Saturday, March 28, 2020

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 350 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 350, “Thirteen years” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

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

Friday, March 27, 2020

Life in lockdown

New Zealand is under lockdown—literally. That’s not just a buzzword or convenient nickname, it’s the truth for New Zealand. If people don’t stay home and follow the rules, they could face arrest and incarceration by the police, who are out patrolling. If things get out of hand, the military is on alert to help the police. A lockdown doesn’t get much more lockdown-y than that. So far, we're getting through it.

Most New Zealanders are obeying the rules, which simplify down to this: Stay local. It’s okay for people to take a walk in their own neighbourhood, but they shouldn’t drive to a park or the beach, and for the same reason they mustn’t go for a swim, surf, fishing, or hunting: Something could go wrong, and they might need to be rescued, which, among other things, could endanger rescuers.

The government’s advice is simple: Act as if you have COVID-19 and keep your distance from everyone. People contemplating an activity should consider the risk that being rescued might put someone else in. It’s not just about the risk of drowning at the beach or getting into trouble in the bush, but also that a car can breakdown or get into an accident. Any of those would be bad enough, but in a time of national emergency, it could stretch resources needed elsewhere.

So, stuck at home, people are coming up with ways to keep themselves occupied, and many are sharing them on social media. In my street, many people go out for walks once or twice a day, often with their dogs—which means lots of dogs (and their people) that I’ve never seen before. One household seems to go to the supermarket every day, and there are only three adults, a child, and a dog in that household, so they may need to find better ways to occupy their time.

I’ve spent my time working on some small projects, including the one I talked about yesterday, but even those I’m not in a hurry to complete: I want to pace myself so I don’t run out of things in the first few days, because otherwise I really won’t have anything to do but deal with the mountain of boxes in the garage. I’d rather have options.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I’ve developed a certain amount of sloth: I haven’t really tidied up since I finished unpacking my car the other day. That was mainly some tools I’d left the boot, so it’s not a lot of stuff, but still. However, all the lawn equipment’s batteries and their chargers are still out (in my defence for both of those crimes, I don’t have anywhere in the garage to put tools yet).

Today I also recorded a new podcast episode with Jason, though I still need to edit it. I’ll do a new one of my own soon, too. That and, obviously, blogging help fill my time. And TV—probably a little too much of that.

Even so, each day I have a repeated thought when I think about tidying or whatever: “Who cares? It’s not like anyone’s going to see this for at least a month.” But I’ll see it, which is the point, and the reason why I don’t listen to that thought. Today, for example, I cleaned the house more or less like normal (Friday is my cleaning day), though I certainly didn’t rush finish it—it’s not like anyone’s going to see it, right?

Friday evenings I often have family around to my house for dinner—either I cook or we have takeways. Not now, not while we’re under lockdown. So instead I’m making myself a dinner I wouldn’t usually make for myself, a warm marinated chicken salad. Admittedly, part of this is to make sure I use fresh stuff before it goes off, but it’s still more trouble than I’d usually go to for just me (by which I mean that on most days if I can’t do it in about five minutes, I don’t want to bother; I’m actually more or less serious about that, too).

So here we are nearing the end of Day 2 of the lockdown, and so far we’re all surviving. But the first few days, even the first week or so, may be the easy part. What will we—or me—feel like in week two or three? Whatever it is, I’ll no doubt document it here.

Today we have 85 new confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 368. Of them, 20 people were hospitalised (8 are in hospital currently, one individual with underlying health issues is currently in intensive care). 37 people are listed as having recovered.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


One of the big projects in my new house, aside from the mountains of boxes still in the garage, is one I’ve joking called “Terraforming”, because it involves transforming a largely barren construction site to a garden space I’d want to spend time in. I started that project last week, and it’ll be partially continued during the lockdown. It would take weeks and months regardless, but if the lockdown goes on too long, it could delay most of the work until Spring.

This past Saturday, I bought a lawnmower, a 36V battery powered model with a brushless motor (Nigel would have approved). I wanted a battery powered mower because it’s cleaner (most of New Zealand’s electricity comes from renewable sources), and they tend to weigh less than petrol powered mowers, which are often all metal. And petrol mowers stink and are very loud when running.

I’d considered hiring a lawnmowing service, but in addition to the (admittedly small) ongoing cost, there was also the fact that this is a relatively small property (only 600 square metres, including the house), so it was manageable for me. I also knew my doctors would be pleased that I was doing it and getting some exercise.

However, I didn’t want to spend money on any lawnmower until the house in Auckland sold. That happened last Friday. My specific motivator for acting now—the day after the sale was final—was the impending lockdown. I knew that if I didn’t get one then, I’d have to wait, maybe for months. That would be a big problem because I wouldn’t have an alternative: I wouldn’t be able to go pick up someone else’s mower to do my lawns, and I knew that lawnmowing services would be suspended during the lockdown. Getting a mower was the only logical thing to do, and, fortunately, by then I’d thoroughly researched brands and models.

Saturday evening, I took the mower out back to make sure it worked—out back, even though the front needed mowing more desperately—so that if I had trouble, no one would see me struggle. I did have some trouble until I worked out the proper sequence of button pushing to get it to start.

I set the mower to its highest setting (because the lawn and weeds were so high), and then I tried a mowing just a little bit. It worked great so, with a “what the hell” attitude, I went ahead and mowed the entire back lawn. Took me maybe 20 minutes, and used about a quarter of the battery.

It rained all or part of the next two days, so I wasn’t able to mow the front lawn until Tuesday. Then I took the line trimmer we already had and went around the entire section. All up, maybe half an hour, and the lawnmower battery was again maybe a quarter used, though I had to change the line trimmer’s battery to the other one (they’re the same ones used in our drills, but I’d been using one in a drill, so it was mostly empty). All the batteries are now fully charged.

And that’s where I stopped, because aside from mowing, there’s only a little more that I can do.

The photo up top is a before and after shot of the back lawn: I took the “before” photo on February 18, at the height of the heat and lack of rain. The “after” photo is one I took yesterday, after temperatures cooled and we had some rain. As I continue to mow, it’ll thicken, but only so much.

Cracked Earth.
Part of the problem is that the developer sprayed grass seed onto bad soil (in the old days, apparently, they’d put down some good topsoil first, but not any more). That’s part of the reason that the soil cracked, as is easier to see in the photo at right.

The solution is to spread gypsum to help break up the soil, and I have a spray on version (to make it easier on me, I admit). That will help, but I’ll still need to sow some grass seed, something I can’t buy until the lockdown is over (because I forgot to get it before it started). I’ll also need to do some “weed and feed” thing to start killing off some of the weeks, but the two strongest ones won’t be affected.

One of the weeds is called paspalum (Paspalum dilatatu), a grass weed that’s very difficult to get rid of. Apparently, the only available herbicide is glyphosate, since the one that used to be available was based on arsenic (I’d rather not use either, actually). The problem with the weed, apart from the fact it takes over, is that some people are allergic to it (I don’t know why, but I know the plant can host a fungus that makes some grazing animals sick).

The other weed plant is kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum), a grass native to East Africa. It’s extremely hardy and drought tolerant, and its roots can hold soil, which is useful. On the other hand, it can crowd out or even kill other plants, including pasture grasses like rye grass. It, too, is very difficult to get rid of (and it doesn’t compost very well, either).

My lawn is filled with both weeds because the developer didn’t water the grass seed once sowed, and the weeds had a chance to take over. It’ll be a years-long project to get a better lawn, I think.

Still, at least the kikuyu stays green even in drought, so I don’t mind that one as much as the passpalum, so that’s the one I’ll concentrate on removing—when I get the chance. For now, regular mowing, cooler weather, and rain will all encourage what’s there—the kikuyu in particular—to thicken up. So, if this lockdown continues until winter, at least there will be less mud for the dogs to walk through.

One final aspect to the lawn project is that the ground was littered with a lot of rocks—and other things. The photo at left is of the first things I recovered: The rock and glass came from the lawn, the rock and bit of china came from the mulch. There were actually a lot of rocks in the lawn area, and I needed to remove the big ones so that the mower wouldn’t send a rock hurtling through a window, something that could become more likely as I gradually lower the height I have the mower set on.

So, clearing rocks in the soil was what I was doing in a photo (taken with my phone on timer) that I posted to Instagram yesterday:

I was using a grabber thing to pick up the stones so I could put them in the black bucket-like thing, something I came up with so that I wouldn’t have to bend over to get the rocks or, worse still, get down on the ground and back up again, two very unpleasant options. I did this in both the front and back of the house. I have a use for the rocks I collected, but that’s for a totally different project I’ll talk about when I do it.

Right now, I only have the gypsum spray that I can do, that and regular mowing. The rest will have to wait until the lockdown is over, or possibly next Spring, if the lockdown goes on too long. Not the end of the world, obviously, but it would have been nice to work on building up the lawn during this forced quiet time.

I have one more big project to do outside while we’re on lockdown, then it’s just maintaining what I’ve done—fairly simple, since not much will be done before the lockdown ends, whenever that is. I guess I’ll have no excuse to avoid the mountains of boxes still in the garage, but I’m sure it won’t be hard to come up with some.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

And we begin…

View this post on Instagram

…and we’re now under lockdown. 🤷🏻‍♂️

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Preparing for lockdown

At 11:59 pm tonight, New Zealand goes on lockdown for at least four weeks in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). As of today, New Zealand has 205 confirmed or probable cases, and no deaths. Yesterday, 1421 COVID-19 tests were processed around the country, raising the total to 9780 tests processed so far. All those numbers will increase.

Today New Zealand declared a State of National Emergency, which gives national and local government extraordinary powers to provide for the health and welfare of New Zealanders. At 11:59pm tonight, virtually the entire country will be under under lockdown. That means that wherever we are at that time tonight is where we are to remain for as long as we’re at Level 4, which the government thinks will last around four weeks.

New Zealanders have been in the midst of a shopping frenzy, trying to stock up before we go under lockdown—even though the government has stated over and over and over again that there’s no need to hoard food because supermarkets will remain open (with strict conditions of entry). New Zealand is a net producer of food, but it has also joined several countries in committing to keep supply lines open.

Kiwis have also been busy buying things to help them do projects around the house, and I’ve been in that category: I bought a lawnmower on Saturday, along with some bits and pieces for projects outside. My main project inside—with nothing much else to do—will be to finish unpacking the boxes in the garage.

Sunday, the day before the announcement of our move to Level 3, to be followed by Level 4 tonight, I went to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s house for dinner, then stopped at my usual supermarket to pick up a few things I’d normally buy this week. I wrote on my personal Facebook:
This evening I stopped at Countdown in Te Rapa, Hamilton, to pick up a few things, mostly just the stuff I’d buy any week. I did get three tins of two different products for the pantry, the only things that weren’t on my weekly list. One thing that I wanted to top up because I’m running low on was flour, but there was *none* of any kind, brand, or grade.

I was shocked at how empty the shelves were. This was despite the chain cutting their opening hours and restricting customers to no more than 2 similar items (and security was wandering around the store informing people of the limits), and despite the government repeatedly telling people to not panic-buy or hoard. Even if the country goes under lockdown, food will be available, so this is just stupid.

The store had signs up everywhere asking customers to “be kind” and leave things for others, too. Clearly people aren’t getting the message or they don’t care. Jeez, just imagine what things will be like when the zombies attack!

As for me, I got things I’d get any other week, plus a couple pantry items I don’t buy often, but often have on hand. Though I couldn’t get any flour. Point is, I tried to be responsible (I was also consciously trying to maintain social distancing, though others weren’t).

One other thing I did: I made sure I was nice and very friendly to the people working there. They’re visibly stressed and tired, and the *VERY* least I could do was to be nice to them. It’s what everyone SHOULD do. It really isn’t that hard to be kind to others, and these times demand it more than usual.
The next day, I headed out ot the home centre for some more things for one of my projects, and I added this to my Facebook post:
Update – Monday, 23 March: I went out this morning to pick up some last things for a project here at the house. On my way back I planned on stopping at New World, the other supermarket close to my house (different chain than Countdown), to see if they had flour and to get some milk (I’m running low on that, too). I didn’t go in. At around 11am the carpark was PACKED, something I haven’t seen on a weekday before—though I admit I don’t usually go there on a Monday at 11am…

There were spaces available, but I thought that even if each car had only one person (doubtful), it’d be hard to maintain social distancing. So, I went and got some milk at a superette even closer to my house, and I’m sure they appreciate the business.

However, when I got home I found out I do, in fact, have another bag of flour (I still haven’t organised my pantry, so I missed it when I was making my list yesterday). Whew! I’m so glad I was able to help someone needy—well, probably more likely someone greedy.
The point of all that, apart from sharing what I was doing, was that I didn’t hoard anything and, apart from supplies for my projects, I didn’t buy anything unusual.

There was, however, one unusual thing, as I added in an Instagram post on Monday afternoon:
THIS is my version of “hoarding”: Food for the furbabies. I’d normally buy this toward the end of next month, but I realised that if New Zealand goes under lockdown, the store where I buy their food probably won’t be considered an “essential service”. This amount should see me through a couple months at least. If a lockdown goes on longer than that, I may need to resort to supermarket dog food, LOL. The point, really, isn’t the brand of food, it’s that I’ll have plenty of options to buy food for myself, but they depend on me for everything. So, I’ll “hoard” for them, even if I won’t do it for myself.

A couple notes: I was *not* paid to show a photo of that particular brand—it’s the one I’ve used for years and years. Also, I’m joking about “hoarding”—all I did was buy what I’d normally buy earlier than normal (and the store had PLENTY of stuff in stock). These days it pays to be clear about such things.
So, even that “hoarding” wasn’t actually hoarding, it was just buying stuff a little earlier than I normally would, and it was only because I couldn’t be sure that vets and supply stores would be open (they will be, it runs out, with limited access). Still, it’s close enough.

I’m glad I bought the dog food because I have a strong feeling that the lockdown could very well last longer than four weeks, maybe eight—or twelve? It’ll all depend on what’s happening with the number of new cases.

The number of cases will go up for as much as two weeks as those currently infected show symptoms and test positive. After that, the number of new cases should decrease, however, I think that it won’t be dropping fast or far enough for the government to be sure that there won’t be more infections if they end Level 4 restrictions in four weeks. So, I think the government will extend Level 4.

Another reason I suspect that is that most of the relief packages put through by the government will last three to six months. It absolutely makes sense to build in a buffer “just in case”, unless they, too, think this lockdown will go on longer than expected.

This will be hard on everyone, for many reasons, but I think that those of us who live alone will find it much harder than many others. I’m really lucky that I at least have my furbabies to keep me company; if I didn’t, I might have had to go stay with a relative somewhere to avoid going stark raving mad.

There’s a personal irony in this situation: I moved from Auckland to Hamilton so that I wouldn’t have to be alone all the time, and now I will be anyway. Someone’s “got a sick sense of humour”, as the Depeche Mode song put it.

So there we are: About to be under lockdown, a state of emergency that can and will be enforced by the New Zealand Police and, if necessary, by the Defence Force, too. This is serious shit.

I have absolutely NO idea what I’ll do for four or more weeks cooped up in this house (we’re only allowed out to go for a walk, provided we stay at least two metres from anyone else, and we’re only allowed to drive to and from supermarkets, pharmacies, or other essential services: No driving around for a change of scenery, in other words.

I have some plans for what I’ll do, starting with the garage: All those boxes won’t unpack themselves, sadly. I’m also going to do some projects around the house, and I’ll blog about them—both of which will give me something to do. I hope I’ll find more to do. But for now, we wait to hear the locks being turned.

I hope this works.

The Depeche Mode song I referenced:

Friday, March 20, 2020

Six months

Six months ago today my husband Nigel died. Since then I’ve settled his estate, bought a new house and moved there, and today the last house we lived in together officially became the property of someone else. To make one of the biggest understatements of my life, none of this has been easy.

Today’s time marker has been on my mind for weeks. I had no idea how I’d feel today, or what I’d be thinking—apart from the obvious. As I pondered that, mentally and emotionally, I was also dealing with the sale of that house, which, as I said yesterday, has been incredibly hard on me.

Today I had a few cries, but I was mostly okay. Then I got a call from my solicitor’s office to confirm the settlement amounts, etc., and when the call ended, so did my composure. I again sobbed. And again whenever I thought about the impending transfer of ownership. And again when the solicitor’s office rang to tell me settlement was completed.

The last big cry was when I sat down and talked to Nigel’s photo (same one as the one with this Note). That’s something I don’t normally do. It started out well enough: “Well, it’s done, Bub,” I said. “Our house is gone.” I was still okay at that point, and when I talked to him about how I knew it was necessary, and it was for the best, my emotions started to overwhelm me, and by the time I said to him, “this is NOT the thing we wanted to happen, but it has,” I was sobbing again.

And in that story is the clear reality about this: It was never about that house, it was always and only about Nigel, about losing him, and the necessity for me to move forward alone when I still want my old life back. That’s why it was mostly stuff about that house that started me crying over the past couple weeks: Symbolism is a powerful thing, and that house was the embodiment of what we had, and what I’ve lost.

It’s not just been about emotions in recent weeks: Getting ready to transfer ownership of the house meant a helluva lot of work, often very physical, hot, and exhausting work. But, then, with medication keeping me extremely tired most of the time, that work was always going to be a challenge.

My health added another challenge I faced during this same period, when I found out my health insurance claim had been denied. I had to deal with that at the same time I was dealing with selling the house.

Taken together, I had way too much on my plate, and it’s little wonder I was exhausted and vulnerable in recent weeks, and so it’s also little wonder my emotions were so near to the surface. The only thing about this time that does surprise me is that I didn’t slug some idiot who pissed me off—metaphorically speaking, of course.

Yet I did get through all that, didn’t I? I cancelled my insurance yesterday and got confirmation today that my agent had filed the form. Instead of slugging some idiot, metaphorically speaking, of course, I said nothing. And also today, the last house Nigel and I shared changed ownership. The price I paid for all that was more tears than usual, which I think is pretty good deal.

When I was having my rational moments today—and they did vastly outnumber those that were less rational or that were purely emotional—I thought about how I definitely feel less burdened than I did before today because that giant weight holding me back is gone. I’m not happy—of course I’m not!—but I am definitely feeling freer. I’m not quite used to that feeling yet.

It also helped that yesterday I took care of other important business: I signed my new Will. This, too, has been hanging over me because I no longer have a husband to inherit everything. If I died without a Will, it would be an absolute nightmare sorting out my estate, but the bigger issue for me—the only issue, actually—was my furbabies: I wanted to ensure they’ll be looked after if I die, and the possibility of dying always seemed more likely for me than for Nigel, until it wasn’t. Nigel would have understood the reason for my determination to draft a Will, and if our positions were switched, he’d have been just as anxious to draft his, and for the same reason. Now that worry is gone, too.

Six months after Nigel died, I’ve accomplished so much that it surprises even me. But getting stuff done has also drastically reduced the amount of stress I’ve felt, which will set the stage for me to begin to figure things out, like whatever it is that my life will become.

But I’d really rather not be doing any of this. I often say I want my old life back, but that’s not exactly true: I want Nigel back, and it doesn’t matter to me whether that was our old life or a new one, as long as it was us together. That was not to be.

Six months ago today I lost my beloved Nigel. Today I also officially no longer own the last house that he and I shared, a symbol of everything we had, and everything I’ve lost. No wonder I cried so often.

Tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow I can start trying to work out exactly what that means.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

And, it’s done.

Today I went to my solicitor’s office and signed the papers to complete the sale of the last house that Nigel and I shared. I keep calling it that not merely to be precise, but also because it’s the reason this process, especially in its final stages, has been so incredibly hard on me, and man, it’s been difficult to get through.

As I said in a post earlier today, after I signed the papers, “I had a big cry when I got back to my car”. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before, although I do remember crying one day when I was driving to the hospital to see Nigel in his final days (it was probably the last day I drove myself; the rest of his last days family drove me to the hospital because I just couldn’t cope with that drive any more, for many reasons). In any case, today in the carpark was just the start, as I knew it would be.

I was tearing up on the drive to the house, but I pulled back so I could see to drive. Then, I again started to tear up when I went to the Japanese cafe for lunch. As I’ve said before, Nigel and I probably went there more than any other cafe in the area (except one other, maybe). But this was among our favourites because we both loved Japanese food, and only went elsewhere when we felt like something else. I got through that without crying, too.

When I got to the house I got right to work loading the car with a few things the buyers wanted gone, which kept me distracted. When I was done, I turned my attention to things in the house that the buyers wanted done.

One thing I wanted done is to clean up a spot on the floor that I knew Nigel had made. I won’t be any more specific only because I want some things private to me and Nigel, and this is just one of them. I mention it because I couldn’t bring myself to clean it when I still lived there, and the cleaner I hired after I moved out didn’t clean it, either (I don’t think she mopped the floors at all). But because the spot was from Nigel, I both needed and wanted to be the one to clean it up. So, I did.

I then organised all the keys for the buyer, and made another video, this time of the empty house. That was—challenging. It was worse, though, when I wasn’t staring at my phone’s screen, and just walking through the house, because I became increasingly emotional. I distracted myself by checking all the drawers and cabinets to triple check nothing was left behind. Then, I had to say my final goodbye.

I cried several places in the house, but not much in Nigel’s office, oddly enough (maybe because my body was taking a break?). I made up for that in our bedroom because I just sobbed, so much, in fact, I had to lean against a wall to stand up. I could visualise Nigel lying on his side of the bed having a nap and, especially, lying there uncomfortably in his final days. Even the mere thought of that made me tear up.

I cried again in several other rooms, including the rumpus room, where Nigel spent his last night in the house—with the dogs and me.

The realtor asked me to drop the keys off at the next door neighbour’s house so they’d be secure. They were awesome neighbours—the best we ever had. But before I could do that, I walked around the house and said goodbye to it and thanked it, which I did mainly to give me a chance to "get over” crying before going next door.

Chatting with the neighbours, I felt myself tear up a couple times and, as I’ve done many times before (including in the solicitor’s office, actually), I changed the way I was saying what I was talking about so I wouldn’t cry. It always works, so far.

I then started my car drove out the gate open gate, and stopped to close it with the button, since I had no remote any more. I got back in my car and watched in my rearview mirror as the gate closed, something I did every time I left the house. I was keenly aware I’d never do that again. And, I cried. Then I headed out, probably still sniffling, and drove toward my new home feeling—well, not better, exactly, but kinda?

And that was it: All my work was done, all that getting the house ready to sell, enduring the marketing, and finally accepting I’d get a lot less than I’d hoped. Actually, the final thing was several days of hard physical work as I cleared out the last of my stuff. The fitness tracker on my watch was pleased, though.

Because of all this—the stress, the emotion, the hard work, the exhaustion—I realised something. Call it an epiphany. Up until now, I’ve said I feel flat, not feeling much of anything. Today I realised that’s not exactly true. I may not feel any happiness, joy, or whatever, but I often feel sad, sometimes very much so, and so it hit me: It’s not that I can’t feel emotion, it’s that all the pain I’m enduring is blocking our all the other feelings. In other words, I can’t feel anything else when all I feel is deep pain. However, it means I do, in fact, experience emotion, just nothing especially positive very often. Yet.

Half of me was ripped away six months ago, and nothing yet has filled even a little bit of that massive void in my life. Yet what’s kept me going in this work over the past six months was Nigel: I knew he wouldn’t want me to curl up in a little ball in the corner crying all day, he wanted me to be okay. It’s taken a LOT of work to get to this point, and I know Nigel would be proud of me for doing it. And, I am okay, and what do I say? Right now, okay is good enough.

Today I completed everything I needed to do get ready to move forward, to truly start building whatever my new life will be. Nothing will keep pulling me back to the place where my life shattered, because there are now no real physical ties to that time and place.

It’s done. But I’m not.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

At the old house

I went to the old house three times in the past week to get the last of the stuff I’d left behind. Each time I went I felt different about the place than I’d felt before, and not just because the last two times I was alone: It was because I’m alone all the time.

I realised I felt a little sad about saying goodbye to the house—but little is the important word there: Mostly I felt empty, because the house felt empty, even though it was still staged until yesterday afternoon.

I needed to clear out the garden shed so I could bring the stuff back to Hamilton before settlement on Friday. I have everything out now (including the gas bottle for the BBQ; the movers won’t take gas bottles, and I’d left that one up on the deck). I have one more, final, trip to the house before it’s no longer mine on Friday: I go up to Auckland tomorrow to sign the settlement paperwork at my solicitor’s office, then on the way home I’ll swing by the house and do a last walk though to make sure there’s absolutely nothing left behind. It’s unlikely there will be anything there, but checking will give me some peace of mind. Mostly, it’ll give me the chance to say a final goodbye to the house and the life I had there.

I took a wander through it on Sunday, as I’ve always done when I’ve gone back (mostly to check that everything’s okay—I still own it, after all), and then I videoed a walk through the house. Originally, that video was just so I could show folks in the family the full context of how the staging looked. But as I walked through it, I realised it would be one of the last times I’d ever be there, and I also realised there will inevitably come a time I won’t accurately remember the layout. I could look at the video to remember, but the reality is, I probably never will.

That house was, as I’ve said before, one Nigel wanted in an area he loved, but it makes me sad that I never really felt what he did for that house or area. I wish I’d talked to him about that at the time so we could have worked it out together, but I wanted him to be happy, so I said nothing and tried to swallow my unhappiness. He saw through that, but was also silent. I know all this because we really did talk about everything in Nigel’s final days.

Even so, that house represents what was for a time a very happy place for us both because there was a feeling that Nigel and I definitely did share: We were happy there because we were together and with and our furbabies. That’s no small thing!

As I wandered the house on Sunday, I pictured our furbabies. I could visualise them lying in a spot somewhere, or running around, all of that. I had similar remembrances about spots in the house that were about Nigel, but I didn’t visualise him in those spots, in part because I can’t picture us in the house as clearly as I could before I moved out, and the furbabies are with me every day. That makes sense: Nigel left six months ago, and I left there nearly two months ago.

So, I felt a little sad about leaving our last home together, but I also felt empty because it stopped being our house months ago, and there’s almost nothing of us left there. Daily life is finally catching up with that reality.

I feel so conflicted about the house because, even though I didn’t love it, I loved Nigel, our little family, and our home together. My life now feels so empty, a bit like that house. The last three times I was there, it had all the stuff that made it look filled with life when, in fact, it was an empty imitation of life. Just like me.

It was different the last few times I was there because I’m alone all the time, and for me, that house is alone and empty, too. A few days from now, it’ll be gone from my life, and that’ll be a really good thing. When that happens, I know I’ll feel a little sad, but I’ll mostly feel empty.

Good riddance—and welcome to whatever comes next.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A chapter is closing

It’s not often any of us can say this, but: A major chapter in my life is about to close. Last weekend, I accepted an offer on the last house Nigel and I lived in, and yesterday the offer became unconditional. One week from yesterday the sale will be completed and the property will change owners. And that chapter will be closed.

I’ve been in limbo for months with that house looming over me: I couldn’t live there anymore, for all the reasons I’ve talked about before, and so I needed to sell it. But there was one challenge and expense after another, and the sale sometimes seemed impossible. I needed to persevere because selling the house means I can focus on my new house and life in Hamilton, and, most importantly, I’ll no longer be pulled back the place where everything changed.

I won’t go into specifics, of course, but suffice it to say that the offer was substantially below my original asking price, and quite a bit below my reduced asking price, so I’m getting less money than I wanted. While I’m not exactly happy about that, obviously, I’m nevertheless glad to be getting this off my plate, and the fact that the purchasers were able to complete the sale next Friday definitely eases the sting (seven days is incredibly fast).

The reality is that the house has no good associations in my mind, despite the happy times Nigel and I had there—up until September of last year. So, when I think of that house, I remember those good times, and how happy and (mostly) content we were just being together in our little family, but after Nigel died, the house itself became a symbol of everything I’d lost. Little wonder I couldn’t wait to get out of it, and rid of it.

With that house sold, I’ll be able to direct my energies to settling in here, in this new house and new city and new life. My garage here is still mostly boxes, stuff I have to go through in order to get this place to any sort of normality—whatever that means these days. However, the fact I’ll be able to focus on this house means I can actually make some progress on the mountain of boxes.

The lack of the distraction from the old house will also mean that I can focus my attention and energies more generally in this city. It’s not just about finishing this house, but also truly learning to live here.

There’s one final thing about this, something I’ve been completely aware of ever since the offer was first submitted: Settlement (completing the sale of the house) will happen six months to the very day since Nigel died.

I know that Nigel would be pleased that I managed to accomplish so much in six months—maybe a bit surprised, shocked, even (that's an old Nigel & Arthur joke), but happy, and even proud of me. This is one of those times when having a clear focus and strong determination has paid off. I’ve been helped every step off the way by friends and family, and, partly because of them, I wasn’t afraid to change direction completely when I needed to—and I did need to, several times. Maybe it was just a little bit easier for me because I knew that Nigel would want to see me settled into my new life-to-be as soon as possible, and I also knew I could make that possible. He knew that, too.

After I got the news, I walked past the new "Nigel Shrine", and I looked at his photo next to his ashes, and I said, “well, we did it Bub.” And then I walked away so I didn’t start sobbing yet again. Family was on their way over for the dinner I was making, and I had several things to do. My new life-to-be was waiting for me to join it, and I did. Actually, we did it, Nigel and me.

I often say that the only reason I’m here is because Nigel isn’t. By that I mean in Hamilton, but it’s also true that I’m in this new life-to-be because Nigel helped me be stronger than I knew I could be. He got me to this point through two and half decades of his love, support, and belief in me when I had none. Sure, I pushed this agenda, and I worked very hard to get to this point, but even though I was only doing it because Nigel wasn’t here, the fact I was able to do it all was because Nigel had been in my life and heart and, in fact, still is.

So, yeah: We did it, Bub.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Getting into training

A new train service between Auckland and Hamilton beings on August 3, the Government announced yesterday. It’s proof that it is possible to overcome petty local squabbles to move our entire region forward.

There’s been talk about such a train for many, many years, but it never went anywhere as local councils dug in their heels with a “we’re not paying for it—YOU pay for it!” attitude. Each Council is now playing it’s role, probably because central government is paying the vast majority of the cost. Now that it’s about to start service, the new train can become a very big deal.

There will be two stations in Hamilton, one at Frankton and the other at the new Rotokauri Transport Hub, which isn’t far from my house—actually, nothing in Hamilton is very far from my house. Be that as it may, the park and ride facility at the transport hub will mean I can drive there, park, and take the train into Auckland for the day—saving me a lot of hassle and stress caused by dealing with traffic and parking—and, of course, in Auckland traffic often, even usually, means gridlock, and parking could easily cost more than the train ticket.

The bigger issue, though, is the future: Rapid rail. Transport Minister Phil Twyford said, “The Ministry of Transport… has work underway to investigate options for rapid rail between Hamilton and Auckland.” This matters because of the huge amount of growth happening within Hamilton and between here and Auckland. As Twyford noted, “As the Waikato and Auckland grow closer together, this new passenger train will become a crucial connection between these two major centres.” And it will. If growth continues at its current pace, sometime in the next 20 years Hamilton will likely become New Zealand’s second largest city. HALF of the country’s entire population will live in the triangle of Auckland, Hamilton, and Tauranga. Rapid rail would be a good way to move commuters along the Hamilton – Auckland route, easing congestion on the roads and making life better for commuters who have been pushed outward by Auckland’s high house prices.

Demand will push that possibility forward. Just as commuter rail in Central Auckland was moved higher on the agenda because of rising passenger numbers, so, too, will rapid rail on the Auckland – Hamilton route be moved up if people actually use the new service.

And that’s the catch.

The new Hamilton – Auckland train service has received funding through the NZ Transport Agency for only five years. While the government says, “Over that period the service will be assessed to see where improvements can be made,” the reality is that if ridership is low, it may not be continued, let alone upgraded. If Auckland’s experience is anything to go by, though, there may be pent-up demand for rail service along that route.

The only reservation I have is that I’m not sure that naming the train after an extinct bird was a good marketing move, given that this is meant to be a forward-looking project. However, there was opposition to the popular choice, “The Tron Express” (“The Tron” is a popular nickname for Hamilton), so it’s a reasonable compromise. In any case, it’s the service that matters, not its name.

This is a very important change, but, hopefully, it’s just the beginning. We’ll know in about five years.

See also:
“Hamilton-to-Auckland rail service to start in August”RNZ
“Start date set in stone for Hamilton-Auckland passenger train”Stuff.

This post is a revised and extended version of something I posted on my personal (private) Facebook.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

My Hamilton realities

Seven weeks ago this week, I moved into my new house in Hamilton. It’s been exactly as I expected (and that’s a good thing): I’ve had all the company, opportunity, and solitude I anticipated, and in roughly the right proportions.

I’ve had several (mostly) impromptu visitors in the time I’ve been here—more than we had in nearly three years at the old house (we got more at the house before that). That, by itself, makes this house far less lonely than the old one was, though it’s still lonely without Nigel, obviously. The important thing is that I have company that I don’t have to plan for, and I like that.

I’ve had three overnight guests since I’ve been here, which is also a greater frequency (so far) than at the old house, but I think that I’ll actually have fewer overnight guests here since so many of the folks who used to stay with us live in or not far from Hamilton. But it’s still early days (nights?).

I go out and about far more than I did at the old house, and, as I thought, it really does make a huge difference being so much closer to things. For example, there are two supermarkets less than ten minutes away from me, and a third is on the way. So far, I’ve only headed out to buy things or to visit family, but that’s not surprising: I’m still settling in, so I often need to go get something for the house (aside from groceries). I was looking forward to visiting family as much as having them visit me, so that’s been good, too.

However, I haven’t had a chance to explore much of Hamilton, apart from some stores. A “Natural Heritage Park” is close to my house, and I plan on exploring that at some point. There are also numerous walking trails all around Hamilton, and I’ve only been to one so far, and that was on Boxing Day, before I moved here. Now that autumn is here and the weather is cooling off, I think I’ll feel more like doing that sort of exploring. I didn’t properly anticipate how hot it would be in summer here. I didn’t want to leave the air conditioned house most days, and I was okay with that. So were the furbabies.

So, all of that is good, and it’s all stuff I was expecting, though I did think that by now I’d have explored more of Hamilton, outside of shops.

The counterweight to all this is my reality: As I’ve said several times, the only reason I’m here is because Nigel isn’t. That reality surrounds me every moment of every day, it still holds me tightly in its grip. That won’t end soon.

I have some bad days now and then. This past weekend, Sunday in particular, was truly awful. I had frequent bouts of crying—deep sobbing, really. It didn’t seem to be triggered by anything, apart maybe by some extra stress; I felt truly terrible, but it passed.

I also have okay days, too—and, as I often say, “okay” is good enough. I’m not happy, can’t pretend to be, and wouldn't even if I could. Most of the time, though, I’m not miserable, and I may not even be especially sad—except insofar sadness is always present, kind of like background radiation. I just feel kind of flat, as I said last month. But even so, it’s far easier to cope with than at the old house.

So, in the seven weeks since I moved into my new house in Hamilton, things have been exactly as I expected, with all the company, opportunity, and solitude I anticipated, and roughly in the right proportions. Despite the reason why all this is happening, I’m in a good place—literally, if not yet figuratively.

And okay is good enough.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Life in the alternate universe

Every morning I wake up disappointed that I woke up—coming back to consciousness in a different universe I don’t recognise or understand, one where the life I had and loved exists only in memory—or was it just something I dreamed? And then I feel Leo sleeping up against me, the other furbabies nearby, maybe even snoring. And I join the day in that alternate universe I woke up in. I carry on.

I knew that this year would be, at the very least, extremely challenging for me, and it’s pretty much been—well, worse than I expected, actually. Because while I knew I’d miss Nigel and my heart would ache without him in my life (or universe…), nothing prepared me for how empty this new universe would be. And yet, I carry on.

Every day I do the things I must do, though the only true “must do” on my list is looking after my furbabies, because they need me. Other than that, I try to remember some of the language spoken in this alternate universe, and what their customs are so I might fit in better. But something’s always a bit off, it doesn’t quite mesh, so I travel through this new universe without connecting with it. Even so, I carry on.

And through it all, the furbabies keep me grounded, demanding attention, affection, food, to go outside, anything and everything they did in our old universe, because they came from there with me. We carry on.

And I have friends and family who are quite a lot like the ones in my old universe, but the fact I sometimes forget how to communicate in this universe is an obstacle. Still, we all carry on.

This is all because those of us who knew and loved Nigel are existing in our own alternate universes, struggling to make sense of it when nothing makes sense in it. We can’t, any of us, quite work out how things are supposed to be here, where we now exist, so we all do the only thing we can: We carry on.

Every morning when I wake up disappointed that I woke up, I know that this different universe is where I now exist, together with my furbabies and family and friends—but without Nigel. There’s nothing any of us can do about it but carry on.

And then I get up, give the dogs their morning snack, and make myself a coffee. This universe is similar to my own, but it’s not my universe. Still, I carry on.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Happy dogs

The dogs are happy in their new home, as I said early last month, and the photo above is more evidence: Leo and Sunny are playing. That’s not unusual, but the duration was.

All the dogs play, in various combinations, but most often it’s Leo and Sunny. I tried to get Jake and Sunny to play tug-of-war, but it never worked. Leo and Sunny, however, play all the time, and the play tug-of-war, too. What’s new is how long they play it. It’s only a few minutes, sure, but it used to be seconds.

For the record, Sunny always wins. She’s taller than Leo and puts her paw on the cloth near Leo’s mouth and pushes it down until it’s too low for Leo to hold on. Sunny’s an expert at that.

None of this is important, of course, except that it’s further evidence of how well they’ve adjusted, and how relaxed and happy they are in their new home. Maybe I should become a dog?

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Photographic evidence

Take photos of your loved ones—lots and lots of photos. Take too many photos, way too many, because when your loved one is gone, you won’t say, “I wish hadn’t taken so many photos of them.” What you’ll actually think, no matter HOW many photos you took, will be, “Why didn’t I take more?” Trust me on this: I know.

I’ve started going through my photos of Nigel, starting with what’s readily available on my computer because the rest are stored elsewhere. Next I’ll go through them, too; it’ll be a big job. My plan is to put the photos all together so that anyone in the family who wants them can have them—or not, their choice. The point is that I know the photos matter a lot to me, especially now, and I want others to have those photos because they’ll matter to some of them, too. Again, if they want them.

I noticed some patterns in my photos. There are a lot of the furbabies (of course!), and some that were for blog posts. However, among them were far too few of Nigel, mainly because we seldom took photos of each other, and it was even rarer to have photos of us together (and many of those I’ve already shared). It turns out, though, that I have a lot of photos of Nigel sleeping because the furbabies were cuddled up with him and it was such a cute scene that I had to have a photo. I never planned to share them with anyone, but I did show them to Nigel who, generally speaking, liked seeing the kids, but not himself, in the photos. That’s one of the main reasons I have so few photos of him (while he was awake…): He usually hated having his photo taken. I wish I’d ignored that.

The photo up top was taken in 2014, in our house in Auckland’s North Shore, and was one Nigel asked me to take. So is the photo of him and Leo down below, which I took at our last house together on August 4 of last year—some seven weeks before Nigel died. Talk about a bittersweet photo! He wanted both photos taken because of the furbabies—our babies.

What began this whole thing is another photo, a much older one. It was in a box I unpacked, didn’t know where to put it, so I set it out on display in the lounge. Because of that, I’ve had a lot of time to look at it.

The photo that started my project.
The photo was taken sometime between 1997 and 2006. I know this because we bought Nigel’s Orioles shirt on one of our to trips to the USA, in either 1997 on 1999 (I forget which one). At the other end of the timeframe, the person whose house it was taken in shifted out in 2006. What’s important about it, though, isn’t the date, it’s the pose.

I said to Nigel at the time that the photo was nice enough, but I also told him that to me it looked like, “me and my good friend Nigel”. At that time, there were few photos of us showing any affection with each other. No idea why not—we just didn’t take photos like that for some reason. Nigel laughed, but he also saw what I meant (of course he did—he knew me better than anyone). But, as usual, he also took in what I was saying, and after that we started taking more photos in which we were clearly a couple. I have a few of those.

What I want, though, is a breadth of photos showing the Nigel I knew and loved, and who knew and loved me. I want to remember his big grin, often tinged with cheekiness when he was joking and wisecracking. I want to see him doing the things he loved—karaoke, sharing food with guests, or just hanging out with family. And I want to look at photos of our ordinary daily lives. I want all that because I don’t want to focus any more on the way he ended, especially his final day and hours, which is still seared into my brain.

I bet others in the family want the same thing.

I won’t share many of the photos publicly, even though I can now. That framed photo that started me thinking about all my photos is one Nigel wouldn’t want shared if he was alive because he was bigger back then. But the reason I won’t share most of them is mainly because I hope there will be so many that I just won’t be able to. I think I’m right about that, but I’ll know for sure soon enough.

Leo as a hat, August 2019.
Looking at the photos today, especially the candid ones he didn’t know were being taken, I was struck by how full of life Nigel was in them. It’s obvious in his smile and in his eyes, something in stark contrast to all the photos of me at the moment, as I said early last month. My hope is that by focusing more on the happy photos of Nigel, it’ll help restore the smile in my own eyes. It certainly can’t hurt.

So, that’s why you need to take lots and lots of photos of your loved ones, because there will come a time when you’ll want to remember those better and happier days. And while we’re on the subject, let loved ones take photos of you, too: If you die first, they’ll want those photos as much as you’d want photos of them. Be kind to them then by being generous with them now.

Trust me on this: I know.