Questions and answers: best books I have ever read

Tinker asked me, "Are you writing a new book? Is it a fiction book? If not, are you planning of writing fiction? Can you name (maybe at some point you already did :P) best books you have read?"

I'll start with the best books.

I don't log my reading anywhere, so these are just off the top of my head - chances are, I am forgetting some. But nevertheless:

THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov. My favorite book ever, I think.

WINTERDANCE by Gary Paulsen. Probably the funniest book I have ever read :)

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes. Beautifully written - and by that I mean, it reads like poetry although it's not poetry. Very visceral descriptions of food, landscape and smells. Really does feel like standing in Tuscany and experiencing what Frances talks about, when in fact it's just descriptions in a book!

MARLEY & ME by John Grogan. I still regularly pick up this book when I want to leaf through a couple of pages of something, but haven't got anything at hand.

EAT, PRAY, LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert. A powerful, honest account of hope and playfulness.

THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Isn't it almost everyone's favorite?

VAARAO KÄTTEMAKS by Gleb Golubev. Not sure why, but I've loved this book since I was a kid.

UNSAID by Neil Abramson

I've devoured a large number of books that have to do with Antarctica and mountaineering - there are a lot of authors that have written a lot of books on these topics. But whilst they usually tell fascinating stories, they are not usually literary masterpieces so I have not included these here. Kind of like the book I've just finished: Trust me I'm a Junior Doctor by Max Prebbleton. I laughed out loud, and it's been a good book, but I wouldn't list it as one of the best books I've ever read. I would nevertheless recommend it though!

As to my own writing, yes, I am writing a new book. "Writing" is a very loose description though because, for the moment, I am not actively writing. I have several bits sitting on the Google Drive, to be worked on, but at the moment I am simply trying to pick up my life after a very tiresome two months of studying and holding together a family whilst everyone is tired and out of their routine after our trip to Europe in May.

It's a non-fiction book about New Zealand, re-telling of my first year here - the parts that I haven't shared publicly so far, and some parts I haven't shared at all. But it makes for a good reading, I think, and there is some interest from publishers. So we'll see, maybe one day it'll actually get finished :).

As to fiction? I spoke with some fellow writers two weeks ago that, although I have interest in fiction, it is never high enough on my priority list. Real life is always so much more fascinating than that!

I recently took part in a writing exercise where I submitted a short fiction story written from a perspective of a defence attorney in a court, and people who read it were asking me to write more - to "develop" these characters, and to tell more, because they wanted to know more about the story! But I said to them that, look, if I had two parallel lives of 24 hours a day each - one Maria here doing her study and weeding her greenhouse and taking care of her kids, and another Maria somewhere else who had time to do other stuff then, sure, I would write more. It would be cool to write more!

But I don't have time. It's not important enough for me to clear something off my already overflowing plate to make space for fiction writing, and so I don't write fiction. I only just manage writing non-fiction, and it always comes higher than fiction. I love real people's stories!

Estuary walkway at sunrise





They look like little petrels (sea birds) when huddled in coastal grass like that

Using Sketchup to lay out back yard plans

I've written before that when me and The Man discuss (and, at times, argue) about plans for this house, we do a lot of visualising through sketches. Most of the time it involves me, literally, sketching with a pen in a notepad so we both know that we're talking about the same thing.

But recently, we've started using Sketchup.


It's grown from a purely practical need for being able to quickly find out, if we put a greenhouse there, how much space will it leave for a lawnmover to go past it?

If we put a woodshed there, will we have to chop down the tree by the back fence?

A toolshed, will its corner go past where our two neighbours' fences meet? How far will it sit, exactly, if it's 4.8 m long?

We've done some of the discussing, literally, standing in the back yard and waving with our arms. We've laid bits of wood on the grass to show the other, "Here, this is what I was talking about - the woodshed will start from here."

But it's been really tedious because at a point where we've tried to lay out THE ENTIRE BACK YARD AT THE SAME TIME, changing one building's location has impacted on where something else fits, and eventually one of the kids (or both) will start screaming because someone has hurt someone or is needing to go to the toilet or someone is using someone else's bike... You get the idea, surely.

So, eventually, I got out Sketchup, quickly drafted our back yard on it (I've got the measurements written on a piece of paper) and then we would sit at the kitchen table and "play" whilst the kids either 1) sleep or 2) watch a cartoon.

Well, because it is "play", isn't it. The Man would ask me, "Hey, if we put the woodshed there - can you show me how it looks?" and I would draw a cube. It probably takes me 25 seconds to draw a cube with the measurements at hand. Then, if The Man thinks of something else, "Hey, what if we move it 1 metre this way?" I can quickly move the cube.

It is not fancy. We don't need fancy because, at this stage, we simply need to work out at which points corner-posts stand, and for that we simply need to know how much space a building takes on the land, so the most practical shape is, really, a cube.


We don't put a lot of technicality in it. The deck, for example, will have planter-beds for herbs or strawberries or whatever else we start growing in them - but we haven't put them on Sketchup because we don't need to, yet. On Sketchup we've simply laid out the basic dimensions of the deck.



I like the beauty of it - the beauty of simplicity of it. The software is free, it's easy to use (and to learn how to use) and it's this benefit of being a young person in 21st century that such tools are available for me.

On the big computer I also have Revit sitting because being an architectural student (well, technically I'm a quantity surveying student, but our programme sits under the same department as architecture) I also have access to free student licenses for professional software - but for this, I don't need Revit.

Sketchup will do.

Questions and answers: an epic New Zealand adventure I would go on

A couple of days ago Kate asked me, "If you could go on any epic New Zealand adventure, what would would you do and why?"

Wow, I must admit: that question really "winded" me. Not at first - because at first I thought, cool, I'll think of something I want to do in New Zealand. But then the longer I was thinking about it, the harder it was becoming because I got really... stuck with the choices that if I could do ANYTHING, what would I do?

One thing was money: if I assumed that money was not an issue, then it opened up possibilities that I hadn't considered before. Maybe sail a yacht around the South Island? Trek through difficult portions of the Southern Alps with a good friend of mine, a mountain guide on Mount Cook? Learn to fly a helicopter in Wanaka?

But, no, I thought - I don't feel passion towards those choices. I mean, I'd like to do them, yes, they're luxurious, yes, they sound exciting, yes, and they're normally out of my price range. But if I only had ONE choice and I could do ANYTHING, then in all honesty, I would actually choose to do...

...exactly the same thing I did in my first year in New Zealand, and that is to simply backpack the length of the country at a leisurely pace and to follow the seasons to where the work is.

I would stay at simple, cheap backpackers' hostels along the way and make friends with the people who stay there.



I would jump into wintery lakes with them, clothes and all, and laugh about it afterwards.


Sometimes, I would even put a wetsuit on - not that it helps much :)


I would buy an old campervan and let it take me to places that are too far to walk or take a bus to.



And I would work - short, seasonal jobs along the way. Pick apples in autumn, prune grapes in winter, plant all kinds of vegetables in spring.

Whenever between jobs, I would head in the mountains and just... be.


Sometimes alone; sometimes I would take these trips with friends I make along the way. Even in rain.




Of course, there would also be parties - not necessarily the big kind, but just hanging out with people I get along with.


Because money wouldn't be an issue, I would continue trying out things that are fun: like bungy jumping, and long-cable canyon swinging.





Head out on a boat.


Oh, and I would definitely do more canyoning! That was really fun.



Most of all, I would take the time to just be, and move unrushed, and rather than having an itinerary and a plane to catch and a rental car to drop off, I would just... be.

Yeah, I would just be, to be honest. I'd have the luxury of time.


That, and a lot of hikes of Department of Conservation land. :)







Any other questions? Ask them under the comments at Would you like to ask me a question?, please.

Questions and answers: deleting old blog posts

K.T. asked me a couple of days ago: "In one of the previous posts you mentioned that you are closing down your older blogs and old posts on this blog. Here's my question: why do you blog publicly at all if you don't want people to read them later? I personally like going back to older topics when I remember, oh, that person covered it a while a ago - I come across something from another angle and then it's interesting to read how someone else has handled it and to form an opinion about it (not that it should affect you as a blog author at all :D). I hope this question doesn't come across offensive because I'm asking it out of curiosity."

(In original Estonian it was: "Ühes eelnevas postituses mainisid, et paned kinni vanad blogid ja selle blogi vanad postitused. Siit mu küsimus: miks sa seda avalikku blogi üldse pead kui tundub, et sa ei taha, et inimesed su blogisid hiljem loeks? Mulle isiklikult nt meeldib pöörduda tagasi kunagi loetud teemade juurde kui nt tuleb meelde, et oot, sellest oli seal blogis juttu ja tekib mingi teise nurga alt kokkupuude sama teemaga, siis on huvitav vaadata, et mis täpselt oli ja oma arvamust kujundada (mitte, et see sind blogipidajana kuidagi huvitama peaks :D). Ma loodan, et see küsimus solvav ei tundu, igal juhul see pole nii mõeldud, lihtsalt uudishimu.")

There isn't one single reason - rather, I think the best answer is that I've become uncomfortable about my older posts.

When I first started blogging, I didn't have an etiquette of how I handled other people's information. I used their real names, wrote without much discretion, basically, just wrote about situations the way I came across them and it's only with time and age that I've learned to respect other people's privacy more than that. It is still a balancing act, but I now attempt to stand somewhere between my right of expression and other people's right not to be identified through my writing.

Now I change names and identifying details, pick-and-choose between stories I write down at all and looking back I've become uncomfortable with the fact that I have years worth of information on my blog written at a time when I didn't exercise such discretion.

In an ideal world (where I have A LOT of free time) I would systematically read through all the old posts and re-publish some of them - but leave others as a draft. I would publish the stories that are mostly about me because that's my own discretion what I do with my own information, but if there was a story that I felt treaded too much on another person's privacy then I would either 1) change it or 2) leave it as a draft. 

Because I don't have such time though, then for the moment I've simply turned all the old stuff into draft, unavailable to general public.

The thing I miss the most, I think, is DIY-type sharing where I've written about houses or where I've put up links to interesting interviews/videos online. All that stuff is in "hidden" from view at the moment.

Maybe one day I'll have the time to re-read and re-publish at will. But not at the moment :)

Any other questions? Ask them under the comments at Would you like to ask me a question?, please.

When hobbies (and time to do them) start re-appearing again

After 10 years' break, he's started playing kayak polo again. Life is good.


So help me Bob

I can see that my New Zealand citizenship application is being processed in Wellington because the application fee ($470) has left the bank account. I'm curious to see how long the rest of the process will take.

As part of the process, I will need to attend a citizenship ceremony where I swear "allegiance" to New Zealand. I am given a choice of either taking an oath that ends with the words "So help me God" or an affirmation that does not have God in it.

I chose an affirmation.

I discussed it with The Man this morning and he said how, aged 13, he had to take an oath when he was joining the Scouts in Britain. They, too, had something about God in the oath and, even aged 13, he refused to say "God".

The Scouts wouldn't allow him to simply skip the oath, so The Man found a solution: he replaced "God" with "Bob", and took the oath.

He doesn't remember the exact wording, but it must've ended in something like, "I must promise to do my best for Bob, Queen and the country."

Parenthood is hard

I feel that as a parent, I'm at a crossroads again.

It's not a nice place to be. A lot of the important times in life are not nice places to be - but they get done, and got through, and moved on.

I can't move on until I've got through - I hope you understand the reference. What I mean is, to get where I am going, I need to get through the thing that I'm in first. I can't "move on" until I've "got through". There is no other way to get there than to, simply, get through first.

And it hurts, because just like 3 years ago when I felt that we, as a family, really found our feet - I'm at a point like that again. I don't yet know how it's going to end well, except that I know that it will. I will keep trusting in the gut feeling that all will be well, because eventually, it will. All will be well. I know it.

Changes start by little rubbings at first. Something rubs a little, but not hard enough for not to be able to ignore it and brush it off. Then something else rubs a little, too, and then another thing. Eventually little rubbings get plentiful enough that it really does start to feel like something needs to be done, because it's not good to just continue on and hope for the better because, really, the thing's not going anywhere.

The thing needs to be dealt with.

I'm at a crossroads where I feel, yet again I am going to "simmer" for a while, look within for the answers that lie deep, and then I am going to pick up enough confidence and gusto to stomp my foot on the ground, say, "I'll do what I think is better" because, at the end of the day, it is my family and my child and our home, and at the end of the day, it is our decision.

It's our family's decision, and it comes down to what we value - and what we value is not necessarily the same as what other people value.

I know, it's cryptic, but it's not my place to explain the situation - only to shed light on how I feel in the middle of it all, and how I cope with the job of parenthood because, my God, it is the hardest thing I have ever done, being a parent.

It is rewarding, and challenging, being a parent - but it's also very, very hard.

Would you like to ask me a question?

It's been a long time since I've tried this, but... would anyone like to ask me anything?

Leave a question in the comments and in the next 2 weeks whilst we have school holidays (yay!), I'll try to work my way through them and answer if I'm up for it.

PS. Sent my NZ citizenship application off this week. If it comes back positive, in a couple of months I'll be made a NZ citizen.

PPS. Looking forward to seeing what kind of questions you'll ask this time :)

Point Cloud to survey old buildings

The beauty of being a surveyor nowadays is, Point Cloud 3D scanning does a lot of the job for you. Especially handy in old buildings!

You put up a 3D scanner, it uses lasers to "measure" the building and then in the office, you're able to click on a photo, basically, and ask the computer to give you distances between two points down to a millimetre.

It's pretty cool.


Garbage in, garbage out

Class on programme management. We are using Microsoft Project to schedule a construction project, and some boys are complaining that the software is doing weird things, spanning short tasks into long times and they don't understand why.

The tutor looks at them and goes, "Remember, boys: you put garbage in, you'll get garbage out."

He is meaning it as "the software will do what you're asking it to do", whereas I am sitting here and thinking, actually, that sums up life in general pretty well.

You put garbage in, you'll get garbage out.

With some exceptions, of course. As always :)

I'm talking to myself

Do I talk to myself when I do schoolwork? Yes - yes, I do.

"Wait, but the rafter's sitting on.... oh, shh." 

"It's not 4 point because it's... the wall's sitting at..."

"Come on, do it."

"Soh Cah Toa. I have... hypotenuse. Adjacent. So I have... okay, cosine."

"3 point... No, it's not 3 point. It's... oh, shh."

"Come on, Maria."

To the outsider, what I say probably makes very, very little sense. But to me, it's the internal urging on of COME ON MARIA YOU CAN DO THIS, JUST FINISH THIS GODDAMN ASSIGNMENT AND THIS SCHOOL!!!

Last assignment. I finish this assignment and then it's school holidays and I will have caught up!

You can do it, Maria. Come on, do it. Just bit by bit, until it's finished. Do it. You can do it.

A great example of house renovations

There is a house in Christchurch I've now repeatedly used as an example in various schoolwork.

http://www.ecosolutions.net.nz/Eco-House-Upgrade.aspx

It sets a great example of how renovation-works can be done in an old house - done, I assume, over a lengthy time, in bits and bobs, here and there, as time and money allow. With relatively simple methods they've increased the comfort and the healthy-ness of the house, and I applaud them for it.

My favorite is a "trombe wall" they've built on the North-West corner of the house - and it's not really a trombe wall by definition as it's on the outside of the building, but I didn't know how to call it otherwise - so I hope they won't mind me posting a single photo here:

Photo from http://www.ecosolutions.net.nz/Eco-House-Upgrade.aspx

Prior to that, I had never seen a case where someone had added thermal mass on the outside of the building with windows above it to precisely bring that heat inside, but here you go. A novel idea.

I hope that soon, I'll be able to show what we're up to, too. But not yet - still schoolwork. An environment assignment today, hence this quick blog post about this house I'm mentioning in schoolwork again.