}

Friday, September 30, 2022

Another unusual occurrence

I had another odd occurrence recently. I make no claims about what was or wasn’t going on, it’s just something that it happened. Draw your own conclusions.

First, though, a sort of pre-explanation. I have this weird thing that happens sometimes shortly after I turn off the light next to the bed. I lie in the dark, eyes closed, and I “see” through my eyelids. I don’t mean that literally—my eyelids aren’t transparent. What I mean is that I “see” whatever I’m facing, and that particular night it was the unlit lamp on my bedside cabinet, the wall a bit beyond that, the door to the darkened en suite.

I opened my eyes at one point, and physically saw the scene really was as my closed-eyes vision “saw” it, apart for one thing: In real life, there was light coming from the en suite window because the neighbours over the back fence still had their lights on (and for some reason, they have no window coverings). I closed my eyes again and what I “saw” through my closed-eyes vision was exactly as it had been—a darkened ensuite with no light coming from the window.

As I lay there “seeing” what I was facing, I noticed a sort of shimmery, out of focus human-shaped figure came into my view. It stopped at the side of the bed, directly in front of me. Although out of focus, it felt like Nigel. After many years and much love shared with someone, it’s possible to feel their presence without seeing them. I have no proof that it was him—I’m merely describing what it felt like, and because it did, I wasn’t frightened or worried or anything. I accepted the possibility it could be him.

The figure seemed to be speaking, but I couldn’t hear anything. I said out loud, “If that’s you, I can’t hear you.” During this time, the figure seemed to reach toward me, as if to touch me. I didn’t feel anything physical. The figure was dressed in casual clothes, with some sort of printed t-shirt. I tried to read what the shirt said so I might be able to work out who it was, but it was too out of focus/shimmery. I also opened my eyes briefly to see if there might be something to literally see, but there wasn’t, so I closed my eyes again and watched the figure.

After only a few minutes, the figure faded away, and when I opened my eyes again, everything was still as it had been. I closed my eyes, but the figure was gone, and the closed-eyes vision faded away, too.

To repeat myself, I’m not making any claims about what happened or didn’t happen, and I’m well aware of several logical explanations—like that the whole closed-eyes vision thing is just a sort of persistence of vision, and the rest was my imagination. But I’m also aware that it could be something I can’t explain. I’m completely open-minded about either possibility.

This sort of thing happened to me once before, something I talked about back in July, after my first unusual occurrence. But something similar to this latest incident happened even earlier, as I talked about in that July post:
This was at our house on Auckland’s North Shore, and I think it was before my stent. Whatever was going on that particular night, I wasn’t asleep yet, but not far from it. My eyes were closed, but through my closed eyes I “saw” my mother walk up along the side of the bed, reach over, and then I felt her stroke my hair. She didn’t say a word, and when I opened my eyes, she wasn’t there. Of course. But it definitely felt real, both physically and in that sort of ethereal way we feel when we’re physically close to someone with whom we have a strong connection.
It’s entirely possible that these incidents were some sort of projection of whatever was going on in my mind at the time, even if it was at least somewhat subconsciously. However, just as I can’t prove some sort of non-corporeal visitations happened, neither can I prove that the “rational” explanations are what happened.

I’m left, then, with a simple conclusion: I don’t know what happened. As I said about that first “unusual occurrence” last July, “it was whatever it was”.

It’s probable that folks I tell this tale to will reject one option or the other. In fact, I can do that and then switch positions, switch again, and so on. Still, I’ve always had a curious mind, one I try to keep open—sometimes succeeding. It’d be nice, though, if over time I could begin to come to some certainties. I have an open mind about that, too.

Still, it was whatever it was.

Day out discoveries

Today I went for lunch with my sister-in-law (different one than last week) and my mother-in-law, which was a really nice time (and good food). This was perfect for me because I planned on going to a supermarket today to pick up some odds and ends, and I was right near New World Rototuna, so no extra traffic navigation. And I discovered a few things.

I’ve always thought New World Rototuna was nice, a little more “upmarket” than the one in Te Rapa (different owners, and Rototuna is newer), but I still like Te Rapa New World better—it feels friendlier, for lack of a better word, and it’s usually better stocked, overall. When it opened, Nigel thought the Te Rapa New World was the nicest supermarket in New Zealand (seriously!), though I think he would’ve liked the Borman Road Countdown, though possibly not as much. Supermarkets, of course, are as much a matter of personal taste as anything else in life.

The shop had one thing I’ve never seen at a mainstream supermarket before: A refill station for ecostore products like dish soap, hand soap, that sort of thing. There’s a chain of small, locally-owned shops called “Bin-Inn”, which is known mainly for selling things in bulk, like flour, rice, yeast, etc., and they also sell (among other liquids) ecostore products, all of which I’d seen. This is simply the first time I’ve personally seen such a refill station in a mainstream supermarket (back in 2019, I talked about some refill options in an “Internet Wading” post (first topic in the post).

Such refills may (theoretically) be priced lower than pre-packaged products are, but the prices aren’t necessarily lower, but it's easy to check pre-packaged products on the shelves near the refill station. However, the biggest reason for using refill stations isn’t prices, it’s to eliminate packaging: Re-using packaging is far better for the environment than constantly buying new packaging, recycling it, and repeating the cycle endlessly.

To say I’m intrigued by this is a bit of an understatement. I feel a mini-investigation (and blog post) coming on.

As I walked through the supermarket, one thing I kept thinking was, “oh my dog the prices are high!” I only bought what I needed—or things I’ll need soon that were on special—but no luxuries or treats (apart from some wine and a frozen pizza). Even that restrained haul was easily 15% higher overall than a similar shop would’ve been, say, last year at this time, and that was with all the “supply chain disruptions” the two supermarket companies blamed rising prices and shortages on at that time. I did note, though, that some things were only up a small amount (mainly NZ-made stuff), and some stuff was up like 25% or more (that was stuff I didn’t buy, of course). C‘est la vie.

The soaring supermarket prices have had an accidental benefit for me: I’ve been getting good at making my food dollars go much farther, and I now generally only need to cook every other day (meaning I also I have leftovers every other day), and I have pretty much zero food waste. Sooooo, that’s good, right? I keep telling myself that.

At any rate, it was a good outing, one in which I had a good time, discovered things I didn’t know, and accomplished an errand. But the best part, I gotta admit, was how happy Leo was to see me when I got home. That always makes me smile.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 370 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 370, “Springing in the rain”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Fixing the NZ Census

Yesterday, the New Zealand Government announced a raft of changes ahead of the 2023 NZ Census that will hopefully prevent another Census disaster like we had in 2018. It looks very promising.

It wasn’t hard to see what went wrong with the 2018 Census, even before the reviews were completed. I said at the time:
…it’s widely believed by us ordinary people that two of the factors were that the 2018 Census was, first, that this was the first conducted entirely online—there was no mass distribution of paper forms this year. Second, the previous National Party-led government, which drew up the budget that funded the 2018 Census, underfunded the whole thing.
While National denied underfunding the Census, it’s clear they did: They demanded budget cutbacks for two Census cycles, and dramatically cut the availability of paper census forms for large swathes of New Zealand. For example, there was significant undercounting of Māori and Pacific Island people, who, historically, have less access to computers and the Internet. The govevernment has plans to help with both.

Statistics Minister David Clark said that, “The 2023 Census will have more of everything—more boots on the ground, more paper forms, more hours worked and more community engagement”. This will be done by investing around $110 million more into the census to improve the results.

Part of the work will be to increase awareness, particularly among undercounted populations. Associate Minister of Statistics Meka Whaitiri said that a lot of work has gone into ensuring the nationwide survey will increase the response rate for Māori. “One of the new initiatives for the 2023 Census includes Te Mana Whakatipu, a pilot to build iwi data analytical capability and to deliver iwi-led collections in two locations where response rates have been lower in the past,” she said. “Led by Te Kāhui Raraunga, the operating arm of the Data Iwi Leaders Group, 2023 Census data will be collected by iwi collectives in the Far North by Te Ōhua and on the East Cape by Toitū Tairāwhiti.”

I’m sure I’ll complete the 2023 Census online, as I have since 2013, so this doesn’t affect me personally. However, as a citizen, taxpayer, and statistics and political science nerd, I’m incredibly keen on seeing a quality Census this year. It won’t erase the disaster that 2018 was, but at least it’ll give us better data for all sorts of things we need to know about in order to plan a future that’s right for all New Zealanders. I think the government is doing exactly what needs to be done.

New Zealand’s 2023 Census Night will be on March 7, 2023.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Waste not

There’s one thing that’s been fairly consistent in my life for decades, and that’s a desire to live as sustainably as possible. It’s an attitude Nigel and I shared, and over the years we tried a number of different things to make that happen. After Nigel died, I focused even more effort on that, and it’s become a focus of much of what I now do, and what many of my projects have been about. That will continue for quite awhile.

Some time in the past year or so, I created a ”Sustainability” Label/Tag for posts on this blog. The orginal focus was the solar electricity system I had installed, but recently I started to broaden the topics. However, I’ve been blogging about sustainability for years, and I’ll eventually tag those older posts, too. Turns out, there are even some repeats.

The most direct repeat project was that Nigel and I installed an EnsoPet pet waste composter at our last house back in November of 2017. Nigel actually bought it for our previous house, but we couldn’t quite work out where to put it, so we never used it there. Even so, Nigel had fun asking guests to guess what the assembled (and never used) thing was, and he laughed when they were mildly grossed-out when he told them.

I had no intention of digging up the that one when I moved to Hamilton, so I bought a new one instead. I installed that one two years ago, but Sunny died about five months later, and Jake seven months after that. With just Leo, who’s a small dog leaving only small gifts, there just hasn’t been much need for it. The truth is, I almost never find the gifts Leo leaves in the lawn—in fact, I can’t remember the last time I did. So, that particular repeated project has turned out to be pretty much unnecessary. Still, it’s there if I need it, I suppose.

In September of 2017, Nigel and I started using a bokashi bin for food scraps, but we abandoned it after around eleven months. As part of that project, we also bought a rotating compost bin so we could finish composting the bokashi bin contents in it, something I talked about at the time. Both are being repeated.

The first repeat was buying and assembling a different rotating compost bin, something I did two years ago. I chose a different bin for two reasons: The old one (which I left at the last house when I sold it) was one big chamber, which meant that inevitably, we’d have to stop putting new stuff in to let the contents compost. That would’ve meant, at some point, throwing food scraps away, or resuming use of the bokashi bin, or—something. It turned out, we ran out of time to find a solution.

Things are different here in Hamilton. I live by myself and produce far less organic waste than two people do. Also, Hamilton City Council added a food scraps waste bin that they empty every week and commercially compost the contents. Any cooked or raw food and scraps, including bones, can go into the bin, as can some odd things, like cut flowers (but not any garden waste) and vacuum cleaner bag contents. I’ve used the service a few times, but, again, I don’t produce all that much so it seems kind of pointless.

However, whether I use the council bin or not, I still needed somewhere to get ride of some food waster, as well as garden waste (like weeds I’ve pulled—but not grass clippings, because my lawn mower mulches, something that’s greatly improved the quality of the “soil” of my lawns. The compost bin I bought came with a partition that can be put in the middle of the bin to create two separate chambers, something I thought was ideal: I could fill one chamber, then fill the second while leaving the first to finish composting, then empty the first one and then start filling it again while the second one composted. This year will be the first time I’ve actually emptied it (like I said, I haven’t had much to put in, so it takes me quite awhile to fill a chamber).

Which brings me back to the bokashi bin. I decided I wanted to try it again, thinking that if it can speed up the break-down of food scraps, the compost bin itself will go faster. I only started using it again this week, so it’s way too early to know if I’ll have better luck with it than in the past, but if it doesn’t, I could use the councils food scraps bin.

I’ve also tried to use or reuse things that I already have rather than buying new, even if that means adapting what I have. I have a few projects related to all that, and I’ll talk about them as I work on them.

The important thing, really, isn’t any specific things I’m doing, it’s that the whole point is to live my values, values I shared with Nigel. I want to live as sustainably as possible, and to tread as lightly on the planet as I can. To be clear, I’m no saintly monk: I still have me luxuries and indulgences, just maybe not as many or as frequently as I once did. What other people do or don’t do is entirely is up to them, and I have no interest in “judging” them for one simple reason: This isn’t about them, it’s about me. I have a vision for the kind of life I want to have, and it’s up to me to make it happen, for me.

So far, it’s working. I hope it’ll continue to do so.

The end of more things

The only constant is change, the saying goes, and many times it’s actually changes upon changes. Today a change was officially announced, one that builds on a change I talked about years ago. Like that one, this one doesn’t affect me all that much, but it does make me pause and reflect.

Today, Vodafone New Zealand announced that they’re rebranding as “One New Zealand” (to be stylised “One.NZ”) early in 2023. This change has very little impact on me personally—nothing beyond the carrier designation on my phone changing from “Voda NZ” to “One NZ”. But this isn’t the first time I’ve faced a change made by Vodafone NZ. In fact, this is basically the fourth change.

Nearly five years ago, I talked about one such change, when Vodafone shut down their email services, ending an email address I’d had for some 21 years. That change was the second time they’d done something that affected me, something I mentioned in that 2017 post: They’d acquired the Internet Service Provider we had at the time, The Internet Group in October, in 2006.

The first time that Vodafone affected me, though, was in 1998, when they bought the New Zealand operations of BellSouth (now part of AT&T). BellSouth entered the New Zealand mobile phone market around six years after Telecom New Zealand (now called Spark) began providing cellular phone services. BellSouth introduced pre-pay mobile phones to New Zealand, which meant no expensive monthly contracts. I bought my first cellphone on November 12, 1998, shortly after Vodafone bought BellSouth. I’d been thinking about it for awhile, and moved in case Vodafone changed things too much (they didn’t). I’m still with them to this day, but mainly because they currently suit my needs—I’m not brand loyal.

There were a lot of other things that went on over the years: In 2012, Vodafone NZ acquired TelstraClear (at the time, New Zealand’s second-largest telecommunications company and itself the product of mergers). A failed merger with Sky Television in 2016 was the first hint that the UK-based company wasn’t happy with its New Zealand operations (something I alluded to in my 2017 post). On July 31, 2019, UK-based Vodafone Plc sold the New Zealand operations to a consortium, and it’s been a New Zealand company every since.

The main reason for the change is money: Vodafone NZ was paying an estimated $20-30 million per year merely to license the “Vodafone” brand. That’s on top of business partnerships with the UK company. That savings can be used not just for additional returns to shareholders, but some of the savings can also be used for infrastructure investment—technology never stands still.

The fact is, I couldn’t be more “meh” about the change in name: It doesn’t affect me at all, and the savings may allow the company to innovate here in New Zealand. However, my first reaction was that the new name was stupid. The company says that the name, by incorporating the last three letters of the “Vodafone” name, indicates continuity. Right. Yeah, that was exactly the first thing I thought when I saw it. Still, what they choose to call their company is nothing I actually care about, but it won’t stop me from wondering how much they paid “brand consultants” to help them come up with the name, nor to snicker at the thought of them spending a lot of money to come up with it.

It may not sound like it (because sometimes I’m too sarcastic for my own good…), but I actually like Vodaf—whoops—One New Zealand as a company. As long as I continue to like them, I’ll continue as a customer. All they have to do is earn my business, just like every other company has to do. It’s really that simple. At the moment, they’re doing fine.

However, I can’t promise I won’t use their new name in puns on this blog. It’s just what one does.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Day

Yesterday was a special one-off holiday, Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Day, New Zealand’s official day of remembrance for the late Queen of New Zealand. There was a national service in Wellington (video above), but, if we’re honest, for most New Zealanders, it was an unplanned day off—and the final day of an unexpected three-day weekend.

While this is the first time most workers have experienced the death of their monarch, Commonwealth Realms faced opposition to a day off. Australia declared a holiday (held September 22) not long after the Queen died, but republicans opposed it, as did businesses, of course. Canada declared a National Day of mourning for the Queen on September 19, the day of her funeral, which made it a statutory (paid) holiday for federal workers only. Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba decided not declare it a statutory holiday, meaning ordinary workers wouldn’t have a paid day off, but Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and Labrador all did, and British Columbia made it a holiday only for provincial public service workers. In Canada, the mess was largely because businesses opposed it on the grounds they only had six days to make arrangements. The United Kingdom’s “bank holiday” on the day of the Queen’s funeral was not a paid day off.

NZ businesses and the most rightwing party in Parliament whined loudly about having to give workers a day off. Of course. However, while business and their allies in politics and the media can be counted on to always complain about having to do anything positive for workers, I have to admit I didn’t really see the point of having a special holiday on September 26.

The Queen’s funeral was a week earlier, and the official period of morning in her native United Kingdom ended that day. This meant that New Zealand’s day of remembrance a week later was disconnected from the official mourning. Add to that the fact that photos of her ledger stone had been revealed, and NZ’s day seemed kind of, well, pointless. On the other hand, it’s not unheard of for official days of remembrance to be held some time after the date, though not usually for such a high-profile person.

The official commemoration was a national service at The Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, a modernist Anglican cathedral whose cornerstone was laid by the Queen on January 13, 1954, during her Royal Tour of New Zealand. I watched a bit of the service, but not for long—it wasn’t my sort of thing, being a Christian service for Christians like the Queen. From what I saw of the service, though, they made an effort to be inclusive, similar to the actual funeral.

The Queen’s Personal New Zealand Flag entered the cathedral at the start of the service, and led the departure at the end (I saw that on the news later, though, because it happened before and after I watched). That standard isn’t the same as her official banner used in the UK, since within New Zealand her official position was Queen of New Zealand, not of the UK. It was used mostly the same way the one in the UK was, and the service was the last time it will be used for official purposes. A new banner will be created for King Charles III. Australia and Canada also have Personal Flags for the monarch.

There was a minute of silence held throughout the country, however, I wasn’t aware of that, either, until I saw the evening news because it, too, happened before I turned the TV on. I’m pretty sure most New Zealanders weren’t aware of it either, not unless they were somewhere where the service was being shown.

I have mixed feelings about it all. First, I completely understand that she was head of the Church of England, and as such, having such an overtly religious service is appropriate. On the other hand, as I’ve said many times, I’m uncomfortable with overt religiosity of any kind being merged with civic and governmental functions. At the same time, I’m also well aware that the New Zealand government doesn’t have any sort of secular official “services” (as, indeed, many governments don’t). And, of course, anyone who didn’t want to take part for whatever reason—religious, political, lack of interest—didn’t have to because there was, of course, no compulsion to participate.

Desipte all that, for me it mainly just seemed kind of unnecessary: She’d been buried a week by then, and most people had already started moving on. I question the wisdom of continuing the mourning for another week because of the effect that it can have on the people who clearly were personally affected by the Queen’s death. But there’s one thing more, and the harshest question: Did that many New Zealanders really need or specifically want a special day to farewell the queen a week after her funeral?

The only televised coverage was on Newshub, the news operation of TV Three, which is part of US-owned media company Warner Bros. Discovery Australia-New Zealand, apparently partnering with NZ’s state-owned radio broadcaster, RNZ. However, Newshub hasn’t posted its coverage on their YouTube Channel (though it may be available on their on-demand streaming service, ThreeNow; I haven’t checked). The video above is from the YouTube Channel of The New Zealand Herald newspaper, and it’s just a version of the Newshub coverage, some of it raw footage (with chyrons added, covering the broadcaster’s chyrons that identified who was speaking…). The broadcast was funded by government funding agency, NZ On Air. All a bit weird, it seems to me, since both TVNZ’s One News and Newshub carried the actual funeral live, yet the coverage of the one in New Zealand and for New Zealand was much lower key. Does that mean an implicit acknowledgement that it just wasn’t a very big deal?

To be blunt, the answers to the questions raised by all of this don’t matter: It’s truly over now, and New Zealanders are moving on. There will be different stories and questions related to the monarchy in the years ahead, but this particular chapter is now well and truly closed. Questions, however, will be the one certainty in the future.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Untold stories

Our lives are stories, and whether they’re big, sweeping epics, or small set pieces, they’re ours. Sharing stories is kind of the whole point of having a personal journal blog, like this one, but most people leave out far more than we share. It’s not always on purpose.

There are a lot of small stories that I never talk about here on this blog, though I may mention them on my personal Facebook. But lately some of those small stories (or, sometimes, small details of stories) have been missing entirely. Like this week.

On Monday, I talked about my clothes dryer breaking down, why that was an issue, and about how it fit into the other things going on at the time, on the eve of the third anniversary of Nigel’s death. In that post, I said. “for what it’s worth, I was feeling more or less positive” before the dryer broke. What I didn’t mention were any specifics of why that was the case, and that, in turn, was because I haven’t talked about a story behind part of that.

When summer was raging last year, I wanted to start walking, but I was concerned about my stamina. Ideally, I’d need somewhere with benches to rest on in case I needed them, and ideally a pretty flat area. None of that is true about the area around my house (though it’s kinda flat-ish), so I’d have had to drive somewhere. But that was only part of the issue.

My blood pressure medication had been changed, and I was having some issues with it, enough that I was adamant I needed a place to sit down if I felt unwell. So, one day I decided to walk around my back yard, which is flat, so I could go inside and sit down if I needed to. Unfortunately, it was also one of the hottest days of the summer.

Instead, I went back inside the house and walked a circuit inside the house, from one corner at the back of the house, to the opposite corner at the other end of the house, and including a big loop around the open-plan living/kitchen/dining area. This made a lot of practical sense: The house is climate controlled (not too hot in summer or too cold in winter), and it’s flat with firm, even footing on carpeted floors. Doing that, I found out, I could cover roughly a kilometre in 15 minutes. Better than nothing.

In the time since then, I’ve done that a few times, stamina/energy levels permitting, and especially when the weather outside was bad—too hot or too cold and rainy. It was raining a lot this past Monday, and I walked a circuit of 2 kilometres that day—while the first load of washing was in the washing machine, and I was oblivious about the dryer.

This was a thing I did that day that I felt positive about, but I couldn’t mention it because I hadn’t talked about it before, and I didn’t want to take the time to give the context (that the walk was my way of sneaking in some exercise on days when the weather was bad). The reason I felt like doing it all was that at the point I was still feeling upbeat, something that would soon end.

The middle of the week before, I was similarly feeling upbeat—and then I got a migraine, something I also didn’t share, mostly because I felt so bad (it was, I’d say, the second-worst I’ve even had). I felt utterly wiped out the next day, and with everything else going on, it was probably somewhat miraculous that I didn’t feel truly awful earlier this week.

I suppose that all of that goes shows it’s possible for a blogger to under-share.

I know this isn’t going to change, and that there will still be a lot that I won’t talk about. There’ll be stuff I forget (probably the most likely reason of all), or maybe it’ll be because I want to talk about it in the context of a larger story (the reason I never mentioned my “indoor walking track”), or because of some other reason (like the migraine because I felt so bad, and because it also wasn’t part of a larger story).

In the future, then, I’ll continue to leave out far more than I share, but that won’t always be on purpose. The reality is that will always be some untold stories, regardless of why that is. But, they’re mine to with as I want, and that includes ignoring them. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Learning and doing and becoming

The sushi kit I bought.
Learning and doing are entirely different things, of course. The importance of one or the other, or their powers combined, are another thing altogether. I’m an example of that.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law and I went to get sushi for lunch, and I told her how I remembered that I used to see sushi making kits (with the mat and starter amounts of ingredients) at the supermarket, but I hadn't noticed any kits in ages. Turns out brands of both our supermarket companies, specifically, Countdown and New World, sell the kits (and also the supplies by themselves). Today I bought a starter kit.

I've wanted to try making sushi for ages and ages, but just never did, though there’s no real reason for that. The important thing is, now I can. As always, I'm looking forward to experimenting to make what I like the most. At the same time, I'll still go out for authentic Japanese meals, just like I still have authentic Thai and Indian meals, too. I just want to be able to make sushi when I feel like having it and not have to go out. After all, I can make burgers at home, but that doesn't mean I never go to a burger joint.

At any rate, this is part of where I'm at these days—trying new things and seeing how it goes. Last year, I wrote in a blog post that "What I’m going through is a bit like being an adolescent all over again: I’m finding my identity as an individual, I’m testing my limits, and I’m finding the things I’m good at and not so good at." That's what's behind all my many projects, including cooking experiments. I also said in that same post, "…it’s in the attempts—and maybe especially the failures—that I’ll find my way into the new life I don’t yet have. The reason is simple: I need to find out who I can be on order to become whoever that is."

There you have it: The real reason I'm trying so many things I've never done before (including making sushi). I'm doing a lot of this stuff simply because I have to, yes, but I also wish I'd done this experimenting years ago, because there's no one I'd want to share it all with more than Nigel. I guess I'll just have to enjoy the ride enough for the both of us.

Update – September 22: Tonight I had my first attempt at making sushi, and it was an incomplete success. I should’ve watched a video first, but I eventually worked it out. It was far messier than I expected, and really fiddly. Honestly, there was a point where I thought to myself that it was far more trouble than it was worth, especially because my kitchen was left a disaster zone. Still, I know more now, and next time will go better, though whether it’ll go well enough to be photographed is anyone’s guess (I’ll guess no… maybe the time after that). It tasted right, though, so, half a victory? A third of one, maybe?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The third horrible anniversary

Three years ago today, I lost my beloved Nigel. That’s three years or 36 months without him. But because of Leap Year, the weeks and days are off. So, it’s also been 1096 days, and 156 weeks + 4 days. There’s no reason why anyone else would be aware of all that, or even remember the date, but I can never forget. And because that date was so consequential, I’m aware of all sorts of minor and unimportant details, especially how long precisely I’ve had to live without Nigel. I Now understand that this is just the way this works.

It turned out that I was actually fine today—not happy and bouncy, obviously, but just plain old fine, like I might be on any other, ordinary day. I’ll take it. But I also had an epiphany today.

I knew today could be difficult for me because of New Zealand’s wall-to-wall news coverage of the death and funeral of the Queen, something that had the real potential to be triggering. I watched the funeral, though I wasn’t sure until the last minute that I would, or could. But, in the end, it didn’t affect me badly.

This morning, my sister-in-law rang me up to invite me out to lunch. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling at that point, except for tired (the TV coverage ran quite late). I told her I’d ring her back. As I finished getting Leo’s breakfast ready, I could “hear” Nigel’s voice in my head saying, “Don’t be a bloody idiot—go!”, and I knew he would’ve gone. So, I rang her back and we did have lunch.

On the way home, I stopped at a shop to check something out, and instead got a couple cushions for my sofa (I’ve been wanting to replace what I had for ages). I mention that because that gave me an epiphany.

Up until now, this anniversary has been about being sad about losing Nigel and our life together, and it will come around every year, no matter what, and I’ll experience it every year. I realised today that I can choose a more positive path forward. It’s true that my life is on this changed story arc because of what happened three years ago today, but I feel that taking this as a day to focus on the life I’m building is the best possible way to take what’s an unhappy day and make it into a positive one.

What I do doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive (those cushions definitely weren’t) or over-complicated, just something, anything, focusing on the life I’m now building. I have plenty of good days with great, happy memories to celebrate Nigel and the life we had together, but from now on, this one day can be about building my new life, rather than why I’m doing that. Maybe Nigel whispered this idea into my ear, too.

To be clear, I’ll always remember what happened on this date, and I know the anniversaries can still turn out to be emotional for me. But I’d rather remember my beloved Nigel and the wonderful life we had and the memories we made than focus on the day and moment it all ended. That’s my way. There’s one more thing: I know with absolute certainty that Nigel would be happy I’ve reached this point—and he’d then get that cheeky grin on his face and make some sort of joke at my expense. THAT’S where I want to be on this date. Today, I was.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Things break

Today wasn’t a good day. My clothes dryer presented a fault, and stopped working (probably something wrong with the circuitry; my previous dryer’s logic board developed faults twice, and none of the ones before that ever did—because they didn’t have complicated logic boards). I found this out after I’d already started a second load of washing. I’ll arrange to get it fixed, of course, but I just couldn’t cope with that today—I didn’t get angry or have a meltdown or anything, but I felt completely deflated.

I only started the washing because I thought it would be an ordinary, routine, non-challenging thing I could accomplish today, something that wouldn’t in any way frustrate me. I wanted a low-key day today because tomorrow is the third anniversary of Nigel’s death, and something feels different this year in ways I can’t yet put my finger on (though, for what it’s worth, I was feeling more or less positive this morning, before I found out about the dryer). It’s all very confusing, and I was already feeling that I have no idea how I’ll feel tomorrow because his birthday last month was unexpectedly hard on me. Will the dryer fault change anything about how I’ll feel tomorrow? I doubt it, but it certainly doesn’t help, either.

I’ll ring them about the dryer in a few days. Once this time, whatever it is, clears.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Guilt trap

A grief journey is bad enough in itself, but they can be made worse by whatever we were dealing with before our loss. Those unrelated side trips can make the grief journey feel worse and longer, compounding what’s already bad about it. I’ve recently realised how a side trip was affecting me.

Over the past three years, I’ve learned how common it is for people mourning the loss of a loved one to, at least sometimes, adopt a defensive posture because they feel guilty about something. That may be directly related to their loss, such as things they feel they should or shouldn’t have done in their loved one’s last days (though it could be about anything). It could also be guilt about something that happened after the loss, such as, doing something or not doing something that we feel “should” have been different. That’s what it’s turned out to be for me.

There’s one thing—and only one—that I feel intensely defensive about, but that’s in addition to feeling shame, embarrassment, tremendous guilt, and, maybe especially, self-disappointment. That one thing that all that emotion is tethered to is one word: Stuff.

In July of last year, I started a project to tidy my garage, and it was such a massive project that I dubbed it, “The biggest project of all”. That project had fits and starts, wrapped around lockdowns and such, and then abandoned when it simply got too hot to work in there.

Things have deteriorated since then, for a variety of reasons. For example, I added boxes from stuff I bought, but they went on top of piles that had fallen over (apparently, my normally stellar stacking abilities were somewhat lacking…). Things ended up being as bad as they were before I started the project—maybe even worse because stuff was no longer in boxes.

The biggest thing I added, pretty much literally, was back in March of last year: A kitset garden shed I somewhat impulsively (and probably foolishly) bought online. It arrived just before my brother-in-law and I went up to Auckland to retrieve the last of the stuff I had in a storage unit there. The shed’s shipping box fell apart when we moved it out of the garage to make room for the stuff we’d brought back with us, so I moved the bits and pieces into the garage, where they remained, unassembled.

Several of the parts (various panels) were quite large, and they seemed to be everywhere, blocking my access to the storage cupboard in the garage, and creating obstacles for me to step over or around when I need to get the lawn mower out, or even just to get to the recycling and rubbish wheelie bins at the side of the house. There reached a point where I’d finally had enough, and decided to sell the shed, something I talked about back in August. The auction closed Sunday, August 28, and it went for roughly half what I paid for it—which was actually a lot better than I thought I’d get (and even a bit more than I was “realistically” hoping for.

That Sunday afternoon, I moved the shed’s parts to the front of the garage, by the overhead door, to make it easier and quicker for me to get it out when the buyer arrived to collect it. As it happened, it all ended up sitting not far from where it was when it first arrived. The places in the garage where the big parts had been are now really open. The guy picked up the shed a couple weeks later, on September 10.

What this gives me is, first, a sense of accomplishment and completion. Every little success encourages more successes, something I’ve seen again and again in the two and a half years I’ve lived in this house. This was my main motivation.

Beyond that, it clears space in many ways—not just the obvious physical space, but also emotional space. Clearing clutter makes people feel better, and that fact makes it easier to clear more. I’ve seen that again and again, too.

The thing is, I’m well aware that people can look at my situation and wonder what the problem is: Why has it taken me so long to get this house in order? Why don’t I just get on with it? I know that because if we were talking about someone else, I’d be wondering that, and I know that because I think it about myself.

I feel guilty about how long it’s taken, and I’m a bit shamed by it, but my main feeling is self-disappointment, and that’s mainly because I feel in a strong and completely bonkers way that I’m letting Nigel down because nearly three years after he died, I’m still not settled.

This is, I now realise, utterly absurd. First and foremost, I’ve had to adjust to living without the most important person in my life, and, ya know, that ain’t an easy thing to do. Also, most of the stuff I’m struggling to deal with was Nigel’s—the “toys” he desperately wanted to take care of for me, but he ran out of time. It’s also absurd because a journey out of major grief isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and it takes as long as it takes. The slogan I came up with at the very beginning of my journey—“What I can, when I can”—is quite possibly the most true and profound realisation I’ve ever had in my life.

So, why does it even matter to me? I mean, apart from making me risk tripping over stuff on my way to put the rubbish in the bins? This is where the uniqueness of a grief journey truly asserts itself: Since every grief journey is unique, no one ever feels entirely secure or self-assured on that journey, and some of us are particularly sensitive the judgement of others, regardless of whether it’s real or perceived. I’m no different. Hardly anyone’s actually voiced disapproval of how long this is taking, but it turns out that I can quite easily dispense boatloads of disapproving judgmentalism on myself.

Then, a particular realisation popped into my head: This thing I feel guilty about? It’s absolutely not new.

The simple truth is, Nigel and I were slow to get rid of stuff. We were both packrats by nature, but we were also busy with life, and a bit too lazy to deal with the stuff we accumulated. I couldn’t even guess how many times we ordered a skip bin (a “dumpster”) to send junk away, nor the number of times were drove a carload of junk to the tip (dump), but the fact that we did that so much that I have no idea how many times we did it points toward another obvious fact: We were acquiring more stuff all the time.

That underscores how having lots of stuff was always a problem for us—there was probably never a time it wasn’t. I’ve mentioned in the past how Nigel often asked me to organise his stuff for him because he didn’t feel he could do it. I’ve also talked about my frequent organising projects, like the shelving systems I installed in the wardrobes in our last two houses. I did what I could to deal with the issue, but organising stuff is much easier when there’s not much of it.

Throughout our life together, our garages were never exactly tidy: In fact, they were always dumping grounds. On the other hand, Nigel was always able to park in the garage until our last house (our house in Paeroa didn’t have a garage).

Here’s an example of how it went: Nigel and I lived in our last house roughly two and a half years before he died, and that house was never finished: The garage, my office, and also Nigel’s office, remained messy right up until I packed up to move out, just shy of what would’ve been our third anniversary in the house. In his last year, Nigel started tidying his office, and had me buy him some storage bins to help with that, and I made progress on my office, too. The garage, despite tiding efforts, was never completed, not the least because Nigel bought more parts for his projects. This meant that the mess was simply moved to the house I now live in, just as it had been moved to our last house from the house before it, which had been moved from our house before that, and so on.

What I managed to forget until recently is that the stuff left me feeling felt guilty and overwhelmed at each house, and it was when Nigel died that it became something else: It became a personal failing that led to a feeling I was letting Nigel down. Grief journeys are seldom logical or sensible, and they can distort and twist what had always been obvious into a completely different reality.

That recent realisation that this is nothing new has made me far more relaxed about my reality. I’m no less determined to deal with the stuff, and I don’t feel any less burdened or frustrated by it, but now that I can see the true context of the issue, the sense of guilt and personal failure is gone. The truth is, if Nigel was still alive, and regardless of whether we were still living at our last house or somewhere else, the one thing I know with absolute certainty is that I’d still be dealing with too much stuff. I’m not letting him down now by not finishing all the clearing of stuff, because, in a sense, we let each other down for 24 years.

So, dealing with stuff has been an ongoing job for me, and that’s why the particular guilt I felt about all the stuff in this house is so silly. Unrelated side trips in a grief journey can make the journey feel worse and longer, compounding everything that’s already bad about it, but when it’s all based on something that’s not even true, it makes it even worse. I know that now, and the guilt is over.

I still have way too much stuff, though—and that really means our stuff, and that it was our fault.

Because this is the first chance I’ve had to publish a post since last Tuesday, the Seventeenth Year of the AmeriNZ Blog got a late start. Still, here we are: The first post of the new season!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The AmeriNZ Blog is sixteen

This blog is now sixteen years old. That’s a much a surprise to me as it is to anyone else, but here we are.

I published my first post, “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” on September 13, 2006 at 10:53pm NZST, and what followed was, at its core, a log of my experiences and interests—my journey—over the years that followed. It was what I expected it would continue to be, but, of course, that all changed when Nigel died. As I said about this journey of mine in last year’s blogaversary post, “I’m nowhere near adjusted to my new reality,” and that’s absolutely still the case. So, too, is that fact that I continue document my journey.

Just like yesterday’s anniversary of my first arrival in New Zealand, this one is another that has more specific meaning for me than for most people (since it’s about my blog), but I intend to keep acknowledging it until I stop blogging. That’s a certainty, by the way—that one day this blog will end—but not the timing or circumstances. It’s entirely possible that it’ll end because I have, because I too well understand how unpredictable life is. However, I’ve always said (as I have about my podcast, too), I’ll never end this blog without saying something, though now I understand that I should add, “if possible”.

There’s another thing, too, though: This anniversary, like yesterday’s, falls in a month I hate because of the horrible anniversary a week from today. That means that positive anniversaries, or anything positive, really, are especially welcome this month. So, of course I’ll mark this one, and yesterday’s.

As I have for a few years now, I wrote this post in advance of its publication and set it to auto-publish at the exact moment I published my original post sixteen years ago, because I can. It’s something else that probably only has significance for me, but, as I said last year, “It’s one of the few traditions I have left.” It’s a silly tradition, maybe, and unimportant, sure, but it’s mine, and I’m continuing it—just like this blog.

As always, thanks for joining me on the journey so far.

Previous posts on my blogoversaries:

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Fourth blogoversary (2010)
Fifth blogoversary (2011)
Sixth blogoversary (2012)
Seventh Blogoversary (2013)
Ten years of the AmeriNZ Blog (2016)
The AmeriNZ Blog is eleven (2017)
The AmeriNZ Blog is twelve (2018)
The AmeriNZ Blog is thirteen (2019)
The AmeriNZ Blog is fourteen (2020)
The AmeriNZ Blog is fifteen (2021)

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 369 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 369, “Change and Consistency”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Monday, September 12, 2022

27 years ago today

26 years ago today, September 12, 1995, I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist and met Nigel in person for the first time. That day began the story I lived until 2019, when Nigel died, however we at least got to have this last anniversary together. After he died, this particular anniversary took on a different, new significance because of what began on this day in 1995: The start of my New Zealand story arc.

Every year, this date also marked the my tongue-firmly-in-cheek “Season of Anniversaries, and while I no longer have that, I still remember and not the dates that were part of it. There’s a very simply reason for that: All those other dates are also markers of my journey along this story arc, and so, no less significant. They’re also bittersweet, though.

As I said last year, I stand behind everything I’ve said in previous years. While it’s true that my story has changed dramatically, it hasn’t yet ended, and neither has my noting of significant dates in that story, even if what I say about them changes in the years ahead, something I can’t possibly know righ now.

So, it’s now 27 years after I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, and I’m still completely anchored in this place, even if my anchorage is gone. This place is where whatever my life will become will emerge, and this date was the real start of it.

There had to be one good thing about September.

Previous posts about this anniversary (the first three only mention it):

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)
18 years ago today (2013)
19 years ago today (2014)
Twenty years ago today (2015)
21 years ago today (2016)
22 years ago today (2017)
23 years ago today (2018)
24 years ago today (2019)
25 years ago today (2020)
26 years ago today (2021)

Other big changes in New Zealand

This afternoon, the NZ Government’s “Unite Against Covid 19” Facebook Page published the following:
From 11:59pm on 12 September 2022, the COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic lights) will be removed.

With cases reducing, a highly-vaccinated population, and comprehensive access to anti-viral medicines, New Zealand can safely move forward.

This will mean a few changes for tomorrow:

• You will only need to wear a mask when visiting healthcare facilities like hospitals, GPs, and aged care residential facilities. Some places like workplaces or marae may ask people to wear a mask. You can find more information on masks here.

• You only need to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19. Leave support payments for COVID-19 cases will continue. You can find out what to do if you test positive here.

• Household Contacts are recommended to take a RAT every day for five days. So long as you test negative, you will be able to go about daily life as normal. You’re encouraged to wear a mask whenever you leave home, particularly if visiting vulnerable people, like elderly or immunocompromised people, using public transport, or when in a crowded indoor space.

• You will no longer need to be vaccinated to enter New Zealand. People arriving in New Zealand from overseas will continue to receive free RATs at the airport and will be encouraged to test on day 0/1 and 5/6. You can find more information for preparing to travel to New Zealand here. https://covid19.govt.nz/.../preparing-to-travel-to-new.../

• All remaining vaccine mandates will end. The last workforce with a Government vaccine mandate is health and disability workers. This will end on 11:59pm, 26 September 2022. Some employers may still require workers to be vaccinated due to their responsibilities under health and safety legislation.

• Anti-viral medicines will be available for free to any New Zealander 65+ who tests positive for COVID-19. For Māori and Pacific peoples, these medicines will be available for free to anyone aged 50+ who tests positive. In addition, anyone with three high-risk conditions is eligible for free anti-viral medicines. You can find more information here.

You can find more information on the next phase of our COVID-19 response here.
More information can be found on the Unite Against Covid19 website.

National transitions

The normal progress of transition from one monarch to another is underway. Saturday night (NZ time), I watched the official proclamation of King Charles III at the Palace of St. James in London, an event that, of course, last happened when Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed 70 years ago, but this was the first time it’s ever been televised (the full 1:10:35 long video of the “Accession Council and Proclamation Council”, which includes the actual proclamation at the end, is available on ”The Royal Family” YouTube Channel; to skip directly to the official proclamation, click here). The events have never been televised before, so few people alive today would ever have seen it before.

Yesterday, the New Zealand government officially proclaimed Charles III as the King of New Zealand (video above) in a ceremony that’s been established for ages, and that clearly borrows phrasing from the UK’s proclamation. As with the UK’s ceremony and proclamation, this is the first time New Zealand’s was televised, too, though television didn’t officially begin in New Zealand until 1960). Canada has also proclaimed Charles III as their new king (WATCH), and so has Australia (WATCH). I think it’s fascinating that only Australia dropped “Defender of the Faith” title from the proclamation, even though neither New Zealand, Canada, nor Australia have an established church, and so, there’s no “faith” to be defended as there is (officially, anyway…) in the United Kingdom.

As an ol’ political science major, I find all this fascinating, and it’s especially interesting to be able to witness history that so few people alive have ever seen. And there’s more still to come..

Friday, September 09, 2022

London Bridge is down

When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was to check my phone for the news I was expecting to see. I’ll have more to say later, but I’m personally saddened by the death of Queen Elizabeth, even though I’m a firm republican (lower case “r”). She devoted her life to public service, and I admire her for that: I absolutely couldn’t have done it.

For most of us, she is, at the very least, a link to a constancy within our own lives: She was always there. Presidents and prime ministers come and go, but the Queen was constant. As we get older, we all lose the links, the anchor points, that have kept us, for lack of a better word, moored in our own lives. But everything and everyone ends, and so, too, do those moorings. We adapt.

For me, it’s going to be weird to be in a world without Queen Elizabeth in it, and to talk of “the King”. Next year, TV ads will bring more weirdness as retailers promote their “King’s Birthday Sales”, and it’ll be a reminder again that we have all dealt with repeated and absolutely massive upheavals and changes over the past several years—and that reality’s clearly not changing for the foreseeable future.

I wish good luck for the new King of New Zealand, King Charles III—he’s definitely going to need some. And while I may not be a fan of monarchies, I can nevertheless admire the Queen for a job well done. London Bridge is down. Farewell.

This post was originally published on my personal Facebook Page. The title and phrase “London Bridge is down” is the code phrase for the UK Government’s ”Operation London Bridge”, the advance planning for what would happen following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The portrait above of the Queen is being used for official mourning.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

No special reason

Sunday was Father's Day in New Zealand, and I could pretend that the Sunday brunch I made for myself (photo above) was because of that, but it wasn’t. Leo has no idea what that’s all about, oddly enough. The truth is, I was planning to make this for more than a week, and Sunday just happened to be the day. Sometimes “no special reason” times are the best for making something special.

My brunch was poached eggs and bacon on an English muffin, something I’ve made before. This time, though, I made a sauce out of mayo, a bit of American mustard (for colour), a tiny bit of turmeric (ditto), thinned with a bit of olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, and with dill and salt & pepper. I ended up adding just a tiny bit of sugar to cut to the acidity of the vinegar.

I came up with the sauce because I knew it’d be faster and far easier than making hollandaise (which I was too lazy to make). It was nice.

I’m pretty good at poached eggs now, actually, and these were no exception. Nowadays, I sometimes make poached eggs on toast for dinner instead of any that are fried in any way, and normally I don’t put any sauce or mayo or whatever on them. I also don’t have bacon.

Speaking of bacon, this time I used a different variety from the same brand we’d bought for years, but one I’ve never had: It was “NZ free-farmed”, which was the only bacon in the supermarket that didn’t use imported pork, something that surprised me. I’d never even looked at the label until last May, and it turns our that the same brand I was annoyed about back then (because of the “NZ Made” in big letters on the front despite the pork coming from Europe) was the only one available that was made with NZ pork. That’s the reason I bought it, despite saying I wouldn’t buy the brand again—maybe I should’ve said “variety”? At any rate, I try to support New Zealand farmers when possible, but this special bacon was, of course, quite expensive. I only cook bacon a couple times a year, usually, so I have plenty of time to find cheaper versions made from NZ pork, but at least this one is an option. And, it had eight slices in the 200g pack, which is probably better when I’m cooking for just me.

The meal turned out so well that I thought about licking the plate, so I did… (…not—I’m not a savage!). Seriously, very nice and much faster and less complicated than actual eggs benny. In the photo up top, it’s sprinkled with a bit of dried parsley just for pretty. I didn’t use S&P because I used that in the sauce, and because bacon is always salty.

That evening I decided to make devilled sausages for dinner (photo below). It was, I think, the second of Nigel’s favourite regular meals that he taught me to make, and I made it many times—but I can’t remember the last time I did. That’s probably because these days I mainly make meat-free meals or else something with chicken.

In any case, I used what my mother-in-law calls “magic potatoes” (frozen mashed potatoes), something Nigel and I introduced her to. They’re much easier than making from scratch, of course, especially because we seldom had actual potatoes on hand: We had fresh potatoes on hand so rarely that they would inevitably start to rot before we got through them all. That’s why we started buying the frozen product.

That night, I used up the last of my “magic potatoes”, so when I had the leftovers the following night, Monday, I used all my fresh potatoes to make mashed potatoes from scratch. I made too much, planning on using the leftovers from that for, well something (I wasn’t quite sure).

In the end, I decided to make a sort of potato pancake in panko breadcrumbs and put a couple poached eggs on top, similar to a dish I’d had (and enjoyed) at a cafe here in Hamilton. I added a little but of curry powder for flavour (not enough), and fried them.

When I turned them, I realised I probably should’ve read an actual recipe first: The first one kinda fell apart. Nevertheless, they were tasty with the poached eggs (have I ever mentioned I’m getting pretty good at making poached eggs?), though the potatoes needed more curry powder.

I have a couple sausages left to cook, plus the last of the leftover mashed potatoes, so that’ll be tonight’s dinner (with some frozen veggies). It’ll be the last in the linked meals that began on Sunday night.

In the end, my “no special reason” Sunday brunch was both pretty good, and it led to other meals, the leftovers leading on to the next meal, and then the next. Sometimes those end up being the best times, whether it was intended as something special or not. This was definitely one of those times.



Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Mowing down challenges

Sometimes, our personal reality starts to shift, things start to change, and then, sometimes, it just keeps going. This seems to be one of those times.

The image above is something I posted to my personal Facebook yesterday. I clarified in the comments, “Just kidding about the nap—all I need is to sit and cool down (already had drinks of water),” but that’s pretty much all I had to say about it, unless you count explaining how I’d used up the lawn mower’s high-capacity battery due to the thick growth and high moisture.

Today, I added the rest of the story, and explained its importance. “Who dis?!!” I asked on my personal Facebook before laying out the story of my day:
Day two of outdoor action: First, I used the line trimmer along the entire boundary in the back, and along the perimeter of the house itself. Used it to chop at weeds on the slight bank that leads from the “lawn” up to the fence along the west-ish boundary (aka “Leo’s Domain” because he runs back and forth barking at his friends next door, even when they’re not outside). Finished up one battery and started another to complete the job, then went inside for a rest.

Round 2: Took the line trimmer out front, went along the front of the house and did one side boundary, and part way round the damn “rain garden” (looks like a concrete cattle water trough, and is for catching heavy rain runoff; I hate the damn thing) before the battery died. Went and got my third and last 18v battery, which has a much lower capacity. It died before I finished the final side boundary. Oh, well.

Then I mowed the front lawn, using the second 36v battery from yesterday, but still didn’t use it up. I put mower & trimmer away, then grabbed my outside broom and swept the clippings from the footpaths and driveway (WTF?!).

I also did two loads of laundry and loaded and ran the dishwasher. Also charged up the batteries I drained (all using solar power, of course).

I mention all this not so people will tell me how awesome I am (I mean, the fact that I’m awesome is obvious!), but to make a point: Absolutely NONE of this would’ve been possible a few weeks ago. This ability to get shit done is only possible because I insisted on changing my blood pressure medication. Since it’s now been five weeks (as of today), I feel confident in saying the change has made a huge difference. Things aren’t perfect by any means, but they could well get better still. And even if they don’t, things are now good enough that I can get shit done. Right now, that’s good enough.

The lessons for me: Advocate for myself and my health. Manage my expectations to avoid disappointment, sure, but mainly to capitalise on what’s good. And most importantly, never f*cking give up. I’m tired (good tired) now, but also feeling vindicated—and just a wee bit proud of myself.
One thing I didn’t mention in that story is that I also had to load new filament in the line trimmer, something I last did in December last year, and that I could only do after finding a YouTube video showing the process (I have no idea where the manual is; Nigel and I bought the trimmer in 2018, I think). It didn’t go smoothly, exactly, but I got there in the end, and without going to watch the video again.

Actually, the fact that I remembered how to change load new filament, and without having to re-watch the video, is likely also related to the medication change, because the first thing I notices is that the brain fog I’d complained about seemed to have improved as soon as I started the new medication, something I described a couple weeks ago as me feeling “brighter”. It’s also the reason I was able to decide to sell the garden shed I never assembled. Remembering (some) things and being (somewhat) better able to decide (some) things is, I believe, also related to the medication change.

And, so what if I’m wrong? What if, even after five weeks, this is an illusion, or placebo effect or whatever. Even if the worst is true, I still got my lawns mowed and other things done. And, overall, I feel better than I have in many months. Look: Things aren’t perfect, and I’m not trying to pretend they are, but the difference is remarkable, and I’ll take it. I’ll let the future take care of itself.

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 368 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 368, “Sunshine”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Nigel would’ve been 58

Today would’ve been my Nigel’s 58th Birthday. There’s never a day I don’t think about him, of course, but his birthdays have always been the day I’ve been most keenly aware of how much I loved him, and how thankful I was to share life with him. That’s still every bit as true, except the sharing life part is now past-tense, filled with memories of happy times, his laugh, and that cheeky grin he had when he was joking mischievously—including when it was at my expense.

This whole widower thing is far harder that I ever would’ve/could’ve imagined, and the birthdays after he died have been among the hardest days, not just because I miss him so much, though I do, but because I miss not being able to spoil him on his special day. He always acted like his birthday was no big deal, and he told me that he enjoyed spoiling me on my birthday more than he enjoyed his own. But I also know how much he actually liked having his day remembered and celebrated—just without TOO much fuss.

I didn’t do anything to celebrate his day today. I didn’t have any small observance like last year, and there certainly was no party like the year before, 2020. Maybe that was a mistake: It turned out that this year, his birthday was particularly difficult for me, and I shed more tears than I had in a very long time. These days, it usually takes a specific trigger, not just me thinking about him, but today was different, and there were no triggers needed to set me off—it just happened. And that would make Nigel very sad. Maybe I was just over-tired? I had a short nap this afternoon and felt much better afterward. Still, maybe next year I’ll do something special on Nigel’s day, something with some personal meaning for me, for us.

I know I’ll always remember Nigel on his birthday, and that’ll mean remembering the good times—the good life—we shared, and I’ll honour the man I knew and loved: My husband, my best friend, my ardent defender, my advisor and confidante, my soulmate—my Nigel. I also know that whatever I do to celebrate his birthday, it’ll be without too much fuss, just the way he always wanted it. He’d be glad to be thought of on his birthday, and he’d completely understand that I couldn’t do otherwise.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart. Always.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Sometimes, deciding is what matters

Sometimes, deciding is the only thing that matters. On Sunday, I decided to cut my losses from a stupid decision, and that’s the only thing I don’t regret about the whole saga.

In February of last year, I ordered a garden shed online. It wasn’t cheap, but it had a smaller footprint than others I’d considered, and it’s mostly plastic construction meant I wouldn’t need to paint it and it wouldn’t rust or rot. At the time, it seemed like a good idea.

I realised later that a garden shed isn’t a good place to store valuable things, so I didn’t know what I would put in it. Outdoor furniture was the best option, I decided—except, I have a garage?

The bigger issue was that I couldn’t decide if I could build the correct base for it (A wood deck? A concrete slab?), and otherwise I’d have to hire someone to do it for me, which isn’t cheap. I also felt that at a bit more than 2 metres in height, it would tower over the boundary fence, which isn’t ideal—well, assuming I could decide on where to put the thing. Another barrier.

And that’s where it’s been stuck for a year and a half. That’s 18 months with the thing taking up a LOT of space in my garage: I have to carefully inch past some of its large panels to get to my side door, where the rubbish and recycling bins are. I also haven’t been able to get into the storage cupboard in the garage since maybe March/April of last year.

This has caused me a lot of pain, guilt, shame—you name it. That ended on Sunday.

NZ’s online auction site was offering 50% of success fees this weekend, and since I assumed I’d be eating a big financial loss, every cent saved helps. So, I listed it.

The shed quickly reached my reserve and that means it’s sold (the auction closes on Sunday, a week after listing). The listing has several watchers, and that means it’s likely that the final price will be a bit higher, but still much less than I paid—and I don’t care!

Buying that damn shed was a stupid thing to do—my biggest, hugest regret since moving into this house, and I’ve since decided I wanted it gone—out of my garage and outta my life. It soon will be.

Sometimes, deciding is the only thing that matters. And when that’s true, it’s also incredibly liberating. I can feel a huge weight lifting already, and all because I followed another impulse, to correct a big mistake. Onward!


Pro Tip: If you’re going to sell a kitset thing, like, say, a garden shed, and it’s not in the original box anymore, print out the parts list from the user manual to use as a checklist to make sure all the parts are there. After some 18 months in my garage, and after I moved pieces several times, it was a good way to verify everything was there so I’ll have happy a buyer who’ll leave a good review. 🙂👍

This post is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook on Sunday. The photo at the top of the post is a detail from the shed’s user manual. The photo at the bottom of the post is something I posted to Facebook the next day, Monday. The caption for the lower photo is the same as what I posted on Facebook.

Substitutes teaching

Food: We like some things, don’t like other things, and sometimes it switches back and forth as our tastes change. or maybe we just get tired of something. Sometimes, though, we want to make changes for specific reasons, and the hard part is finding substitutes or changes that we like, not ones we merely tolerate. Success depends on it.

My quest for alternative food ingredients began mainly because doctors “suggested” I limit the amount of red meat I ate, so at I decided to try meat substitutes. The first of those experiments was with an imported beef mince substitute, something we first tried in late 2018. That experiment went well, but an experiment with a similar substitute was a total failure. That major failure made me uneasy about relying on meat substitutes, and I started to have other misgivings about them.

In May, 2019, we tried we tried Beyond Meat’s burger patties, and we liked them. In that post, I noted that I’d read a story that claimed that plant-based burgers may not be any healthier than meat-based burgers, and while I was sceptical of that claim, I also noted that less-processed foods are better for us, and that “whole foods, simply prepared, are better for our health.” That was non-controversial, but it didn’t address the affect on the planet from farming animals for food, which is much harder on the environment, and consumes more resources, than does plant farming. Still, what if we made meat-less meals without using processed meat substitutes?

As it happens, I was experimenting with that at the same time we were trying meat substitutes. In July 2018, I made a lentil bolognese with pasta for the first time, and we both liked it. In the years since, I’ve slowly refined the recipe and it remains one of my go-to standards. The following May, I made pasta with a puttanesca sauce, and that eventually became something I put into rotation alongside the lentil pasta. But both of those were Italian-influenced, and, while nice, they can get boring if that’s all I make.

More recently, I experimented with other meals, like the Red Lentil Dahl I tried, and have made a few times since. In general, I prefer the idea of making meat-free meals that are made directly from plants, not from things processed from plants—not that I have anything against meat substitutes, of course. In fact, another meat-free burger pattie product is now available in New Zealand, and I plan to run it through my Test Kitchen.

In addition, I also started experimenting with substitutes like plant-based milks. The photo above shows some of the substitutions, and while the chick peas became one of my pantry staples, the milks didn’t fair as well.

I’ll admit that I bought the oat milk because I liked the brand name (and it was on special…). I tried it in coffee, and while I thought it tasted odd, compared to cow’s milk, it wasn’t offensive. I also tried soy milk because so many people seem to practically sing about it. I tried it in coffee and thought it tasted really weird. However, I also used it when I was making a cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese (substituting it for about a third of the total milk), and it was fine in that. A few weeks later, I ran out of cow’s milk and for several days used soy milk in my coffee. I’m now certain that I don’t like it. I might cook with it, but once opened you’re supposed to discard the unused contents after 7 days, so I always end up throwing half the carton away. That’s way too much waste.

Something I learned only recently is that the soy milk available in supermarkets is made overseas and exported to New Zealand. Oats, on the other hand, are grown here, and some oat milk (like the brand I bought) is made in NZ from NZ-grown oats. That’s a better idea—if I don’t waste much. I bought another bottle to try, and to try cooking with it, so, more later?

The logical question is, why am I doing all this? Having meat-free meals began as a way to have a healthier diet, but I realised early on that it’s also a way to live my values, and that’s become one of my main motivators.

By having a largely plant-based diet, I’ll tread a little more lightly on the planet than I would if I had a mainly meat-based diet—to be clear, however, my prime motivation for cutting way back on meat was my heart-health rather than the planet. Be that as it may, meat farming and processing IS much harder on the planet than food crop farming and processing. Dairy farming is even harder on the planet, and that was my specific motivation for attempting to cut back on dairy (in addition to my same health concerns, of course).

Here’s the thing: Most of us aren’t, and are unlikely to ever be, purists about any of this, especially when times are tough, as they are now. It’s always much harder to live our values when we’re struggling to get by. Still, even when times are at least “normal”, not all of us can be as pure as maybe we might like, and so, I believe our objective ought to be to tread as lightly on the planet as we’re able.

This is heresy to the dyed-in-the-wool vegans, animal-rights activists, and climate change warriors, but I—and most folks, I think—believe that a little change is better than none at all, even if a lot of change is, in a perfect world, clearly better than a little. And, let’s be real: Nothing short of purity would please the purists, so anything less than that would earn their condemnation, regardless of what we do or don’t do.

For me, all this meant installing solar power generation because at the time I could do it. I also want to grow more of my own food this coming year (if my energy and stamina levels cooperate…). It’s also meant eating a largely plant-based diet, but still consuming dairy because, so far, I simply don’t like the substitutes. And, it also means that, yes, if I want a steak or a takeaway burger, I’ll have that. Little changes are better than none.

In the months ahead, I may be talking more about my efforts to achieve some level of sustainability. Growing my own food, apart from tomatoes and herbs, is something I haven’t done since I was a kid (my parents had a large vegetable garden for a few years). That’s assuming I’m able to achieve anything (I really didn’t last year, after all).

The one thing I know for sure is that this is a work in progress, and I’ve enjoyed learning and experimenting. Sometimes substitutions have been successful, other times, less so, but finding that out has been interesting and fun for me. As long as that continues, there’ll be more to talk about.

There will be a lot more substitutes, too, I’m sure. Successful or not, they all teach me something.