Thursday, May 19, 2022

Maybe sometimes determination is enough

Sometimes, things are just different, for whatever reason, and sometimes determination is enough. Like today.

For the past several weeks, I’ve dealt with extreme fatigue, bad enough that I haven’t felt like doing much of anything—including blogging or podcasting, obviously. While I try to force myself to get things done, for the most part the effort’s failed. But sometimes things go differently, and it began yesterday evening.

I went to my mother-in-law’s for dinner, yesterday evening and also fixed her Kindle (and, of course, Nigel would’ve been surprised (mostly joking). On the eay home, I stopped at the New World supermarket to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was interesting.

There were a lot of prices throughout the store that were obviously higher (like a bottle of cooking oil that was on special at a higher price than it’s regular price only a few months ago). But a lot of store specials brought the prices much closer to what they had been—still higher, but not as bad as they’d be otherwise. On the other hand, all the most affordable items (including things on the chain’s “price freeze” list) were really low or sold out.

Today I was planning on going to The Base shopping centre to run errands, so I thought I’d go to the nearby Countdown supermarket on the way home so I could see for myself what their prices are like. It turned out that today’s errands were 2/3 successful. I’m absolutely fine with that.

First up was my much-delayed haircut: I’ve probably needed one for “some time now”, but lately people have been fleeing In terror at the sight of my unruly locks, and pitchforks and torches were being readied. The threat to the mob is now sorted. Bonus points, today I got the young guy, and he was really interesting to chat with. The older guys I’ve had usually talk about sport, work, very superficial stuff. But today we talked about, among other things, how making YouTube videos because it’s what you want to do is more important than monetising them, unless that’s a business you’re running (seriously!).

My next stop was a nearby shop to pick-up something I ordered through click ‘n collect. There’s a story there, but it’s involved and includes a cleaning project I’m doing on Saturday (more about that aftwerward). However, as I walked back to my car with my purchases, the skies opened up and I was completely drenched. I changed my plans and went directly home, much to Leo’s delight. I didn’t need to go to the supermarket, anyway, so it’s no loss, but today’s soaking made me think that maybe I should keep an old towel in the car. It rains a lot in winter, after all.

While all of that is perfectly ordinary stuff, for a guy who’s had a lot of trouble getting stuff done, it’s a lot of activity in a short period of time. I don’t know that it suggests any sort of change or improvement or anything, but a good patch is always welcome, whether it hangs around or not.

Maybe tomorrow will bring more extraordinary-yet-ordinary stuff. Maybe sometimes determination really is enough?

This is revised and expanded from two posts I made to my personal Facebook. Because sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do, especially, for me, these days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 365 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 365, “So, anyway…”, 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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Hidden stories

Photos aren’t always what they seem, with hidden or unspoken stories behind them. Maybe the stories are revealed, or maybe they’re not, but the story remains there either way. The photo above is an example of that.

The photo of Leo up top is something I posted to my personal Facebook a week ago last night. I wrote, “Watching YouTube videos, as one does, and Leo says, “Oy, what about ME?!” And so it is.” While the specific motivation was that he looked cute, which isn’t unusual for him, of course, but there’s a story I never mentioned at the time—or in the week since. This post, then, is about the missing story.

Tuesday of last week was an awful day for me (because, reasons), so by the evening all I wanted to do was to watch some TV, then catch up on the YouTube Channels I subscribe to. I decided to watch the fourth season premier of a New Zealand-made reality show called “The Casketeers”, which is about Tipene Funerals (the series is on Netflix now, apparently). I’ve watched the show from the beginning because it’s just plain nice, and not merely entertaining.

What I’ve particularly liked about the series is the kindness and respect shown by the Tipenes and their staff, like, for example, they always talk of the deceased person as being in their care. I’ve learned so much about rituals and practices of Pacific peoples in particular, and I also learned more about Māori beliefs and practices, all wrapped up with their kindness and respect for the families, as well as a gentle, respectful way of teaching the rest of us. It’s extremely well done—and, I should add, it’s often very funny, especially because Francis Tipene (the husband) is a character, and the dynamic with his wife, Kaiora, is as entertaining as you’ll find on any general light entertainment reality show—and that’s a good thing, by the way.

I admit, I wasn’t sure I could still watch the series after Nigel died, for obvious reasons, but it turned out that I could, and it was actually oddly comforting. I definitely see or react to some things in the show differently now than before, but the feels have always been good—until that night.

One of the people in their care was brought to a Baptist church in Auckland for her funeral, and they first brought her into a side chapel so that the family could have some private time to say goodbye. Off camera, they removed the lid and put it aside, and later the camera showed the lid, which was plain MDF (may have been an unlined underside, I don’t know). The family had written all sorts of messages on it, which was one of the things Nigel told me he wanted for his funeral (in his case, it was all over the outside).

When I saw that scene, I fucking lost it. I positively wailed, something that hasn’t happened to me in I don’t know how long—a very long time, though. Leo was out of my sight at the time, but he heard me, came near me and looked at me with a kind of puzzled look that dogs sometimes get. He trotted off to the back of the house where he’d left his toy bone, trotted back to me, jumped up in my lap, and started gnawing on the toy. He’d stop every now and then, look back at me, and he’d flop against me. I heard somewhere that when a dog leans into a person, it’s their version of a hug. At that moment, it certainly felt like one.

Leo’s never really paid all that much attention to me when I cried, but this time he did. Maybe he’d sensed that I was feeling off that day, maybe it’s because it’s been a long time since I had a breakdown, I don’t know, but this time, when it did the most good, he was there.

He stayed near me the rest of the evening, and later on, when I was watching YouTube videos, he jumped onto the sofa, which is next to my chair, and played with his toys, stopping sometimes to just watch me. He looked so adorable that I had to take the photo above.

That night, he slept laying against me all night long, something he hadn’t done for a few weeks (lately, he’s been laying against me in the mornings rather than all night). It could’ve just been coincidence, but I was glad all the same.

I have no idea why that one brief scene in a TV show that I like set me off like an emotional rocket, but it did. Maybe it was because I’d had such a shitty day, maybe it was just something that was overdue and bound to happen sooner or later, anyway—and I did feel better afterward.

I’ve often said that kindness toward others ought to be our default position because we can never know what someone else may be going through silently. I definitely try to practice what I preach, but sometimes the best way to reinforce my message is to share an example of what I’m talking about. That night last week, I shared a cute photo of Leo, but there was a then-secret reason why I took that photo, and it’s exactly the sort of hidden thing I’m talking about.

That night I had a bad patch (for whatever reason), and Leo was especially cute and lovable, possibly because of it, but appreciated regardless. I’m fine now, of course—I was fine after the “storm” ended. But I’m happy to report that Leo is still cute and lovable every day, if maybe a bit less attentive overall than he was that night.

This is was a story that was hidden in a photo of Leo, one not so very different from lots of photos I’ve taken of him, or of any of the other furbabies over the years. Even so, the hidden story is precisely what made it different from so many of those earlier photos. Not for the first time, no one would know the truth if I didn’t say something, but withholding truth isn’t how I’ve approached this whole journey up until now; I see no reason to change that.

Photos aren’t always what they seem, nor is what people convey and project in person. There may be hidden or unspoken stories behind them, and I believe we ought to be mindful and act with kindness toward others. Maybe the hidden stories are revealed, or maybe they’re not, but what happens may be influenced in part on how we treat those with hidden stories. The photo above is a simple example of how that works in real life, and this post supplies the hidden story.

Unusually, it seems, this post began life as something that I never posted to Facebook: I wrote the first draft a week ago today, intending to post it to my personal Facebook, but I changed my mind and decided it would be better as a blog post—again, “because, reasons”. And yes, there’s a hidden story there, too. Maybe that’s for another day.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Catching up on the little there is

This will come as a shocking revelation, I know, and I apologise for that, but openness is important, so, here goes: I’ve had a lot of trouble blogging lately. Technically, it’s not trouble with blogging as such—after all, in recent weeks I’ve posted several things on my personal Facebook that are, essentially, blog posts. In fact, my two most recent blogs posts (“Puzzle pieces”, and the one before that, “A mini-adventure”) began that way. Plenty of others over the past couple months were at least sparked by something I posted on Facebook.

This has come about, not for the first time, because of a sort of generalised ennui and malaise, which is also nothing new. I can’t point to a specific reason, though at one point I thought I might’ve caught the plague (I didn’t), but it affects me in precisely the way it has before: If I don’t write and publish a post in the daytime, it’s usually unlikely to happen that day.

This mainly means that there are a lot of things that I may talk about on Facebook, but not here, but it really means that there are a lot of things that I may talk about at all. I have some more Facebook-birthed posts I may get around to re-doing for the blog (as always, maybe…), but there are relevant things to talk about in the meantime, starting with updates on what I’m doing, or not doing, as the case may be.

This past weekend was the four-day Easter holiday weekend in New Zealand, and that included two of three and a half days a year when most shops must close: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The shopping ban is why I went on my mini-adventure, but it otherwise doesn’t usually affect me much.

Still, I planned around the bans, and didn’t plan on going anywhere that weekend. Because I didn’t have any special plans, I thought it would be a great time to work on stuff in the house, especially clearing out/organising my office, something I’ve nicknamed “The Project From Hell”. As so often happens, things didn’t quite work out that way.

I was extremely tired already when the weekend began, but when I looked out my front window, I saw that the weeds were again sending up their seed stalks: The lawns needed to by mowed again. That became my main project for Sunday, and I did nothing on The Project From Hell that day.

To be clear, I have made progress on the project, just not nearly as much as I would’ve liked: It “should” have been finished by now. I found out, first, that a lot of the stuff in my office actually belongs in it, and wasn’t just stuff I dumped there as I thought when I mentioned the project in a post at the start of this month. The fact that the stuff actually mostly belongs in my office means that I have to find somewhere to put it (after reaffirming that I still actually want/need it), and that made it into a bigger project than I expected.

I went through and reorganised boxes, repacking what I really wanted to keep, recycling some stuff, putting aside some stuff to be shredded, and throwing away the tiny amount that couldn’t be recycled or shredded. This is a subject in itself, too, but the thing that’s relevant to this post is that the work’s very slow, time consuming, and unbelievably boring.

Once I finally finish all that sorting/evaluation/pretending it doesn’t exist and doing other things, the actual reorganising of my office wardrobe will begin. To do that, I’ve long planned on putting a wardrobe organising system in the wardrobe (and the wardrobe of my guest bedroom), like I’ve done in the two houses Nigel and I shared before I moved to this one. It’s basically like the shelves I put in the kitchen, except with wire shelves instead of solid ones (for air flow), and it has a rod for hanging clothes. I bought two sets of shelving using reward points (and some cash), choosing a different system than I put in the kitchen because I had some spare shelves from the set I put in the master wardrobe in our house before the last one.

That’s a straightforward and fairly easy project for me, however, that doesn’t mean it’s simple.

The builder put in one single shelf in each of the two wardrobes, and they’re screwed to some wood attached to the walls on three sides. The hanging rods are all heaving metal pipes in brackets. To get a shelf out, I first have to remove the screws, all of which have been painted over. Then, I have to figure out how the wood shelf supports are attached to the walls, and then I need to remove them. This will almost certainly damage the walls, which I’m certain weren’t painted before the wood and shelves were installed.

Once I get the old shelves and their support out, I’ll need to patch the walls, prime those repairs, and then paint. I have everything I need to do all that—though finding the patching compound did delay this awhile, because, once again, I’d put it “somewhere safe, where I can find it”. However, the paint I have may not precisely match the white of the existing paint, so I’ll paint the entire inside of the wardrobes, which will (or, should…) make any imprecise colour match pretty much unnoticeable.

THEN I can install the new shelving systems. Sigh.

So: Take the tediousness of going through everything, the extra work I’ll have to do to prepare the wardrobe before I can install the new shelving, mix in that generalised ennui and malaise, and season generously with IDGAF, and the result is that not much has happened with The Project From Hell, and it’s also basically why nothing much us happening with this blog, either (I kinda don't want to even go in my office). Even so, some progress has definitely been made on the project, and I have posted some things here on the blog.

This weekend is another holiday weekend: The Anzac Day public holiday is on Monday, and up until 1pm is the half-day trading ban. Again, that doesn't really affect me, not the least because I don’t have anything planned for that trading ban public holiday, either. Maybe I can squeeze in some attention for things I want to work on. For a change.

There are other bits and pieces I could’ve mentioned, of course, including some more Facebook-born stuff, and maybe I’ll get to that. For now, though, that’s me catching up on the little there is that’s been going on.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Puzzle pieces

For the past month, most of my FB “Memories” have been about the original Covid Lockdown, or other things about Covid. This makes sense: It’s certainly dominated the news over the past two years, and especially this time in 2020. So, it was nice to see a FB “Memory” about ordinary life, as I did a couple days ago (image above).

The “Memory” is basically about enjoying the fact that Nigel was taking his annual leave, and we would’ve spent it at home. We seldom went away on holiday, except maybe for a weekend to visit family. Mostly, Nigel just preferred to stay home, what Americans nicknamed a “staycation”, because he just wanted to relax and decompress from his intense, stressful job. The furbabies and I loved having him home.

Nigel and I spent nearly all of our spare time together, and he started working from home (like me) more and more as the years passed. We both loved having the other one around, and no, for Nigel it wasn’t just so I could make him cups of tea! At least, I don’t think it was…

What was so great about the “staycation” thing is that we’d go out for lunch, maybe wander around the shops a bit, or maybe go for drive. Or, we might just watch a movie at home. Just nice, relaxing stuff done together.

People think that mourning the death of a spouse is about missing them being around, but that’s only one part of it. It’s also about losing the shared way of life, the day-to-day ordinariness, our shared past, and everything that could’ve been our future, together. Mourning the death of a spouse is an enormous thing precisely because it’s so enormous.

Little memories, like the one FB served up today, are, by themselves, just nice, sweet memories of good times. But they’re also a piece of the puzzle that is our life, a puzzle that now has too many missing pieces to ever be completed in a way that even remotely resembles the picture on the metaphorical box, the image we had of what our lives were going to look like.

But we all change our lives all the time, don’t we? When I was a little boy, I was sure I was going to be a preacher like my dad and his dad, then some years later I was going to be an archeologist, then, a few years later still, a politician—all of which is hilarious to me now. Instead, I constantly revised my path to take advantage of opportunities, to achieve goals, and then to build a life with Nigel in a different country located far away and in the two opposite hemispheres from everything I’d ever known. That wasn’t merely the biggest decision I’ve ever made, though, it was also the direct and logical result of literally everything that happened in my life leading up to the point at which I made my choice. The pieces of the puzzle of my life, it turned out, connected seamlessly with Nigel’s own puzzle.

These days, I’m in a state of flux, once again revising my path to take advantage of opportunities, to achieve goals, and to again build a life, one without Nigel. I make lots of mistakes, I frustrate or disappoint myself all the time, and sometimes I even make myself angry at myself—exactly like I did all those years ago.

My original path led me to the best life, better than I could possibly have imagined. Maybe that’ll happen again, maybe it won’t, but as I work to assemble the new puzzle, I keep finding pieces from the old one, and it turns out that they all fit into this new one. I don’t know what this puzzle’s going to look like because the metaphorical box has no picture—and I now realise, it never did.

Funny the things a thirteen year old memory can spark, like seeing the entire puzzle, and not just the areas where nothing seems to fit. This piece did fit, though, and that’s how puzzles are completed: One piece at a time.

Those staycations were truly awesome, though.

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook on April 16.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A mini-adventure

I went on a mini-adventure yesterday: I went to a neighbourhood shopping area a relatively short drive from my house, closer than the big name places I normally go to, and with far less traffic and congestion on the roads—even at the end of the school day, it turned out. I didn’t know all that because I’d never spent any time in that area before. It proved educational in a lot of ways.

It all started because I wanted to pick up some chicken for tonight (I’m making my own-style chicken stir fry; “own-style” means not a recipe as such, just a bit of this, a bit of that, whatever I have that I feel like putting in it). I could’ve gone to a supermarket, but the Thursday before Easter is usually crazy busy (the shops are all closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as they are every year, and yet somehow masses of people manage to forget that—every year—and mob supermarkets).

It made me wonder if there was butcher shop near me, since all I wanted was chicken, and it turned out there’s a fairly large one in an area of Hamilton called Nawton. I didn’t know there were many shops in that area (because I hadn’t been there), but I knew it wasn’t exactly an upmarket part of town. Still, I don’t let that stop me (not in daylight, anyway), so off I went.

It was really well-stocked with diverse cuts, including cheaper things like bacon bones, brisket, and large bags of frozen chicken drumsticks, for example. The prices seemed pretty good, but I wasn’t certain because prices for meat and vegetables have soared in recent weeks, and I no longer have any idea what supermarkets charge for the same things. However, I noticed that they seemed to pack most things into packages priced at $15, and some packs were marked as “bargain packs” at $13.99 (same use by date). Personally, I’d find that easy for budgeting. As A result, I bought a little more than I’d intended. [I later did a price comparison, which is at the bottom of this post]

The same little shopping area has some food places (like a sushi shop), a branch of a Waikato-based bottle shop (“liquor store” in Americanese), a pub/cafe-ish looking place (it had a “gaming lounge”, which might influence the clientele they get), and it also had the Nawton branch of Countdown (I forgot there was one), and a small independent food store (“supermarket” doesn’t seem like the best term for it).

I plan to go back again, on a less busy day, at least to go back to the butchers, but I’d also like to look around the Nawton Countdown, too (the one I usually go to sometimes tries my patience…). So, when I need my next supermarket trip (next week or the week after), I think I’ll go there, maybe have some sushi for lunch, too. I like supporting local businesses, especially independent ones, so I’m willing to give it a go.

I guess more mini-adventures await.

A footnote: Price comparisons

Today, I decided to compare the prices I paid at the butcher with what two supermarkets charge, so I went to the websites for both Countdown and New World and tried to match same to same. The short version is that in every case, I paid less at the butcher than the current non-discounted prices at the two supermarkets [Important note: Supermarket prices were accurate at the time I checked, but they may change quickly. Also, in the case of some prices for Countdown, I had to work out the unit price because the supermarket didn’t provide that information, displaying only the price for a small pack. I may have made errors in those calculations, but I doubt it]. One kilogram (kg) = 2.2 US pounds, and today 1 NZ dollar equals around 68 US cents. 

Chicken: I bought boneless/skinless chicken breasts and thighs, and both were free range. At the butcher, the breasts were $13.99 per kilogram, at Countdown it was $18/kg, and New World charged $24.99/kg. The thighs were $17.99/kg at the butcher, 25/kg at Countdown, and $22.48/kg at New World.

Premium Beef Mince: This is the top-of-the-line sort of beef mince (“ground beef” in Americanese), with the lowest percentage of fat. I paid $19.78/kg at the butcher. Countdown didn’t have premium beef mince available on its site, but New World charged $24.99/kg.

All three suppliers sold basic versions of the meats (in this case, meaning non-freerange), though I had to look at the butcher’s website to find out their price for ordinary versions. Chicken breast: $13.99/kg at the butcher, $12.90/kg at Countdown, and $11.99/kg at New World (the price listed at the butcher is the same as free range chicken breast—maybe that’s all they offered at the moment?). Chicken thigh: $16.99/kg at the butcher, $22/kg at Countdown, and $22.99/kg at New World. Beef mince: $13.99/kg at the butcher, $14.90/kg at Countdown, and $14.99/kg at New World.

All up, the directly comparable products were usually considerably less expensive at the butcher, and, with the possible exception of chicken breast, the prices for non-freerange products were also cheaper at the butcher. It’s important to note, however, that supermarket specials, promotions, and package deals (like Countdown’s “3 for $20” offerings) can make supermarket prices competitive with the butcher’s prices (putting aside issues of personal preference).

The lesson I take from this is that if I’m not making a special trip, it probably makes sense for me to buy meat from the butcher, but it would probably erase all or most of the savings if I wasn’t buying other things at that shopping centre, too, especially because I eat very little meat. If I was feeding a family—or even two people—it would make more sense to make a special trip. Still, other shops in that shopping area may provide the rest of what I need in a routine shopping trip, and, if so, it could be worth stopping at the butcher, maybe stocking up and freezing stuff.

As it happens, I’ve been researching budgeting for food as a single person, and that’ll be the subject of an upcoming blog post. This turned out to help with that research. Not bad for an unplanned mini-adventure.

This post began life as something I posted to my personal Facebook yesterday, but this blog post is greatly expanded from that, including the price comparisons.

Friday, April 08, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 364 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 364, “Changes all around”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. A list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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