The Organizer

That’s what I am.

It’s now a week since my brother made an awful international call saying dad had gone down and probably wasn’t going to come up again.

My first thoughts through a veil of tears were:  Oh God, what will I do without my father; who will fix things for me now.   Even though he hasn’t “fixed”  anything for me in a long time, I’ve been calling him once a week for ages – sometimes the calls would go 40 minutes and sometimes only 5, depending on how well he was, but each call was precious to both of us.

Swatting away the tears I got my grown-up gear on and scrambled to get flights, booked a rental car and arranged travel insurance.  Important things like passport, Australian sim card (for mobile phone) and credit card went into my handbag along with some Aussie dollars I keep on hand.  Then I selected one sombre outfit and laid it with care in the bottom of my suitcase.  I stood back and thought “I need more than that” …..  Upon arrival I found I’d packed 17 pairs of panties, one bra, 2 skirts and 3 tops.   For some bizarre reason I also packed 4 pairs of shoes.   I had no laptop and no manservant.  It’s the first time I’ve flown without getting an email or message from dad telling me he was sending a fairy to sit on my shoulder to keep me safe  – he used to call it the “love fairy”.   I think she flew with me anyway.

I arrived on Tuesday –  it was more than 40 hours since I’d last showered (a working week!)  but my teeth were clean.  It was another 3 hour drive from the airport to the nursing home.  I’d rung before leaving San Francisco – “no change”  – but then there was phone silence for about 16 hours and one’s mind can be very cruel during all those hours.

As soon as I could in Sydney I’d rung again –  “no change” .  Then it occurred to me that they might be lying to me because they wouldn’t want me sobbing as I drove for 3 hours. God, I was tired  –  the last sleep I’d had was Friday night and the last food was a slice of pizza on Saturday evening.   As I drove away from the airport I did wonder how I was going to stay on the road for 3 hours …. those Stop:Revive:Survive  stations suddenly looked very attractive.

Dad knew who was with him as he became a little more alert during Wednesday but by Friday breakfast Max was gone. His nightshift girls stood around his bed in tears and told me what a wonderful father I’d had and how he’d taught them a lot of things about how nursing should be done.

Then the phone calls had to be made.  I got better at it as I went along though that probably meant I also become more robotic.

Mum and I were sitting here with glasses of red wine when a neighbour popped in.   It was after 10am somewhere in the world.

After Jane arrived we went to the supermarket – it was weird to be strolling around selecting what we’d have for lunch –  we bought smoked salmon, avocados, tzatziki, turkey, tabouli, and a very big box of tissues.   It almost annoyed me that everyone looked so happy – didn’t they know that the best father ever had just left.

The checkout lady said “good morning, how are you?’   by rote you answer “good thanks”  though really you want to say “well, actually I’m feeling really crappy because my father died a couple of hours ago”.

It helps that they live in a seaside village – red eyes are not abnormal.

After lunch it was back to just mum & I  – mum gave me what she calls her “memorial book” (as most of the contacts in it have died)  and asked me to go through ringing more people.   I also called the solicitor (lawyer) and the funeral director who said that the limo had just picked dad up.  (well, she didn’t actually say “limo” but I like to think he was taken out in style even though I suspect he was not).

I had to go through dad’s precious tin chests looking for papers needed for the funeral home;  I had to go back to the nursing home to pick up what we thought he’d like to wear for his send off.

I thought I was having a heart attack through Friday night  –  I sat up and raised my arms above my head (I’d read that somewhere) wishing the tightness away and wondering if I should go and press mum’s medic alert.  I thought how awful it would be for her to find me like that but then wondered if they’d stick me in the same casket as dad.   The mind is a strange thing.

Yesterday the funeral director came with the little photo album of caskets etc.  I wonder if they’re trained to have those softly modulated voices.  The family sat in a circle with her and chose what we thought he’d like.

After selecting the casket (majority ruled on that one) she asked:  how many handles?   Oh – something we hadn’t discussed – pall bearers.  Well, there are 6 grandsons so let’s go with that ….   a weird image popped into my head so I asked:   are adult coffins all the same size?   She explained that they tailor them to fit the deceased so dad’s would be on the small side.  “Oh, I said,  well we have 6 really burly pall bearers – I don’t think 3 of them will fit along the side of a small coffin” .   Everyone sort of laughed (probably uncomfortably) but this is really worrying me now  – I’m sure it will turn out on the day –  the manservant says I just “like to find things to worry about”.

I’ve spoken to the caterer about the sandwiches and tea for the “after refreshments” –  after getting all the prices and options on those my brother asked “how many slices of bread do we get – like, do I get two triangles or four?”    And yes, I did call back to ask – he will get an entire sandwich if he wishes.  It’s going to be difficult catering for the right number – given he was 80 there are not many old buddies still around or capable of driving.   There are 22 family so I will tell them they can’t eat if it looks like food’s getting short  LOL….   actually I did ask what happens if we cater for 30 and 50 turn up and she said they just cut things in half.    I don’t want things to look as though we’re being scabby but equally how sad it would look to cater for 50 and only have 25 show up.

Tomorrow the celebrant comes to talk about the order of the service.  She will want to know what music we want (3 pieces) and needs photos for the programe guide.   Last night mum and I looked at photos she had while Jane emailed me back and forth with some photos and a little presentation her son is going to give at the service.   We selected two photos.  I think we’re going to argue over the music……

As we were going to bed last night mum said:  “you’re just like your father you know.   He was a great organizer.  When he saw that something needed to be done he would just dig in and do it”   I hope I’m as tough as dad too.


We went to the beach late in the day and …

it was full of seaweed: 

A pool where I frolicked as a country kid on annual holidays to the beach: 

This is Dee Why beach, one of the northern beaches of Sydney.  Every year for many years our family would holiday here – it was nice to sit here in the late afternoon and reflect on those times.

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Water, water .

Huge storm last night.  This was after a day where it hit 40 Celsius here in western Sydney.  A day where I went to the city to meet my Economist son for lunch and in my "wisdom" decided to ride the Monorail from Darling Harbour parking over to city centre (Pitt Street). 


There was a notice at the "station"  warning that due to extreme heat the a/c in the little cars would not be efficient.    Well,  I got a $9.50 all day ride (cheaper than a return) and got on it anyway.  Holy Moly – it must have been over 50 degrees Celsius in the little tube!!!.   "I can do this;  I can do this"  -  I repeated to myself  – surely it won't take that long……. 

There are more stations now than I remember and it seemed to take a very, very long time though it's probably only 15 minutes – but 15 minutes in that kind of heat and stuffiness is no fun.  I considered getting out two short of where I wanted to go  but that defeated the entire purpose of taking the monorail in the first place as the walk would've been longer but surely it could not have been hotter.

I had images of a news story "woman collapses in heat of monorail"   or worse – the monorail breaking down and everyone expiring before we could be rescued.     

Last night there was a tremendous storm with  lightning so intense I saw us all being fried in our little tin huts.

A one stage there was a large crash as a branch fell and first thing this morning I checked that now not-so-new rental car to make sure it didn't have a bough across its bonnet.

So today it is raining and there is a bus strike so it should be fun on the roads – but at least it is cooler. 

 This is Rose Bay, Sydney – I have a friend who lives in this idyllic location:

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Dryland ….


For the few days I was here before the manservant I had a cute little Getz rental car but after a 3 hr trip north to see my parents I decided we needed something bigger for our road trip west.   I like to feel a bit more metal around me and more power under the bonnet.  

So back to Budget we went where we were given a brand new shiny white Toyota Camry with only 6km on it – which it probably got driving from manufacturer to truck and then off and into it's parking spot.    

In a week we have put 2,063 kms on it  (10 km = approx. 6 miles)  and made it very dirty.  I drive faster than the manservant and, as I sailed blithely past a speed camera yesterday, I commented to him that as the car was in his name he was probably going to be receiving a lot of speeding tickets in the mail.  At least there won't be any from school zones -  I am always very careful to stick to the 40kph outside schools – of course this is helped by the huge array of warnings and flashing lights and "check speed" neons around schools.   Speed cameras are cunningly hidden around bends and at hill bottoms and just at the exact spot where I have to speed to get past someone driving "weirdly".  Yes, I know there are signs posted saying speed cameras are used in NSW, just before the camera, but sometimes they are not very obvious.  

I've also found that everywhere I seem to want to drive requires an E-Tag –  and rental cars don't come with E-Tags.  Last year I drove through the Cross City Tunnel a couple of times and forgot to call and tell them and what I surprise I got a few weeks later when I received a big invoice all the way in DC.   
We drove through some very dry country heading from Coonabarabran back to the north coast…   

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Sometimes ….

                           I just feel so insignificant.   

A little like a helicopter flying over Uluru (Ayers Rock) at sunset:

Uluru (Ayers Rock)  is 862.5 metres above sea level,  348 metres high (1141 feet);  3.6 km long (2.2 miles);  1.9km wide (1.2 miles);  and 9.4 km around the base (5.8 miles).  It also extends several kilometres into the ground!

It even manages to look massive from the air:   it is not foggy;  it was just a really dirty plane window!


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The calendar turns…. and thanks.


I am not a night person but with the help of caffeine and the Batman: Dark Knight, DVD, I managed to stay awake till midnight. I told the manservant that this is the last year I am going to stay up as the calendar turns whether I am up or not, and quite frankly I am a much nicer person if I get a full night's sleep!
More appealing to me is the idea to set the alarm for dawn and toast that first sunrise of the year with champagne.  (Yeah, well we'll see if that happens ….).
If I was asked to sum up my 2008  I would say my foot, my foot, my foot!  It certainly seems to have dominated my year but it was not, by any means, my entire year.
January:   I was getting ready to say goodbye to the Princess (daughter) who had spent 2 months visiting us.  

February:  My Economist son turned 21 and we decided to cash in frequent flyer miles and have a trip later in the year once he had finished his final exams at university.

March:    I spent the entire month gallivanting around in Australia. 

April:   The Pope came to town and totally disrupted my trip to work.    
It was Admin Day at work and I had to go Bowling (which I hate);  given a gift card which didn't seem to have value on it (and which I got taxed on in my December pay).
I fell down our stairs – but I did not hurt my foot.
May:    I posted photos from my year-ago trip to China – a wonderful experience – both the trip and the re-visiting. 

The first mention of my foot appears – in a meme where I mention that I don't think the (as then diagnosed) peroneal tendonitis is ever going to get better.
June:  Half the month taken up with a visit from my in-laws.   The other half a rodent family moved in.  
July:  Had an MRI; had my foot encased in the first of many hard casts and had a birthday – in that order. 

August:  Started the month with good news as my eldest son became engaged at the end of July:

I devised clever ways to carry things while on crutches.   On the 22nd I had extensive surgery on two shredded peroneal tendons and a torn ligament.   Passed the last week in a drug induced stupor.

September:  A whole month in an euphoric drugged state.
October:   I don't seem to have done much except complain about my foot –  I must have been cutting down on the drugs.
November:  After 114 days the cast came off!!   Obama, Obama, Obama. 
December:  I took my walking stick on a 3-week tour of Rome, Florence,  Milan and London.  (photos in order:  St Peter's Rome;  city of Florence,  snow in Milan;  London x 2).

During this whole foot saga I have received amazing support from my Vox neighbours.  I really appreciated people checking in to see how I was getting on.  I valued every comment and private message of encouragement.

I feel that I have vicariously walked, travelled, ridden bikes & horses, and exercised with everyone and I thank you all for such physical times! 

I wish everyone and their families a very happy and healthy 2009 – and if you are one who has made some goals for the year I hope you achieve them.

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Out of words …

and nearly out of power.    Full work days sap these old batteries!
I took these photos out in country Australia – near Coonabarabran.   It is the same power line running out of town towards the telescope -  different poles, different angles, different time of day:

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Cactus by the road

Most often seen beside the roadways in Australia are gum trees or eucalyptus along with native shrubs such as wattle, bottle brush, waratah, myall trees…..

Not so often does one come across a cactus!

Between Coonabrabran and Baradine is this magnificent specimen – the Warrumbungle Range can be seen in the background. 

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Beer & Swimming

Continuing on with the random 8 one by one…..   Number 3..

I seem to be missing a critical Aussie gene – the one that screams to the world: Aussies are beer swilling swimmers.

Everyone knows that "Fosters is Australian for Beer"   though I don't know any Aussie who actually drinks Fosters. The friends I have, who drink beer, prefer Coopers Ale or Bluetongue lager.

Captain Cook brought beer to Australia on his ship, as a means of preserving drinking water. On 1 August 1768 as Captain Cook was fitting out the Endeavour for its voyage, Nathaniel Hulme wrote to Joseph Banks recommending that he take –

    "a quantity of Molasses and Turpentine, in order to brew Beer with, for your daily drink, when your Water becomes bad. … [B]rewing Beer at sea will be peculiarly useful in case you should have stinking water on board; for I find by Experience that the smell of stinking water will be entirely destroyed by the process of fermentation."

I probably had my first whiff of this fermentation at a very young age – my mother used to drink Resch's Pilsner in a long neck bottle (though she did pour it into a glass).  Despite people telling me that I would "get to like it" (like one gets to like vegetables), I have never developed a taste for beer!

The town swimming pool was built sometime during my early childhood, as I remember the excitement surrounding the opening – though we would not have gone.

When I was about 9 years old my parents signed me up for a 10 day Intensive Learn to Swim course at the pool during a school holiday.  I have a little card which reads "At the end of the course,  your daughter, (Emjay) can swim 1 yard" !!!???!!

It seems that my mother was no more into sitting beside a communal pool than I am and she dropped me off each morning and left me in the care of "other" parents.

Apparently during the blowing bubble stage (which was probably the first day!) I refused to put my head under the water and the torturer  teacher pushed my head down and filled my lungs with that nasty chlorinated water.

Some "other" parent pulled me out and I basically spent the other 9 days gripping the edge of the pool, refusing to do much. I'm pretty sure I would have mentioned the incident to my mother but my mother seems to have been of the old school of thinking that those things which we survive will build character.

That little card was probably meant to give me a sense of accomplishment and encourage further learning.  It did not!  It does give me a big laugh now though!

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