Saturday, January 30, 2021

Revisiting the departed

If you had the opportunity to use a virtual recreation of a loved one who’s died to “visit” them, would you? As “artificial intelligence”, 3-D visual rendering, and fully-immersive virtual reality continues to improve, there will come a time when it will be possible to “visit” a very convincing and realistic imitation of a loved one we’ve lost. We’re not there yet, though, which may or may not be a good thing. In the meantime, we still need to rely on “old fashioned” things like photographs, videos, and audio recordings.

I became aware of this recently when I saw a post on one of the gay widower Facebook groups I’m part of. A member shared an article about a documentary series from South Korean broadcaster MBC, which “shows reunions between South Koreans and their deceased loved ones through VR technology.” Not surprisingly, there were varied reactions to the idea from the folks who, like me, have lost their partners. Some would take advantage of it, some wouldn’t, and I said I probably would just because I’d be fascinated by the technology and would want to see what it was like. At the same time, I’d know it wasn’t real, so I’d probably mainly keep noticing what they got right and wrong.

That’s a decision I may never need to make, or, at least, not for a long time. In the meantime, I have things like photographs and audio recordings (as I was talking about earlier today) that I can turn to “visit” Nigel—those are the real thing, not an artificial creation.

Because of that Facebook Group post, and other comments I’ve seen there and elsewhere, I came to realise how lucky I am: Not everyone has so many riches.

Photos are one of those things we probably think we have enough of, or, maybe we just don’t think about it at all. I think that’s a mistake. As I said last year:
Take photos of your loved ones—lots and lots of photos. Take too many photos, way too many, because when your loved one is gone, you won’t say, “I wish hadn’t taken so many photos of them.” What you’ll actually think, no matter HOW many photos you took, will be, “Why didn’t I take more?” Trust me on this: I know.
I was lucky in that I had a lot of photos of Nigel—helped by the fact I always had my phone, and so, a camera, wherever I went (sometimes modern technology is better than awesome). Even so, I said in that post that I’d like “a breadth of photos showing the Nigel I knew and loved”, and the only way to have those is if we’d taken more.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about losing all their photos, like through some disaster, and that’s always sad. Nowadays, digital photos can be stored “in the cloud” so they don’t have to be lost in the same way printed photos can be (there are other issues with digital photos, but the point is merely that it’s easier to keep them even in the event of a household disaster).

I’ve also heard people talking about how they wished they had audio of dead loved ones speaking, because they were beginning to forget what their loved one sounded like. This was a problem particularly for older people who maybe never had a video camera nor any reason to make an audio-only recording. In the future that’ll probably be less common, again because of the ready availability of smartphones.

All of that means that in the future we won’t need to do without audio and video reminders of the loved ones we’ve lost, and, as a widower, I think that’s a really good thing. But to realise that opportunity, there’s more that we all need to do.

As I said last year, we all need to take a lot of photos. We also need to shoot at least the occasional video, which would give us audio and video of our loved ones. This means we also need to allow ourselves to be photographed and videoed, at least sometimes. Whoever survives whom will be glad we all did that.

We’re nowhere near having a convincing way to artificially “visit” with dead loved ones yet, which means regardless of whether or not that’s a good thing, we’ll need to continue to rely on “old fashioned” things like photographs, videos, and audio recordings for quite some time to come. I think we all need to play our part in preserving what we can of our loved ones—and ourselves. That way, those left behind can “visit” the real thing, and not an artificial imitation.

Hearing voices

Yesterday I shared an episode of my podcast on my personal Facebook. It was from way back in June, 2007, when Nigel was my guest for the first time. I decided to share it because it occurred to me recently how lucky I am that I have a lot of audio of Nigel, mostly from my podcast, and also even some video. This means that I have actual samples of what he sounded like, and that means I can hear his voice whenever I want to.

Nigel encouraged me to podcast (and to blog, for that matter), and he agreed to be a guest as long as I “interviewed” him. So, I came up with a list of questions and tried to knit them together, and it ended up being more or less coherent. When we recorded, I was nervous as hell, for a lot of reasons, and he was nervous, too, something I can hear in his voice at the beginning. We both got better as it went on.

This was the 19th episode of my podcast, only some three months after I’d started, and the sound quality wasn’t as good as I’d do now, and even my voice control was worse then. But Nigel? He was good, and only became better the longer we continued.

I listened to it Thursday night, and decided I’d share it the next day. In coming weeks, I’ll share more episodes after I listen to them, too, so I can also comment and share insights on them. In this particular episode, Nigel tells some of his origin story, if you will, and that alone is worth a listen, I think.

When I shared the podcast episode, I said: “This sort of thing may cause a tear or two for anyone, knowing how the story turned out, but for me it was just nice to hear his voice and to be reminded of that particular fun time.” Here’s something that I think is an interesting and probably important thing: Listening to it made me feel good, and any sad moments were short. I’m not entirely sure why that was, but it certainly felt more “real” to me than any of the photos I have because it was a living, breathing Nigel talking, and not a static moment captured in one photo. It made me feel all the good things about having been Nigel’s partner and husband. There haven’t been many times over the past 16 months when I’ve felt that without also feeling incredibly sad. Progress, perhaps.

I actually have no idea why I didn’t listen to that or any other episode before—maybe I wasn’t ready? The thing is, the only audio of him I’ve listened to in the past few months was an audio message he sent me by text on what turned out to be one of his last days. He sounded absolutely terrible—sick, weak, defeated, and that reminded me how I felt all three of those things because there was nothing I could do to take away his suffering. I should have listened to the audio from happier days, but I just didn’t. Never thought of it. I’m so very glad that I finally did.

A few notes about this episode: The link at the top of this post will take you to my podcast site, where there’s an audio player (at the bottom of the linked post). Or, you can download it to your computer if you want to. The episode is 46:44 long. I should also note that the comments for that episode were here on this blog (because in those days I didn’t have the podcast site).

Listening to that episode almost made me want to resume podcasting, and I think Nigel would be glad about that. I’m at least thinking about it more seriously than I have in quite awhile, which is—something, I guess.

What was important to me was being able to spend some time with Nigel again, even if it was only through an audio recording from more than thirteen years ago. It felt like yesterday. I also now realise that I can hear his voice from happier days whenever I want to, and that makes me happy.

This is probably obvious, but parts of this post began as what I posted on my personal Facebook. This post, however, is greatly expanded from that version.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Photographic memory

Photos capture things for us in ways almost nothing else can. People and moments that we left behind long ago, and ones from the past we were never part of if the first place, can all be right in front of us. There’s a power in that. There’s also the power they give to us to remember and to learn—even from and about ourselves.

I’ve recently shared a few different photos, which isn’t anything new, but I’ve also been talking more about the photos themselves. As part of that, I told the story of what was behind this year’s birthday selfie. That, in turn, made me start looking at what I’d shared in previous years, and what they told me about, well, me. There were a lot of different things I noticed.

The first and most obvious thing is that I didn’t start taking those selfies until 2015 (see image at right), though there were photos of me in my 2009 birthday post. However, those photos were taken taken of me and not by me: They weren’t selfies. Once I had all the photos together, I looked at each one as a sort of yearly milepost, since, unlike any other photos of me, they were all taken at the same time of year.

I don’t know if I intended for the photos in 2015 and 2016 to have the same theme (I probably did), however, I do know that in both photos, as with so many others, I deliberately made sure that my left hand was visible because then my rings would be, too. I’ve always felt a responsibility to be a symbol of a happy, long-term gay relationship, and that’s the most consistently visible way I did that, even though I didn’t actually ever say that until now.

Until I did this project, I never noticed that I wore the same shirt in 2016 and 2017. I’m certain that wasn’t intentional. From now on, I’ll double check, so if I repeat a shirt, it’ll be deliberate.

There are much more important things, though.

2016 was the birthday before my stent (that was the following August), and I think I can see that. 2017 was the last birthday when we lived on Auckland’s North Shore—just about a month before we moved to Clarks Beach in South Auckland. I was concerned about that move, which I suppose is a subject in itself, and I think I can see that, too.

2018 was my first birthday in Clarks Beach (see my note about 2017, but I was also affected by the prescriptions I was on, as I've mentioned frequently, which was a much bigger thing). 2019 was the year of my 60th birthday, and there’s a hint of a smile. 2020 I was in the midst of moving out of Clarks Beach, and my smile is kinda real, but only because I was so very tired that day (plus my neighbour was standing nearby watching in case I wanted her to take it for me; I didn’t because it had to be a selfie—of course!). And this year’s photo has a partly faked smile, thought I’m not sure how big a part.

Those are things that may or may not be obvious to others, but there was one more thing I was curious about: Ageing.

A few weeks, a couple months at most, after Nigel died, I looked at myself in the mirror and was surprised at how much I’d visibly aged. I’d heard of that sort of thing happening, but I was surprised at the visual confirmation.

That was one of the things I was most interested in seeing: Was there photographic evidence of my seemingly rapid ageing? I think the answer is an obvious “yes”.

From 2015 to 2019, I look more or less the same—wrinkles and lines are pretty much the same. That changed pretty dramatically in 2020 when the wrinkles in the outside corners of my eyes appeared. Those were slightly better in 2021, suggesting that some of my appearance in 2020 was because of deep fatigue and the stress of shifting from the last house Nigel and I shared to one in a new city—and, obviously, without him.

For years I’ve been looking at the two vertical creases at the top of my nose, between my eyes. I watched them get worse over time, and told Nigel at some point I’d definitely consider botox for them. He just rolled his eyes. Those creases got worse after Nigel died.

There are two things about all this. First, the photos show me that I wasn’t imagining things, and it’s always nice to have that sort of confirmation of a feeling or hunch. However, the other thing about this is that I mostly don’t care about it: If we’re lucky, we get older, and changes are inevitable if we have the gift of longevity. On the third hand, I didn’t want to see it quite yet.

A month or so ago, on a whim, I bought a men’s moisturiser that, it says, is specifically designed for men and promises to fight visible signs of ageing. I’m a sceptic by nature, and this was no different. I’m well aware that in many cases this sort of stuff is at least substantially the same for men and women, the only differences being packaging, maybe fragrance, and often price, with men paying more for essentially the same thing women buy. Be that as it may, the product was for men, right? Worth a try, right?

I started using it a couple weeks before my birthday, maybe every second or third day, and I noticed over this past weekend that the vertical creases are softened compared to what they had been over the previous year. A fluke? My imagination? Quite possibly. But it was encouraging enough for me to begin using it twice every day, as the package recommends. I’m also now paying more attention to the corners of my yes (which I wasn’t really doing before). In another month or two I may take another photo just so I can compare more directly.

I’m doing all this for the same reason I still dye my beard (when I can be bothered…): It’s entirely for me, and no one else. When I look at myself in the mirror, I want to see the “me” I feel, which is usually somewhat younger than my chronological age. If using this stuff can make me see the same guy I feel I am, then that alone is justification. After all, it’s not for or about others, only me.

And, as my final defensive comment, I also knew the skin of my forehead was a bit dry, as are my hands a lot of the time (I wash my hands a lot nowadays, and my head is exposed to sun and wind). I could’ve used ordinary moisturiser (and I do on my hands), and not said a word about. Or I could have just said I was using moisturiser for dry skin which, while true, wasn’t the whole story. That’s not how I do things.

For years now, I’ve tried to be open, honest, and transparent about what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling mostly because I know that other people may be going through similar things as me and if they run across these posts, they’ll hopefully realise they’re not alone. Plus, these posts help me remember things, in much the same way photos do, but with the full context included.

Photos, you see, capture things for us in ways almost nothing else can, and they can also help us to understand more about ourselves when we put those photos into context. There’s power in that.

This post has been updated. Follow the link to see the update.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Twelve years later

Twelve years ago today Nigel and I had our civil union ceremony. That meant we were legally joined in the only way available to us back in 2009, though we were married in 2013. But that day in 2009 was the first time we had a proper legal status, so it matters.

Most of the previous paragraph is taken from my post on this anniversary from back in 2019, the tenth anniversary of our civil union. The first sentence was the only one I updated for this post. I couldn’t even do that last year.

In my defence, on January 24 last year I’d only just moved into my new house and didn’t had full Internet yet, so posting much of anything on this blog was difficult, and, anyway, I was busy trying to get the basics unpacked and the house in some semblance of order. But I also don’t seem to have mentioned it on on my personal Facebook, either—and I apparently didn’t in 2019, either.

So: Here I am. It’s 12 years since that hot summer day when the life that Nigel and I had spent 13 years building was finally legally recognised. Here’s how I summarised when I shared the FB “Memory” (above) on my personal Facebook today:
Twelve years ago today, Nigel and I finally had legal recognition of our relationship, more than 13 years after it began. A little less than five years later, we were able to legally marry, and we did. We had the civil union ceremony at a big family event at our house on January 24, 2009—an incredibly hot day. Then we pivoted and it became a 50th birthday party for me because Nigel didn’t want to be the centre of attention. When we were married in 2013, it was a simple ceremony at the registry office, and then another big family party at our house a couple days later.

I think about all of that together when I think of any one part, because they were all linked. I’m so lucky that I was able to meet my true soulmate, and to marry him. No matter what the future holds, I’ll always have that.
What I didn’t know at the time I wrote that was that I’d said something in a similar vein in 2018, on the ninth anniversary of our civil union:
Everything we do in life is connected to everything else, one way or another, and our civil union was the ceremony, our later marriage the finalisation of what happened nine years ago today. And that’s why I remember it every year.
I only found that out when I was checking posts on this from previous years (and also found out I didn’t do one last year). Which goes to show, I suppose, that this blog has value for me in helping me to remember things, especially things I otherwise wouldn’t.

Technically, this anniversary no longer matters, not the least because we were married a few years after the civil union. However, it’s also clear that it’s true that “everything we do in life is connected to everything else, one way or another,” and this day 12 years ago was an important part of our “everything else”.

This anniversary was also the final event it what I called my “Season of Anniversaries”, something that also doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Yet some of the anniversaries within that “season” were especially important for me personally: The day I first arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, the day I arrived in New Zealand to live, and, of course, my birthday. However, all three, except for my birthday, were also directly connected to Nigel—actually, in a way, even my birthday was, too.

Connected as all those “everythings” are, I can’t really work out how they conenct to me in my new reality. Maybe that’s why I didn’t mention it last year. But I’m mentioning it again this year, so maybe they’ll continue to matter in the future? I have absolutely no idea. But this year I remembered, and I shared that fact. I take that at face value, and I’ll wait to see if this becomes clearer to me next year.

In 2019, I concluded with: “So, Happy anniversary to us! Once again.” I’ll go with that this year, too.


2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today
2013: Fourth Anniversary
2014: An anniversary
2015: Anniversaries
2016: A seventh Anniversary
2017: Eight years later
2018: Nine years later
2019: Ten years later
There was no post in 2020.

A shirt tale

Nigel at my 60th Birthday Party in the shirt.
Sometimes a shirt’s just a shirt, except when it isn't, like when it’s also a symbol or reminder, or whatever. There’s no end to what a simple shirt can stir up in people. I know that well.

When I posted my birthday selfie this year (which I included in my annual birthday post, at the bottom), I said: “While I’ve always been partial to blue shirts, dark blue in particular… there was a particular reason I bought this one earlier this month, but that’s a story for another time.” This is that time.

Earlier this month, I mentioned buying some shirts at a mall called Te Awa. I saw some short-sleeved shirts and walked over to look at them. As I got closer, I noticed there were some dark blue ones (among other colours), and one looked like it had an interesting pattern. When I got there and saw what the pattern actually was (detail below), I had to buy the shirt.

The photo of Nigel above shows him at my 60th birthday party wearing what was his favourite shirt at the time. What’s less obvious from that photo is that the pattern in the fabric was actually tiny repeating pink flamingos, something many people—including me—didn’t notice until he pointed it out. That alone was reason for me to buy the shirt: It reminded me of Nigel’s shirt, and that made me think how awesome he looked in it, how much he liked it, and how happy he looked wearing it at my party.

Those warm, happy memories were somewhat counterbalanced by the last time he wore it: In his coffin. It was the shirt I chose to dress him in, and it was the one he was cremated in. That could’ve been expected to put me off: There are two mental images makes me cry every single time they pop into my head, and Nigel in that box is one of them. It wouldn’t be surprising if I avoided the shirt I bought for reminding me of that scene, but it didn’t and that, too, says something.

Detail of my shirt's pattern.
Sixteen months after Nigel died, I can now choose to focus on warm, happy memories, even when a horrible one is equally possible. That’s growth, that’s change, and that’s moving forward. When I saw that shirt, it reminded me of how much Nigel loved his shirt, and how much I loved him, and buying it and wearing it reminded me of all that, not the last time I saw him in it.

It was only logical, then, that I chose to wear that new shirt for the first time for my birthday dinner, and I stopped to take my annual selfie first. I made myself smile for the photo—which still isn’t easy for me, as that photo makes obvious, I think—because I thought it better reflected all that good stuff my new shirt made me feel. I didn’t even mind that another guy at the restaurant happened to be wearing one, too; us boys don’t usually care about such things, but I was wearing it better, so there’s that. (yes, I’m joking)

That shirt is also the first of my new ones that I washed then ironed so I could wear it again (something I did mainly because I wanted it unwrinkled when I took the detail photo, to be honest). I don’t know that I’ll love that shirt as much as Nigel loved his, but I do like mine, a lot, and for its own sake, too, and not just the warm, happy memories it brings me.

And that’s my tale of that shirt, why I bought it, why it was important to me, and—especially—what all that says about where I’m at right now. This journey I’m on is nowhere near over, not by a long shot. But at least I have some nice shirts to wear along the way.

Sometimes a shirt’s just a shirt, sure. But sometimes it can also be a reminder of warm and happy memories and feelings. That dark blue shirt with the little pink flamingos is exactly that for me.

Friday, January 22, 2021

One year in Hamilton

One year ago today, I moved into my house in Hamilton. I’ve done a lot over the year since, both in general (including that total Covid lockdown) and to the house, but most (probably) of those boxes in the garage that I mentioned in the Facebook Memory at left are still largely untouched. The truth is, I simply don’t care about that.

When I began this journey four months before move-in day, I came up with a slogan of sorts, “maybe tomorrow”, to help me cope when I just couldn’t do something or other. That evolved into a new slogan, “what I can, when I can”, and I still live that 16 months after Nigel died. There’s absolutely no project, no box waiting to be emptied, that’s more important than figuring out how to be a “me” after 24 years of being half of a “we”. I’m absolutely nowhere near close to accomplishing that.

So, this day a year ago is notable as a major change in my journey, a rounding of a bend, but then as now the finish line is nowhere in sight. I have so much farther to go, and it’s still a case of “what I can, when I can”, and will be for quite awhile to come. But, you never know: Maybe tomorrow I’ll catch a glimpse of that finish line, and the “me” I will become. Maybe tomorrow.

The annual increasing number: 62

It’s that time again: My birthday has rolled around. I care about that only slightly more than I did last year, which I said at the time was “pretty much a non-event”, because it was. Last year I was in the midst of moving to Hamilton, and that disrupted things so much that I wasn’t even able to have birthday cake with family. This year, things are much more relaxed, at the very least.

Overall, I’m not doing much of anything beyond existing. That’s a simple reality that many people in my position won’t talk about, probably because they think it’s too depressing or because they think others will judge them for it. I care about all that far less than I do about my birthday.

In past years (links at the bottom of this post), what made my birthday fun was Nigel. Every day with him was a gift (even the ones where he was grumpy…), and that made me appreciate my birthday because it meant another entire year of my life spent with him. On top of that, he always made a fuss of me on my birthday, usually getting me a present, often taking me out to dinner even when my birthday was in the middle of the week, when he was quite tired in the evening. He made my birthday fun.

Now, all of that is gone.

The reality is that I don’t think that the fact I survived another full year is anything to celebrate in itself (except insofar as doing so during a global pandemic and with the growing threat of fascism around the world it’s an achievement for anyone). Still, I know that people will reach out to me, as they always do, and I always appreciate that—and probably more than they realise. But the fact is, none of them are Nigel.

The only thing I’d planned for my birthday was a trip to the dental hygienist, only because that was the first available appointment, as I mentioned when I made the appointment back in December. That was the first available appointment with the hygienist, and since I'd put off treatment since May of 2019 (when I was hospitalised), I didn't want to wait any longer (if I recall correctly, the next available appointment was quite a bit later on). To be sure, even quite a bit wouldn't have been enough to make me choose this particular way to "celebrate" my birthday if I wasn't keen to get this cleaning/inspection/oil change done as soon as possible.

However, that really would have been the extent of it if my cousin-in-law hadn’t organised for us all to go out for Thai for my birthday. As it happens, there was a time when we used to go out for Thai for people’s birthdays, and Nigel usually organised the one for mine. The restaurant we used to go to closed many years ago, so we started going to other restaurants/cafes. Then, of course, we moved away from Auckland’s North Shore.

This year, we went to a Thai restaurant here in Hamilton that I’ve been to before. They have nice food (which is the whole point, after all), but the company was lovely, too—it’s always nice to spend time with family.

Last night, though, there was one more aspect: I thought about the reality we were experiencing, different from my homeland: We don't physically distance because we don't presently have community transmission of Covid, and haven't for many, many months. It was a reasonably crowded restaurant, and no one there wore a mask because no one needed to. All of which made my birthday all the better, not the least because it gave me something extra to be happy about: Being able to enjoy normal life—whatever that means.

Tonight I’m having some of the family around for a roast chicken dinner, which was originally going to be the extent of my celebrations (because I celebrate my birthday over 48 hours). Now it’ll be the conclusion to this year’s observances instead the sole event.

There’s just one more thing (jeez, I sound like an Apple product launch…): After I got home last night, I poured myself a wine, fed the dogs, and then sat down to watch TV for a bit before finishing this post. I promptly fell asleep, without even finishing my wine. Getting up at 5:15am to watch the Inauguration of President Biden took its toll, especially because I’d been up late the night before (I didn’t plan on getting up to watch, so I hoped being tired would allow me to sleep through it all; in the end, the sleeping was done by Leo on my lap as I watched the proceedings). Even that was related to Nigel, as I said in my post about it.

The reality is that even now, my second birthday since Nigel died, he's still on my mind, and my sense of loss is bigger on my (and his) birthday than it is most other days. That's why I wasn't keen on celebrating this year, but the fact I ended up doing things anyway is a demonstration of the importance of what I still do have. In a way, Nigel's still giving me a birthday present. Thanks, sweetheart.

Here’s my annual birthday selfie, taken on my birthday just before I left the house to go to dinner:

The Illinois Route 62 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. According to Wikipedia: Illinois Route 62 “is a 20.82-mile-long (33.51 km) east–west state road in northeast Illinois. It runs from western Algonquin at IL 31 (Western Algonquin Bypass) to the intersection with IL 83 (Elmhurst Road) by industrial Mount Prospect.” It’s possible that I was on that road at some point, but I don’t know either way.

My Previous Birthday posts:

2020: The annual number increase happened
2019: Another 'Big Birthday'
2018: The annual increasing number: 59
2017: The annual increasing number: 58
2016: The annual increasing number: 57
2015: The annual increasing number: 56
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

Thursday, January 21, 2021

I watched this year—for Nigel

After I moved to New Zealand, I didn’t always watch the live coverage of the inauguration of a new president. I watched it in 2008, and for much the same reason I did this time: To make sure the new president replaced the one I couldn’t stand (though, ironically, I was thinking today how much better Bush 2 seems than he did back then, but that’s all on the guy who lost the 2020 presidential election, who has already been labelled, correctly, “the worst-ever US President”).

I didn’t watch it any year before that, or in 2012, for a simple reason: The swearing-in takes place at 6am New Zealand time, and the festivities earlier than that. That’s the real reason I didn’t watch in 2017, as I said at the time, and not because of who it was, much as I detested him.

All of which means that it’s more common for me to not watch. This year I had a particular reason for not watching: Worry. After the terrorists’ attempted coup last week, I was worried that they’d attack President Biden or the Inauguration Ceremonies, and I felt I simply couldn’t bear seeing that on live TV.

But, I did watch. And the main reason for that was to honour Nigel.

As I’ve said before, one the things Nigel said to me after he was diagnosed in September last year was, “I just hope I live long enough to see that bastard voted out of the White House.” Things didn’t work out that way, of course.

So, I felt a special duty to try and make him proud. I dedicated my vote to him, and when I woke up this morning around 5:15, debating whether I should get up and watch, I remembered watching the 2008 Inauguration with him, and I immediately knew that if he was alive he’d be up and watching “to see that bastard… out of the White House”. He would have let out a cheer.

I got up and watched the event live (via ABC News livestream on YouTube; I tried to watch it on NZ programmes, but found them, TV3 in particular, insufferable). I held my breath at a few times when I felt President Biden was at risk (especially walking down Pennsylvania Ave as he headed to the White House). The fact that the guy who lost the election last November acted like a spoiled brat and left Washington early made the swearing-in a little less dramatic—and exciting—than it would have been otherwise, but it nevertheless meant the end to the darkest period in American political history in my lifetime was finally over. I know that Nigel would’ve been beaming from ear to ear, and I certainly was, pretty much on behalf of us both.

In the end, I was glad I didn’t have to see anything of the loser as he left Washington. It would have been as annoying, and even angering, as any other time I’d had the misfortune to see or hear him speak (to this day I’ve never heard, watched, or read the campaign speech the loser gave in 2017). His absence made the day an even happier one.

Despite my reservations about doing it, I got up (very) early and watched the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I’m glad I did.

This one was for you, Nigel. Just don’t expect me to do that for you every four years.

President Biden’s Inaugural Speech can be read at the White House website.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Sleep reali-tea

Yesterday was a much better day than I’ve had lately, and I owe that to chamomile tea.

I’d been feeling like crap for a week, give or take—extremely tired, depressed, unable to motivate myself to do much of anything. As it happens, I’d been having trouble with sleeping, too: Sometimes it would take me an hour or so to fall asleep or I’d wake up for an hour or so. I’d also sometimes jolt awake and/or feel anxious.

I’d been monitoring my blood pressure and heart rhythm anyway, and all have been normal. Also, I don’t consume caffeine after around 4pm, sometimes much earlier than that. So, I thought it might be the prescriptions I’m still on (they won’t be reviewed for maybe a couple months). Then it hit me: What if my lack of good sleep was the problem and not a symptom?

I remembered how when I had sleep trouble in the past I used to have a cup or two of chamomile tea before going to bed, and I decided to try that on Wednesday night. Result: I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in ages.

I felt good enough yesterday to venture out to go to the supermarket, the first time I felt like leaving the house in nearly a week. While I was there I got more chamomile tea (I’m running out), and I looked at flavoured versions because, honestly, chamomile tea isn’t exactly nice. The version in the photo was lower in sodium than a similar version from an overseas brand, and that’s something I need to monitor.

I’m keenly aware that chamomile tea isn’t actually tea, but a “herbal infusion” (it must have Camellia sinensis or it’s not tea, as I mentioned in a blog post ten years ago this year). But I also know that chamomile “tea” works for me, whatever it’s properly called. I felt good yesterday because of it.

However (there’s always a “but”, isn’t there?), chamomile tea/infusion/tisane isn’t magic or perfect. Many things we consume can affect sleep, everything from stress, emotional issues, temperature of the bedroom, and also things we consume, like having too much sugar (as well as caffeine), especially too late in the day. Such stimulants can hide in unexpected places, so it’s actually quite easy to have “too much”.

All of which means that chamomile can’t fix everything. Still, it’s worth trying, and is definitely a healthier option than alcohol—especially because alcohol can disrupt normal sleep patterns, possibly causing a bad night’s sleep.

Last night I had my two cups of chamomile—and had a terrible night’s sleep. I think I had too much sugar too late in the day (I may, quite possibly, have bought some particularly yummy soft chocolate chip cookies at the grocery store; I can neither confirm nor deny that). This underscores what I’m saying: A chamomile hot beverage may help with sleep, and, in fact it often does for me. However, there are so many things that affect sleep that it’s unreasonable to expect any one thing to “fix” any problems. My experience provides examples of both why that is, as well as how chamomile can sometimes help. Your results may vary.

Still, anything that helps, even if only sometimes, is a good thing, provided it does no harm. I’m going to keep using it, and it’ll help—sometimes, anyway. I’ll drink to that!

I bought the tea at normal retail prices—I wasn’t compensated in any way for including that particular brand of flavoured chamomile herbal infusion in the photo above—I just wanted a reason to take a selfie. This post is a revised, expanded, and updated version of something I posted to my personal Facebook

This post has been updated. Follow the link to see the update.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Garden hose trolley project

On New Year’s Day I bought myself a present: A new trolley for my garden hose, which I mentioned in my first real post of the year. I posted about it on Instagram, where I said:
…I chose this one because it’s plastic (I had the handle on one rust away), but mostly because the handle is just enough higher that it makes it more comfortable pulling it around (the current one is shorter, which makes me stoop over when I use it). Also, there’s that pulley on a threaded rod thing that I hope will keep the damn hose from tangling. I also got a 2-metre hose to connect it to the tap. The one I have will go on the other side of the of the house so I can use it out front.
A few days ago I got around to putting it together (the new one is left in the photo above). The one I’m replacing is in the centre, and the old, old now handle-less one is on the right.

The handle of the new one may not look much taller, but trust me: Those few centimetres make a huge difference to a tall person like me. And that pulley-on-an-auger sort of thing feeds the hose onto the reel, then when it gets to the end it reverses and winds it going the opposite direction, then reverses again at the other end, and so on. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to neatly wind a rose on its reel easily—without swearing, anyway.

Some side notes: The green hose on the middle cart is my original hose I’ve had for more than 20 years, I think, and it was a gift. It was originally on the trolley on the right. The hose on the new trolley came with the middle trolley, and Nigel put the hose connectors on it for me and put it on the cart without a handle (and he put the green hose onto the middle trolley for me; the green hose had an unusual connection to the trolley, so I couldn’t just move it to the new trolley). The connector for the grey hose’s hand spout thing fell off at the old house, and Nigel never got around to fixing it. I know I have some connector bits somewhere, but nowhere I could find easily (and garage was way too hot to spend any effort searching), so I don’t want to buy new ones just yet.

In addition to finding and installing the connector on the hose end, I also have to clean the oldest reel and wind my long heavy duty power lead onto it—once I find THAT!

The assembly itself was reasonably painless. It took me roughly 25 minutes to put it together, and I only made one mistake, but it was inconsequential, which is good: I couldn’t figure out how to take it apart to fix it. There were only 28 parts to assemble, of which ten were screws (see photo below).

It’s not often that a “needs assembly” item is as easy to put together as that hose trolly was, but I was glad for that. It was a minor project, and one that wasn’t necessarily on my list to do right away, but at least it’s done.

Check another one off the list.

This post began life as something I posted to my personal Facebook, but this version is revised.

This post has been updated. Follow the link to see the update.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The first, first anniversary

One year ago today I settled on my house in Hamilton, picked up the keys from the realtor, then went to the house, unlocked the door, and walked inside for the first time as owner. It was the first time I’d ever done that without Nigel, and I got to that point a bit less than four months after he died.

It was a lot of work (physical, emotional, organisational, etc.) to get to that point, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the support of the family, especially my brother-in-law, who came to Auckland to attend meetings with me, went to the realtor in Hamilton with me so I could sign the contract to purchase, and, in general, helped me work out what I was going to do. Throughout the process, I’d been terrified that the brain fog I was in (both from grief and the prescriptions I was on) would mean I’d miss something important. I didn’t, not the least because I had backup.

Over the following 12 days, I had the new house wired for Ethernet, a heat pump installed in the master bedroom, and the set-up prepared so my computer servers could be relocated to the new house. My brother-in-law coordinated all that for me (important because I was still in Auckland at the old house) and arranged for the IT people to come to the old house to turn off and take away the servers (I wouldn’t have had a clue how to pack them up myself). Over the following days, they cleaned up and streamlined those servers for me, and then came to the house to install everything.

I’ll have more to say about all this on the anniversary of the day I moved in, but today, for me, is about reflection and gratitude. It’s been a pretty crap year, of course, for a whole lot of reasons, but my single-minded determination to keep moving forward got me through it, and the support of the entire family provided the base I could safely build on. All of which is what got me to the point I could put that key in the lock to the front door of my new house for the first time as owner, one year ago today.

This post began as a post on my personal Facebook, when I shared the Facebook "Memory" at the top of this post. I also published a post about this last year, when it happened.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

A good start to 2021

The new year has had a good start for me, all things considered. That’s not remarkable in itself, but it’s probably notable all the same when so little about the past 15+ months has been good. January is usually my best period of the year, so New Year’s Eve usually kicks off something good for me.

I stayed up alone (apart from the dogs…) on New Year’s Eve, something I’ve done most years of my life (adult life, anyway). I’ve always liked New Year’s Eve and the excitement I got from seeing an old year go, combined with the hope for the new one. I completely understand why others might not share my enthusiasm, like that they simply don’t like staying up late, or maybe it’s that it reinforces awareness that time moves quickly. To each their own.

Up until last year, I had one ritual: Nigel usually woke up at midnight so we could have our first kiss of the year. Last year, I improvised a solution since Nigel wasn’t there anymore, but this year I didn’t—though I startled the dogs with a yelp of joy at midnight.

The thing is, 2020 was my first full calendar year without Nigel. The first anniversary of his death was also in 2020, which only gave me one more reason to loathe the year. The truth is, those two facts—that 2020 was my first calendar without Nigel, and that the first anniversary of his death was also in 2020—were my main reasons for being glad to see the year end. On the other hand, the end of 2020 means all the “firsts” are now over, so there’s that.

New Year’s Day was fairly quiet for me: I went to feed my relatives’ cats while they were away, then went and got myself a “New Year’s Present” (which I shared on Instagram, but I’ll talk about it here later, once the project is done). A stop at the supermarket on the way home to pick up a few things, and that was it. Yep, a quiet and low-key day.

Yesterday I went out for lunch with a sister-in-law and my cousin-in-law, which was very nice. But it didn’t start out so great.

Yesterday morning I was going to fill my pill box for the week when and realised I’d run out of my blood-thinner pills. I’m very well aware that it’s my responsibility to take care of and monitor things like impending prescription refills, however, the chemist sends me a text when refills are due, and this time I didn’t get one (I’m guessing because of the holidays). I meant to follow-up early last week, but forgot.

This was a problem because the chemist was closed on Saturday, and they’re not open on Sundays. For all I know, they may be closed on Monday, too (which is the statutory holiday for January 2, since that fell on a Saturday this year – UPDATE: They were closed on Monday, Jan 4). Obviously I couldn’t wait, so I had to get “emergency” pills at the another chemist, but because they don’t have my prescription on file, I had to pay the full price of the drug, something like $5 per pill. By contrast, when I refill my prescriptions right now they’re free, but next month they go back to $5 per prescription until I hit my annual cap again. That means that most of the year $5 would buy me an entire month’s supply, not just one day.

I got enough pills to last me until Tuesday, when the chemist will probably be open again, and when I get my refills I’ll add an alert to my phone calendar to remind me to renew. Live and learn.

That means that lunch was an especially welcome and good time, not the least because it helped me calm down and re-centre after my panic over running out of very important pills. Plus the company was awesome, of course.

The place we went for lunch is at Te Awa, the enclosed mall that’s part of The Base shopping centre. I took advantage of that. I bought some shirts at a store with a 20% off New Year Sale, so I saved something like $30 overall. I also went to look for some shoes.

I went to a “cheap shoe place” and bought some that were what I’d call “casual dressy”, and some just for around the house. I have to wear something on my feet around the house because if I stub a toe, that can cause a gout attack. I wanted something other than slippers, and the shoes I got were fine for what I wanted. The store had a New Year Sale, so I saved a whopping $15.

After that, I went to sports store, as weird and out of character as that sounds, because I wanted to get some walking shoes. I want to start walking to help me lose the weight that the alcohol free beer has forced me to keep (and just to be healthier in general), but I didn’t have any shoes that were good for that. So, I bought two different pairs (so I have options), but with no New Year Sale specials, I spent far, far more than I would’ve liked. Knowing me, though, this will motivate me to actually go walking so that I get my money’s worth out of those shoes.

A final stop was the pet store so I could get more food for the babies, some treats, and a new water bowl (it has a flat edge, and so, it fits against the kitchen wall better and less intrusively than their old round one). They had a New Year Sale (well, actually, it was their Boxing Day Sale, and it lasts until January 6. Sigh.) and I saved $56.30 (plus another $22.72 “frequent feeder discount” which is basically a loyalty scheme; all up, my savings were $79.02). That was my best haul of the day, so I was glad that I deliberately chose to stock up while the sale was on.

Today is a stormy day (thunderstorms and rain), so I’ve stayed home. Apart from laundry, I haven’t done all that much today, which is kind of nice—as relaxing usually is. I don’t necessarily know that I’ll do more tomorrow, but that’s part of the adventure, I guess.

So, 2021 has had a good start. Right now, that’s enough.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses

Well, 2021 just arrived in New Zealand, so we appear to have made it into a New Year eagerly anticipated more than many others have been, certainly in my lifetime. For me, it’s the second year in a row I was glad to see a year end and a new one begin, so I’m especially hopeful for 2021. Plenty of others are hopeful, too. I think we’ll all need to do our part to make those hopes real.

Happy New Year!