Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Last week was a very hard week. We all had to come to terms with the loss of the triplets as best we could. Fortunately, almost all of my family and my sister-in-law's family were able to attend the funeral on Friday. We all wanted to show our love and support for my brother and his wife and their daughter. However, a few of my family were too far away to be able to come home and they must have felt that distance most keenly on Friday. As a combined family, we aren't looking for a way to get over this, but rather a way forward for all of us, especially for my brother and his wife. The funeral was a big step.

I have been to many funerals yet none have ever touched me so deeply. I have been fortunate in so far as the previous funerals were for people of advanced years, and it was easy to look back on their lives and celebrate all they had been and done. But this time, only their desperate struggle to survive marked the short time the triplets were with us. Yet even though they were here such a short and troubled period, we all had made a place for them in our hearts. Though it was very difficult for everyone, we all needed to come together and share our grief and to say goodbye to Ebony, Macey and Zoe.

I write this blog for many reasons and one is that it shows my thinking at a particular time in my life, as a sort of diary. While mostly light-hearted, the blog also serves as a way to communicate thoughts and emotions that I am not always able to do otherwise. Just as I needed to write about the triplets in a previous entry, I want to write about their funeral today. I want to be able to look back on this entry and remember how I felt at the time.

Because Princess was very upset upon hearing that the triplets had died, we decided the funeral would probably be too traumatic for her and organized for a friend of DW to look after her and Little Man. Its great to have good friends willing to help in such a situation and the Mum's group are the next best thing to family. We explained that we were going to say goodbye to the triplets but that it would be very sad and she might be upset. Amazingly, Princess has been very mature about the whole thing and still remembers the triplets in her night prayers.

I was pleased to see so many people, family and friends, present to show their support. My older brother, who is a deacon in the Catholic Church, was able to perform the ceremony. It was simple and beautiful. My father read a passage from the bible and my sister-in-law's sister read a wonderfully heartfelt poem for the girls. I doubt anybody could help but to share her tears.

On the altar were three candles with a name on each one. Also a photo of the little babies in white dresses, beautiful and tiny. Beneath a bright bunch of flowers was the single small white coffin. Behind the altar, made up with children's letters and arranged to intersect each other, were the girl's names again.

I remember feeling utterly helpless when I watched DW racked with pain as she gave birth to Little Man. I couldn't make the pain stop no matter how much she begged me but at least then I knew it would all be over soon. Again I felt utterly helpless as my brother stepped forward at the end of the service, took up the small white coffin and carried it alone out of the chapel. The pain he and his wife felt would not end soon, and they would not have the joy of watching these children grow up. It was the hardest thing I have seen, watching a man carry his children to their grave. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to do.

We arrived at the cemetry and I remember wishing idly that cemetries didn't have a children's section. Again the service was brief and after the coffin was lowered into the ground, we all released our helium filled white balloons. Six pink balloons, two for each of the girls and released by my brother and his wife, danced among the tumble of white as the gentle breeze lifted them all into the perfect blue sky. We all watched for several minutes as they shrank into the blue and said goodbye to Ebony, Macey and Zoe, as the little pink balloons became too tiny to see.

After a while we all went back to my brother's in-laws place for the wake. It was an emotional funeral and I think everyone felt better having shared the experience. I don't know if my brother and his wife felt the same, but I hope that having friends and family around them made saying goodbye a little easier. Throughout this whole ordeal, my brother and his wife have been incredibly composed. I doubt I could have been as strong.

I spoke to DW last night about everything and she mentioned something I hadn't considered. A friend of hers had a friend whose little boy died a few days after birth. This lady had many family and friends as well and received many cards expressing condolence. However, what she really wanted was for people to congratulate her on having a son. She had lost him and she was devastated but she was also proud of her little boy and wanted people to remember that he had been alive, and not to think only of his passing. I don't know how my brother feels and I know he will tell me if he wants to. But even if it was only for an hour and a half, he got to meet his daughters, living and breathing. He and his wife deserve to be congratulated on the birth of their three daughters. I remember the moment I held each of my own children for the first time and I hope that despite the sorrow of knowing how soon it would end, my brother experienced that moment of joy and wonder of cradling your own child for the first time.

Over the last two weeks I have heard several stories of women who have lost their babies during pregnancy. It seems that each one remembers the child they carried as something precious and I think it can be all too easy for those of us removed from such events to overlook the significance. But for a few short weeks, my nieces premature birth would have been a miscarriage. But for a few short weeks, they might have survived. For a parent, a week can pass in a flash and a whole lifetime can exist in a few short moments. I am sorry for those who only share their child's life for such a short time. I am sorry for those who don't even get that. The only thing I can do is treasure the moments I have with my own children and believe me, I do.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I don't play computer games very often (despite what some may think) but I like to keep up with the latest graphics state-of-the-art. I downloaded the Age of Empires III Demo and its really quite impressive (and addictive). There are only a few games I've really gotten "in to" and Age of Empires II was one of them. I remember playing it the first time and being hooked almost straight away.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the game, you are a settler on some land and you have to build up a community and defend your community against your opponents, computer or human. You can start the game at various levels but the most fun is when you start with just yourself in some pre-industrial era. You take on the characteristics of a particular race and I always enjoyed being the Britons against the Persians.

The game comes with a simple tutorial to get you started and then you're on your own. I started with one little man whom I had build a Town Centre. You need a TC in order to do anything, and the first thing you need to do is "build" some villagers, who in turn build farms, mills, mines, barracks, forts and so on. You need to farm the land for food, cut down trees for wood and dig mines for stone and gold. As you progress, you can advance your technology, build up an army and fortify your town. I had just gotten my town thriving for the first time with 50 villagers, chopping, ploughing, digging and generally being very happy and content, like my own little Amish community, when the bloody Persians came in with an army and looted, pillaged and destroyed everything, the bastards.

I was angry and I wanted revenge. So I found another part of the game where you can "customise" a scenario. So I set up my own scenario with a huge map, thousands of trees, heaps of gold and stone mines and one computer controlled Persian in one corner and my little Briton in the other, both shepherds. Rather than start up with an amount of food, I gave each side 100 sheep to use for food as required. Then the game began.

Given how quickly the Persians attacked me last time, I had my shepherd quickly build a Town Centre and several villagers, expanded my housing facilities (increases your available population), started slaughtering sheep for food and set about mining for stone so I could build a wall across the only path through the mighty forest (I created the map you know). And it was indeed a mighty wall, three layers of solid stone. Even the bloody Persians would have to slow down for that one, or cut their way through the forest to get around it.

Once I knew I was safe, I maximised my workforce. Most games default to allowing 75 people per side but I wanted revenge, remember. I upped the ante to allow 200 per side. I had people building houses, mills, mines, market places, fishing boats, docks, churches and universities. These things might not seem relevent to a plan for revenge but they help advance your technology and I was kicking butt in the research into advanced weaponry stakes.

I had become a mighty nation in just a few short hours and had a HUGE store of food, wood, stone and gold. You need these things when planning to declare war on Persia. You also need barracks to build soldiers, stables to build cavalry and forts to build war machines. I was ready but I had one painful task to complete before my invasion would begin.

I had already max'ed out my population with villagers and couldn't build any soldiers or war units. D'Oh! After a bit of searching I found an ominous skull lurking in the bottom corner of the control panel. It would allow my to kill off my own villagers to make way for soldiers and war units. I was torn, these little pixel people had worked so hard and had paid their taxes and now they were going to die just so I could satisfy my thirst for revenge and go destroy the mighty Persian nation. I figured they would understand and wiped them all out, except for one, who could repair the wall if I needed it.

So my one, lonely little villager stood beside the mightiest of walls, surrounded by 199 angry soldiers, cavalrymen and war machines of every sort. I had machines to fling fire, shoot dozens of bolts of arrows and to crush infantry. I had priests to cast spells at the opposition to turn their own men against each other and cause chaos within the enemy ranks. I had pikemen, swordsmen, guys with clubs, longbows, maces and possibly nun-chuks.

I had only one small problem. I couldn't get through the mightiest of walls.

Again, after some searching, it turned out to be quite lucky I hadn't killed that one villager because he was the only character that could dismantle the wall. So after he did that, I killed him and built another cannon and prepared to charge.

It was a carefully planned attack. I would send in the long range weapons to take out the outlying defenders. They would fall to the Persian defence towers so in went my seige machines, surrounded by infantry to protect them. I would send 50 riflemen to the edge of the Persian town to prevent new soldiers being created while my priests turned the existing enemy soldiers against each other. I would have my pikemen rush in at the cavalry while my swordsmen would rush to the town centre and attack. My cannons would destroy the barracks, stables and forts to prevent any new defenders being built. I charged, not knowing what awaited my battle-hungry troops. I didn't know whether the Persians had focussed on infantry or defences, long range weapons or face-to-face combat. Had they developed their technology or focussed on accumulating wealth? Would they use battle elephants? Whateve they had done in the 200 hundred years that had elapsed so far during the game play, I was confident I had built the best army in the whole land, enough even to defeat the once mighty and overly cocky Persian empire.

Imagine my surprise to find one Persian shepherd and 100 sheep.

It turns out that the lowest difficulty setting, which I had used to "give myself a fighting chance" has the opposition maintain the status quo until attacked. As I hadn't given this one little Persian shepherd anything to fret about for over two hundred years, he hadn't felt the need to evolve. He was also now over two hundred years old. I couldn't kill him. My soldiers only attack other soldiers or war buildings by default, but you can have them attack villagers if you need to. But I couldn't do that to this poor old lonely guy. So I took his sheep and had my priest turn him against himself and won the game.

And that is the story of how I beat the Persian Empire.


Thought for the Day: If we didn't have wars, would we have computers?

Monday, November 13, 2006

I'm really not sure how to write what I want to write today, so I will just write it.

Some of you may know that my brother and his wife have been expecting triplets. Unfortunately, on the 11th of November, 2006, at a mere 22.5 weeks, the three identical baby girls were born but did not survive. My brother and his wife were told by the doctors at 12 weeks that a twin-twin transfusion was occurring, which affected the development of the babies. They flew to Brisbane and had an Australian first surgery to separate the babies, and it appeared to be successful. My sister-in-law suffered some complications of her own but these were rectified as well as she and my brother did absolutely everything they possibly could to give the babies the best chance of survival.

I remember clearly the moment when my brother told me they were expecting a child. He and his wife had been hunting for a house for ages and had finally settled on a place. I thought he was calling me to tell me they had got the place but he had even better news. He was going to be a father again and he was proud as punch. Buying a house for the first time was just an aside for him now. He and his wife already have a beautiful little girl who is nearly two and they are wonderful parents, so DW and I were just as excited for them.

I also remember clearly the moment he told me the one baby was actually triplets. He told me I should sit down. He was absolutely stunned, as was everyone I told after that. I was very excited for him and a little jealous, because, you know, what a guy. My family and my sister-in-law's family all rallied around and started doing whatever we could to help them get ready. Its good to have so much family support so willingly given and I'm sure they both appreciated it, even if it was a little smothering.

When problems started occurring, we all feared the worst but all hoped and prayed for the best. Yet despite the uncertainty, my brother and his wife stayed strong and determined to give their babies the very best chance at life they could. They showed such courage and conviction as few of us will ever be called to show.

Three little girls, Ebony, Macey and Zoe, came into this world together and they left together. They will always be together in our minds and hearts. I wish I had had the chance to meet them as do all who were touched by their brief journey in this world. I wish my brother and his wife had been spared this loss. I wish their daughter had had the chance to play with her little sisters. Both familes will share my brother's and his wife's grief and will aid their recovery. None of us will ever forget these three little girls who now wait in heaven.

I wanted to write this as a tribute to Ebony, Macey and Zoe, as meagre as it is. Better tributes exist and I know very few people will ever read this. However, those of you who have, I want you to know how hard it has been to write and would ask you one favour. Please take a moment and spare a thought for these three little girls and the family they have left behind. That will be the best tribute I can offer them.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hello world! How is everybody? I am a little rusty having not written anything in nearly two weeks so I apologize for any spilling miskates. I can't remember what I wrote last time and I'm too lazy to check so I'll just press on.

Well, last weekend DWs parents decided to have a weekend away with some old family friends and all their respective children, grandchildren and partners. Somebody thought that all us Victorians would like to drive four and a half hours to NSW to a place that distinguishes itself from competing camp sites by having toilet paper. To be fair, it is a rather picturesque place situated right by the Murray River and we actually stayed in a very well appointed house large enough to sleep 13 people. Hardly roughing it. It was, however, four and a half hours away and we have Princess and Little Man to think of.

Little Man was great because he either slept or just watched the scenery go by. He was pretty laid back about the whole thing, though he did get a little grumpy and greatly appreciated a chance to stretch his legs during a break in the trip.

Princess was also pretty good and provided much of the entertainment on the way. She did sleep a little but, as we expected, not as much as we would have liked. But we were prepared. We had books on tape! More precisely, books on MP3 player and a set of headphones with a long lead. This enabled us to have the MP3 player with us in the front while she listened and read along in the back. It worked very well, except when the wrong book came up or she wasn't sure which page she was supposed to be on. When ever a problem occurred, she would yell louder than usual because she had the headphones on. She wasn't upset or anything, she was just letting us know. We also put some of her favourite songs on the player and this is where most of the entertainment for us came from. She would sing along loudly and out of tune to the bits she knew and mumble loudly and out of tune to the rest. All up, it could have been a lot worse.

We arrived in around mid afternoon and had a chance to settle in before the rest of the family arrived. DW made the mistake of telling Princess she could stay up until Grandma and Grandad arrived which was after ten that night. The poor kid's eyes were almost falling out of her head and she could barely string the words "I'm not sleepy" together. We did manage to get her into bed eventually and she did sleep until 7am which is pretty good for her. Little Man woke up several times through the night but mostly because his young cousin in the next room was having considerably greater difficulty settling.

The next day I played golf with my Father-in-Law, Shdan and DW's brothers, Shshaun and Shlockie. I'm not much of a golfer. I was being given advice from all sides, except the front, which as it happens, would probably have been the safest. I remembered to keep my head down, which seemed appropriate given the shame. By chance, my first hit off the tee was actually quite good. It was a par 3 hole and I took over ten strokes to get in the hole. I stop counting when I run out of fingers. In my defence, the greens were not grass but rather sandscrapes and hadn't been set up very well, with the lip of the hole slightly higher than the surrounding sand. This caused even the straightest putt to go astray. Not that any of mine were the straightest putt. It was just a little reassuring that others also experienced some difficulty.

My problem early on was my first hit off was nice and straight and while sitting only a few meters from the green, I hit the ball nearly as hard again, sending me WAY past. Every hole after that had something else wrong. Slicing, hooking, dribbling, missing, swearing, searching, swearing, searching, swearing, finding, hooking, swearing, searching. DW's dad was always the first into the bushes to help look for my ball but I think it may have also been to hide the giggling.

After much gnashing of teeth and miraculous findings of the ball, I managed to curtail my overshooting and a "house rule" brought my putting into single digits. In fact, I even managed to use the newly adopted "house rule" (which accounted for the poor sandscrapes) to par two holes in a row. It was time to retire and I skipped backed to the holiday house to tell DW who struggled to stop raising her eyebrow, causing it to quiver so hard it almost popped off.

Anyway, because I had a conference the next day, we had to head home before everyone else, so we packed up and bundled the kids into the car and started the long journey home. The kids were less well settled but we finally made it home at 10pm. That's pretty much the extent of our trip, except for Princess nagging and nagging to have a swim even though the pool was cold and the wind was colder. Grandma Shue braved the icy pond but no one else was brave enough. Little Man just ran about pulling at things and pressing buttons on the video player. Still, it was a nice, if a little brief, get away. Hopefully next time will be for a little longer.


Thought for the Day: Let the sneeze pass, then play the shot.