I wrote about one of my dreams recently, having an observatory in my backyard, and the decision + my reaction to the decision that I had to let the dream go. But I found myself bargaining my way back into trying to consider another option, even thinking I might just impose an option that was perfect for me if not awesome for Andrea and Jacob because it was important to me and I had hoped relatively minimal disruption on them. Until I did the formal measurements tonight and realized, sure, it works for me, but it is not “minimal” for them. The only option that works for them isn’t worth it for me. So I need to kill the idea completely, I just can’t make it work.
Going off on a tangent for a moment, I talk to a social worker every couple of weeks for some much-needed talk therapy/counselling, and this past week was almost entirely about my reaction to the first “realization” that it likely wouldn’t work just two weeks ago. That realization/decision really threw me into a tailspin, as I blogged about earlier. Much of this week’s conversation was about not really have anyone to talk to about it or the emotions that go with it, and most of my diversionary options to distract myself are not available right now, so the social isolation is hitting me doubly hard. The irony is not lost on me that the introvert who frequently likes being alone was feeling lonely.
But one of the key principles I believe in most strongly is to expect people to be the people they are, not the people you wish them to be. A fundamental belief in self-determination, self-control, self-management, simply the concept of the “self” that is yours to define. It was hard with my mom, for example, seeing some stuff she did that I found less than ideal, as well as having to remind myself that she was being who she was, not the person I wished her to be. Sometimes I forget that with family and friends, but I try really hard not to impose my desires on them as expectations.
This is not a pity party, by the way, it’s just recognizing the limitations of the life I’ve chosen to lead. Certain things that I wish I had in my life are not there, and when I find them missing, it’s only natural to think it is someone’s fault, that person x, family member y, or friend z didn’t provide it. Except that wasn’t who they were, so it’s hardly fair of me to expect them to behave that way. And that’s mostly what I talked about with the therapist. She’s paid to listen to me on these types of issues, one of the reasons I see her in the first place. A professional muse to help me work through sticky emotional/logical intersections. And to give me some much needed perspective if I’m chasing my inner nuts like a mad squirrel.
Which brings me back to letting go of a dream
I know what I’m doing “instead of” that dream, I know how to adapt or divert my energies, I know how to confront the dream to see which parts of it are dreams, which parts are actual goals, which parts are merely scripts. But in the end, as I said, I’ve still been holding on to part of it, bargaining with myself that maybe one of those alternatives could be made larger and fulfill the original goal. Except it can’t. The measurements I took tonight confirm it. I simply cannot put a slab or pier or shed in the backyard in a way that will work for anyone but me. Maybe when Jacob is at university or something, but by then I’ll be retired and it won’t really be relevant. By then, I’ll be able to go out any night that is clear to a darker sky site to set up. Time won’t be the limitation it is now.
Two weeks ago, I did a bunch of research to see what I could find available about letting go of a dream, but I didn’t really try to curate any of it into any sort of practical “strategy” for myself. I just let it wash over me, saved the links, and set it aside. Going back now, I can see ten general trends in options:
Focus on the belief that a goal or dream doesn’t define you, you’ll be fine either way;
Meditate on the negative feelings that go with the loss of the dream;
Let go too of the “sunk-cost” mentality that you’ve worked hard for it already, or done the planning, etc.;
Recognize that letting go of something is neither failure or cowardice;
Recognize why you are letting go — unrealistic, unachievable by you, inappropriate for the current you, timing, it’s blocking you from enjoying what you have, etc;
Let go by actually letting go and not revisiting your old stomping grounds…move on by actually moving on;
Take a break from it to give yourself some physical and emotional distance;
Identify what that dream gave you in the present so you can celebrate the victory of what it gave you on the journey up until now, even though you are letting go of the final result;
Be the friend to yourself that you think you need…what do you say to yourself about the change?;
Consider whether there are other equally-rewarding dreams that you ignored because you were focused on the one that you now need to jettison;
Not surprisingly, there are no magic bullets in there. I suspect I most gravitate towards #4 as a stumbling block, as there is some sense of failure in the loss. Some personal choice that I’m not willing to pay a certain price to achieve it, even if I’m okay with that choice. Plus I did let myself get excited about it, personally invested, so #3 also resonates — a sunk-cost mentality of not wanting to give up and reduce the previous work to meaningless. #1, 2, 5, and 10 don’t resonate at all. #6-9 are interesting, but not compelling.
I guess if I had to narrow it down to an actual strategy I would say it will be:
Analyse (#2 the negativity, #3 sunk cost, #5 why)
Adjust my thinking (#4 failure, #8 partial success)
Adapt to reality (#10 alternative goals)
Adjust priorities (separate)
I don’t know if it will help me self-manage better, but it’s worth a try. I’ve got most of the first one done and I am working on the second. The third is partially done, but I don’t feel like the fourth has been touched at all. The depression side of letting go is dampening down my enthusiasm for much else right now, so it’s hard to get excited about other projects. I’ll get there, just not yet.
A few people have asked, quite surprisingly to me, what kind of observatory I was “letting go” from my long-term goals. Most plebes think an observatory is simply a place to put your scope and observe the sky, and while they are not completely wrong, it is much more complicated than a simple “location-based” definition.
So, let’s start with what I have as a scope:
That set-up is made up of nine things:
A physical site:
A location to do the viewing, preferably with dark skies (this picture is taken at the inlaws’ cottage in front of a lake and big open skies to the west);
A flat platform for the equipment all to rest upon, along with vibration suppression pads under the tripod legs; and,
Some sort of limited area around the space;
An optical tube — the orange part, which is a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) design;
A mount — the small black base with a computer in it and an arm that rises up from just below the tube to attach at the far side of the scope; and,
A tripod — the silver part, with the three legs fully extended;
An eyepiece (black with green banding at the top back of the scope);
A power source, which is a portable power tank (this model is very similar to a car battery); and,
A place to hold accessories, which is a flat area just below the black mount, very hard to see in the photo although there is also a table out of range of the camera;
For most observing, the parts are inter-related. If you are away from power, you’ll want a portable power tank; if you’re in your backyard, you can run an extension cord. If you are using a permanent observatory, you’ll likely mount your scope on a cement/concrete pier; if you are travelling, you’ll likely use a tripod that expands and folds.
A physical site for observing
The three groupings mentioned above are done in “sub-bundles”. For observatories, the location, the space, and the platform all go together, with three standard options.
i. A prefab structure with a dome structure
These are usually tight little designs with an opening on top, and a swivelling roof that you can open (so the scope can see out while blocking any light from the sides) and rotate in any direction. But if it looks tight, it is because it is. Note the little handle on the front panel — that’s your door, and you have to duck under the roof rim to get in there. Plus, once you’re in there, it’s pretty cozy. And that is usually starting with an 8’x8′ footprint.
ii. A small shed with a roll-off roof (RoR)
These designs are incredibly prolific with tons of different layouts and designs for how the roof rolls off, whether it is motorized or not, how it slides, what angle it slides off at, etc. Companies like Sky Shed will sell you domes like above, or plans, or kits, or the whole shebang together, and you can even hire someone to come and do it for you. The size of the footprint varies, but most occupy at least 8’x8′. Many are 10’x10′. Some are modified and are only 6’x8′. Usually they have the same basic layout — a box shed, with some arms out to the side where the roof “rolls” to, exposing the interior of the building to the night sky.
The buildings can be anything from a basic shack to a really nice looking cabin. But generally, they are all 8’x8′ or bigger. But note the “frame” beside the building — this is where the roof rolls/slides “off”, so if you have an 8’x8′ structure, you need an empty 8’x8′ space right beside it. If you use the dome (i) above, it just rotates, so it holds to the 8’x8′ space.
iii. Some sort of roll-away building
Option (i) swivelled the roof; option (ii) slid the roof to the side; option (3) moves the whole building out from around the scope. Some people call them roll-away observatories. Others call them outhouse observatories as they are often little tiny, outhouse-sized buildings sitting tall around the scope. Others go with a birdhouse design (single pier coming up, and then a box around the scope) and they are called motel-o-scopes. For me, it is more like a phone booth. You open the door, your scope is inside. If you want to use it though, you roll / slide the phone booth out of the way and there’s your scope left sitting by itself on some sort of stand (usually a pier). Here’s a typical outhouse style.
The image isn’t entirely fair, it’s a 4’x6′ which seems pretty compact, right? That one is actually even larger than most, there are more compact designs. But you can see that the rails behind it, where the whole thing would move backwards and the scope inside would seem to “slide out” the front (but of course it doesn’t move at all, it’s fixed, it is the building that moves). By contrast, motel-o-scopes usually look like this with the top coming off:
Some people go for a full prefab metal one, with a similar footprint to the outhouse:
As you can see, they’re not that attractive usually. However, there is also something lost in translation for a lot of these options, which is that while you can build small observatories, the actual size and the functional size are misleading.
Most astronomers don’t spend time in their small observatories
For the domed option, and the small-footprint ones above, the observatories are mainly just for imaging, not visual observing. They set up the scope for the roof, angle, etc., and then go work their laptop. Likely from inside the house or at least from some place warm. They basically use their observatory as a “remote viewing” option. Perfect for imaging / astrophotography.
But they rarely if ever do visual observing with these set-ups. Why? Because the dome and the closet-sized ones are too tight to move around in. The big huge ones will do both, but the smaller ones are mainly for imaging.
Can I use a small footprint observatory? Not really. I am mainly a visual observer. I do a bit of dabbling in astrophotography, but I primarily want the observatory for visual. Let’s look at the options.
Dome Roof Observatory
Telephone booth hybrid
Often 8’x8′ or greater
Visual or imaging
Visual or imaging
Scope Tripod or pier Electrical Lighting Accessories Desk/Table
Scope Pier Electrical
Scope Pier Electrical Accessories
Prefab or custom
Functional or basic
My options for just a slab
As I have already mentioned, I don’t have room in my backyard for an 8’x8′ footprint (dome) nor twice that for one with a roll-off roof. I would absolutely love a full-sized 8’x10′ observatory, complete with a roll-off roof, maybe even a modified roof that would allow partial opening rather than full roll-off. Maybe walls that lower to ensure full horizons, although, in my backyard, that wouldn’t be necessary (even if I lower the walls, there are houses at the angles). I’d even love to raise it up a bit. Have space for some chairs, a table, maybe my laptop. A place to properly arrange all my accessories. Electrical power, fans for the summer, heaters for the winter. And lord, the ability to use it in the winter would be heaven. No shovelling snow to have space, no setup in the freezing cold with bare fingers and a metal telescope, I could just get everything ready to go, open the roof, look for a while, shut it back up, and go inside for cocoa. Out of the wind, away from the elements. A permanent place with lock and key, maybe even a security system, a place for everything and everything in its place. Ah, the dream.
Now, as I said last week, I knew generally that I could never have one of those full-sized observatories. But I had a small niggling hope that perhaps I could come up with something with a small footprint that would work. With some planned yard work including some flowerbeds, I wondered if perhaps we could upgrade my viewing options and start with a slab.
My tripod has a 43″ inch spread from leg to leg, and if you draw a line from one leg to another, and then bisect that to go to the third leg, the distance is 36″. In other words, if you put the two back legs against a wall, the front one will stick out about 37″. Alternatively, you can think of the tripod lying on the circumference of a 5′ diameter circle for it’s footprint. And it is those outer points of the legs that present the biggest challenge. Normally, if the scope is in line with a tripod leg, it’s a bit annoying to get close enough to the scope to see properly. The tripod leg is in the way, you don’t want to risk kicking it, and if you are crossing over from one area to the other, you want to be able to do so easily without backing into things behind you either.
If you think of the tripod and the viewing circle, and place it in a standard 6’x6′ slab, you get the following layout. The green is the available space (slab), the blue triangle is the direct area covered by the tripod, and the orange area represents what happens if you setup the tripod randomly in the circle (it would circumscribe the orange circle). As you can see, there is not a lot of space outside of the orange viewing circle, and within the circle but outside the triangle, different spots are tighter fits.
This suggests that a 6’x6′ slab is not likely to work. I’d likely need something larger. But the larger it gets, the more real estate I’m taking up in the backyard. And the best spot is right in the way of everything else. So I started thinking about the layout of the tripod.
Someone online noted that he set up his tripod in a specific way each time. So in a sense, the orange circle is less important. He put the two legs farther to one side, centred the rest, got a perfect set-up for everything, and then actually marked and drilled holes in his cement slab where the legs were sitting so that EVERY FUTURE time he set up, they’d be in the same spot. With the same 6’x6′ slab, it would look more like this:
For those into math, he was trying to centre a weighted average of the tripod dimensions over the centre of the square. I got to thinking maybe I could do the same. I could set it up so the slab would not be proportional for ANY and ALL setups, but rather just right for ONE specific setup in particular. Since most of my viewing is to the south and west, I could choose the orientation that would give me the most room for THOSE directions, while minimizing the viewing space on the right. If I did it to an extreme, I could put the tripod all the way to the SOUTH and WEST corner, leaving me all the space at the NORTH and EAST corner.
But in my backyard, I could only see three places to put that slab:
In the centre of the yard, messing everything up for everyone;
At the bottom of the stairs, also messing up most of the backyard usage; or,
Next to the stairs, off to the side, a possible 6’x6′ space, with me eating up 2’x4′ of dead space that will likely to become a flower bed and another 4’x6′ of lawn space.
Unfortunately, the more I worked on that last option, the less enamoured I became. It is really close to the back fence, a tight space, and not that great for viewing to the west. I looked at it again tonight, just to refresh my memory, and it isn’t as bad as I thought since it opens up some sky to the east. Of course, any viewing to the east or west is problematic because I’m viewing over top of houses that give off heat, but I also lose a small chunk of valuable sky to the south-west where I’m frequently trying to capture planets in the 10:00 p.m. to midnight window.
I hemmed and hawed, hawed and hemmed, gotta be this or that, and I decided no go. It would just seem too claustrophobic jammed in there behind the scope and tripod.
When ideas lead you down garden paths
The pandemic has been kicking my heinie for work or lack thereof, and I have a bit of cabin fever. So when a simple brain fart happened, I forgot my “it doesn’t work” analysis and conclusion above and let the idea lead me astray like a wicked temptress in a seedy bar.
So, let’s recap. Big RoRs are out; domes are out; small footprint ones for imaging only are out. I can’t find a setup that is the right size to leave my scope in all set up either, not easily. A slab in that 6’x6′ spot wouldn’t be great, but what if I just put a storage shed there. I had looked at some pre-fab sheds and even found a couple that would seem to fit the bill.
I was thinking I could put this in the 6’x6′ space, store all my gear in there, pull it out and use it, save me lugging back and forth to the garage. Andrea was worried about the soccer ball hitting it, which is admittedly not ideal, but as long as my scope wasn’t against the walls on the inside nor were we talking about kicking it against the building repetitively for hours, my gear would be fine. I found another one, slightly different design, maybe it would work too. I figured Andrea could choose which one looked better to her.
It has the slightly wrong orientation, but it’s a different style design, either could be fine. And then I realized something.
While both fit the 6’x6′ footprint, they are taller than I need. I basically need 5′ to clear the top of my scope. 56″. These babies? Over 7′ to the peaks. In other words, not only way higher than I need, they would even go above the fence line and REALLY blocking the view from our gazebo. It would even be starting to block our view from the house.
So, again, I ruled them out. I wasn’t that initially invested, it was just a storage shed.
Until I got ANOTHER brainwave. Much of that “space” consideration for a slab, i.e. the square/circle/triangle diagram above is controlled by the triangle. How much space my tripod covers. But I don’t need to set up my tripod if I’m doing an observing space that was out of the way. I couldn’t put a pier on a slab in the middle of the yard or in the middle of the stairs area, but over off to the side out of the way? I could, in fact, do a permanent pier. If I used the same 6’x6′ space, I could use a pier and have a layout that would be more like this.
6’x6′ footprint, represented by the green. An orange 6′ diameter viewing space since there would be no tripod legs in my way. And a blue pier 4″ in diameter in the geographic centre of the working space. Lots of space to move around it, not claustrophoic at all. Wait a minute, sister, we might have a winner!
I thought I was on to something
As I said, I got excited. The slab area doesn’t work well, that’s still mostly true. But it occurred to me that if I was to raise the level of the viewing area to match the deck by essentially extending the deck into that space, and raising the pier up by another 2′, I could have a pier up through the deck extension, a 6’x6′ viewing area around it, plus an opening behind me to the main deck, so I could either centre the pier or shift it slightly off-centre reflecting that extra viewing area on the deck.
My brain started to explode with possibilities, and reality was NOT filtering any of them down to viable options. I toyed briefly with the idea of putting some sort of building like the sheds above, prefab and cheapish (relatively speaking). But I was already going to have to pay someone to build a deck extension that would require 2 posts plus the pier for holes in the ground, permit approvals too. Plus pouring the pier itself, including specifications to embed some metal rods to use to attach the telescope mount. I averaged it out to the 56″ height I have now for the tripod, add a couple more for the tube to overlap, call it 5′ total, with the pier portion likely representing 3.5′ of that 5′.
Right, so the prefab buildings were too big. And too expensive. One is almost $2K all on its own, not counting the build of the deck and pouring the pier. I’d also have to modify the shed to be removable. And, oh yeah, they are probably too high.
But I’ve researched a lot of options for those outhouse-style observatories. Or the telephone booth design, as I like to call it. Could I do one that would allow me enough space to cover the scope on the pier (5′ tall, 2′ wide) and maybe have some room for some accessories, a shelf or two, and wheels for it to roll away on? I could. I even have a couple of ideas on how the walls could hinge to open around it like a telephone booth door, turn and roll away onto the deck out of the way. It could even block light or wind from various directions if I need it. Let’s call it maybe 2′ x 4′, or up to 4’x4′, opening up to a small “temporary wall” of 2’x8′ with all my gear hanging on it. Glorious idea.
My friend Stephan knows someone who does custom work, they could likely do the deck and the pier easily enough, and would be willing to build me a shed on top. Except that “custom work” adds up way too fast. As much as I would like it, it just stacks the cost too much.
I stepped back and went through all the steps I would need to do the custom shed part myself. I would still need someone to build the deck extension and pour the pier, but the rest? I could just about handle it all myself. Maybe with a little design help online.
I found a design that was similar to what I have in mind, a guy made it in the local club so I could likely go to his house even and take measurements. And I very excitedly showed it to Andrea.
Who pointed out that it was ugly. Which it was. Kind of like some of the ones above. But the worse news is that his “ugly” one was WAY nicer than anything I would ever come up with. If she thought that one was ugly, my version would be an eyesore. Sigh.
So I went back to trying to contain the cost with an existing prefab. It would be hard to modify and put wheels on, but I gave it a go. All of the options were either too short/tall, ugly, or expensive. Or all of the above. One had some potential, but the shed itself was more than $2K, AND I would have to do a bunch of custom work just to get it to fit.
Then I realized too that basically NO option was ever going to work in that space. Even if I held it to only 5′ high, it’s going to be higher than the fence line when raised up on the deck (which is 2′ off the ground) and higher than the shed that was just going to be on the ground. That one got ruled out because it would block the gazebo and house views; this one would block it even more. Well, fiddlesticks.
And that is where I crashed hard. The re-ignition of a dream, a possible way forward, cabin fever, and a working solution that I came up with on my own got me REALLY excited. Too excited. I should have known better than to let my hopes run free. Particularly in the world that we’re living in right now.
I am still playing with secondary options
I really struggled to pull myself out of the letdown phase. Particularly as even if it was feasible, I don’t have the skills myself nor can I afford the extra cost to make it look “nice” enough to proceed.
I haven’t completely given up on the idea of a 6’x6′ viewing area there, with a pier. I just can’t have it as a permanent observatory with a building. Going back to that initial definition, yes to the neighbourhood, yes to the backyard, meh to being over to the side but I can live with it, yes to a pier rather than tripod legs, and yes to a metal plate on top that I will attach my mount to for holding the tube.
The difference is that I will just have the 4″ pier (or whatever size is appropriate), and the plate, and nothing else there most of the time. When I want to observe, I’ll attach my mount on to the pier, and the scope on to the mount. When I am done for the night, I’ll take everything off, and rather than putting any sort of “box” around it, I’ll just put a pier condom over it (like a wet bag) to keep everything dry. It’ll be about 4-5″ in diameter, maybe 3.5-4′ tall, and that’s it. I’ll have to put a chair or something in the way so people can’t hit it. Or I could do what some people do and put a small tabletop on it to use for drinks and things, make it look like part of the deck. It’s an option at some point to consider. Not a full observatory, but a pier isn’t a terrible compromise. I could settle for the slab and pier, but I think it would be way too tight. I’d have to decide if that was worth it or not. Regardless, it’s an upgrade to have a stable pier over tripod legs.
Since one of the limiting factors is the time it takes to move all my gear from the garage to the backyard, I looked into an option to have a storage shed on the deck, back out of the way, not blocking any view, maybe something big enough to put my scope in that I could open up, pull out my scope already set up and be good to go. None of the pre-fab buildings fit the space, nor can I build anything nice enough myself. I could consider having something custom built there if I don’t do the deck extension, but I’m not thrilled by the idea of storing my gear there if I don’t get a huge improvement in my set-up time.
So I have also been actively looking at wagons. I think I have one that will work for me, and I even found a Canadian distributor, finally. That was surprisingly harder than I expected, but it’s worked out now. I found a few distributors, but they looked sketchy — websites with no physical location behind them. Selling garden equipment? Nope. I had to compromise on the version, not exactly the model I want, but it works, and it is $250. No rush to get it though as I would have to have a place in my garage to park it and be able to load everything into it while still being able to lock stuff up easily plus keep it all clear of dust, etc. I would prefer not to have to back my car outside to do it, that’s partly how I ended up not closing the door and having stuff stolen, but hopefully once bitten, I’ll be twice smart enough not to leave stuff open to being stolen so easily. But on the positive side, building a small “hut” in my garage is about functionality, not “look and feel”, and my skills can handle that at least. It won’t be pretty but in my garage, it doesn’t have to be. When I’m ready to do that, i.e. after cleaning a bunch of crap out of the garage and clearing enough space for everything, I can do all of it myself. Nice.
I still have to look into the tips for letting go more, even after I’ve negotiated myself down to something better than what I have now, and I’m still going to look into easy-to-access sites within 20 minutes drive of my house to give me better viewing options. But the observatory idea is dead; I’ll have to settle for being able to improve my options.
Earlier this week, I mentioned that I need to let go of my dream of having a backyard observatory (https://polywogg.ca/letting-go-of-an-observatory-dream/). It was based on the crash between the dream and reality, with the reality that multiple variables don’t work in my backyard:
I don’t have space for a pre-fab observatory (normally 8’x8′ minimum);
There’s really only one place in the backyard that works, and to make it functional, I would have to raise it up to deck level, but once there, the only options are either too expensive, too big, too ugly, or all three.
The weird part is that I’ve known it was unlikely for quite some time, and I thought it was “gone” from my plans and options. Some of it remains because I have had nothing to replace it with, to be honest. One frustrating thing for me with my hobby is that I don’t have any places nearby that I can just pop over and start observing from, with most decent options being quite a drive. So I couldn’t “bargain” my way out of the loss by saying, “Okay, but I can go HERE instead.”
Which isn’t to say I don’t have SOME options. I live in what is classed as a Bortle 7 sky (scale of 1-9 with 1 being perfectly dark skies and 9 being the downtown of a big city). But once a month, we have public star parties in Carp which is a Bortle 5 sky. The Fred Lossing Observatory is just over an hour away and is Bortle 4, as is Luskville (1 hour), and my in-laws’ cottage (4 hours). North Frontenac is Bortle 2 (!) but at 2 hours, I’ve never made the trek. I would settle for Bortle 6 or 7 with better horizons and set up options than I have now if I could get there in less than 20 minutes.
So if I already knew the reality…?
As I said, I thought my heart and brain knew I didn’t have an option in the backyard. The glitch was that I had done most of my previous calculations based on a specific form of set-up. If I set up on my tripod, I need a central space that is almost 4′ in diameter. The simple math of the tripod spread demands that much. And I was thinking the simplest set-up that I could have would be some sort of movement of my scope in full mode, so I would be using my tripod. But then I had a small epiphany that if I did go the pier route, which is quite a small footprint (no tripod legs), then maybe I could locate it in a less-used spot and stick a box around it. And I let myself get excited again about the possibility. Partly because of the ennui of the current stuck-at-home world, I let myself go all-in on putting everything I had learned into HOW I could make it work in that spot. And I did it. I found an option that would fit the space.
Then I showed it to my wife and reality crashed. Any option except that space doesn’t work for Jacob using the yard; that space only works for Andrea if I can make the box around the scope short and attractive, which I can only do if I either pay someone else an arm and a leg to build it or I could pay someone else just an arm while finding a cheap pre-fab option to keep it pretty. Cheap, functional, or pretty. I would have to pick one, which kills the project.
Which knocked me on my ass on Wednesday. Like the start of a downward depression spiral. I know the symptoms well-enough to spot them and to attempt emergency measures to head it off.
Stopping the death spiral
First and foremost, I need to give myself space to breathe. So I took Thursday off from work. An actual vacation day. I didn’t try to monitor my phone, avoided certain things on FB and Twitter, locked myself in the basement and vegged. It didn’t help that Wednesday night I slept like crap and was dead tired. Hard to tell how much of that was physical and how much mental/emotional. But I needed the break to regenerate. Ideally I’d take a week, but that ain’t happening when the three of us are locked in the same house and there’s no escape.
Second, I need to reboot my coping mechanisms. One of those is music. If my brain is going a mile a minute, one of the few things that calms it is fast music played loud. Normally I could just go for a long drive and blast tunes. Alternatively, I could go for a walk, but I’m not really up for that right now. Lastly, I could put on some headphones and let it penetrate my skull until my brain is just so overloaded, it stops thinking and just shuts down. Meditation doesn’t help, it won’t quiet the chaos when I’m this far gone. Great for maintenance, lousy for restoring my balance from scratch. Except the f***ing iTunes wouldn’t recognize my downstairs laptop nor would the f***ing headphones that I have for the laptop work. Really? Whatever. I listened to some music, closed the door to the basement, and forced myself to sing along to some of the songs. Listening is better for me as I can let my brain free associate its way to some revelations sometimes, but not this time. I had to sing to drive out the turbulence.
Third, I need to confront the emotions and figure out WHY it’s knocking me down. In particular, why THIS loss is affecting me when it is not really a loss at all. I already KNEW I couldn’t do it, so the outcome is “no change”. Why would THAT knock me back?
Figuring out my reaction
It wasn’t hard to figure out why it’s bugging me, I just had to force myself to walk through the steps.
I started with the first aspect, the location. Is living in Centrepointe where I want to live? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But the “reality” (that harsh word again) is that it is the best compromise for the three of us. I’d prefer to live somewhere like Dunrobin but that wouldn’t be fair or viable for Andrea and Jacob. Centrepointe is good for them and is fine for me for work commuting, access to commercial infrastructure, etc. I don’t really DO anything in the area, so it doesn’t much matter to me as a location, I could get most of it anywhere. But it is a good commuting compromise for everyone. If I only had to compromise with myself, I would probably find a way to live farther out, with a darker sky and better horizons. There are even some spots about 5-10 minutes from where I live now that would do, but not great options for the family. Just me being selfish.
Secondly, I know that there is no real reason why I have to have the viewing option at home. Lots of people do it at cottages. I don’t have a cottage, I can’t afford a cottage, I will likely never have a cottage. So that’s on me. If I managed my money better, was more entrepreneurial, maybe pushed harder earlier in my career for promotions, I could have that cottage. But I made my choices and it is a pretty good life. Whining about it is the epitome of a first-world problem and even more almost like a 1-percenter problem.
Thirdly, even with my location, and finances, I could have an observatory in theory. It wouldn’t be perfect, it wouldn’t be ideal, but I could buy a pre-fab sky shed. Write a cheque, have it delivered, bam, instant observatory. And it would mean Jacob would lose any place to play in the backyard. I would love to have a pool, but we don’t, mainly for the same reasons. It would take up the whole yard for one purpose. And so we keep it clear for him. So why is that depressing? Because I’m irritated that I don’t get to do what I want to do, but he gets his yard and my wife gets her gazebo area on the deck. How f***ing selfish is it that I’m irritated by THAT? They’re both good and reasonable uses of the space.
Fourthly, I found an area that COULD work, at least in theory. But while I can lament the options being too costly, too large or too ugly, the real reason it can’t work is me. If I had the know-how and technical skills to build the observatory myself, I could do it at a reasonable enough cost that it would work. It wouldn’t be awesome, it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be functional. But I can’t, because I don’t have any of those skills.
I can’t put in two 6′ posts in the ground; I can’t build a nice-looking extension to the deck that would match what we have; I can’t pour a pier and attach the metal rods and face plate I need; nor can I wrap the deck around it and put railings on. It isn’t a question of just not doing it well, I can’t do it at all. I know the theory, sure, but the wood wouldn’t cut straight, I wouldn’t know how to line it up properly, it just wouldn’t work. I build bookcases and I’m amazed they even stay together when they’re done. In high school, I took machine shop in Grade 9 and 10, and the only reason I passed either one was because there were enough marks on theory to get me over the hump. I think my Grade 10 project, a C clamp, came out at like 14/40. I did manage to make a tack hammer in Grade 9 that I still have, even if the balance isn’t quite right. I just don’t have much in the way of talents to do all that. Which normally I’m okay with, I just write a cheque. I can do that, and I know the result will be WAY better than anything I could do myself even on my best day.
But after that, after the deck is in and the pier is there, all that needs to be done is to build a small box to put around the pier and scope. There are a series of steps that would challenge me, but I could likely take my time and get it done. It wouldn’t look awesome and that’s the rub. I got all excited by the option and showed an example to my wife who thought it looked ugly. Which was true. It didn’t look great. But, unfortunately, it was also about 10x better-looking than what I could make. This means that if THAT version didn’t fly, none of my options would either. My only solution is to write a cheque again, and that is putting the price for an observatory way too high.
Not great skies, not great location, not great functionality…so why would I pay $3-4K or more to build it? Because that is the only option I would have because I don’t have the skills to do it myself.
Ah-hah, now I’m getting somewhere
That’s really the crux of it for me, in many ways. I’m trying to compromise on what I want, with functionality, with what Jacob needs and Andrea wants, and in the end, I can almost find a solution. Except it is completely out of my control because I am not capable of doing it myself.
I can’t just throw money at it and solve it. We have savings, but we also have plans for a bathroom reno, a bunch of needed yardwork, some time off if Jacob has some surgery and needs a recovery period, and a subsequent trip, not to mention plans to retire in 5 years that requires me to buyback some time using mutual funds that just tanked when the stock market plummeted (which also means I will have to work another 18 months longer than I had planned).
And yet I can’t work around it and do it myself either. I can’t buy pre-fab and I can’t build it myself. My father could have, probably. My brother, Don, for sure. Me? No.
Which is what is knocking me on my ass. I can’t realize my dream, not because of location, or layout, or Jacob, or Andrea, or cost. I can’t realize the dream because I don’t have the skills to make it happen.
Sure, there are other elements at play. Isolation. Cabin fever. A desire for some momentum. And even if I had the skills, I probably don’t have the physical stamina to do it all. Not to mention the disappointment I feel in myself that not only did I let myself get excited for something that wasn’t likely to happen but also that I am not handling it better. But mainly it is the feeling of personal failure over all.
I am already experiencing aspects of denial, anger, and I’m trying to mitigate depression. But I’m hoping to embrace a more successful form of self-bargaining to turn it into something I’m willing to accept so I can let go of the past.
Putting my analytical hat on, there are four options that I can see. I could just let it go, with no replacement. Deal with it, don’t try to find any solution, let the winds buffet me as much as they might. I suppose that’s an option. Not a mentally-healthy one perhaps, but it’s an option. It’s going to happen to some extent anyway so I guess I can explore techniques on how to do that in a healthier fashion.
I can replace it with some modified form of storage since I can’t have an observatory. I mentioned in the previous post that I’m not in favour of putting all my gear just in a storage locker, but if I could find a way to perhaps just put the big items in there, maybe keep the expensive stuff in the garage and only make one trip, and maybe even find a shed big enough to put my scope in it in the full upright position on the mount so I could just “slide it out” easily, then would that be an option? I gave it a go. If I’m not building an observatory, then eating up more lawn space with just storage isn’t great as an option. So that leaves me the deck. With the only viable space being about 45″ x 60″. My scope’s tripod can fit in a space 43″ x 37″ x 56″ but it’s a struggle. The 37″ is the problem dimension.
Very few sheds come in a size other than whole foot dimensions. So if I go with one above 37″, it pretty much has to be 4′ … but I only have a space 45″ deep before it starts to interfere with something else. So what I really need is 3.5′ by 4′, and that’s not an available size in pre-fab stuff. I found one that came close, but it is way too tall…I want it about 5′, and it was almost 8′. Too imposing a size and potentially presenting a wind risk in a storm.
I found one option that is almost okay. But it is entirely made of wood, no shingles on the roof, and no indication if it would keep out rain. Plus, it is so tight, I doubt I could fit anything else in the shed with it. And it is almost $2000. Pass.
The only sub-option that I see is to maybe pay someone to do a custom build at some point, get it exactly the size and dimensions that work for me in the space. But that is also going to run up the cost. And, more importantly, a hypothetical “future” option that is out of my control doesn’t help me bargain with myself in the short-term. Pass.
I can reframe the question back to the original problem. Moving all my gear from the garage to the backyard takes too many trips. What can I use that will speed that process?
I looked into various carts and dollies today. Whatever I use, it likely needs at least 10″ pneumatic tires. The narrow space in between my house and the neighbour’s is rocky and even when I get to the backyard, the lawn itself is bumpy and coarse. I have a dolly already, but I’ve never put much mind to trying to strap all this gear to it. The bottom plate isn’t very deep either. Hard to see how I would get a table on it, all my gear, plus the tripod and an observing chair in one load. But if I’m doing multiple loads, what difference does it make? I’m wasting time loading up and unloading if it doesn’t really change the calculation. I might be able to find a way to leave some gear in a wagon or something? I don’t know. I’ll need to play with it. But the solution might be just to decide to go with a smaller footprint by either using Jacob’s equipment, or perhaps just taking one of my EPs to use rather than a bunch of them. Minimize the options, and minimize the load. It seems kind of pointless to have gear that I don’t use, but if I’m not using any of it now, I guess using some is better than using none. I looked at all the options online and didn’t see any ideas that screamed “pick me”. If I’m going to use the backyard, I either need to compromise or suck it up.
If moving everything to the backyard is a pain in the patootie, what if I reframe the geographic scope again? I mentioned earlier that I would be willing to go somewhere with at least equal skies if I could have a decent horizon. If truth be told, I haven’t looked EVERYWHERE that I could. I checked major parks in the area, a few other options, but nothing that didn’t have major negative aspects. But if I loaded the car in the garage quickly (it’s only a foot or two to the trunk) and then unloaded directly at the view site, it would be simpler than hauling it all to the backyard, I just would have to drive somewhere to do it. Including more use of FLO out in Almonte, I guess. Again, I need to find options or suck it up. Once the restrictions lift, I’m going to devise a search grid for every neighbourhood within a 15-minute drive of my house and see if any of the parks, no matter how small or big, can accommodate me for use. Then I’ll just have to commit to going there at least once a week and maybe once a week to FLO.
This post has been a classic change-up for me. I thought, when I started writing it, that I was going to just write about techniques that are out there on how to “let go” of something that is no longer possible. Instead, I talked my way through why it is bothering me so much and some bargaining options to help me deal in the short-term.
I’ll look into those options on how to better deal with letting go with lost dreams, and I’ll consider maybe a long-term solution for a custom storage option, but I suspect the price for that will be prohibitive. I need to get my short-term solutions going, namely ones that I can do and that I can implement on my own. Once the restrictions lift, I’ll find a new place to observe close to my house and make efficiencies for commuting out to FLO to observe more often.
I may not have the skills to build an observatory, but at least I know how to drive.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that while I’m a member of the board of the AstroPontiac Observatory, last Saturday was my first outing for the year to the site. Observing nights are frequently high-demand days for me, given my role as the local RASC centre’s Star Party Coordinator, and just other commitments. But Jacob wanted to go, and Andrea was willing to go too with a hope for a small picnic and time to hike the opening of the Luskville Falls trail, so we set off.
We stopped at the Subway near us to get some grub for the picnic and by the time we were at Luskville and finished our meal, it was already starting to darken a bit. Andrea and Jacob did a quick walk down the first part of the trail, but it wasn’t inviting at that time, and they came back.
Our leader, Stephan, showed up a bit later, and we drove out onto the field to get setup. Another volunteer, Michel, was there to operate the big outside scope, Stephan could operate the inside scope, and Jacob and I would set up our two scopes too. There were a few visitors, but mostly we were left to our own devices.
I’d love to say it was perfect, but we struggled a bit in the night with dew. And Jacob wasn’t dressed anywhere near warm enough, so he ended up back in the car and cold. We saw a few things through the various scopes, taught each other some stuff about various constellations, and I did a bit of a sky tour. Jacob was not only cold, but he also didn’t know what he should be looking at, so we are going to have to come up with some “goals” for his learning each night I think. He really likes double stars, so we may start with those.
Andrea and I did get to see the E.T. Cluster (NGC 457) which was neat, but harder to picture in my scope. I played with some filters but wasn’t having much luck, and so we packed up just after 10:00 and headed home. It was just too wet out there, and clouds were starting to come in too. Hopefully, we’ll have some good options for the joint RASC and AstroPontiac night on the 28th. But I think Jacob, like me, is going to be a mainly fair-weather astronomer in the summer. Yet he managed to do almost all of his setup and alignment himself. Very happy with his progress so far.
On Monday, August 26th, Jacob and I headed out to the Fred P. Lossing Observatory (FLO) in Almonte. The land is owned by the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area, but they let RASC Ottawa put an observatory there in slightly darker skies than we have in Ottawa. There is a gate with a lock, a warming room, and a couple of buildings with larger scopes in them. If you get trained on them and pay a small fee each year, you can use the scopes. Otherwise, as just RASC Ottawa members, you can use the grounds to set up your own scope.
While Jacob and I wanted to do some observing, my main reason for going was another member in the club. He and his son (J1 and J2) had bought a new scope, a Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ, and were struggling to see much through it other than the basics. They had not yet managed a polar alignment, nor figured out star-hopping, and were looking for an intro night from someone in the club. My first option of a would-be mentor didn’t work out for them, so I agreed to do it myself.
My willingness to take on this extra role for someone is driven by two things. First, I know what it is like to have a new scope and struggle with the opening setup. I did that for five years. And each time I had a break-through, it was because someone helped me in person. Astronomy can be a lonely hobby at times and while links and webpages and online videos (oh my!) are helpful, they often pale in comparison to someone taking five minutes in-person to walk you through a learning curve that they mastered years ago but you would spend hours trying to figure out yourself.
Second, Jacob needs to learn some of the basic things too, and I can teach him. But since I’m a blogger, I’m often caught by a desire to turn that “learning/teaching” into a post that anyone else can read if it helps. For example, my posts about solving my alignment issues with the Celestron NexStar 8SE are among the highest hit counts I have, next to the HR posts. People have had the same issues as me, and they wind up on the site, looking for tips and tricks, or hoping for solutions to a problem they have. Which has led me to an idea for a new “guide” — the PolyWogg Guide to Astronomy.
However, unlike my HR guide which I’ve seen as a series of posts all going into a big book at some point, I’ve moved more towards a series of hand-out sheets. Simple one- and two-pagers that summarize the info concisely which someone can just download and print if they’re interested. So figuring out how to teach it to J1 and J2, and to Jacob, has led me to have to figure out how to explain it to someone else in an organized fashion — a pseudo-curriculum, if you will — and writing some quick guides to the various topics. Eventually, I’ll launch a new page on which I’ll post the various links, but for now, I was just trying to teach them three things — aligning your finder tool to your scope, learning to star hop, and aligning your scope to the sky.
The finder tools we had were a TelRad on my 8SE, a Rigel Quickfinder on Jacob’s 4SE, and a red-dot finder on the 127EQ. Except the dang red dot didn’t seem to be working at first, We just couldn’t see the dot. So I showed them on my scope. Jacob already knows how to align for the finder scope, and managed to do it mostly on his own. Later we got the red dot working too.
For navigation, I started with a planisphere, one for Jacob and one for J1 and J2. I explained how it worked, and gave them a paper copy of my guide. But the sky wasn’t dark yet, so you couldn’t see them yet. I also showed them my star map (the Orion 600 folding paper map).
Last, we did an alignment to the sky. I showed them how my 8SE aligns to the sky, and then we did a linear scales alignment for their EQ mount. Later, my buddy S showed up with his daughter M and was able to give a LOT more guidance on working an EQ mount. Whew. And J1 and J2 were able to see much more using their extra EPs that they had bought (they bought one of the Celestron kits). I think the training was helpful for them, but time will tell. They have a couple of things to still tweak to get fully going.
For Jacob, his alignment worked well, and we did a joint sky tour for the night. Considering I didn’t have the exact setup info for the observatory, i.e., the right GPS coordinates, and so I improvised them a bit, my and J’s alignments worked pretty dang well. At the end of the night, J did an awesome job helping me clean everything up together. Much better than my experience at the cottage, and I was really grateful for the combined effort. It made things go so much better.
For the night, we saw both Jupiter and Saturn, a bunch of clusters, including the Hercules Keystone and cluster, and S showed me the teapot below Saturn. When we first got there, the sky wasn’t looking great, but it turned out pretty well overall for the night. And we were gone by about 10:45 p.m. Another guy, R, who runs part of the Observatory site, was there with some friends doing a sky tour with one of the bigger scopes, and they seemed to have a good night too.
And it gave me an appreciation for how to teach certain topics that I didn’t have before…I’m calling that a win. Jacob had a good night too, but I think he was equally enamoured of the name Fred P. Lossing Observatory, or as he renamed it, the FLOSSING Observatory. So he flossed before we left…