To be healthy," so I didn't take the cake.

And now, once I got over the initial process of getting into this eating habit, it's easier. I have fewer cravings. It's just... easier to be this way, and I feel my life is better for it.

And it was the same with Facebook. I didn't want my life to look like that, so I deleted it, and now my life is better for having done it.

PS. Having said that, part of it is simply becoming older and more settled in my consumption choices. Kind of like my grandma and grandad - or old people in general - who, as they aged, became more reliant on things they were already doing/using and resisted change. Well... welcome to 30's, Maria, and aging ;)

Welcome to Invercargill! An environment report

I am writing up a report on environmental conditions of Invercargill and, amongst other stuff, this page sits:

I am sitting here and thinking, yeah, that's a very "infographic" way of saying, it rains often, is cloudy, most days of the year it's 10 degrees outside, and it sees very little sun.

Welcome to Invercargill :)


Also, I just got this photo from The Kid's teacher:

Well, let's put it this way: I definitely wasn't taught fractions that way! ;)

The difference between privacy and anonymity

Privacy is when people know who you are, but they cannot see what you're doing. Anonymity is when they see what you are doing, but they don't know who you are.

I can't believe I just wrote that :D

I just sent an e-mail to a friend and, looking back, it makes me grin that I admitted this in an e-mail, but:

"Even when I am asleep, I have exceptionally colorful dreams. I sometimes "lucid dream", but usually it is because something in my dream is so outrageously crazy that, in my dream, I start thinking, "Wait, this can't possibly make sense. How can this be?!" and then I realise, "Oh, I know, I must be dreaming! That's why it's so crazy here!" And then when I realise I am dreaming, I become aware of being able to dream about anything I want to, kind of like putting on a movie on the TV. I once even tried having sex with John Mayer to see if it would work :D (It did, but he wasn't very good, unfortunately.)"


More about John Parsons, internet safety and the importance of relationships

To follow on from my earlier post about John Parsons.


Taking photos of oneself alone in the bedroom is a bit like walking down a street at midnight, money flapping out of the pocket. "Hey, there's a child alone in the bedroom, away from parents." Bedroom should be off-limits - keep it as a private space.


The same goes for sleeping - bedroom is for sleeping.

More and more, John says, they are seeing cases were teenagers are coming to school on a Monday morning and they vomit with pure exhaustion from having been awake at night playing Grand Theft Auto which, anyway, they shouldn't have access to as it's rated 18+ being full of nudity, coarse language, theft, murder, weapons and assault. But they do, and it's a question of how to deal with that.

If it means turning off WIFI or handing in phones each night, it's the families' decision, but the bottom line is: kids need to sleep, and the younger they are, the more important it is. Going through long-term sleep deprivation has long-lasting consequences to their health.


The same goes for being outdoors and moving. Kids need to move: each time they "bump" their bones whilst running and jumping, they are building bone density which will carry them in their 50's and 60's. However more and more they are seeing kids with "tech necks" where there is a curvature of the back from leaning over the laptop, and keeping laptops on their tummies for hours.


Also as a result of playing R18 rated games, the kids become so used to such violent language (I think John said that in one Grand Theft Auto scenario, you had to "kill the whore so you could get her drugs"!?) that when such language is then presented to them in social networks, those kids don't even see it as a warning sign.


A lot of the healing comes from non-judgemental acceptance. "I would never have done that!" or "You will ruin your life if you ..." are the worst things you can say to a victim because, first, they weren't stupid - they were victims to a crime.

And secondly, a person who thinks they haven't got a future ahead - that's the problem. Not just in internet, but ANYWHERE.

No mistake is big enough to ruin someone's life, and it's a societal responsibility to teach ourselves that.


John told about a boy who liked a girl, and she asked him to send a naked photo to her. He did, and the next day that naked photo was on the screens of his schoolmates, who were making fun of him.

For a long time the boy suffered alone, being harrassed by people around him, too embarrassed to ask anyone for help. Eventually, John got involved and the boy told him about it.

The important thing was, the boy was too afraid to tell his parents because shortly before, the family had together watched a documentary. It was about sexual predation on the internet, and the people who'd got in trouble after sending various naked images of themselves to other people on the internet.

The boy's dad had said whilst watching that documentary, "They deserve everything they get after making such a stupid thing." Dad hadn't realised it, but it was then exactly the thing that kept his son from reaching out to dad when the son was in trouble - the son didn't want to disappoint his dad. The dad had made that comment precisely because the dad had wanted to scare the boy into thinking, "Oh, I will never do something like that then!" - to kind of make sure that the boy doesn't do something like that.

Except, mistakes happen.

When John called the boy's dad, telling him about what had happened, the man was distraught. "Why didn't he tell me!?" he was asking John and John explained - explained about the comment the dad had made, and how the boy was too scared to approach dad.

John says he still remembers when the dad arrived, and he hurriedly walked up to his son, repeating, "I'm sorry. I love you! I'm sorry. I'm so sorry! I love you!"

And then of the healing that happened in that family.


There is another family. A boy had taken a photo up their daughter's skirt, and then uploaded it on the internet. (Which, by the way, is a criminal offense, John notes. A private recording - it's a criminal offense.)

The girl got harrassed at school for it, she felt rejected, embarrassed. It went on for 3 months, until the girl attempted suicide. Luckily, she survived, and John showed us a photo of a man - her dad - sitting at the hospital bed of the daughter, holding her hand.

That dad then wrote a letter to the daughter, and it's a letter John to this day cannot read out loud without crying himself. He doesn't know why exactly that story resonated with him, but it's the dad sitting in the hospital, knowing how close he had come to losing her.


The bottom line is, people make mistakes. Even adults don't behave on the internet like mature adults - how would we expect for teenagers to get everything right?

And that's another thing that John hears over and over again, when he visits high schools. The kids say to him that, adults constantly talk about the importance of inclusion and acceptance and respect. And yet look what adults themselves do in the politics! On TV screens! On city streets!

It's a generational lesson. Kids didn't just become mean, or reckless, or disrespectful. They learned it from (older) people around them, so stop pointing a finger towards kids and look in the mirror instead.


John works with young adults whose "digital footprint" has become so cluttered with bad decisions they've made in their lives that, by their early 20's, these youngsters have become unemployable.

He helps them rebuild their digital footprints. He says, rather than trying to "delete" what's on Google, they need to start making sure that they do good things instead and put those on internet.

Gradually, the "bad decision examples" move down the Google search results, because Google is only interested in what's the most relevant, and once the first few pages of Google are "clean", things change.

Employers run their background checks, and they use Google, but no-one goes on page 10. They only look through the first few.

But of course, it starts with making good decisions instead. These youngsters have to start doing things that are good, so they create "material" that they can then use to start filling their digital footprints. "Think of it like a hole 50,000 miles deep," John says, "And you can only fill (or see) the top 6 inches at a time." All throughout that process, they need to be supported, and guided, and be believed in.


There's a girl that got sexually predated on at 14. When the case was with the police, the violator said, "But I thought she was 17!" - "Why did you think that?" - "Because her Facebook account said so."

It had started several years earlier. The girl wanted a Facebook account at 11, but she needed to be 13 to do that. She asked her mom for advice. Her mom said, "Oh, just make up a birthdate, that's okay." And in that little moment - from then onwards, the girl always looked to other people on internet as if she was older than she actually was.

And also the lesson: the mom hadn't intended it to be that way, but she had "taught" her daughter in that instant that it was okay to lie about her identity. It was a little thing, it didn't matter.

It was little things, but it had started from home.


But beyond all that, John's talk was simply about the importance of support. Families. Friends. Non-judgement. Empathy. Self-control. Self-worth.

And the fact that, however big mistakes have been done - a happy, healthy life can be rebuilt thereafter.


PS. Radio New Zealand interviewed John briefly last year. It's not the best interview, but nevertheless, it's available at


PPS. And please tell me: were you able to read through all that without tearing up? Because I couldn't. I couldn't listen to John without tearing up on several occasions, and neither can I write about it now without tearing up. I even tear up when I now read my own words here.

Because so many stories John shared with us yesterday, resonated with me.

On John Parsons, internet safety and the importance of relationships

Yesterday I attended a talk by John Parsons, an internet safety consultant. I was so deeply moved by what he said - and how he said it - that I feel I will be processing this information for many more weeks to come.

And I want to pass it on.

In a couple of weeks (after I have finished the semester at school) I will be interviewing him for a long feature piece, and if at all possible I will be sharing the link to that interview here.

But for the moment, I want to share some snippets of what he said here.

First of all though, who is John? John counsels people around the use of internet technology. He works with NZ Police in cases of extreme abuse on the internet, so on one hand, he helps people that have already come in harm's way to rebuild their self-worth, public image, trust in the community and confidence. At the same time, he talks over and over again with kids all over the country on what communication on internet means, and what it's capable of, and how to use it safely. Above all, he talks about healing, and the importance of love.

He is the author of "Keeping Your Children Safe Online" (Free delivery within New Zealand if using coupon code SAFE17, more information about it here.)

He spends a lot of time in Southland because various community organisations (Rotary, ILT, Community Trust and others) have made sure that John and his team are funded to such a high level that they are able to spend 85 days every year in Southland where they provide ongoing, region-wide PUBLIC talks and training, year-after-year. They go to high schools, primary schools, kindergartens, community groups, all with the aim of spreading the information and support on how to use technology in a way that would keep people healthy and happy.

Yesterday he spoke about, among other things:

Internet is like any other environment we go to. If in a park a stranger comes up to a child and asks, "What's your name? Come with me" then children have learned to say no, step away and seek support. They need to be taught to think of internet in the same way - it's like any other place they go to. If someone asks them for private information not relevant to the game they're playing - and especially if the child gets invited to follow a link to some other website/game/environment, they need to learn to see that as a warning sign.


It goes back to social complacency as a whole. John was telling a story about sitting in Queenstown and watching a bus full of tourists pull up to the lakeside. Asian tourists piled out and started taking photos of the two children playing on the lakeside ("Oh, look at that, how cute!") They stood in such a way that their bodies ended up like "barricades" between children and their two parents, sitting on a bench nearby, so the children looked towards their parents for cues on what to do next - they were clearly uncomfortable with the situation. The parents just smiled awkwardly, looking also very uncomfortable, but no-one said anything. And John thought, in that moment, the kids learned that the social rule was, "Suck it up when you don't like what's done to you." A lakeside is no different from internet - if you're not comfortable with what's done to you, you learn (and you teach to your children!) to lift their chin up and say, "No. Stop. I don't like it."


Vulnerability draws in people who are looking for vulnerability. It's like a girl walking down an empty street at midnight with money flapping out of the pocket - it draws in people who want to take advantage of that vulnerability. But let that girl walk alongside her dad instead - instantly the situation becomes safer because the girl is not alone, and she displays that she has supportive people around her. On the internet, it's the same.

John told a story of a teenage girl who got sexually predated on the internet. A lot of premeditation went into it. The man spent a long time gathering information about this girl, but the girl refused his approaches on Facebook at first - she knew not to accept invites from people she doesn't know. But then the man found out who her friends/followers are on Instagram. He started following her friends, getting them to accept his invites, so by the time he approached this girl again, she accepted because he "was friends with a lot of her friends", so it seemed safer.

He posed as a 24-year-old man from US, but he was older than that. He found out from Facebook what her interests are, and gradually they built up trust. It was based on lies, of course, because he would simply make up stories to make her believe that they had a lot in common, and because the girl didn't have a strong relationship with her parents, he was able to become the main person she trusted.

Eventually, she got sexually predated on.

What resonated with me, was when John got involved in rebuilding that family - their trust and their "dinner table" at first, but then their social network habits afterwards. They deleted all her social networks and then, they started building them again. One by one, they would add people, but it was different, of course. Now the girl - even the image she projected on the internet - was about strong social networks around her. The photo they chose for her Facebook account included her dad sitting behind her, with his huge beard hanging down over her shoulder, and the aim of it was exactly that - that even if you see that girl on Facebook, you see her dad behind her. You know that that girl isn't alone. She's got family around her. She doesn't project vulnerability - she doesn't walk down a street alone at midnight; she's got her dad with her. Her Instagram account, the same thing: she's got friends with her. She has LOTS of photos with friends in them!

The takeaway from it was, safety on internet doesn't mean staying away from social networks - because there is value in them. But it does mean using them in a way that would project a strong, healthy person - exactly the kind of person that someone is behind the internet.

Because that's the thing: the three most important things are self-control, empathy and self-worth.


He talked a lot about the importance of relationships, about the value of strong families behind kids.

Safety on the internet starts at the dinner table, he said. It's not so much fixing the kids' internet "persona" - it's supporting them to be people with self-control, empathy and self-worth.

And it starts at home.


Family doesn't necessarily mean mom and dad, by the way.

John's parents died when he was 13, so between ages 13-15 he actually lived on the street. (He grew up in England.) From 15 onwards the support he got didn't come from his biological parents, but it didn't need to, because family is larger than that.

There are kids for whom such support doesn't come from biological families, so they need to find people they can look up to and who will take care of these kids - their "lighthouses" - elsewhere. John talked about the importance of making sure that kids have that - their "lighthouses", people they can trust.

And it made me think about the people around me in New Zealand who, to me, are exactly that: they're my New Zealand family. We're not biologically related, but they are my family nevertheless.


Okay, sorry, gotta run now, but I will probably come back and write a little more in the evening. The bottom line is: John Parsons was absolutely awesome. Seriously! Seriously awesome!

A video I will happily share with my daughter one day

Has the thyroid always been like that?

I find it fascinating that I hadn't clicked onto it sooner. I mean... eight years. Maybe eight years I've been treated like that? I don't know. I've had 4 different GP-s since moving to New Zealand (general practitioner - "perearst" in Estonian), so it's hard to remember if all of them have followed this regimen, but thinking back there's a good chance that... they have. It kind of makes sense, I mean, thinking about it.

And the story is, I have an underactive thyroid. It's an autoimmune kind, what they call Hashimoto's thyroiditis in the medical literature. (-"itis" at the end of "thyroid" simply implies that I have a thyroid that's perpetually inflamed due to an autoimmune reaction, so "thyroiditis")

Because my thyroid is underactive then every day I take medicine to "top" my hormones up - to "insert" into my body hormones that my thyroid doesn't produce enough of otherwise. The dosage has changed over the years, but in short, over time my thyroid gets gradually weaker and weaker and weaker, so over the years my dosage has grown gradually bigger and bigger and bigger.

About two years ago I started doing serious research on keeping down water retention in my body because having developed epilepsy (catamenial type C3) I needed to manage water retention which, from experience now, plays a part in managing my seizures. ("Catamenial" simply means that seizures are connected to my menstrual cycle and type C3 means that seizures happen during the luteal phase, ie before menstruation)

I learned to adjust my food towards LCHF preferences, learned to balance my high water intake against having enough minerals (sodium, magnesium, potassium, zinc) - learned to, quite simply, even notice I had water retention, and to notice how much of it I had.

But it's not until I became borderline anemic last year (I swam one length in the swimming pool and had to climb out because I just couldn't get enough oxygen in me) that I started looking for patterns and suddenly clicked onto the fact that... my doctors wait for my thyroid to drop below normal range before they prescribe me higher thyroid supplements.

Like this:

And it's not good, actually, because in my case we know that I have a systemically underactive thyroid which never goes higher - it only ever goes down with time. "Upping" my hormones only to the mid-normal range and then letting me gradually "drop out" of the bottom again only means that for the most part, I spend my time in the bottom corner of the "normal" range and, sometimes, outside of it before I get pushed up to the middle again.

And it's not good, because I already have low iron levels. Have had pretty much since... 2011. (They've never been as drastically low as I got last year, but they've been low enough that I probably wouldn't have been allowed to donate blood, if I wanted to, thinking about it now.) And the problem is, low iron levels are systemically linked to low thyroid levels through a problem in iron absorption, which I probably have.

It's also not good because it causes high water retention.

Last year - for the first time ever - I bought a set of scales to keep at home because I just got to a point where I could tell, I have a systemic problem with water retention just before my period. I mean, all women get that to a degree, but I was sometimes at a point where my weight would go up and down 5 kilos in a month. I would be 67 kg at the start of the month and at the end, the scales would be at 72 kg. Then, a week later I would be down to 67-68 kg again and over the next 3-4 weeks it would climb to about 72 again.

I had different sized pants depending on what time of the month it was. I mean... seriously. I couldn't comfortably wear the same size jeans through the month.

And I honestly don't know why I never thought about it before - the link between my water retention and my thyroid. I just... never questioned it. Ever. I took it as a fact that every now and again my blood test would come back marked "L" for "low" thyroid hormone, me and my GP would look into it, up my dosage and for a while my hormones would be within the normal range again. Until a while later they'd be too low again and we'd up the dosage again. A "normal" pattern for an autoimmune thyroid degradation. No biggie. Keeping the thyroid levels "normal".

But it's not actually "normal", is it. Not for me.

So we've made a change. We upped the thyroid dosages to keep me at the top end of the normal range (rather than upping only to the middle), therefore allowing my thyroid to gradually slip down again, but we would hopefully push it up again before it dropped out the bottom, and... (drumroll) VOILA!, the water retention's gone.

I'm at a comfortable 65 kg at the moment. I mean, still have to wait and see for a couple more months to confirm that it's a solid pattern we are observing, rather than a fluke, but... I can feel it. I can feel the "puffiness" gone.

Of course, it's not only that because at the moment I am also on supplemental progesterone because, by the looks of it, I did have a too-low progesterone count and now we've managed to get me to a point where (another drumroll!) I don't have seizures. Haven't had any for 5 months.

And it's been a fantastic discovery for me that I need to really systematically keep an eye on all medical information that comes into my GP-s mailbox. I need to be able to proactively advicate for my health before my GP gets a "ping!" on his lab reports saying, "Maria's thyroid levels are at "L", please review."

And it's basic stuff. It is.

I had just never thought to notice it before.

PS. Funny thing is, in class today my tutor talked about the importance of just "trusting what the professionals are doing", rather than keeping an eye on the construction process (from a client's point of view). The tutor said how people nowadays show up in a doctor's office having already googled everything ahead of time, so they just show up saying, basically, "I know what I have, I know what I need to take, I just need you to prescribe it" and how silly such an approach is. That a doctor has gone through medical school in his, what, 9 years? so just trust what he's doing.

And I sat there, quietly, thinking to myself: "That's bollocks."

I could've spoken up, but I didn't feel I needed to. I am exactly the sort of a patient the tutor alluded to, showing up at my neurologist's office with papers printed out about clinical trials I think will work in my case, suggesting we try a treatment protocol my neurologist hadn't even heard about.

But, guess what? The neurologist took a week to research it, discuss it with his colleagues, it looked credible enough to him to say, "Yeah, okay, let's try. See what happens."

And it f*ckin' works!

A person said to me recently that I seem to be proud of the fact that I have epilepsy and I thought to myself, damn right I am!

I mean, I'm not glad I have it - because I'd much rather I didn't - but given that I have it, I don't see much point in hiding my head under a carpet somehow and pretending that I don't, so I wear the f*ckin' medical bracelet around my wrist with pride, and I carry the fact that I figured out what it was! with pride.

Because, had I not done that, I would be on anti-seizure medication. Generic, we-don't-know-what-causes-it-but-we'll-just-treat-the-symptoms medication. Instead, it looks like we've been able to figure out what caused my seizures and treat the cause underneath the symptoms, and make me better. And OH MY GOD HOW GOOD THAT FEELS!!!

It's not me alone - it's the neurologist, too. He was a man enough to say, look, I've never heard of this treatment before, but let me have a look into it. And then he did, and we tried it, and now I am sitting here feeling like I have parts of my life back, and I don't have to stay away from my car every time I get close to my period, and I don't have to have these strange "waves" wash over me where I think, "What on earth is that thing!?" and it just works.

And in the case of construction: actually, I think more and more people will be involved in their house builds, rather than "leaving it for the professionals" to do. They're going to want to know what the houses are made of, how they'll perform, how people are treated on building sites, about the whole process, actually.

And yeah, I may be "that patient" who comes to a doctor's office with a plan I want to discuss, rather than just asking the doctor, "What do you think?" But it's okay. I don't have a problem with that.

And luckily, most doctors that I work with now, see it the same way.

Long may it last.

An interesting interview I watched whilst prepping dinner

On the word "Should", Estonia and the life in-between

"Should." How many times did I hear that word said to me in Estonia?

My God, I had forgotten about the social expectations of this little Nordic country - that is, until I came for a 2-week visit in May and, suddenly, it came flooding back to my why I didn't feel home there in the first place.

Should. Should. Should.

I feel anger over this word because, ever since I was little, it's been used routinely about my behaviour, implying that I was too this or that - too loud, too rambunctious, too unaccepting of authority, whatever - and it's clear I have an ongoing process of dealing with these implications, which I accept.

But I had forgotten how prevalent such a word was in Estonia - until I came for a visit and thought, "My God, I had forgotten about that."

Every day someone (sometimes even people I didn't know personally) said to me, "You should..."

The language of my kids especially. Man, I had not expected (of prepared for!) that.

I was standing outside the apartment block my mother lives in, and a man who lives in the next block over recognised me. "Masha!" he exclaimed. "Mashenka!" (Masha - it's a Russian diminutive of Maria.)

That man had not seen me in about 10 years, and even prior to that was never a friend to speak of - just a person our family knew who was living in the next block over. "Mashenka, it's so good to see you! I haven't seen you in such a long time! How are you!" (without waiting for me to answer) "Oh, and you have a daughter! How wonderful! Tell me, tell me! How are you! Mashenka!"

I started to answer in Russian but quickly The Girlie started to say something I needed to react to in English, and the man recoiled in horror. "What!? You're speaking to her in English!? Why!?!" (without waiting for me to answer) "But you should speak to her in Russian! Why would you speak to her in a language your family doesn't speak!? Mashenka, you need to teach your children Russian!"

And on it went.

And I understand, that was the most theatrical example of the lot, but... I got the "bilingual reaction" a lot in Estonia, from people I didn't expect, in forms I hadn't prepared myself for. I got told that speaking two languages is really good for children's brains, and why don't I know that it's an important thing I can do for their development. I got sincere surprises, borderline offended reactions, worry. And I understand - for the people (who had those reactions) the fact that I speak to my children in English only was a surprise, and they reacted out of those surprises.

But still - how many times did I hear that I should talk to my children in both languages? Rather than simply an inquisitive question as to why we're doing it? (Which, by the way, I quickly recognised I wasn't prepared to answer truthfully anyway because it involves a story I am not interested in sharing with people I don't trust. Towards the end I simply learned to reply with, "We decided that way. Several reasons.")

I got told that I should dress my children differently. That I should come to Estonia more often. That I should wear make-up a little. That I should moisturise.

And maybe the amount of "should"-s wasn't even that impressive to another person's perception - but to me, coming from an environment where I now feel an awful lot of freedom is allowed to my life, being faced with such an amount of "should"-s in places I didn't expect left me defensive and somewhat bruised.

Because the thing is... I remembered that. I remembered growing up in the environment where I quietly and constantly was reminded in the form of little "helpful" "instructions" that I didn't quite fit in and how I have always strived towards finding other, more suitable places instead.

I found them in the form of youth parliament movements, in friends who were more outspoken themselves, partners who saw me for the beauty of my character rather than its flaws, the rugged communities in Alaska and Svalbard and New Zealand, people who weren't necessarily politically correct, but who had a certain kind of integrity to them. I strived for an environment of acceptance, adamant that there was a place in the world I would feel home (there had to be!), so I ended up in New Zealand where I rarely hear the word "should" said to me in the form of "life instructions", with The Man, with a daughter who just like I pushed the buttons of people around me when I was growing up, is pushing my own buttons, and every day I am working on creating a feeling of acceptance around her, and a feeling of acceptance of her in me.

Which is hard work. Most things that are really important are hard.

You can bang your head a lot with these two but, in the end, you just need to let them go and let them do their own thing, because in the end that's what they'll do anyway, so you may as well save the effort and accept the bounciness, rather than complain of the angles of their elbows which they'll "knuckle" people with on the way to where they're going anyway.

At least that's what I tell myself a lot of the time as I learn to celebrate my daughter :).

I had forgotten about that. I had forgotten about a lot of things in Estonia.

I said to my brother that, looking at the cars parked around the apartment blocks in a town where I grew up - a relatively poor region - it fascinated me that the cars were really... nice. I mean, there were no trashed-in Fiats to speak of. I was looking around and I was sure there were more old, banged-up cars on the street where I lived in Invercargill, than in this poor region of Estonia. My brother then reminded me that, there, a car was a status symbol. A cultural Soviet relic so to speak.

I had forgotten how difficult it was to use the toilet in public in Estonia. I am so used to plentiful public toilets in New Zealand, most of them free of charge, that I was left dumb-founded in a large shopping centre in Estonia where I headed for the toilet sign and realised, you have to pay to enter. I mean... I honestly cannot remember the last time I used a toilet I had to pay for. Standing there in Estonia, with no cash and not even a credit card on me, I was looking at the sign and thinking, "Bloody hell, they still have those." Walking in the Old Town the other evening, same thing - public toilets, but pay-to-enter gates out front. Jesus.

It astounded me how difficult good children's playgrounds were to find. Young and childless, I had never paid attention to such stuff before, but now travelling and with two kids, I was suddenly thinking, "Is that it? There has to be more, surely. Where do people take their kids?"

There were good things, too. Public transport. Food. (Food!)

And please understand that I understand the cultural history of Estonia (which is very different from New Zealand!) and the importance of social cohesion in a country which shares land-borders with nations who are hungry, hungry! for more, more power. I understand that, but it nevertheless struck me how much cultural expectations there is around norms - norms I'm not used to. Norms different from what I'm used to - because New Zealand has cultural norms, too.

And I understand my grandmother, too, who would grab her chest and exclaim, "Child, you're going to drive me to my grave!" I understand my grandfather who had to repair the glasshouse after I had broken the glass pane. I understand - old shed roofs are not really meant to hold the weight of a climbing 9-year-old. I even understand the teacher who called my mother to complain about the fact that I spoke up against her authority in class.

I understand, I do.

But I don't agree with them.

The feeling of relief I experienced when the plane approached New Zealand, the weight I felt lifted off me when I saw the first towns of Northland appear in the night below us and I burst out crying on the plane, thankful to be home...

It was good to be away, but it's good to be back, too.

I ask my questions during classes, not during exams

Today I sat an exam in health and safety - the legislative framework around how health and safety is managed in NZ construction. And it's probably "big" of me to think that, but... I ask my questions during classes - not during exams.

During class time I am the student that tutors think is either pain-in-the-whole inquisitive or ubiquitously attentive. (Sometimes, both.) I raise my hand, I ask, I argue, I explain. I actively take part in what they're teaching, and it's unusual for me to go through an entire class without speaking up, or sketching something on the whiteboard.

But when it's the end of term and we have an exam coming up, I don't ask questions any more. I get my paper, I write my answers, I hand in the answers, I leave. I don't talk during exams. I don't need to.

I don't struggle during exams because I struggle it all out during classes.

And that's what happened today. I got the paper, I filled it in, I handed it in, I left. Others were oohing and aahing, a couple of people came up to the tutor to ask what exactly he meant by this or that question. When the tutor left the room they discussed openly how confusing the exam was, and how hard it was.

"Hey Maria, do you find it hard?" one of them called out from the back.

And after I had said that, I thought to myself: no, it's not hard, because I asked the questions I needed to understand the topic during term time. Now I'm just sitting the exam to prove that I understand what the tutor was talking about.

(Two more years. I can do it.)

How fast can a letter go

A couple of months ago we posted a letter to England. The Kid had written a message for his English grandparents and we mailed it a couple of days before leaving for Europe to see who will get there first - us or the letter.

The letter did.

In fact, it got there in about 72 hours. We posted it Thursday morning and by Saturday evening (Sunday morning New Zealand time - we hadn't even left Invercargill yet) it was there.

I still can't get my head around that. The letter went from rural centre NZ (Invercargill) to rural England. Even if I travelled that distance as direct as possible (domestic flight from Invercargill to Christchurch, then international Christchurch to London with a layover somewhere in the middle, say, Singapore, then train from London to Salisbury and a car from Salisbury to the little village where The Kid's grandparents live) I would struggle to do that in less than 48 hours.

The letter did that - with all the sorting stations and transfer stations in between - in 72.

It's nuts.

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.