Friday, January 28, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 360 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 360, “Boosted times” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Powerful developments

Today I received my latest bill from my electricity company. It was a good one—a very good one. This whole thing is getting very interesting—to me, anyway.

The image above is what I posted to my personal Facebook. I added in a comment:
This bill was so very low because my credit for solar production not only paid the charges for what I consumed from the power grid (mostly nighttime), it also partially offset the fixed charges that everyone pays. In technical terms, in summer I'm mostly self-sufficient in electricity, and this past month I was completely self-sufficient. This fascinates me. I'll be VERY interested to see how costs work out this year because it'll be my first full, calendar year with solar power.
That pretty much explains it, but there’s a little more to it, especially about the self-sufficiency thing. In my comment, I was referring to the fact that in summer I’ve needed very little power from the national grid, and that last month I needed none at all: I sold more power than I bought. But that’s only part of the story.

As I said back in October, “I do electricity-heavy things—like running the dishwasher, running the clothes dryer, even ironing clothes or recharging batteries—during daylight hours, ideally on sunny days.” This is important because I pay more for electricity from the grid than I’m paid for the power I send to the grid. This means that it makes more economic sense for me to use the power I generate during the day, rather than run those things at night when I have to pay for power. In summer, I still have a lot of power to send to the national power grid—even after using what I can—and that offsets the cost of the power I buy. This month it more than paid for the power I bought.

There’s a device attached to my photovoltaic cells that measures and controls solar power in and power sent out. It reports “self-sufficiency” as a daily thing, and as using only solar power to run the house. If I use less power than I’m generating, it says I’m 100% self-sufficient, and that can happen on any sunny day, regardless of the time of year.

However, the effects in winter aren’t as dramatic as in summer because I don’t generate as much power in the first place, let alone having as much to send out to the grid. In winter, it makes even more sense to “do electricity-heavy things… during daylight hours”.

The reason all this fascinates me so much because it’s real-life results, what I get living my ordinary day-to-day life. Until now, I’d ready a lot of generalised information about how solar power works in a home, and I saw results that were both far better and far worse than what I’ve actually experienced. But, how would it work in my own situation, without doing anything unusual? That’s what I’ve been fascinated to see.

Apart from running things in the daytime, I don’t do anything even remotely special, because all that is stuff I’d do in the daytime, anyway. My experience of this is so very ordinary, in fact, that I even have my two heat pumps running 24-hours a day, every day, and despite that—and very hot weather this summer—my power was basically free last month. That’s pretty cool, so to speak.

I’m fascinated by this because I get to see how the system affects my household under real-life, and real-world conditions, and not based on mathematical models and engineers' projections. The results for this past month were clearly very good, however, saving money was never my prime motivation for doing this. Saving money is always a good thing, of course—duh!—but for me the whole point was to live more sustainably and to reduce my burden on the planet. And all of that is why this whole thing is getting very interesting—to me, anyway.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Still trying new stuff

We all try new stuff from time to time—or, I hope we all do. For me, at least, the new stuff is mainly about food and drink, whether commercial products or new recipes. Back in 2017, I started a series of occasional posts I labelled “AmeriNZ Test Kitchen”, a tongue-in-cheek tag for the posts. I don’t have a lab, of course, nor any culinary training or qualifications, but I thought it was a fun way to group posts about trying food or drink, especially for the first time. I’m still trying new stuff—I just keep forgetting to say anything about it. It’s time to change that—and expand the idea.

Recently, I tried several new food items, but for some reason or other I just haven’t been able to get around to blogging about them. This post is about two commercial products I recently tried, and it’s just the beginning.

The first thing I tried was the I Love Pies "Angus Beef Mince & Mozzarella" pie. It’s a fresh (in this case, that means it’s refrigerated, not frozen) pie sold in supermarkets. It was on special recently, so I thought I’d try it. I was glad I did.

Many years ago, I was like a lot of Americans who arrive in New Zealand and immediately become obsessed with NZ’s savoury pies. They’re dramatically nicer than any “pot pie” I ever had in the USA, and I quickly settled on beef mince (“ground beef” in the USA) and cheese as my favourite, though steak and cheese is a runner up. For most of my first year in New Zealand, I had a pie for lunch nearly every work day.

Such pies are a mainstay of basic food in New Zealand, and were traditionally kept in heated cabinets usually called “pie warmers” (examples) from which customers could select the pie they wanted. Pie warmers were found in many dairies (small neighbourhood superettes), petrol stations, and some bakeries (although sometimes bakeries kept them in a case only the staff could access (and those pies were often higher quality).

Between 1977 and 1998, there was a New Zealand fast food chain called Georgie Pie, which specialised in pies, oddly enough. It was started by the guy who opened New Zealand’s first supermarket, Foodtown, in 1958. That company merged with one called Progressive Enterprises in 1961, and in 1988, it was sold to an Australian company. It was briefly a NZ-listed public company, from 1992 to 94, but the majority shareholding was still Australian. In 1996, after further foreign sales, Progressive decided to close the chain rather than sell it as a going concern. It sold off all the locations to McDonald’s NZ, which converted most locations to McDonald’s and sold off the rest.

Years passed. The calls to “Bring Back Georgie Pie” started to grow, and at first McDonald’s—which still owned the brand—took little notice. I remember much speculation in the early 2000s that, legally speaking, McDonald’s had “abandoned” the brand, meaning it might be possible for independents to bring it back. The conglomerate began trying to enforce its “intellectual property” in the brand name and logo, but as pressure continued they said they “might” consider returning the pies to the market through McDonald’s units.

In 2013, they launched a trial, then expanded it to most of their units. The pies were, well, okay, I suppose, but just not the same as the original, in my opinion—nor as good as some available elsewhere. In 2020, McDonald’s quietly stopped offering Georgie Pie. That would seem to be that.

Pies are, and actually always have been, “grab it” food—something grabbed quickly, often on the run, and not usually something that someone goes out of their way to get. That was the problem with the original Georgie Pie as a chain, and the short reintroduction of the product.

Which leaves us with all the other options we’ve had all along. However, refrigerated supermarket pies have never been particularly good—until now.

I Love Pies is part of I Love Food Co, itself a part of Walter & Wild, a holding company that owns various New Zealand food brands. The company was founded by New Zealand’s richest man, Graeme Hart, and his son Harry (the company’s brands can be found here). All of that means that the brand itself, which was started by home cooks selling at farmers markets and the like, may not last in New Zealand ownership forever, or even for long, which is a shame: The pie I had was really, really good, and I’d hate to see other (probably foreign) ownership degrade the product, as has happened many times with various food products.

The text on the packaging is written in a casual, colloquial style, which suits the brand, but it’s the product that matters. From its “sour cream pastry” to its NZ angus beef mince and other fillings (and containing no MSG, palm oil, or artificial flavours or colours), it was yummy. My only complaint was that it took much longer to heat than the 20 minutes stated on the box. Was my fridge too cold? My oven not hot enough? Both are possible. I really ought to check those at some point. Still, possible technical issues aside, I’d definitely buy the pie again, and may try some other products in the “I Love…” range.

The next product I tested was not successful.

I tried a jar of “Classic Butter Chicken Meal Sauce” from Barker’s of Geraldine (a company I used to know as just “Barker's”). The company was originally founded by farmers in Geraldine in the South Island, and as it grew and diversified, it acquired NZ jam and condiment maker, Anathoth, in 2008. Nigel and I always bought Anathoth’s jams, and I still buy those and the Anathoth brand of tomato relish (still my favourites), however, we never bought all that much of Barker’s offerings, though not because of dislike.

In 2015, the company sold the majority shareholding to French food company Andros. For now, the majority French-owned company is continuing to use NZ grown produce, but, obviously, there can’t be any guarantees for the future. This particular sauce was made in New Zealand, though it doesn't list country of origin for the ingredients (they don't have to under current regulations), so I don't know if all the ingredients are from New Zealand or not.

The product itself was far more like a korma sauce than a butter chicken sauce, and a little too spicy for a product labelled mild. I’ve tried making it a few times now, but my last attempt—in March of last year—was so awful that it put me off trying it again (so far). One solution, I thought, might be sauce in a jar.

The meal I made with the Barker’s sauce was considerably browner than butter chicken from an Indian restaurant usually is, which is a problem I had the first time I made the dish from scratch. It also had none of the flavours of one made by an Indian restaurant.

Add it all up, and the sauce was very disappointing. I won’t be buying it again.

And that’s it for this round of things from my AmeriNZ Test Kitchen. Continuing the cheeky theme, I’m planning on some posts from the AmeriNZ Test Lab to talk about non-food products I try. Because, why not? But that’s for another day, because I’ve already hung up my metaphorical lab coat.

Important Note: The names of brands/products/companies listed in this post are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal consumer prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

All photos are my own. The one up top is of the pie in its package and after heating in the oven. The of the jar of butter chicken sauce includes a photobomb by Leo.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Thirteen years later

It’s now been thirteen years since Nigel and I had our civil union ceremony. So much has changed since then, and even since the eleventh anniversary, which Nigel didn’t live to see. I noted as much in my personal Facebook post earlier today:

Thirteen years ago today, Nigel and I had our Civil Union. It was, at the time, the happiest day of our lives—until we were married in 2013, when that day took the title. Becoming a widower is absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, but *why* I found that out is because Nigel and I were together and a family. That “why” kind of sands the edges off the pain, because the only way I could’ve avoided that is if Nigel hadn’t been part of my life—part of me. That love we shared still carries me forward—it’s actually what makes it possible for me to move forward. That day 13 years ago was a very happy one. The memory of it still is a happy one.

I think that probably says as much about where I’m at, existentially speaking, as anything else could. I still miss him every single day, I still think about what he’d say, and what he’d think, but I also have to live life. In fact, I feel I have to live it for both of us. I said as much in reply to a friend on the facebook post:

I hope to bring comfort or understanding to others, which is why I share so much. It’s definitely a long and difficult journey, but if I didn’t try with all my might to move forward and live for Nigel and me both, I’d feel I was dishonouring everything we had. I have no idea what the future will bring, but it’ll be built on everything that was—that much I know for sure!

And so it is. Thirteen years ago today Nigel and I finally had legal recognition of our relationship. That, in turn, came some 13 years after it began, neatly enough. That won’t be the last coincidental alignment of numbers, but I like this one.

This particular anniversary no longer matters, not just because we were married a few years after the civil union, and not just because Nigel's gone, though all that matters. Instead, it’s because that earlier anniversary was superseded by both our marriage and its end and the fact that I’m moving forward in my life. It was inevitable, and that’s—now—a welcome thing.

This anniversary used to be the final event it what I called my “Season of Anniversaries”, something that also doesn’t matter anymore. Even so, some of the anniversaries within that “season” were and remain important to me: The day I first arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, the day I arrived in New Zealand to live, and, of course, my birthday. I’m still learning what they all mean without Nigel as part of them—except, of course, he still is.

Last year, I quoted my post from 2019: “So, Happy anniversary to us! Once again.” I’ll still go with that.


2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today
2013: Fourth Anniversary
2014: An anniversary
2015: Anniversaries
2016: A seventh Anniversary
2017: Eight years later
2018: Nine years later
2019: Ten years later
There was no post in 2020.
2021: Twelve years later

A busy, airy day

It rained today. That’s only news because it’s been so long since we’ve had a rainy day that, despite the inconvenience of it all, it was very welcome. I had several errands to run today, dealing with smiling, drilling, and a stream of air. And while those all might apply to the dentist, my first stop, in fact, none of them really did.

This morning I had a consultation with my dentist about what to do to tidy up my front teeth. Specifically, he’s going to even out their biting edges, both the tooth that was chipped from colliding with a lower front tooth (a problem the dentist fixed with a little grinding, though the chip remained), and also the other front tooth, which has worn a bit, and is also shorter than the chipped tooth. My goal is to make my smile a little nicer (from my perspective), though I’m extremely realistic about what the results will be.

This is a major change from where my dental journey began. The whole “Tooth Tales” series of posts began as a journey to get a prettier smile, and that was nearly eight years ago. When that quest began, I wanted to close the gap in my front teeth, but periodontal disease and other problems first delayed, and then ultimately ended that quest. I readjusted my goal, particularly after Nigel died, from getting a prettier smile to just getting a nicer one—and I was very relaxed about how much nicer it might actually be.

And so, a week from Thursday I go back to the dentist to have the repairs and touch-ups done, which, not doubt, I’ll talk about at the time—and no doubt with before and after photos. The dentist said in passing a couple times that the gap I originally wanted gone is a part of me, and he’s right: I’ve lived with it as long as I’ve lived with teeth. But, of course, that doesn’t mean it can’t be nicer.

It was difficult getting there on time today: I had to park way down the road because their carpark was full of cars of people getting their booster shots at the medical clinic next door. And, it was raining, and I needed to find an umbrella I knew must be in the boot of my car. I found a different one. Still, it was a good consultation, and he told me that my use of those damn little brushes is definitely working because my mouth is much healthier. Yay.

My next stop was to a home centre so I could pick up some masonry drill bits (to hang some things on the outside of the house; yet more new projects!), and one other thing I wanted that they didn't have in stock. So, I had to go to another store, the computer and tech store I often get stuff from. I said when I posted the photo up to to my Instagram:
All the tech stuff Nigel left me, including multiple cans of silicone spray, but not a single can of compressed air! So, I bought one today (for the first time ever). It’s for a super-secret project that soon won’t be secret, but dunno whether it’ll turn out super or not (I’m optimistic, though). The demented look on my face must be because I don’t like going to the shop I bought it at, and that was my third stop today under the first day of our somewhat tighter Covid restrictions. Skipped the supermarket, though—carpark was too full (and I was only stopping for something I wanted, not anything I needed). Onward!
Traffic in that area being what it is, I had to go past the shop and double back, and considering how much I dislike going to that shop, it’s a measure of how determined I was. That super-secret project will absolutely be documented here (add it to the growing list…).

After I didn’t stop at the supermarket, it was back home and, it turned out, to a bit of a nap with Leo. I’ve been out every single day for the past four days, including two nights in a row socialising with family (plus my birthday night at my house on Friday). The weekend was even bookended by medical appointments.

I have other projects on the go, too—of course!—and one of them is stalled. But, at least that one’s being held up by delayed delivery, not me having to go anywhere. I guess that’s one good thing about it. That, too, is something I’ll talk about more when something actually happens.

Still, I at least finally have my can of air. Now I just need to bring some of those projects out of the air and into reality. Doing that will also help keep me away from Omicron; that, too, is in the air.

The day has arrived

The day we all knew was coming has arrived: Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand would move to Red in the “traffic light” system at 11:59pm that night. Nine cases in the Nelson/Marlborough region were confirmed as the Omicron variant, and because the original source of their infection was unknown, that means that Omicron is almost certainly loose in the community. They’d all flown to Auckland to attend a wedding and other events, and then home, and providing multiple opportunities to spread Covid.

And now the new reality begins.

The move to Red is nothing like Lockdown for the fully-vaccinated, and more than 93% of New Zealanders 12+ are fully vaccinated (more than 95% have had at least one dose). Nearly a million people have had a booster, which means that we’re approaching 20% of the entire population being fully vaccinated and boosted. These statistics are different measures, of course: Currently, New Zealanders aren’t eligible for a booster until it’s been at least four months since their second jab, and they must be 18 or older, too. Taking all that into account, at it means that at least half of all eligible New Zealanders have had their booster. Percentages for ordinary vaccines are calculated on the population 12 and older, even though younger children are now eligible for vaccination. No Matter how you count it, though, New Zealand is in reasonably good position to deal with Omicron.

Plans have been made for most people to isolate at home if they get sick, because most people will have mild or very mild symptoms. That’ll free up hospital capacity for the truly sick, and while the unvaccinated are at dramatically higher risk of illness requiring hospitalisation, there are only a bit more than 5% of of people 12+ who fall into that category.

Even so, Omicron spreads rapidly, and that could mean that the healthcare system could become overwhelmed. Many places in the world have had problems keeping supermarkets stocked due to illness among truck drivers and distribution workers. So, even if the healthcare system isn’t strained, other risks are still very real.

Anyone with any common sense could see the risks and challenges that we would or could face once Omicron got here, so I decided long ago to be ready for it. My goal was to minimise risk to me by avoiding, as much as possible, going to places that would increase my risk of infection—supermarkets and pharmacies in particular (going to a pharmacy right now seems like a particularly bad idea: That’s where all the sick people will go).

Over several weeks, I slowly stocked up on pantry staples in case there are supply disruptions, or in case I catch Covid and have to isolate. This past Friday, I bought Leo the biggest bag of dog food the store had, and it should last three or four months. There’s been disruption in the supply of pet food several times over the past two years, so I wasn’t willing to take the risk I might run out as Omicron spreads. This way, if supply becomes an issue, I’ll have time to get more food for him (or me…) or find a substitute.

To be clear, the Red Light won’t stop me going to shops when I need things, but it’ll make me remain aware and vigilant. For example, if I need to go to a home centre, I’ll plan it and get several things at once, rather than making several trips—which is actually what I do normally. I’ll also use a shopping trolley even if I only need a few small things because I use it as a physical distancer between me and another customer, something I’ve been doing for more than a year now (an example of that: Sometimes someone behind me stands too close, and I move to the front of the trolley, thereby keeping at least a metre between me and the lackadaisical customer behind me).

For me, this is about minimising risk by focusing on the things I can control (when and where I go to a shop, being aware of others’ behaviour when I’m in a shop, taking precautions to protect myself, those sorts of things). The only way to reduce my risk even farther would be to never leave the house, but even that’s not foolproof. In fact, any number of things could bring Covid to me at home, things I can’t necessarily control. However, I know the risks out and about, and those I can try to reduce and/or manage. Stocking-up on supplies was mostly just a way to prepare for possible shortages, a prudent measure given previous experiences here and overseas, but it also will minimise how much I have to venture out to the supermarket.

Nothing in life is without risk, and that’s even more true during a global pandemic. I can do everything I can to minimise and manage risk, and Omicron may still find me. I’m not going to live my life in fear, but will proceed with prudent caution and precautions.

Having said all that, this is only Phase One of my plans. I think that as the spread of Omicron gets worse, I’ll probably cut back on my trips out, ultimately eliminating them as much as humanly possible. My plan has always been to maintain a high level of vigilance and caution for two to three months, in order to give time for the crest of the Omicron wave to pass. That means increasing my level of caution more and more.

This time I was determined to be prepared. I’ll probably know sooner rather than later if I succeeded.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The annual increasing number: 63

Yet again, my birthday has rolled around. I knew I’d be tired on the day because of my echocardiogram, so I didn’t really want to do much. I planned to cook one of my speciality dishes because my mother-in-law requested it (which was as good a reason as any). My brother-in-law suggested we order takeaways, like pizza, and in the end, we did both. It was a nice, quiet evening.

Everyone had left by around ten, and I sat down to watch a little TV before bed, but first I wrote something on my personal Facebook that pretty much sums where I was at this year:
I had a really nice birthday—and thanks to everyone who sent me wishes, or who will in USA time (no judgement! Time zones screw me up all the time, especially for FB birthday notifications). The heart scan wasn’t bad (though the early start left me tired). Last year I went to the dental hygienist on my birthday (coincidentally, I see the actual dentist on Monday).

This birthday may not seem significant, but it is to me: Today I hit 63: The age my parents were when they died, and that’s been on my mind for four decades. My goal is to make it to 64 so I’ll have lived longer than they did—though I hasten to add I don’t want to stop there! The point is, this particular birthday—and next year’s—matter to me a LOT. It’s hard to go through this without Nigel at my side—in fact, it tears me at the seams. But maybe I’m even more determined since he isn’t here?

I got to spend the evening with family, and that matters more to me than I can ever put into words. Nigel would be so happy about the way I spent my birthday (even the scan): If he couldn’t be here for me and with me, family was. That matters. A lot.

I was also thinking a lot today about gratitude. All joking about the scan aside, I was happy to still be here to get it. I was glad to get the phone calls, the text and Facebook messages, and the company this evening. I was thinking, too, about all the folks on Facebook I have real friendships with (in addition to those I’m related to, obvs).

All my friends from high school—if I’d known what awesome people you’d become, I would’ve gone out of my way to hang out back then! The friends I made in Chicago—you matter more to me than I can tell you. My friends through blogging, and podcasting, and Pride 48—how lucky am I to have been in the right place at the right time?! I also add to that list the people I met through—gasp!—politics. And then there are the folks with whom I had personal relationships (it’s not my place to name them, though they can name themselves if they want—I have no secrets). And all the others I became friends with—well, however it happened. My point is that I treasure everyone I’ve been connected to over the years, and even more the people to whom I’m still connected.

So, it was a good birthday, and this year I’ve been particularly reflective. I expect to be next year, too. Thanks to you all for helping to make my birthday—and my life—special.
In many ways, I’m in a different head space than I was last year, and I think that’s mostly a good thing. I still miss Nigel every bit as much as always, but I’m slowly learning to live my life, though I also want to try to experience life for both of us, a theme that’ll keep popping up in this blog over the course of this year, I think.

Tonight I went out for dinner with family to celebrate my niece’s birthday. It was a really nice time. And that, technically, was the close of my birthday celebrations for another year—even though tonight wasn’t my celebration, of course.

My annual birthday selfie is below. When I posted it to Instagram, I said:
Annual birthday selfie. Sure, here it’s the day after my birthday, but it’s still my birthday where I was born, so I feel it still counts. Truth is, I was so busy yesterday that I ran out of time! I guess that’s a good thing? 🤷🏻‍♂️ 🎂
I think that this isn’t the first year I took the selfie on January 22—but it was still January 21 at my birthplace. After all this activity, though, I’m a little too tired to double check. But I did find time to comment on the Facebook version of the photo:
I took this with my new phone using the “Portrait” setting, something my old phone couldn’t do. My old phone also couldn’t take such great, clear photos (on the back camera, let alone the front one), so it was actually, um, kinder to an ageing face!
That’s actually true, even though I was joking (sometimes the best humour comes from truth). What all of the things I shared on social media over the past couple days underscores is how different this birthday was for me than last year’s was. That’s a very good thing. NIgel’s no longer here to give me a birthday present, but maybe this year I basically did that for myself. Maybe.

The Illinois Route 63 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. However, Illinois 63 was de-designated (or whatever the word is) in 1972 (Wikipedia has more information on the now-defunct route, but the relevance to me is that part of what had been Illinois 63 is a street in the town I lived in from age 10 to 23-ish, That means that I definitely drove on it quite a lot (after age 16…), but I had no idea it had once been a state route. Still, when it was actually still a state route I could only have travelled on it as a passenger, because in 1973 I was only 14.

My Previous Birthday posts:

2021: The annual increasing number: 62
2020: The annual number increase happened
2019: Another 'Big Birthday'
2018: The annual increasing number: 59
2017: The annual increasing number: 58
2016: The annual increasing number: 57
2015: The annual increasing number: 56
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

Got the scan, man

Yesterday I finally got the echocardiogram scan that was delayed by the lockdowns caused by the emergence of the Delta Variant in August. With the inevitability of similar disruptions once Omicron is loose in the community (because that's inevitable), I was anxious to get the scan done. I was relieved when it was finished.

I don’t yet know what the results were, and may not for some days yet, but the person who did the scan didn’t run out of the room screaming, so that’s probably a good sign, right? I’m not expecting there to be any issues, though it’s obviously possible there will be some. Mainly, this was about getting a new reference scan, since a lot has changed since my last one in 2018.

The only “bad” thing about the scan was that it was at 9am, which, to be honest, is a bit early for me—because of traffic: It meant fighting the morning commuters. I don’t normally schedule any appointments until late morning, but in this case I was so eager to get the scan done that I just accepted the appointment offered and didn’t attempt to change it to a better time.

I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t sleep well/much the night before, because I never do the night before an important appointment of any kind (including even making sure I’m up for an early morning delivery). Setting the alarm on my phone doesn’t help much, though it at least lets me get some sleep.

Another anxiety-inducing issue was the drive itself. The clinic is located in a part of Hamilton’s CBD (“central business district”), an area I find stressful to drive to, mostly, to be fair, because I don’t know it very well. There was ample parking at the clinic, but there’s not much parking at all in the CBD generally, which is the main reason I never go there—and another thing I find stressful.

In the end, I got there a few minutes early, and got a parking spot right in front of the entrance to the building. The whole thing went quickly—maybe half an hour or so. When I was done, I took the selfie up top outside the entrance to the clinic office suite. When I posted the photo to my personal Facebook, I said:
Scan all done. Nigel was wrong: I do have a heart! I saw it and heard it doing its thing. I know some of you will be as surprised by this news as Nigel would’ve been, 🤣

On the other hand, I again successfully avoided asking, “Is it a boy or a girl?” That’s too much of a grandad joke, even for me. 😁
However, there was a problem. I later added:
BTW, I was normally coiffed when I arrived: The Old Man hairdo is courtesy of having to take my shirt and singlet off, then lie down, then put my singlet, shirt, and, of course, mask, back on. You’d think I’d have looked in the mirror, eh? Honestly, I think my Gay Card must’ve expired or something. 🤷🏻‍♂️
All joking aside, I really was relieved to get it done, and to not have to reschedule yet again because of Covid. Whatever the results show, the fact it’s done is at least that one good thing. I’ll gladly take that as another win.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Not really very clear

Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about my efforts at sustainability. Whether those efforts were big things, like installing photovoltaic panels to generate my own electricity, or smaller things, like the choices I make when buying products, it's all been about trying to tread as lightly on the planet as I can reasonably accomplish. Despite all the attention on climate change, though, attempting to live more sustainably is becoming more complicated all the time.

Last month, in a probably little-noticed post on its website, Hamilton City Council (HCC) urged residents of the city to “‘keep it clear’ when buying plastic bottles”. The post bluntly explains the reason is that “coloured plastic bottles… go to landfill,” then they elaborated:
Clear plastic bottles can be recycled up to nine times, which puts less stress on our environment to create more new plastic. Coloured plastic can be recycled, but dyes added to colour it, when its processed, it turns grey.
Terrible syntax aside, the stress on the environment isn’t mainly from creating new plastic: Making things from recycled plastic uses most of the same resources, like water and energy, for example. Instead, the main stress comes from disposing of plastic, especially in landfills—the very thing HCC is telling people it’s doing with some plastic.

As if that didn’t confuse things enough, they said:
Coloured plastic with the recycling label 2 (HDPE or janitorial plastic) is generally household cleaning, hygiene product and milk bottles. This plastic is mainly white and has a market to be recycled for wheelie bins and plant pots. However, coloured plastic 1 (PET or food grade plastic), in particular soft drink and sports drink bottles, is harder to recycle and doesn’t have a market. Without a market, it’s worthless.
So: Coloured plastic “can’t” be recycled, and so, it goes to landfill. Except for the coloured plastic that can be recycled and doesn’t go landfill. So glad they cleared that up!

The problem with creating such confusion is that it could easily encourage people to throw their hands up and stop their efforts to recycle at all. If that happens, it’ll be extremely difficult and expensive to get them to start again. HCC’s “Rubbish and Recycling Transitional Manager” said that they hope that there will be markets for the “1.2 tonnes of coloured plastic” Hamilton sends to landfill every year, but, in the meantime, “people can continue to put coloured plastic into their [recycling] bin.”

The issue here isn’t the plastic as such, it’s the economics: Companies have little incentive to increase use of recycled plastics, or to reduce the use of plastic, so they don’t. The two biggest drivers of change in this area are consumer demand and government regulation. The former is already high (but could be light years better—which is what HCC was ham-fistedly advocating), but regulation is sparse or missing altogether. New Zealand Governments led by both parties have resisted using regulations or taxes to force manufactures to change their ways, and the NZ Government is the only one with the power here, since governmental action like taxes and regulations aren't things that a NZ city council can impose, even if they wanted to. All of which means that fickle consumer demand is the only force available.

This isn't really about HCC itself—though you would think someone there could write a coherent message. The fact is, HCC's basic message, mangled though it was, had a laudable intent: Get people to act. If central Government fails to act—and it always has—and if corporations won’t do anything to fix the problem unless it’s in their own financial interest—and they won’t—then consumers are the ONLY thing that could force change.

This relates directly to my own efforts at sustainability, and in future posts I’ll have more to say about some new and very specific things I’m trying in the hope that it will reduce the amount of plastic packaging I have to get rid of (among other goals). In the meantime, I reuse what plastic packaging I can, but sooner or later everything has to go to be recycled or buried.

So, I’ll continue to place coloured plastics in the recycle bin until/unless they tell me I can’t, even if it goes to landfill. If I don’t, the only real alternative is to put it into the rubbish bin—and everything in that ends up in landfill, too, of course. Maybe one day there’ll be a market for the plastics no manufacturer seems to want, or maybe we’ll just dispose of less of it, but to make that happen, consumer demand cannot remain the only thing pushing for change. Government at all levels needs to play a part, too, and it’s way past time it did so.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

I phone like a pro

Yesterday, I talked a bit about the flow-on effects waiting for my new phone to be delivered. What I didn’t talk about was why I ordered the new phone, and why that one. I’ve always talked about my new phones in the past, so today I’ll continue with that tradition.

I used to struggle with talking about new technology I acquired, what and how much I should say about it. I didn’t want to seem to be bragging, and I was always very aware of how fortunate I was was to be privileged so I could have the new technology at all. My thinking has changed a lot over the years, not about how fortunate I am, but, rather, that I have every right to talk about my life just as anyone else does. I’ve become hyper-aware of how short life is, and I don’t intend to waste time second-guessing myself.

This all first came up when I got my iPhone 5c in 2013, my first brand new iPhone (my previous two were hand-me-ups from Nigel). I was also pretty sure that the 5c was my first new phone of any kind since 2005.

I had that phone for nearly four years, up until Nigel got me the iPhone 6 in 2017. That phone was a major step up for me—twice the storage space as my 5c (from 16GB to 32GB), which mattered because I was always running out of space on my 5c, something Nigel was well aware of, and part of his motivator.

Nigel bought an iPhone 6 for himself some months earlier, and after about a year the battery died, a flaw that the 6 was notorious for, and bought himself an 8 not long after I got my new phone. He chose that one specifically because it was the last model with an actual home button (starting with the 9, the button was a virtual one on the glass screen). I still have that phone, and it’s still connected to what was his phone number (now mine), but I may not necessarily keep either.

My own iPhone 6’s battery died some months after Nigel did, and I kind of panicked. I felt that I desperately needed a phone with my own number on, but I was planning to upgrade to the new iPhone because it could use dual SIMs, meaning I could have both phone numbers on one handset. I don’t remember why I hadn’t bought one already (maybe they weren’t available yet), so I actually considered buying a cheap Android phone to tide me over. Instead, I bought an iPhone 7, the cheapest new phone that was still available.

The 7 was a reliable and good phone since 2020, but it wasn’t much advanced from my 6, except that it used fingerprint technology to unlock the phone and to use some Apps that might otherwise demand a password to use. It had the same 32GB storage space as the 6 had—and I was running out of space until I decided to buy additional iCloud space from Apple (which is actually pretty cheap—especially by Apple standards…).

My specific motivator to get a new phone now was that my mother-in-law asked me if I had an old smartphone she could have so that she could use the Covid Tracer App to scan the QR code, which I also talked about yesterday. The stars having aligned, I ordered the new phone—eventually. It still took me weeks to do.

Originally I dithered between the cheaper iPhone 12, then the 13, and the 13 Pro. I finally chose the latter because it was the top of the line, but cheaper than the 13 Pro Max, which is physically bigger. I didn’t feel I needed the Pro Max because the screen of the Pro was already bigger than my 7’s (as shown in the photo at the bottom of this post). I wanted the Pro mostly for the cameras, the best yet in an iPhone, and better than the regular 13’s. My hope is that by getting the top of the line now, I should be able to use the phone for several years. We’ll see.

So far, I really like the phone, but it’s taken some getting used to. It uses facial recognition to unlock the phone, and at first it had trouble recognising me if I was wearing reading glasses. It now seldom has any trouble, but sometimes I need to move my head a bit, and that works. It can’t recognise me if I’m wearing sunglasses or a face mask (both of which makes sense), so in those cases I can use my unlock code instead (useful when I’m outside a shop and needing to scan the Covid Tracer QR code before I enter (especially because I have to continue to wear my mask once inside).

The way it operates is also different, mainly because it uses the newest version of iOS, and it’s different from what I was using, not the least because my old phone had the home button, which has been gone for years. I’ll adapt.

I haven’t had much chance to use it to take photos yet, apart from the selfie with yesterday’s post—something I had to flip manually before posting to the blog because the new phone was set-up to take front camera (on the screen side) photos backwards, like a mirror, and I had to Google how to fix that.

And that’s my new phone story, based on everything that’s come before. I’ve once again been fortunate to be able to upgrade my phone, and I like it. The only honest thing to do, I think, was to acknowledge both.

In this photo (taken with my elderly iPad), it's pretty obvious that the screen on the iPhone 13 Pro (left) is significantly larger than the on my old iPhone 7 (right), despite the phone itself not being much bigger physically. They did that by, among other things, removing the home button (in the black bar at the bottom of the 7's screen), and by introducing the infamous "notch" at the top for the camera and other stuff, all of which had been in the big black part at the top of the 7. Because my lock screen photo had to be scaled up to fill the depth of the new screen, it was cropped on the sides for the 13. The photo up top is of the partially unboxed 13 Pro, taken with my 7.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Boosted and busy

I had my Covid booster shot this week, and while that went well on the day, it had been delayed by things I had to do, and then there were some issues afterward. In other words, it’s been pretty typical of how things have gone recently.

I seem to use up nearly all my available time lately, and considering that time in a day is one thing I ordinarily have plenty of, that’s a pretty big deal. As I said recently, most of my days lately left me feeling like I was spinning my wheels, and that certainly continued into this week.

The main frustration from the middle of last week on into this week was that I was waiting for a delivery. I’d ordered an iPhone 13 Pro from Apple on Sunday, January 2, and a couple days later I got an email telling me the order had shipped and would arrive on January 10. The thing is, my previous orders always arrived early, so I assumed this one would, too. What made it so difficult was that the tracking site for the courier, DHL, was pretty useless.

It started out well enough: I knew it had left Sydney late Tuesday evening, January 4, and had arrived in Auckland in the small hours of Wednesday morning. Thursday it said, “Arrived at delivery facility” at “NZ Regional Service Area – New Zealand”, which sounded like that was/could be Hamilton. Less than 15 minutes later, it said, “Forwarded for delivery”. I had absolutely no idea what that meant, but thought it could mean it was out for delivery. It wasn’t.

The next day, Friday, nothing changed until late morning when it again said, “Forwarded for delivery” and that it was at “NZ Regional Service Area – New Zealand”. Maybe there was more than one? At any rate, that was it for the day—and week.

DHL doesn’t deliver on weekends (or, at least, wasn’t paid to), so at 7:42am Monday morning, the status changed to “With delivery courier”. It arrived six hours later, at 1:41pm.

I ended up staying home on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday because I wasn’t even remotely clear when the phone would be delivered. On Friday, I ordered groceries to be delivered so I could get that taken care of, and my prescriptions were also delivered, so staying home wasn’t a total loss. I’d have left the house if only their tracking system had been just slightly clearer—such as, saying merely what day it was due to be delivered, something that was nowhere on their page. That alone would’ve meant, I could’ve had my booster on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

Even on Monday I still had no clear idea when it’d arrive, so I planned nothing at all, which was because they didn’t give any sort of delivery window (by comparison, the supermarket gives me a three hour window, then texts me on the day with a more precise hour-long window, then again a few minutes before the truck arrives). If DHL had given me even a four-hour window, I might’ve been able to go get my booster jab on Monday, too, though that turned out to be a good thing.

Once the phone arrived, I took my time getting it set up, and didn’t even put the SIM in until shortly before I went to bed. I’m giving my old phone to my mother-in-law to try, since it will enable her to scan the Covid QR code, rather than having to manually sign in (only smartphones have that capability). If she can’t stand it, it won’t matter, since I didn’t buy a new phone for her that I’d then have to try to sell or whatever.

I needed to get a case for the phone, and I planned to go to the mall, Te Awa, to get one on Tuesday, and also planned to see if the Vaccination Centre there was accepting walk-ins for boosters. However, I was invited to my mother-in-law’s place for dinner Tuesday night, and decided against getting jabbed in case I felt extremely tired like I did after the first jab.

Wednesday came, and off I went. The phone case was easy enough to find (and it’s a good one), and the Vaccination Centre was accepting walk-ins, so I was set. I was done with the whole process in only a few minutes—in fact, the 15-minute post-jab waiting time was the longest part (that's when I took the selfie up top). I felt fine all evening, and even went to bed a little early (for me).

The next morning, Thursday, I felt fine. I got up extra early (again, for me…), and was carrying on with my day—until I couldn’t. I explained it on my personal Facebook:
Let me say first, this is actually a GOOD thing, but: It turns out it took around 24 hours for reactions to set in. It started with me being VERY tired and sleepy, like I was after my first jab, but this time I didn’t feel better after sleeping (dozing, actually; I couldn’t settle for a good sleep). By late afternoon, a little while ago, I realised I was also feeling pretty crappy (kinda flu-like), so I took a couple paracetamol, which hasn’t taken effect yet. I definitely feel worse now than I did after either main dose—or both combined.

This is, of course, a very good thing because it means my immune system is responding and building its fortress to keep Rona Omicron OUT. But if I feel this yucky as my body builds its defences, I can only imagine how awful it could’ve been if I’d never been vaccinated!!!

So, I might be feeling yucky at the moment, but it makes me happy to know my body is working hard to build defences to protect me from the people who don’t care about keeping others or themselves safe.
As it happens, I did start to feel better when the paracetamol took effect, and I didn’t need another dose. My arm felt less sore, too. Once again, I went to bed early (for me…).

When I woke up yesterday morning, I again felt fine, and my arm was no longer sore. I was guarded, though, and went ahead and mowed the lawns. Aside from getting hot in the late morning heat, it went well. I said on Facebook:
For those following along at home, I feel fine today—and more than 48 hours after the booster, I now feel safe saying that. In fact, I mowed my "lawns" today, and that closed the Exercise Ring on my watch, so I'm clearly doing fine.
I’ve seen other people who had a reaction to the booster the day after they got it, so I wasn’t surprised or worried or whatever. Really, I was just a bit annoyed.

All that disruption caused by waiting for deliveries meant that other things got pushed out, too. Then Thursday, despite its early start, became a total write-off when the reaction set in. I’m now quite a bit behind on various projects, including several blog posts I’d planned to publish my now—they haven’t even been written yet, which is an indication of how behind schedule (so-called) I am right now. Not that it matters, really, but that, too, left me feeling a bit annoyed.

Still, the disruptions of the past week and a half are now over, so most things should get back to normal. However, I know that parts of this coming week will be very busy, so I’m assuming nothing. I do hope I’ll have the time and energy to blog about it, though.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

A different and unusual, usual sort of dream

It’s not unusual for me to sleep a bit later on a Saturday morning. In fact, I’ve probably been doing that ever since I stopped wanting to get up to watch cartoons. Most of the time, it’s just a bit of sleep, but yesterday was a bit different, and unusual.

I had a sort of serial dream, and the first unusual thing is that I remember it at all. The second unusual thing was the fact it was a serial: I’d wake up from the dream, fall back to sleep and enter another chapter of the dream.

While I don’t remember all the details (and that’s definitely not unusual), I remember the gist of it: Nigel arrived at my house, apparently all healed and healthy, and only vaguely aware that he’d been in hospital, unconscious, for more than two years. The dream didn’t explain how all that worked, nor why I didn’t know about it—it was a dream, after all—but it seemed perfectly plausible within the context of the dream.

I was ecstatic with joy to be back with Nigel, of course, and I didn’t want to leave his side. I was aware, in the dream, that I was talking to him in a way that, in the dream, I knew was the result of everything I’ve learned from mourning him over that time. Nigel seemed to notice (I think he said something about it), and he wanted to spend time with me, maybe because of it? I’m not clear about that.

The one thing that was jarring was about a thing. I said something about wanting to hang some pendant lights I bought for the kitchen, and Nigel said he saw when I bought them, but I knew that was impossible: I bought them within the first six months I’d been in this house, while he was (in the dream) missing in hospital. I thought that maybe he’d found them on the shelves in the garage where they are in real life, but I knew that what he said implied something different. I shrugged and ignored it.

And those are the only specifics I remember out of the three or four “chapters” of the dream. However, there was absolutely nothing sad about the dream, and I didn’t cry in it or when I woke up. Instead, the whole thing was really pleasant.

There’s nothing more to unpack in the dream: It was mainly just a pleasant dream. In real life, from time to time I think about having the pendant lights installed, something I haven’t done because of multiple lockdowns making that impossible and leading me to forget about them when it was possible. In addition, I’ve had second-thoughts about them several times, like they’re not really what I wanted to get. However, I can’t recall thinking about them recently.

I think the real-life context is that, in real life, I’m keenly aware that I’ll never get Nigel or our life back, so this dream was the slightly surreal way it could kind of happen. That’s a thing at all because I recently have come to realise that it’s time for me to focus on building my solo life, and that’s the reason I’ve done so many household projects over the past few weeks: They’ve been about getting rid of stuff that was Nigel’s that make no sense for me to hold on to in my solo life.

Sometimes a dream is just a dream, and nothing more. This one was pleasant enough, but I think it also pointed to what it my evolving reality, and I’m fine with that. I mean, I didn’t cry or anything, and instead was perfectly fine. Still, yesterday’s dream was a bit different, and unusual. And that was okay.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Days of spinning wheels

This week feels a bit as if my figurative wheels are spinning furiously. I guess it happens sometimes, and, when it does, it’s best to just ride it out.

This week I’ve been working on setting up the second set of shelves in the lounge, and I’m now nearly done—but it’s taken me days to get to that point.

I didn’t do much of anything on the project until Tuesday, when I finally assembled them. When I went to open the box, I noticed it’d had a harder journey than the first one, but even though some of the outer protective stuff had come loose, it still did its job: Nothing was damaged.

However, this time it didn’t go as well as the first time. My biggest complaint is that a worker at the factory put the warning sticker (reminding buyers to attached the top of the shelves to the wall) on the inside of the back of the unit (the white side, which faces into the room). I had to use my fingernails to gently scrape of a sticker with strong adhesive—it took forever (the sticker was on the back of the first unit, where it’ll never be seen). I was not amused. I put that part at the bottom of the unit because that way only someone crawling on the floor could see the sticker residue I couldn't get off, and I seldom crawl on the floor.

Then, when I was tapping in the nails to hold the back in place, I accidentally hit two along the top at an angle and broke off a little bit of the top-most shelf of the unit. Because it's the top of the shelves, no one will ever see it (I suppose if an NBA player visited, they might be able to see it, but I certainly can’t). Even so, I glued the chips back down (sort of—again, no one will ever see it, and I was impatient and very over the whole thing by then).

That day the temperature was around 30 (or so…) at my house, and that meant that, as I said elsewhere, it was “hotter than a volcano in the garage,” and that’s where the CDs were stored. An hour or two after the sun started setting, I went out there and retrieved the boxes (a bit of a mission, really).

The next day, after doing some other things (like recording a podcast…), I started opening the boxes. I got a damp cloth to wipe them all off because we didn’t dust them before we packed them five years ago this month. In addition, they were mixed up—classical with pop—so it was a slow process. I only managed to get through one box (a rather large one, but still).

I decided to make onion rings that night, and the first batch was okay, but I now know I’ll never do it again. A lot of mess for something that wasn’t that nice. So much for assuming a craving is because my body needs something; it’s going to have to pick something nicer for its next craving.

This morning I thought I might get a delivery, so I decided that staying in the lounge unpacking those boxes would be a good idea so I could see the courier drive up. The delivery didn’t happen, but I got all the pop CDs unpacked/wiped (unless there are a few hiding somewhere, which is possible). I knew there were CDs by several pop artists I wasn’t familiar with and don’t particularly care for, so I think I’ll probably cull the pop CDs, keeping ones I’d actually listen to. Same with the classical ones, especially opera, which I definitely don’t care for. Basically, I think that there’s no point keeping CDs I’ll never listen to, but will still have to dust. I have one more box to go through, but I think they’re all classical (opera, mostly) CD sets.

Today I tried to ring the online pharmacy I’m using to check on my prescription renewal. I’m running out of the drugs, and hadn’t heard anything (due to the public holidays). Their customer service people were all busy, so rather than leave a message, I decided I'd ring back when I had the time. Then, as usual, I forgot. Later, I was checking my emails and saw they’d sent though the tracking number for the order, so it’s on its way. Might even get here before I run out.

There was one other frustrating stall: The podcast site. It simply doesn’t work as it should, and nothing like it used to—many things simply don’t work at all. I probably should change the overall format/template, but that’s a good way to bork the whole thing. I was particularly frustrated that I couldn’t delete my old snail mail address or dead links (like to Google+, for example) from the sidebar. In the end, I downloaded the relevant PHP file, then used BBEdit to make the changes I wanted to make (HTML coding, baby!), and re-upload it to overwrite the one I couldn’t edit any other way. It shouldn’t have been that complicated.

While I was proud of myself for sticking to it and solving the problem, I realised I need a more permanent solution, and that’s something I need to work on now because Go Daddy is once again “upgrading” some of my services for free! Though after 90 days it’ll be at a higher price than I was paying. Of course. That happened to me before when I had the old amerinz.com site: It was originally free, then was upgraded and cost me nearly $200 a year to have them host it (the site went away when I turned off auto-renew, and now the domain points to the podcast site, for now, anyway).

So far, this week has just been “one of those weeks” in which things, annoyingly, just don’t go according to plan. I’m really hoping the package I’m expecting arrives tomorrow, and my prescriptions by Monday. Somehow I also have to squeeze in my booster shot, but that’s looking like it might not be until next week, unfortunately.

At least I got the recycling bins to the kerb for pick-up tomorrow morning: Sometimes I don’t manage that. I’ll count that as a win; this week is a little light on those otherwise. Oh, yeah, I also took down my Christmas "decorations" today, because it's Epiphany, and that's when my mother always did that. I'll count that as a win, too.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 359 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 359, “Another New Year” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

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

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Meanwhile, a small-huge project finished

While all the end of year stuff was going on, I completed a project. Technically, it was probably half of a project, but it’s done, all the same. It was another thing that went well last year—even though it took nearly 40 years to complete. Naturally, there’s a story in that.

The project was about hanging some movie posters in my hallway, and the photo up top shows the before and after (with a special guest appearance by the over-shaggy Leo). The project, however, was more than just hanging pictures—if that’s all it was, there wouldn’t be any point in sharing it. In this case, my past, and a long-held wish, enters the story.

I moved to Chicago in the early 1980s, after I finished university. There, I met a guy who was my boyfriend for a little more than a month, although we remained good and close friends for many years after we broke up.

He did sideline work (what would now probably be called a “side hustle”), doing the displays in some shops’ windows. Around 1984, after we’d broken up, he asked me to help him with some of his work on displays. The one I most remember was when he was recreating the Chicago skyline as a backdrop to a representation of the lakefront. He asked me to help him “sketch” the buildings (it was meant to be very rough) on a long length of canvass, and I was surprised at how good my contribution was: It was probably the first (and last…) time that what I drew came out well.

Possibly to thank me for helping him, he gave me a couple movie posters he’d acquired somewhere along the line to use in a display. They were the tall, skinny kind that in those days were put in tall display frames at cinema entrances (inside our out).

One poster he gave me was for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was released in 1979. The other poster was for Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition, the 1980 expanded and re-edited re-release of the 1977 movie.

I’m pretty sure the posters were already rolled up, and I kept them that way, with a rubber band around them. I was going to thumbtack them to my wall, but, fortunately, never did. I considered that because I knew there were no frames for them, though I considered getting a larger standard frame and putting them both in it. I didn’t do that, either. They remained rolled up, and moved with me many, many times.

I think, but I’m not certain, that when I was getting ready to fly downunder as a tourist in September 1995, I was looking for some physical thing to bring with me to leave with Nigel as sort of tangible evidence that I’d be back. Those simple posters meant a lot to me, and I knew he loved science fiction movies, too, so if things went wrong and I couldn’t come back to be with him, he’d have them to remember me by. Or, something like that: It was more than 26 years ago, after all.

Once I was living in New Zealand, those same posters moved with us from house to house. The rubber band perished, and for some bizarre reason, I never replaced it. So, the outermost of the two (Close Encounters) became looser and one edge was slightly damaged by a small tear. I always wanted to frame them, but never got around to it.

Sometime around the turn of last century, give or take, Nigel and I were in a video store (a common thing back then), and they had a box of movie posters they were selling, after they’d been used in the shop to promote the home release of various films. I looked through them while he browsed the videos, and I saw a rolled up poster with Star Trek: Insurrection written on the outside of the rolled-up poster. That film was released in 1998, the ninth in the Star Trek film series. I don’t remember how much they were asking—probably something small, like $5—and I told Nigel I wanted to get it. He was a bit nonchalant about it, I thought.

We took it home, and like those old posters I’d brought to New Zealand, it remained rolled up for years, moving from house to house with us, too. One year, at the second-to-last house we lived in together, I took the poster and had it framed for his birthday. We hung it up for awhile, but after some rearranging we had to take it down. We hung it again in his office at our last house.

When I moved into the house I now live in, I was pretty sure I wanted to hang it in the hallway (it’s long and has big white walls, a bit like a narrow art gallery, actually), but I wanted to hang those other two posters with it. I had to find them first, but, surprisingly, that happened pretty early on. However, taking them to a framer just seemed too hard, especially with all the Covid Alert Level changes we were enduring.

This past November, I finally resolved to do something about it. I thought I’d find an online framing place and just order in what I needed, and found a place in Auckland called Framing Online, and they sold ready-made frames for the sort of movie posters I had. I ordered two in black, even though the frame edges were rounded, which I wasn’t keen on, and even though they said it would be more than a month before they’d be shipped: Early January, in other words. A birthday present for me, I decided.

Then I got an email: The wood for the frames I’d ordered was out of stock, and it’d be February before it’d be available from their supplier. I could cancel and get a refund, wait, or they could offer me a square frame instead of rounded. I jumped at that option, which was what I actually wanted all along. They replied that they’d try to get it to me before Christmas, but with shipping delays it might be after. Considering I wasn’t expecting it until sometime in January, I couldn’t believe my luck. They arrived December 21.

Because of Christmas and everything else going on, I just didn’t get a chance to get to them until the following week, and I ended up hanging them the same day my second set of shelves for the lounge arrived, December 29 (while I assembled the shelves today, that project isn’t done yet; stay tuned for all the exciting developments). The only real prep work I did was too carefully unroll the old posters and lay them flat, face down, one on top of the other, with a white sheet I bought to use as a photo backdrop under, between, and on top of them. Then I put weight on them and left them overnight.

The next day, I placed them in their frames, carefully pressing the torn part of the Close Encounters poster down, then carried them into the hallway. I measured “carefully”, screwed up and had to move them down, but the end result was almost exactly where I wanted them. They’re deliberately a little bit high so that it’s possible to read the small print at the bottom of all three posters.

That meant that something I’d wanted to do since I moved in—hang all three movie posters together—was done. More importantly, something that I’d wanted to do for some 37 years was finally done, too. I really wanted to do that while Nigel was alive, but I just never got around to it, as with so many other things one or the other of us never got to do. This achievement, then, may seem small, and even unimportant, however, the impact on me has been giant, both because it was a desire I held onto for so very long, but also because what I’d once thought of as tangible evidence that I would return to New Zealand to live with Nigel, instead became tangible evidence that I’m taking steps to live without Nigel. Small, unimportant achievement? Hardly.

And that’s the story of how such a small project became so massive in the way it affected me. Now, I just have to finish hanging other stuff in the hallway, too (after nearly two years in this house, it’s definitely time). But none of them will matter as much to me as this little project did. It turned out to be a great final project to end the year.

Footnote: I wasn’t compensated in any way to promote the framing company, and I paid normal prices for my frames and shipping. My genuine and sincerely held opinion is that their service—and customer service in particular—was absolutely stellar. I expect I’ll use them again.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Weekend Diversion: The Kid LAROI

It’s not everyday that a blog post is inspired by a comment on a different blog post. It could be, but commenting on blogs is becoming rarer, so those posts are rarer still. Even so, this is such a post, and it's the perfect reason to re-re-start my Weekend Diversion posts.

Last month, I published a post with year-end pop music mashups and said that one mashup had more of some artists, who I named, than the other one did. Specifically, I wrote: “…The Kid Laroi (who I think is exceptionally interesting—which really ought to be the subject of a post)”. That led Roger Green to comment, “Ask Arthur Anything: which one is The Kid Laroi?” This post, then is the response—and the perfect excuse to re-re-start Weekend Diversion posts about music.

So: The Kid Laroi (often styled as “The Kid LAROI”) is the stage name for Australian singer, rapper, and songwriter, Charlton Kenneth Jeffrey Howard. At the ripe old age of 18, he’s quickly making a name for himself in pop music.

Now based in Los Angeles, he was born in the New South Wales town of Waterloo in 2003, and is of Aboriginal ancestry through his great great grandfather, who was part of The Stolen Generation. The stage name "Laroi" is a reference to his heritage, and that he is Kamilaroi (or Gamilaraay). At one point very early in his career he was referred to as “Charlton Laroi”.

I first came across him on one of our video music channels. The song (Fair warning: All songs in this post have “naughty words”) was “Go” (video above). The song was recorded in August 2019, when Laroi was 15-16. The song and video were released in June 2020, which is when I saw it.

The song itself (which Laroi wrote) featured American rapper Juice Wrld, who had been a mentor to Laroi, who considered him his “big brother”. Parts of the video were filmed when they were in Greece, and Juice makes a reference to missing Laroi’s 16th birthday party, and how he was going to give him a verse “worth $200,000”. Laroi incorporated that verse into the song.

When I saw the video, my first thought was something like, “this song’s certainly different to everything else at the moment”, and it was. I started to research the song for a Weekend Diversion post that never was, and that’s when I found out that Juice Wrld died in December 2019, not even a week after his 21st birthday (and also four months after the initial recording of “Go” and six months before it was released). The opening shot of the video is a visual reference to Juice recording his verse.

The song was the most popular in Australia, where it hit 23 (Platinum). It also reached 40 in Canada (Platinum), 32 in New Zealand, 43 in the UK (Silver), and 52 on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100” (and also 22 on their “Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs” chart). The song reached Platinum status in the USA. Overall, the song was on around 10 music charts around the world (watch this stat in particular for the other two songs).

The next song that I knew about, also through the music video channel, was “Without You”, originally released in December, 2020:

Like “Go”, this song (which Laroi also wrote) was again different from other songs at the time, and it was the point where I began to think that this guy had real potential to hit it big. This wasn’t me making some sort of clinical assessment of the song, it was just kind of a sense of what was possible based on what else was being done in pop music as well as the merits of the song itself.

I felt somewhat vindicated by the chart performance: The song hit Number 1 in Australia (5x Platinum), 7 in Canada (2x Platinum), 8 in New Zealand (Platinum), 2 in the UK (Platinum), and it hit 8 on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100” (2x Platinum). All up, it made it on to approximately 42 music charts around the world.

There was also a remix with Miley Cyrus [LISTEN] released in April 2021, but I don’t care for it. Even so, it wasn’t unusual for Laroi to do collaborations with other artists, and the next song for this post was another—and far better—collaboration:

The song is called “Stay”, and it’s a collaboration with Justin Bieber (another one of several pop music artists who I feel don’t get the recognition or respect they deserve). To me, this song is arguably far more pop than R&B, but that’s absolutely not a criticism—I love pop music in all its many-faceted glory (I’ve seen this style referred to as “hip pop”, which seems fair). The song is undeniably catchy and its fast tempo is perfect for dance clubs (or, maybe, playing while cleaning the house, even; I’ll have to try that). To be fair, I have a very, very long love affair with synth pop, so I was probably predisposed to like the song. Laroi wrote this song, too, and among his collaborators were Bieber and also Charlie Puth, yet another artist I’d add to the list of underappreciated folks in pop music.

I wasn’t the only one who liked this song: It was a huge hit. The song hit Number 1 in Australia (5x Platinum), 1 in Canada, 1 in New Zealand (2x Platinum), 2 in the UK (5x Platinum), and Number 1 on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100” (3x Platinum). The song was on around 68 music charts around the world.

I think that these three songs show that The Kid LAROI is willing to try different things, different song structures, arrangements, tempos—in short, he’s willing to create. I think that’s a great place for any pop artist to start. I also think that the fact his chart performance has been rising suggests he has staying power. Personally, I’ll be interested to see whether he follows a purely pop route or sticks more to his R&B origins. Either way, there could be some really interesting songs and collaborations for a future Weekend Diversion post.

Whatever happens, it’ll be for a future post. In the meantime, there are plenty of pop artists I think are interesting, and if I keep making offhand remarks about artists, like I did in that mashup post, I’ll probably have plenty of subjects in the future. Right now, though, it’s nice to return to a “familiar old friend” sort of post. Maybe I needed a Weekend Diversion, too.

Footnote: I always leave posts to "rest" after I finish them, and then come back to give them another read before posting (and sometimes I even catch typos!). Just before I headed back to the computer to finalise this post, I turned on the hits-oriented music video channel that gave rise to most of my Weekend Diversion posts over the past couple years. The first song that came on: "Stay".

New year ordinary to not ordinary

While everyone I know in the USA was hours away from the arrival of 2022, I was getting up in my first morning of the year. I bet some people I know in this part of the world may have been nursing sore heads, but I wasn’t (though perhaps not for lack of trying?). Instead, I was wiped out because I was up way too late the night before. I’d gotten into a video spiral, watching all sorts, one leading to another, as they do, until before I knew it—well, let’s just say it was extraordinarily late, even for me. In truth, though, apart from degree/scale, it was all pretty ordinary for me.

The first thing I encountered on New Year’s Day was a news alert that Betty White had died. Every morning, I pick up my iPad to check my emails, Facebook, etc., and I have certain news alerts set to show on the lock screen so I can get a sort of quick briefing. This wasn’t the first time that I saw, before anything else, an alert about the death of someone famous. Sometimes, when I’ve opened Facebook, I've found out that someone I knew personally had died. All that’s because of the timezone thing, which makes my life forever out of sync with the USA, and Europe, too, for that matter. This, too, was pretty ordinary.

The rest of the day, however, was definitely not ordinary: I was too tired to do much of anything, so I didn’t. I wasn’t clear enough in the head to write a blog post or record a podcast episode—though I thought about doing both. Instead, I just cleared out the temporary computer folders I use for the blog, made sure everything was backed-up, and then set up my folders for 2022. Not exciting, but still necessary—and it meant I felt I’d actually accomplished something that day, small though it was. Needing to accomplish something every day is also pretty ordinary for me.

My New Year’s is mainly about contemplating the non-ordinary: What do I want to DO in the newly-minted year? I begin thinking about that in December, and by my birthday, three weeks into the new year, I pretty much have my goals worked out, and some (possibly still vague) plans in place.

As I often say, I never make New Year’s Resolutions because I feel it sets us up to fail, and when that happens (probably inevitably), people often give up on all their resolutions. Seems kind of pointless to me.

Instead, I begin with some unformed ideas about what I’d like to do/accomplish in the New Year. Lose weight? Sure. Travel? That’d be nice—in New Zealand, though: Even if the borders do open up, I’m not going overseas this year. Too risky. And, of course, my biggest goal of the year is the same as it’s been for nearly two years: Get my house settled and organised, and, on from that, my life.

HOW, exactly, I do accomplish those things, including timelines and specific goals/steps? Those are things I haven’t worked out (that’s what the first three weeks of each year are about). This year, however, I’m planning on something very different and very much not ordinary for me: I’m going back to my olden days.

Thirty years ago, when I was a grassroots LGBT+ activist in Chicago, I was organised—I had to be because I had so much going on. Back in 2015, I wrote about how I organised my efforts back in the day. I said:
I’m at a point in my life that I need to become better organised, not because I’m as busy as I was more than two decades ago (I’m not), nor because I think being organised is some sort of virtue in itself (I’m undecided about that…). Instead, it’s because my memory has become bad enough that if I don’t write things down, I don’t have any hope of staying on target for various projects, even relatively small ones.
In the years since, much has changed, but the things I talked about in that post haven’t—especially the very thing that led me to look at reviving/adapting my old system, my bad memory. I constantly forget to do things, and that slows down many of my projects. For example, even when it was possible to do so, I kept forgetting to ring the movers to come and pick up the last load of moving boxes, and I also kept forgetting to order the bin for secure document destruction. But the bigger problem isn’t just that too many things slip my mind, or that projects take too long because of that, it’s that it takes a LOT of mental energy to try to remember things that I wouldn’t actually have to remember if I had a system to keep track of everything.

I found a way to stay on track with an important thing: Taking my daily my medication. Nearly a year ago, I wrote about using Apple’s “Reminders” App to remind me to take my medication, especially because at the time I had to take pills twice a day and sometimes simply forgot one. I still use that system (though now only once a day), and I also now use it to remind me to do something in particular on a particular day. If I set a deadline for the reminder, then alerts from the App stay on the lock screen of my phone until I deal with them. Very handy—but not as useful for managing projects, which usually have many steps, often with sub-tasks and varying deadlines.

I tried using Apps I already have to manage my household projects, but that failed. Basically, I listed tasks and sub-tasks—and then never looked at it again (that’s actually the same problem I was having with paper-based reminder notes, “to do” lists, and the like). I don’t know that there’s a practical (for me) solution to that problem, but it’s no excuse to avoid doing anything.

I decided that this year I’m going to give paper-based systems a fair trial. What will make it work this time when it never has before? No idea. In fact, it might fail yet again. Still, I’ve got to find a way to get my life back under control, and this feels like a part of the way I can do that. However, whether it succeeds or fails, I’ll document the process here on the blog. After all, in a sense what I’m talking about is just another project—“one project to rule them all”, comes to mind.

Despite touching on things I’ve tried or even used in the past, this is still new and uncharted territory for me—or, it may as well be. At the very least, whether it's all a success or failure, it’ll still give me things to blog about. Something ordinary from something not ordinary. Typical for me, really.