Wednesday, June 07, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 384 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 384, “Winter celebrations”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Success from understanding

I’ve now been using my personal organisation system for three months. The result? It’s been okay, though it included several changes. Overall, it’s been working as I expected.

Around ten days after I first talked about the system, I made some adjustments to it. Then, ten days after that, I talked about even more changes—and that’s been it. Since my last round of changes, I’ve simply been using it, something I thought would show me if I needed to change anything more. So far, using it seems to suggest it’s still okay.

However, there have been some unexpected things, too. I’ve found that using the “to do” lists in the “What’s Up” section has also helped me see the things I’ve done so I can see how long its been since I last did a thing. Not always useful information, of course, but it’s also as close as I get to a personal journal. As they say, to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. Or, at least I can know how long it’s been since I last ran the dishwasher. I have to admit, though, that at first I felt using the “to do” lists was kind of like “busy work”—not all that important, and sometimes even unnecessary. I'm finding them much more useful now. even if for no other reason than the fact that checking things off the list makes me feel like I'm moving forward, and not stalled.

I've also been using the "Somewhere Safe" section to record things I want to be able to find later. That's been easy enough to do, and it has, as I’d hoped it would, helped me keep track of things so I don't lose important tings any more. However, so far I haven’t had to refer to it to find something, and there are important things from before I created the system that I still can’t find because the “somewhere safe” I put those things was unrecorded. Still, at least there are some things I won’t waste time re-finding.

So far, I haven’t used anything else in the system—no list of things I need to do “at some point”, no list of projects, nor records of progress on any projects. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good or useful, as far as I know, it just means that I don’t know because I haven’t used them. I’ve mainly been using the parts that I think are more important, though I’m beginning to think I should at least map out my various projects so I have some hope of completing them. Maybe that’ll be in the second three months I did type up a list of projects just before I started work in the system—and haven't done anything with that list since.

That’s the gist of how the system is working, but the more important thing is why I created the system in the first place: Trying to gain some control over my life by working around my personal obstacles. I do, indeed, feel more in control since I launched the system, and it’s definitely made things like focusing much easier because I no longer have to try (and fail…) to remember everything.

There’s so much more to that aspect of this system, the “why”, and I’ll be talking about it in future posts. This system was actually born from realisations I made during this journey as I worked on “my one true project”: Creating a new me. For now, though, the important thing to note is that this system is working for me, and the real reason for that is all the work I’ve been doing on my one true project, thereby understanding myself better. The truth is, the two are helping both succeed.

Not a bad result for what was originally pretty much a move of near desperation. As always, I take success where I can find it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

New name, old holiday

New Zealand just observed the newly-renamed public holiday: King’s Birthday. For longer than most New Zealanders have been alive, there was Queen’s Birthday, but that ended when she died. It still seems weird.

The graphic aat left is for New Zealand retail chain Briscoes, which sells homewares—kitchen things, small appliances, manchester (household linen), picture frames, that sort of thing. They have sales for every conceivable holiday, whether real or not, so the fact they were having one for King’s Birthday wasn’t unique for them—or other retailers, either, because there were a lot of such sales and promotions. What struck me about this particular ad was the wording: “First Ever”, it said. Because, it is—sort of.

The company that owns Briscoes (Briscoe Group) originally began in 1781 in the UK, but began expanding in the 19th Century, and in 1862 entered New Zealand. Today, the group is a New Zealand company, but it’s was here when, in 1937, New Zealand’s Sovereign's Birthday Observance Act established the first Monday in June as the official birthday of the sovereign—who was King George VI at that time, meaning that Briscoes was in business when the first King’s Birthday under the 1937 Act was observed. So, technically, this is the “second ever” such holiday for them, though the sort of mercantile exuberance we now see around public holidays was probably not an omnipresent thing like it is now, so, even more technically, it’s certainly the first King’s Birthday Sale in any kind of modern sense.

Aside from retail sales, the holiday is also known for the annual Honours List (there are two: One on New Year’s Day and one on, as it is now, King’s Birthday). I don’t think the vast majority of New Zealanders take much notice of the honours, except maybe for the headline-making honours. There were two of them this year that probably got people’s attention.

This year’s list gave both Queen Camilla and former prime minister Jacinda Ardern top honours—both are now known as “Dame” (the female equivalent of “Sir”), though only Jacinda will be addressed with that (a queen "outranks" a knight, so she's use here "main" title). Like a lot of people, probably, one of my first thoughts was ”Queen Camilla?!” Fortunately for me, Stuff published a piece answering that: “Why is Queen Camilla getting NZ’s top order in the King’s Birthday honours?” Since Prince Phillip had a similar honour, I guess it makes “sense” for Queen Camilla to have one (insofar as the quaint knighthoods make any sense whatsoever, of course).

The bigger thing, though, was when I saw the alert about Jacinda [Related: Queen Camilla and Dame Jacinda Ardern recognised in King Charles Birthday and Coronation Honours”). I decided to stay off of the fetid cesspool that is Twitter, even though I chuckled at the thought of all the exploding heads among the loons, goons, and cartoons who wallow there. Ex-prime minister John Key, who himself was made a knight, wasn’t buying into the negativity, calling it a “right of passage” for former prime ministers.

My own holiday weekend was far less eventful: I did some chores (like laundry), and also rearranged a shelving unit in the garage so I could move the juicer out there. I use it a few times a year and it does a great job, but the machine and its parts took up scarce space in kitchen cupboard I stored it in. With that moved to the garage, I reorganised the cupboard it was in, as well as the drawer I kept all my baking pans, as well as a different cupboard. That reorganising was to keep like-things together, and the things I use the most close to hand (for example, I didn’t want to have to get down on the floor to get my roasting pan from the bottom shelf of the cupboard it was in).

There was a bit of rain on a couple of the days, so I didn’t plan to do anything big, nor go anywhere, either. As appealing as a big “King’s Birthday Sale” may sound, there was nothing I needed, and certainly not enough to brave the probably crowded shops. Instead, I had a nice, relaxing—and productive!—weekend.

This week I have a few things I’d like to get done, but maybe more about that in a round-up next week?

So, the first King’s Birthday public holiday that most New Zealanders have experienced is now over. Our next public holiday is Matariki on Friday, July 14, then Labour Day on Monday, October 23.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Leo is six

Today is Leo’s sixth birthday. A perfectly ordinary day from his perspective, but one in which he got lots of cuddles and treats. When I shared the photo above on Instagram (and also my personal Facebook), I said:
Today is my boy Leo’s sixth birthday—already!!! His daddy Nigel only got to celebrate two of them, but I’m spoiling him enough for both of us—of course. I noticed from my previous posts for Leo’s birthday that there’s always been something about him being clipped: Either he was in the middle of one, just had been, or was about to be. Technically, this year it’s the last two, LOL. Tonight he’ll get extra cuddles and maybe a treat or two. 🙂❤️🐶🎂🥰
This year he was much more willing to let me take a photo of him, possibly because he’s used to me taking photos of him all the time. Then, too, he hasn’t been newly shorn, obviously. Of course, there’s more to it.

Last year, I got Leo groomed the day before his birthday, and said about it: “It took months to get this organised, mostly because of delays of various kinds—especially not being able to find a groomer. However, I also was very uneasy about the whole thing precisely because of all the loss over the past three years.” All of that is still true. Also, I’ve taken Leo to that groomer twice, and both times he wasn’t exactly happy about it. If I’m totally honest, I didn’t think the groomer did more than an “okay” job grooming, and, as I said when I talked about Leo’s big outing a couple weeks ago, it seems they didn’t trim his nails as they told they would (I asked when I dropped him off).

Because of all that, I decided to learn to groom Leo myself, as I also talked about a couple weeks ago. I still haven’t actually attempted it, and for silly reasons: I too-well remember him nipping daddy Nigel and me when we tried to groom him, but mostly because—of course!—I’m worried I might hurt him. Even so, I’ve been using the special rounded-end dog scissors to keep the fur immediately around his eyes trimmed so he can see. He seems to actually appreciate that, and I think he may be about ready to trust me to give him a full grooming. Just not today—not on his birthday! Okay, that one is totally on me, but this is basically what I was referring to in the Instagram photo caption: He’d just had his eyes groomed, and the rest is coming soon.

This year is the first of our “now normal”, as I call it: I don’t want to say “new normal” because whatever “normal” is, it keeps changing, and I don’t want to encourage that. This is Leo’s first birthday since his very first in 2018 that marke the end of a year in which no one in the family died—we’ve definitely had a rough ride over the past four years. That means he and I, all that’s left of the family of six we were on his first birthday, survived another year. That’s something to—celebrate sounds kind of weird, but, yeah. Celebrate.

Despite my hesitation to groom him, Leo’s still the same happy little guy he’s always been. He also still loves to sleep on my lap, as he’s been doing since he came to live with us five years ago, and when he isn’t, he’s usually sleeping in one of his many spots not far from wherever I am. He also absolutely loves when we play The Chase Game, in which we take turns chasing each other around the living area. He prefers to play the game inside because he gets a better grip on the carpet, which is good: I’m way too unfit to run around outside. Or, maybe he realises that?

The important thing is that Leo’s still a great companion, an entertainer, and my best buddy. I’m pretty sure I’m all that for him, too. I think his other daddy would agree.

Happy Sixth Birthday, Leo!


Leo is five – 2022
Leo is three – 2021
Leo is three – 2020
Leo is two – 2019
Leo is one year old – 2018
Another new addition
All blog posts tagged “Leo” – All the posts in which I’ve talked about him

Today is also the first day of meteorological winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Leo had a better day than that would imply.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 383 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 383, “Crabby jabby”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Tooth scraping and a sore arm

This morning was my twice-yearly teeth scraping. I added on two other stops to complete the day. And my arm was sore when I was done.

The visit with the dental hygienist wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected—which isn’t to suggest it was “good”, just not as bad as I’d thought it would be. The dental practice is located in a medical complex that includes a pharmacy, and that’s where I got my last Covid booster back in August. This time, I got my annual influenza vaccination and also the bivalent Covid booster vaccination.

The vaccinations were beginning to become critical: Winter starts on Thursday (June 1), and that means colder weather and more illness of all sorts will abound. I’m considered at higher risk for potentially bad outcomes from two diseases if I were to catch them: Influenza and Covid.

Influenza isn’t what lots of people call “the flu”, which is often just a bad cold. Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory system that can cause life-threatening Illness, especially among people deemed at higher risk. Influenza vaccines are free for people 65 and older (and Māori and Pacific Island people over 55), along with people at higher risk—like me.

The reason I get a free influenza vaccination at my extraordinarily young age of 64 is that my ischaemic heart disease (aka coronary artery disease), especially combined with hypertension, puts me at risk. The vaccine we get immunised against multiple strains of the virus based on scientists’ best guess on what strains we’re likely to see in New Zealand, and that’s based in part on what the Northern Hemisphere had in its recent winter.

The Covid vaccine now available is the bivalent, which boosts protection from the original strains in NZ, plus immunises against the newer, more communicable strains (easier to catch, but less serious, apparently). The qualifications for the jab I got today include the person being over 30 or at higher risk (like me). It’s also available after at least six months since a Covid booster shot or positive test result. This was my fifth Covid jab.

The reason I got the vaccinations is partly what I was talking about in my post about getting leg cramp the other day: It’s the sheer terror I can (and do) feel when facing the possibility of a serious health challenge alone. I wasn’t like this when Nigel was alive—of course—and so far it’s mainly been fear of the unknown, what could happen. To be fair, I worry about sudden heart problems (as in, needing to call an ambulance serious) or a serious accident far more than I worry about some possible disease I may never catch. Even so, having to face a big health challenge alone is, for me, one if the worst things about being a widower.

To deal with that, I essentially try to minimise risk. First, I do my best to eat a more or less healthy plant-centred diet (which is why I normally eat little meat, apart from some chicken and occasional fish, which is the sort of diet my various GPs have always recommended for me. Second, I’m always really careful when I work on any projects where I could get badly hurt. I find that extremely challenging because my lack of focus makes it hard to be truly mindful of what I’m doing in a particular moment. Still, it’s worked so far. The third thing is to keep myself fully vaccinated.

For the first time in my life, being an introvert is an advantage in all this: I don’t like being around crowds of strangers (they exhaust me), so I avoid unnecessary trips to the shops (for example, I make one trip to a home centre to pick up several things, rather than lots of trips for just one thing at a time). This allows me to minimise my possible exposure to infected people—not eliminate, obviously, just minimise.

Beyond that, I can monitor my “vitals”, so I should be able to detect a problem as it develops, while I can still act. None of that takes away the fear caused by the worry I may need to face a health crisis alone, but managing risk certainly makes it easier to live with.

While I was at the chemist, I asked the pharmacist about a supplement to help me ward off leg cramp. He said they recommend magnesium, and in talking with him he suggested I take a time-release formulation and at dinner to maximise my protection overnight. He also said I’d need to give it a month to see if it helps, but I hardly ever get leg cramp, so… maybe I won’t actually know? Maybe it’s be a realisation, “huh—I haven;t had leg cramp in years”. I can work with that.

When I was done, I popped into the nearby supermarket on my way home.

I got home midday-ish, had lunch, then did a few things, but then I started to feel a bit poorly, kind of like after my first or second Covid jab (I forget which). I took a long nap and felt better afterward, but I still took paracetamol (as recommended) along with drinking lots of water. By early evening, I had a really sore arm. They can do both shots in one arm if we want, and I chose that so I can sleep on my other side (I mostly sleep on my right side), but, ouchies!

So far, so good—though it’s still possible I may have a bad reaction like I did back in August. That time, the worst of the lot, made me feel so awful I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t get another jab, though this one isn’t the same as the last one, and there’s been more time between them than there was before the one back in August.

Basically, my survival instincts outweighed my desire to avoid feeling sick, and maybe this will work out fine. I should know in the morning.

As long as I don’t feel sick in the middle of the night this time, a sore arm is probably an acceptable trade-off.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Dark sunless hours

The video above was on 1News last night, and I can verify that we’ve had fewer “bright sunshine hours” in Hamilton so far this year than we had over the same period last year. I know that because more solar electricity production has been lower than last year, and that’s a direct result of less sunshine. In fact, a couple months ago, a published a post with charts that showed how I basically made no electricity during the Anniversary Weekend storms and Cyclone Gabrielle (charts near at the bottom of the linked post).

I was really glad to see that they were predicting a dryer winter this year—I haven’t been able to do much outside work so far this year, so maybe I can get caught up over winter?

There’s one other thing about the report, though: until today, I always thought the opposite of El Niño was La Nina, not La Niña. It’s possible that NZ broadcasters got it wrong in the past and, since I don’t speak Spanish, I didn’t know (I Googled it to find out).

Learning stuff is good. Right now, I think that drier weather is even better.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6

This week in 1983, a new song that hit Number One, and it would remain there for a month and a half: “Flashdance... What a Feeling” from the movie Flashdance, and performed by Irene Cara. While the movie wasn’t well received, this song won numerous awards: The Academy Award and Golden Globe for best song in a movie, and it was nominated for a BAFTA, too. The soundtrack album won the Grammy it in its category, too.

The music for the song was written by Giorgio Moroder, and the lyrics were written by Keith Forsey and Cara.

I very well remember that this song seemed to be everywhere when it was Number One. I liked it well enough—or, at least, I certainly didn’t dislike it. It's hard to work out which it was I thought before all the media saturation of that time. Mainly, thought, I was glad to hear Cara again after her performance on the title track to “Fame” only a few years earlier.

The video above is the “Official Video”, which is based on the opening credits of the movie. To me, it seems more like an ad for the movie than an actual music video, as is common enough for songs from movies (especially in that era). Sometimes that’s fine, but other times? Well, in this case, the song was clearly Cara’s, but she wasn’t in the film (unlike the 1980 film “Fame”, and she also had a hit with that film's title song), so obviously she wasn't in the "What A Feeling" video. To giver her due credit, I decided to include a video of her performing the song on the 1983 Labor Day MDA Telethon:

Cara was involved in a dispute over royalties, including from the song, because she felt she wasn’t being paid what she was entitled to, both for the song and for her first two solo albums. The dispute turned nasty, with Cara convinced that her record label and others in the industry were working to vilify and smear her, and she claimed to have been “virtually blacklisted”. After years of wrangling, in 1993 a jury awarded her $1.5 million for “misaccounted funds”, essentially, accounting mistakes that prevented her from getting the royalties she was entitled to. However, she’d sued corporations, not individuals, and the companies merely declared bankruptcy, claiming they’d spent all their funds on legal fees. It’s not clear if she ever received any of the award, but she did finally start receiving royalties for her work. She never again experienced the level of success she had before the lawsuit.

Irene Cara died in November of last year from arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease. She was 63. Until I researched this post, I had no idea that Cara was around two months younger than me. Cara’s co-writer of the lyrics for the song, Keith Forsey, is now 75, and Giorgio Moroder is now 83.

The song was certainly a success: It was Number One in on the “Billboard Hot 100” for six weeks, something that propelled it to Number 3 on Billboard’s 1983 year-end chart. In addition to being Number One, it was also certified Gold in the USA. It also hit Number One in Australia, Number One in Canada (2x Platinum), Number One in New Zealand, and Number 2 in the UK (Silver).

This series now takes another extended break, returning July 9 with the new song that hit Number One that week in 1983. In the meantime, feel free to “dance right through your life”.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5

More kitchen frugality

I’ve had more kitchen adventures, and they were successful. The adventures were based on recent ones, but began because of where I wanted it to end up. There’s a story there.

The photo up top is of a special dinner I made Wednesday night. I said on my personal Facebook:
Tonight’s dinner: Roast beef, with roasted potatoes, roasted onions, Nigel’s creamed spinach recipe, and corn and peas.

It started because Countdown had bolar roast on special and I haven’t even seen it on sale for, what? A couple years? A long time, anyway. So, I bought a small one. The potatoes were made using Jamie Oliver’s method (boil them a bit before roasting), though I roasted them in a separate pan because there wasn’t enough room in the pan with the roast and onions (they turn out better that way, anyway—crispy outside and fluffy inside). I added horseradish sauce and homemade gravy (not pictured). I have plans for the leftovers—stay tuned!
When I ordered the roast, I was thinking that I wanted to see how many meals I could make out if it, just as I did with the “frugal chicken” adventures. While Thursday night I had ordinary leftovers—basically, the same as the night before—but I had definite plans for Friday’s dinner: The final beef dinner was an homage to my mother’s beef and barley soup (photo at the bottom of this post).

The problem I had was that I don’t have her recipe—in fact, I don’t even know if she had one. I couldn’t find one online that I liked, so I improvised based on what I remember (from maybe 50 years ago!).

I cut up an onion, a couple carrots, a couple stalks of celery, and gently cooked it in some oil to soften it. I added some garlic, some dried thyme, then I added frozen veggies (maybe a cup or so—what was left in the bag). Once that had thawed a bit, I added the cubed last of the roast, heated that, then added a litre of store-bought stock, and a couple bay leaves. I simmered it about a half an hour, til it got up to temperature, then added a tin of chopped tomatoes.

I let the soup simmer around another half hour, then added 3/4 cup of rinsed pearl barley. I had the soup on a low simmer until the barley was cooked, which took more than an hour (about which, more in a minute).

The soup was really nice—hearty like a beef stew. Actually, one recipe I looked at said the soup is like a beef stew, “only wetter”, which made me laugh. My own beef stew—the family recipe—is quite different. I think the soup was like what my mother used to make, but the last time I had that was so very long ago that I can’t say with certainty. If it wasn’t just like it, it definitely was close enough.

What I liked about the adventure was that I felt confident enough to just wing it—though it’s actually not very complicated. The only thing I could’ve done differently was the barley: I used to cook with it all the time in the US, but I’ve never bought or used it in NZ. The packet said that soaking it for 6 to 8 hours (!) would shorten the cooking time substantially. If I make this again, I may try that.

The truth is, though, that wasn’t all about seeing how many meals I could get out of one roast: Making the soup was actually the whole reason I bought the roast in the first place—having the roast dinner was a bonus (and so was the dinner of reheated leftovers and a roast beef sandwich for lunch Friday). Saturday’s dinner was the last of the soup.

It’s difficult to work out how much the various meals cost—separately or combined—because they were all a mix of stuff I bought specially and things I had on hand (like frozen veggies), and even something I made, but not specifically for the project: I made bread in the breadmaker on Thursday.

However, I know the roast itself was $33.63, and I think it’s reasonable to guesstimate that the combined value of the loose potatoes I bought for the roast dinner ($4.46) and the stuff I had on hand already probably totalled around $10, which would make a total of $43.63. I’ll round that up to $45 (today, US$27.21). The roast dinner was enough for three people, and the soup probably was, too. Plus, there was the sandwich and leftovers. I’ll call that the equivalent of eight meals, which would make them $5.63 each (US$3.40).

Obviously, this is just a very rough approximation, and not just because a sandwich isn’t the equivalent of one of the larger meals. The point is to get an idea of how it compares to other meals I make, and $5.63 per meal isn’t bad at all—although, most of what I make is considerably cheaper. It was planning everything out that no doubt help keep costs down, and ensured there was no waste. The only part of the roast that I didn’t eat were the little bits I gave to Leo.

This was a good experience, and I’m glad I did it. I’ve now finally convinced myself that I really can “eat well for less” if I’m willing to invest a bit of time and energy in meal planning. That’s a good trade-off, I think.

There’s one more thing, though: When I see “pearl barley” in a recipe, the first thing I think of is Pearl Bailey. But when I actually go to cook with it, I start singing, “won’t you come home pearl barley, won’t you come home” (adapted from the 1902 song, many versions of which are on YouTube LISTEN,).

Don’t worry, Leo thinks it’s weird, too. I just bribed him with beef scraps to put up with it.