}

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Eighteen months homed

Eighteen months ago today, I moved into my house in Hamilton. I’ve made a lot of changes to it over that time, and I have many more planned. In fact, I’ve been particularly busy the past couple weeks with various projects that I’m doing myself—and I really like doing stuff myself, and always have.

Two things. As houses go, this is a good one—certainly not perfect, but good (and it has a really big yard by modern standards, something the dogs and I all like). I think I don’t say positive things about it often enough, and that may make some folks think I don’t like my house, but that’s not the case at all. However, that leads me to the other thing: There is no such thing as a house that I would love, no matter how nearly perfect it might be, because I can’t share it with Nigel. That’s just reality. In practice, it means it’s not that I’m not happy with/in this house, it’s that I wouldn’t be happy in any house without Nigel. I expect that will change over time as I change things about this house and make it as I want it to be.

This really is a good house that meets my current needs, and I’m just working to make it truly mine. That’s been difficult and challenging because for 24 years I always did that with Nigel (who didn’t always get his way…). It’s not been as fun as it used to be.

If I seem to dislike my house, if I seem to complain about it, it’s only because there are things that annoy me, and I’m working on changing those things. This has taken me longer than I expected because I learned early on that rushing things often leads to mistakes, and simply by slowing down and thinking about it, I inevitably make better choices. And, as I continue to make choices and changes I like, this house becomes more “me” than it was 18 months ago, which, in turn, makes me like it more, too.

So, it’s a good house, and it’s a good place for me and the dogs. I just wish it had never been necessary. Obviously. Still, one day, quite possibly before my second anniversary here, I may actually like it a lot. Right now, though, I need to get back to my current project to make that possibility a likelihood.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

‘Porch light’ posts

All of us find ways to make it through our days, encountering and, hopefully, conquering challenges. When people share their strategies for meeting life’s challenges, they may call them “lifehacks”, even though they’re usually just quick shortcuts or helpful hints. Sometimes, though, they can be somewhat more hidden, as well as simpler. That doesn’t make it any less effective, though. My aunt taught me that.

My aunt—my father’s sister-in-law—moved into a retirement home after her husband (my father’s brother) died. She had her own physical challenges, and wanted to not worry about her health and safety, which I think is a reasonable thing for any older person.

She told me that one of the things the residents were required to do was to turn on the light outside their unit (house) at night, then turn it off in the morning, then repeating it in a cycle. That way, staff could tell there might be a problem: If the light wasn’t on at night, or wasn’t switched off in the morning, they knew to check to make sure resident was okay. I thought that was a clever way for staff to keep an eye on the welfare of residents without watching too closely or intruding too much into their privacy.

I forgot about that years ago, certainly by the time she died, but some months back I suddenly remembered it. It was all because of Facebook.

I’ve written several times that after Nigel died, I had fears that I might die, too. That fear subsided over time, but there was one thing that my mind stubbornly refused to let go of: What if I did die? I live alone with the dogs, and if I died it could take days—even a week or more—for anyone to realise something was wrong, or to find me.

I joked to a family member, in the crass, take-no-prisoners macabre way I often do, that if I did die, the dogs would’ve begun eating me before anyone found me. Just because I was joking, though, doesn’t mean there wasn’t truth in it.

However, sometime before that, another family member commented that they always knew I was alright because they’d see I posted stuff on Facebook. That, too, was said in a jocular way, but it, too, carried an element of truth: If I was posting stuff on Facebook, I must be doing okay (as in, “not dead yet”).

And then it hit me: Posting stuff on Facebook was the equivalent of my aunt’s porch light.

When I post stuff on Facebook, friends and family alike know that I’m still alive and kicking without having to ring/text/message me to find that out (nor do I have to ring/text/message them, for that matter). This suits all of us, to be honest, because we’re all busy in our own ways, and also because even though we love each other, we don’t want to live in each others’ pockets.

Since that realisation hit me, I’ve made a point of posting something to Facebook at least once a day. Sometimes I just share a Facebook Memory, other times I might share a sort of slice of life post, usually about something that’s not important (nor even necessarily very interesting…), like maybe a meal I cooked, or a photo of one for the dogs doing something cute. An example of such a post is the one I posted to Facebook one Monday a couple weeks ago, and then adapted for a blog post, “A good, cold, subdued day”, the following day.

What all of this means in practice is that I’m actually sending a “secret” message to friends and family when I post to Facebook, whether they know it or not: I’m metaphorically turning the porch light on and off. For them, just like the staff at my aunt’s retirement village, as long as I do “porch light posts” on Facebook, no one has to wonder if I’m okay (it’s not as straightforward with blog posts, because I can put them in a queue to publish without doing anything else; such posts won't be automatically shared to the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, though).

Much of what I’ve needed to do since Nigel died has revolved around me feeling secure being alone: No one is here to see that something’s wrong and to do something about it. Neither porch light posts nor any of the other measures I’ve taken make up even slightly for not having Nigel here, but they do help me feel a little better. Maybe the porch light posts help others worry a bit less, too.

I have no idea whether the insecure feeling I have, as if the earth itself has no form or mass, will ever go away, but at least I’m finding ways to cope with it. Porch light posts may seem like a small, even silly, solution, but I think that anything I can do to feel a bit more secure makes it more likely that I can continue to move forward.

Hopefully I’ll eventually find whatever my new life is to become, and if I do, even small measures like porch light posts will have helped me get there. They’re certainly a simple solution, and were probably a bit hidden (until I mentioned them), but they’re also effective. My aunt taught me that.

The photo above is my actual outside light—my own "porch light".

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Shelving a project

This week I finally finished a project that should have taken maybe a few hours. Instead, it took more than a week, for various reasons. The important thing, though, is that I’m happy with the results—and that I did it myself.

A few months ago, I had a Solatube skylight installed in the kitchen, something I talked about at the time. I said in that post that “poor light in the kitchen was the thing I disliked the most”, so my first solution had been to hang some mirrors horizontally on the back wall of the kitchen. I hoped it would reflect light from the stacker doors across the room, but it didn’t really help. I think that was because the mirrors pointed at the wall next to a stacker door, so there wasn’t really much light to reflect.

The space where I hung them was a big white, blank space and needed something there. I didn’t want to put artwork there, and I absolutely loathe, to the very core of by being, those big fancy word signs, the sort that say “EAT” or “Love” or whatever. I’ve never seen one I thought was tolerable, let alone one I actually liked. In decor, as with so much else, Arthur’s Law applies: To each their own.

However, my very first idea was actually to put in some floating shelves, maybe made of reclaimed timber. The next idea was those mirrors. Nigel and I got them for our house on Auckland’s North Shore (it was my idea, I might add…), and we hung them vertically at the end of a hallway to make it brighter and seem longer. I had to add new picture wire and holders on the back to hang them horizontally, and for quite awhile I was happy with them, even if they didn’t reflect the light as I’d hoped.

Still, light—or the lack of it—is what kept me from being completely satisfied with the mirrors. I thought about having wall-hung (upper) cabinets installed, which would add storage as well as give me the chance to have under-cabinet lights. I decided against it because I was afraid it would make the kitchen even darker than it already was, and because one day I’ll probably upgrade the kitchen, anyway, so it would be a pretty big expense that would be wasted.

I was then back to shelves. I again thought about floating shelves, but I have no real experience with them, so I ruled them out. By that time, I was absolutely determined to do the shelves myself—it became really important to me.

I researched options for shelving brackets and shelves, and I planned on putting in three at roughly where the tops of each mirror was. This idea had several problems. First, I wanted timber shelves that I’d lightly stain, but timber shelves of that length—1.8 metres—were around $75 each (today, roughly US$53). MDF shelves, which I’d prime and paint (and I already have both) were about $15 each (US$10). So, three timber shelves would be around $225, while the MDF ones would be $45. I’d also need the wall brackets for either option on top of that, say, maybe another $100-150, and the stain and polyurethane for the timber shelves, probably another $150-200. It was all adding up.

However, it wasn’t cost that changed my thinking, it was aesthetics.

It turned out that the studs in that area weren’t evenly spaced/centred in the wall space. That meant that it would look like I hung some brackets in the wrong place—and that would’ve driven me nuts (I know myself quite well, you see).

I learned this because I used a new, fancy stud finder I bought for the project (because the simpler one that Nigel and I bought many, many years ago just wasn’t working right any more). Because I did that, I realised what I should have known all along: The power distribution for the house—the circuit breakers and all the connections for the solar electricity—were also in that wall. That meant I couldn’t drill willy-nilly to use wall anchors in the plasterboard.

While researching options on a home centre’s website, a “suggested product” was a wall-hung shelving system, the sort I’ve installed in wardrobes in the last two houses Nigel and I shared, and that I also plan to install here. So, I’m very familiar—and experienced—with the systems. I realised that this was the perfect option for me.

The systems have a bar that hangs on the wall at the top, and this is anchored in the studs and also with wall anchors for the plasterboard. Vertical brackets hang on that strip, and are also anchored either by screwing them into studs, or by using wall anchors. The spacing between those vertical brackets is set—roughly 60cm—so they would be evenly spaced—and as long as I centred the whole system in space, there’d be no aesthetic weirdness annoying me every time I looked at the shelves.

The plan was set, so a week ago Friday I headed out to the home centre to get the parts I needed.

The shelves are available in kits for wardrobes, but those use wire shelves, and I wanted solid shelves (which also use a different type of shelf support bracket). So, I bought the horizontal bar, and the four vertical brackets I’d need, then gathered the shelf supports, too. I got them all in white (they’re also available in black) because I wanted it to reflect light.

Then, the shelves: I looked at the wood-look ones and thought they might look nice, so I got four 900cm shelves that were the depth I wanted (25cm), but they only had five in stock, so I got two 900cm long shelves that were 30cm deep, plus brackets for them. I also looked at under-cabinet lights, but didn’t buy any.

I took everything home and put it near the kitchen so I could start in the morning. It didn’t work out that way.

Saturday morning I woke up, but didn’t feel like working on the project. Something was bothering me: The wood-look shelves seemed a little too brown compared to the actual wood furniture I had in the room. I thought about it, but decided to just go with it, anyway—though not that day. I worked on other stuff, instead.

Sunday morning presented another problem.

I got up and headed toward the toilet, as one does. As soon as I walked back into my bedroom to lead the dogs out for their morning treat, it suddenly hit me: “Those shelves will never work,” I said to myself. The problem was that I got the shelves 900 long, each one half the span of the space. However, the spaces between the vertical strips—and so, the shelf supports—were 600 apart. If I used the 900 wide shelves, there would have been no support in the middle.

So, I gathered up the shelves and headed back to the home centre to return them. They didn’t have enough of the wood-look in the correct sizes (which had to be either nine 600 wide shelves, or else three of them and three 1200 long,the option I chose—and in white). I also picked up some under-cabinet lights I’d looked at on the previous Friday.

I didn’t have enough time to work on the shelves that afternoon, because I was going out for an early family dinner. Instead, I installed one of my security cameras so it was looking down on my car.

Early Monday afternoon, I finally began. I cleared the bench under the shelves, removed the mirrors, and then hung the horizontal bar at the top, putting screws into the studs as well as into wall anchors. That took a lot out of me, partly because it was working above my head, and also because I was kneeling on the benchtop. I hung the vertical supports, but didn’t attach them to the wall because of yet another problem: The screws I had weren’t long enough.

The next day, Tuesday, I went back to the home centre and got the screws I needed, and then worked on attaching the vertical supports using wall anchors—with the correct length screws. It required a lot of effort, and was often at awkward angles. I had to stop and rest a few times. When I was done, I put in the shelf supports and then put the shelves on them. I tried several arrangements, but I just didn’t like any of them. I decided I needed four shelves, not three.

The next day, Wednesday, I had lunch with with some of the family, and on the way home I went back to the home centre again. I got one 600cm white shelf and the last of the shelf supports for that size shelf. I also got a different under-cabinet light system.

As it happens, I already had a 1200 cm white shelf, and it’s already been on this blog: I used it to try out a monitor support on my desk back in March this year. As I said in a footnote to a post the following week, “I'll use that shelf elsewhere, so it won't go to waste.” And now I have.

The lights were a little odder. The first ones I bought were battery operated (good) LED lights, but they have clear plastic, which means the bulbs are reflected in the shiny bench-top below. I decided to get a more expensive LED system that runs off a power adapter because it had a translucent white plastic cover, and because they’re very flat—they can’t really be seen from the side (the rejected lights will be good for wardrobes).

The next day I did some staging of the shelves because one of my sisters-in-law was bringing my mother-in-law around for lunch, and I wanted them to get a better idea what it’d look like when they were all done (I still needed to attach some special clips where the 600 and 1200 shelves met, so they could both sit on the same shelf support without slipping).

Today I attached those clips, and the under-cabinet lights, and the shelving system is now done—except for the top shelf. The home centre was sold out of the white shelf supports for the 250 deep shelves, so right now I’m using the longer shelf supports I originally got for the 300 deep shelves.

This project probably evolved more than any other that I’ve done at this house, and I didn’t try to rush it (not the least because I didn’t want to accidentally hit the electric wires running through that wall). In the end, I got what I wanted, and so far other people seem to like it.

The shelves will mainly be decorative—displaying things I do sometimes use, but that were either chucked in a cupboard somewhere or taking up space on the bench-top. I plan on putting my full espresso machine on the bench because the capsules used in the Nespresso machine make me uncomfortable: While they’re technically recyclable, in all practicality, they’re not, plus they also don’t make a large enough cup of coffee for me unless I use two capsules.

In this process, especially after clearing off the bench-top so I could work on the shelves, I realised that it’s the widest section of bench-top in the kitchen. There’s another part, on the peninsula, that’s deeper, but sometimes I need more space to do stuff with things next to each other. If I keep that bench-top as empty as practical, it’ll be easy for me to clear stuff away when I need the workspace.

There was one more aspect to this project, something that in many ways was the actual driver of the whole thing: As I said earlier in this post, I was absolutely determined to do this myself, and that became really important to me. That’s related to what I was talking about a post back in March: ”To err is human, the choice is mine”. I chose not to tell anyone what I was up to until it was already in process, and even then I was vague. I knew some folks might try to talk me out of it, or urge me to hire someone, but after running into so many obstacles trying to do other projects on my own, I simply had to do this project. Besides, I’d done basically the same thing so many times by then that I had complete confidence in my abilities.

In the end, this project may have been a bit more fraught than I anticipated, but I’m happy with the results, and especially that I did it myself. Now it’s time to pick another project I can do myself.

In the photo: The top shot is the before, with the mirrors in place. The middle is when I was wrapping up, and the bottom one is how I partially staged them on Thursday.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Calling a new dance

Yesterday, I went back the clinic at Waikato Hospital for my follow-up with the cardiology team. This was to evaluate my current situation and medications. It was a very good visit, and maybe—maybe the start of a new path. Maybe. Again.

I was notified of the appointment in a letter I received (in the mail!) Friday of last week. I asked my sister-in-law to go with me because she’s a nurse and understands these things better than I do, and because the brain fog I often have might make miss something. She’s helped me with this stuff in the past, including last October when I had the private appointment with a cardiologist, the event that set the stage for the ablation procedure I had in December.

It turned out that the appointment yesterday was with the same cardiologist I saw in October (in New Zealand, specialists generally—maybe always?—also see patients in the public system, without charge to patients). This was a huge bit of luck because he was already familiar with me and my case, and he’d already met both me and my sister-in-law.

What was especially good about this is that he doesn’t have a “God Complex” like many doctors have, specialists in particular. He talked with me, not at me. For example, I’ve long complained about the side effects of the anti-coagulant I’m on, and he listened and asked questions. He then explained to me how they determine risk, and so, the need for such drugs for patients. He felt that my need for the medication was kind of borderline, so he asked me what I wanted to do—he didn’t tell me first what he thought I should do, he asked what I wanted to do. I can’t remember the last time a doctor did that.

I told him that I was worried about potential risk of stroke, especially because of my history of atrial fibrillation (which could return one day), and so, I’d prefer to remain on one for now—just one without the side effects. So, he’s changing me to one he prescribed for me back in October. I never started taking that drug, Rivaroxaban, because I was frightened of the risk of severe bleeding, something I mentioned last month. I was willing to give it a go anyway, though, because I’ve had enough of the side effects of Dabigatran, but especially because of the fact that I’m far more frightened about having a stroke, and that outweighs everything else, even the fear that this drug may go too far in thinning my blood.

My reality is simple: I’m alone. If I were to have a heart attack, it might kill me, and if it did I wouldn’t care (obviously). But I’m terrified of having a non-fatal stroke that left me unable to care for myself. I would never have wanted to become a burden for Nigel, of course, but I felt somehow more secure when he was there for me—not “magic shield” secure, as if I was invulnerable, but that if the worst happened, we’d figure it out like we always did everything else. I simply don’t have that sense of security without Nigel. I’m trying to manage the risk of stroke by staying on a blood thinner, while also taking a risk with a drug that could cause excessive bleeding because I need to end the side effects I’ve been suffering with for the better part of three years. It’s a calculated risk, one I’m actually willing to take because I can’t become a burden for Nigel if things turn out badly. I’m optimistic that things will go okay, though, and I actually have every reason to think that.

Another issue is my hypertension. Because my blood pressure medication is being discontinued, the doctor’s prescribing a new one for me, and that had to happen sooner or later. However, he feels that I’ll need two medications to keep my hypertension under control, something that’s important because if unchecked it could cause atrial fibrillation to return. So, he asked me to try a diuretic (commonly called a “water pill”) because it works differently. He’s also discontinuing Diltiazem, the pill that keeps my heart rate slowed.

I’m happy about all that. If I do have more energy/stamina and can move more, I’ll probably lose weight and that could mean that maybe my hypertension medication could be reduced/modified, and reducing my risk may mean I might not need a blood thinner any more. Honestly, though, all I really care about is having more energy again, and if that means I have to pee more often because of the diuretic, I definitely feel that’s a price well worth paying (that would also help prevent gout attacks, actually, by flushing my kidneys, which is a bonus).

He also said he’d like to get a new echocardiogram, since my last one was done in 2018, partly because my heart is showing extra beats (also known as ectopic heartbeats, which I talked about almost exactly a month ago). The doctor wants to be sure there’s no problem with my heart (there usually isn’t) that would have to be addressed. However, he said that the waiting list through the pubic system was very long, but also that he thought it could wait.

At that point, my sister-in-law pointed out that I can pay for the echocardiogram privately, and she knew I’d be worried about it until it was done (she was absolutely right, of course—another reason I was glad she was there). So, right now, the plan is that I’ll get the scan done privately, and see him the same day (I already booked a private appointment with him for the end of August, as I also talked about a month ago). He said to me, with a smile, “then you can tell me how awful the medications are,” which made me laugh.

The first goal is to get me to the point where my regular doctor can manage my care, without the need for specialists. I don’t know how all this will actually play out, of course, whether it’ll finally be the progress I’ve been hoping for over these past several years, or whether there will be a lot more stuff to work out before/if that happens. But the important point is that I keep pushing to be and feel better, and I’m willing to work on that, even when that means some risk. After all, nothing in life is without risk (obviously), and I feel the ones I’m taking are reasonable and necessary: The status quo simply isn’t sustainable. That's a fancy way of saying the much more dramatic, “I can’t go on living like this”, which is actually equally true.

This dance has gone on far too long. It’s time to call a new tune, one I can actually enjoy for a change, or maybe just not dislike as much. At the very least, I have partners in the journey, and that alone makes a huge difference.

This post contains what I posted to my personal Facebook, but, unusually, I actually wrote the two versions at the same time, moving text around as needed (as well as adding links and more detailed information to this version). I don't think I've ever done that before.

Important note: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Housing developments

The construction zone that is my neighbourhood will soon be just a neighbourhood: The last few available sections are being developed, or soon will be. This is a good thing for a lot of reasons—not the least the noise and vibrations from the building work will be over soon. Mostly, though, I just think it’s interesting.

The latest development, so to speak, in this saga is that preliminary work has been done to make it possible to build a house on the section next door to mine (photo above). It’s on the East-sh side of my property, a side on which all the windows of my house have frosted privacy glass.

Recently, there was someone working right at the end of fenceline separating my property from the empty one, near my driveway (so I saw them when I looked out my front window). Today, I went out to look, and it turned out they'd installed a box to supply electricity to the site for the builder to use (that’s the ugly graffiti-covered thing on the right side of the photo above; the fence along the right edge is the boundary). Stakes in the ground mark the edges of the slab foundation (it’s not visible in this photo, but there’s a blue line painted on the grass stretching from the nearest wooden stake to the back of the section).

This means that soon the earthworks will begin to allow them to pour the foundation slab and then the real construction can begin. It looks to me like it’ll be a relatively small house, and, if I’m right, that would maximise the open land around the house. I’ll have a better idea when the foundation is poured.

Meanwhile, there have also been developments, so to speak, at the house immediately behind mine (photo below). I last talked about that house barely a week ago, and a lot has happened:

At the end of last week, a truck arrived to deliver the wood trusses, and the crane lifted them up onto the house. Until light failed that night, the young guy who owns the house and another guy started installing the trusses (which is why they wanted them up on the house, rather than piled on the ground as often happens: It saved time and effort getting the trusses up and ready to install, but I also doubt that only two people could get the trusses up there and installed, too.

The next day, Saturday, the guys pretty much finished installing the main trusses, and began work on the rest of the roof structure. On Sunday, they finished whatever was left. Nothing’s happened since, possibly because they’re waiting for the inspection of the roof and framing. Once the inspection is completed and signed-off, they’ll be able to close in the roof and put on the initial sheathing of the walls.

I have no idea when construction of the new house will begin, of course, but the fact the stakes are in the ground suggests it’ll be sooner rather than later. However, mid-winter isn’t until next week, so there could be significant weather-related delays. That’s true for both houses, actually.

I'm pretty sure these two are the last (or nearly last) sections without completed houses on them in the immediate area around my street. At the very least, the house next door will, when it's completed, be the last house on my street—all the other properties have houses on them with people living there.

All of this is good news: A neighbourhood is always better without empty lots in it, not the least because houses in a new area are usually worth more when they’re not located in an actual building zone. More practically, this could also mean that we might be more likely to get the parks and other amenities that Hamilton City Council promised us.

To be honest, though, this building work doesn't actually affect me (apart from the fact that my house will rattle for a few days while they do the earthworks next door…). Mainly, I'm just glad I'll no longer have a big weed patch next to my property—it’s been the main source of weeds sending seeds to my lawn, especially in the front.

Actually, it does affect me in one way: As I said last week, house building fascinates me, and always has, so all of this gives me a couple final chances to watch  up close as the process unfolds. And, once it’s all done, this will become just be a quiet, ordinary neighbourhood. A mere 18 months ago, it was anything but.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Seize each day

This photo is from two years ago yesterday, one of my last photos of Nigel. I ran across it last night when doing something else, but since I’d already shared a memory on Facebook, I didn’t share this one there, nor here. I have a lot of photos like this, showing Nigel and the furbabies napping together, and I took them because they looked so adorable. I don’t think he knew I did that. But this particular photo carries far more than mere cute nostalgia: I now know that the cancer that would kill Nigel was already working on doing that. I wish I’d crawled in among them, but I probably didn’t—this was nothing new or unusual, after all, and I naturally assumed there were would be maybe hundreds more opportunities for a family nap over the decades to follow. I couldn’t have known how wrong I was, or how our blissful ordinary moments were quickly running out.

We all live our lives as if we’ll live forever, even though we know we won’t. Here’s my advice: If you have the opportunity to spend a quiet moment with your most-loved person, seize it with all your might. One day one of you will be gone, and the chance to have such moments will evaporate, leaving the one left behind with memories, and maybe photos, of what you had. I’ve learned that there’s literally nothing in the universe that’s more important than love, and focusing on that fact is what matters most of all. I wish I understood that simple truth when I took this photo of my family napping, but I didn’t, and, I know, I couldn’t have.

Focusing on each day won’t make it any easier when the last one arrives, but having a storehouse of memories of days shared—or even just hours—will lighten the burden of loss. I’m extremely lucky: I have hundreds of photos from the life that Nigel and I shared, and even more happy memories. But I still wish I’d joined that family nap two years ago, and I wish with every fibre in my being that I could do so right now. Of course.

Seize each day, embrace the love that surrounds you. If you’re the one left when the shared days run out, you’ll never regret doing that. I learned that too late, but you don’t have to. Get into the special moment that’s right in front of you. Please.

This is a slightly revised version of something I posted to my personal Facebook this morning.

A good, cold, subdued day

Yesterday was a cold and busy (though subdued) day. That morning, I got a delivery, my second set of lightning cables to replace the one that someone (who we’ll call “Leo”) accidentally broke. This set is reinforced with woven aluminium shielding, However, they feel a little less robust than it looks like in this photo—or in the photo on the website of the Australian company I ordered them from (and they took a week to get here from Australia).

I got three cables for roughly the price of the other one I bought (which so far is working well), and I chose the mix of 1 metre, 2 metres (the length of the one “someone” broke…), and a 3 metre one. I’ve never needed a 3 metre cable, but if I do, then a reinforced one sounds like a good idea. The 1 metre one will go in my car to replace the too-long one in there now. And, yes, they’re all certified Apple compliant.

That evening I decided to make a roast chicken dinner, and I wanted to try using the spatchcock method, something I’ve never done before (best to try it out before I try serving it up for the family!). First effort wasn’t bad, but I should make one more attempt before serving it up to family. The roast potatoes were perfect, though: Crispy on the outside and floury on the inside. I almost never make potatoes, so it’s always good when they turn out good (Nigel and I weren’t all that fussed about potatoes). I also made gravy from scratch, though I’m a little out of practice doing that.

It was also cold yesterday. At my house, the low in the morning was -1.4 (29.48F), and the high was 9.1 (48.3F). The official high in Hamilton was 6 (42.8F). I decided to hunker down and stay warm, a decision made easier because someone (who we’ll call “Jake”) woke me up at 2.30am to let him outside to go to the toilet. Then, “someone” made me get up around 7am, and I was tired all day—until my afternoon nap.

So, added up, today was a cold, subdued, and yet still busy day. It was a good day, in other words. I’ll take it.

This post is based on something I posted to my personal Facebook last night.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Sunny would've been thirteen

Today would have been Sunny’s thirteenth birthday, though that was not to be. At this point last year, she was still doing okay, and was still happy and loving, but she was also in gradual decline, something that slowly got worse for her until she told me she’d had enough.

Back in March, I hung Sunny’s collar on a drawer pull so Leo could sniff it. He still does that, usually in the morning when he first gets up, and/or sometimes later in the day. I think he misses her. We all do.

Nigel and I always used to say, “Sunny by name, sunny by nature”, and while her last months weren’t her best, this one day a year ago today was one of her good days, one where she lived up to that saying. In fact, that day she even gave me one of my favourite photos of her (above). When I posted her 2020 official birthday portrait on Instagram, I said:
Our girl Sunny is TWELVE today! She deigned to let me take a photo of her, though she’s not really into photos. Despite recent health issues, she’s still the same loving, happy girl as always. Happy Birthday, Sunny!
Sunny was the last of us to have their first birthday since Nigel died, and the first to die since Nigel did (Bella died the February before Nigel). I always thought that I was the only one who was sensitive to any of that that, but since Leo seems to miss Sunny, I’m wondering if I was wrong about that. On the other hand, they don’t seem sad or distressed, and never did except, maybe, right after she died. They don’t take any notice of their birthdays, either, of course, and are no doubt blissfully unaware that today would’ve been Sunny’s. Dogs are lucky like that.

If Sunny were still here, I’d say Happy Thirteenth Birthday, Sunny! I can’t tell her that in real life anymore, but I still think of her often. And we all still miss her—and her sister Bella, and especially her other daddy. Our family is much smaller now than it was at the start of 2019, but we manage. Together.

Related posts:

Sunny is twelve – What turned out to be her last birthday
Sunny is eleven
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

Friday, July 02, 2021

Delivering a new name

What a company is called seldom really matters to the product or service it provides, but sometimes a re-naming/re-branding can show how much conditions have changed. An example of that began unfolding in New Zealand recently.

In the past week or so, TV commercials suddenly appeared touting the company’s new logo (above) and branding (the ad doesn’t appear to be available online, but the company has posted a video with its CEO, David Walsh, talking about the change). The headline version is that New Zealand Post is merging all its operations under the brand “NZ Post”. That includes New Zealand Post and its parcel delivery brands, Courier Post and Pace.

The main reason for this re-branding is that the company faces the same reality as postal systems in most countries: The amount of ordinary mail delivered has been declining for many, many years. At the same time, the number of packages and parcels being delivered continues to grow steadily. Re-branding everything as NZ Post will, one assumes, make it easier for the company to maintain profits as traditional postal deliveries trend toward disappearance.

All of this has implications, of course. For example, traditionally, magazines were delivered to home letterboxes, but reductions in those services will affect publishers’ ability to maintain, let alone grow, their readership. The New Zealand public has long been a big consumer of magazines, but will that continue if they have to buy them at a shop somewhere?

Online shopping has been growing steadily in New Zealand, a trend that seems to have been helped along by the Covid-19 pandemic when Alert Levels sometimes made it difficult to go to shops to get things. Early indications are that Kiwi consumers realised they like the convenience of ordering online and having the order delivered, but that has implications for retailers with physical shops—the so-called “bricks-and-mortar retailers”. That, in turn, could cause the sort of downturn in retail sales at physical shops that the USA has already seen, leading to the decline of shopping malls (something that New Zealand hasn’t yet seen). On the other hand, major retailers in NZ all have online ordering options, as do many smaller retailers, especially niche retailers. Will that balance out?

Against this back drop is the certainty that residential delivery of mail (like letters) will continue to be decline, and so will services. In my neighbourhood, we currently get mail delivered three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—but only if there’s no public holiday. A four day weekend like Easter is particularly disruptive: It means no possible letter deliveries for a week. However, that doesn’t really matter anymore.

Like most people, none of my bills or statements are delivered by post anymore. Most are delivered by email, with a few requiring me to go to their website to download them. Many companies have Apps for my phone that let me check things in real time, long before a bill is issued (phone/Internet companies have done this for a long time, and now energy companies, banks, and more all have Apps that customers can use). All of which means that I don’t need frequent postal deliveries, because I almost never get anything by post, anyway—which is why I now sometimes I forget to check the letterbox for around a week.

Sending stuff is another matter, but not dissimilar. I don’t pay anything with a cheque, not the least because none of my banks issue them anymore and, in some cases, haven’t for a quite awhile. That doesn’t matter, anyway, because years ago Nigel and I started paying all our bills either online or by direct debit if it was a recurring bill (like monthly or quaterly).

In the rare instances I need to send a physical thing to someone, like an original document, I’d use a courier, not the ordinary post. The new system will make that better because the company announced that all domestic packages will be tracked (that used to be an optional extra one could pay for separately).

However, there have been issues with Courier Post in particular. Some people who send parcels have said it’s sometimes been difficult got get them to pick up a package in the promised timeframe. Deliveries can be another problem: I recently had two packages coming to me from Auckland and their website told me they were with the courier for delivery—only to have them suddenly listed as back at the depot (in both cases, they were delivered the following day). Will unifying the company under one brand fix any of those shortcomings?

In my personal situation, the NZ Post re-naming/re-branding won’t really matter for the delivery of its products or services: It’s just a new name/look for what’s already been going on. Even so, this reinforces how much things related to New Zealand’s postal services have changed and are continuing to change. As that change accelerates, what will matter won’t be what name they call themselves, it’ll be how the company delivers its products and services to its customers, and that’s the area where they do need some changes, in my opinion.

Side notes:

The company’s old logo (at left) featured an envelope which, I always felt, included a stylised “NZ” in the design of the flap (Nigel first pointed that out to me, and now I can't "unsee" it). It’ll be weird not to see it any more, but considering how delivery of letters has been declining for more than a decade, it’s not really very relevant any more.

Also, when I saw the new logo, I was struck by how much it reminded me of the logo for Australia Post (at right), with a stylised "P" in a solid red circle.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

I grew to hate Winter

Winter has been my least-favourite season (to be nice) for decades. I’ve written about that several times before, but it was all dredged up by a FB Memory served up to me a few days ago. The photo (at left) and its caption made me think about winter, of course, but also far more. I wrote a long post, but eventually killed it in favour of something more banal (I liked the photo well, enough, and I always like an opportunity to compare/contrast things like weather for my American whānau). This post is what I wanted to say that day.

Three years ago, Auckland was hit with hail, which I blogged about at the time. That “hail” was kind of an insult to the word from my perspective as a native of the USA’s Midwest, but it was was kind of typical of what I’ve seen in New Zealand. In fact, I can only remember one time we got some serious hail (back in 2015), and it’s a good thing that one time is it. So is the fact we don’t get snow in the northern parts of New Zealand (not counting the odd dusting in some spots—nothing sticks around). I still hate Winter as much as I did when I left Chicago (mere days after the area’s first snowfall of 1995…), but at least winters here are nothing like what I left behind. That’s definitely a very good thing.

While Northern Illinois winters eventually made me grow to hate Winter as a season, I actually don’t like the much, much milder Winters in northern New Zealand, either. They’re milder, yes, but, in general, Hamilton Winters are colder than my Auckland Winters were (in general) and cold temperatures are what I dislike the most. But yeah, at least there’s no snow.

The photo above is a much more melancholy scene for me now than it was at the time—after all, that hail was about as bad as what we got anywhere we lived, and ir wasn’t especially unique. Thing is, that Winter turned out to be second to last one Nigel and I ever had together. The following year, some three days before the September Equinox, he’d be dead and I’d be a widower. And it’s felt like Winter ever since.

Winters always have nice days, even beautiful ones, with sunshine and sometimes warmth. But there are also days that will push you over and remind you that it’s still Winter—cold, dreary, damp, maybe even windswept and barren, or maybe just wet, or even very wet, and sometimes with hail that pelts you and hurts you as it falls.

Profound grief is exactly like that: Some days can be warm and sunny, but inevitably the cold and damp and wet will return. The presence of one doesn’t prevent the other from reappearing, nor is either one permanent. But the Winter that is grief will sometimes push you over and remind you that it’s still Winter, that the warmth and renewal of Spring is still a long way off.

I’m lucky in that I have mostly okay days—not necessarily sunny and warm (though I have those, too), but also not always cold and damp and wet. I know, or maybe hope, that my own Spring will eventually arrive, but I’m always aware that it’s really still Winter. Right now, that metaphorical Winter is having a decent patch (the physical one, not so much…). And that’s good enough.

A three year old photo made me think about all that. Because it’s winter, literally and figuratively, it’s easy to do.

Related

As it happens, there was another day of hail in 2018, in September of that year, a couple days before the 2018 September Equinox. Nigel died less than a year later.

An alarming project

A motion sensor sensing me.
I recently completed another project around the house, one that has actually been on my list for many, many years. It was one Nigel was supposed to do, but never got round to. That’s not the just reason I needed to do the project: It was also the reason I needed to do the project.

When Nigel and I moved back to Auckland’s North Shore in 2006, we bought a house that had a traditional wired alarm system. It was purchased by a previous owner—along with an expensive monitoring contract that we were obligated to assume or else to pay to have the alarm system removed. It was a gold-plated system, neighbourhood folklore had it, because the guy who installed it was a cop who, for very mysterious reasons, had had threats that made him want to install the system.

I have no idea how useful the alarm system was to the former owners (who didn’t live there all that long), but we never used it except when Nigel and I left for the weekend with the dogs. However, we soon reached the point where we could cancel the alarm monitoring contract, and after that point the alarm wasn’t usable.

Sometime after that, I first asked Nigel about finding us a system that didn’t need monitoring, but I didn’t pursue it. After we moved to our last house in early 2017, I again asked Nigel to look into a system. That was because the living area of the house was up a floor from the ground level, and someone could, theoretically, get inside the house and none of us—including the dogs—would even know until they were in.

Nigel was busy with his own projects and then, of course, he was gone. I did nothing about it while I stayed in that house, but I planned on taking care of it once I moved to my new house.

The reason I was doing it at all wasn’t just, as I suggested above, because Nigel never did, and was now gone, but because he wasn’t here anymore. After I moved to this house I realised I was entirely responsible for everything in my life, including, in this case, security. It wasn’t that I previously thought that Nigel would protect us all, or that he and I could fight off an intruder, it was merely that if there was ever a threat, I wouldn’t be facing it alone. Now, I am.

So, off and on, I started researching wireless alarm systems and found one that had good reviews, both for how it works and for the simplicity of installation. As luck would have it, it was offered as an online-only special by a NZ electronics retailer, and the price was very good. So, I ordered the basic system and an additional motion sensor.

Then things got complicated.

It was the better part of a week before I had time to begin the installation, the day after I’d read all the instructions for the various bits. I started by installing the door sensor for the front door and, only after I’d done that did I notice there weren’t any batteries included in the box, as there were supposed to be. I then checked everything else: All the mounting screws were also missing, as was the wall mounting bracket for the sensor that came with the basic set. Did I mention that this was after I’d already installed one of the door sensors?

I used the online contact form to ask them what to do, and I got a reply the next day. Meanwhile, I looked at the website of the computer (etc) chain I’ve talked about in the past, and noticed they’d matched the other store’s price—and beaten it by one dollar. If they’d done that earlier, I wouldn’t have had to set up an account with the other store.

Nearly two weeks passed and there was no update from the store. So, impatient/sick of waiting, I emailed them:
“I've decided to make do with the product as is, such as, I bought my own batteries, and I'll find a work-around for the motion sensor. However, it would be a good idea to make the distributor/manufacturer of this product aware there were missing parts so they can check their processes so it doesn't happen again to someone else.”
They replied:
“I have sent an email to our relevant team to inform them about your concern. Kindly wait for an update within 1-2 days. Rest assured that we will get back to you at the soonest possible time.”
That was on June 24—six days ago—and there’s been no response. I’m not in any way surprised, and I don’t really care anymore, but their lack of concern for a customer does make me question the wisdom of ordering anything from them in the future.

To fix the problem, I bought new batteries for the two door sensors and the motion detector, but the additional motion detector I bought came with a battery, as well as its wall mount. I finished installing the other door sensor and the motion detector, but when I went to put in the supplied battery, it was dead. I was again not surprised. Fortunately, I had plenty of batteries I bought for the security cameras (about which, more in a minute), so I used one of them. It worked perfectly.

A couple days later, I went to install another add-on motion sensor, the penultimate device in my system. I’d ordered it from the website of the computer (etc) chain (because I was ordering other things, and because the original store had since marked them as “not available online”). When I went through the things in the box, I noticed something: The battery had a tight rigid plastic shrink-wrap on it. I checked the battery I thought was dead, removed the shrink wrap, and it was fine. Oops. Good thing I didn’t complain about getting a dead battery—though if I had, I’d still be waiting for a reply, apparently.

All of the internal devices and sensors are now set-up and working perfectly, so that part’s complete (there are more parts than I talked about, but they didn't have stories).. However, there’s one more piece left to install: The video doorbell I also got on special. It came with super-strong sticky stuff to attach it, or I can use screws. The problem is that the doorframe is all metal, and we’ve had very wintry weather lately—too cold to trust the sticky stuff to stick to a cold doorframe. I may use screws instead, but I can wait a little while to decide, until it’s a bit warmer (and while I look for the appropriately-sized screws for metal that I must have around here somewhere…).

Which, indirectly brings me back to the security video camera system I’ve been planning to install outside of the house. I planned on using the cameras I have because I have them (thanks to Nigel), and that fact in itself is actually one of the reasons for the delay.

The camera system has a regular (audio) doorbell that’s wireless, but their video doorbell was wired-only (at least, that was all that’s available here in New Zealand). The alarm system has cameras available, though they’re expensive. On balance, it makes more sense to use the cameras I already have, and if they don’t work for some reason I can always get add-on cameras for the alarm system.

I don’t know that any of this stuff is actually “necessary” in the sense of preventing crime, however, it’ll make me feel a bit more secure now that I’m on my own, and feeling safe IS necessary, I think, and that's reason enough to go through all this. I'd feel safer still if Nigel was here with me, but that's something I can't change. Best to focus on what I can do.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

House watching

The photo above is of a new house being built across the back fence of my property. I took the photo on Saturday, but none of that was there the day before. It’s been a very slow build, but this is probably the most dramatic thing yet.

The section (property) behind me was vacant and showed no signs of development until only a few months ago when a young guy (mid 20s-ish, I think) was running a digger. I assumed he worked for the company that would build the house until my sister-in law happened to be over one weekend day when the guy was working, and talked to him. He was there with a young blonde woman, and after talking to him we found out that they’d bought the section many months earlier, but there were delays in getting building consent and permits for the house itself, so while he waited for the city council to finish the process, he was getting started on what he could do: The retaining walls along the side boundary of their property. It took him a couple weeks to finish the retaining walls, since he only worked late afternoons and on weekends.

And then things stopped.

Many weeks passed, and a digger was out there again: They were clearing the land to put in the slab foundation. At some point in that time period the water and drainage pipes were laid, and then they laid the polystyrene underfloor insulation and wire mesh reinforcing. The concrete was poured quite some time later—maybe as much as a week or two later. I think the whole foundation process may have taken three to four weeks (I really wish I’d paid more attention to the timing…).

After the foundation slab was poured, nothing more happened for weeks and weeks. This past Saturday morning, I woke up and thought I heard some voices from time to time, and the tap-tap of a nail gun, but it wasn’t steady or loud, so it didn’t really bother me. At the time, I thought my next door neighbours were doing something. When I opened the blinds above my bed, though, I saw a house frame where nothing had existed the day before.

In New Zealand, wall sections are assembled off-site and put in place as nearly complete length walls (some in-filling work is done on site). Builders then secure the wall sections to the foundations and to adjoining wall sections. That’s what I heard going on this past Saturday morning.

The next day, Sunday, I heard an occasional nail gun tap-tap, and later on I looked out the window again and realised he and another guy were putting in temporary cross-bracing inside the skeletal house, a complex-looking jumble of wood in what will be rooms. That’s done to keep the house frame square and true while the roof trusses are being put in place. Today, they were back putting in the top plate (which goes on top of the wall sections in the photo), the thing that the roof trusses will actually sit on.

Roof trusses in New Zealand must be manufactured—builders aren’t allowed to build them on site. The government made that regulation many years ago (sometime after 1995) to ensure that all new houses had strong and secure roofs. At some point, a crane truck will come and lift the trusses up onto the frame so builders can secure the trusses to the house frame.

After the roof is done, builders can finish framing it and add the roofing material, as well as cladding the exterior of the house and installing windows. That will usher in what’s always the longest part of house building: All the inside work—well, normally that's the longest part, but each phase of this one has already taken far longer than normal, so who knows?

House building fascinates me, and always has. I watched the house next door being built, and the one behind me is slightly less easy to watch. At least it’s clear it’s a one-storey.

One thing this made me realise was that I could see where their windows were going to be, and that meant I could see where they might be able to look toward my house. It gave me an idea: I took a bunch of photos looking out all the windows toward the two new houses (the existing one to the side of mine, and the one being built behind mine). My goal was to see what I looked at what so that I can more precisely plan where to put in tall plants to give me a nicer view than looking at someone else’s house and also preserving my privacy.

At the very least, it’s been entertaining.

Related:

"Building zone"
– My 2020 post about the new house being built next door to mine.

Monday, June 28, 2021

One word: Plastics


The New Zealand Government has announced plans to begin phasing out what they call “problem plastics”, things like non-recyclable plastic and consumer single-use plastics. This has been anticipated since July 1, 2019, when single-use plastic bags were banned. It’s a good and important thing to do.

From late in 2022, some 18 months from now, PVC meat trays, polystyrene (aka styrofoam) takeaway packaging, EPS grocery packaging, degradable plastic products (eg, oxo and photo degradable), plastic drink stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton swabs will all be banned.

In mid 2023, some two years from now, the government will also ban single-use plastic items: Supermarket produce bags, plastic tableware (cutlery, plates and bowls), drink straws, and non compostable fruit labels.

The reality is that New Zealand is already a long way along the road toward moving away from such things, and just as happened with the ban on single-use plastic shopping bags, this will provide the final push. Everyone knew this was coming at some point, so I don’t have any sympathy for corporations and industries that are whining about not having “enough time” to find alternatives.

I’ve already heard some of the complaints from corporations. For example, supermarket chains say that two years isn’t enough time to eliminate plastic produce bags, something they’ve been trying to eliminate for at least a year already. Paper is one obvious alternative, but maybe they can think a little more creatively? How about selling cheap branded mesh bags to consumers (I talked about my own mesh produce bags back in June of 2016). After all, they already sell cheap branded reusable shopping bags. They could embrace this as an opportunity to embrace environmental and social responsibility.

The non-compostable stickers on fresh produce annoy me to no end, so I have zero sympathy for the moaners in the industry. They’re a relatively recent development, and I can’t think of any benefit that consumers get from them. Instead, they provide a way for producers to brand fresh produce for marketing purposes and, at least theoretically, provide some tracking information. When I was a kid, I remember oranges had the brand printed on the peel, something that obviously won’t work for all produce (like apples), but, then, why do they even use labels at all? Consumers hate them. I think they should just drop them altogether, but if they insist on having them for some bizarre reason, then the labels must be home compostable because a lot of people compost at home and commercially-compostable things don’t usually degrade.

Other products already had non-plastic alternatives corporations moved away from. For example, when I was young, the stems of cotton swabs were made of paper, not plastic. We had paper plates, and then better paper plates (because the originals weren’t very good for BBQs where people put their food on their laps). Drink straws always used to be made of paper (I remember some were waxed paper), and, in fact, paper straws are all you can buy at a supermarket right now.

A lot of companies have been experimenting with alternatives, like disposable cutlery, and even plates, made from wood. Washable, reusable steel drinking straws are cheap and available everywhere (I don’t personally have any; I don’t use straws often and have way too many paper ones to use first). I’m sure there are plenty of creative people in search of opportunities who can come up with a lot more alternatives to single-use plastic products—and now they’ll have the incentive thanks to the announced timeline for banning such plastics.

In fact, in November the government will launch a $50 million Plastics Innovation Fund to “help support projects that reimagine how we make, use and dispose of plastics”. Environment Minister David Parker said, “We need to back New Zealanders to innovate, find solutions and then scale them up.” (Full disclosure: I know and worked with David Parker when I was a volunteer in the Labour Party).

What all of this is about is making New Zealand cleaner and greener, with a circular economy in which nothing is wasted if we can prevent it. “We want to be part of global solutions to tackle the impacts of plastic pollution,” Parker said. For years now, I’ve been trying to do my part, as I’ve discussed on this blog. New Zealand, too, is trying to do its part. Cynics say our efforts are too small to make any difference, but the retort to that is simple: It’s always better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.

This is a very good move.

The image up top is a NZ Labour Party social media ad promoting the announcement. I just like the look of it.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The stories of change our photos show us

The photos we take are a great way to recall events, memories, even things we acquired or merely wanted to acquire. When they’re associated with loss, that can be bittersweet, but it can also give us a chance to kind of take stock of where we’re at, to notice how we pass through our lives. To be a part of our own life, rather than just travel through it. That happened to me today.

Three years ago today, I shared the photo above on Instagram and my personal Facebook. A few days later, I also shared the Instagram post here on this blog. The reason for it was simple: We’d been having trouble with Leo running along the fence and barking a lot at one neighbour’s dog, and that’s why we tried using a clicker to train him to stop doing that. I said in the caption to the photo that Leo “learned VERY quickly and now comes running inside with one click, two at most.” It didn’t last.

Mere days after we started using it, Leo stopped responding to the clicker. As a result, we couldn’t let any of the dogs go outside at ground level unless one of us was there with them—and by “them” I really mean “him”, Leo—he ruined it for all of them.

Then, different neighbours, ones over the fence from the one whose dog Leo barked at, complained because, they said, Leo “always” barked at the wife when she went out to hang the washing on the line (though I was pretty sure he was actually barking at their dog who went outside with her, but never barked back).

One evening, after the dogs were only allowed to go out on the deck upstairs, the guy from that same house yelled at Leo across the yard, because Leo was out on the deck barking at the new housing development nearby and visible from our deck. At the time, nothing was built except for the streets, and young’uns used to drive in there, park, and drink. Leo heard them and didn’t approve. Nigel was asleep at the time and never heard Leo, which was a little unusual. I was working in my office, which was at the opposite side of the house and at ground level, but I eventually heard him, and got to him just in time to hear the guy shouting at Leo. I brought him inside and block the dog door so he couldn’t go right back outside to bark some more—because I knew he would.

The next morning, I told Nigel what had happened, and that became the turning point: Nigel decided he wanted to move somewhere more rural, where neighbours weren’t as close or numerous (there were six properties bordering ours). He wanted the dogs to be able to bark if they wanted to, and he wanted to have a small wind turbine to (at least partially) power our house. None of that was possible where we were living.

We looked at one house in person (and many others online), but didn’t pursue it to strongly. We were busy with life. In the meantime, we started barricading the dog door at night so none of them could go out. Because I was always stayed up layer than Nigel, I could let the dogs out one last time. They all coped. It took care of the problem, and for a time we thought about staying put and doing up the house (like my painting project in early 2019, for example).

The idea of moving never went away completely, though, and as late as May 2019, Nigel was telling me what he wanted me to do to get ready for us to sell-up and buy a new place (he made a to-do list for me—a common thing he did). Four months later, Nigel was gone.

Now, three years after the photo of Leo and the clicker, I’m living in a different house in a city that was on our “some day” list, with solar power, but with only two of the dogs, without Sunny or our cat Bella, but, and, most importantly of all, without my Nigel. In other words, everything has changed.

Leo is much better now, and he comes inside when I call him or whistle for him (there’s a particular whistle I use), though sometimes I have to add, “want some?” Clearly he’s trained me, too. My new house has “only” four properties bordering the section, though one of them only shares about one metre of boundary with me (that house was built by the same company that built mine, and it was the first adjoining property with a finished house; there’s now one more).

There’s one more thing that’s also changed: The people I sold our old house to in March, 2020, just sold it, and the new owners moved in yesterday. I know that because the next door neighbours—who we became friends with (and I still am) texted me. I looked at the real estate photos online (of course!) and they didn’t change anything inside the house. All they did was remove the grapefruit tree (which Nigel and I wanted to do, but we ran out of time) and they also took out the raised garden bed. Both of those were in my photos in our brief time in that house (the grapefruit tree was part of a photo series I did in 2017, and the raised garden bed was part of a notorious incident I blogged about in May of 2018). I’m actually kind of glad they sold the house—it puts more emotional/existential distance between me and it.

So, yeah, pretty much nothing is the same as it was three years ago when I first shared the photo, including me. That fact isn’t all good, obviously, but it also isn’t all bad. After all, I don’t need to use that clicker with Leo any more..

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook this morning.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Lower power

It’s now been two entire months since the solar electricity system was installed, and one full month with the device to heat the hot water using only solar power. The results at this point are—interesting. There haven’t been any surprises, good or bad, so it’s been “interesting” mainly because I simply didn’t really know what to expect. The main headline, though, is that the system has saved me some money and, because of that, I’m treading more lightly on the planet.

I saw my June bill on Wednesday, though I didn’t get the official bill by email until the next day. This has puzzled me ever since I switched power companies, as I talked about last month. The electric company I used to have didn’t email a bill at all—it was only available to download, and that online-only version had “ONLINE BILL” on it (though in reasonably sized type size). That also struck me as odd. But, more about those companies later.

Right now, the important thing is that over the four months I've been with the new company, I've saved $38.45 over what I spent with the old company over the same two months last year, and all of that is due to the solar power system. That doesn’t sound like much, however, if I look at only the two months since the solar power was installed, it’s a much different story: I’ve saved exactly $100 over what I spent those two months last year. That ain’t nothing.

In June, I saved a bit less than half as much as I did in May because it's now full-on winter. There have been very few totally sunny days this billing month (third week to third week), and a lot of cool and cloudy/rainy days (and that, in a nutshell, is winter where I live). On some particularly dark and cloudy days, there were times I generated maybe a couple hundred watts (as opposed to somewhere around 3,000 – 3,500 watts, give or take, on bright sunny days). That’s still enough to offset basic use, like when my fridge turns on, but not much else.

That all matters because my electricity use is higher in winter than in summer: I run my two heat pumps 24/7, and the hot water cylinder needs to run a bit more because it’s located in a cupboard in the garage, which isn’t heated. And therein lies another reason I didn’t save nearly as much money this past month as I did the month before: I was running out of hot water.

Back in May, just before that month’s meter reading, I had a device installed to heat my water with solar power only. Things didn’t quite go as I thought.

There was a particularly cold snap earlier this month, and when I took my shower one morning, the water was what I’d call “very warm”: Not cool or merely warm, but definitely not hot, either. At the time, I thought I’d bumped the mixer somehow, and accidentally turned down the amount of hot water I was getting—it’s a bit finicky—but I didn’t bother trying to adjust it (because it’s a bit finicky).

The same thing happened the next morning, and later that evening I was washing a few dishes and noticed the “hot” water was merely warm. I realised immediately what the problem was: Because the days had been so dark and dreary, and the temperatures low, I wasn’t generating enough electricity to heat the hot water enough.

The solution that night was to use the “boost” setting on the new device to briefly use electricity from the grid to heat the hot water so I could do the dishes. Then, before I went to bed I set the device to automatically use grid electricity early each morning to heat the water so I can have a hot shower. That’s worked, however, at a cost: I’m using more power from the gird than I did the previous month, mostly to heat the hot water, and because my hot water heater is no longer on the controlled rate for hot water heaters, the electricity its using is more expensive, too (the controlled rate is roughly 1/3 lower than the ordinary rate).

Needing to use grid electricity for heat and hot water, then, combined with lots of very cloudy days, meant that any saving I might otherwise have seen from solar power generation were eaten up by the power I bought. I think—hope?—that the situation will be exactly the opposite in summer.

One final note on cost v. savings: In March and April, before the solar panels were installed, I spent $61.55 more than I did with the old company during those same two months in 2020—and that covered the period during Lockdown, when I never left the house. Even so, the savings I’ve made over the past two months erased that and gave me that $38.45 savings over the whole four months to date.

The comparisons of what what I’ve been billed by the old company and the current one may soon become complicated—or maybe less so? I recently got an email from the new electricity company telling me they've “conditionally sold its retail business” to—drumroll!—the company I switched from. I have absolutely not idea how that will affect my power bills in the future, but right now there’s no change, and there’s unlikely to be any change until the companies begin to merge operations, assuming they do that and don’t keep my current company as a stand-alone brand.

I don't actually mind the change because Nigel and I chose that former company some 15 years ago, and we were always satisfied with our service and charges. Also, that company I'm being switched back to generates 100% of its electricity from renewable sources (mainly hydro and geothermal, but they're adding wind, too), which, given my values, is a very good thing. I do think this turn of events is funny, though.

At the moment, I’m still saving money, despite the dull, dreary, cool, winter weather, which is nice. I’m also still sending electricity out to the grid, though much less of it. On balance, then, I’m giving more than I take, and that’s exactly the position I wanted to be in.

I won’t worry about the economics of all this in the future until it actually gets here. For now, though, it’s all still a powerful experience.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Trying to do business

Sometimes, New Zealand businesses make it difficult to "buy local". Even though some NZ businesses are still struggling due to Covid, there are companies are making mistakes or putting up other barriers that making it hard to choose a New Zealand business. Including chemists.

Earlier this month, I changed pharmacies to one much closer to my house than the one I was using, which was close to my doctor. That matters because I've been getting all the prescriptions one month at a time because I knew I'd (eventually) see a cardiologist who may change prescriptions, and I didn't want to have the deleted drugs destroyed.

I took my prescriptions to the pharmacy at Te Awa at The Base, the shopping mall closest to my house. It was the same NZ owned chain as the one I had been going to, but, being in a mall, it had much better hours. A huge time-saver—I thought.

On Tuesday, I rang to organise the next month's supply, and the phone diverted to their location at another mall, Chartwell, which is on the other side of the city from me. It went there because the one at Te Awa closed last week, something they must've known was coming when I took my prescription there. They said nothing, of course. Chartwell is much farther away than the chemist by my doctor, but the whole point of changing chemists was so that I could have one close to my house. I go to Chartwell maybe a couple times a year, normally, so it's certainly not the sort of place I'd be at every month.

Once a customer gives a prescription to a particular chemist, it can't be moved to a different pharmacy, so I’d need get a new prescription from my doctor. To get around the inconvenience, the pharmacy arranged to give me the next two months all at once (which is fine because I now know that I'm seeing the cardiologist at the end of August).

Since I had to go over to Chartwell, I organised to have lunch with some family who work in the area. I realised that this was the first time I'd been at Chartwell itself this year (though I’ve been in the area for lunch). I picked up my prescriptions and they made me sign a form indicating I was collecting all my pills at once because of “Distance”. While I was there, I also looked in a bookshop at the mall, but didn’t buy any (I want to downsize my library before I buy any more books). There really wasn’t anything else I wanted to look at there. The lunch and the company, were great, of course, and that kind of made up for the inconvenience in picking up my prescriptions.

As for the future, my choices are somewhat limited. I could go back to the chemist by the doctor, since I need to go there every 3-6 months, anyway (I’m leaning toward this option). Or, find a small independent NZ-owned chemist closer to my house and hope they survive. Finally, I could pick the nearby locations of Australian owned chains Chemist Warehouse and Countdown. I really don't like going to Chemist Warehouse (it creeps me out for some reason—I have no idea why, but I think it could be because it’s dark and the aisles are narrow, so it feels closed-in). Countdown, on the other hand, is one of my local supermarkets, so I could plan a shopping trip there and get my prescriptions/repeat, too.

I’m leaning toward going back to the chemist I used to go to because it’s NZ-owned, and I can also keep (and use) my "rewards points" (which are small, but not insignificant). However, it feels a bit like I was being driven toward Australian companies, something that, if it happens enough, will make things even worse for NZ companies—put another way, they're hastening their own demise.

In sum, then, I made this particular change because I wanted to make my life easier, while also avoiding the unnecessary destruction of medicines, and also to keep doing business with a New Zealand company. But, apparently, no good deed ever goes unpunished (Ferengi "Rules of Acquisition" Number 285, among many, many other places…).

Still, it’s not like I have to get that chemist by my doctor on horseback. I’ll survive.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Things get wrecked

Anyone who’s ever had a furbaby knows that things will get damaged or destroyed. Sometimes it’s on purpose, like Leo’s most recent toy rampage, and other times it’s accidental. I now have an example of the latter, something that also points to a larger problem.

Friday night, Leo was playing with his toy ball next to my chair. I didn’t think anything of it, since he’s done it before, until I looked down: I could see the charging cable I use for my iPad (sometimes my phone) was broken (photo up top). Because Leo’s hasn’t chewed on any cables since he was a puppy, my best guess is that Leo accidentally broke it while he was playing, either by forcefully pawing at the ball (he does that all the time), or maybe trying to pick up the ball in his mouth and getting the cable caught. At the very least, I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble with such cables, no furbabies required.

I got out the cable I used for a couple years or so, but the end that plugs into my device is breaking where it bends at the connection, so I taped it up tor reinforce it until I can replace it:



These cables are notorious for their relatively short lives: The end points of the cables, especially where it plugs into a device, have always been weak points that tend to break—and it’s been that way as long as Apple has made mobile devices. You’d think that Apple would’ve come up with something better by now, but, no. To add further insult, Apple charges rather a lot for replacement cables. Fortunately, other companies make the cables and sell them for lower prices (so far, I’ve only bought one cable that turned out to not be compatible with Apple products).

In August last year, the cable I was using (and am again…) started looking as if it was going to break soon, so that’s when I decided to replace it. I ordered one from an Australian seller (because the genuine Apple ones I found in NZ were twice the price). The cable, the seller said, was made in the same factory as Apple’s own cables, and it was certified compatible. It worked flawlessly, and seemed to be similar quality to Apple cables—which means that it was just as likely to break.

These cables can’t be repaired: The ends are moulded onto the wires, and those wires are extremely fine gauge. Throwaway society, in other words.

I knew that there were cables that were reinforced in various ways, and that’s what I decided to replace my cable with. Here are two different approaches (brand names removed because the point isn’t the specific cables):

The cable on the left has aluminium mesh protecting the cable (I don’t think Leo could bite through it…), and the ends are somewhat more robustly designed than Apple’s (or similar), but it’s still a potential weak spot. The cable on the right is nylon mesh (like rope), but has stronger moulded connections, a bit like a cord used by something that might be plugged-in and unplugged many times, like a table lamp, might have. Since my main problem has been with the end where it connects to my device, I’m going to try the one on the right (it’s also available locally, and on special at the moment). However, I could get a three pack of the other one for roughly the same price from that Australian seller, so I may end up getting those, too, so I have better replacements than a cable I taped up.

None of this would be necessary if Apple (and probably other manufacturers) provided better-designed cables. There’s not enough metal in any one dead cable to justify the cost of getting it out, so most of these cables must end up in the rubbish. It’s so unnecessary.

This particular tale is just a snapshot of modern life: A dog playing with a toy, as has happened since forever, accidentally broke a cable that is far, far too easy to break and to wear out. This obviously isn’t a particularly big challenge for me to overcome, but it’s one example among dozens—probably hundreds—of small but incredibly annoying challenges that companies foist upon us because it’s cheaper to make poorly-designed products that we have to replace far too soon, giving them no incentive to produce well-designed products that last.

Things need to change. Things get wrecked all the time, and plenty of times that’s unavoidable. But bad design and companies’ complete lack of concern about promoting a throwaway culture wrecks things, too.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Caution is warranted

When I said a mere 10 days ago that “this health journey has certainly not been straightforward,” that wasn’t an understatement: Things are, in some ways, less settled now than they were even then. Right now, “moving forward” means using caution.

A week ago tomorrow, I began the new plan that my doctor and I were moving to, which meant I’d take one 60mg tablet of Diltiazem twice daily, something I described in detail in that post 10 days ago. Since then, problems have popped up that may or may not be significant.

I couldn’t sleep Sunday night. At the time, it seemed like my mind wouldn't stop racing, and that was making me feel amped, like I’d had too much coffee (I hadn’t; I never drink coffee, decaf or otherwise, at night). After about an hour and a half or so of lying there awake, I turned on my light and played with my phone for a bit in an effort to get my mind to quiet down. When I turned the light out a half hour or so later, I dozed on and off, but the feeling never went away entirely. Monday, of course, was a washout, though I felt fine. I also slept well-enough Monday night.

Tuesday evening, I had my pill, and within an hour I felt extremely anxious. I took my blood pressure, which was basically normal for me. I decided to go to bed. First I used the KardiaMobile device I talked about the other day. The first result said “Possible AFib”, so I lay down, rested, and took it again. This time it said “Unclassified”, a reading I’ve been getting from time to time since April (before that, it was always “Normal”).

The first thing to be said about this is the obvious and rational thing: I’m well aware that, at best, these readings are indicative only. The descriptions the App puts on ECG readings are determined by AI, not real humans, and so, they have a huge possibility of being incorrect. I’ve known that all along, but it didn’t matter in the moment because this was exactly the thing I was terrified would happen: I’d have some sort of tachycardia or AFib event without Nigel there to help me work through what was happening and, if necessary, to drive me to get help. At one point, I was afraid I was going to die, and I considered calling an ambulance.

My rational mind regained control, and I realised I was panicking, not looking at the available evidence. The ECG reading aside, my vitals were normal: My blood pressure was okay, but, more importantly, my heart rate at the time was a completely normal resting rate (for me), and that meant it was highly improbable that it was either AFib or tachycardia. I calmed down and went to sleep.

The next morning, Wednesday, I woke up and felt fine. I started my day, fed myself and the dogs, then took my morning pills. As I was sitting playing my morning round of “Words With Friends” on my iPad, I again started to feel anxious and unwell. I took another ECG reading and it said “Unclassified” again. I lay down and slept for a bit, and when I woke up I took it again, and it was classified as “Possible Afib”.

I rang my sister in law about something else, and talked to her about what was going on (she’s a nurse), and that helped me formulate a plan.

Since I wasn’t in any pain, didn’t have shortness of breath or anything, I said that I didn’t feel I was in any immediate danger. So, based on what my sister in law and I discussed, I made an appointment with the cardiologist I saw privately back on October. I’m still waiting for a follow-up with the cardiology department at Waikato Hospital, and it’s likely I’ll be waiting for quite some time yet. Even so, the earliest I could get a private appointment was August 31. There's more to all that, too.

In mid-May, the Waikato DHB (District Health Board) was hit with a ransomware attack, which meant there were no computer resources available until some started to be restored over the past week. The worst part of that is that radiation therapy for cancer patients was unavailable, and they had to be sent to other parts of the country (there was also a plan to send them to Australia, but that turned out not to be necessary; those services have now been restored). But this meant that all outpatient appointments were cancelled, and no appointments for new ones were issued, so there is likely to be a backlog of many, many weeks. That most likely includes my cardiology follow-up, which is another of my motivations for getting a private appointment: Ten and a half weeks is likely to be faster than waiting for the public system (I also think that at least part of the reason it’ll take so long to see the cardiologist privately is precisely because people couldn’t be seen in the public system).

I made an appointment to see my doctor yesterday, so Wednesday afternoon I quickly went out to get my blood drawn for my routine tests (important information for the doctors). I also sent a copy of the ECG reports to my doctor and the cardiologist. My doctor sent me a message saying, “Your ECG readings look like sinus rhythm with extrabeats (ectopics) rather than AF”. Sinus rhythm is normal, and ectopic heartbeats are extra or skipped heartbeats in otherwise normal rhythm. There may or may not be a cause, but it’s usually not life-threatening (unless, possibly, it’s associated with some other condition).

The problem here is that I have a history of heart rhythm problems, and it’ll be necessary to find out if it’s that or just ectopics. To do that, my doctor is asking the cardiologist to arrange a special monitor that records my heart rhythm for a week, apparently recording whenever I push a button so it can get a reading whenever I feel unwell, and during the actual event.

In the meantime, I’m continuing on with my medication as I described ten days ago, but I decided to do a couple extra things, too: I’m avoiding alcohol, which can aggravate AFib as well as cause ectopic heartbeats, and I’m also severely limiting caffeine (there’s no conclusive evidence that it affects AFib, but it has been linked to ectopics).

If I do all that, and otherwise look after myself as I’ve been doing (like taking my prescriptions on time and not missing doses), it may be enough to stop this. Or, maybe not. If it doesn’t the monitor might show what’s going on, or, at least, determine if it’s just ectopics rather than a bigger rhythm problem—or maybe a different, non-heart problem.

Aside from all this, but related to it, is that the results of my blood tests were all good. My cholesterol is the best it’s been in ten years of monitoring (which I know because I have a spreadsheet of all the results over the past ten years—of course). My iron levels, liver function, kidney function—all are good. What I was particularly glad to see is that the thyroid level that had been high while I was on the potentially dangerous drug amiodarone had returned to normal (I was taken off the drug after my procedure last December).

All of which means this health journey isn’t over yet. My desire to feel less tired all the time will be unfulfilled for now, because until we know more about what’s going on, keeping my heart rate slowed is prudent. Changing my anticoagulant/blood thinner will be deferred even longer. I’m okay with all that, though, because I want to find out what’s happening first.

Ten days ago, I said that I didn’t know “how likely it is that this attempt could end in a setback.” Technically, this isn’t a set-back as such, it’s more like slowing things down a bit.

And, as always, I still hope for the best.

Important note: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.