Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!

Normal posting volume is expected to resume prior to the New Year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A year I'll never forget

A year ago my life changed. One could say that it was turned on its head, for surely there is no more succinct description for the catastrophic events that led to me being the father of a dead baby boy.

It's hard to talk about the loss of my son, Gabriel, to those who haven't lost a child. People who have no frame of reference have nothing to say. It's not that they don't want to, perhaps, but instead that they don't have the vocabulary to understand. Most people don't know what to say, and say nothing. They don't know what all parents of dead babies know - there are no words to express the feeling of loss, of confusion, of aimlessness that accompany the wretched loss of my son.

The sorrow sneaks up on me at odd times, in odd ways. I have yet to return to what my normal level was a year ago. It is shockingly difficult to be who I was before. I get distracted more easily. I am unable to concentrate as well. My motivation waxes and wanes on an unpredictable schedule.

A year ago I held my son in my hands. His tiny body was incredibly frail. With his death, that frailty has passed on to me in unexpected, unwanted ways. His death fractured me widely and deeply. Unlike a window, my cracks are not visible. To those who don't know of the impact, I appear to be normal and fully functioning. This makes for a disconnect between who I am, and who people expect me to be.

To my son in heaven: I miss you to the depth of my soul.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

And so begins advent

Today in church we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. The service started with the lighting of the first Advent candle, the candle of Hope.

This is a Holy time of year. As the world focuses on the commercial side of the season, we Christians gear up to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Oddly enough, I don't recall the last time I heard of a church having its doors ripped off and someone trampled to death in the rush to get into a pew. Sad that we had not only this, but also a shootout in the midst of a store shopping rush on Friday. Truly, it was a black Friday for several families.

A year ago, Mrs. Spit and I were blissfully unaware that we were less than two weeks away from having our lives torn asunder, from seeing our dreams evaporate like fog under a noon-day sun. We were joyful about being expectant parents in the midst of the Christmas season.

Today the Rector talked on the "Adventures of Advent"
Adventure coming
Discover the original meaning of Christmas
Vision - seeing God's vision for our world
Expectant about God's plans
New beginning
Travel towards understanding of God's gift to mankind

While I am truly grateful for the basis of this Christmas celebration, I still find my self having difficulty climbing out of thoughts of my son. I hear of the angels speaking to Mary, and I think of my son, named for one of the archangels. I see the lighting of the Hope candle, and think of the hope lost when Gabriel died.

Despite all my efforts to carry on moving forward in life, my grief for my son is still tangible, still present, still real. I know that only my son died that day. I am still alive. If he could talk, he would want me to continue with my life and to remember that by looking back, I can't see the oncoming life ahead of me. I still weep for my son.

Last year Christmas passed in a flash. This year, I just don't know what to do with myself. It's not an adventure, it's an endurance event.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Down wiff dogz

Yo, hoomans!

We are not amused.

Last night, fo the firs time in longs time, we didn't haff to dealz wiff that ha-uge dogz! Liff waz goot.

Now you comez back wiff dat munster and expects us to be happi??

What, are you stoopids?!?

If'n you don' feed dat dogz soon... shes gonna be eatingz US!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's a sad / mad day

Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Spit and I attended an afternoon session to help us deal with grief at Christmas. Or, as I said jokingly afterwards, we paid money to cry in front of strangers.

It was a good session. We learned some things. We shared the story of Gabriel's death with others. We were able to cry about our son, and know that those around us felt for our loss. We were able to feel for those in the room who had lost children, brothers, sisters, and husbands. It was a very tiring afternoon, surprisingly so.

Then this morning I woke up to find that, due to the fact that Mrs. Spit had left a granola bar in her bag yesterday, my mastiff scattered the bag and its contents, along with the contents of her purse, across the floor in the living room.

That was bad enough.

She also broke the glass on the picture of Gabriel that we took to the session. And worse, because we can't replace it, she chewed up the Gund plush bunny that I had gotten for Gabriel long before he was born. The memento that we brought with us to the session on grief is now a wreck. After keeping it away from the dogs for over a year, it's now ruined.

Not how I wanted to start a month from Christmas. I'm at a loss for words.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I can see a light

Well... the bookshelves are almost done.

The project was conceived when we bought the house three and a half years ago. The plans were copied from "The Home Handyman" and stuck in a drawer for a couple of years. The decision to build the shelves was made on a simple premise. Mrs. Spit didn't want to be 7 months pregnant, up the ladder doing the ceiling treatment.

Here's a shot of the old shelves:
We started the project late last August. I'll never forget that the shelf unit was started when my son was a fetus, and will be completed with him as a memory.

The reno was worked around my job, which took me away from home more often than I would have liked. We had a rather optimistic goal of finishing everything in time for American Thanksgiving last year. This fell apart when my work took me away many nights that we didn't expect or schedule.

Then Gabriel flashed into and out of our lives. It would take months before I had motivation to fire up any tools again. 70% of our main floor was given over to storage of materials and construction of the shelves, and we have lived out of our kitchen and entry hallway through the tumultuous times of the last year.

So here I am, hoping that we can get it all done by THIS year's American Thanksgiving. Not a lot of time left, especially when I list everything left to be done and consider that I have to be out of town, again, this week.

Here's the short list of things yet to do in the dining room:
  • wood filler for minor gaps, nail holes on book case
  • sand shelves, including leveling between shelves and trim strips I attached this morning
  • build something to install grate for heating duct on bottom shelf
  • install quarter-round through whole room
  • buy and install crown moulding
  • tint ceiling
  • prime and paint walls and bookshelf
  • install electrical cover plates on new outlets in shelf
  • install trim over windows
  • paint trim
  • install dimmer switch for lights with cover plate
  • install lights
  • come up with better system to mount electrical outlet on wall instead of surface mounting to baseboard (tacky as hell)
  • cleanup
Yeah, it's a huge list. But at least there is nothing more to build for the bookshelves themselves. The rest of the room... oh boy... but the bookshelves are ready for filling, sanding, and painting.

Renos in this olde house often lead to many many more sub-projects before the job is done. Nothing is straight, or level in the house.
The job list in the dining room to date has included the following:
  • clear old bookshelves off
  • move books to huge pile in living room
  • give away old Billy bookshelves to co-worker
  • take down dining room table
  • move other furniture out of dining room
  • take down overhead light
  • tear down tile ceiling
  • tear down plaster and lathe ceiling
  • strip plaster from one wall - leaving lathe behind
  • clean-up awful mess of 90+ year old plaster
  • have a moment when we see what looks like olde knob and tube wiring in the ceiling
  • rewire overhead light with new connection box to center of room
  • install insulation in bay window ceiling
  • install gyprock ceiling
  • install gyprock floor sheets on two walls
  • tape, mud, and sand gyprock
  • apply textured surface to ceiling
  • cut out section of laminate floor for bookshelf location
  • install lower and upper bookshelf frames.
  • adjust lower frame for change in floor slope halfway across dining room
  • install vertical framing
  • install two new outlets for Mrs. Spit's computer drawer (change plans for shelves)
  • install vertical shelf supports, including dado cuts
  • install shelf horizontal pieces
  • figure out how computer drawer is to work - thank you Lee Valley!!!
  • build drawer pull out
  • install facing timber on top, sides, and bottom of shelf unit
  • build shelf columns
  • build face trim and install
  • install quarter round on columns
  • install trim at top of columns
  • decide that the list of what's left is a lot smaller than the list of what has already been done
Inter-spaced throughout have been numerous trips to Rona, Home Depot, and Lee Valley for appropriate tools, hardware, and lumber. Then return trips for more lumber when the lumber that WAS purchased warped after it sat in the living room for too long before being turned into something useful.

Here's where everything stands as of tonight. For reference, the ceiling is roughly 9'-0" above the floor. Shelves range from 8" to 16" tall, and each shelf is roughly 38" wide. The whole unit is 11'-6" wide from the lathe next to the furnace chimney to the wall separating the dining room from the living room.

I really hope that the light I see is the end of the tunnel, and not an on-coming work light!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Almost done...

It's been forever since this construction job started, and now the end is in sight. Not without a problem to end things off on... but hey, the contractor will get an extra work order to fix the problem in the design. So maybe everything won't be done tomorrow, but soon enough to be sure.

When it's all said and done, and I'm back home, I'll walk through the construction for you. Right now, I'm behind in paperwork and blogging has been lower on the list of priorities.

My 4 1/2 months living mostly away from home is coming to an end. Thank goodness!!!

I don't feel any compunction taking next weekend as a 5 day affair. Bracketing Remembrance Day with a day off - so I can be home while they strip my tub. At least we have the replacement faucets, shower head, etc etc so that once it's done, we'll be able to use the tub for more than just taking a bath! I'm looking forward to showering at home again!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thinking on Gabe

So, this past week I had my birthday.

Last year on my birthday, Mrs. Spit was well into her pregnancy. Things were going well, with everything seeming to be peachy keen. I was keenly aware of the fact that come my next birthday, I would have an infant child to care for.

It was really hard, when my next birthday did roll around, to remember that 10 months earlier, I held my newborn son for the half hour of life that he shared with us. The keen edge has been taken off of this blade, but it still cuts and still hurts.

He will always be with me, and I shall always remember him. The tiny boy who came before his time, and who left us far too soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spending money on the house - indirectly

Just went and spent $400 at the woodworking show...

Let's see... what loot did we get? Yes, I brought Mrs. Spit with - or rather, she volunteered to come with me and pay for everything

- 1/2" shaft, 22 1/2 degree chamfer router bit - boring, $12
- tile cutter thingie - VersaTool Pro - $40 - first thing I've ever seen to let you EASILY cut curves in floor tile, glass, porcelain... very handy come time for home renos in the bathroom and kitchen (in a year or three)
- 6 small CordPro units - $70 - to make my mess of cords much neater
- Cut'n'Crown moulding jig - $180 - to ease the crown moulding install in the dining room, hallway, kitchen... etc etc...
- Freud glue-line ripping blade - $75 - to make clean cuts without the need for a jointer
some scroll-saw cut Christmas ornaments - $12 - make the tree pretty

And yeah, except for the tile thingie and ornaments, every item will be used in the next couple of weeks! The built-in bookshelves have an end in sight!

*appended comments*

I forgot to mention. Two of the items were purchased after listening to the "pitch" by guys who knew their product. Both the Cut'n'Crown and the VersaTool Pro were purchased after I was sold on them by their pitchemen. Except that I was sold on them a year ago at the last show I attended!

I did stay far far far away from the Sham-Wow though! Saw some people with several under their arms. I think some people will be getting an... interesting Christmas gift in two months!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Further reasons I'd rather be home

I'm sitting in a rental house in the town I'm building a bridge in.

My wife is home feeling sickly.

This sucks.

Get better darling! ;-)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Another birthday away from home

I'm really getting tired. Tired of this bridge construction project. Tired of yet another fall where I've spent the majority of my time away from my dear wife. Tired from staying up too late reading last night.

Most of all, I'm tired of spending yet another birthday away from home. Granted, I'm close enough to home that I'm heading home so I can spend the night with my wife. Luckily for me this is an option this year.

At least my darling wife sent me a happy birthday voicemail to start my day! This was good.

Normal posting frequency will commence shortly, now that my home-away-from-home has internet, and that my major four month project is coming to a close. Praise be!

Monday, September 8, 2008

The hole a cat makes

Our cat, who was finally starting to turn into a mostly likable creature, has disappeared. He had long taken it in his head to be an in/out cat. He never strayed far away that we knew of. We had heard of him getting treats from a neighbour 3 houses down in one direction, and chicken from our Vietnamese neighbours next to us. But he often met us when we returned from somewhere, sitting by the car when we arrived. Or, if he was out all night, he'd be at the door first thing in the morning when I let the dogs out.And he never missed meal time, always showing up around feeding time - or at least easily enticed inside with the sound of dry food in his bowl.

He hasn't been seen by either of us since I left the house to go to the office yesterday afternoon. No amount of calling and treat container rattling (usually a sure bet when he was out) have brought our little black beast out of hiding.

Mrs. Spit fears the worst, that he's been hit by a car and is dead. She's called all the usual places for when your animal goes missing. She wanted a cuddly cat, which he most definitely wasn't. But he would grace us with his presence, sleep between my legs, lie in a lap, or just stare at you with a cat's condescending contempt.

I hope he comes back ok, but will miss him if he's gone. Max the cat, free from a lady at the Rona, seems to have disappeared, and it's leaving a hole in our little family.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sometimes, the rule enforcers suck

It's been a Sunday of ups and downs today.

See, I'm a long-time fan of Formula 1 racing. I blame it on a friend of mine who introduced it to me in 1995. I've been hooked ever since. Getting up terribly early in the morning to watch races live in Europe and around the globe. How early? Normal is 6 am, but sometimes it's all over the map. The races in the far east are the best, as I get to watch those on Saturday nights.

So this morning I get up to watch the running of the Belgium Grand Prix, held at the Spa track. It's one of the best tracks of the season, and both fans and drivers alike love it.

I've been a fan of British Drive Lewis Hamilton ever since he stepped onto the F1 stage last year. As a result I've been cheering for Mclaren. Ever since Jacques Villeneuve was canned from his drive, I haven't had a clear favorite driver. But I can't help but like and admire Lewis' poise and ability.

Yesterday I watched Lewis storm to a pole position time 0.3 seconds ahead of second place. In F1, this is a HUGE gap. It turns out that he was slightly lighter on fuel than second place qualifier Massa.

Today's race was epic. A track that was damp to start caused some consternation for some drivers. The Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen ran up from 4th to 1st, and continued to lead most of the race. However, in the third to last lap it started to rain. Dry tires really don't work in rain. The drivers were skidding all over the place, with Raikkonen spinning off into the wall in the penultimate lap. This put Lewis into first place. A place he held onto while skidding around the track for the last two laps. So we finished with Lewis winning with Massa, of Ferrari, coming in second.

Later in the day, I see the following headline "Massa handed victory as Hamilton is penalized". Of course the team is going to appeal, but this rarely produces anything as the stewards word is generally final.

The big problem I have, is that for years it has appeared from the actions of the stewards and the FIA (governing body of world motorsports, and F1 specifically) have it in for Mclaren whist simultaneously treating Ferrari like they are the favourite child who can do no wrong. How convenient that by imparting a penalty for a race incident that was resolved on THE TRACK, that Mclaren loses points while Ferrari gains points.

They claim that Lewis "gained advantage" from being RUN OFF THE TRACK by Kimi, forcing him to cut across the chicane, putting him in front of Kimi temporarily. Immediately afterward Lewis slowed so that Kimi could take the lead again - as he is required.

I'm just burned that the honest hard is being penalized in so capricious and biased a manner. Was there a penalty for Kimi for dangerous driving? Did he have a penalty for an earlier incident where he drove into the back of Lewis? Oh, right, he drives for Ferrari - we can't see them get a penalty! Especially as Kimi was already fined 4900 euros earlier in the weekend for speeding in the pitlane. Once again showing that Mclaren is being punished while Ferrari can do no wrong.

The only good thing is that the most arrogant and teflon-coated driver in the world - Michael Schumacher, is retired. At least we have a competitive race series again. Even if we still have shams like today's little incident!!!

I saw this news article up this evening. Good to see other people saying the same thing - in print.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

It's hard work being a book worm.

Let me start by saying that Mrs. Spit is a very, very patient woman.

Our dining room shelves used to look like this – 4 IKEA Billy Shelves:

Notice the large empty space on top of the shelves. This used to have ‘stuff’ on it before we cleared it off ahead of the tear-down of the ceiling. As we have 9’ ceilings on the main floor, we both saw this as wasted space that could be used for BOOKS!!! This was just over a year ago.

Fast forward a year, and here’s where the status of my living room and dining room lies:

Living room storing lumber, with all of our books stacked behind the couch, and random tools, scrapbooking, books etc scattered through the room.

View into the dining room.

Dining room… lumber for next phase up where the dogs can’t WALK on it and leave claw marks.

...and lastly, the shelves as they were yesterday:

This is the major renovation in our dining room. It will be followed by painting the shelves, the walls, colouring the ceiling, installing crown molding, and doing molding over the windows.

It's taken a very long time. Why? Well, in part is my job keeping me away from home a lot. In part in me being tired, and a certain amount of laziness. And a part lies in the fact that just over three months after I started ripping down the dining room ceiling, I had my son die.

It's now time to finish the job and take back the lion's share of the main floor of our house to have livable, usable space once again.

*update* sorry about the formatting, blogger isn't playing nicely with me and my photos.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jumping in with both feet

I have to start off by saying that I've always been a computer gamer. I've had games on my computer ever since my Commodore 64 in 1983. From there I graduated through different PCs with better and better games. But then my funds started to find priorities elsewhere (read 'home renos') and my home computer kept getting more and more out of date. Games on the PC keep pushing the limits of technology, and my computer is well past it's 'best before' date for new games. Of late I've resorted to using my much newer work laptop for my gaming.

In all of this time, I'd been a believer that, since I gamed on my computer, it would be a waste of money to have a dedicated gaming console. And my friends have always been in the same boat with me. As a result of this, I've gotten about zero experience with gaming consoles, other than hearing the hype that swirled in the media when the big new consoles were released - always prior to Christmas when the demand for such silicon crack is at its highest.

As I surfed through Future Shop, Best Buy, or any other store that I've always checked out for computer games to pine after, I'd notice that the real estate given over the consoles keeps growing. This was distressing as it meant that the developers of games were putting more effort into consoles, and less into 'ports' - i.e. games brought over - ported - to the PC market.

Speaking of ports, I bought Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 last year (like the auto industry, they don't understand what year they are in) for my laptop. I've had golf games on every computer I've had since the C-64... it's like an addiction, what can I say? The website extolled the many new features. When I bought it, I expected to see some of them that sounded especially interesting. Imagine my disappointment when they were not there! Checking more closely, I saw that I had been had. The new features were for the next-gen consoles only.

Earlier this year I started to look into the world that is console gaming. It's bloody confusing when you're a total neophyte. First, you have to choose a platform. It's not called a 'brand', it's a 'platform'. I think this is a ploy to prevent people over the age of 25 from getting too excited, we hear 'platform' and think 'elections'. And then it's a question of which one is best suited for me. Words get tossed around like 'casual gamer', 'enthusiast', and of course 'hard-core gamer'. Why does it seem to me like a 'hard-core' gamer is a 20-something guy who lives in his parents basement? And why, to have one of the next-gen consoles, do you have to consider yourself a hard-core gamer in order to qualify for the best technology?

After I had put aside the money to get the console that I wanted - a Playstation 3 (PS3 in the venacular), Mrs. Spit and I paid a visit to our nearby Best Buy location. Imagine my surprise when I was told that "We don't have the 80Gb system that you're thinking of." Huh?!? Turns out that the backwards compatible system is not being sold any more. Good thing I don't have a raft full of old PS1 and PS2 games that I need to maintain compatibility with! After some contemplation over my decision (as the 80 gig was priced the same as the 40 gig machine) I decided to get the PS3.

Alas! There was a fly in the ointment! Mrs. Spit was hoping to play some Mario Brothers when we got the console home. Imagine her surprise when the nice kid (he looked about 16) told her that Mario is only available on the Nintendo systems. Well, this brought around a casual walk over the the Wii section of the store. Aha! Mario is available on the Wii. But this is a whole different console. I had planned on getting one a while after the PS3. There are more 'casual gamer' games on the Wii that Mrs. Spit and I could play together.

So after some more discussions, consternation, waffling (mostly on my part) we broke down and bought the consoles. Yes, you did see the plural there. We bought both the PS3 and the Wii. Plus an extra controller for both. Plus games for both. Plus the service plan for both (in case they break - which the fine kid at the till told us happens a lot). Which games? Well, on the Wii we have Lego - Star Wars Complete, and Super Mario Paper. It also came with Wii Sports. Over on the PS3, I got the game I really was wanting - Gran Tourismo 5 Prologue (actually a demo you pay for of the real GT5 coming out later this fall) and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09.

Yes, you can picture us as a couple of kids in a candy shop that just got handed $50 and told to 'have fun'. But what I want to know is, does having consoles make us cool yet? We asked out new 15 year old neighbour, but she wasn't talking much at that point. I think she smiled shyly though... it could have been the 20 minutes we had spent trying to get her to string more than three words together.

Now we need to go replace our hand-me-down 27" CRT TV with something that will actually let us use the BlueRay high-def 1080p capability of the PS3. Yeah, there's another kettle of fish yet to be cooked!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's hard being... helpful

Last night, at midnight, Mrs. Spit called out that I needed to put on my shoes and come help. A single mother with her teen aged daughter were moving into the house next door. This woman is in this house thanks to help from Mrs. Spit talking to the owner of the place. We finished at 2 am... but they're coming back with more stuff today.

I am some kind of tired.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A crack in the armour

Tonight I was two different people, yet I was the same person.

I spent time telling the mother of a dead baby that life as the father of a dead baby sucks. It sucks that we are shunted to the sidelines. It sucks that we are expected to not feel the same depth of pain as the mother of our dead baby.

Later, I went over the completed scrapbook of my son that my wife prepared. When I came to the page with the hand and foot-prints of my son, I started to cry. An outpouring of emotion like I haven't had in months flowed over and through me. My eyes stung and the tears flowed. And it sucked.

I am eight and a half months away from the day that my son Gabriel was born, and from the day that my son Gabriel died. And my pain is still welded to the fabric of my being. I don't feel it as vividly every day. But when I paid attention to it tonight, it was as if I had just stepped out of the delivery room after my son was taken to the morgue.

My heart, my body, and my soul weep for the loss of my son. And yet I feel obliged to try and help another man whom I have never met forge his way though the pain that he feels.

Just when I feel like I am coping and wearing this burden of my son's death, it reaches out from an unexpected yet not unfamiliar location and reminds me that I, too, am human and that I, too, still mourn his untimely, unfair, and unjust loss.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Absence makes the heart grow fungus

Sorry for the land of missing posts on this blog.

Work has been... I think stressful comes close to describing it. Regular posting will be returning shortly. Even sooner if my temporary housing gets internet access and I can do this from outside of my office!!!

Off to more paperwork...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Riding the balloon

I was sitting in my baby loss support group tonight when I realized that I had completely missed the fact that it's been eight months since Gabriel was born, and eight months since he died.

Two thirds of a year have passed. Two thirds of a year, and I was tearing up tonight listening to a new member of the 'club' describe the loss of her little boy all of 4 weeks ago to a rare genetic disorder where his lungs didn't work properly. I felt jealousy for a minute, as she had her little boy alive for 5 weeks. Yeah, he was intubated in ICU, but alive.

This woman is still immersed in her grief. Four weeks ago today she and her husband (both doctors) made the decision to take their son off of life support. She is still bewildered by her emotions and grief. It seems so long ago when I was in that place. Yet I can take myself back there so quickly that it astounds me.

Hindsight being 20:20, I can see that the stupidest thing that I did after Gabriel died is that I went back to work. I should have taken at least three months off from work. I wasn't ready to work. I couldn't concentrate on my job. I was not effective. It would have helped me to not work. Eight months out, I'm still not in the same place I was before Gabe died.

As I teared up tonight thinking about my son, my heart just cries out to have him back. I think about how he would be five months old right now. I think about the dreams of the future that I had while he was still growing in Mrs. Spit's womb. I hear men talk about how the birth of their child changed them for the better. I've changed, but not because of the need to raise of child. I've changed because I had to cremate a child and because this still weighs me down.

I realize tonight that as much as I'm interacting in the world, doing my job, continuing on with the business of being a human in this society - I'm still carrying my grief with me wherever I go. My grief is a hot air balloon. When Gabe died, I was carrying the gondola on my shoulders, with the balloon bundled in the basket, completely deflated. Over time, I've been able to inflate the balloon so that the weight I bear is reduced. Of late, I've been holding onto a line to the balloon, just keeping it from drifting away. But there are times when the air in the balloon cools off, and the basket drops back onto my shoulders. Often I can fire the burners and the load lightens. And then there are times, like tonight, when the balloon is almost completely deflated and I feel like I'm being crushed its weight.

I want to set it free, but I cannot. I want to put it down, but I cannot. I want to be in the basket, showing Gabriel a new view of the world that is new and magical. I cannot do any of these things. I can only grieve. Times like this, when the weight is most on my shoulders, I hate this damned balloon.

I just want my son.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Intrasigent rule-bound companies

I had the semi-distinct pleasure of being tasked to observe some pile driving for the past two days.

Rather than take some days off to work on my major home-reno project that has been limping along for a year, and which is taking up about 70% of the main floor of my house, I got to watch some pile driving. For a pipeline company. Building a little metering station.

Now, of all the fun things in the world, counting blows for pile driving ranks right up there in the right up there scale. Similar past-times include: counting leaves on the ground; counting cars on a train; counting blue cars in traffic.

So here I was, doing blow counts. Life wouldn't have been so difficult if the work was not for a pipeline company, working on land owned by a major chemical manufacturing company. But alas, the rules for the land-owning corporation state that we're mandated to wear FRC.

FRC = Fire Retardant Coveralls. Nomex.

First off, I don't own any of these. I work in the bridge construction business. We're not usually too worried about the concrete and steel constructs catching on fire. Usually we're involved with a watercourse... so if there is fire, it's not difficult to deal with. Explosions are few and far between when we're talking about concrete.

Second off, nomex is not what I would classify as a breathable material. It does a good job of holding in body heat and perspiration. Couple this with feet encased in leather steel-toed boots and wearing a hard hat.

The good news is that I was able to borrow some FRC from the contractor for the length of my time on the site.

The bad news is that the weather has been sunny, clear, and 31 degrees Celsius for the past two days.

I've melted and am somehow typing this post from a puddle of goo on the floor...

Wake me when winter arrives please!!!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On small towns

I've had the distinct pleasure… err… opportunity… umm… happenchance to visit many small towns in this province that I reside in. It's not what I call home, as that still rests in British Columbia.

So I've seen tiny towns (pop 58), small towns (2,000), bigger towns (4,000). And what always surprises me is the need for people to erect some statuary, some marker, some thing to mark their town in the minds of visitors.

Take Vegreville for my first example:
There is a large Ukrainian community in and around the town. Painted eggs, or Pysankas, are a cultural marker. So they built one huge egg for the travelling public.

Then we have the town of Dawson Creek. They proudly sit in the Peace Region of B.C., anchoring the manic construct of the U.S. Army during World War 2 - the Alaska Highway. So in the centre of town - and not actually ON the highway anymore - there is the Mile Zero marker. I've known people who grew up in this town. They tell me it's always a laugh to see the many people taking "the trip" from somewhere in the continental US up to the "promised land" of Alaska and stopping to take photos of themselves on this marker.

I always wondered - did these people actually notice the scenery through Canada in their headlong rush to the former property of the Tsars?

And lastly for today, I have this beauty of a marker. What relation does a huge squirrel, tucked away in the town park, have to the town of Edson?!?!? I'm told it was on the town seal.

A. Squirrel.

I'm chalking this up to yet another one of those things that I just don't understand.

Tell me about some of the weird, odd, large, or peculiar markers / monuments that you've seen in your travels - or that live in your town.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Building a small bridge - 1

It's the time of year when sensible people are in their yards, on the golf course, camping in the mountains, enjoying the myriad festivals that cavort through the city every summer. Sensible people apparently don't know diddly about how we make the province run.

As everyone in the north knows, deep down in the best insulated bone of their bodies, there are 4 seasons. Now, before you assume that they are the mundane spring, summer, fall and winter... think again - we call this the "frozen north" with good reason! Yes, here we have before winter, winter, after winter, and construction season. So here I am, staying in another hotel (ok, same hotel that I was in when I wrote the first segments on bridge construction, but who's counting?) writing about my job.

The subject of this destruction project is a quaint little bridge in the middle of a small Alberta town. The bridge is 8.5 m (28 ') long carrying a rather busy provincial highway across a rather small creek. The photos in today's blog were taken in April, when it hadn't warmed enough to either melt all of the ice, nor green the grass.

Here we have the old abutment. Timber piles steel caps holding precast concrete girders. Pretty standard fare on most small bridges built in Alberta from the early 1950s to the early 1980s. A whole whack of these bridges are coming to the end of their lifespan, so the job of inspectors like me is pretty safe for the foreseeable future. Lots of work in the repair / rehabilitation / replacement of these old bridges.

Not the best photo in the world, but it shows nicely what we have to deal with. A two-lane (one-way) highway running through town. As you can see, the RCMP detachment is just around the corner. The other fact of note here is the vast expanse of lush green grass to the south of the road. Ok, so you're going to have to use your bountiful imagination on that one, but trust me, it's green right now.

This greenery is the pride and joy of this little town of about 7,000 residents - the park. Life would have been sooooooooo much easier if the town didn't get their way. Had we been able to detour traffic through the park, this would be a two month job. But no, they didn't want to deface their park, so you the viewer get to watch as a bridge gets built using staged construction.

Staged construction. Let's build a bridge in two parts. First we'll build half of it, then put traffic on the new bridge and build the other half. Yeah, it's like building two bridges for the price of one.

The new structure is going to be 10 m (32.8') long and 19.5 m (64') wide. Two lanes of traffic, shoulders on each side, and a 2.2 m sidewalk beside that. The abutment will consist of cast-in-place concrete bearing on steel piles. The span consists of prestressed concrete girders bearing on the concrete abutment walls, with a cast-in-place composite concrete deck topped with 80 mm (3 1/4") of asphaltic concrete pavement.

Bear with me and I'll show you the process of this little bridge getting put together.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vive Le Livre

Thanks to Mrs. Spit I have a bandwagon to jump on.

Not sure where she got the list of 100 books, but hey, there you go. :)

Here's how it works:

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.

2) Italicize those you intend to read. (Or just put comments next to them)

3) Underline (or mark in a different color) the books you LOVE - mine are in Blue.

4) Reprint this list in your blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve read 6 and force books upon them ;-)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - I think I read it, my university lit courses don't lend to long memories of books

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy - just because

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh - On my list.

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma - Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - another lit class bit of fogginess

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - more lit class, first year... lots of doom and gloom in that course

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding - do I get a bye if I saw the movie with Mrs. Spit?

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - read lots, have an omnibus that goes everywhere with me in case I run out of other things to read

90 The Faraway Tree Collection

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cheating on a hot day

So, I'm hot, frustrated, tired - and all because of work. Great eh?

So in lieu of something witty and original, I bring you a quote:

"Books in a genre may well remind you of other books in that genre. This is allowed. If it wasn't, H G Wells would have been the only person permitted to write about time machines. Being a fantasy writer is like being allowed to sit around a big bubbling pot, a stew made up of everything that's gone before. You're allowed to take a certain amount of stuff out, and you don't object if it turns out that you're putting stuff in, too. And so the stew bubbles on. There are only two crimes: one is to claim that the pot is yours, and that the other is to claim that there is no pot."
- Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels

And with that, I remind myself that tomorrow is another day and that this, too, shall pass.

n.b. - must have been tired... originally got the novel series wrong (thanks hon)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday's Quote

"I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward
more freedom and democracy - but that could change."

- J. Danforth Quayle, former U.S. Vice-President, May 22, 1989

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's a dog's life...

Sometimes I wonder if this is what my dogs would say if they could talk:


Alas, I think my mastiff has a cuddle-pal in the cat, so maybe not.

Building a bridge - Redux

Well, as I handed over the reins on that other bridge to another member of my team so that I could start a whole different bridge, I think it's time to get back into the swing of things and continue the narrative.

So, to keep my dear readers who enjoy such things amused, I'll be once again bringing you along on the journey as I build a bridge. The bridge in question in much smaller than the previous project I was involved in. Whereas that bridge was 98 m long by 9.5 m wide in two spans, this one tips the scales at 10 m long by 19.5 m wide.

Yes indeed, it is twice as wide as it is long. That's what happens when you have a small creek crossing a highway in the middle of a small town. The bridge not only has two lanes, but there is a wide shoulder beside each lane, and beside each shoulder there is a cast-in-place concrete sidewalk.

To doubly complicate things, not only are we building a new bridge in an urban environment, but we can't detour the highway through the park. Oh yes, the park. Not only are we in a town, but the town has a cute little park all around the creek. Heaven forbid we build a roadway through the park so we could finish the whole job in two months. Nope, instead we get to build one bridge, one half of the bridge that is from bottom to top. Then we put traffic on that side, and do everything all over again on the other half of the bridge. This is known in the business as "staged construction" and it's fun. So is getting a root canal. Personally, I'd rather be renewing my relationship with my dentist than doing this bridge with this contractor. My dentist is a really nice guy - unlike... well, you get the point.

So, watch this space. If you're confused by some of the terms, I suggest working through my previous posts on bridge building. Unlike the previous set of posts - this series should go from start to completion.

If everything goes well, we'll be done by Halloween this year. However, the schedule that they gave me shows us finishing mid-November. Yippie... I love doing concrete in winter... Now's probably a bad time to point out that the "contract completion date" is October 31.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Things that suck

Sucks beyond belief: Losing my son

Sucks a bit: Stubbing my toe on the doorway

Sucks somewhere in between: being someone that I'm not

Let me put it this way. I'm really a nice guy. I don't enjoy conflict with other people. I work to come to agreeable compromises so that everyone comes out of the problem without feeling like they've gotten the short stick. But most of all, it's not in my nature to be a complete ass to people.

Indeed, even those people who hurt me a great deal with how they dealt with (or didn't depending on your perspective) the death of my son Gabriel didn't get an a__hole response from me. I didn't do it, though I might have wanted to do so at some level.

And then there is my job. And in a position where you would think that being diplomatic and being able to compromise would be an asset, I can't do that. I have to tell the contractor that no, you can't do that because it says so in the contract. Or - you can't do that until you do this - because it's in the contract. Or - why didn't you do this yet - you have to by the contract.

I have had that a couple of times today. My foreman on this bridge construction job is a nice guy. Personable and everything. I get along with him well on a personal level. However, when I started pointing out things that he hasn't done yet - he gets all pissy with me. Swearing at me, and at my superiors who are forcing me to be a bit of a jerk with him. I have to say - yes, I completely understand your point of view, but... and hence I am acting in a way that is totally out of character for me. I have to be a jerk and administer the contract the way it's written.

And the backlash really sucks. Being forced into a corner that I don't enjoy also sucks. Yeah, I want to have a different job after days like this.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The never ending reno...

I have an awesome wife. She is supportive, loving, and lately... loooong suffering. Emphasis on the long (several months) and suffering (hasn't had a dining room or living room for months).

We got rid of our perfectly functional, but no functional enough Ikea Billy shelves several months ago. What was supposed to be a quick project... errm... quick and EASY is what the magazine seemed to promise actually... turned out to be not quick, and not nearly as easy. Of course, part of that stems from the fact that doing renos in this olde house is never easy. There's not a straight wall in the place, and nothing seems to work out as originally envisioned.

So now that I've gotten back into the flow of things and am getting some good headway, a fly has landed in the ointment. Work. Yes, that necessary evil has stuck its head into the house and shaken like a mastiff flinging drool - messing up the works.

So, I get a mandatory break of a couple of days while I go tend to some work concerns. Oh joy. No... really... I love driving to go look at a culvert hours away!

Thank goodness for Sirius radio. It has saved my sanity more times that I care to count. In the past few years since I bought the unit, I've had it many places where the only radio reception is old... really olde country music that is piped out onto the ether for the creaky farmer set. You know... older than the dirt that they're tilling? I've also been places where the only phone service is a satellite phone. All along I've been listening to news, music, comedy with nary a care in the world for such petty things as reception.

So, while my dear love has to put up with the terrorist canines, I'm going to be watching blacktop disappear in the rear-view mirror. When I'm not walking through Lord only knows what kind of culverts that they want me to go look at.

Yeah... I'd rather be putting paid to this reno project than taking time for my job. But, reality bites.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Sometimes I like surprises... such as "Surprise! I brought you a chocolate bar!"

Sometimes I don't like them "Surprise - you're going away for the week!"

Yeah, lucky me - my job sometimes pops up surprises that are more the second type than the first. At least where I'm going, I can stay with friends for part of it. It beats being stuck in a strange hotel somewhere. But it's still not home.

Thank goodness for my Kindle. Now I can read with the best of them! :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A happy day, with tears

Mrs. Spit and I attended a wedding last night. As weddings go, it was... well... different. But it was a wedding befitting the bride, who is not exactly conventional.

I was happy for them both, to have found love later in their lives.

And then they played one of my favorite Christian songs, and I cried. Guys really shouldn't cry at weddings, but there I sat, holding Mrs. Spit's hand, tears falling down my cheeks.

The song is "I can only imagine" by MercyMe. It was written in grief about the death of the songwriter's father. It's about what he can only imagine seeing when he gets to heaven and experiences the love and glory of Christ in person.

As I sit here crying, just thinking about it, I think of my son Gabriel, and how - however much I miss him - he is with Christ now. I can only imagine what that must be like. I live for the day that I will join him, but for now, I just mourn his loss and selfishly wish that I had him here with me instead.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

off reading

Well, it's been a slow time for posting. The sun shines, work beckons, and I have a new book.

Err... make that I have a new e-book reader, with new books on it.

So, I'm off to escape into a good story for a while. But I'll be back!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Counting a blessing

A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway. -- Fr. Jerome Cummings

Mrs. Spit and I are staying with a friend this weekend. We've come to visit and are enjoying the time together.

Having friends so good that I can drop in for a weekend, even though 1/2 that weekend I'm busy with something else and can't visit, is worth more than I can speak of.

I'm also so very happy that they are supportive with the loss of Gabriel, and actually care how we're both doing.

True friends - more valuable than gold.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The joy of victory, the agony of defeat.

Roughly this time last year, Mrs. Spit and I were basking in the joy of victory. After years of trying and failing to get pregnant, we had finally succeeded with a little help from our doctor. Heady times, anticipating joining the ranks of parents everywhere.

It was exciting stuff, that morning when the test showed success! We were both jubilant.

A year later, we are still enduring the agony of defeat. It's a long road this, with many twists and turns, ups and downs.

As I was donating blood plasma last night, the nurse assistant was asking me if we were trying again. She was thinking of those stats of so many parents who lost a baby and had another within a year of the loss. We're not in that boat yet. We just starting to seriously consider going down the road again.

The road marked "Pregnancy" is a little more obscured in our life than in many people's. It's not an easy road, either in the finding or in the journey. We will be inundated - ok, Mrs. Spit will be inundated, I'll be along for support - with medical involvement this time. The terms "high risk" "chance of recurrence" "hypertension" "perinatology" will be tossed about like leaves on a brisk fall wind the next time. Instead of overwhelming joy, we can see a sense of reluctance to get too excited, because we've lost one baby already.

This is why I vacillate. Some days I'm ready to try again - immediately. Others, I don't know if I'll ever be ready to try again. It's as much my own pain as the pain of seeing the tribulations that Mrs. Spit has endured. I don't want to see her ever have to go through that again. I promised to love her and protect her - but this is one thing that I can't protect her from.

I know my Gabriel is in Heaven. I know I'll join him someday. This comes to mind every time I hear this new song on the radio by Natasha Bedingfield. I find solace in my own pocket full of sunshine. I've included partial lyrics here:

Natasha Bedingfield - Pocket Full of Sunshine

I got a pocket, got a pocketful of sunshine.
I got a love, and I know that it's all mine.
There's a place that I go,
But nobody knows.
Where the rivers flow,
And I call it home.

And there's no more lies.
In the darkness, there's light.
And nobody cries.
There's only butterflies.

Take me away: A secret place.
A sweet escape: Take me away.

Take me away to better days.
Take me away: A higher place.

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's an Asterix moment

Have you ever read the Asterix comics? I used to love these comics as a kid. I read all of them that were at my local public library. Great stuff.

So why is it an Asterix moment you might ask? Well... as it was a book made for kids, it was done with clean language. But whenever a character did something that merited, shall we say, colourful language, the text turned into a series of great symbols. Even better than the normal character set can produce in this text. Like "Oh %@#$^&( !$#%* @#$%^ that hurt!!!"

So today, I was the recipient of some paperwork from one of my contractors. We'll call them Contractor Garlic. I've dealt with Garlic before in the bridge building experience. It wasn't a pleasant experience once everything was said and done. Lots of mud on lots of people, and I'm not talking the real stuff here. I was glad when we finished that project, to put it mildly. Mrs. Spit would tell you that it one of my most stressful years with work since we've been together.

So, today I got some stuff from Garlic. And what the %^#$ is this ^@#$^^ trying to pull?!?! They know the rules, the contract, and the specifications that form the basis for this job. Yet they are trying to sell a pile of bull^#$* and pass it as Belgian Chocolate.

It's a new project, but it's going to be a LONG flaming four months of dealing with these potlickers (to use a phrase from a colleague of mine). At least we'll be on them like white on rice from day 1, instead of being the nice guys we tried to be the last time we dealt with them.

So, like Asterix. I'm going to be hearing a lot of language this summer that needs a censor before it passes the ears of the little ones of the world. So, like Asterix, I'll smile and nod... and beat the metaphorical snot out of them when they pull these tricks this time! *Sigh* I hate projects like this.

I like Garlic, but not when it goes bad.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day...

The day is almost over.

It's been an odd day. I've thought about Gabriel a lot today. As I've done different things today, everywhere there were reminders that today is Father's Day. Radio, TV, shopping, going to lunch with Mrs. Spit - pretty much throughout the day I was reminded that today is the day that we as a culture celebrate fathers.

Today sucked.

I wasn't stuck in the fetal position in the corner trying to make the world just disappear. I didn't run around downtown demanding recognition for all of the men who have lost their children far too soon. I just existed. I did avoid going to church today, because I didn't think I would be able to do so well with all of the kids with their parents.

Mrs. Spit has been awesome today. She was similarly introspective today. She wanted me to have a three-month old baby boy today as well. Alas, Gabriel sits on a shelf near me in my kitchen as I type this - or at least his ashes do.

My son has gone to be with the Son in Heaven. I'll never have more than a fleeting memory of him until I see him again one day. And the worst part is, the world doesn't know that I'm a father just like so many men. I'll never be able to raise my son to be an upstanding man and productive member of society.

Today sucked, and I'm glad it's over.

An impressive author

In these days of the internet opening lines of communication, have you ever noticed that it can be harder to get in contact with someone? Take authors for example. I've seen sites where they say "Mr. X reads all of his emails, but doesn't have the time to respond to every one. Please write anyways, because they like feeling loved and cherished by their fans." And I often think "Sure, and I read all the junk mail that comes to my house as well." Unwanted mail is still unwanted mail.

So, earlier yesterday I was visiting the website of Brandon Sanderson. Brandon is a fairly new author in the Fantasy genre. He's written the book Elantris, along with a trilogy called Mistborn - with book three coming out later this year.

Frankly, I had never heard of him before last fall. There are tons of authors in this genre, and not every one appeals to me. So how did I hear of Brandon? Well, it was in a news release from Tor Books:

Tor announces that the final novel in bestselling Robert Jordan’s legendary Wheel of Time® fantasy series will be completed by author Brandon Sanderson.

New York, NY: Friday, December 7, 2007

Tor Books announced today that novelist Brandon Sanderson has been chosen to finish the final novel in Robert Jordan’s bestselling Wheel of Time fantasy series. Robert Jordan, one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th and early 21st centuries, died September 16th after a courageous battle with the rare blood disease amyloidosis.

Like many other fans of the late, great Robert Jordan, I went "Huh?" Never heard of the guy. But apparently Harriet (RJ's widow) had suggested and approved of him - so done is done. And like so many fans of RJ, I went looking and found out more about Brandon, and read Elantris. It was really good! I'm presently working on Mistborn. Both have made me feel much better about what would come as book 12 in the Wheel of Time. The fact that I knew that he would be working from COPIOUS background information, including an outline for what was to happen in book 12, didn't hurt things.

So, yesterday I was on Brandon's website looking around. Not only does he offer another book for fans to download and read - the book isn't even published yet! He's seemingly beta testing one of his books. This is pretty brave. And he also has the obligatory section about emailing the author - except this one is different than many:

Brandon does try to reply to all of his reader mail. However, all time spent answering email is time he can't be writing, so sometimes he lets himself get backlogged. It may take several months to get a reply!

So I sent him an email, mentioning how I've enjoyed his work very much thus far, and that like many in the Wheel of Time fanbase, I'm EAGERLY awaiting the release of the final book the the rather massive series (11 books, all in the 700-900 pages size). I also had a question, because when I went looking at Amazon, I see that his books aren't available in ebook format. I figured, hey, the guy is offering his book for free in ebook format, why not make some money off of it? Everyone knows about the atypical "starving author" stereotype.

Well, shocker of shocker, I received a response today. Yes, less than a day later, Brandon responded, and at length.

I won't share the whole email, but will offer this from it:

I've been getting a lot of good wishes from Wheel of Time fans, and frankly I'm humbled at how positive and supportive everyone is being. We lost a great man, and I know I can't replace him. But I CAN make sure we all get to read that last book as he intended.

As someone who was truly saddened by the untimely death of Robert Jordan, I am very happy that the person who is trying to finish his work is so equally indebted to him for his contribution to the genre. I am also impressed by how friendly and approachable he is being as he carries this yoke of expectation upon his shoulders.

If you have any enthusiasm for the fantasy genre, I highly recommend Brandon's works thus far. Not only are they great reads, but he's a really nice guy!

Friday, June 13, 2008

more to come...

My delightful wife, Mrs. Spit, was complaining that I haven't done a meme yet - she said that she tagged me on Monday.

To this I made the Scooby Doo confused noise... huh?

I was utterly confused. Looking back at her blog, which I read daily thanks in part to Google's reader app, I saw this:

People I want to know more about:

  1. Mr. Spit

This didn't translate across the ether very well. Another blog I read had this question listed as:
List those who you would like to answer the above questions.

I know there's a difference between men and women and how we communicate. I feel that my Mrs. misses the point here. One of these was obvious... and, sorry dear, it wasn't yours!

So I'll be on this and report back later... sheesh, who knew married life on the interweb could be so hard?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The day after the night before...

The blogging will continue when the sleep quotient improves...

Thanks for watching this space! More to come on the bridge building, even though the project is getting handed off next week to a different guy. There's only so much 1 guy can juggle, and this along with the other bridge I'm building this summer would probably have killed me!

And I WON'T miss driving down the cruddy road every day. Man, it was as slick as a field covered in goose droppings today!

So I'm home. Mrs. Spit is happy to have me here, the dogs are thrilled - except that their food is frozen solid. Sorry dogs! Really, you'll live with an empty stomach. Oh yeah, try telling that to the 180 pound mastiff!!!

Monday, June 9, 2008

A tree of tears

Sunday was a pretty dismal weather day. It was cool. It was overcast. The weather forecast was for a deluge.

Mrs. Spit and I were worried. We had up to 30 people coming to our house to be there with us as we planted our Weeping Birch in memory of our infant son. As we left church in the morning and the rain was spitting, I recalled the song by the late Stevie Ray Vaughn - The Sky is Crying. The sky was crying when this master of the electric guitar died in a helicopter crash, and it was crying as we were getting ready to remember the short life that touched our lives and the lives of many of our friends. It's not a coincidence that my lovely gardener wife picked a tree that would be perpetually weeping for our son.

As I think back to that fateful day, exactly 6 months ago yesterday, when the doctors told us that Gabriel would have to be born now, or the love of my life could die as well. I cried. I bawled. Tears ran down my face like a mountain stream. The hopes and dreams of fatherhood had slipped from my fingers, and I couldn't do anything.

Yesterday, we planted our tree. With a group of 20 friends around us, we placed it in the ground, in some good dirt. We shoveled the dirt into the hole, and gave the tree a good drink of water.

We followed with good food shared among everyone. People brought good dishes to go with the slab of roast beast that was on the rotisserie all afternoon.

People left us alone together, tired, but dry. Yes, we spent the whole time in the backyard. The weather held off until just after I got the cover back on the grill. I'd like to think that Gabe standing there, please with the gesture of remembrance that we made. We'll see him seated in Heaven one day. We'll never forget him, even though we were only blessed with his life for a scant thirty minutes.

I can only hope that if we have a next child, that the sky will smile rather than cry for them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tree Day

It's Sunday today. A day of rest.

This morning we will go to church. It will be really quiet. Not because nobody goes to our church, but because today is the church picnic. We're not going. We're not anti-social - just the opposite. Mrs. Spit and I will be having a bunch of friends over to the house later today.

Today is the day that we plant a tree in the backyard in remembrance of our son, Gabriel. The tree is a Young's Weeping Birch. It will have its own little corner in the yard - right next to the garden. I dug the new garden plot yesterday. Peeling off the grass and turning the soil so that we can plant the tree today. Hard work, but memorials shouldn't be easy.

Today I'm sore of body to match the soreness of spirit that I'm feeling.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

I'm discombobulated

Where to go from here.

To try again with a positive attitude, or to accept a negative outlook and give up without trying to have another child.

Having my son Gabriel die due to Mrs. Spit's pre-eclampsia means that we have a pretty decent chance at going through that hell again.

Let's put it this way, in baseball, we'd be pretty damn good batsmen if we were hitting .300. Well, that's roughly our chance of ending up with another bout of pre-e the next time we try for a baby.

Gabriel is dead, and I'm not sure if I even want to try again - except for those times that I'm sure that I want to try again.

I'm feeling tired, exhausted really. And in the midst of it all, I'm feeling discombobulated. I don't know my own mind, and it f'n sucks.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Building a bridge... 7

Time to clear the air about these battered piles and why they are used in addition to the vertical piles. As I mentioned last time, if the piles were not installed properly, the bridge would sink. So, the piles hold up the bridge. But did you know that the piles are also holding up dirt? Before I get dirty, another of Mrs. Spit's favorite enginerd jokes:

Two engineering students were walking across campus when one said, "Where did you get such a great bike?"

The second engineer replied, "Well, I was walking along yesterday minding my own business when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike. She threw the bike to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, "Take what you want."

The second engineer nodded approvingly, "Good choice; the clothes probably wouldn't have fit."

From the top of the piles to the top of the road is a distance of approximately (I say approximately as I don't have the drawings in front of me) 4 metres / 12 feet. On one side of the piles will be the actual bridge girders, bridge deck etc. On the otherside we have the roadway. This is a large volume of compacted earth against a vertical wall. The wall keeps the dirt in place and functions much like a retaining wall.

My boss did his master's thesis on retaining walls, specifically mechanically stabilized earth walls. Thesis. So I'm not going there. What I will say is that the amount of lateral force exerted on a retaining wall increases as a linear function of the height of the wall. In non-math speak, a wall twice as tall as its neighbour will have to resist roughly twice as much earth pressure as the shorted wall. Remember the golden rule? Something has to resist this lateral force.

By driving the front row of piles as battered piles, they will function to carry load in two directions. Most of their strength is in the vertical direction. They will have a portion of their vertical strength reduced and directed at resisting lateral forces. In this way they will help hold up the bridge as well as the road fill next to the abutment.

A key to the photos along with this post. Top: Piles partially embedded with vibro hammer. Middle: view of the new abutment from the old bridge. Bottom: Waiting for the diesel hammer with all of the batter piles vibro'd into the ground.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Building a bridge... 6

It rained today. Lots. Lightning as well. Usually this is fun to watch. Not quite as much when you're pile driving and the crane is 100' tall. Thankfully, it stayed the heck away from the bridge site! That wasn't funny... onto something that is:

An engineer was crossing a road one day, when a frog called out to him and said, "If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful princess." He bent over, picked up the frog and put it in his pocket. The frog spoke up again and said, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will stay with you for one week." The engineer took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it and returned it to the pocket. The frog then cried out, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a princess, I’ll stay with you for one week and do ANYTHING you want." Again, the engineer took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into his pocket. Finally, the frog asked,

"What is the matter? I’ve told you I’m a beautiful princess, and that I’ll stay with you for one week and do anything you want. Why won’t you kiss me?" The engineer said, "Look, I’m an engineer. I don’t have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog, now that’s cool."


On to battered piles. Now that we had the back row of piles driven into the ground, it's time to do the front row. This bridge was designed with two rows, with the front row being battered. In engineerese, a battered pile is one that is installed at an angle away from the vertical. For this particular bridge, the front row of piles are installed with a batter of 1 horizontal to 6 vertical. In other words, for every six feet / meters you move up the pile, the pile leans away from the vertical one foot / meter. Or, the pile is installed at an angle or roughly 15 degrees away from the vertical. The photo shows the first pile being set in place. We have not yet started driving. If you compare this photo to the last one in the previous bridge post, you will note that there is another piece to the puzzle that is the driving frame. To aid in keeping the pile in position, the contractor installed another crosspiece welded to the top of the back row of piles. Along with the other steel, this keeps the piles going where we want them to go, instead of wandering all over the river bank.

What's the purpose of a battered pile you might ask? Surely it's not just to look different. Considering that, when the bridge is done, you will never see these pile unless there is a serious problem of scour (another topic for another day) - so why batter them? Pretend that you are a force (think back to high school physics class where your eyes glazed over at the talk of force vectors) and you are being applied to the bridge. Run with me for a minute here... I'll try and not get technical and talk about statics and the strength of materials - at least, not today. The mass of the finished bridge will be bearing on these piles. Albert's good friend, gravity, will be pulling the bridge down onto the earth. Without these piles, the compacted dirt would not be strong enough to hold up the bridge - the bank would fail and the bridge would be in the water, instead of over it. So we drive piles into the ground so that, through a combination of end-bearing and skin friction, they will support the bridge.

Oh dear, more technical terms that I need to explain. End-bearing. Picture a drinking straw. Now picture taking that straw and pushing it into a milkshake. All the way to the bottom. We need a really thick shake for this analogy, so thing of one of the golden arches chemical compositions for this analogy. Once you've gotten the shake all the way to the bottom and you are now pushing against the bottom of the cup - that is analogous to an end bearing pile. The force that you are applying to the straw (you can stop now) is bearing on the end of the straw against the bottom of the cup. All of the force is taken on the end of the straw / pile. Now, picture pushing another straw into the cup, only you are going to stop pushing before you get to the bottom. When you take your hand off of the straw, the straw doesn't sink out of sight, but rather it sits rather stationary. This is because the weight of the straw is being held by the friction of the shake against the surface of the straw. This is skin friction. On a pile, the earth around the pile holds the pile in place by friction. Here in Alberta, most piling is supported by skin friction because the bedrock is far, far, far too deep to design the piles to be end bearing.

Now that that is, hopefully, cleared up - here's where it is significant. So in this bridge our piles are supported by a combination of both mechanisms. Why? We are driving them into some hard clay shale material. Thus there will be a portion of the pile capacity from both bearing mechanisms. The dead weight of the bridge will be held by the piles. Dead weight is the weight of all of the concrete and steel that constitutes the bridge structure. Live load is the force applied by vehicular traffic, the wind, seismic forces, and Marvin the Moose to the bridge. Dead weight generally follows the direction of gravity - straight down. The vertical piles are assumed to function primarily in a vertical direction and don't resist a lot of lateral force.

Remember the golden rule - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? Ok, so it's the golden rule of structural science, sorry. For every force, there is a resisting force to counter it. When the resistance is not equal to the force - something has to move. If the piles were not able to resist the force applied to them, the bridge would sink.

And now Mrs. Spit tells me that I've been typing too long, so this will continue next time! Any maybe, if you're nice, I'll finish explaining a battered pile to you! D'oh! So much for trying to not go into too much depth... if you'll pardon the pun. ;-)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Building a bridge... 5

Once all of the piles are stood up in the driving frame, it's time to start putting them into the ground. Sometimes the contractor will start straight away with the diesel hammer. This contractor is using the vibro-hammer, as mentioned earlier. In this photo you can see the first 5 piles on the left have been vibrated partially into the ground. It appears that the hard layer that is stopping this system is dropping off to the right, as you can see by the level that the pile tops are at. The vibro-hammer is seen attached to the top of the 6th pile. The contractor tells me that the process is usually faster than we had here. Each pile took roughly an hour to vibrate into the group. Yes, it makes for a really dull day for the inspector when there is no pile driving to count - but I still had to be around in case they started with the diesel hammer. It's an hour drive from town, or 3 hours from home for me.

Here's what the first set of piles looked like once the vibro-hammering was done:

Soon after the picture above, they setup with the diesel hammer to start driving the piles to their final elevation. This is a much faster process. Each pile took about 15 minutes from setup to completion. The picture below shows the contractor setting the leads and hammer onto the next pile to be driven. You can see the old through-truss in the background. In two years, that bridge will be no more, but it makes for a convenient detour for the time being!

After another couple of hours (plus or minus) we can see the contractor removing the diesel hammer from the piles. Each of these piles are now embedded in the ground just over 8.5 m / 28'. They will constitute the back row of piles for this abutment. The second view shows the same piles from a slightly different viewpoint. This is where I'll leave off until it's time to put in the battered piles. And no, this has nothing to do with baking! (I know someone is thinking about that... come on, you can admit it! ;-D )

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

In lieu of my son

While I'm enjoying the series I'm doing on building a bridge, I'm feeling rather melancholy about the whole thing at the same time.

You see, as I detail the process of building a bridge, I'm surprising myself at how much I can talk about it. I know, some people find it boring, but then - I'm not very well versed in the world of knitting and I still read Mrs. Spit's blog! (love you dear!)

The thing is... I can't help but think of the enjoyment that I would have taken in teaching my son about the world, and about the little corner of it that constitutes my job.

I continue to mourn the future that I will never have here on Earth with Gabe. Everything about his time cooking in the oven, I could only dream of what I would do my my child once they came. When Gabriel was born and died, so too did my dreams of a future with him die in that delivery room.

I miss you Gabe. I'm so glad that you Mom lived, because this life would suck so much worse if I had lost you both.

Building a bridge... 4

We are still talking about installing the piles that form the foundation for this bridge. I know, it seems like it's taking forever, doesn't it? Trust me - I know! It truly is taking forever! But, like any good craftsman/woman knows, a good setup makes the final job a better product. I have to hand it to my piling contractor - they take their time to get a good setup nailed before applying hammer to pile.

Speaking of hammers, let's take a look at one:What you can see here is a diesel hammer and the pile driving leads. When in operation, the hammer rides up and down on the upper steel members of the leads. The purpose of the leads is to hold the hammer in position as it works. In addition, they are used to control and align the pile while it is being driven.

A diesel hammer is a pretty simple piece of kit. The functional parts are the helmet, the cylinder, the piston, the mechanism for spraying diesel into the chamber, and the exhaust. The helmet is the piece that actually rests on the top of the steel pile. It looks like an over-sized bottle cap. The pile fits inside the helmet. In this way, the pile is kept in place and is unable to fall over if there is no other support in place for the pile. However, this contractor has some serious support, as you will see in a moment or three. The cylinder assembly rests on top of the helmet. The cylinder is a heavy duty steel jacket that contains the combustion chamber. Picture taking an diesel engine, removing a single cylinder with the piston, and then super-sizing it. The piston doubles as the actual hammer. On this unit it weighs around 1800 kg. The whole assembly is around 20' / 6 m long, and with the leads it weighs roughly 9,000 kg.

How does it work? Glad you asked. Once the leads with the hammer are in place over the pile, the cylinder is manually raised up and mostly out of the cylinder (about 50% stays inside the unit. The method for this varies, either the crane lifts it or a hydraulic assembly internal to the hammer is used to raise it. Once at the extent of normal travel, the hammer is tripped and it falls to the bottom of the cylinder. As it reaches the bottom, a spray of diesel is injected into the chamber. The air is superheated by the compression, which then ignites the diesel, which fires sending the piston up and out. The process then repeats until it is stopped. The only difference between this and the diesel engine in my Jetta is that the cylinder head and the piston in my car don't make contact. When the piston hits the bottom of the cylinder in the hammer, the force of that impact is transmitted directly to the pile. This is where the "hammer" part of the name comes into effect. More on the actual hammering in a future post.

Now, we were talking about the setup for pile driving. In this shot, taken at max zoom from my little camera from across the river, you can see the contractor setting up temporary piles. These piles will be used as supports for the cross members of the pile driving frame. The piles are being installed with a vibro-hammer. Instead of a hammer actually hitting the piles, this grasps the top of the piles in a clamp. A hydraulically actuated eccentric weight in the hammer then rotates at a good rate. This has the effect of making rapid small impacts on the pile, vibrating it and the ground below, vibrating it into the ground. If you've ever seen the effect on granular material (silt/sand/gravel) when a vibration is applied to it - this is the same thing, up-sized.

So, I was mentioning the driving frame. Earlier you saw it getting prepared for install. Here you can see it in place, with a couple of piles stood up in it. They are resting on the ground. About 34' of pile is hanging in the wind above the frame. Even with that, they are held securely in place prior to the commencement of driving operations. Our friend the welder is working on the angle iron brackets that hold the piles from moving laterally during driving. The advantage of this sort of system is that there is very little movement of the piles, and their position can be managed quite effectively. How accurate do they need to be? Well, our friends in the Alberta government allow a tolerance of +/- 50 mm. Yes, they allow the piles to be out of position in the horizontal plane by a total just shy of 2 whole inches. This would be part of the reasoning for getting a surveyor to locate the pile locations. You don't want them in the wrong place!