Sunday, 20 August 2017

Mixed feelings - Seattle trip Feb 2017

6 months ago (20th Feb 2017) Ruby’s funeral was held at Immaculate Conception church in Seattle (a couple of blocks from her parent’s house). Ruby expressed very clear wishes on a number of things to happen after she died. She wanted her funeral to be in Seattle, for her to be cremated, the ashes to be scattered in Puget Sound near Alki beach and for a group of friends and family to go to Seattle for the funeral and to see where she grew up.

Ten of us travelled to Seattle from Australia - some on their first trip to the USA. We were in Seattle for just 6 days. I was particularly stressed on the way over as I felt somewhat responsible for everyone and was worried about the funeral (doing a eulogy and how the day would run). While we did get a good deal on the flights (considering the short notice), we did miss the connecting flight from LAX to Seattle as LAX was very busy (didn’t realise it was Presidents Day weekend). Fortunately we all managed to get on the next flight to Seattle.

Everything worked on the day of the funeral. Ruby’s song she wanted played worked even though it was just my iPhone speaker into a microphone. The eulogy went well and I got to meet some of Ruby’s school friends. I did manage to spill part of lunch on myself when helping clean up and was almost left behind when heading off to scatter the ashes (there were three cars of us to organise).

Ruby had indicated where exactly she wanted the ashes scattered from, but when Ruby’s brother and I investigated the spot, it was going to be hard to actually scatter the ashes in the water. Fortunately we found a better spot just around the corner. The scattering went very well (glad I read up on it before trying) and also scattering some of flowers from the funeral made it more special. The picture of my boys looking out to sea watching the ashes float away is both gut-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. 

 Seattle Feb 2017

The next couple of days we saw the sights of Seattle. Had coffee. Went to the Space Needle, Pike Place and the Museum of Flight (where the boys had a fantastic couple of hours). Found some great places to eat. I now know some new places to get coffee that are in short walking distance to Ruby’s parent’s house: Peloton and Cherry St Coffee (at 12th and James). And a great chicken wings and waffles place...
I tweeted this just when we were just about to leave Seattle. It describes my mood at the end of the trip perfectly. Having (finally!) organised all the photos (thanks to everyone who sent me pictures in the last couple of months) I was able to relive this trip - and hence the blog post. So while I still have mixed feelings about the trip I definitely have some good memories and I don't feel like I left Ruby there - she came back with us too.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Ruby’s Star and RubyNanomed

In March a group of Ruby’s Facebook friends got together and gave me and the boys a gift to name a star after Ruby. At first I really wasn’t ready to sort this out, but last week I decided to fill in the forms (by email - which made it easier). I chose to have a star selected in the Phoenix constellation and backdated to the day she died.

Today sent me a package with location of her star and a certificate. For more details see the International Star Registry page for Ruby.

This is awesome. And perfect too - as Ruby's last name Estrella means star in Spanish. The certificate is great too, very much in Ruby's style.

I also found out that another Ruby's Facebook friends who works in cancer research has named a cancer detector tool/method after her: RubyNanomed. This is also awesome! More details here (translated from Portuguese).

I think both these are super awesome and a great way to remember Ruby.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Dreaming it all up again

6 months ago my wife Ruby died due to stage 4 cancer - I originally posted this on Facebook 36 hours after she died. The last line I wrote was that I “need to go away and dream it all up again”. That was partly a reference to something Bono said on 30th Dec 1989 (U2 being at the end of an era - in the end reinventing themselves in the 90s) and partly something I felt that I really needed to do after losing someone I had shared my hopes and dreams with for nearly half my life.

The last 6 months have been very busy, dealing with everything and the loss of Ruby, but about a month ago I started thinking about those words on one of my work trips to Melbourne. I realised didn’t need to find a new dream or reinvent myself like U2 did. Instead “dreaming it all up again” was about how I move forward and how I function each day in what is now a new era in my life. 

And here it is: I need to be happy being me.

Am I happy being me? Being brutally honest - only sort of. Part of this is I think I need to be a better me - Ben version 4 if you will. Basically I want to be happy with my choices, being the best father and role model for my boys, being more decisive and not regretting or wasting any moment of my life.

I'm not saying I am starting this today as it is the 6 month anniversary of Ruby's death. Part of my thinking in the last month is that I have actually already started this. The work has begun, but is not yet finished…

I did want to do/start something at the 6 month point - which is restarting this blog (after nearly 5 years of silence) and posting regularly. Why restart the blog? Partly as I want to share what is going on with me and the boys (that doesn’t fit in 140 characters), partly to say the things I can’t say in person (yet) and mainly just because I bloody-well want to.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sad news about Ruby

This was originally posted on Facebook on Sunday 5th February 2017 - Ruby died on the previous Friday night. Re-reading it 6 months later I think I what I wrote was good (all things considered) and after decided to restart my blog didn't want this buried/lost in a Facebook feed so I copied this verbatim to this post (I was able to put the date as the date I posted on Facebook).

My beautiful wife Ruby Estrella passed away on Friday night. She was surrounded by family and friends and we had time to have a chat and say our goodbyes. 
Ruby was diagnosed with cancer over 18 months ago. It was a rare form of cancer called unknown primary (meaning it had already spread to other organs, but the main cancer cannot be found). She did well with a number of chemo treatments and while we were always hopeful each one would work, we knew it was only a matter of time before the cancer would spread faster than the chemo could stop it. 

The cancer in her liver started growing faster in January and last week she was admitted to hospital. Fortunately her parents, brother Elvin Estrella and many others were able to get here in time and say goodbye. She died peacefully and was at peace with what was happening (she told many people not to be sad and that she had had a good life). 
So please don't be too sad for too long. Ruby would want you to celebrate her life and the good things in it. 
I knew Ruby for over half my lifetime and while I will always want more time I was super lucky this wonderful lady was with me for as long as she was. She also gave me two wonderful boys, a taste for travel and introduced me to her favourite bands (Depeche Mode and New Order). 
I will be ok. I am getting great support from family and friends. However, right now I am devastated by this. I need to go away and dream it all up again.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Potty Training II: Ups and downs

OK so it has been a while since the last blog post (longest since I started these after Jeremy was born). This covers everything from April up until our recent trip to the USA (which I am hoping to get a blog out about shortly).

The full photo album is available via the following link: April - July 2012

I have found it harder and harder to write a blog post recently. This is part due to having less time due to having 2 kids keeping both of us busy and then being much more tired in the evening. In April I also had a major problem with iPhoto where it would not recognise the library file and it took me several weeks to restore everything. There has also been a restructure at my work in June and I have been very busy ever since. Finally, I had written a full blog post yesterday and for some reason Google/Blogger did not save it (grrrrrr).

Over the Easter long weekend we made a 2nd attempt at potty training Jeremy. This time he was ready and he was mostly trained by the end of the 4 days. However, he did have several lapses in the following months and even though we tried to encourage him to go to the toilet he has shouted back at us "No! Toilet!". He has also been banned from sitting on the couch due to a several accidents.

In late May we changed from using disposable nappies for Timothy to using cloth ones. Originally I thought cloth nappies were the terry towelling ones which you had to pin on - this is what was used in the hospital for the first nappy for both boys. The ones which Ruby had found were much more advanced with highly absorbent materials and velcro/snaps to join them together. In the end, the move to using cloth nappies did not add too much extra work and we have significantly reduced the amount of garbage we are putting out each week.

Timothy is developing well and is interacting with us much more. We are now getting more smiles and even giggles out of him - though he takes a while to "warm up" to anyone else (including the grandparents!). He has also started crawling several months back and he is now very quick. He can easily follow us around the house (we have been surprised that he was just behind us a couple of times). Recently he has started climbing on the furniture to try and stand up.

The moment he started climbing I disassembled his cot and moved the base down to its lowest level so he could not climb out. At the same time I took the opportunity to move the cot into Jeremy's room from the guest room. Both boys being in the same room is working ok and there have only been a few occasions when they have kept each other awake - mainly when they both were finding something very funny...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Garage Wars: A New Hope

When we purchased our house nearly two years ago we knew that the garage and carport both needed replacing. Our house is on a corner block and we have 2 driveways into the property. The detached single garage in the backyard has a driveway onto one street and the carport is attached to the house with a driveway that exits exactly on the corner. Both are in poor repair - the asbestos garage has cracked panels and the door doesn't work well. The carport roof is rusting and falling apart. What we didn't know was it was going to take over 6 months just get council approval to replace these - let alone build anything.

The old garage
Being a good procrastinator I did not start doing actual work on this until several weeks after Timothy was born. It was then I discovered I needed council approval to demolish and construct a garage - I also discovered that council would not give yes or no based on questions over the phone or in person, they really wanted me to submit a development application (DA). Fortunately the shed company we chose would (for an extra fee) provide all the documentation for council.

We decided not just to replace the carport and garage. This project would include a replacement, stencilled, driveway going all the way to the road (the current one is old, cracked and ends at the property boundary not the road) as well as a water tank connected to the laundry and toilets. This was also important as we discovered (after moving in) that the storm water all drained into a pit under the backyard and this was not working well as the drainpipes overflowed in heavy rain. As both our street levels are higher than most of the property this required a pit - it is most likely 50 years old and full of silt which is causing the drainage issues (especially with the wet summer in Sydney in 2011/12).

As the carport is right next to the house we decided to replace that with a single garage first and demolish the asbestos garage later in 2012 - so we could get a large backyard. The new garage was going to be a very wide (at 4.2m) single garage as a double garage else would not fit next to the house. The first DA went into council just before christmas and it was picked up by council in on 3 Jan 2012 (first one they looked at by the DA number). Shortly afterwards council asked to modify the plans. They had two concerns. One was the driveway onto the corner was not in compliance with Australian standards (and therefore dangerous) and the second issue was the drainage plan was not complete.

Plan A - Simple...until council was involved
It is clear we (or the shed company) needed to update the drainage plan - this was relatively easy as we just added the new water tank and the connections to that. The fix for the driveway was harder. The council suggestion to fix this was to turn the garage around and use the other driveway. However, we did not like this as this would have replaced one corner with a bad corner in the backyard - it would have been legal for a turning circle but a real bugger to back out of. It would also have ruined our backyard by taking up about one third with the driveway. I was rather annoyed by this as the driveway was not on the original plan and we were not told of the driveway non-compliance when we purchased the house.

I did speak to the council contact to try and understand their issues and suggest a few options so to hopefully save time. The guy from council was most unhelpful and said he had only just been given the project and he would never commit to any answers. A co-worker suggested turning the garage to go directly out to the street (90 degrees instead of 180 degree turn). This seemed a better option. I called council again as I was concerned removing the tree would be a problem but they said it was generally ok to remove trees but would not commit to an answer about moving the garage 90 degrees. We submitted again to council on 18 Jan.
Plan B - Just move everything 90 degrees
Council did not get back to us until 13 Feb which was only several days before we were due to leave on our three week USA trip. They indicated there was not enough room between the garage and the property boundary for a car to fit (unclear from my phone calls and buried in their council rules). They also did not like the tree to be to removed without a aborist report - something else they did not indicate to me in their phone call. On top of this they asked for us to reply in 2 weeks or we would have to cancel the DA. 

At this point we realised we needed to go away and dream it all up again. After a chat to Mum & Dad (who were visiting just before we left for our trip) we came up with a basic redesign which was to replace the old garage and demolish the carport and old driveway. However, there was no time to do this before we left so I asked for an extension. Council refused saying that we had already had done one change (this was the third thing they had not indicated in their previous communications). So I tried to get things organised in the day before we left. In the taxi on the way to the airport council indicated that the changes we were proposing were "too large" and a new DA was required - though they would refund most of our DA money. At that point I gave up and decided to enjoy our holiday. To say I was pissed off at council was an understatement - luckily our trip to San Francisco and Seattle was a welcome distraction.

The distraction only lasted for a time. After 2 weeks in the USA I started thinking about the garage again and decided to start enquiries with the shed company and get the new plan (Plan C?) underway and to (hopefully!) learn from the lessons of the past 2 months. This new plan involved doing most of the work in one go instead of several stages as originally planned. We would demolish both the garage and carport, replace the garage with a double tandem garage, put the tank where the carport was, remove most of the concrete of the carport slab and the old driveway, extend the side fence to go through to to near the front door and remove the fence on the patio. This plan also meant a lot more money (probably double the first plan's $15K).

Plan C - just make the project bigger
After getting back from the USA I was also able to work out with our plumber that the tank could drain out to the street via a pit and this could also be used for the garage. The new DA was submitted to council on 19 March 2012. Council took until late April to get back to us (they had gone as far as notifying our neighbours of the development which contributed to 2 of the weeks). Their main issue this time was the drainage from the garage to the street and they wanted us to get an engineer to design a system for us. Instead I asked our plumber to have a look and he said a charged line would work ok - and council seemed happy with this. Council then raised a concern with the height of the garage floor above the ground level (it could not be more than 500mm above the natural ground level). So we changed the plans for this and unfortunately this meant that our neighbours would need to be notified again - 2 more weeks gone!
Plan C version 2 - Approved...sort of...
With the re-notification of our neighbours it meant we would mis the deadline for a garage price rise in mid June! Arrrrgh! Eventually in late June 2012 council approved our modified plans. A new hope? I did not get too excited as the DA was approved with conditions - mainly we needed to get a storm water engineer to design a storm water system - without which we could not get a construction certificate.

I thought we were getting closer, however this (as well as our next holiday) will delay construction...

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Stinky fridges and wobbly washing machines

After our holiday we came back home nice and relaxed. However, there was an unpleasant surprise waiting for us - the house had a really bad smell when we walked in. Unbeknownst to us the circuit breaker on the power circuit had tripped a few days after we had left for the USA. This meant that fridge was switched off for 2.5 weeks. The fridge part was mainly ok as we had cleaned that out except for a few condiments - even the butter had kept its shape. However, some stewed fruit and a chicken satay in the freezer decided to call the mould mafia, have a party and leave the stinky mess for me to clean up.

The full photo album is available via the following link: March 2012

We had some interesting suggestions on how to clean up the fridge (ground coffee, vanilla) however, in the end we: take out all shelves and wash in hot soapy water, wiped off the mould off inner surfaces, wiped all surfaces with white vinegar and closed both doors and left for a few hours, wiped down again with a bicarb soda / water mix and then left halved lemons and bicarb soda to soak up the remaining smells. Only took 2 weeks! And the fridge is very shiny and clean. Luckily we had a small bar fridge to get by on.

Our garage replacement project took a turn for the worse just before we left as the council reject our 2nd attempt at a DA - 2 days before we left for the US. A lot of work was needed on the 3rd attempt (new quotes ad new designs) which was partly done in the US but a lot had to be done when we got back. The DA was sent to council at the end of march so hopefully it is third time lucky! More detail on this in a dedicated blog post.

I won't even go into my tribulations with Telstra. Gaaaahhh!

Our other problem was that our fisher and paykel washing machine was acting up, er should I say not acting! We'd put in a wash and get to the spin/dry stage and then the machine would just turn off, once or twice with a weird smell too. Normally you could self diagnose the problem with the "code" of lights on the machine display panel, but even those were not turned on. We did get the Fisher and Paykel service man to repair some parts (got a new pump!) but the problem seems to exist once again. The saga continues into April...

There was some good stuff in March too! We did our annual weekend down at Sanctuary Point - Timothy's first visit. Whilst the weather was sunny, it was rather cold so instead of going to the beach, we went to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at HMAS Albatross in nearby Nowra. Jeremy loved it! This museum was just the right size to show our toddler some really cool planes and helicopters used by the Australian navy airships. There was even a fun helicopter flight simulator game which you could fly over Sydney and "through" some buildings. It was a great day to keep the kids entertained.

Last weekend we had originally planned to go to the Zig Zag railway to ride the trains. Jeremy now has a new obsession with Thomas trains thanks to his new favourite book from Lola featuring Thomas and his friends - he wants this read to him most nights since getting back! We were also going to meet up with my parents and make a day of it. Unfortunately both the Steam and Motor trains were out of service. Luckily we had a backup plan and had our picnic at Mt Tomah Botanical gardens. Jeremy loved looking at all the plants with Grandma, as well as finding all the dinosaurs (painted cutouts hidden amongst the gardens for kids to find) and seeing the little lizards on rocks and looking at the koi in the billabong. Timothy rather enjoyed the day too as we carried him front facing in our pikkolo baby carrier.

Timothy no longer stays still. He rolls across the floor to explore and always gets out of his covers in his cot. He is also being more responsive in giving us gurgles, smiles and rasberries. We have now started him on solid food and whilst he isn't taking to it as much as Jeremy, he is doing well. Jeremy did his first poo on the toilet on 28 March and has done several wees since. Potty training II (scheduled for the Easter long weekend) might be more successful than the first attempt...