Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Jab job

New Zealand has begun its Covid-19 vaccination programme, and has begun to deliver greater clarity about it. The country was at a disadvantage in that being small meant bigger countries were able to muscle in to ensure their countries were at the front of the queue. However, things are now underway, and that’s what matters.

I looked into this because of a question Roger Green asked me in a comment on on my post about the travel bubble with Australia. He said:

An Ask Arthur Anything request: Just how IS the vaccine distribution in NZ (and Australia, if you know) going? How many have been vaccinated once? Twice? What vaccines are you using? Is there any vaccine hesitancy? By which groups (political, ethnic)? Are there populations underserved? Who is doing the vaccinations? Hospitals, health departments, pharmacies, personal physicians?

According to the Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Plan (available as a PDF from the Unite Against Covid-19 website), New Zealanders are divided into four groups, and the timing of our eligibility for the vaccine depends on which group we’re in:

Group One is roughly 50,000 people and includes “Border and MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) employers and employees and the people they live with”. It “includes cleaners, nurses who undertake health checks in MIQ, security staff, customs and border officials, hotel workers, defence and police staff who are eligible to be rotated into MIQ, airline staff, port authorities and vaccinators. ” This group is pretty much completed.

Group Two is roughly 480,000 people and includes “High-risk frontline healthcare workforces who are most likely to contract and/or spread COVID-19 through their interaction with patients; Any person who usually lives in long-term residential care where residents are at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19; All people working in long-term residential environments where people are at risk of getting very sick or dying from COVID-19; Older Māori and Pacific people cared for by whānau (and the people they live with and their carers); Any person who is aged 65+ or has a relevant underlying health condition or disability living in the Counties Manukau DHB area.” This group is being done right now. And it will take until about May.

A “relevant underlying health condition” means “coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/chronic respiratory conditions, kidney disease and cancer.” Pregnant women are also included in that category. The he Counties Manukau DHB area is in South Auckland, which has the highest concentration of at-risk populations because of poverty and the poor health outcomes that results in. Until I sold our house, I lived in the Counties Manukau DHB area. The Unite Against Covid-19 Facebook page announced today that vaccinations for Group 2 have begun, and also, “If you haven't been contacted yet, don't worry you have not missed out. We are working with DHBs and health providers to confirm how vaccine appointments will work for your group. You don’t need to do anything just yet. We’ll update our website here” (Link in the original).

Group three is roughly 1.7 million people and includes “People in New Zealand aged 65+, people with relevant underlying health conditions, and disabled people; Adults in custodial settings.” This group is expected to begin receiving vaccines in May. I’m in this group because of my coronary disease and hypertension. “Custodial settings” mainly means jails and prisons, because “International evidence has shown that COVID-19 can spread quickly among people in custody.”

Group four is roughly 2 million people and includes “Our general population aged 16 and over.” This is expected to begin in July and continue through to the end of the year (or thereabouts).

According to a Unite Against Covid-19 Facebook Post yesterday, “More than 40,000 people in New Zealand have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.” They don’t specify the number that have had both jabs, but there are a significant portion who have had both.

New Zealand is using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine exclusively, partly because it’s the only one currently approved for use in New Zealand by our regulatory body, Medsafe. Also, they believe having one vaccine will simplify logistics, and because it’s still the most effective vaccine overall. They’re watching the research to see if it will be offered to those under 16, but at the moment, it won’t be.

I can’t comment on who will be administering the vaccine to the general population because I simply don’t know: No details have been released yet. The programme began using people from the Ministry of Health and local Public Health units, and I’d guess that will continue in the nationwide rollout, with vaccination centres established. Because the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at -70C, it’s highly improbable that it will be administered by doctors, however, the Ministry of Health is watching the research to see if the vaccine remains usable if stored at “warmer” temperatures (like -25C), and if it is, then at least some pharmacies may be able to administer it.

The underserved groups are mainly in Group 2, however, there are underserved groups in rural areas, too, and the Ministry plans special efforts (so far unannounced) to get to them (maybe in Group 3?). It’s worth remembering, though, that all the outbreaks so far have been in the cities, so rural people aren’t at particularly high risk of infection.

There’s indeed been a tiny minority loudly resisting the idea of vaccinations because they believe the same utterly loony stuff as their American cousins do (like that it’s part of a plot to implant tracking devices, etc, etc., after loony etc.). A bigger problem is that because the government has been slow to release information about the vaccination programme, it created space for grifters, crackpots, and extremists to spread misinformation and disinformation. The number who are truly anti-vaccine is very, very small, and those who say they’re unsure will likely come around when there’s more public information, including the inevitable ad campaign.

I don’t really know anything about what Australia is doing.

That’s pretty much all we know about the vaccination programme at the moment. What I do know is that, like everyone else, I’ll get my getting the vaccine when my turn comes round, and I’ll talk about it, too.

I’m just glad it’s finally underway here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Passed tense

There’s a way to to work out where a grieving person is in their journey: Language. Tense, pronouns, and titles are all indicators of where someone is in their journey. The same thing applies to the seriousness with which they deal with language. It’s all part of the process.

After Nigel died, I had a lot of problems with language, especially things like tense and pronouns. For months, maybe most of the first year, I was likely to say, for example, something like, “we have a vacuum cleaner,” using the present tense and collective pronoun. The accurate way to say either would have been, “we had a vacuum cleaner,” or “I have a vacuum cleaner.” Saying things correctly like that is such a simple thing, but so difficult to manage during grief—it seems so final, so absolute.

This isn’t a new revelation for me, of course. I talked about the background reality back in April of last year, when I said:
Over the past several weeks, I’ve realised that the question for me isn’t what will I do in my new life, but the more simple, “who am I?” After 24 years of being half of a WE, now I have to find out how to be just a ME. This is a much bigger deal than I could ever have guessed.
As I said on our seventh marriage anniversary back in October, there were several “days marking us becoming an us”, and in a separate post later that day I said:
I often still say us, our, and we, in the present tense, which is mostly out of a decades-long habit. Sometimes I remember to use the past tense, or use the pronouns for me alone. That much is evolving, but it’s still part of the fact that, in my mind, I think of us as an us, even though we’re no longer together physically.
That right there is the heart of the whole thing: It’s not easy to transition from being half of a couple. And yet, that was slowly happening for me, as those posts in April and October—six months apart—demonstrate.

These days, I refer to a thing as “my’, where not long ago I’d have said “our”, and that includes not just things that were once ours, but even some things that I thought of as being Nigel’s. The shift happened in part because I got tired of tripping over my words, especially when “our” no longer made much sense. It felt awkward at first, almost as if I was using words I’d just learned for the first time and wasn’t entirely sure I was using correctly. But I used them anyway.

The one thing I sometimes still struggle with is labels. I’m a widower and Nigel is my late husband, and, while both things are true, I’m very inconsistent about saying that. The subject of labels came up recently in one of the gay widower Facebook Groups I’m part of. People weighed in on whether they had/would change their Facebook relationship status to “Widowed” rather than, say, “Married”. That’s something I’ve never done—mine still says “married”—but it’s something that pops into my head from time to time when I see it on my About page. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter to me because it’s social media, not real life, and that means it’s thoroughly unimportant.

Some gay men in this situation point out that we fought too long and too hard for marriage equality to give up the label too quickly or easily, and I think they have a point. Many of them also say that they still consider themselves married, and I still consider myself married, too. Yet neither of those things prevent me from changing my relationship status on Facebook: Mere inertia does that.

One thing I hadn’t considered is that using “widowed” can open one up to scammers and users who prey on those they think are vulnerable, easy targets. I’m not at risk, for a lot of reasons, but it does give me pause when I think about any of my other, public descriptions. Again, it’s not enough to make me avoid changing the status, but when I think about it for a moment or two every now and then, I do stop for a second. Then, I think about something else, something more important to me.

And all of that demonstrates what I was talking about at the start of this post: “Tense, pronouns, and titles are all indicators of where someone is in their journey.” When I began my journey, I didn’t change pronouns or tense, and ended up saying things like “we have one of those” meaning I have it, but I could easily also say “had” in that same example for something I still have. It was a confusing time, so it’s no surprise that my word choice and tense was often confused and confusing.

Over time, things settled down, and I began to use pronouns referring to me (unless “we” was relevant, of course), and I talked about Nigel and our life in the past tense. It’s been an evolutionary change as I became more accustomed to my new reality. I (usually) get the tense “correct” now when I’m speaking because I’ve passed the point where I still cared about it.

So, too, the seriousness with which I took all that has also diminished over time. Where once I might fret over which pronoun or tense I used, now I take very little notice. The reason the whole label thing isn’t actually resolved is also because of this reality: I don’t really care about labels—actually, I don’t think I ever really did.

The grief process is a journey with some visible and identifiable markers along the way. In my experience, and that of many others, it seems, language, tense, pronouns, and titles are all indicators of where someone is in their journey, and the seriousness with which they deal with language can be, too.

It’s all part of the process.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 351 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 351, “Fourteen years” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the AmeriNZ Podcast—which, as it happens, is also exactly one year since my previous episode. This episode is about what I've been up to over the past year.

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

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Kitchen brilliance

Over the past year, I’ve done a lot of experimenting in the kitchen. Much of it has worked out well, and some it—hasn’t. But the true brilliance in the kitchen from now on won’t be from my efforts, it’ll be from the sun. It's all because of something I had installed this past Thursday.

Way back in November of last year, I went to the Waikato Home and Garden Show and, among other things, I talked with the people from Solatube, a company that provides special skylight-like solutions. I talked with others, too, but theirs is an established, well-known brand, and that will help at resale time. Specifically, it’s a super reflective tube that extends above the roof, with a clear dome on top. It catches and reflects daylight down into the house. I was interested in it because my kitchen is quite dark: It’s in the middle of the main living area, with interior walls on three sides. The only daylight light comes from across the room.

A true skylight would have been very expensive, and probably a bit of overkill, since the kitchen isn’t all that big. This was the best solution to get full daylight into the kitchen (see before and after photos, at the right side of this post, both taken at roughly the same time of day on Thursday and Friday under similar circumstances: All curtains and blinds open, and no electric lights turned on).

Because of where the peak of the roof is, and also the location of the roof trusses, the only place the ceiling part could go was directly over the sink. That means it also directly lights the peninsula, which is were I do most of my prep work when cooking or baking, and that’s a bonus. Of course, there’s also plenty of daylight to light up the whole room.

I was aware that sometimes full sunlight streaming in might be a bit much. Say I wanted to watch a movie, and I’d closed all the curtains and blinds: The kitchen would be in full daylight. So, I also got an optional dimmer (as they call it), which is a motorised diaphragm-flap-thingee that allows me to control the amount of light allowed into the kitchen, including shutting out the light. This will also allow me to shut out the light from a full moon at night, should I want to do that (apparently, it’s not only werewolves who want to do that).

There’s a frosted glass “lens” at the ceiling opening to diffuse and soften the light (I got to choose which style I liked best). Above that is another clear lens, and that acts as a thermal break, like double glazing, to prevent heat loss in winter/heat gain in summer.

So, far, it’s been awesome—and very surprising. It often looks like I have a bright ceiling light on, even in the morning when I first get up (it’s getting light later already, but, even so, I no longer have to turn on a light to make my first cup of coffee). I’ve noticed that in full morning-to-midday sunlight the kitchen is brighter than the rest of the space, which has windows and stacker doors for daylight. This is probably partly because the part that extends above the roof to collect the daylight is on the eastern side of the roof peak. This light difference is greatly reduced later in the afternoon when the stacker door side is flooded with afternoon sunlight. I also noticed that when the daylight is coming through a cloudy sky, the Solatube evens out the daylight in the entire space. That means there will be good light on all but the darkest rainy days (something I should know for sure as early as this coming week, because storms are predicted for some days).

Most people have things about their homes that annoy them, even if those things are extremely small and unimportant. I’m no different. For me, the poor light in the kitchen was the thing I disliked the most. I tried hanging some mirrors horizontally (visible in the photos) to reflect light from the stacker doors across the room, but it didn’t help nearly as much as I’d hoped, not even almost (probably because what they point at is a wall next to a stacker door; they did fill a big, empty, white wall, though). Adding daylight through the Solatube has finally done the trick.

It’s true that it would have been much cheaper to have a bigger, brighter ceiling light installed, but this solution gives me natural, electricity-free daylight (before this I had to turn on the lights even in the brightest part of the day in order to truly see what I was working on in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, all this brightness has allowed me to see how poorly I’d been cleaning my kitchen up until now—I missed a lot because I simply couldn’t see it. I suppose that’s actually a sort of benefit? I also realised it’ll been good light for when I want to photograph an object of some sort, like for this blog, and I also like that.

So far, this has done exactly what I wanted it to do. While the way I control the amount of light may change over time (right now I’m not controlling it at all), the kitchen is brighter, and that was the thing I was trying to fix all along. The thing that annoyed me the most about this house is now sorted. And, I’ve assured there will be continuing brilliance in the kitchen. Some of it may even be mine.

Disclaimer: The name Solatube is a registered trademark, and it, and the link to their website, are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely and sincerely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the company, its representatives, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Busy boy

The Instagram post above highlights one of the things Leo does that I think is hilarious. Well, I do now, maybe not so much when I go to put all the bark mulch back in place.

When I thought about it after posting the photo, I realised that I haven’t posted much with Jake lately. The last time I posted a photo of the two of them was almost two weeks ago. So, equal time and all that, below is a photo of the two of them this afternoon.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Bubble trouble

Should New Zealand and Australia allow their residents quarantine-free travel between the two countries? For months, there’s been demand for that, and speculation on when it might begin. It happens every time we go more than a few weeks without a community outbreak—until one country or the other has another community outbreak and has a localised lockdown, and the idea fades for a time. Then, repeat the cycle. The stark reality is that the only way the virus can get into either country is through people arriving from overseas, so allowing anyone in without quarantine is an enormous risk.

At her Post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, March 22, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said (PDF transcript) that, “We intend to announce the commencement date for the trans-Tasman travel bubble on 6 April. Just to be clear, we intend to announce the commencement date for trans-Tasman travel on 6 April” [emphasis added]. She needed to make clear that the bubble itself wasn’t going to start then, merely the announcement of the date when it will.

The prime minister said:
“We… know that many New Zealanders are nervous. They don’t want to put everything we’ve fought so hard for at risk, and they want us to proceed in the same vein as our overall COVID response, and that is with caution.”
So, she outlined the five conditions that will need to be met before the travel bubble can begin:
  1. That our response framework for when there are cases in Australia is fit for purpose and ready.
  2. We have measures in place to effectively contact trace travellers from Australia should we need to.
  3. All technical issues are resolved, including transiting passengers and managed isolation fees when, for instance, passengers arrive in either Australia or New Zealand but their ultimate destination is different.
  4. That we have the appropriate regulatory mechanisms in place.
  5. That airlines, airports, and agencies are ready. Much work has already been done here with issues like crew separation from high-risk areas and for when they would fly in a quarantine zone, and red and green zones at our airports.
Up until now, the lack of a vaccine has kept the risk extremely high, but the other thing that’s gummed up the works is that each of Australia’s states sets its own policies and conditions of entry. Some states allowed Kiwis to enter without quarantine, while others didn’t. That made it extremely complex, and could get Kiwis in trouble if they arrived in one state, then departed for another where they didn’t have quarantine-free entry. Moreover, since New Zealand had no control over people flying from Australia—and different states had different ways of dealing with the pandemic—all Australians entering New Zealand had to go through the mandatory 14 days in managed isolation, just like everyone else—including New Zealanders.

So, there’s a lot of stuff to be sorted out before quarantine-free travel can begin, but even when it does, it will pay to be cautious: If someone travels to the other country and there’s an outbreak that pops the travel bubble, travellers will be stuck in the other country—and at their own expense, because no company will issue travel instance to cover that possibility. Worse, it could mean that a Kiwi would have to book—and pay for—a two-week stay in managed isolation, and slots are often booked out weeks/months in advance. So, if the borders were closed because of an outbreak, it’s possible a Kiwi could be stranded in Australia for weeks—or even months. Personally, I think that’s too big a risk for me. Others will make other choices.

Like many people, I don’t think it’s a good idea to risk community transmission, and we must proceed carefully. Once the vast majority of New Zealanders and Australians are vaccinated, everyday risk will be quite low—not gone, just dramatically lower than it is right now. That assumes, of course, that there are rigorous systems in place to totally separate quarantine-free travellers from those transiting or arriving from some other country—and that includes better protecting border workers who are currently one of the best routes for the virus to get loose—and that very thing was announced later on Monday evening, and that, in turn, led to two businesses closing for a deep clean because of possible contact with an infected person. That’s only a tiny example of what could happen if a group of infected Australians arrived in New Zealand and didn’t have to go through managed isolation.

On the other hand, good planning could help the situational all around. In an explainer for Stuff, ”Trans-Tasman bubble: Why it may lead to more Covid-19 cases”, Keith Lynch points out that removing Australians from managed isolation opens rooms for people from potential Covid hotspots. While that could mean soaring numbers of cases in managed isolation, if the government didn’t automatically re-allocate those rooms and kept some in reserve in case the border closed and Kiwis needed them to get home from Australia, it could reduce the burden on Kiwis were stuck on the other side of the Tasman when the borders closed. That’d be a big help—but it doesn’t really make me feel any more secure about travelling to Australia.

International travel will take a very, very long time to get back to anything even close to what it once was, but achieving that goal won’t be helped by taking too many big risks too fast. Caution is what got New Zealand to the point where life is essentially like it was pre-Covid. We don’t—can’t—risk destroying all that hard work.

Still, if any two countries are in a position to make a quarantine-free travel bubble work, it’s New Zealand and Australia. It’s not without risk, but, then, nothing in life is. Maybe the benefits will far outweigh the risks. I suppose we’ll find out relatively soon.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

I keep moving and doing

I have something I routinely do, and maybe it’s unusual, or maybe it’s common, but I try to keep moving and doing. This helps me in my grief journey not by helping ease the grief, but because it’s a way to keep focused on what is, not what was. And, it works for me.

The first thing I do is that I always accept invitations (like for dinner or lunch) unless I have a good reason not to (like an appointment at the same time). I’ve read that sometimes if people keep refusing invitations, sooner or later people stop asking. I never had to find out whether that’s true or not. At the very least, it gives me something to do outside the house.

Another thing I do is take on projects, big and small, and that includes cooking experimentation. I’ve blogged about some of my kitchen adventures before, and will again, but this past week I went a bit farther.

On Friday night, some of the family came to my place for dinner, and I decided to do something completely different (for me) and make nothing but Thai dishes. I made Pad Thai again, and it was better than the first time, earlier this month. I also made Larb Gai (a kind of lettuce wrap, though I skipped the lettuce) with pork, and it was nicer than I thought it’d be. Finally, I made Massaman Curry, which I thought was really good.

I was happy with the results, but I also had some thoughts about it. First, Nigel would be happy I made all that (and he’d have liked it), and he’d also probably have been surprised that I succeeded. It’s an indication of how far I’ve come in cooking and also experimentation. Fortunately, the family seemed to enjoy it, too.

This is part of my new reality: Doing stuff Nigel would’ve enjoyed doing with family, which was his special joy, and yet, I’m all on my own. I’m so lucky to have married into such an awesome family, who can both miss Nigel nearly as much as I do, and also enjoy the stuff he and I would. It’s a good fit—even with Nigel missing.

Then today, a sort of project: Emptying out my storage unit in Auckland.

My brother-in-law picked me up this morning because his car is bigger than mine, and some of the stuff was too heavy for me to lift alone. We went directly to the storage unit. I’ll be honest: When we started loading the car, I didn’t think it would all fit, and I was fine with that, but, well, my brother-in-law was persistent, and got it all in. I even used a piece of cardboard to “sweep” the dirt from the floor, so it’s all nice and tidy—and empty!

We got back to my house and unloaded the stuff into my garage, and it was all done before 12:30.

This mini-project was important for two reasons. First, that storage unit is now empty, so I can give it up, and that means that the last remaining thing tying me to the last place Nigel and I lived is gone. My garage is now practically overflowing, but what matters is that it’s all here now, and I can deal with it.

The other reason it’s important is that I actually asked for help, something Nigel made me promise to do, a promise that I find incredibly difficult to keep at any time, but especially when it involves heavy lifting and an hour drive each way. But, then, I knew, as I learned 25 years ago, folks in this family are always ready to help. That made the asking part a little bit easier for me, but only just.

I have my upcoming week all planned out with a new project: I’ll be working in the garage to try and bring some order to it, in preparation for something I’m having done to the house the week after that (more about that later). Now that I have one less distraction, one less thing keeping my attention divided, I can focus all my energies on this house. That’s liberating—downright magical, really.

What all of this has in common is that they have tinges of the past, present, and my possible future all mooshed together, and it’s how I try to keep moving and doing. This method wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for me, and right now that’s what matters.

I do wish I'd taken some photos of my Thai dinner last Friday, though. I was pretty great.

This blog post is based on two posts I made on my personal Facebook, but expanded and reorganised.

Friday, March 19, 2021

78 weeks today

It’s 78 weeks today since Nigel died, but, technically, not 18 months until tomorrow. Dates move, but weeks are static, so for the first year it was only the number of weeks that I really paid attention to. Now, it’s only times like this where I pay attention to the weeks.

I knew this particular time marker was coming up, of course, and I was aware that some widows/widowers have found the 18 month mark to be difficult—maybe because it’s halfway between the first and second anniversary of their loss? At any rate, I knew I might be keenly aware of the 18 month mark, but what I didn’t expect was the ferocity with which it took over my conscious mind and derailed my entire week.

Today (by weeks, tomorrow by date…) is also the first anniversary of the final settlement of the sale of the last house Nigel and I shared. I knew that was coming up, too. A year ago this week, I drove up to Auckland several times to get ready for settlement, and took several carloads of stuff to our storage unit there (and took several more carloads back to Hamilton, too).

This week I drove up to the storage unit to take photos of something I sold, and to take a carload of stuff home—this time, stuff Nigel and I put in there. The remaining stuff is mainly too big for my car. The unit is nearly empty now, which is great—after many delays caused by Covid lockdowns. But going there this week helped bring back everything—the stress of this week last year, and the bigger stress of why I had to endure this week last year at all.

Maybe I was naive. Maybe I should have anticipated how awful this week at least could be, but I didn’t. I know that it would upset Nigel to see me in so much pain this week, but he’d also understand, having gone through it himself. He’d, once again, tell me to “just breathe”, and I have. In fact, it’s what kept this week from being even worse. I guess maybe I’ve learned a thing or two over these past 78 weeks/18 months/1.5 years.

But I still miss my soulmate Nigel, every bit as much as I have all along, and I still have no idea how I’ll manage without him, or what doing so might even look like. But, yet again, I made it through a very (unexpectedly) difficult time, and that’s the main thing.

Breathe—just breathe.

The graphic above is what I shared on my personal Facebook earlier this morning. This blog post is a comment I left there, because it's the closest I can get to the "Notes" feature that Facebook discontinued.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

An ordinary Sunday all ironed out

Today was just an ordinary day. A bit hot outside, but otherwise just a quiet Sunday. Of course, every day is a quiet one for the dogs.

The photo above is of Leo and Jake lying in the sun. Leo (who’s not as pudgy as he looks in the photo) is lying on an inexpensive bathmat I put at the door to catch the grass clippings they track in (I mowed the lawns yesterday). Leo thought it made a perfect bed, I guess. He and Jake have “an understanding” and generally stay clear of each other, so they don’t normally sleep so close—and it didn’t last, because Jake moved twice in the few minutes after I took the photo Leo, meanwhile, moved to Jake’s spot and remained in the sunshine.

At the time, I was ironing some shirts, ones that had been waiting, er, awhile. I always used to iron on Sundays, usually in the evening after Nigel went to bed. I thought it was possible that I might have a hard time doing a bunch of ironing on a Sunday, because of the memories, so I haven’t until today. I still haven’t done it on a Sunday evening, but I don’t think that’ll be an issue, either. It turns out that not all memories are triggers—but, then, I already knew that.

So, this quite ordinary Sunday was a quite ordinary Sunday for us all. I got some things done today, and the dogs slept a lot. They also entertained me, which is even better.

This post is based on—and greatly expanded from—the caption I wrote when I shared this photo on Instagram.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

To err is human, the choice is mine

There’s one thing in particular that I’ve noticed over the past 17+ months: It’s quite common for people to try to discourage me from doing things for myself. They want me to hire someone to do things, or maybe say that I shouldn't do something at all. What they don’t realise, though, is that it’s in the attempts—and maybe especially the failures—that I’ll find my way into the new life I don’t yet have. The reason is simple: I need to find out who I can be on order to become whoever that is.

To be sure, absolutely no one is “being mean” to me, no one is treating me like a sort of invalid, and no one is being condescending or whatever. Instead, they want good things for me, sometimes mixed with the fact that they may suspect I might not be up to the task at hand because they’ve never seen me do whatever it is I’m thinking about doing. The truth is, I might not be up to the task I’m thinking about doing, but how can I know—how can they know—if I don’t try?

The first time I was aware of this was last year when I bought a lawnmower. Several folks suggested that instead I should hire a lawnmowing service, but I wanted the excuse for exercise, something I guessed—rightly, as it turned out—my doctor would praise. A few days after I bought my mower, New Zealand went under Covid-19 lockdown, and no one would have been able to mow my lawns for around five weeks or so—and they were already overgrown when I bought the mower, so I can imagine what they'd look like with another five weeks. I used that mower four times during those five weeks (and a total of 23 times over the year since I bought it, sometimes just for the front or back lawn, usually both of them).

I stood my ground on the mower, and was glad that I did. I don’t exactly look forward to mowing the lawns, however, once I start I always enter a sort of zen-like state (seriously!), and when I’m done I feel a sense of accomplishment. By getting the mower, I proved to myself that I could do it, I could mow the lawns as they needed it—and survive the effort.

Over the past 17+ months, I’ve also taken on several technological problems, and each time I eventually succeeded in solving those problems, some more easily than others. Again, I proved to myself that I could do it, and that’s given me the courage to take on more, and more complicated, technological projects.

The truth is, for most of my life I’ve felt either inadequate or doubted myself or my abilities. When I was a teen, I wrote (mainly) short fiction because I thought I’d never be as good at writing poetry as my mother was, and I stuck to writing at all because I figured I could never be as good at public speaking as my dad was. Eventually, I wrote all sorts of stuff, including poetry, though I ended up sticking mainly to non-fiction. I also became a podcaster and, through that, learned to speak in public (more or less). The point isn’t whether I was/am any good at any of my efforts—that doesn't matter. What’s important is that I doubted myself, held back, pushed through that, and then realised that I was more capable than I thought I was—just as I’ve done with the numerous technical problems I’ve overcome this past 17+ months, and even with mowing the lawns.

I’m quite susceptible to others expressing doubt or discouraging me, but Nigel was the only person whose opinion I truly valued, the only one whose approval mattered. He’d sometimes make it clear that he didn’t think I could do a thing, then often caught himself, and gave me space to fail—or succeed. There were times I felt he was being sceptical in order to incite an, “Oh yeah? Watch this!” attitude in me. At the same time, he left things like painting rooms and editing his documents to me because he knew I was better at those things than he was. He also never interfered in my political activities, and generally only offered advice if I asked for it (and withholding it must’ve taken a lot of effort sometimes…). He did, however, oppose me mowing the lawns at the old house, and I think that was definitely wise for those times.

When Nigel died, and I lost the only opinion I truly cared about, it became easier for me to stubbornly assert what I wanted, and also my desire to try to do things for myself. And yet, negative talk, whether others’ or my own, can make me doubt myself, sometimes deeply, and scare me off doing things. More commonly, though, it paralyses me and keeps me from making any decisions about what to do around the house because I want to do one thing, but I’m afraid others (and the voice in my head) are right, and I’ll fail. Doing nothing seems safer than doing something and failing (thereby proving all those doubting voices, including my own, correct), and less soul-destroying than giving up without a fight.

What I’ve come to realise through all this is that I have to be free to fail. Without that, I can’t know where my limits truly are or what I’m capable of, and both of those are vital to find out what sort of life I may have in the years ahead.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but I often actually succeed in what I want to do.

Which is not to say that I don’t, and won’t, make mistakes. Of course I will—I’ve already made several. It also doesn’t mean that my abilities will meet or exceed the challenges, because sometimes they won’t. I still suffer from profound fatigue that keeps me from having the energy to do the things I can see so clearly in my head, but even when I push through that, there have been been failures caused by lack of resources (like, for example, that I still haven’t found most of my tools, which makes it hard for me to do some projects around the house).

Several years ago, I took on this same demon and gave myself a mantra I repeated so much to myself that it could’ve been my epitaph in those years: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” I followed that so often at that time that even Nigel was impressed with what I’d do—and he may quite possibly have been amazed. But, then, over the years I frequently surprised him in good ways, and that’s one of the things that helped keep us growing as a couple, I think.

What I’m going through is a bit like being an adolescent all over again: I’m finding my identity as an individual, I’m testing my limits, and I’m finding the things I’m good at and not so good at. Just as it is for an adolescent, what I’m going through is a necessary part of moving forward into whatever my life will become. But I also think the fact I both realise and embrace that shows that I’m trying to find my way to move forward, and that’s a good thing—and so is the fact I'm not actually an adolescent.

So, I’ll continue to try and ignore naysayers (by which I mainly mean the voice inside my head) and “feel the fear, and do it anyway”. I’ll have total failures, some “incomplete successes”, and sometimes I’ll get a perfect result. But I have no way of knowing which it will be until I at least try. My future depends on it.

To err is human, the choice is mine—and mine alone.

The graphic above was a tongue in cheek thing I posted to my personal Facebook after I mowed the lawns today, the 23rd time I used the mower since I bought it.

This post has been updated with some talk about part of what was on my mind when I wrote this post. Follow the link to see the update.

Friday, March 12, 2021

My current favourite New Zealand TV ad

The ad above is for a New Zealand soft drink, L&P (Lemon & Paeroa). The ads for it have always exploited Kiwis’ dry sense of humour to poke fun even at itself, and this ad is no different.

The video is the full version of the ad—one minute long—and it was shown on NZ television when the campaign began. The version shown now is a much shorter edited version (which doesn’t seem to be on YouTube). I think it works because the reaction to the guy doing his “bomb” into the pool is typically understated, as is his own reaction at the end of the ad.

The actor who does the bomb does a good job, particularly his delivery of his line in the pool, “okay”. It’s not just that it expresses resignation and disappointment in one word, though it does that. No, the reason it works so well is that the ad captures how a Kiwi would react in a similar situation—or, how it would look in a comical way.

I have no idea why I never mentioned L&P before, especially because Nigel and I lived in Paeroa for awhile. Many years earlier, like 1995 or 96, I tried L&P for the first time in Paeroa itself, because, well, why not? It’s not my favourite, if I’m honest, but, as an actress says in the ad, “yeah, it was alright”.

This ad, though, I think is a bit of fun. It’s also a good example of Kiwi humour. All of which is why I’m sharing the ad, and why it’s currently one of my favourites.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

My two-day mission

Yesterday and today I was occupied with what has to be the most exciting thing that any computer user can be engaged in: Manual backups of files. While it’s tempting to make a joke about what a star I am for having done that, the larger truth is that it was at least somewhat unexpected. And now, it’s also done.

The story begins when I got my new Mac mini. In that post, I explained why I bought the new Mac, and added:
In September of last year, I replaced the window coverings in my office and the spare bedroom, and that meant moving my desk away from the window. Somewhere in all that I managed to break my Hackintosh: It would no longer connect to the monitor. That meant that it was useless, and it also meant I didn’t have a clue how to fix it. [Link in the original]
That was true then, not so much now.

I opened up my Hackintosh case and removed the hard drive in it. My idea was that if I couldn’t start up the old computer, then at least I could retrieve the data on the hard drive, which was the main thing I wanted to do. I knew that I’d added files—and not backed them up—before the Hackintosh stopped working, so I didn’t have them anywhere else.

I knew there had to be an adapter to do what I wanted, and while I knew I’d run across a cable to connect a SATA hard drive to USB, I, first, have no idea where it is, and second—and more importantly—a 3.5 inch hard drive generally needs to be powered for it to work, especially if it’s larger. The drive in question was 4TB.

I found a place that sold them—the same computer store that I went to recently—and then went there and bought it on Monday, along with two new monitor stands (which I still really like, by the way). I brought it home and set it up, plugged in the hard drive, and copied the files onto my server. One slight problem: There were hardly any files on that hard drive.

I realised that there had to be another hard drive in the machine, one that had the operating system, but especially the documents and downloads I was after, and especially the desktop folder. I looked in the case. It had computer stuff in it—but nothing that looked like a hard drive. I put the hard drive I’d copied back into its bay, looked some more, and was just about to give up when I noticed something: There was a second HDMI port near the bottom of the case (I’d always used one near the top of the case to attach my monitor). I figured I had nothing to lose by trying that.

As luck would have it, I’d been tidying stuff and ran across a still-sealed-in-the-bag HDMI cable, which means I knew it was in good condition, with no faults. I hooked it all up and, yes, it started up perfectly. I could see the files I wanted, some on the desktop, some in downloads. I copied them to my file server, then backed them up to a removable external hard drive, too (just in case). Then, I deleted them from my Hackintosh.

All of this took two days to do, mainly because it took a long time to transfer that much data to my server. Actually, even backing it up to that hard drive was painfully slow (it was over ordinary USB). The important thing, though, is that all my files are backed-up—there’s nothing missing (including numerous podcast files that were nowhere else).

This evening I made sure some more obscure files had already been copied (they were). Next, I’ll either need to start deleting Apps on the Hackintosh, or else reformat it into—well, something. I think it has a usable life yet, but I’m not quite sure what to do with it. I may ask my IT people for advice.

Meanwhile, now that all the files I want access to are on the server—united for the first time in many years—I can go through them and delete the duplicates. I’ve had many upgrades and computer changes over the years, including a few years using a Windows PC. The many changes meant duplicating files endlessly, though not the last two times I bought Macs because Apple makes it easy to migrate files from one Mac to another, meaning nothing is left behind (the problem I had was because I added files to the Hackintosh well after I’d, migrated files to my MacBook Pro, which, in turn, I migrated to my new Mac mini).

That’s the story of what I’ve been up to for the past two days (among other things…), but it tells a larger story. I’d never have had the patience to do all this if Nigel was alive: I’d have relied on him to sort it all out. I have to rely on myself now, so I used the methods I saw him use: Research the problem, find solutions, and fix the problem. The fact I was able to start up my old Mac and retrieve the files I wanted is because I also did another thing he’d have done: I observed carefully, and from that worked out what I could try to do.

Nigel would be surprised at all the times over the past 17+ months that I’ve solved technical problems all on my own. He’d be surprised, but also impressed that I’d paid attention to his example, learned from it, and benefited from it. This is a good example of why I say people should model behaviour they would like to see reflected back by others: In this case, I learned from Nigel without him ever teaching me anything, and that’s enabled me to help myself.

If I’m honest, it’s been a trying, sometimes frustrating couple days, but I got there in the end, which is what matters. And now this two-day mission is complete. Time for the next adventure.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Helping my helpers

Furbabies give us so much, and we owe them much in return. They depend on us for everything—food, housing, safety, health and medicine, and love and companionship, and they give us love and companionship in return. They may help keep us safe, and the evidence is clear that having a furbaby makes us healthier and happier. When we’re sad, especially when we’re grieving, a furbaby helps us in so many ways. But what about when they’re grieving? It’s up to us to help them through it.

Recently, Leo had a small change in his behaviour. It seemed unimportant, but it made me wonder if he might be grieving for Sunny. When I brought Sunny’s ashes home, I placed them on a dresser in my bedroom next to Nigel’s ashes. Before I did that, I did a little ritual for Jake and Leo, something I wrote about at the time (there’s a photo of the display at the link):
When I got home, I took her collar and let Jake and then Leo sniff it. They knew it was hers, of course, and I hoped that since their sense of smell is so keen they’d know she wasn’t coming back, if no other reason than that she died wearing it. In that sense, it was similar to the way I lifted up all three dogs so they could see and sniff Nigel when we brought him home the night before his funeral.
That evening, Jake seemed sad—somewhat withdrawn, not really interested in interacting. By the next day, he was pretty much back to normal. Leo seemed fine the whole time. None of this surprised me: After we brought Nigel home, Jake stuck to me like glue for the rest of the evening, and Leo seemed unconcerned (as did Sunny, for that matter).

Recently, however, Leo’s behaviour changed. He started whimpering while standing and looking up at the spot where Sunny’s collar was. So, I’d pick up the collar and let him sniff it. That seemed to satisfy him that she wasn’t on top the dresser (which at first is what I thought was going on). It kept happening, so I started letting both boys sniff the collar, and I’d say someone like “Sunny go bye-bye”, or “bye bye, Sunny”. Leo’s behaviour continued, so I started lifting him up and letting him sniff the collar in place, because that, I hoped, would let him see she wasn’t hiding up there.

Leo continued whimpering every day (usually in the morning when I was having my shower and getting dressed). I mentioned it to some of the family the other night, and my sister-in-law suggested I put the collar on the floor so Leo (in particular) could sniff it whenever he wanted to. I wasn’t keen on that idea, mainly because I thought Leo might decide to pick up the collar like a toy.

The other day, I came up with a sort of compromise: Hang the collar from a drawer pull on the dresser it had been on, low enough they could sniff it, but high enough that Leo would be unlikely to take off with it. Both dogs sniffed it when I did that (they were in the room with me at the time).

Since then, Leo sniffs the collar from time to time (like in the photo at the top of this post), and every day at roughly the time of day he used to whimper at it—but he hasn’t whimpered since I moved the collar. I plan on leaving it there until he stops sniffing it, and I have no idea how long that will be: Dogs’ grief journeys are varied and individual, too.

I don’t actually know for sure that Leo is grieving: He may just be concerned by the smell of Sunny when he can’t see her. But change of behaviour is one way to identify that a dog is grieving. In any case, just to be on the safe side, I’m giving both dogs much more attention and love than I normally would (which means it’s now an enormous amount). That makes them happy in the moment, at least, and as someone going through profound grief, I know being happy in a moment is an important thing.

It’s (obviously) an established fact that dogs can feel grief when they lose a human or canine companion. While there’s a lot we don’t know about how that works for them, we know that the process can take days, weeks, or months for them to go through. Reassuringly, when I was looking for information on this topic I found out that what I’m doing is basically what’s needed to help dogs through their grief.

Regardless of what’s going on with them—grief or something else—I hope I help them feel better. They’ve helped me so much with my grief journey, so trying to help them is the least I can do in return. Truth his, helping them helps me feel better, too.

About the photo: After my shower this morning, which was a little later than usual, and after Leo had already sniffed the collar, I sat on the floor so I could take a photo of the collar. Leo walked back into the room, looked at me with curiosity, then walked over to the collar to sniff it. That's when I took the photo. Personally, I think it’s a touching scene, whatever the cause of his behaviour is.

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

Monday, March 08, 2021

Disconnected goal

Today is International Women’s Day, and my watch gave me a rather unusual way to mark the day (image at left). Naturally, I embraced the challenge, because I’m competitive in my own way. But I didn’t for even a fraction of a second think it had anything to do with anything. That’s good, because it as a busy enough day as it was.

I had several errands to run today, and I planned to take on my watch’s challenge along the way. But first stop was a revisit.

I needed something that the computer store I visited last week sells, and their website said they had one. I arrived at the store, scanned-in using the Covid Tracer App, as I did all day at every stop, and set about finding what I was looking for, with little success. While I was wandering around I found the sort of monitor stands I was looking for (though with a glass shelf), in a spot that had no monitor stands (the spot they were in was marked for an entirely different product).

I finally found someone to ask, showed them the product I was looking for (I had it pre-loaded on my phone), and they pointed to it for me (but didn’t actually lead me there…). They did, indeed, have the one the website promised. I also picked up two of the monitor stands (see the photo at the bottom of this post).

Checkout was torture: Only one person running the till, despite it being in the busy middle of the day, and each transaction seemed complicated. As someone I know would say, they need better systems.

My next stop was The Base, the shopping area not far from my house that’s also home to Te Awa mall. I parked at one end and walked to the other, figuring it would fill most of the 20 minutes I needed to meet my watch’s challenge. Yeah, well, I guess I walk too fast: I reached the shop I was headed to before I reached the halfway point in the challenge. Oops.

So, I kept going, ultimately walking into the mall and back, and then going into the shop—with yet more minutes to walk. I went through the shop hardly stopping, but that was mostly because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. In that way, I eventually completed my watch’s challenge.

I took my purchases back to my car, then moved it closer the next shop because I expected to have a trolley full, and I did. Mainly, I wanted the wood screws I couldn’t get at the other home centre the other day, and I did.

I went to a few shops hoping to see the monitors and printers I’m interested in, but they didn’t have them—in one case, despite their website claiming otherwise. That was one of the main reasons I’d planned to go to The Base (not just to meet my watch’s challenge), and it was rather underwhelming.

Once I got home, I set up the monitor stands, which are really well designed, and made so much sense: They’re under the window, so the glass let’s the light through, which a solid shelf doesn’t, and that’s important to me.

I also used that device I picked up at the computer store to rescue the files on one of the hard drives in my comatose Hackintosh (so I now have all those files, which I didn’t before). However through doing this I found out there has to be another hard drive in the Hackintosh’s case. A work in progress.

At least I completed my watch’s International Women’s Day challenge.

The image up top is a screenshot of my phone's explanation of the challenge. The montage image of my desk shows the more recent version at top (the one from my post the other day), and today's version is at the bottom of the montage. Two of the plastic baskets that I used as supports for the shelf are now under one monitor are used for storage of things I'm not using (like my webcam, phone charging cable, that sort of thing). I'll use that shelf elsewhere, so it won't go to waste.

Update – July 18, 2021: I did, indeed, use the white shelf that had been my temporary monitor support. When I put hanging shelves in my kitchen, I used that shelf.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Back to ‘normality’ again, again. Again.

At 6am this morning, New Zealand went down one Covid Alert Level: Auckland moved from 3 to 2, and the rest of the country from 2 to 1. This is where we were three weeks ago, and also in August last year. If there aren’t any new community transmission cases over the week, Auckland will join the rest of the country at Alert Level 1, and we’ll again be back to as normal as things have been over the past year. It’s be the third time we've been through this since the Alert Level 4 Lockdown last year.

This time, the Alert Level change affected me directly because I had something that was supposed to be sorted the week before, but Auckland locked-down again. What I needed to do was something that completed a task Nigel gave me in his final days. To do that, I followed my values, too. It’s not every day that happens.

A few weeks ago I was checking Nigel’s email, as I do from time to time, and among all the spam and scam emails (which is what it mostly is now) was one saying that Nigel had a personal message on a service he used. The service was for self-described tech geeks and included a forum where users could post questions, get advice, that sort of thing. It also had a sort of exchange where people could sell and exchange equipment they no longer needed/wanted.

I logged into Nigel’s account and found that it was about one of those latter things: The guy Nigel bought his servers from was contacting him to ask what the model number was because he couldn’t find anything as good. The servers were the ones Nigel was using at the time he died, and he told me he wanted me to erase them—even though I had no idea how to do that, and I didn’t even know the log-ins (one of those things you don’t know until you do know you don’t know).

I ended up having an IT company here in Hamilton come to the house I was moving from and take down all the servers (mine and Nigel’s). They took them and reorganised them into two servers, and left Nigel’s original two unneeded, and they sat in my garage for the past year.

I sent a message to the guy telling him Nigel had died, and I wasn’t entirely sure, but I thought I’d found the model number for him (the truth is that I wasn’t even sure what I was talking about until I googled the name and saw a photo of the servers). A few responses later and he offered to buy them back, but here’s the thing: To me, they were pretty much just junk cluttering up my garage. The IT folks offered to take the servers away so they could be responsibly recycled, but I hesitated (at the time, Nigel had only been dead about four months, and I probably wasn’t ready to get rid of something that was so associated with Nigel for me, even though I still had all the data that had been on them). Here was a person who’d had the servers and could use them again, where I couldn’t.

I took the servers to the IT company to have them securely-wiped, that is, erasing them using permanent destruction of any data on them. So, I told the guy that I was just glad that someone could use the servers, and I told him I’d be be happy if he just paid for the erasing of the severs, and he agreed. So, essentially, I gave them away.

Nigel and I shared the desire to give what we could to help people, especially people we know. Nigel gave away a lot stuff to family over the years, and I still do (clothes, towels, furniture, and more to come). So, me essentially giving away the servers is consistent with the values Nigel and I shared.

It’s true that I had an unusual advantage here: I had no idea how much Nigel had paid for the servers, so it was easy for me to think of them as having no value because, for me, they didn’t. But even if I’d known, it wouldn’t have made any difference: I still would have been happy with breaking even. See, I get rid of stuff cluttering up my garage, didn’t pay to erase them, and they went to the person who used them before Nigel and who still likes them. Plus, Nigel’s servers are now finally securely erased, just as he’d wanted. Wins all around, as far as I’m concerned.

The obstacle to finishing all this was Auckland’s lockdown. I picked up the servers a week ago yesterday, and then it was announced that the Level change would happen today at 6am the next morning. And that was that until 6am this morning when the lockdown ended and it was possible for the guy to come to Hamilton to pick up the servers.

Auckland has been under lockdown for a week, and maybe five hours later someone from Auckland was coming to my house. Now, I’m well aware that there was no risk, but we all have a duty to make sure the country is kept safe. I had a plan.

Last October, the government encouraged people to generate a QR code for their house so that Trick or Treaters could use the Covid Tracer App to scan where they went. I made a QR code, not for Halloween, but because I knew that workers would be coming to my house at some point or other, and the responsible thing would be to make it possible for them to scan in.

This morning I loaded the Covid Tracer App with my QR code onto my iPad. I don’t have a printer hooked up to my computer unless I need one, so printing it was a little complicated, and this is easier—especially because I don’t have to post the sheet anywhere.

The guy did scan in, and so, another of my values—in this case, doing my bit to keep us all safe—was met. I also found out that using my iPad for that was a great idea.

This was a good day. The Covid Alert levels changed, which affected me directly because I planned to complete a task Nigel gave me in his final days, and that, in turn, gave me the chance to follow my values. It’s not every day that happens, but today it did. And that made it a good day.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

A useful book – eventually

This isn’t a book review, at least, not just that. It’s about a book, yes, but also how I came to buy and read it, and how all that meshes with my current life.

There a lot of books dealing with grief, many written from particular perspectives (like religious views) or specific types of grief (like losing a spouse, child, or furbaby). It’s probable that the real value of any of those books, like all books, will be determined by the reader, and no one else. It turns out, “Arthur’s Law” also applies to books.

All of which has been on my mind a lot over the past 17 months as I’ve seen recommendations for books on grieving suggested to me directly, or from what I’ve seen online. The thing about that is that anyone like me, in the midst of profound grief, will almost certainly have issues with trust: When so much we held to be true and certain is ripped away from us, who and what can we ever trust? Book recommendations are merely one of the more easily jettisoned things at a time we can trust nothing.

Even so, back in December, 2019, when I was still quite new to deep grief, a dear friend of mine I’ve known for some some three decades (and who has gone on to become a licensed marriage and family therapist) suggested a book to me, Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss. He noted that many people thought of it as a kids book, but that he’d given it to many people of all ages as a way to help them with their pain. He told me, “Probably kid stuff for you, but sometimes it's the easy stuff that helps.”

At the time, I was in the midst of organising for my new house in Hamilton, and then moving, and then selling the old house, and then came the Covid lockdown, and then—well, I just never got around to getting the book—or any other book on grief, for that matter.

Back in 2019, it sold for about NZ $50, which at the time was about two thirds higher than the price in the USA. Recently, I was ordering something from Amazon and decided to add the book to the order. It had gone up in price in the meantime (from US$ 18.50 to US $19.76), plus shipping, though since it was only part of the order, the portion for the book would be minimal. The only online seller I could find it from here in New Zealand (one I’d ordered from before) currentlyoffers it for NZ $49.67, which, in US dollars, was nearly twice the price I could get it at from Amazon: US $35.60.

The pricing was one of the reasons I hesitated buying the book in 2019: As I’ve said many times, books are quite expensive in New Zealand, and while I will support NZ owned and independent booksellers here when I can, in this case the only NZ site I could order it from (a NZ company with operations in several countries) would’ve had it shipped from a supplier in the USA, not NZ, so the benefit to NZ would’ve been minimal. And the reason I mention all that is because all of it was cluttering up my mind at the time I first heard about the book: At the time I was unable to process things in my mind in a clear or linear fashion, not with everything that had happened and was happening in my life.

That’s a shame, because I think it would’ve helped back then, because it still did all this time later.

Tear Soup is a really nice and simple book to help anyone understand the process of grief, whether their own or someone else's. The book's presentation in the format of a simple illustrated storybook, much like that for children, makes it accessible to anyone, maybe especially including people who don't like to read.

The story centres on Grandy, “an old and somewhat wise woman” who “just suffered a big loss in her life”. Her specific loss is never mentioned, which keeps it universal, but by including her husband, Pops, her grandson, Chester, and Grandy’s friends, the book can explore how various people react to and process grief.

When I read the book, there were several times I thought to myself, "Yes! Exactly!" because it reflected so much truth that I learned through my own grief journey, things I’ve talked about on this blog (especially in my “A Survivor’s Notes” series of posts). However, the metaphorical use of soup to represent grief gave me a new way to look at what I've been going through.

There are extensive resources and helpful suggestions at the end of the book, and that, too, can help anyone dealing with a grief journey, again, their own or someone else's. It's very useful even just for that.

It’s not a perfect book (there’s no such thing, anyway), and one important thing to be aware of is that despite the way the book is presented, it may not be appropriate for young kids without guidance from an adult. This is mainly because one illustration features a bookshelf with book titles illustrating different things someone might be grieving about, including suicide and death of a child, among others, and parents and caregivers will probably want to supply guidance.

Another thing to be aware of is that there's a scene in a church with gentle religious talk, but religious nonetheless. Anyone who isn't religious may find that somewhat annoying. On the other hand, those who are religious may appreciate having their beliefs reflected. I also think that the section can help religious people understand why a grieving religious person might become angry at the god they and the grieving person both believe in, or perhaps why reject it or their shared religion. In any case, it's not a large portion of the book, and I don't think it would be a major issue for anyone.

The book, then, is an accessible way to understand grief, whether one's own or that of a grieving person we want to be supportive of. Young children, though, may benefit from being guided through the book by an adult.

I know all that now, but maybe not if I’d read it at the time it was first suggested to me. There’s simply no teacher like that of experience and time combined, and together they can result in understanding that’s very difficult for any book to offer. However, in this case, the book presented a lot of what I’d learned on my own, and seeing that reflected was both validating and empowering.

The recipe for Tear Soup is everywhere, whether we look for it or it’s given to us. Sure, we each need to make our own alterations to the recipe, but learning how to make Tear Soup? That’s actually the easy part—when we’re ready.

What I read: Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert, Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills (Illustrator), print edition, 54 pages (including endnotes). Published by Grief Watch, 1999.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Home work

This business of getting a new house set up can be difficult for anyone, but doing it under the weight of grief can make it drudgery—even torture. It also goes much more slowly than under ideal conditions. Those are all things I know very, very well.

My garage is still mostly boxes, as I’ve mentioned several times, and will be for some time to come. The rest of the house is coming together, slowly. Last month, when I talked about working on the house, I said about the lounge/kitchen/dining, “I’m now putting it as I’ll have it long term”. That took a big leap the end of January when I gave away our old lounge suite, something that I’d planned on doing for a year.

In January of last year, I wrote about my plans for the new house, and noted, “I have furniture for a larger house,” and so, it wouldn’t fit. I also added:
…for a couple years (at least) I was telling Nigel that I wanted to sell our sofas and matching chair for something smaller, but he seemed less interested in that than I was. It definitely will be too much for the new house.
Nigel and I bought the two sofas and chair when we lived in Paeroa, sometime in 2005, I think. They were chocolate brown and in a kind of retro, almost Deco style, and were made in New Zealand by a company that no longer makes furniture (they import furniture made overseas). They were also large (though comfy) pieces of furniture. The 3-seater sofa was long enough for an adult to lie down, which meant it was guest bed a few times (and I even slept on it one night when Sunny was unwell and needed to go outside frequently).

The fact the furniture was too big for my new place made my desire to replace it more urgent for me: I was tired of living in such a crowded space. As it happens, a family member needed a lounge suite, so I gave it to them “as is”: If I’d attempted to sell them I’d have cleaned them or had them cleaned first (we had them more than 15 years, after all).

So, I gave them away and the house was quite empty. The next day, I went sofa shopping with my brother- and sister-in-law, and found one in the third place we looked. I bought a three seater (but one that’s a bit shorter than the old one), and one that was made in Auckland. I wanted a NZ-made sofa not only because I like to help keep Kiwis in work, but also because getting stuff from overseas is still difficult due to Covid, and I didn’t want to wait months for my new sofa to get here.

The new sofa (photo up top) was delivered this past Saturday, and, all things considered, went better than the delivery that was supposed to happen Tuesday. I wasn’t given a specific delivery time, but the delivery company texted me at 10:29am to tell me that the delivery would be between 3pm and 6pm (and they also asked me to confirm my address). The new sofa actually arrived around 5pm.

The sofa was all wrapped in plastic, which the deliverers left on. That surprised me at first because companies used to take that sort of thing away, however, that was probably when companies did their own deliveries, rather than contracting it out to a separate company. As it happens, though, I was glad it was wrapped up: I was headed out to dinner with family, and I didn’t have time to spray on the fabric protector, so the plastic would keep the dogs off of it.

The next day, I took off the plastic and sprayed the fabric protector on the whole thing (it carries a 7 year guarantee against stains). It was a bit of a mission with four cushions to spray, along with the sofa carcass, and to keep curious dogs away from the sofa while it was drying (the plastic mounded up on the floor in front of it did the trick).

That part of the house is now basically done, apart maybe from some tables and possibly another, small scale chair (so I can accommodate more guests). The only other room in the house that’s completely done is the guest bedroom (technically they’re not counted as rooms, but the toilet, bathroom, and en suite are all done, so, I guess there’s that…).

The biggest job of all (aside from that garage of no return) is my office and bedroom, which I mentioned briefly last month. Quite some time ago, I followed what’s considered sound advice for organising a room: Take everything out, and then put it back where it belongs/where you want it. So, I moved stuff out of my office and into my bedroom, which is now still full of boxes of stuff from my office. The advice may have been sound, but the execution wasn’t because it didn’t take my “state of nothingness” into account—nor the fact that the whole reason I had trouble getting my office organised is that I had nowhere to put things, and that hasn’t changed.

I have a new plan, one I’ll talk about more when/if it works. But sorting out my office (and so, my bedroom) is now my sole major project inside the house (aside from that garage of no return), so I hope that means I can give it the attention I haven’t managed up until now. Still, at least I have a nice, clear desk now—that’s something, I guess.

At any rate, this business of getting a new house set up can be drudgery—even torture—and can go much more slowly than under ideal conditions. Those are all things I know very, very well.

The photo montage on the left side of this post shows the old sofa, the empty space that was there from January until this past Saturday, and the bottom photo is of the plastic-wrapped new sofa.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Sensible ideas

Ideas are either good or bad, sensible or not, and deciding which it is can’t be determined only by “considering the source”. If an idea is good, if the suggestion is sound, then it shouldn’t matter where it came from. Today provided a good example of that.

The screen shot at left is my friend Richard Hills’ Facebook post in which he shared an RNZ post, “National wants government to pay wages of those self-isolating”. It was based on remarks their party leader, Judith Collins, made on their Morning Report programme (the relevant interview is linked to in that RNZ story). No one could ever seriously suggest that either Richard or I are National Party supporters, so this underscores my point: Good ideas are good ideas.

There are, of course, some particulars to be worked out. The Ministry of Health is responsible for issuing “isolate for 14 days” orders, while the Department of Work and Income (WINZ), part of the Ministry of Social Development, is responsible for paying benefits (welfare). In my mind, the Ministry of Health would alert WINZ immediately after issuing their stay at home order, then at WINZ a specialist team would immediately act on the special benefit payment. This should just be an organisational thing, unless WINZ needs special legislation first (which is easy enough to do).

At the moment, there’s a wage subsidy scheme for employers to pay their workers when a lockdown closes a business, or they suffer big hits because of a high Alert Level. But that requires the business to apply, and, anyway, that’s designed for all a company's employees, not just those self-isolating. But the main problem with the current employee support scheme is that it pays less than minimum wage, and if people on low wages, often working multiple jobs just to pay rent, can’t get an appropriate level of support, they’ll have an incentive to break the rules and go to work, potentially spreading the virus widely.

As a friend of mine (also not a National Party supporter) has pointed out, it’s not reasonable to expect fast food and retail companies, which typically employ large numbers of low-wage workers, to do the right thing. Most won’t even tell workers that they can apply for a scheme. All of which is why the support scheme needs to be both fast and automatic.

Richard observed that it was unlikely anyone but those working in a small business would have the ability to even have time with their employer. In a large business (like retail or fast food, for example), a worker requesting their employer to apply for something on their behalf and pay them for two weeks is asking a lot. Richard also rightly pointed out that right now everything is built on a worker hoping for the best while they’re supposed to be isolating—and worrying if they’ve got money for their next bills or meals.

When I talked about the snap Alert Level change this past Saturday, I talked about how we as a country rightly expect people to do the right thing and stay isolated at home when told to do so. I also said that it seemed to me that any employer who threatened the employment of a worker because they were told to isolate should be “prosecuted for obstructing a public health order.” The suggestion for, essentially, full wage replacement, would solve the final problem by ensuring that low-income workers won’t end up even worse off if they follow the public health isolation rules. It seems to me that it’s not unreasonable to expect people to stay home when told to do so, however, we have a collective responsibility to support them to do so, and to help ensure they’re not worse off for having done the right thing.

To be sure, I not a supporter of the National Party, nor a fan of Judith Collins, and I'm absolutely certain that’s not going to change. However, this idea is both good and sensible. It doesn’t matter where it came from. Today provided a good example how and why that can be true.

Clearing the desk

Earlier this week I cleared off my desk. It was long overdue, but also something I just couldn’t manage to get done before now. I had strong(er) motivation to do something, but the spark was an idea I had, a project I thought would be a good idea. The result was a winding road, but with a successful outcome. I am both relieved and invigorated.

The truth is, I haven’t used my office much for some five months or so, ever since my Hackintosh started playing up, as I mentioned when I bought my new Mac mini. Instead, I used my MacBook Pro at the dining table, and that wasn’t all bad: It was cool in there in the warm months, I could watch TV while I did whatever it was I was doing, and it was a big space, so it felt expansive.

On the other hand, dining chairs aren’t very comfortable after a couple hours, and a dining table is too high to type. I also felt bad about having nine square metres of house that I never used for anything beyond storage—my garage is supposed to be the place that’s all about storage.

So, when I decided to buy a new desktop Mac, that also meant starting to finally get my office sorted, since a desktop computer implies the use of, ya know, a desk. This was the week that I made a major step forward.

I mentioned in a post yesterday that I went to “a computer store I often go to for stuff”. I also said I went there for a hard drive, which I got (it’s for the dock I bought for my Mac Mini). However, I was actually interested in two other things.

First, I wanted to look at (and probably buy…) a 4K monitor, which is basically a super-duper high resolution monitor which is too pretty for words. My current monitor is okay, sure, but a 4K one would be so much better. And, if my goal is to sort myself out with stuff that will be good for around ten years (as my current monitor has been), then, why not? I’d seen some I was interested in on the store’s website, and wanted to see them in person.

I was also interested in monitor stands, specifically ones that are basically shelves. I wanted to be able to slide the keyboard for Nigel’s computer under the shelf when I wasn’t using his computer (which is most of the time) so I’d have more room to use the desk. And, when I did use NIgel’s computer, I could slide my keyboard out of the way, too. I’ve seen such things online, so I knew they existed.

Things didn’t work out as planned because, as I said yesterday, “most of their shelves were empty”. There were no monitors to look at, and there were no monitors stands of any kind—just those movable arm things than one or two monitors are attached to (something I’d considered in the past, actually).

When I went to the home centre I mentioned yesterday, I decided to make up a temporary version of what I wanted so I could try out the concept (before and after photos above). A final version would be, potentially, a lot of work.

So, I bought a simple Melamine shelf and some storage baskets to use as supports (see photo at right). The shelf is shorter than my desk is wide, which allowed me to put my microphone stand on the side of my desk (it had been on the back). That had advantages of its own, because it meant my microphone wouldn’t be in front of the window any more.

I took everything off my desk and put it into a box. Some of the stuff was office supplies—notepads, paper clips, scissors, that sort of thing—and some techy stuff I needed to review (like hard drives). But clearing it all away gave me a clean slate (and it really was clean, because I wiped down my desk while I had the chance).

I set everything up, inverting the baskets for more strength, and it worked as I imagined it would, including a space for my Mac mini. However, there was only enough space to store one keyboard. Now that I see my idea is a sound one, I’ll make it happen.

I’m going to make a shelf the width of my desk, paint it, and put it on legs I already have. I’ll share more about that project when I do it, but it can’t happen until I find all my tools. For now, the important part is that I tested the idea, found it’s a really good one, and also worked out that the final version of my idea will do what I want it to do.

My idea may be further modified, though, because I also need to make room for my computer speakers: The speaker in the Mac mini isn’t exactly awesome, and I don’t always want to wear headphones. I’ll know more about that once I finalise the project, but for now my temporary version works very well.

So, I’m using my office for the first time in months, and I haven’t used my MacBook Pro in more than a week. If this keeps up, I may sell it. My desk is clear for the first time in a year, and since that’s what I face and mainly see when I’m using my computer, what’s in front of me is much more serene than it used to be.

The downside of all this is that a problem I’ve had for some time, namely that I need to write blog posts early in the day, is even truer now. If I haven’t already turned on my computer and written something before evening, chances are I won’t do so. That’s about coming up with routines, though, now that I seem to have solved my technological and esthetic requirements.

Update – March 8, 2021: I got monitor stands to replace my temporary set-up.