Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Much to learn

I don’t know how to be a widower. But, then, I also never knew how to be a husband (in the legal sense) until I became one. On the other hand, back when Nigel and I first began our life together I was sure I knew how to be a life partner, but I was wrong: I had so very much to learn. I still do.

I used to think that the pain I feel, or at least its severity, would diminish in time. I don’t believe that any more, and now I think—though “hope” may be a better word—that I’ll eventually learn to live with it, just like I’ve learned to live with the side effects of my prescriptions.

Learning, then, is the obvious thing to do. I can’t prepare or plan for a life I could never, ever, have anticipated happening, or so goddam soon, but just as I learned how to be a partner and husband, so, too, I’ll have to learn how to be a widower, no matter how much I hate doing it. And I absolutely do hate it.

I’ll have to learn how to be by myself the vast majority of the time, when I was seldom alone for long when Nigel was alive. I’ll have to get used to talking to myself and the dogs instead of those wonderful, interesting, educational, and fun talks Nigel and I would have every day, sometimes going on for hours. And, I’ll have to grow old by myself, a prospect neither of us ever considered.

I put all that in the future tense because I’m definitely not yet there on any of those things; I still have so much to learn. The problem is that I don’t want to, and that conflict is, right now, unconquerable.

However, I’ve learned a few things already. I learned it’s possible to lose the love of my life, my true soulmate, and the shared life that was at the very centre of my universe, my one true compass point in the middle of the ocean, and my lodestar in the black, cold, vast emptiness of space, yet still wake up every morning. While I’m still pretty useless at living this radically different life, I have at least learned to live and be alive, and that’s no small thing, given what I’ve been through, the enormity of the job ahead of me, and the huge amount I still have to learn. That’s why I have hope I’ll learn what I need to, because I’ve already learned so much.

I don’t want to be a widower, nor learn how to be one. The first is a done deal, and the second is a necessity. It’s hard work, with many missteps yet to come, because I still have so very much to learn.

I started a thing

Today I started a thing (pictured above). I apologise for being so vague, but that's all I'm prepared to say at the moment. I mention it at all just to keep me honest so this doesn't fall by the wayside as so many of my projects have over the past few months. Plus, I wanted to share something good that happened today, after dealing with Jake joining the fun this morning by throwing up (he was fine shortly afterward—it was just something he ate that he shouldn't have eaten). That was on top of a gout attack in my knee. So, this thing I did was a good thing that happened today. Trust me on that—for now.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Sorting stuff out post-lockdown

Everyone knows that New Zealand’s lockdown interrupted lives and livelihoods, and it also disrupted the supply chains for the ordinary daily stuff we’re used to finding easily. It turned out that the effects were more far-reaching than that. Many of us are still trying to sort stuff out.

During lockdown—even before it, actually—there were major problems with having enough stock in supermarkets. The government was so concerned about the supply of medicines, it limited prescription renewals to a one month supply, instead of the customary three, and they even limited how much paracetamol people could buy. We adapted to all of that.

There were three factors, mainly, that led to that situation: Panic buying at the supermarkets before lockdown, which led to depletion of stocks. Then, the borders were closed here and in other countries, which made it more difficult to bring in foreign products. At the same time, the lockdown resulted in the suspension of manufacturing for many consumer products, and all non-essential products. All of which created shortages.

We all dealt with the situation the best we could, and, fortunately, I wasn’t as badly affected as others because my needs are fewer as a solo person, and because brands don’t always matter to me. That’s why last April I was willing to try ordering-in groceries from a company I’d never used before, one that normally supplies restaurants and cafes, but that has a home supply service, too. The supermarkets were restricting deliveries at the time, and it was nearly impossible to get an order in.

That unusual path meant I needed to order an enormous bag of flour and a big supply of yeast (both of which I’m still using). At the time, it was my only option for those particular things.

In April, the supermarkets expanded delivery and I became so excited that I immediately placed an order for delivery (I know, I really need a hobby…).

Big bag of rice.
The next month, I placed another order, and while that one was far less exciting, it led to my first mistake: I needed ordinary long-grain rice, and I was looking at the unit price to evaluate which was the best buy, and that led me to buy a 5kg bag of rice, which is rather a lot. As it turned out, I was able to use quite a bit to feed Sunny, and I will again, so the rice turned out to be not such a big deal, even though it was a very big bag.

More recently, I wanted to buy refills for my hand soap dispenser. None of the supermarkets had the refill of the variety I use, so I ordered a very large 5 litre bottle from the company that makes it (the normal size sold in supermarkets was 500ml. That bottle is, it turns out, difficult to wrangle, due to its weight, but ordering that way allowed me to also get a particular variety of their liquid dishsoap and their dishwasher rinse agent, neither of which were in the supermarkets I visited (both of those are part of the shower cleaning supplies I use, something I meant to have blogged about a long time ago, but… things happened. Soon, maybe).
Big soap. Bottle on right is former ordinary refill size.

Fast forward another week or so, and I went to a supermarket I don’t normally go to and I saw that they had the refills, but in a new and larger bottle. I guess that its absence was a manufacturing issue as the company geared up to make their stuff again, and after that it still had to get to the shops. That means that buying a 5L bottle of liquid hand soap wasn’t a mistake, because it was all I could get at the time, but the reason I bought it was because I didn’t know its absence was due to lack of supply, not the usual willfulness of supermarkets of both companies (my description, of course).

In the time of any adversity, most of us do the best we can do. Lockdown and slow lifting of restrictions created a whole bunch of challenges for everyone. In my case, that mainly meant buying large versions of products I’d normally buy in smaller sizes. I think that means I got through it all unscathed, relatively speaking. That’s good, because other stuff definitely wasn’t as good for me as for others.

Whatever the case was for us, and no matter the challenges we faced, many of us are still trying to sort stuff out. I don’t know about others, but for me, getting products is the least of my problems.

The photos above both have a pair of reading glasses for comparison of relative sizes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Representative of my life right now

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

The post above was the first I shared on Instagram. So much has changed in the seven years since: Three and a bit years later, I’d be in hospital getting a cardiac stent, six months after that, Nigel and I moved to the southern edge of the Manukau Harbour. Six years after this photo, we were a month out from what would be Nigel’s last birthday (I never blogged about Nigel’s birthdays).

Now, the dogs and I are in a new house alone, without Nigel, in a different city than the photo was taken in, and, seven years after I took it, I think that photo’s representative of where I’m at in my life right now: Some things are obvious, some are indistinct, but it’s kind of hard for me to see anything clearly. It’s familiar and strange all at the same time. And the thing I notice the most about it is something I noticed back then, but didn’t pay much attention to: A feeling of aloneness and loneliness. Like I said, it’s representative of where I’m at in my life.
And today it’s cold and raining. Seems appropriate, somehow.

Related: “And another” – my blog post about that photo, published the same day I posted it to Instagram, July 22, 2013. Back then, I didn’t embed the original post as I did above. Like I said, so much has changed.

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook this morning. Among other things, I added links to relevant blog posts.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Sunny’s not well

Sunny hasn’t been well since before her teeth were removed, but it’s been episodic and inconsistent since then: Sometimes she’s absolutely normal, other times she’s obviously unwell. Back and forth, seldom unwell longer than a day, and sometimes only part of one.

I took her to the vet, and they’re doing some tests. Among other things, they say that it could be related to her heart disease (her mitral valve). The blood tests will help narrow the diagnosis, and it may be that heart medication would help her by easing her symptoms and prolonging her life—well, that last one is more what would be good for me, but still.

We knew when she was still quite young that she had a heart murmur, and now that she’s in the equivalent of being in her 70s in human years, the “defect” is starting to matter. She won’t be long-lived, but she still could have some good years. Anyway, that’s all something to think about another day, when I know more.

It’s been a very difficult time over the past six weeks, more or less, since her surgery. At first, she struggled with dry food (I assume because she tried chewing with her gums, which must’ve been painful). I tried working with her diet to find something she could eat, and I eventually did, though the periodic upset “down there” kept returning, usually after several days in which she was perfectly normal—including even playing games with Leo or me.

While the vet tries to work out what, if anything, I can do to help her, in the meantime I have “sensitive” food for her, which hopefully may be easier to for to digest (or eliminate normally…). I have no idea if she’ll even like it, and it’s very expensive, but I owe it to her to try it.

This is an evolving story, and without any certainty, including about how it will play out, or how long. All that’s been bothering me, of course, and showing up in unusual ways. For example, it’s time to renew her dog registration, but I’ve been putting it off because of the irrational fear that doing so might make her check-out. I suppose that’s mainly because everything’s been out of my control, and in such circumstances it’s easy to focus on the silly and paranoid—and especially because I'm alone, and she's one of my ties to the life I had with Nigel.

Right now, she’s not in any pain, she’s not usually in any discomfort, and her quality of life is still good—for several days each week, at least. That’s what I’m focusing on. Because right now it’s all I can do.

Monday, July 20, 2020

It came from a song

We can draw all sorts of inspiration from all sorts of places. It doesn’t really matter where we get our inspiration, but what we do with it, how it shapes our thinking and actions, that’s what’s important.

Last week, I published a post called “The three faces of Me”, which was part of my ongoing series of posts about my new life. It was also about all the things that made me into the Me I am today, including what I’m dealing with. There’s nothing unique about this sort of thinking or way of describing one’s own development, but it was actually inspired by a pop song.

The truth is, I’ve been thinking a lot about “old me” in recent months specifically because of a song by 5 Seconds of Summer called, appropriately, “Old Me”, which I included in a June Weekend Diversion post about the band (the link goes directly to my discussion of the song, along with the lyric video of it, or LISTEN on Spotify). I liked both the song and, as I said in my post, “I really liked the whole concept of ‘shout out to the old me’ theme.” It struck a chord, so to speak, with me and made me think about how “old me” influenced who I became, just like in the song.

I’ve been influenced by pop music before, usually songs that resonate with me emotionally. While “Old Me” did that, it was actually a minor part of it. Instead, thinking about how life shapes us became the focus for me, and the main reason I liked that song so much.

I’m keenly aware that there are people who would smirk at the very suggestion that a pop song could be inspiring in any way, which says more about them, I think, than maybe they intend. People get inspiration from all sorts of things—paintings, movies, books, the list is endless. I don’t think that any of us has the right to judge where other people get inspiration. Consider it another extension to Arthur's Law.

In any case, the song didn’t exactly lead to a life-changing realisation or anything; as I said, there’s nothing unique about thinking about the influence of “old me”. Instead, the song merely inspired me to think more deeply about how my own life was shaped by the “Me” from various stages of my life—and, in fact, that there even were distinct stages.

We can draw all sorts of inspiration from all sorts of places. Even though it doesn’t really matter where we get our inspiration, there are people who will miss it for themselves, or dismiss it for others, because of the source. That’s a pity. We all should take inspiration wherever we find it. Even if it’s a pop song. What we do with that inspiration is what’s important.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Weekend Diversion: Various viewed videos

Another week, another eclectic bag of videos from around the world. Not surprisingly, that’s just like the music video TV channel I watch, because that’s where I first ran across these videos.

The video above is “Death Bed (Coffee For Your Head)” by 21 year old Canadian singer-songwriter Powfu (real name Isaiah Faber). The song features a sample of “Coffee” [WATCH/LISTEN] by Filipino-British indie rock artist beabadoobee (real name Bea Kristi) . He said his inspiration for the song was watching romantic films and “I was feeling emotional, I guess”.

The song was pretty successful. It hit Number 5 in Australia (Platinum), 11 in Canada, 5 in New Zealand (Gold), 4 in the UK (Silver), and 23 on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100” (Platinum).

Up next, a song that features Powfu, “Friends” by Mishaal:

Mishaal (real name Mishaal Tamer) is a 20 year old Saudi-Ecuadoran singer-songwriter who’s from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but has been living in New York City, where he attended the Clive Davis Institute. The song was recorded while NYC was under lockdown, which the video, released May 23, reflects. The song is catchy, but I have no information on chart performance, so I don’t know if anyone else thought that. His multi-lingual 1:47 long video for “Arabian Nights” is also interesting [WATCH/LISTEN].

Next up, “This City” by Sam Fischer:

Sam Fischer is a 29 year old Australian pop-rock singer-songwriter and musician. The song is about Fischer’s struggle with Los Angeles. He wrote it in 2016, and it was recorded the following year and was originally released in January 2018, but didn’t chart. It became featured by users on TikTok and—not the first time this has happened—it led to the song being re-released, which was in December 2019, when signed to a new label.

I liked the sound of the song, but I never heard it until the music video channel returned. At first, I wasn’t sure who he was or where he was from. I was somewhat surprised when I found out he was Australian, because the sound isn’t typical for their pop music, nor are Fischer’s vocal runs, both of which are fairly common in New Zealand pop music. Maybe Fischer’s time in the USA accounts for that?

The song hit Number 17 in Australia (Platinum), 72 in Canada, 20 in New Zealand (Gold), and 16 in the UK (Silver). In the USA, it hit Number 5 on Billboard’s “Bubbling Under Hot 100” chart, and Number 18 on their “Adult Top 40” chart. This week it’s number 29 in New Zealand.

Finally, a song that’s kind of related to the first one, “If the World Was Ending”:

The song is a duet between 27 year old Canadian singer JP Saxe (real name Jonathan Percy Starker Saxe) and 26 year old American singer and songwriter Julia Michaels (real name Julia Carin Cabazos). The song, which was written by the two, was released in October of last year, but I knew nothing about it until the music video channel resumed.

The version of the video played on TV has been edited to take out the “emergency bulletin" at the beginning and end. It could be that in a geologically active country like New Zealand such a thing wouldn’t be a good idea, but the reference to “fallout shelter” seems like a reference to nuclear war, which seems to be related to some to the imagery in the video. At any rate, something very bad is happening, apparently.

Another video version of the song [WATCH]was made to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to raise money for the the group’s efforts to fight the global pandemic and released in April of this year. The participating artists recorded themselves while in isolation.

The original version hit Number 29 in Australia (Platinum), 13 on the Canadian Hot 100, 20 in New Zealand (Gold), 14 in the UK (Silver), and in the USA, it hit 19 on Billboard’s “Mainstream Top 40” (Platinum). It’s currently Number 23 in New Zealand.

And that’s it for another video-watching excursion around the world.

John Lewis

John Lewis, the civil rights veteran, and a man often called “the conscience of the Congress”, died July 17 (USA time) of pancreatic cancer. Those are the basic facts that many news outlets reported, and many people have also made eloquent tributes to the man. There’s really nothing I can add to what’s already been said, so I thought I’d share a few of the things I ran across over the past couple days.

The video above is Lewis speaking at the time he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the video is available through the Obama White House archives). Lewis was one of several people announced as recipients on November 17, 2010. President Obama awarded the medal in February, 2011. [Related: Wikepedia has a complete list of recipients of the medal].

Those, too, are news items. But I thought the video, and hearing Lews’ own words, was more meaningful than anything I could say.

There’s a movement to rename the Edmund Pettis Bridge for Lewis. The bridge is currently named for a Confederate general and leader of the Alabama KKK—in other words, a traitor and violent racist and white supremacist. It’s appropriate to rename the bridge for Lewis, especially because that’s where Lewis and others were attacked by “law enforcement” and national guard men because they dared to protest for the civil rights of Black Americans. Lewis’ skull was fractured in that attack; he’s lucky they didn’t murder him, as many of the attackers almost certainly would have preferred.

Such things still happen in the USA as we’ve seen recently when “law enforcement” has used brutal repression against peaceful protesters who, surely just coincidentally, were protesting to justice for Black Americans, or to snatch people off the streets of Portland, Oregon.

Much work remains to be done. Lewis would want everyone to stay focused on that work, to register to vote, and then to actually vote in defiance of the forces of darkness that trying to suppress voter turnout any way they can. This is all hard work. John Lewis knew that because he lived it. His work needs to be finished so that no one has to keep fighting these same battles over and over again.

Re-naming a bridge after John Lewis, a true American hero, would the good and right thing to do. But to really honour the man, the country should rededicate itself to finishing Lewis’ life’s work. That’s not just the good and right thing to do, but a moral imperative, too.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Nor any drop to drink

About a year ago, I wrote about not drinking alcoholic beverages because of medication I’m on. I talked about non-alcoholic wine I’d tried, and said it was “quite good”. Yeah, well, not so much now.

The alcohol-removed wines I’ve tried aren’t like the real thing, and some are very different—and not in a good way. As in June of last year, I still like their “sparkling cuvee” the best, but it, too, just isn’t the same, though it’s better than most similar ones I’ve tried.

Since then, I’ve tried some no-alcohol beers, too: The DB Export Gold 0.0% was pretty dreadful, mainly because it’s oddly sweet. The Heineken 0.0 (referred to as “Heineken zero”) is very, very good—in fact, of all the no-alcohol substitutes I’ve tried, that one is the one that’s closest to what its alcohol-laden cousins taste like. Actually, it’s probably the only one that does.

Early last year, I praised it when Heineken started advertising against drinking and driving, though I never mentioned the brand by name, which is good since that video is now private. They later used similar ads to promote their 0.0 version, but those aren’t online, either (maybe the contracts of the famous people in them expired?). Their current ad is much more traditional [WATCH].

In July of last year, I updated the teatotalling post (link is to the specific section of that post), and I noted:
People don’t drink wine or other alcoholic beverages just for the taste, even if that’s one reason. If we’re truly honest, most people drink it—at least in part—because of the pleasant effects that come from it.
But when those “pleasant effects” are missing, does that diminish the experience? No, not really—at least, not in my experience. I’m now used to not experiencing those “pleasant effects”, and, instead, I can enjoy the social aspects with others who are drinking the real thing, but without the negative effects (like hangovers). Until I switched to the Heineken 0.0, though, it wouldn’t have been for taste, too, as it is now.

Which isn’t to say that I never want to experience those “pleasant effects” again. In fact, some ten weeks after I made that July 2019 post, Nigel died, and if ever there was something that might make someone want to drink alcohol, and probably for something beyond the “pleasant effects”, that would be it. And yet, I never did. That was partly my resolve to stay the course, partly a “that’s not my way” sort of thing, and partly that I was just too busy to even think about it.

Nowadays, I don’t mind not drinking alcohol, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future once I can drink it again. But one thing that’s the same as in my post in June last year is that I still plan on “keeping it as one of my choices after I’m off this medicine regime”, though now “it” is more likely to refer to the beer. I’m also more likely to think of this switch as permanent, rather than as merely a no-alcohol substitute to have whenever others are having the real thing. For me, it’s kind of become the real thing.

Things are now quite different, in so many ways.

The title of this post is, of course, from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The three faces of Me

If we want to, we can break our lives down into sections or stages, and that can often be a good way to understand who we are and what we’ve been through and learned. At the moment, I have three distinct stages in my life, and they’re at the heart of all my personal stories.

The first stage, which I’ll call “Original Me”, was before I met Nigel, and it has everything that made me ME: My childhood, my schooling, my family and friends, and so on. The second stage, “Next Me”, was with Nigel, and now the third, “Current Me” is the Me after Nigel. It’s way too soon to even guess if there will be another distinct Me in the future, but for now, three of Me is quite enough.

Original Me is the backstory for everything that’s followed—my entire life. When I want to understand what I think or feel about something or someone, or why I react the way I do, chances are good the reasons began there. Next Me was the bulk of my adult life, from 36 to 60, and they’re the years when I changed, grew, and improved from what Original Me was. And now Current Me will be a blend of both, with even more changes. This latest version may turn out to be Transitional Me, or it may turn out to be the Forever Me that’ll be Me for the rest of my life, but either way it’s the culmination of everything so far.

It may sound surprising, given what I’m still going through, but this awareness of the many faces of Me is a very good thing. I’ve always loved change—I think it’s exciting. Nigel was much the same, and he and I looked at our life together as an adventure, one which, we both thought, had many more chapters to come.

From its very beginning, our life together was always about moving toward something, never away from it. When our life together began, I didn’t move from the USA, I moved toward a life with Nigel. We moved toward a new adventure in Paeroa, then our adventures brought us back to Auckland, then on to the southern edge of the Manukau Harbour. All of those changes were about moving toward something.

Similarly, when our shared adventure ended, my move to Hamilton was about me moving toward whatever my new life, and new adventures, will be. In fact, it still is.

Life is always in motion, until it isn’t, but moving toward new adventures isn’t the same thing as “moving on”, which is a very loaded phrase. I’m moving forward, but I have no intention of moving on.

To me, moving on implies forgetting or repressing whatever came before, and there’s simply no way I’d be willing to do that. In time, I’ll learn to adapt to my new reality and my solo life, but I won’t abandon the life I had, nor could I: It would mean leaving Me behind.

We’re all the sum of everything we’ve experienced in our lives, and my life with Nigel is still the most influential part: I had 24+ years with him, and that’s longer than I had with my parents, who died when I was 20-21 (and I was a child much of the time I spent with them). Because all my life with Nigel was all in adulthood, he was, and still is, the single biggest influence on my life. So, there’s still a lot that Next Me can do to help Current Me. In fact, I can’t fully become Current Me without Next Me. Or Original Me, for that matter.

While I (of course) have no way of knowing what my future holds, I do know this: Whatever it is, it’ll be built on all the versions of Me that have existed so far, and Nigel was the most important part of that evolution.

And that’s why I’m moving forward, not moving on. I don’t want to leave any of Me behind.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

I broke this blog – again

I managed to break this blog—yet again. It started yesterday, I discovered it today, then, in trying to fix it, I made things far worse. Technology!

Yesterday, when I posted the new badges for my grief journey, I accidentally deleted a widget to make my blog use Disqus for commenting, rather than the inbuilt commenting system from Google's Blogger. I only found that out this morning when I went to fix a typo and wanted to see the comment that Roger Green left. That's when I found out it was using the old Blogger commenting system again.

For recent readers, I switched to Disqus in the first place because I got sick of dealing with the constant barrage of spam comments. In fact, even now, there are more than a thousand spam comments waiting to be deleted (somehow, spammers got past Disqus to post directly in Blogger, even though I wasn't using it.

One big advantage of Disqus is that it allows users to edit their comments, something that's handy for me (I always correct typos when I find them, no matter how old they are). It also allows easy formatting of text in comments (like Italic, Bold, etc).

Google hasn't done much to improve Blogger for years, and the old commenting system has been neglected for as long as I've had a blog—13 years this year. Maybe the "new Blogegr" fixes some of the issues? I don't know because when Blogger defaulted to the new version on July 7, I immediately went back to the old one—the new one was truly awful and very user un-friendly.

When I realised the blog was borked and Disqus was gone, I tried to fix it. However, the help pages for Disqus were about as useless as Google's normally are, and no amount of—ahem—Googling gave me any answer. I tried editing the HTML code for the blog, but that didn't work.

One suggestion from Disqus was to, basically, nuke all the gadgets—put them back to their default setting. Nothing else had worked, so with a "what do I have to lose?" attitude, I thought, why not?

It turned out, I really should have made a back-up first.

When I nuked the gadgets, it killed the one I had that made so all my Labels displayed as a drop-down menu instead of a list. I did that so very long ago that I couldn't find the HTML code I used to place it on my blog (if I ever saved it at all). I tried to find it, or different one, again, with no success.

After my attempts to "fix" the blog, I ended up with a two-bit commenting system and a long list of Labels (with my carefully crafted "Subject Badges" at the bottom. In other words, the blog has gone back many, many, many years in the past. Who says time travel is impossible?

I'll continue to try and fix the Label issue, but if I can't I'll switch it off completely, and maybe also add a couple more Subject Badges in its place. The commenting problem may be unfixable, though. Maybe if I change themes or something I can fix the code then. Or, maybe I can break something else.

I have zero tolerance for frustration right now, and I yelled out more than a few "naughty" words along the way. I also thought that maybe it was time to just end the blog altogether. I'm clearly struggling to post, and the page loads are pretty consistent, leading me to think that most of the "readers" are actually bots and webcrawlers, not real people. If I'm having trouble blogging, and hardly anyone is reading it when I do, well, what's the point?

The answer to that question is, "good question!", and it's one I don't have an answer for. I may continue, or I may stop (though if I do stop I'll announce it here first). While I can't handle frustration right now, I don't want it at any time, not when I'm doing this all for free.

I'll fix the blog problems as best I can in the days ahead, but, as the record shows, it'll take me awhile to decide on whether I'll continue the blog or not. If I do, at some point I'd put real focus on it to see if I can make it a bit more read than it is. It was at that point I thought to myself that maybe I should just start over, with a totally new blog.

None of those thoughts are new, of course (I've talked about them before), but this time they were all motivated by the fact that I managed to break this blog yet again. I do feel like I'm kind of getting over this sort of thing, and all the mostly self-inflicted destruction. But that, too, is part of using technology.

Update – July 15: I moved the long list of Labels to the bottom of the left hand side, and renamed it "All Labels/Tags". I can live with that.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Labelling my journey

We humans name absolutely everything—things, places, events, matter, everything. It’s proven very useful. It turns out that labelling periods in our lives is useful on its own. If we label periods of time—the neolithic, the Age of Enlightenment, etc.—why not label periods within our own lives?

All of this is especially useful for bloggers, because labelling stuff allows us to group related posts together under the same label. It was for that reason that several months ago I asked my Facebook Friends for suggestions on how I could label my various posts about my journey after Nigel died. Today I’m introducing those labels.

It took me several months to get to this point, not the least because of all I had to do settling into the new house, selling the old one, and being on the very journey I wanted to label. And, of course, there was the Covid-19 lockdown in there, too.

So, it wasn’t until early April that I finally got onto to it. Everything about that was complicated.

I wanted the labels to express different aspects of the journey, but I didn’t want a lot of words. My solution was to make what I call “subject badges”, those graphics along the left side of the blog that are really just a way to quickly search for all the posts with that label. I wanted the graphics to expand on the labels themselves, to express the full purpose of those labels through the use of explanatory subtitles. I hadn’t done that before, but they’d make clear what the posts were about.

I made the labels and the subtitles for the badges combining the suggestions made to me in early February; there were so many great ones, and I wanted to find a way to use as much as I could. It turned out that there were a lot of themes that kept popping up, even if the words varied.

The first label is “A Survivor’s Notes”, and is subtitled, “My journey through grief”. If I got it right, that’s self-explanatory. The imagery is a broken heart, but one that’s all jagged and out of focus. In my trade, we call the fuzziness “artifacts”, usually caused by low-resolution graphics, JPEG graphics in particular. That’s probably less evident at a small size, but it had meaning for me, symbolising not just a broken heart, but one that’s now indistinct, “fuzzy”, out of focus. The fonts for the label are basic and orderly, to symbolise the need for order despite everything, and the text is short because surviving grief involves a lot of short, broken thoughts, and action done in fits and starts. The word “Notes” is a nod to the Facebook “Notes” where the posts began. The subtitle is a simple script to symbolise the essential humanness of the journey.

The second label is “Building My New Normal”, however, in this case I expanded on the label for the badge: It’s “Building my new normal, and new life.” The subtitle is, “My journey out of grief”. The symbolism in the way the title is presented in the second one is that a journey out of grief suggests a kind of reorganisation of one’s life, and restoring some semblance of order. This is why the first one is just a title, and the second one is presented as a sentence. The label is also presented like a blueprint, because the journey out of grief involves planning, design—and work. The heart is still there, since the lost love will always be there, but it’s also now whole—and empty, because so much is missing. The subtitle is in the same script as the first tag because the processes aren’t actually distinct, but part of the same journey—different aspects, but the same nevertheless.

Most blog posts don’t sit neatly under only one label because their topics may touch on several other topics. I’ve always used labels for the subjects I talk about in a “significant” way—maybe at some length, maybe as an important part of the larger topic, that sort of thing. It’s no different with these new labels.

Some of posts about this journey can best described by one label or the other, but in other cases, both labels are relevant. They’ve all been labelled “AmeriNZ”, which is the label for any post that has anything whatsoever to do with me personally, which makes it my most-used label (well, this IS a personal blog…). Clearly the label’s far too broad to use to make it easy to find only posts about my journey, though I'll still label all these posts with that, too.

All of which is how the labels and the badges came to be. Using them turned out to be fraught.

I started adding the labels to new posts a week or so ago, but I wanted to have all the previously published posts labelled before I put the badges on the blog—or, as the cognoscenti like to put it, before “going live”. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to skim/read all the posts to see if they needed one label or both. There were a lot of tears caused by that process, which made me very, very glad that I didn’t do it during lockdown. I don’t know that I’m any stronger now than I was then, but I do have ways of dealing with emotional distress that weren’t available during lockdown. Still, I made it through and didn’t need those support mechanisms, so maybe I am stronger now?

And that’s the story of these labels and why they were difficult to do. In this journey, very little’s been easy, so I didn’t really expect this process to be, either. But labelling things does make them easier to organise and understand. We humans are good at that.

Fixing my mistakes

This will come as shock, but it turns out that it’s impossible to get everything right when setting up a new house. That’s okay: There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, but learning from them is important. As is fixing them when we can. I’m doing all of that.

My window coverings were installed at the end of February, as I blogged about at the time. In that post, I described what I chose and why, especially:
The other two bedrooms [the guest room and my office] have roller blinds (like old fashioned window shades, but adjusted with a chain, not a spring). They give privacy at night and block-out sunlight, and they’re also less expensive than other options.
Yeah, well, that was a big mistake. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the roller blinds would only be good at night, when they block out light, something they do very well. But in the daytime, they have to be up to let the daylight in, which means that in summer when the sun is hot, the heat is intense. Closing them to keep the heat out means keeping all the daylight out, too. In the case of my office, I need to close the roller blind every afternoon, regardless of season, because the sun eventually shines directly in my eyes because my desk is in front of the window. This isn’t ideal.

So, I recently decided to install the same kind of Venetian blinds that are in the windows in the master bedroom and the lounge. In other words, all the windows in the house will match, they’ll all preserve my privacy, and they’ll all let me control the amount of light that shines into the house. It’s a win all around.

There is a cost to this, of course, but it also adds experience and lessons learned. The truth is, I was penny wise and pound foolish: My drive to save money is costing me more money and causing me hassles. Live and learn.

I considered putting in some other blinds, ones I put up myself, but I knew that having all the windows match would be the best thing, and I’d learned my lesson about trying to cut costs in the wrong place. So, I ordered the blinds from the company that put the others in, and they should be installed in around four weeks.

However, the roller blinds aren’t a total loss: The windows in the garage are the same size, and I’ll eventually install them in the two windows there. In the summer, I can close them in the morning to keep the hot sun out, and also at night in winter to keep it warmer in there (part of my plan has always to be to use my garage as a workshop for projects, among other things, and that’ll help keep it more comfortable for more of the year).

I made a mistake back in January when I cut costs in the wrong place, but I learned from that and didn’t cut costs in the wrong place again when I decided to fix that mistake. I’ll also be able to reuse my “mistake” in a place I probably would’ve put “cheaper” window coverings, so, as mistakes go, this one was actually pretty minor.

This has also shaped my thinking and decision-making around all my future decisions about the house and the changes I want to make: I’ll redouble my efforts to make the right choice, and not choose something just because it’s the cheapest.

Through all this, I hope to reduce the number of mistakes that need to be fixed. At the very least, I’ve learned from my mistake, and I’m fixing it.

The photo up top is the roller blind in the guest room. Another thing I fixed was to put the control on the left side (easier to get to). The sunlight is shifted to green by the colour of the trim around the window, which is kind of weird looking. The photo below is of the blinds being installed in the lounge back in February.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Weekend Diversion: Conan Gray

A recurring theme of these Weekend Diversion posts is that the videos I share are often from people I’d never have heard of if I hadn’t seen the videos. Today’s artist is an example of exactly that.

Conan Gray is a 21 year old American singer-songwriter who began his a career by uploading videos to YouTube, which made him a "YouTube Personality". The songs in this post are all on his debut album, Kid Krow, which was released March 20 of this year. The album hit Number 26 in Australia, 5 in Canada, 32 in New Zealand, 30 in the UK, and 5 in the USA.

The video up top is the first one of his I’ve seen, and, so far, the only one I’ve seen on TV. The song is “Maniac”. When I saw the video I at first thought it was very superficial, but I saw it several times afterward and I eventually wanted to know more about the artist, someone I’d never heard of.

I ended up watching several of his earlier videos, non-musical ones in particular. In some of them he talked about his songwriting, and how the songs were largely fully formed pretty quickly, and each one has a particular meaning. Many of the songs have pretty complex and interesting structures, which is always a plus in pop music, in my opinion.

The song “Maniac” is mainly a sort of middle finger to “maniac” ex-lovers, in a full-on pop music frame. It works, I think, as did others: The song hit Number 24 in Australia (Platinum), 29 in New Zealand, 25 on the USA’s “Bubbling under the Hot 100” chart (and 38 on Billboard’s “Mainstream Top 40 chart”). It was also certified Gold in Canada and the USA, despite not charting in either country.

Next up is the single before “Maniac”, “Comfort Crowd”:

The song was released on September 5, 2019, but it didn't chart. Gray wrote the song after moving to California, where he was born, to attend university. He has said he was lonely and missed his friends, and the song is about that. He also said that any adolescent would understand the idea that they need to “kill off” several versions of themselves along the way.

Next up, the first single of this year, released in January, “The Story”:

This song, which also didn’t chart, is more melancholy than the others, and is basically about his difficult childhood. He’s talked about that (including in some of his non-musical videos), especially the fact that he was bullied growing up in Texas because of his Japanese ancestry. But, despite the bad things, “it’s not the end of the story”.

Finally, “Wish You Were Sober”, which was released this past March:

The song is a pretty straightforward pop song, about what’s lost from the use of alcohol. He apparently had folks say they loved him only when they were drunk, which is referenced in the lyrics, too. The song hit Number 14 in New Zealand, but otherwise didn’t chart.

And that’s it for yet another artist I hadn’t heard of until I saw his video on TV. I’m sure there will be more.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Dog bookends

I noticed their pose a little while ago, and I had to take a photo of it. “Dog bookends, just now, 🙂” is how I captioned the photo when I posted it on Instagram. Because that's what it looked like to me—that, and cute. Leo was on my lap at the time, and I was watching TV. That’s a really good evening, right there.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

The Raglan Adventure

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Today was a more or less impromptu adventure: My first trip to Raglan, a surf community approximately 48 kilometres (around 30 miles) west of Hamilton. The trip was the first of what I hope will become occasional day trips on weekends, mainly to spots that are an easy drive from Hamilton. The plan is that they’ll be a mix of new places to see (or some to see again), markets, etc.

My cousin-in-law and I hatched the plot last night when went out for dinner. We were both free, and thought the idea of day trips was a good one, since we’re both keen to take some photos as well as see different places. Raglan was just the first.

The GPS said it would be about 35 minutes from my house to Raglan, though most estimates say it’ll be 45. Some of the roads are winding and/or hilly, and that may account for the difference in time estimates: If I’d been driving, it would’ve taken longer because I feel less confident on challenging roads.

A Raglan tourist information site describes it this way:
Raglan is a town like no other. Equally popular with tourists, surfers, artists and hippies Raglan is all about the lifestyle. You can wander the cafes and shops, hang out at the beach or catch a wave at the world famous point breaks. Raglan life moves at a slower pace than the rest of New Zealand and those that live there wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s a pretty accurate description.

We first went to the beaches to take photos. It was cold, mainly due to strong winds. The photo up top is of Manu Bay, and the one below is a selfie looking toward Whale Bay Surfing Beach (we didn’t actually go to that beach because it looked like it was difficult to get to). The photo up top is darker and moodier than the day actually was because I set my white point in the glare so it wouldn't blast out the photo. I kind of like it that way.

After the visiting the wild coast, we headed into Raglan itself, heading to the wharf. We stopped at Soul Shoes, a handcrafted leather goods place (neither of us bought anything), and then went on to lunch: Fish and chips at Raglan Fish, which gets good ratings. It was very nice—and appropriate.

The next stop was Tony Sly Pottery, where we both bought something. After that, with the weather starting to close in, we headed home.

I liked visiting Raglan, and next time I’d like to buy more artisan stuff, and I’d like to visit some of the art galleries there. That’ll take some nicer weather, and maybe on a weekday when it’s not as crowded. We’ll see.

I thought Raglan really did have a laid back, arty vibe—as well as also being like many seaside holiday communities. It was a nice blend.

While we were wandering around the wharf area, I saw a gay couple in one shop, though I didn’t know that at first, since I don’t normally pay much attention to other shoppers in a store. I only realised it because I had to get out of the way of one of them—precisely because I wasn’t paying attention. I saw them again later at another place. The thing is, I always like seeing gay couples because it makes me feel good to see couples enjoying doing stuff together, like Nigel and I did. However, that also make me a little sad because they have what I used to have until nine months ago. Still, it’s entirely possible that seeing them helped influence my generally positive opinion of the place.

I hope to get back to Raglan, but it took me all these years to get there for the first time. Still, I have no idea where these adventures will take me, but I’ll no doubt document what those adventures are.

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Friday, July 03, 2020

Sunny is twelve

Today is Sunny's twelfth birthday. How’d that happen? The Instagram photo above is her official birthday portrait, though, as in previous years, she wasn’t too keen on posing. Even so, I like it.

Sunny has had a bad time lately. Most day she seems like her same old self—even better than she had been in awhile. But other days she’ll skip a meal and, sometimes, have some diarrhoea. It occurred to me today that after the better part of two weeks on antibiotics, her system may still be a bit screwed up. I gave her a little bit of yoghurt today, which she liked. She was lovely and happy today, which is a good thing. The most important thing, actually.

So, Sunny’s had another trip around the sun, and she’s the last of us to have their first birthday since Nigel died. I’m the one who’s been sensitive about that—they didn’t seem to be bothered on their birthdays. It must be nice to be a dog.

Happy Twelfth Birthday, Sunny!

Related posts:

Sunny is eleven – Last year’s birthday post
Sunny is ten
Sunny is nine
Sunny is eight
Sunny is seven
Sunny is six
Sunny is five
Sunny is four
Sunny is three – Her first birthday with us
Sunny has arrived – When Sunny came to live with us
All posts mentioning Sunny

Cold times

Winter is always cold—that’s why it’s winter. But in Auckland it doesn’t get as cold as other parts of New Zealand, except for a short time, maybe. Hamilton, however, and the Waikato in general, is another matter entirely. It gets cold here in winter, and this year has proved that.

When Nigel and I lived in Paeroa, which is also in the Waikato, it got very cold—far colder than Auckland, and cold enough to put ice on my car windscreen. Ice scrapers weren’t sold there, so I had to use warm water to try and melt the ice enough for the windscreen wipers to removed it.

I’ve always hated being cold. Because of that, when Nigel would talk about us moving to Hamilton, I told him my “conditions”: The house had to have heat pumps (later on, it became ducted air conditioning—basically, central heating and cooling). It also had to have underfloor heating, good insulation, and I later added double-glazed windows.

The truth is, none of those “conditions” were anything more than things I really did want, but it was more fun to talk about them as if they were non-negotiable; obviously, they were.

So when I found my house in Hamilton, it was well-insulated, had double glazed windows, but not underfloor heating and one heat pump in the main living area. I added another heat pump in the master bedroom. I moved in during the summer, and everyone told me how Hamilton’s had relatively mild winters the past few years, so, they seemed to be suggesting, I didn’t need to worry.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

The image up top is a screenshot of a post I made on my personal Facebook on what was the coldest morning of this year’s winter (so far?). That post was sharing similarly cold temperatures the night of July 1, 2016, and those temperatures got colder overnight, all of which I blogged about at the time.

History didn’t repeat itself: On Thursday night, the temperature dropped to -1.7 (28.94F). Last night it was comparatively balmy 1.9 (35.42F). Maybe it’ll stay “warmer” tonight, too, but the batteries died in my outside monitor, and unless I change them, I’ll never know what the temperature will be.

The bigger issue isn’t about batteries in the monitor, it’s about how to keep the house comfortable. There are definitely cold (or, cooler…) spots in this house, and the two other bedrooms—the guest room and my office—have no heat or cooling. I already know that the summers are hot, and now I know the winters can be cold, too.

To deal with that, I’m going to look at having a ducted air conditioning system system installed. I don’t know for sure that I will do that, but if my goal is to get the house ready for my retirement, then getting it set to maintain a constant temperature throughout the house year round would be a pretty good objective.

Actually, I’m looking at a few other changes, too, but nothing is very far along yet. For example, today I went out and stood along the fenceline to see how my shadow fell on the house in later afternoon. I’m 6’ 3”, and my shadow barely touched the house, if at all. This matters because I want to plant tall bushes along the boundary to give me privacy from the neighbours, and the ones I'll put in can grow to 3 metres tall (though they can be kept trimmed). What all of that means is that when I plant the bushes, their shadows won’t fall on my house (and windows) until late afternoon, about the time they do now, and when I close the window coverings for the night (to help keep the warmth in).

There are so many little projects like that, and I get a little impatient to get them done. I guess you could say I need to chill out. You might say that, but of course I wouldn’t. Chilling and coldness is clearly too sensitive a thing for me to make fun of.

I left a comment on my Facebook Post right after I made the post: "I was definitely not awake at 4.49am, and I have alerts silenced until 7am, so I didn’t get the 'happy' news until I took the phone off the charger a little while ago. The 'Facebook Memory' was just rubbing my cold nose in it."