Thursday, January 21, 2021

I watched this year—for Nigel

After I moved to New Zealand, I didn’t always watch the live coverage of the inauguration of a new president. I watched it in 2008, and for much the same reason I did this time: To make sure the new president replaced the one I couldn’t stand (though, ironically, I was thinking today how much better Bush 2 seems than he did back then, but that’s all on the guy who lost the 2020 presidential election, who has already been labelled, correctly, “the worst-ever US President”).

I didn’t watch it any year before that, or in 2012, for a simple reason: The swearing-in takes place at 6am New Zealand time, and the festivities earlier than that. That’s the real reason I didn’t watch in 2017, as I said at the time, and not because of who it was, much as I detested him.

All of which means that it’s more common for me to not watch. This year I had a particular reason for not watching: Worry. After the terrorists’ attempted coup last week, I was worried that they’d attack President Biden or the Inauguration Ceremonies, and I felt I simply couldn’t bear seeing that on live TV.

But, I did watch. And the main reason for that was to honour Nigel.

As I’ve said before, one the things Nigel said to me after he was diagnosed in September last year was, “I just hope I live long enough to see that bastard voted out of the White House.” Things didn’t work out that way, of course.

So, I felt a special duty to try and make him proud. I dedicated my vote to him, and when I woke up this morning around 5:15, debating whether I should get up and watch, I remembered watching the 2008 Inauguration with him, and I immediately knew that if he was alive he’d be up and watching “to see that bastard… out of the White House”. He would have let out a cheer.

I got up and watched the event live (via ABC News livestream on YouTube; I tried to watch it on NZ programmes, but found them, TV3 in particular, insufferable). I held my breath at a few times when I felt President Biden was at risk (especially walking down Pennsylvania Ave as he headed to the White House). The fact that the guy who lost the election last November acted like a spoiled brat and left Washington early made the swearing-in a little less dramatic—and exciting—than it would have been otherwise, but it nevertheless meant the end to the darkest period in American political history in my lifetime was finally over. I know that Nigel would’ve been beaming from ear to ear, and I certainly was, pretty much on behalf of us both.

In the end, I was glad I didn’t have to see anything of the loser as he left Washington. It would have been as annoying, and even angering, as any other time I’d had the misfortune to see or hear him speak (to this day I’ve never heard, watched, or read the campaign speech the loser gave in 2017). His absence made the day an even happier one.

Despite my reservations about doing it, I got up (very) early and watched the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I’m glad I did.

This one was for you, Nigel. Just don’t expect me to do that for you every four years.

President Biden’s Inaugural Speech can be read at the White House website.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Sleep reali-tea

Yesterday was a much better day than I’ve had lately, and I owe that to chamomile tea.

I’d been feeling like crap for a week, give or take—extremely tired, depressed, unable to motivate myself to do much of anything. As it happens, I’d been having trouble with sleeping, too: Sometimes it would take me an hour or so to fall asleep or I’d wake up for an hour or so. I’d also sometimes jolt awake and/or feel anxious.

I’d been monitoring my blood pressure and heart rhythm anyway, and all have been normal. Also, I don’t consume caffeine after around 4pm, sometimes much earlier than that. So, I thought it might be the prescriptions I’m still on (they won’t be reviewed for maybe a couple months). Then it hit me: What if my lack of good sleep was the problem and not a symptom?

I remembered how when I had sleep trouble in the past I used to have a cup or two of chamomile tea before going to bed, and I decided to try that on Wednesday night. Result: I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in ages.

I felt good enough yesterday to venture out to go to the supermarket, the first time I felt like leaving the house in nearly a week. While I was there I got more chamomile tea (I’m running out), and I looked at flavoured versions because, honestly, chamomile tea isn’t exactly nice. The version in the photo was lower in sodium than a similar version from an overseas brand, and that’s something I need to monitor.

I’m keenly aware that chamomile tea isn’t actually tea, but a “herbal infusion” (it must have Camellia sinensis or it’s not tea, as I mentioned in a blog post ten years ago this year). But I also know that chamomile “tea” works for me, whatever it’s properly called. I felt good yesterday because of it.

However (there’s always a “but”, isn’t there?), chamomile tea/infusion/tisane isn’t magic or perfect. Many things we consume can affect sleep, everything from stress, emotional issues, temperature of the bedroom, and also things we consume, like having too much sugar (as well as caffeine), especially too late in the day. Such stimulants can hide in unexpected places, so it’s actually quite easy to have “too much”.

All of which means that chamomile can’t fix everything. Still, it’s worth trying, and is definitely a healthier option than alcohol—especially because alcohol can disrupt normal sleep patterns, possibly causing a bad night’s sleep.

Last night I had my two cups of chamomile—and had a terrible night’s sleep. I think I had too much sugar too late in the day (I may, quite possibly, have bought some particularly yummy soft chocolate chip cookies at the grocery store; I can neither confirm nor deny that). This underscores what I’m saying: A chamomile hot beverage may help with sleep, and, in fact it often does for me. However, there are so many things that affect sleep that it’s unreasonable to expect any one thing to “fix” any problems. My experience provides examples of both why that is, as well as how chamomile can sometimes help. Your results may vary.

Still, anything that helps, even if only sometimes, is a good thing, provided it does no harm. I’m going to keep using it, and it’ll help—sometimes, anyway. I’ll drink to that!

I bought the tea at normal retail prices—I wasn’t compensated in any way for including that particular brand of flavoured chamomile herbal infusion in the photo above—I just wanted a reason to take a selfie. This post is a revised, expanded, and updated version of something I posted to my personal Facebook

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Garden hose trolley project

On New Year’s Day I bought myself a present: A new trolley for my garden hose, which I mentioned in my first real post of the year. I posted about it on Instagram, where I said:
…I chose this one because it’s plastic (I had the handle on one rust away), but mostly because the handle is just enough higher that it makes it more comfortable pulling it around (the current one is shorter, which makes me stoop over when I use it). Also, there’s that pulley on a threaded rod thing that I hope will keep the damn hose from tangling. I also got a 2-metre hose to connect it to the tap. The one I have will go on the other side of the of the house so I can use it out front.
A few days ago I got around to putting it together (the new one is left in the photo above). The one I’m replacing is in the centre, and the old, old now handle-less one is on the right.

The handle of the new one may not look much taller, but trust me: Those few centimetres make a huge difference to a tall person like me. And that pulley-on-an-auger sort of thing feeds the hose onto the reel, then when it gets to the end it reverses and winds it going the opposite direction, then reverses again at the other end, and so on. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to neatly wind a rose on its reel easily—without swearing, anyway.

Some side notes: The green hose on the middle cart is my original hose I’ve had for more than 20 years, I think, and it was a gift. It was originally on the trolley on the right. The hose on the new trolley came with the middle trolley, and Nigel put the hose connectors on it for me and put it on the cart without a handle (and he put the green hose onto the middle trolley for me; the green hose had an unusual connection to the trolley, so I couldn’t just move it to the new trolley). The connector for the grey hose’s hand spout thing fell off at the old house, and Nigel never got around to fixing it. I know I have some connector bits somewhere, but nowhere I could find easily (and garage was way too hot to spend any effort searching), so I don’t want to buy new ones just yet.

In addition to finding and installing the connector on the hose end, I also have to clean the oldest reel and wind my long heavy duty power lead onto it—once I find THAT!

The assembly itself was reasonably painless. It took me roughly 25 minutes to put it together, and I only made one mistake, but it was inconsequential, which is good: I couldn’t figure out how to take it apart to fix it. There were only 28 parts to assemble, of which ten were screws (see photo below).

It’s not often that a “needs assembly” item is as easy to put together as that hose trolly was, but I was glad for that. It was a minor project, and one that wasn’t necessarily on my list to do right away, but at least it’s done.

Check another one off the list.

This post began life as something I posted to my personal Facebook, but this version is revised.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The first, first anniversary

One year ago today I settled on my house in Hamilton, picked up the keys from the realtor, then went to the house, unlocked the door, and walked inside for the first time as owner. It was the first time I’d ever done that without Nigel, and I got to that point a bit less than four months after he died.

It was a lot of work (physical, emotional, organisational, etc.) to get to that point, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the support of the family, especially my brother-in-law, who came to Auckland to attend meetings with me, went to the realtor in Hamilton with me so I could sign the contract to purchase, and, in general, helped me work out what I was going to do. Throughout the process, I’d been terrified that the brain fog I was in (both from grief and the prescriptions I was on) would mean I’d miss something important. I didn’t, not the least because I had backup.

Over the following 12 days, I had the new house wired for Ethernet, a heat pump installed in the master bedroom, and the set-up prepared so my computer servers could be relocated to the new house. My brother-in-law coordinated all that for me (important because I was still in Auckland at the old house) and arranged for the IT people to come to the old house to turn off and take away the servers (I wouldn’t have had a clue how to pack them up myself). Over the following days, they cleaned up and streamlined those servers for me, and then came to the house to install everything.

I’ll have more to say about all this on the anniversary of the day I moved in, but today, for me, is about reflection and gratitude. It’s been a pretty crap year, of course, for a whole lot of reasons, but my single-minded determination to keep moving forward got me through it, and the support of the entire family provided the base I could safely build on. All of which is what got me to the point I could put that key in the lock to the front door of my new house for the first time as owner, one year ago today.

This post began as a post on my personal Facebook, when I shared the Facebook "Memory" at the top of this post. I also published a post about this last year, when it happened.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

A good start to 2021

The new year has had a good start for me, all things considered. That’s not remarkable in itself, but it’s probably notable all the same when so little about the past 15+ months has been good. January is usually my best period of the year, so New Year’s Eve usually kicks off something good for me.

I stayed up alone (apart from the dogs…) on New Year’s Eve, something I’ve done most years of my life (adult life, anyway). I’ve always liked New Year’s Eve and the excitement I got from seeing an old year go, combined with the hope for the new one. I completely understand why others might not share my enthusiasm, like that they simply don’t like staying up late, or maybe it’s that it reinforces awareness that time moves quickly. To each their own.

Up until last year, I had one ritual: Nigel usually woke up at midnight so we could have our first kiss of the year. Last year, I improvised a solution since Nigel wasn’t there anymore, but this year I didn’t—though I startled the dogs with a yelp of joy at midnight.

The thing is, 2020 was my first full calendar year without Nigel. The first anniversary of his death was also in 2020, which only gave me one more reason to loathe the year. The truth is, those two facts—that 2020 was my first calendar without Nigel, and that the first anniversary of his death was also in 2020—were my main reasons for being glad to see the year end. On the other hand, the end of 2020 means all the “firsts” are now over, so there’s that.

New Year’s Day was fairly quiet for me: I went to feed my relatives’ cats while they were away, then went and got myself a “New Year’s Present” (which I shared on Instagram, but I’ll talk about it here later, once the project is done). A stop at the supermarket on the way home to pick up a few things, and that was it. Yep, a quiet and low-key day.

Yesterday I went out for lunch with a sister-in-law and my cousin-in-law, which was very nice. But it didn’t start out so great.

Yesterday morning I was going to fill my pill box for the week when and realised I’d run out of my blood-thinner pills. I’m very well aware that it’s my responsibility to take care of and monitor things like impending prescription refills, however, the chemist sends me a text when refills are due, and this time I didn’t get one (I’m guessing because of the holidays). I meant to follow-up early last week, but forgot.

This was a problem because the chemist was closed on Saturday, and they’re not open on Sundays. For all I know, they may be closed on Monday, too (which is the statutory holiday for January 2, since that fell on a Saturday this year – UPDATE: They were closed on Monday, Jan 4). Obviously I couldn’t wait, so I had to get “emergency” pills at the another chemist, but because they don’t have my prescription on file, I had to pay the full price of the drug, something like $5 per pill. By contrast, when I refill my prescriptions right now they’re free, but next month they go back to $5 per prescription until I hit my annual cap again. That means that most of the year $5 would buy me an entire month’s supply, not just one day.

I got enough pills to last me until Tuesday, when the chemist will probably be open again, and when I get my refills I’ll add an alert to my phone calendar to remind me to renew. Live and learn.

That means that lunch was an especially welcome and good time, not the least because it helped me calm down and re-centre after my panic over running out of very important pills. Plus the company was awesome, of course.

The place we went for lunch is at Te Awa, the enclosed mall that’s part of The Base shopping centre. I took advantage of that. I bought some shirts at a store with a 20% off New Year Sale, so I saved something like $30 overall. I also went to look for some shoes.

I went to a “cheap shoe place” and bought some that were what I’d call “casual dressy”, and some just for around the house. I have to wear something on my feet around the house because if I stub a toe, that can cause a gout attack. I wanted something other than slippers, and the shoes I got were fine for what I wanted. The store had a New Year Sale, so I saved a whopping $15.

After that, I went to sports store, as weird and out of character as that sounds, because I wanted to get some walking shoes. I want to start walking to help me lose the weight that the alcohol free beer has forced me to keep (and just to be healthier in general), but I didn’t have any shoes that were good for that. So, I bought two different pairs (so I have options), but with no New Year Sale specials, I spent far, far more than I would’ve liked. Knowing me, though, this will motivate me to actually go walking so that I get my money’s worth out of those shoes.

A final stop was the pet store so I could get more food for the babies, some treats, and a new water bowl (it has a flat edge, and so, it fits against the kitchen wall better and less intrusively than their old round one). They had a New Year Sale (well, actually, it was their Boxing Day Sale, and it lasts until January 6. Sigh.) and I saved $56.30 (plus another $22.72 “frequent feeder discount” which is basically a loyalty scheme; all up, my savings were $79.02). That was my best haul of the day, so I was glad that I deliberately chose to stock up while the sale was on.

Today is a stormy day (thunderstorms and rain), so I’ve stayed home. Apart from laundry, I haven’t done all that much today, which is kind of nice—as relaxing usually is. I don’t necessarily know that I’ll do more tomorrow, but that’s part of the adventure, I guess.

So, 2021 has had a good start. Right now, that’s enough.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses

Well, 2021 just arrived in New Zealand, so we appear to have made it into a New Year eagerly anticipated more than many others have been, certainly in my lifetime. For me, it’s the second year in a row I was glad to see a year end and a new one begin, so I’m especially hopeful for 2021. Plenty of others are hopeful, too. I think we’ll all need to do our part to make those hopes real.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Fast away the old year passes

No guarantees or anything, but it looks like 2020 is about to end. Here in New Zealand, we’re mere minutes away from 2021, and that brings far more hope than a New Year usually does. I hope we get a much better year in 2021. I think on that point, the world is pretty much united.

Google’s Year in Search 2020

Every year, I like to share Google’s “year in search”, both the year’s video (above) and some of the “top five” searches globally, in the USA, and in New Zealand. I think it’s important to have a record of what was on our collective minds during a year, and posts like this make it easier to refer back to later. I think those sorts of things are useful, too.

In the following lists, clicking on the section headline will take you to the Google page for the “Year in Search” results. From there, it’s easy to change the view by country.

So, here’s what was trending in 2020:


Top 5 overall searches in the world: 1 Coronavirus, 2 Election results, 3 Kobe Bryant, 4 Zoom, 5 IPL. Top 5 news searches in the world: 1 Coronavirus, 2 Election results, 3 Iran, 4 Beirut, 5 Hantavirus.

United States

Top 5 overall searches in the USA: 1 Election results, 2 Coronavirus, 3 Kobe Bryant, 4 Coronavirus update, 5 Coronavirus symptoms. Top 5 news searches in the USA: 1 Election results, 2 Coronavirus, 3 Stimulus checks, 4 Unemployment, 5 Iran.

New Zealand

Top 5 overall searches in New Zealand: 1 Coronavirus, 2 US Election Results, 3 Zoom, 4 Seesaw, 5 Kobe Bryant. Top 5 news searches in New Zealand: 1 Coronavirus, 2 US election results, 3 Australia fires, 4 Election results NZ, 5 NZX50.

I said something in last year’s post that turned out to be true: “2020 is an election year in New Zealand and the USA, so I expect to see terms relating to politics on the lists for the two countries.” That was obviously going to be true, but the next sentence, “And plenty that aren’t,” turned out to include one of the biggest things in our lifetimes, the one event that dominated the year for the entire planet (and its searches): The global pandemic. Which goes to show, I guess, that at the end of one year we can never guess what we’ll be searching for in the next.

Here’s hoping the searches in 2021 are boring!

Related: In October, Google also posted an hour-long video, “Trillions of Questions, No Easy Answers: A (home) movie about how Google Search works”.

My year in health: 2020

Sometimes it’s difficult even for me to know what to say and what to leave out. Although I’ve spent several years describing and detailing my Health Journey, it’s still easy (even for me) to lose track of everything that’s happened. This year, there’s another, completely different complicating factor, one that isn't even about me.

Two years ago, I published a post about “My year in health”, and I noted:
While I don’t do “my year in review” posts (because this blog has details of my year that I’d talk about anyway), I think I can make an exception for this subject because it changes so much, and often so fast.
Since I wrote that, so very much has changed that this blog can no longer be said to have “details of my year”. It just doesn’t. Some of it, sure, but so much is missing. This year it’s still true that when it comes to this subject, it “changes so much, and often so fast” that I still think an annual reflection makes sense.

The important thing that happened this year is, of course, that I got my cardiac cryoablation procedure done earlier this month. Finally. Only about two months before that, I was frustrated that it seemed my procedure wouldn’t be done. The following month, October, I saw a cardiologist privately (which means I paid the full price for the consultation), and he said he’d go to bat for me. By the end of the month, I was on the waiting list for the procedure, and it was done something like five weeks later.

Getting to that point certainly wasn’t easy. The cardiologist changed some of my prescriptions in an effort to reduce the side effects I was experiencing, fatigue in particular. Doing that scared the hell out of me because I was facing it alone (meaning, without Nigel). As it turned out, I was right to be concerned, because I couldn’t tolerate the first of the drugs I’d switched to, so four weeks later I switched back to my old prescription.

Meanwhile, I also needed dental care and found out how limited that is in Hamilton. While the dentist I chose was great, I was still surprised at the long waiting time to get things done. As it happened, though, a cancellation meant I had my tooth extraction done a week after my cardiac procedure and that’s gone well, but healing has been slower than I’d hoped). The next appointment is with the hygienist—on my birthday. That’s not by choice, of course, but because it was the earliest appointment available—that limited availability thing again.

This year, too, I got a new GP, and have been seeing him for my maintenance (mainly repeat prescriptions, though I imagine I’ll get my Covid vaccine from him next year). I also have a new chemist, one close to my doctor. That’s not especially newsworthy, except that it means that all three of my regular healthcare providers—doctor, dentist, and chemist—are all different than they were at this time last year, and they’re all Hamilton-based. Lockdown delayed all of those changes, except for the chemist: My GP in Auckland sent my prescription through to the new chemist for me to collect because I couldn’t yet see a new GP. That wasn’t long after we went to Level 3 (I think; if only this blog had included “details of my year”…).

Here I am, then, at the end of my Health Journey – 2020 Edition. I had my cryoablation procedure three weeks ago, and what I said about it one week after the cryoablation procedure is still true: I don’t feel “better” than I did before it because my fatigue is still as bad. However, there’s been one definite improvement: I feel that the “brain fog” has eased a bit, at least during daylight hours. I can think more clearly, concentrate better, focus on what I’m doing, and even remember (somewhat) better than I could before. They’ll review my prescriptions sometime in the first few months of 2021, and they may be changed. That will trigger fear again, but I’m hoping it’ll also trigger further improvement, too. But that’s for next year’s story.

There’s one more major health thing to note—not my health, but Sunny’s. She hasn’t been right since her teeth were removed in May, and she’s now nothing more than fur and bones. She refuses to eat when her bowels are playing up, and she has no reserves to draw on when she doesn’t feel like eating. I feed her more than I used to, but it’s not enough, and she doesn’t gain back even a tiny amount of the weight she’s lost (mainly because she can’t get enough nutrients from her food).

I mention Sunny’s health problems in this post because it directly impacts on mine: It’s been a huge strain on me—though emotional rather than physical. I worry about her constantly, and I keep watching her for signs she’s in her final decline and it’s time to take her to the vet for the last time. She rallies and I get hopeful, only for her to decline again. Sometimes when that happens, I wake up in the morning sure she must’ve died in the night, only to have her rally yet again (with the help of steroids).

I have no idea how long Sunny will carry on, though I no longer think she’ll improve. It’s all according to her schedule, not mine. Because nothing I’ve tried has worked, whether official advice or Dr. Google, (apart from the prescribed steroids that have kept her eating anything at all), I feel cheated. Most dogs with inflammatory bowel disease can live even for years with proper dietary management, but that doesn't appear to be the case with Sunny. Of course, I'm used to being cheated by fate, and that does—oddly—help me.

I have no idea how long Sunny will carry on, so I’ve decided I won’t travel anywhere until she dies because I couldn’t put the burden of caring for her on anyone else, but mostly because I’ve seen how upset she gets when I’m away. I want her final days to be peaceful and for her to feel safe and loved. I owe her that.

This year, then, has been a rocky one for my health, with all of that heaped on top of my profound grief. Despite all that, my health year is ending better than last year’s did, which leaves me hoping the same will be true for 2021. Hope is probably one of the most important and underappreciated parts of anyone’s health journey, especially mine. I’m trying to remember that.

Remembering my mother’s birthday in 2020

Today (US time) is my mother’s birthday, her 104th. As of this year, she’s been gone for 40 years. This year was far more notable for other reasons, of course, but it's still notable. I think her birthday is far more notable, though.

Over the past year, I’ve often thought about how my reaction to my parents’ deaths, four decades after they happened, compared to the death of Nigel last year. Naturally, they’re nowhere near being the same thing, for a lot of reasons, but one thing is certain: I’m at the point of remembering birthdays more than the loss.

I remembered my mother’s birthday yesterday, but decided against writing about on the day her birthday arrives in New Zealand, as I always used to do, because I read last year’s post where I’d said I didn’t post on the usual day “because I’d been upset about Nigel earlier in the day and I simply didn’t need any more reasons to feel bad.” I have no doubt that was true, but I think the second part of the explanation was more revealing: “At the same time, I realised it’s actually more appropriate to talk about her birthday on what was the date she experienced, not a day earlier as I’d done on this blog.”

Maybe that was true. While I’m second-guessing myself, I nevertheless think it was far more likely to have been because I was way too tired to blog, something that plagued me all year (and in several recent years, for that matter). Maybe I actually mostly forgot on the day (as in, didn’t remember when I had the energy to write a post).

I mention all that because I’m still struggling with blogging, and even with doing what's a perfectly routine annual post. I think maybe I was making excuses for myself last year, or maybe I’m just being unkind. After all, last year I also said:
Next year will be different—a year is a long time, after all. I have no idea what I’ll be feeling then, or where/how these conflicting memories and feelings will settle, but I know that I’ll try to do a post honouring my mother’s birthday, and probably on this date again.
All of that proved to be true—and that last line is actually why I deliberately postponed this post until today. I note that I also made no firm promises last year, and that’s something that’s definitely still true.

All of which just underscores that I’m nowhere near being out of the woods yet, either physically or emotionally. Even so, I wanted to be sure to do a post honouring my mother’s birthday this year, and I intend to as long as I continue blogging (as with everything else, no promises about that, of course).

I’ve done these annual posts to I remember my mother’s birthday mainly because, as I’ve said many times, when she was alive her birthday often got lost amid all the holidays this time of year. This is one small, tiny way I can make that right.

Yet I still managed to make this post about me, yet again. I shouldn’t be surprised, and I bet my mother wouldn’t be, either. I’m not ready or able to return to any sort of “normality”, not when literally everything in my life is in a state of tempest-tossed flux. Still, it’s not much more than a year (15 months) since Nigel died and my life changed so dramatically. I simply need the gift of time, and I know my mother would agree with me—and understand completely where I’m at right now. That's just one more reason for me to remember her day.

In any case, I DO remember my mother’s birthday every year, even this year, and despite everything. It is, quite literally, the least I can do.

Once again and always, Happy Birthday, Mom and thanks. Always.

Previous birthday posts:
Remembering my mother’s birthday in a new life (2019)
Still remembering my mother’s birthday (2018)
Remembering my mother’s birthday (2017)
My mom would be 100 (2016)
Mom at 99 (2015)
Remembering my mother (2014)
Mom’s birthday (2013)
Mom’s treasure (2012)
Remembering birthdays (2011)
That time of year (2009)
Memories and words (2008)

Tears of a clown
– A 2009 post that’s still one of my favourites about my mother.