Saturday, July 31, 2021

The biggest project of all

This post is mainly for friends and family who have been to my house, but this is also about a very important project for my future, something I’ll explain more later on, but this post is basically the introduction to what is a really big topic.

Here we go: on Tuesday of last week, I began what‘s absolutely the biggest, most exhausting project I’ve done in my house since I moved in 18 months ago: I began working on clearing out and organising my garage.

I hesitated to say anything before now because I’ve been acutely embarrassed by the overrun, overstuffed, overwhelming garage—“the garage of no return”, I called it. At the same time, though, I also truly didn’t care about it. The difference between caring and not caring came when I had to go in there and had to manoeuvre through too-skinny walkways. That and when I felt like other people felt I should care—that’s when I felt embarrassed.

The other reason I didn’t want to say anything is because to me it looks only slightly better. In my mind, I could imagine someone looking inside the garage right now and innocently asking, “So: When are you going to start?” because I have so much more to do.

What have I visibly accomplished? Well, I removed all the boxes stacked in front of one of the windows, for one thing. It’s the first time since I moved in 18 months ago that light pours in. Even on the dark, rainy afternoons over the past week’s time, the light was surprisingly good (and will be for my eventual projects when I’m done organising).

The main headline, though, is that I’ve emptied the equivalent of 59 boxes over 7 days (44 in the first four days), but the reality is a bit more complicated because some boxes were huge, others just big, and some were ordinary size. So, to make it easier to track, I estimated the equivalent volume, which would be 59 ordinary boxes. Of those, three had nothing but newsprint in them, but they’re broken down now, too.

My specific motivator was that there are things I’ve been looking for since I moved in, and it’s gotten to the point it’s annoying. Even more specifically, I know Nigel had several audio mixers (which he originally got for his radio shows), and I happen to need one for a non-public project. I also haven’t seen his microphone since we moved to South Auckland in Feb 2017, and it’s a good one.

Added on to that is the fact that I finally decided I didn’t care if the lounge was overrun with stuff for awhile, something that had always been a barrier before because everything I unpack has to go somewhere, but there hasn’t been a “somewhere” to put it.

I’m putting all Nigel’s electronic bits and pieces, along with various empty boxes for various electronic bits and pieces, in one spot. Then, I’ll put them together on some shelves in the garage so I can properly sort through it all (I have more stored in my office, and I’ll be able to put them together with the others, giving me more space in my office, too).

My priority for boxes has been all the ones that came from the movers, and I think I only have at most a couple more of them to go. Early next week, things going well, I’ll ring the movers to come and collect the empty boxes (which they said they’d do whenever I was ready).

After that, I’ll organise a skip (dumpster) for all the junk that’s of no use to anyone, stuff that can’t be given away, sold, re-used, or recycled (this doesn’t include e-waste of course; I’ll get rid of that appropriately).

When I started this project, I had very little room to move in the garage, and things kept falling over. That was annoying. But it seemed like nearly every box I opened had more and more of Nigel’s electronic bits and pieces or parts from various projects—what he called his “toys”. I got grumpy with Nigel because of how hard all that was. And then I got grumpy with myself.

After he was diagnosed, Nigel said he wanted to go through all his “toys” so I wouldn’t have to. I know he said that to others, too, and that near the end he said how sorry he was he wouldn’t get the chance. So, I know that if it was possible for anyone to feel bad after they died, Nigel would be miserable that he left me with such a mammoth job to do, and if he could, he’d tell me how sorry he was.

So, I wasn’t actually angry with Nigel, just tired and grumpy over how much physically difficult and tiring work it‘s been, and is, and will be. Besides, I’d gladly work to find places for ten times that much of stuff—a billion times more—if it meant I could have my life with Nigel back. Things don’t work that way.

There’s far more to this story, like about how much of it feels like I’m stepping into someone else’s life, including Nigel’s partner before me, Gary, who died about two years before Nigel and I met in real life. That’s a topic for another day, but right now I’ll say this: that’s been the most emotionally challenging aspect of this whole project, and I’ve shed more than a few tears. Some might say I care too much, but I wonder, why don’t others care as much? But, all that’s for another day. Promise.

I got very little done on Tuesday of this week (“First Jab Day”), and nothing much on Wednesday, Thursday, or yesterday, either. There were extenuating circumstances.

I have specific plans for this weekend, but no matter how well it goes, I think I’ve got at least another week before I’ll be done. For the first time in 18 months, though, I’m truly, and completely, okay with that.

Friday, July 30, 2021


The video above is an ad that starting running on New Zealand TV recently. It’s intended to encourage people to use NZ’s Covid Tracer App to scan the QR code on the special “Unite against Covid-19” posters all businesses and public venues are required to display. Previous TV ads have often promoted scanning in a more or less matter-of-fact fashion, apart from the “Make Summer Unstoppable” campaign that began late last year. While an informational approach delivers the basics, it doesn’t give anyone a specific reason to scan, something the “Unstoppable” campaign tried to do. This ad takes a similar, but less complicated approach by getting to the heart of the matter: “Scanning protects what you love.”

This is a particularly good message because it gives people a personal, everyday reason to act, and it does so in simple terms. The video uses a heart as the unifying image, and also includes some images and patterns commonly associated with New Zealand, or just with life. A QR code is repeated frequently among the images in the montage, further linking the heart and the code. The first shot in the ad says “I ❤️ NZ”, which, of course, is based on the famous “I Love New York” logo that’s been adapted the world over since it debuted in 1977, much to the often litigious displeasure of the copyright owner, the New York State Department of Economic Development.

The version that first appears in the ad has a sort of gold-coloured heart, using is the main colour of the “Unite against Covid-19” campaign (which is also why the colour pops up so much in the ad). In the third to last and final shot, the heart is replaced with a QR code, once again symbolically linking love and scanning.

I think it’s a fair bet that the vast majority of people won’t think about all that, and probably won’t even notice, but as someone who’s spent my adult life engaged in delivering messaging, one way or another, I always look at how a message is delivered as much as what the message itself is. In advertising, especially ads in the public interest, how the message is conveyed is often at least as important as the content of the message, and sometimes more so.

In this particular case, New Zealanders have become quite slack in scanning QR codes. The Government has tried to encourage people through ordinary messaging, especially how scanning can help keep New Zealand safe from major community outbreaks by making it easier for the government to rapidly enclose an outbreak through contact tracing before the outbreak gets out of control, as it recently did in Sydney. Yet interest in scanning the code only seems to rise when we have a community outbreak, as Auckland and Wellington have both had.

So, if people get complacent about scanning the code—except when they perceive a possible direct personal threat—then maybe one approach to change their behaviour could be this one: Help them see that scanning helps protect what they love.

Still, as good as I think the ad is, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective. As I’ve mentioned many times, when I go to a business—supermarket, petrol station, whatever—I’m often (usually?) the only one around me who scans the code. I’d like to say it’s about me trying to protect the things I love, but it’s more selfish than that: If some infected person goes into a shop right before me, making me a casual contact—or close contact, in the case of the Delta Variant—then I want to make it as easy as possible for the Ministry of Health to contact me as fast as possible. Even when I’m fully vaccinated, I’ll remain cautious for my own safety, and if I’m exposed at some point, I need to know so doctors can better monitor me. The reason I care about that is that as someone with a pre-existing condition, I’m at higher risk if I become a breakthrough case, something that will have a higher possibility of happening as new variants appear.

I don’t think that a “scan to protect yourself” thing would make a good marketing campaign mainly because it “others” the people around us, making us see those people as threats to be suspicious of. Instead, I prefer more positive messages like the current “Scanning protects what you love” and last summer’s “Make Summer Unstoppable”. But I guess this also shows that different messages are probably needed because they provide different motivations.

I just want people to scan the damn code!

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

First jab done

Today I went and had my first jab of the Covid-19 vaccine. It felt like I’d been waiting forever, but in the end it all happened quickly. I’m very happy about it all.

The plan had been to have everyone 65+, along with those (like me) with certain pre-existing health conditions, get their jabs in July. I avoided getting an annual flu jab because, at the time, advice was that we’d have to wait 31 days before getting the Covid jab, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise or delay that.

Things didn’t go as quickly as I’d planned. I don’t know what the problem was, whether it was some sort of disorganisation at the Waikato District Health Board (my local health authority), or whether it was the lingering problems caused by the ransomware attack, but whatever the cause, as the month dragged on it was looking unlikely I’d get my jab in July.

However, this past Friday, July 23, the Ministry of Health announced that from that day, people in Group 3 (like me) who hadn’t received an invitation to book a vaccine (again, like me) could ring a new 0800 number to book an appointment. I did that on Friday.

I was very, very impressed with the phone booking service: My call was answered pretty quickly, and the friendly and helpful person got me all set up in only a few minutes. It turned out that I could have had an appointment the next day, Sunday, but I had a family birthday lunch to go to that day. So, my appointment was two days later—today—which was such a long time to wait… My appointment for the second jab is on August 17, exactly three weeks later, which is the Ministry of Health’s preferred target timeframe.

The vaccination centre I was going to was located in Te Awa, the mall at The Base shopping centre, which is about a 15 minute drive from my house. Since I wasn’t completely sure where, precisely, the location was in the mall, I was there early.

I walked into the mall (after scanning the QR code with the Covid Tracer App, of course), and worked out quickly it was where I thought it was: Upstairs on the second level, one of the few things on that level (a topic for another day).

I walked into the centre (after scanning the QR code with my Covid Tracer App, of course), and a friendly helpful lady gave me a clipboard, pen, and a number (22), along with an information sheet and a consent form I needed to fill out. The waiting area was packed—there were a few seats, and there was clearly pretty quick turnover, and that really impressed me.

It didn’t take me long to fill out the paperwork, so I had time to calm down and just relax a bit. Around fifteen minutes after I arrived, my number was called and I was summoned to go to the consent area. The friendly, helpful lady took my information and gave me the little car where the vaccinator would record the relevant details of my jab.

Next, I was ushered into another crowded waiting area where people were being called up by name. It was roughly 35 minutes before I was ushered in for my jab, and since there were at least 10 vaccinators that I know of, that’s a pretty good indicator of how many people were there waiting.

The friendly, helpful vaccinator explained everything to me, including possible reactions/side effects, and gave me advice on what to do if I had any (so far, I haven’t), and also advice like to drink lots of water afterward, and to actually use the arm I got the jab in. I had her jab the arm that I don’t sleep on very much, following the advice a friend gave me, and the vaccinator thought that was a great idea. She gave me my jab, and after about five minutes total, I was away—to the next waiting area.

I gave my paperwork to the friendly, helpful guy there, who pointed out the water, and told me the nurse would let me know when I could leave after about 20 minutes, which was to make sure I didn’t have a severe reaction. I got myself a cup of water and sat down to post on Facebook that I’d had my first jab. After my 20 minutes was up, they called out my name, and I left.

I took my selfie (photo up top), and heard the rain absolutely hosing down on the roof. Although I’d brought an umbrella in case that happened, it sounded especially fierce, so I went to a department store in the mall to pick up a couple things I needed, then decided to have an early dinner in the foodcourt.

When I left, the sun was back out—and the temperature had dropped five degrees, according to my watch. I drove directly home and got back here around 5pm.

Three weeks from today, I’ll be fully vaccinated. And very, very happy about it.

Update 29 July – Jab aftermath: I had no reaction Tuesday night, but did for awhile Wednesday.

Tuesday night, I had nothing, and then had a good night’s sleep (though longer than usual). I felt fine when I got up Wednesday morning.

Around midday-ish Wednesday, I started to feel a bit yucky, and also got a bit of a headache, so I took parecetomol (as directed by the nurse yesterday). That helped, but I started to feel yuckier still, and when I started to get scratchy with the dogs, I decided to go lay down. I dozed a bit, and definitely felt better when I got up again.

But I also felt really tired, which is funny because when they said tiredness was a possible reaction, I thought to myself, “how would I know?”, what with my chronic tiredness from medication. Turns out, I couldn’t miss it.

Still, 24 hours-ish after the jab, the reactions started to diminish, and by Wednesday evening I felt normal, and that continued today. As "reactions" go, what I had is hardly worth the name.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Eighteen months homed

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

‘Porch light’ posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Shelving a project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday morning presented another problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Calling a new dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Housing developments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Seize each day

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

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

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

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

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

A good, cold, subdued day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Sunny would've been thirteen

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

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

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

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

Related posts:

Sunny is twelve – What turned out to be her last birthday
Sunny is eleven
Sunny is ten
Sunny is nine
Sunny is eight
Sunny is seven
Sunny is six
Sunny is five
Sunny is four
Sunny is three – Her first birthday with us
Sunny has arrived – When Sunny came to live with us
All posts mentioning Sunny

Friday, July 02, 2021

Delivering a new name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side notes:

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

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