}

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Navigating progress

This morning I went out for brunch with some of the family, and I didn't use GPS to get there—progress, of a sort. I’m kind of familiar with the general area the cafe’s in (it’s on the other side of the city from where I live, but in the early stages of my planning my move to Hamilton I looked at houses there), however, I don’t truly know my way around Hamilton. So, I looked on Apple Maps to find out where the cafe is (it’s new), and from that I could work it out (it also told me how long the drive would be; travel time turned out be reasonably close to the prediction).

I find it much harder to form mental maps nowadays—it takes me longer and many trips along a route to lock it in. Nigel always drove wherever we went because I hated driving with him as a passenger. “It’s like driving with your dad,” I said to him: He was always going for the invisible accelerator or brake on the passenger side, that or breathing-in sharply. This from a guy who sometimes read his emails while driving. Which is why I didn’t accept he had any moral superiority over me in driving.

I think this had the effect of me not making mental maps as much as I may have if I’d done more of the driving. If I’m right, then it could be nothing more than practice for me to polish my rusty mental mapmaking skills—and this business of driving everywhere really is still new to me, so it could take awhile. That’s assuming my age-addled brain hasn’t abandoned the sector that used to make maps. We’ll see.

In any case, GPS has been my lifeline to help me get around a city I still don’t know very well, but today the cumulative effect of repeated trips meant I didn’t need it to get to a particular place. I still need the metaphorical GPS of the life I had with Nigel to help me find my way through the unfamiliar landscape of the life I have now, but even there I can occasionally wing it on my own.

Sometimes it just takes awhile to be able to get around without a GPS of one sort or another. Today, I did. It’s a start.

Republished from my personal Facebook.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

No right words

Silence is not golden, at least, not when it comes to anything to do with mental health. People need to talk about whatever they’re going through in order to move through it and to heal. However, over time it becomes less likely that someone will be willing to talk about what they’re dealing with, and that includes profound grief. Sometimes it’s a deliberate decision to avoid talking about it, but very often it’s not. Either way, it’s something that we need to fix.

I’ve seen many people dealing with profound grief who say that they stop talking about their grief journey because they sense that the people they talk to don’t want to hear about it, or else they’re visibly uncomfortable. In such cases, the grieving person will, essentially, adopt what they see as the socially expected behavior: Silence.

This happens for a number of reasons, I think. First, there’s an expectation among some people that when it comes to grief, even deep, profound grief, it’s “six and done”. That is, a grieving person is “allowed” to grieve for six months, but then they need to “move on”, a notion that’s flat out bullshit.

This is a topic worthy of its own discussion, but the fact is, no one ever “moves on” from grief—they move forward. That isn’t mere semantics, it’s about deep meaning. I said in a post back in July of last year:
To me, moving on implies forgetting or repressing whatever came before, and there’s simply no way I’d be willing to do that. In time, I’ll learn to adapt to my new reality and my solo life, but I won’t abandon the life I had, nor could I: It would mean leaving Me behind.
The other half of the societal expectations is that there’s a time limit to grief, and that’s every bit as absurd as the notion that people “move on” from grief. A grief journey takes as long as it takes, and not a moment less. No one has the right to dictate to someone how long that journey will take, nor to try to essentially order them to stop grieving. That may be a harsh truth to hear, but it’s nevertheless true: No one is in a position to judge someone else’s grief. Ever.

The thing is, though, that attempting to live up to assumed societal expectations is only one reason why a grieving person may stop talking about their grief. Another reason grieving people can become quiet is expressed in the meme up top (which is why I’m including it despite the terrible punctuation—and unknown original source). Other people’s grief is always hard to understand—the damage to our heart and our being leaves no visible gaping wound, after all. Someone who’s never experienced profound grief can’t be expected to comprehend what it’s like, much less how awful it can be—and they should be deeply grateful that’s the case.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons grieving people turn quiet is this: They can’t find the right words to explain their grief journey to people who don’t understand grief, and who can’t comprehend the pain of deep grief. It becomes too difficult, and too tiring, on top of the exhaustion caused by the grief itself. It’s easier to say nothing than to try and help non-grieving people understand.

One of the reasons I talk about all this on this blog, on my podcast, on Facebook, etc., is that if I talk about it enough, and if I repeatedly return to some topics, and also put these concepts into different frames, sooner or later otherwise non-understanding people will begin to see the picture. That’s my hope, anyway. Whether I ever succeed or not isn’t for me to say.

What all this means is that sometimes a grieving person may turn quiet because they think that’s what’s expected of them, and other times it’s simply because they can’t find the right words. Either way, turning silent is far easier, far less exhausting, than continuing on.

I’m personally aware of all that, too, of course—I may talk about this a lot, but the truth is, I’m still just a person dealing with deep grief, and sometimes that means I choose to not say things, too. However, I have an entirely different reason for refraining, and I think it’s the third major reason grieving people may turn quiet: Sometimes I just need space.

I’m the only one who can figure this all out. Others may have good advice or ideas, but the fact is, only a grieving person can make sense of what’s happened to them and what it means for the future. Because of that reality, sometimes we just need to be left alone to think, to ponder, to contemplate, to remember, and probably to cry. It’s just part of the process of working through the new reality.

When I turn quiet, that’s what I’m doing. If I was in some sort of crisis or whatever, I’d turn to others, but that’s never been what’s happened to me: I just need space. Sometimes this means experiencing a lot of pain and sadness—it goes with the territory in a grief journey. No one can “fix” that for me or “save” me, and it’s not anyone’s responsibility to try (nor is there any expectation that they should). Think of it this way: You’re reading complicated instructions and someone keeps talking to you, it’s impossible to grasp or understand what you’re reading. The steps toward completing the task those instructions describe become gibberish when someone else is filling the air with their own words.

Sometimes, then, silence actually IS golden—when it’s our choice, made not because we feel shamed into it, and not when we’re too tired to explain it any further, but because we just need a time out. Overall, and in general, talking about what we’re going through and what we’re dealing with is important. But that, too, must be our choice.

If the people in our lives want to help us to move through our challenges and to heal, then they must encourage us to speak, to help us find the right words, and also to be willing to back off when we need space. It’s really as simple as that—and every bit as difficult to manage.

Silence isn’t golden—except when it is. Finding the right words on either side of the situation is important, and it all begins with a simple command: Breathe. Then, relax. A good heart and good intentions can do a lot to bridge that silence.

Powerful news

I have some “powerful” news: I got* my first electric bill that includes an entire month of solar power generation. The tl;dr version is this: I’m very happy with the results so far.

My power bill this month is 44% of what it was last month—or, if you prefer, I saved more than half over what I paid last month. During this same time, I received a total credit of $44 for the electricity I sold back to the power grid. Even if you take that out of the equation, this month I'd have paid 65% of what I paid last month (or, I saved 35% this month). The credit I get for generating electricity clearly expands my savings.

What this shows is that during the daytime I’m usually self-sufficient in electricity. On dark, rainy days, I generate less power and probably use it all, as well as possibly buying some power. However, on sunny days, and even bright cloudy days, I produce more than I can use. At night, the power I use all comes from the grid, of course.

The power meter was read for this bill only a couple days after the installation of the device to prioritise hot water heating by solar-power (something I talked about last week), so next month should be a truer indication of how things will go over the winter months. After that, it'll just be ongoing savings, whatever they are.

To make sure I compare apples to apples, I’m going to set up a spreadsheet to chart the costs/savings per kilowatt hour to more precisely calculate savings than using tax-inclusive totals does (though I’ll track that, too, in part because it’s simpler to tell people). This will also allow me to compare my new costs to what I paid last year. (I mean, of course I’m going to do that…)

Even though I expect to see further savings next month, I’m still very happy to have cut my power bill in half (more than in half, actually…), as well as the fact I’m sending electricity out to the grid—those were always my only goals. However, at the moment it looks like it will take about a decade for the system to pay for itself, which means that my savings in what I pay for power will equal what the system cost me. That’s about what I’d expect. However, this isn’t a perfect calculation: Retail electricity prices will only rise over time, and if this was a business venture, the solar system itself would depreciate. So, the system will probably “pay for itself” faster than simple arithmetic might suggest. I’ll track that, too, just as I did with my lawnmower.

As it happens, though, rising property prices have already “paid” for the system: If I sold my house right now, the amount I’d get for it (compared with what I paid for it) would more than pay for the system—and all the other improvements I’ve made, for that matter. To me, though, all of that’s a nice bonus, and not important.

I’m just happy that I got exactly what I wanted and expected.

*I got the bill online because I hadn’t received it by email and I was impatient. The bill had “COPY ONLY” on it. I later got the bill by email and it was identical, except without the words “copy only”. I have absolutely no idea why they do that—maybe the one they email me is the NFT version? (that's a joke, just so I can use "NFT" in a sentence, since I may never blog about it).

This is a somewhat expanded version of something I posted on my personal Facebook a couple days ago.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The secret war

When I began this journey, I said I’d always be honest, and I have been—when I’ve spoken at all. But there comes a time when a grieving person simply stops talking, and there dishonesty begins. All of which has been on my mind this week—the worst I’ve had in more than a year.

I don’t know the specific cause, though I can speculate—and, in fact, I wrote a rather long piece doing exactly that, but that’s where it ends. Suffice it to say that the past week or so I’ve been missing Nigel more intensely, more stomach muscle clenchingly, than at any time since the first few months after he died. It feels as if most of the tears I’ve shed this year have been in the past week, but that’s probably an underestimate.

I’m fine, and at no point was I in any danger or contemplating any form of self harm. The point to this story is simple: Without self-disclosure from others, you just can’t know what they’re dealing with. For the past week I’ve been fighting a private, silent hell and you wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t said something. How many others that you meet on a daily basis, folks who maybe seem extra tired, grumpy, or arseholes, even, might actually be fighting their own secret war?

Be kind, always. It costs you absolutely nothing, but you may give a moment of peace to someone in the midst of a terrible personal war. This past week was the worst I’ve had in more than a year. You know that because I told you. Who else around you could be suffering in silence?

I originally posted this to my personal Facebook page a couple days ago, and it actually explains why I’ve been missing from this blog over the past week. In fact, my previous three posts were all written during the time I’m talking about in this post (which was actually longer than a week, all things considered) and they were challenging for me to do. I plan on talking more about all that soon, along with talking about some other, positive things that have been going on, but, for now, the important thing is that I’m okay and the private war seems to be in the midst of a truce. That’s good enough.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Final empowering step

Today I had something very exciting (to me) happen: My hot water production is now 100% off-grid. Today the installers put in a special device that prioritises my solar electricity for the electric hot water cylinder. Those cylinders use up to around 40% of the power consumed in a typical house, in part because it switches on multiple times during the day.

My new system heats the water only when I’m generating electricity, which means I’ll buy far less power at night (lights, heating/cooling, TV, those sorts of things). Because I get moving fairly late each day (by “normal” standards…), by the time I use the shower the solar power has come online and the system will have heated the water. However, if I start having showers much earlier, or there are other people staying here, then I can set it to use power from the grid to heat the water before the sun is up to assure the hot water’s ready to go. In the summer, when the sun rises earlier (and there’s less rain), this won’t be an issue.

Overall, this should save me more money than I’d save otherwise, and it also means my hot water generation is 100% sustainable and green, however, the system I chose can also be fitted to do the same for a plug-in electric car, which would make my transport clean and green, too. If I end up doing that.

There are more efficient ways to heat water than a traditional electric cylinder like I have, but since at least three quarters of New Zealand’s power generation come from clean energy (chiefly hydro and geothermal—though some say it's 85%), an electric system is more environmentally-friendly than gas. Electric heat-pump hot water heaters are now available, and I’ve seen some heat-transfer systems promoted, too (the latter uses the heat in a house’s attic space to heat the water, so it’s less expensive than pure electricity, but I’m sure it’s not as efficient as a heat-pump water heater would be).

My hot water heater is only around 18 months old, so I couldn’t justify replacing it right now. In a few years, though, as technology advances, the savings may well justify the cost of switching before the lifespan of the current heater is up.

In the next few years, New Zealand will probably ban new residential natural gas connections as part of the country’s moves to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions. As it happens, though, the gas fields off New Zealand’s coast are running low, too, which means we’d need to import natural gas or LPG (what Americans call propane).

To deal with all that, the industry plans to introduce a mix with up to 25% hydrogen gas because most current gas appliances can use up to that level mix without being changed. Over time, dual-fuel appliances will be available, and then, eventually, hydrogen-only, probably by the time current gas appliances reach the end of their usable life. By that time there will also be a nationwide network of hydrogen refuelling places for hydrogen-powered cars. The attraction of this is that we can never run out (hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and no one country or region can ever control supply), and also that when it’s burned the byproduct is water, so it’s clean. I’m watching these developments intently, but for my current situation, none of that matters because my current electric hot water cylinder is too new to replace with anything.

So, that’s my solar power system completed. I honestly have no idea how much money I’ll end up saving, but with my hot water heating now 100% off-grid, it should be significant. I’m really excited about all this, and Nigel would be, too. We really were a perfect match.

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

Monday, May 17, 2021

A photo’s secret tale

The office project has been turning up a lot of unexpected things, and one of those led to a something I haven’t mentioned before: My post yesterday had an unannounced extra, hidden feature: The photo.

That photo was taken with the macro lens of the Ztylus lens kit that Nigel and I got for our phones back in 2018, around ten months before he died. The journey to get to that point was a bit of a twisting road, though.

The first problem was that, quite frankly, I misplaced my lens kit at the old house and didn’t find it again until I began unpacking boxes this past week. Actually, I think it may have been the same day I found that formerly “missing” knife.

Another problem was that it requires a special case on the phone, and I didn’t have one for my current phone. That’s because last year the battery on my iPhone 6 suddenly died, and I needed a phone with my phone number. I went to the technology store I’ve mentioned several times and found the cheapest new iPhone model they had, which at that time was the 7. I planned on upgrading my phone, and I didn’t want to invest in an expensive phone right then. The bigger issue was that at that time I was still having trouble with my patience and tolerance for frustration, and back then I just couldn’t deal with working out what the best newer phone model would be, not when I had no phone (this was before my Internet was connected, so I relied on my phone for Internet connection).

So, I bought an iPhone 7 and got it all set up the same day—something I’d never done before because Nigel always took care of that for me. I had to learn how to put my SIM into it, transfer my data, and so on (fortunately, I had a recent back-up on my MacBook, so I didn’t really lose any data.

Nigel had an iPhone 6 that he replaced with an iPhone 8 when his phone’s battery died (the 6 was notorious for its terrible battery longevity). It was after that when we got our Ztylus lens kits and the specific covers for our phones. When I changed phones, my old cover no longer fit my phone.

This wasn’t a huge problem because I didn’t know where my either of our lens kits were, so I couldn’t use one, anyway. However, I still have Nigel’s phone, so I thought maybe I’d just use that one for photos, because I didn’t want to buy a cover for my phone when I didn’t plan on keeping it forever.

While I was moving stuff out of my office wardrobe, I came across the box for Nigel’s phone cover and found out it was for an iPhone 7 or 8. In other words, I could put his phone cover on my phone, and that meant I could use the lens kit again for the first time in a couple years. The photo with yesterday’s post was that first photo, and doing that made me happy.

I guess the question, though, is what to do with Nigel’s phone. I kept his phone number active, at first in case anyone tried to reach him who hadn’t heard he’d died (like, say, a former colleague he didn’t talk to very often). Later, I planned on using that as my personal phone and using mine for “work”, including podcasting. It turned out that I didn’t need to do that, though it’s still an option.

The plan was to buy an iPhone 12, which allows dual SIMs, meaning I could have one phone with two numbers, but, again, the question is, why? I assume that both SIMs have to be on the same network, which isn’t a big deal, though they aren’t at the moment. It’s really that having two monthly plans is expensive, particularly because I don’t need two sets of mobile data (not the least because the vast majority of my data usage is over wifi, anyway). I could probably put one of them on a prepay plan instead, because that’s much cheaper.

I’m nearly at the point where I could seriously consider just disconnecting Nigel’s phone, or, take it over as my phone—though mine is actually newer/used for less time (but a lower model). This decision would be easier if I knew what it is I want to do with the rest of my life, but I’m nowhere near doing that yet, so this decision is probably a way off, too.

There’s one other thing that strikes me about this tale: As near as I can tell, I never blogged about getting that iPhone 7 or getting the Internet connected. Both of those happened within the first six weeks of my moving in, a time when I wasn’t blogging much. I know I mentioned it on my personal Facebook, just not here, and that makes posts like this a bit more complicated than they’d be if I’d blogged more often back then—yeah, right, as if that was even possible!

In any case, I can again use the lens kit we bought for my phone (I still haven’t found Nigel’s lenses). Like I said in yesterday’s post, baby steps. But now I can at least take some better photos along the journey.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The week of finding things

This has been a week of finding things—and also re-finding things. A lot of the stuff was expected, much of it very timely, and one thing? Well, that was a bit unusual.

For weeks, and in some case months, I’ve been re-looking for things: Since I shifted into this house in January 2020, I’ve found lots of things that I knew I’d need (or, at least, needed to review), but I had to put them aside at the time for various reasons, such as, sometimes I didn’t find everything I needed (like all the parts of phone systems), or maybe I didn’t have any way to deal with the stuff (like loose hard drives my Mac couldn’t read because they had no cases). Unfortunately, I also sometimes misplaced things I put aside “so I’ll know where to find them.” This past week saw progress on all those fronts.

Earlier this week, I talked about setting up a phone system, and it was possible because I’d recently found the missing base unit, but also complicated because I was missing a couple handsets. I found those handsets earlier that day.

I’d also wanted to install my security cameras, and possibly add more devices (like a video doorbell), but first I needed to find the stuff I already had, stuff (like the extra phone handsets) that I’d put away “so I’ll know where to find them.” On Thursday, I found security camera stuff and discovered that its base unit can record to a local hard drive (which is why I need to be able to read those hard drives—I need one to use with the system). Fortunately, back in March I bought a device to read loose hard drives, which is also good because I found a lot of loose hard drives.

Those were probably among the more useful things I found. There was more—and stranger—stuff waiting for me.

I’ve found all this stuff I’m talking about because I’m trying to organise my office, a project I’ll talk about later (when it’s at least close to being done), but it’s meant going through things as I find them. On Thursday afternoon I found a plastic storage crate with what looked like old statements and such, the kind of stuff I used to put aside for shredding later.

That evening I started going through that plastic crate and realised pretty quickly that it was something I’d “packed” when we were decluttering our house (the one before the last one we shared) when we tried to sell it back in 2012. At the time, I had huge piles of statements and such waiting to be filed, because in those days we still got a lot of statements and such in the post (I get maybe a couple a year nowadays, so it’s no longer necessary to file anything). At that time, I bought a bunch of relatively small plastic lidded crates so I could use them as a base for a staged “bed” in my office to make it look like a bedroom (because we used two bedrooms as offices). Our realtor didn’t think that was necessary. So the plastic crates went into storage instead, and they remained untouched ever since, moving from one storage unit to another, then on to our former house, and then here (some of them were re-purposed in 2018 to file receipts in by year, as I mentioned at the time).

As I looked through the crate, I at first thought it held nothing interesting—mostly stuff that maybe needed to be shredded, but not much else worth paying attention to. And then, well, it became very different.

I kept finding receipts and notes from when Nigel and I were preparing for our Civil Union and party back in 2009. I remembered nearly all of that stuff, though maybe not the specifics (like how much we spent, or the various to-do lists we’d written). Basically, though, it was all familiar. I even found the receipt for my ring, something I still wear to this day.

That was all interesting to me, and I felt warm and fuzzy—right up until I found a print-out of the email from our celebrant with the second draft of our ceremony, including our vows. While it wasn’t complete, it did include stuff we’d added—and also our vows. Reading them again made me cry—for how wonderful the day was, for how much we loved each other, and for how much I’ve lost. I hadn’t expected that when I started going though what I thought was just a huge pile of old statements and such, but I suppose that sort of thing is bound to happen as I go through 24 years worth of stuff from two people.

However, the oddest thing I found was a knife.

The knife (an X-Acto Knife, and, yes, it was genuine) is in the photo up top, in the middle of my desk’s pencil cup. The pencil cup, minus the knife, was also in a photo I shared back in February 2019, and that’s how I know sometime before that is when Nigel borrowed my knife to do something or other with his CNC router. He didn’t return it, and when I needed it for one of my own projects, I asked him for it. He wasn’t sure where it was. I looked around the CNC router and didn’t find it. Later, after he died, and the family came round to help pack up the garage, I looked again, but didn’t find it.

A couple months or so later, I packed up my office, wrapping that pencil up in bubble wrap, placing it in a box and then putting the box aside to move myself (so I could find them easily after I moved to the new house). In retrospect, I think this was a weird territoriality at play, that because nothing felt under my control, this one one thing was worth seizing.

Time passed, and one day after I’d moved to Hamilton I was in one of our home centres and I saw something similar to an X-Acto Knife, something I knew was missing, and that I’d occasionally needed after my move. I’d found out years ago that finding genuine blades and handles in New Zealand was fraught, so I thought that what I found was better than nothing, and I bought it. Not surprisingly, it was cheaper than the real thing.

Then came this week, and I started work on my office, and part of that meant moving and opening the boxes I packed. I opened the box that had my pencil cup, unwrapped the bubble wrap, and there inside the pencil cup was that supposedly missing X-Acto Knife.

I know plenty of people who’d either be freaked out by this or else they’d assign something supernatural to it. The most likely explanation is that it had been there quite a while. I think Nigel must’ve found it and put it away, and I didn’t know that because he didn’t say, and I never checked again because I thought it was still in the garage. That means that it was probably there a long time and I’d simply missed it, something that’s supported by the fact that I’d shoved my “desk glasses” (reading glasses I kept on my desk) into the pencil cup before I wrapped it up. This explanation is logical and not a surprise: I wasn’t exactly at the height of my powers of observation in the first few months after Nigel died, the time in which I packed up my office, nor was I checking my pencil cup in the weeks before he died. All of which is without even considering my prescription-induced dodgy memory.

Even though I don’t see anything remotely spooky about the unexpected re-appearance of my X-Acto knife, I nevertheless take some comfort from it and all the other familiar things I’ve found over the past week: Finding the phone and security camera stuff allows me to finish long-delayed projects. Finding those Civil Union-related receipts and stuff lets me relive my much happier days. I also have more than enough X-Acto knives now, though how many is actually enough is a matter of opinion. Mostly, I’m slowly getting a tidy office.

This has been a week of finding and re-finding things. It was a bit unusual, but it was also very welcome. Baby steps, and all that. Still, I wouldn’t mind future weeks being a bit less unusual.

Things happened to me this time

I did not break this blog again, nor did I do anything wrong or improper. Nevertheless, I had problems with this blog yesterday that took me hours to work around and forced other changes. This time, at least, none of that was my fault.

Last night I posted an “Important Announcement”, the purpose of which was just to warn readers that there was a change to the commenting system, specifically, that I’d turned on comment moderation “due to a problem with Blogger.” And then the story gets very weird.

I went to my computer yesterday afternoon to finish the blog post I published last night, and I intended to return in the evening and finish another post. Things didn’t work out that way.

I checked my emails first, and saw that I received eight from Google’s Blogger unit (the division that hosts this blog, among thousands of others). Each email told me that Blogger had deleted a particular blog post because “Your content has violated our malware and viruses policy.”:

And how on earth did I do that? I didn’t—it’s all Google’s fault.

The specific policy they were referring to, buried deep within the overall “guidelines” was no clearer on why they’d killed eight of my posts:
Malware and similar malicious content: Do not transmit malware or any content that harms or interferes with the operation of the networks, servers, end user devices or other infrastructure. This includes the direct hosting, embedding or transmission of malware, viruses, destructive code or other harmful or unwanted software or similar content. This also includes content that transmits viruses, causes pop-ups, attempts to install software without the user’s consent or otherwise impacts users with malicious code. See our Safe Browsing policies for more information.
Yeah? And… what does that mean?

First, it’s important to know that I had absolutely no way of knowing what their issue with the posts was because they were deleted. Was there some sort of weird code that was inserted into my post? Did a scammer/spammer/cyberjerk manage to post a comment with “malware and similar content”? I had absolutely no way of knowing, but the one thing I knew for certain that whatever the problem, it was entirely Google/Blogger’s fault.

The whole point of using a hosted blog service like Blogger or Wordpress isn’t just because they’re free, it’s that the service takes care of all the nuts and bolts of running the site—including security. Not only is security not the problem of users by design, there also no direct way for a user to take control of it even if we wanted to.

One would logically assume that Google/Blogger has robust systems in place to prevent hackers and hacker bots from gaining access to the code for Blogger generally or specific posts published to it. If someone manages to hack a password they could do that—and data breaches are common enough, but Google hasn’t notified me of any data breaches so it was reasonable to assume my own blog’s HTML code was safe. That, then, left me to assume that whatever “malware and similar content” they were reacting to must’ve been in a comment. Spam comments ordinarily get caught in a queue to be reviewed manually, and the sort of comments that might contain “malware and similar content” would, one would hope, trigger the algorithms that send comments to that digital purgatory. Maybe not? Why did it catch some spam comments and real, legitimate comments, but let those with the “malware and similar content” through?

With nothing to go on, and with an abundance of over-caution, I switched on comment moderation, which means that I have to approve all comments before they’re posted. I was reluctant to do that because I remembered how much work that used to be, but I also realised that there actually hasn’t been nearly as much traffic in legitimate comments for several years now.

Yesterday afternoon, instead of working on the post I’d planned to publish, I instead worked on re-publishing the deleted posts using the back-up copies I keep on hand. My normal procedure is to write my posts on my Mac, adding some basic HTML code, then I copy the text and paste it to the HTML View of the “New Post” function in Blogger. Then, using Compose View (the visual post editor), I finalise the formatting (adding links, photos/images, etc). When I’m all done, I go back to HTML View and copy the text and then paste that in my document file. This gives me is a fully-formatted back-up copy of the post, one with all the styles, links, and images properly coded. And I do all that precisely so I can restore a post that gets munted in any way.

All of that means that all I had to do was to go to my back-ups and copy the text and paste it in a New Post. Blogger allows users to set the publish date, even one in that past, so I did my best to work out when the deleted post was originally published, both date and time. Then I hit publish and moved on to the next one. There was only one post where I’d forgotten to copy the fully-formatted final version, and that one took more time to do, of course.

While the process of publishing copies of the original posts was relatively straightforward for me, it wasn’t quick: It took me some three hours to re-publish those 8 posts, in part because I knew I’d linked to some of the eight in later posts, so I had to update those later posts with the new URL—and I also had to update their back-up copies.

I stopped there and went to my cousin-in-law’s for dinner, which was a very welcome break. When I got back home, I fed the dogs and went back to the post I was going to work on that afternoon. I published it, decided I was too tired to do any more, and just kind of surfed around for awhile.

Just before I went to bed, I checked my emails again: There were another eight emails from Google/Blogger. Each one said:
We have re-evaluated the post titled [post name] against community guidelines… Upon review, the post has been reinstated.
The last email arrived at about 11:50pm last night, and my honest first reaction was ”WTF?!”, but with the words, not the initials. By then I’d republished all the posts using my back-up copies, turned on comment-moderation, and even downloaded a back-up of my entire blog in case they really did boot me out over this as their earlier emails threatened could happen. I puzzled for a few minutes on what to do, and in the end I posted the “Important Announcement”, revising it several times along the way (mostly cutting a lot of stuff).

As of the time I’m writing this (shortly before it’s published), those eight posts have NOT actually been “reinstated” (I’d know because I’d have two copies of the same posts, since the restored versions have different URLs from the originals). Is this a case of Google/Blogger sinning in haste and repenting at leisure? I guess time really will tell, though, understandably, I’m a bit doubtful that those posts will, in fact, be “reinstated”.

When all this started, the first thing I thought of was that I should just quit blogging altogether because if the “guilt upon accusation” model used by most of Big Tech would make me a victim because of their own security shortcomings, then what was the point of using a hosted service? Hosting my blog myself would cost money and I’d have to do most of my own security work, so that isn’t an attractive option. Moving the blog to Wordpress is an option, but even that seems like more trouble than its worth.

I have absolutely no idea what more, if anything, I’m going to do about all this, but I’ll try to remember to make a new complete back-up every night just in case I do get kicked out because of their own sins. Oddly enough, I don’t particularly want to lose nearly 15 years worth of blogging, nor would I be willing to re-create the blog like I did with those eight posts yesterday.

I guess it’s still the same as it was in the last words of my first blog post: “Let’s see where this leads.” As good an idea as any.

Important Announcement

Due to a problem with Blogger, I've turned on comment moderation for all comments. Later today I'll talk about this in more detail and delete this post. Until then, please be aware of the extra hurdle in place for commenting.

Update 3:55pm: I originally planned to delete this post once I'd written in detail about what happened (and that post is now published), but the whole point of posting this last night was to make sure readers knew that all comments are now moderated, and that's a good reason to keep this. After all, not everyone reads long posts.

Now, on it's with the show…

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Walking all over my values

It’s not everyday that we get to literally stand on our values. Yesterday I gained to the opportunity to do that figuratively: My new doormat from Don’t Be A Doormat arrived, after months of delays due to Covid-related disruptions, including at the port. But it was worth the wait.

I chose the company because it’s a New Zealand company, first, and because they source the coir mats from ethical sources. The mats don’t use plastics or PVC and are 100% biodegradable. All good things, and together they’re the reasons I chose that company’s products. Less expensive mats from mass retailers usually can’t say any of those things. Personally, I think that upholding my values is worth paying a bit more for something.

I chose that specific design because I liked its friendliness (much better than the yawn-inducing “welcome” on so many doormats…), and it’s something I might actually say—well, think, maybe, but still. I’m very happy with it.

I now have a doormat that I like and my front door looks a little more finished. I also had another opportunity to put my values into action. I like that every bit as much, even if it still only gives me the chance to figuratively stand on my values.

Note: No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and the product mentioned was purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any supplier, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

This post is a revised and expanded version of what I posted on Instagram/Facebook.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Taste obsessions

Everyone gets obsessed with a food item every now and then—usually it’s just a craving, or something we merely “have a taste for”. But every once in awhile we may get obsessed with something for purely emotional reasons, and that can include food.

This has happened to me a lot over the past 19+ months as I’ve sailed my ship through a life-sea filled with mines, sandbars, and hidden reefs. Maybe the tastes I’m craving are comforting, maybe they’re just distracting, I simply don’t know what the reason for it is. But every once in awhile I get obsessed with some sort of food or taste, and that leads me to try making it. It’s also led to some odd changes.

Over the past year or so, I’ve documented several things that I’ve made for the first time, like the first time I made soda bread in April of last year, or, more interestingly to me, the karaage chicken I made a few days later, or Pad Thai noodles this past March, and sweetcorn fritters just last month. All those are things that captured my attention (or I was obsessed with…) until I made them and moved on (I’ve made Pad Thai noodles again, the only one of those that I’ve repeated so far).

I’ve also sometimes been focused on recreating things I used to make when I was younger, before I moved to New Zealand. One isn’t worth mentioning because it didn’t work (and when I get authentic ingredients I’ll try again and then maybe even blog about it if I do). A batch of cookies I made also failed because I accidentally left out the baking soda. Oops.

Recently though, I became focused on crumpets, of all things. Nigel and I got them most weeks for a long time, and from time to time afterward for years. This recent obsession started because my sister-in-law gave me some honey, and I suddenly got it into my head that I wanted to have crumpets with honey on them, because that’s how Nigel first served them to me way back in 1995 (see photo below), and how I continued to have them. Neither of us had had them in years, and I felt it was time to end the drought.

So I bought a pack, and the next morning I toasted two and smeared honey on them, as I used to do, and they were just as I’d remembered. The following morning, though, I put jam on them, which is the way Nigel preferred them (the photo up top is of the two versions). And me? The third day I toasted the final two and put jam on them. I realised that I now prefer that—and this wasn’t the first time that’s happened.

Back in 2018, I blogged about peanut butter and the brand I liked. In talking about various brands, I included a peanut butter called “Woolworth’s Select American Style Peanut Butter”, which I didn’t care for. What I didn’t say in that post is that it was Nigel’s favourite.

Nigel used to have peanut butter on toast for breakfast every weekday, so I always had a new jar in the cupboard so he wouldn’t get caught short if he used up a jar some morning. Awhile before Nigel realised he was sick, his peanut butter was getting low, so I bought an extra jar because I knew he’d open a new one soon, and that way I’d still have a reserve jar in the panty. Only that didn’t happen because Nigel started avoiding his usual breakfast, then he was very sick. When he died, there was the open jar and the two unopened ones.

Me being me, I wasn’t going to let them go to waste, so I finished them. In the time since, I’ve bought several new jars (only when I ran out), and my former favourite brand a couple times. I now prefer Nigel’s peanut butter to the one I used to like.

It’s not just toppings for crumpets or brands of peanut butter, there have been several food items where my taste seems to have changed, often to what Nigel liked. That’s not true for everything, though: I still hate passionfruit and offal—in fact there’s nothing that I couldn’t stand before that I now like, it’s just that there are some things I like better now than I used to.

What strikes me about this is that it’s not like I thought to myself, “I’m going to use the peanut butter that Nigel liked because he liked it.” That kind of thing has never once happened to me. Instead, I just realised I liked something he did. I think the most likely explanation is that tastes change, and also that just maybe I gave a product a fair chance, where maybe I hadn’t before. Maybe I just like to think that, that I’m a bit more open minded than I was. If so, Nigel would be pleased about that.

Food isn’t necessarily the most obvious thing for a grieving person to become suddenly obsessed with (most people would probably assume it’d be alcohol), but for me it’s probably the most common. Fortunately for me, most of this has been focused on tastes and ordinary stuff, and not on mass consumption of calories (though I’ve been known to comfort eat). It’s just I get a taste (obsession) for something sometimes.

This photo from 1998 or 1999 is of me in the kitchen of the first house we shared, holding a pack of
crumpets. We'd probably just got back from the supermarket.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Ringing changes

The projects I work on sometimes get done all at once, and sometimes older ones will suddenly leap forward. Sudden leaps, though, are usually only after a long and often arduous journey to get there. Like right now, for example.

Today I “finished” another project: I changed the phones in my house. A few days ago, I mentioned on my personal Facebook that I was working on this. I shared a “Facebook Memory” about “In Dependence”, something I posted on May 8 of last year (in those days, Facebook had a “Notes” feature, which was like a sort of blogging platform, and I’d post both there and here). In last year’s post, I talked a bit about the phone system issues (and mentioned them again in a post the following month), but I never really talked about how difficult it was to do. I said on Facebook:
All of what I sad last year is still true. And, as it happens, over the past week I’ve been trying to locate *all* the pieces to the multitudinous phone sets so I can swap out the set I started using this time last year (the first set we ever had, and despite getting batteries for them last year, they’re on their last legs). It’s not gone well, and I may just buy a new set. All the ones I have are destined for e-waste recycling some day, anyway, so I may just do that sooner rather than later.
The fact is, I was shooting blind last year: I had no idea how Nigel had set up our system, or even what (or where) the parts of those “multitudinous phone sets” were. The fact they were missing was probably because the house was packed up by various people, not just the movers, and so, everything ended up separated. However, Nigel didn’t exactly keep things together in the first place, and that was a problem.

All of that meant that, for example, I might have phones, but not the base unit they needed to talk to each other and the VoIP phone line. Or, maybe I had one or two handsets, but not the minimum of three I wanted. Add to that the fact that I didn’t know how to set it all up, and I just couldn’t work it out.

In the post last May, I mentioned that as I was going through things, I found something and said to myself, “that box is for VoIP”. That allows me to hook up an ordinary phone system, and not use a specialised VoIP phone set, which was important because so many bits of those were missing.

When I found what was actually our first multiple handset phone system (one we replaced something like 14 years ago), I decided to use that and the VoIP box I’d also found. That worked, kind of, for the past year.

Things got worse over time because each handset a problem: On one of them, the screen didn’t work, but the buttons did—which didn’t really matter because without a screen it was impossible to see what number I was dialling). Another handset’s buttons worked, but it had no sounds (including a ringer). The third one rang and the screen worked, but the keypad didn’t.

I tried to deal with all of those problems, assuming it was just a wrong settings (it wasn’t). That third phone originally didn’t really work at all because it wouldn’t charge. I noticed a couple of the charging contact pins were bent, so I fixed that, but the keyboard was frozen because Nigel spilled paint on it at our house in Paeroa when we were doing it up. I opened up the phone (!) to see if I could clean the keypad. Turns out, it was covered by a clear silicon pad and escaped most of the paint. I was able to clean off what was keeping things from moving, but didn’t matter because the keypad still didn’t work. Maybe if I understood electronics I could’ve fixed it, but even if I had, it’d have been the only handset working correctly. And, of course, they were all probably the better part of 20 years old.

I limped along with that set for the past year, even as one phone suddenly started dying because the battery was still one of the originals (I bought two replacements), and even though the line connection was never great.

So, I again started the search for phones, and accidentally came across the base unit and a handset for was actually our second set of phones, one that had four handsets (which we needed at the time). The four handset system is the one we were using when Nigel switched us to VOIP ( found the other two handsets in my office where I’d put them “so I can find them” just yesterday; that was about a week after I’d started work on this).

Nigel bought an IP phone that could connect directly to the Internet through our system, and I found the base unit and all its handsets (four). I bought rechargeable AAA batteries and fired them up. One handset connected to the base, but the other three wouldn’t, even when I followed the instructions in the manual (which, of course, I had to download—that’s still missing). I knew this system was going to be difficult to set up (because I’d had enough problems with VoIP box), so, when I found the two missing handsets from the second system, I decided to use that—All I had to do was put in the batteries and plug it into that VoIP box. So, I did. And it worked.

So, I now have a somewhat better, fully functioning phone system, including a handset on my desk so I can answer it it it rings when I’m at my desk (it hardly ever does, actually). But even this, I know, isn’t the end of the story.

There’s one more set of VoIP phones, the last one Nigel bought, maybe a year or so before he died. He had trouble getting it to work, and one or two of the handsets seemed to have batteries that wouldn’t hold a charge. I have no idea whether Nigel bought the phones new or used, so it could be the batteries were on their last legs, anyway. They’re the type that’s in a pack, meaning they’re more expensive than ordinary rechargeable AAA batteries and have to be ordered from a specialist supplier. Because of that, and because I know that Nigel had some problems with them, I’m not keen on even trying to get them going.

Ultimately, I probably will need to get a newer phone system, and a VoIP system would be better. I’d need to do a lot of research to make that happen, including maybe even solving the handset registration problem I couldn’t easily do before. I have plenty of time to do that, though, now that I have a functioning phone system that I can use—for now.

The larger question, though, is should I bother keeping the “landline” at all? There’s really only one person who rings me on that line regularly, and one other person occasionally does. Everyone else rings me on my mobile, either directly or, if they’re overseas, through an App. I also use Zoom and Skype on my desktop computer rather than making international phone calls. So: Should I bother keeping the “landline” at all?

For now, I will. But because I don’t know that I’ll have one much longer, I’ll probably stick with the phones I have rather than buying new ones. Eventually, all the phones will end up going to e-waste recycling—it’s just a question of how soon.

This particular project lurched ahead when I found missing “pieces to the multitudinous phone sets”, and now it’s reached its latest conclusion point. It won’t be the last one, either.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Leo said good night

I forgot to share this the other night. Maybe it’s because I seldom embed Instagram posts directly anymore, and instead I post the photo separately. Dunno. But right now Leo wants to go to bed, and that reminded me. So, good night?

We’re very good actors

Here’s something that not everyone knows about grieving people: We become very good actors. We learn what to say, how not to say things, and how to present ourselves in a way that the people in our lives expect. We learn, in other words, how not to be real.

The thing about profound grief is that it’s not linear, and it has no timeline. How many times have I said that now? What most grieving people don’t talk about publicly is the extent to which we remain silent, or pretend things are different, because we know that’s what others expect of us. That changes absolutely nothing, that is, nothing except the extent to which we can be honest.

We learn pretty quickly that others have a pre-determined timeline for how long we’re allowed to grieve. Most everyone will give us six months—no real problem there. But folks get twitchy the longer our grief continues: Nine months? Some awkward foot shuffling. A year? Loud and long sighs. Any longer? Subject changes, silence, and/or disapproving frowns if we’re honest about where we’re at.

We see all that, and we learn the message: If we want to be around them, at some point we have to pretend everything’s fine—doesn’t have to be wonderful, just as long as it’s positive. And if we don’t feel positive? Fake it. We hear that, loud and clear.

We all hear your protests! “I’m not like that!” and maybe you’re not. But consider how even detachment and disinterest appears to us. Are we over-sensitive? Why the hell shouldn’t we be?! We’ve had a part of us ripped away, so do forgive us if we can’t read intent: We’re busy trying to deal with being a shadow of our former selves, and that takes up way too much energy to have any left to work out what various people intend.

The thing is, no one has to have to have the answers! They don’t even have to say anything, not really. But if they ask us how we’re doing, they really need to mean it—and if they truly care about us, then they should mean it. They should care about us and hear what we have to say, even if they feel uncomfortable. We can’t have an honest relationship if they can’t accept our reality.

There are some people, of course, who want to “fix” us, like if they don’t approve of how long our grief lasts. Those people don’t matter. We alone get to determine the course, shape, and duration of our grief journey—no one else gets a say. Anyone who can’t accept that should do us the courtesy of saying so and then back out of our lives because the reality is that we don’t really need people like that. Harsh? Nope. Truth.

I recently realised that sooner or later, dealing with profound grief becomes like living in the closet all over again: I feel like I can’t always talk honestly about where I’m at and what I’m feeling or going through, and instead I have to filter everything I say to match what people expect is “normal”. It’s exhausting.

The lesson in this is as simple as it is obvious: Never judge. Never dictate. Always know that you can never know what private war someone else is fighting, so just relax! It’s not your burden or responsibility to “fix” anyone. If someone else’s grief makes you feel uncomfortable, realise that’s about you, not them, and, again, relax. Thing is, most people, most of the time, find their way through and the only thing that matters from you is to make that journey easier. It’s never about being “right”, it’s about being there. That’s it!

People dealing with profound grief become very good actors. We learn what to say, how not to say it, and how to present ourselves in a way that the people in our lives expect. Others’ choices and behaviours can help us make the only real choice: To be real.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Tooth Tales: The marathon

These “Tooth Tales” haven’t gone away, they’ve just become smaller and part of a larger narrative, one that’s about accomplishing long-held goals, and also maintaining a personal commitment. So many of the best-accomplished things are exactly like that.

The last specifically “Tooth Tales” post in this series was back in December 2020 when my crowned tooth was removed, something that seemed to take forever to heal.

After that—on my birthday—I saw the dental hygienist. I was impressed immediately with how nice and friendly she is, and how collegial: She talked about the things that needed to be done in terms of a partnership—without actually calling it that, of course. In the first visit, she took her measurements and admonished coached me to use those damn little brushes between my teeth, taking the time to both “train” me and to overcome my main hesitation, namely, that it freaks me out when the brushes get stuck between my teeth. The second visit was more of the same, except that she happily noted the progress I’d made in addressing the pockets around my teeth. That’s because I actually used those damn little brushes between my teeth; she’s quite persuasive. Clearly.

There was a new problem that popped up, though: My top and bottom front teeth were colliding, and that caused some damage, some pain, and a lot of annoyance. Today I saw the dentist about that.

The problem is that my top front tooth and bottom front tooth would sometimes collide when I chewed, which hurt, and one time it chipped my upper tooth. A few nights when I was in that space between being awake and asleep, my jaw suddenly snapped shut and my teeth collided. I felt miserable.

The problem exists because my upper tooth dropped when it lost bone support from my periodontal disease (I think I first talked about that six years ago). Meanwhile, the bottom front tooth has thrust upward, something that happens sometimes, apparently. That caused a misalignment that allowed the two to get into a sort of dental fist fight.

I did a few things to try and help myself until I could get it sorted. First, and most obviously, I chewed very carefully. I also tried wearing a sports mouthguard when I slept because it’s cheap and I wasn’t sure it would work. The one night I wore it my teeth didn’t collide in my sleep, but it propped my mouth open and my tongue dried out that night, and that meant I couldn’t taste much the next day. So, I next tried something very simple: When trying to fall asleep, I concentrated on relaxing my jaw muscles, then relaxing them some more, then some more. My jaw hasn’t snapped shut at night since; maybe it wouldn’t have, anyway, but I don't care because it just didn’t.

Today I saw my dentist and he ground down the bottom tooth just a little bit so they can all close properly now—they’re not trying to occupy the same place. This may be permanent, or it may need to be done again if my teeth are still moving. No way to know either way right now, but the important thing is that I immediately felt better because my mouth could close properly. It was downright miraculous.

The next step is that when I see the hygienist in a couple months, in addition to checking my gums and doing an ordinary cleaning, she’ll do some bleaching to try to remove some of the staining. Then I’ll go back to the dentist and have him repair my chipped front tooth (it’s better to do it this way so that the composite they use colour-matches the tooth; fixing the chip first might mean it might not match after my teeth are bleached).

All of this is related to my original goal: A prettier smile. However, now it’s just about getting the best reasonable result. I know it won’t be what I originally wanted, but I’m trying to get to “good enough” (as I am with so much these days…), and, especially, so that when I enter my Golden Years my teeth won’t look like they arrived and settled in many years earlier.

Nigel started all this. He made the appointment that started me down this road some seven years ago. He only wanted to help me achieve what I wanted, and he would’ve supported me as I came to terms with the goalposts lowering. But all that’s also part of what makes me want to see this through: He was in my corner even when I wasn’t. But I also want to make things better with my oral health because that, ultimately, will make everything else better, too, including whatever still is possible—even if that’s considerably less than what I thought would happen when I started out on this journey.

Today, and the other days I haven’t blogged about, brought me closer to a new stasis, something that’s healthier and more sustainable than what I had before. I may never get the prettier smile I wanted at the start of this journey, but I’ll still end up with something that could last me through my twilight years, and that, I think, is good enough.

Thanks, Nigel.

Jake has a champion

I’ve helped a problem Jake was having, and it says something about me as much as about him. The basic story was in the Instagram caption:
My boy Jake is 14 now, and has “old man problems”: He’s hard of hearing, hard of seeing, and hard of moving (and so am I sometimes…). I noticed he was taking longer to eat his meals, and sometimes he’d stop and raise his head before finishing. So, I took a collapsible step I keep in my kitchen for reaching high places, and put his food bowl on it. Now he gobbles his food just like he always used to and no longer raises his head. I’m glad the idea worked and that it makes him just a bit more comfortable in his golden years. He’s definitely earned a good retirement!
The important thing here is that Jake was struggling a bit and now he’s not. That’s all that matters. Also, he seems happier because of the small change.

What occurred to me later is that this is my strength: I see a problem, evaluate possible solutions to arrive at what I think is the best solution, and then I put it into action. In this particular case, it worked the first time, which isn’t necessarily a very common or usual thing, but what matters is that this is how I operate. And that it worked.

Nigel and I were very different. He’d conduct in-depth research to arrive at the best possible solution, while I’d look at all the observable facts to arrive at a useful solution. He was more about the right solution, and mine was more about a workable and fast solution (and, to be honest, one that was cost-effective). This particular time is one where my solution may have been his choice, but it’s also one he’d have have backed, even as he looked for a different (probably more elaborate) solution. Whatever works, especially for our furbabies, is all that would’ve mattered to either of us.

What matters is that Jake is less challenged than he was before. All the rest? It’s about me finding my way in this foreign life I’m now in. Jake, he just is. But he still has a champion.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Mown goal

Today I achieved a goal: My lawn mower paid for itself. That’s not literally true, nor even figuratively true, really, but that’s the way I look at it. Because of that, today was an accomplishment of a goal.

The mower didn’t literally pay for itself not only because it’s a thing that doesn’t earn a salary, but also because it’s difficult to calculate a break-even point. Even so, I came up with a way that worked for me, and today I arrived at that admittedly arbitrary break-even point.

As I’ve said several times, I wanted to get a lawn mower as soon as I moved into this house. I knew that my doctors would be glad I was doing it (for the exercise), and I also knew that because it was a small, contained job, it was one I could handle even in the iron-tight grip of my grief.

I bought my mower the day after the sale of the last house that Nigel I lived in was settled (which was also six months to the day after Nigel died ). It was probably the first big thing I spent any money on after moving to Hamilton because I’d been avoiding doing that in case the house didn’t sell and I needed to cover the mortgage payments for longer than I’d budgeted. As it turned out, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend any money after the sale because only a few days later, New Zealand went under lockdown.

Because I’m me, I wanted to work out how long it would take before the cost of the mower would be offset by the savings compared with hiring a service to do the mowing. I knew this would take awhile because I bought a battery-powered mower which was significantly more expensive than a petrol mower. Thing is, I didn’t want to burn fossil fuels and pollute the air just to keep my grass (well, weeds…) looking tidy (there’s those pesky values of mine in action again).

Since so many people had urged me to hire a lawn mowing service, I decided I’d use what we paid for each complete mow at the old house as a starting point. This may or may not have been a good idea—I never got quotes in Hamilton, so it may have cost more or less here than it did there (I think it may have cost less here because there’s far more competition in Hamilton, and because my section is smaller than what we had at the old place). Nevertheless, I decided it was as good a number as any.

Next, I took that number and arbitrarily divided it in half—half for the front lawn, half for the back. The reason for that is that even though I knew I’d usually mow both the front and back lawns the same day, that wouldn’t always be the case (in fact, the very first time I used the mower, it was only in the back). The front lawn is a LOT smaller than the back, so this was a truly arbitrary number; I just didn’t feel like working our the area of the two parts of the section to accurately calculate each part’s “share” of the total. Besides, this was never meant to be a true and accurate analysis—it was just a way of setting a goal to achieve.

Today I reached the goal I set, and the cost of the mower itself is now effectively zero. Kind of. Because, of course, there’s another thing I didn’t work out: The cost of recharging the battery. Calculating that would’ve required me to learn how to calculate that, which seemed a bit much for a non-serious exercise.

In any event, the recharging cost is now moot: I always mow the lawns in the daytime, of course, and usually when the sun is shining brightly. When I finish using the mower, I immediately recharge the battery, and that’s now done with free power from the sun. This means that my running costs are effectively zero.

If I’d taken the time to accurately work out how much I was saving by doing the mowing myself, and if I’d factored in how much it cost to recharge the battery, I’d have had a far more accurate estimate of when the cost of the mower would have been offset. That was never my intention—reaching the goal was.

I wanted to mow my own lawns for the exercise, and because, as I said, it was a small, contained job I could handle even in the iron-tight grip of my grief. But I also felt that some people didn’t think I could, or maybe would, actually do it, and I had a lot to prove, especially to myself.

That’s the real importance of the goal I achieved today: I proved that I could do it because I did do it, and that’s exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in my post from last March, “To err is human, the choice is mine”: I have to try things to find out what I’m capable of.

Whether the mower really did become “free” today or not is beside the point: Today when I mowed the back lawn I got better than that: I achieved the goal I set for myself, and I think that’s worth celebrating. Always.

Distorted reflection

It’s not unusual to see ourselves or aspects of our lives reflected in pop culture—movies, songs, and, maybe especially, TV. It’s never a perfect mirror, but it can still help us see things we might otherwise miss, just as a dirty shop window might let us see that our collar is sticking up.

All of which is a way to acknowledge that we shouldn’t take something we see on TV as being truly reflective of our lives and our realities, however, it also means we may find something that’s useful. Exactly that recently happened to me

One evening last week I was channel surfing, and one of the NZ broadcast channels was showing a UK TV programme broadcast here as Hoarders. In that episode, a 64 year old gay man was in need of help for the second time in eight years, and we learn his hoarding problem was a result of the depression that followed the death of his partner from cancer, something that happened quickly: “There wasn’t enough time to think about what was happening,” he said. He also explained that afterward, he’d start multiple projects—sewing, crocheting, etc., “but instead of finishing one, I’d start another one, and another one, and so on.”

For obvious reasons, this caught my attention. I’m not a hoarder, even if parts of my house are overrun with moving boxes (the garage in particular). On the other hand, I’m also not an “un-hoarder” because I haven’t dealt with the mountains of stuff that was moved here from the last house. It’s true, as I often say, that it’s 24 years worth of stuff for two people, and it’s also true that I don’t have places to put everything (this house is significantly smaller than the last house, which was smaller than the house before that, and stuff was accumulated along the way). But I know damn well that while those are all facts, they’re not the reason I haven’t dealt with the stuff yet.

Which brings me back to the programme. I noticed, especially at the beginning of my grief journey, that I’d sometimes get obsessed with doing projects, like printing out and framing photos of Nigel and me, but it could be absolutely anything, even unusual things (like finding bedside lamps for my guest room). I, too, have found that “instead of finishing one [project], I’d start another one, and another one, and so on.” While there are plenty of projects I’ve finished (including those where I hired someone), there are far more that are incomplete.

It’s quite common for people dealing with deep grief to develop anxiety disorders (something that hoarding is classified as). I know that Nigel’s loss of his partner before me is what led to his anxiety disorder. Recently, I sometimes felt unwell, experiencing systems similar to the heart rhythm issues I’d had before. I checked, and my blood pressure and heart rate were all fine, and my home ECG showed that I wasn’t in afib and didn’t have tachycardia, both of which sent me to hospital in the past. Apparently, I was just feeling anxious, and seemingly for no reason.

One day a couple weeks ago I was feeling that way, but decided to go mow my front lawn, anyway, because it was going to rain that day. After that, I unexpectedly had to go try to capture the neighbours’ dogs who had escaped their yard while their humans were away for the day. This involved a walk around the block, plus another, shorter walk later. And after all that, I felt fine. Because physical activity made my symptoms go away, it reinforced for me the fact that what I was feeling wasn’t heart rhythm problems, but anxiety, something I suspect reared its head because I feel my life is stuck because I miss Nigel so terribly, but especially because I don’t have a clue what’s next for me.

I’m also keenly aware that I continue to fight a war with the naysaying voice in my head that I was talking about in March, but that’s always been there to some extent, kind of like background radiation. Adding that on to the sort of intense ennui that profound grief brings, and even the simple fact that none of the things I “should” be doing around the house, let alone what I could be doing, are even remotely fun without Nigel, and it’s pretty much a recipe for remaining stalled.

I imagine that some of that must’ve been what the man in the TV programme was feeling. He dealt with his loss by hoarding, while in my case it’s been more about not doing things. Like him, I’ve seen that doing something to move forward is one of the best strategies to get past the roadblock.

Unfortunately, I also feel I’m over-medicated, now that my heart rhythm issues seem to be resolved. That leaves me very tired all the time, and I have naps several days a week. Of course, emotions can tire us, too. Despite all that, there are times I manage to shove my way through the exhaustion, like I did that day the neighbours’ dogs got out, and I feel better for it (possibly those released endorphins people talk about).

All of that went through my mind as I watched that programme the other night. I suppose the resonance was a bit stronger because the man they were helping was named Nigel. Whatever the hook was, it helped reflect my own life back to me, and that was a useful thing, even though the reflection was distorted.

Each of us has to find our own way through the life we have and the issues we face. Sometimes we can see ourselves or aspects of our lives reflected in pop culture, and sometimes that can be useful. This time, for me, it was.

*The programme is from UK broadcaster Channel 5, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Viacom, who broadcast it as Hoarder Homes: No Room To Move. This programme is inherently better than the American series called Hoarders— it’s kinder, gentler, and less false-dramatic than the American version (though in my opinion the American programme didn’t start out being as over-dramatic and brutal as it can be now). This particular episode was labelled “Season 1, Episode 4” on the TVNZ on-demand service, but Channel 5 said it was “Series 1, Episode 3”. I have no idea why there’s that difference.