Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Hidden stories

Photos aren’t always what they seem, with hidden or unspoken stories behind them. Maybe the stories are revealed, or maybe they’re not, but the story remains there either way. The photo above is an example of that.

The photo of Leo up top is something I posted to my personal Facebook a week ago last night. I wrote, “Watching YouTube videos, as one does, and Leo says, “Oy, what about ME?!” And so it is.” While the specific motivation was that he looked cute, which isn’t unusual for him, of course, but there’s a story I never mentioned at the time—or in the week since. This post, then, is about the missing story.

Tuesday of last week was an awful day for me (because, reasons), so by the evening all I wanted to do was to watch some TV, then catch up on the YouTube Channels I subscribe to. I decided to watch the fourth season premier of a New Zealand-made reality show called “The Casketeers”, which is about Tipene Funerals (the series is on Netflix now, apparently). I’ve watched the show from the beginning because it’s just plain nice, and not merely entertaining.

What I’ve particularly liked about the series is the kindness and respect shown by the Tipenes and their staff, like, for example, they always talk of the deceased person as being in their care. I’ve learned so much about rituals and practices of Pacific peoples in particular, and I also learned more about Māori beliefs and practices, all wrapped up with their kindness and respect for the families, as well as a gentle, respectful way of teaching the rest of us. It’s extremely well done—and, I should add, it’s often very funny, especially because Francis Tipene (the husband) is a character, and the dynamic with his wife, Kaiora, is as entertaining as you’ll find on any general light entertainment reality show—and that’s a good thing, by the way.

I admit, I wasn’t sure I could still watch the series after Nigel died, for obvious reasons, but it turned out that I could, and it was actually oddly comforting. I definitely see or react to some things in the show differently now than before, but the feels have always been good—until that night.

One of the people in their care was brought to a Baptist church in Auckland for her funeral, and they first brought her into a side chapel so that the family could have some private time to say goodbye. Off camera, they removed the lid and put it aside, and later the camera showed the lid, which was plain MDF (may have been an unlined underside, I don’t know). The family had written all sorts of messages on it, which was one of the things Nigel told me he wanted for his funeral (in his case, it was all over the outside).

When I saw that scene, I fucking lost it. I positively wailed, something that hasn’t happened to me in I don’t know how long—a very long time, though. Leo was out of my sight at the time, but he heard me, came near me and looked at me with a kind of puzzled look that dogs sometimes get. He trotted off to the back of the house where he’d left his toy bone, trotted back to me, jumped up in my lap, and started gnawing on the toy. He’d stop every now and then, look back at me, and he’d flop against me. I heard somewhere that when a dog leans into a person, it’s their version of a hug. At that moment, it certainly felt like one.

Leo’s never really paid all that much attention to me when I cried, but this time he did. Maybe he’d sensed that I was feeling off that day, maybe it’s because it’s been a long time since I had a breakdown, I don’t know, but this time, when it did the most good, he was there.

He stayed near me the rest of the evening, and later on, when I was watching YouTube videos, he jumped onto the sofa, which is next to my chair, and played with his toys, stopping sometimes to just watch me. He looked so adorable that I had to take the photo above.

That night, he slept laying against me all night long, something he hadn’t done for a few weeks (lately, he’s been laying against me in the mornings rather than all night). It could’ve just been coincidence, but I was glad all the same.

I have no idea why that one brief scene in a TV show that I like set me off like an emotional rocket, but it did. Maybe it was because I’d had such a shitty day, maybe it was just something that was overdue and bound to happen sooner or later, anyway—and I did feel better afterward.

I’ve often said that kindness toward others ought to be our default position because we can never know what someone else may be going through silently. I definitely try to practice what I preach, but sometimes the best way to reinforce my message is to share an example of what I’m talking about. That night last week, I shared a cute photo of Leo, but there was a then-secret reason why I took that photo, and it’s exactly the sort of hidden thing I’m talking about.

That night I had a bad patch (for whatever reason), and Leo was especially cute and lovable, possibly because of it, but appreciated regardless. I’m fine now, of course—I was fine after the “storm” ended. But I’m happy to report that Leo is still cute and lovable every day, if maybe a bit less attentive overall than he was that night.

This is was a story that was hidden in a photo of Leo, one not so very different from lots of photos I’ve taken of him, or of any of the other furbabies over the years. Even so, the hidden story is precisely what made it different from so many of those earlier photos. Not for the first time, no one would know the truth if I didn’t say something, but withholding truth isn’t how I’ve approached this whole journey up until now; I see no reason to change that.

Photos aren’t always what they seem, nor is what people convey and project in person. There may be hidden or unspoken stories behind them, and I believe we ought to be mindful and act with kindness toward others. Maybe the hidden stories are revealed, or maybe they’re not, but what happens may be influenced in part on how we treat those with hidden stories. The photo above is a simple example of how that works in real life, and this post supplies the hidden story.

Unusually, it seems, this post began life as something that I never posted to Facebook: I wrote the first draft a week ago today, intending to post it to my personal Facebook, but I changed my mind and decided it would be better as a blog post—again, “because, reasons”. And yes, there’s a hidden story there, too. Maybe that’s for another day.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Catching up on the little there is

This will come as a shocking revelation, I know, and I apologise for that, but openness is important, so, here goes: I’ve had a lot of trouble blogging lately. Technically, it’s not trouble with blogging as such—after all, in recent weeks I’ve posted several things on my personal Facebook that are, essentially, blog posts. In fact, my two most recent blogs posts (“Puzzle pieces”, and the one before that, “A mini-adventure”) began that way. Plenty of others over the past couple months were at least sparked by something I posted on Facebook.

This has come about, not for the first time, because of a sort of generalised ennui and malaise, which is also nothing new. I can’t point to a specific reason, though at one point I thought I might’ve caught the plague (I didn’t), but it affects me in precisely the way it has before: If I don’t write and publish a post in the daytime, it’s usually unlikely to happen that day.

This mainly means that there are a lot of things that I may talk about on Facebook, but not here, but it really means that there are a lot of things that I may talk about at all. I have some more Facebook-birthed posts I may get around to re-doing for the blog (as always, maybe…), but there are relevant things to talk about in the meantime, starting with updates on what I’m doing, or not doing, as the case may be.

This past weekend was the four-day Easter holiday weekend in New Zealand, and that included two of three and a half days a year when most shops must close: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The shopping ban is why I went on my mini-adventure, but it otherwise doesn’t usually affect me much.

Still, I planned around the bans, and didn’t plan on going anywhere that weekend. Because I didn’t have any special plans, I thought it would be a great time to work on stuff in the house, especially clearing out/organising my office, something I’ve nicknamed “The Project From Hell”. As so often happens, things didn’t quite work out that way.

I was extremely tired already when the weekend began, but when I looked out my front window, I saw that the weeds were again sending up their seed stalks: The lawns needed to by mowed again. That became my main project for Sunday, and I did nothing on The Project From Hell that day.

To be clear, I have made progress on the project, just not nearly as much as I would’ve liked: It “should” have been finished by now. I found out, first, that a lot of the stuff in my office actually belongs in it, and wasn’t just stuff I dumped there as I thought when I mentioned the project in a post at the start of this month. The fact that the stuff actually mostly belongs in my office means that I have to find somewhere to put it (after reaffirming that I still actually want/need it), and that made it into a bigger project than I expected.

I went through and reorganised boxes, repacking what I really wanted to keep, recycling some stuff, putting aside some stuff to be shredded, and throwing away the tiny amount that couldn’t be recycled or shredded. This is a subject in itself, too, but the thing that’s relevant to this post is that the work’s very slow, time consuming, and unbelievably boring.

Once I finally finish all that sorting/evaluation/pretending it doesn’t exist and doing other things, the actual reorganising of my office wardrobe will begin. To do that, I’ve long planned on putting a wardrobe organising system in the wardrobe (and the wardrobe of my guest bedroom), like I’ve done in the two houses Nigel and I shared before I moved to this one. It’s basically like the shelves I put in the kitchen, except with wire shelves instead of solid ones (for air flow), and it has a rod for hanging clothes. I bought two sets of shelving using reward points (and some cash), choosing a different system than I put in the kitchen because I had some spare shelves from the set I put in the master wardrobe in our house before the last one.

That’s a straightforward and fairly easy project for me, however, that doesn’t mean it’s simple.

The builder put in one single shelf in each of the two wardrobes, and they’re screwed to some wood attached to the walls on three sides. The hanging rods are all heavy metal pipes in brackets. To get a shelf out, I first have to remove the screws, all of which have been painted over. Then, I have to figure out how the wood shelf supports are attached to the walls, and then I need to remove them. This will almost certainly damage the walls, which I’m certain weren’t painted before the wood and shelves were installed.

Once I get the old shelves and their support out, I’ll need to patch the walls, prime those repairs, and then paint. I have everything I need to do all that—though finding the patching compound did delay this awhile, because, once again, I’d put it “somewhere safe, where I can find it”. However, the paint I have may not precisely match the white of the existing paint, so I’ll paint the entire inside of the wardrobes, which will (or, should…) make any imprecise colour match pretty much unnoticeable.

THEN I can install the new shelving systems. Sigh.

So: Take the tediousness of going through everything, the extra work I’ll have to do to prepare the wardrobe before I can install the new shelving, mix in that generalised ennui and malaise, and season generously with IDGAF, and the result is that not much has happened with The Project From Hell, and it’s also basically why nothing much us happening with this blog, either (I kinda don't want to even go in my office). Even so, some progress has definitely been made on the project, and I have posted some things here on the blog.

This weekend is another holiday weekend: The Anzac Day public holiday is on Monday, and up until 1pm is the half-day trading ban. Again, that doesn't really affect me, not the least because I don’t have anything planned for that trading ban public holiday, either. Maybe I can squeeze in some attention for things I want to work on. For a change.

There are other bits and pieces I could’ve mentioned, of course, including some more Facebook-born stuff, and maybe I’ll get to that. For now, though, that’s me catching up on the little there is that’s been going on.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Puzzle pieces

For the past month, most of my FB “Memories” have been about the original Covid Lockdown, or other things about Covid. This makes sense: It’s certainly dominated the news over the past two years, and especially this time in 2020. So, it was nice to see a FB “Memory” about ordinary life, as I did a couple days ago (image above).

The “Memory” is basically about enjoying the fact that Nigel was taking his annual leave, and we would’ve spent it at home. We seldom went away on holiday, except maybe for a weekend to visit family. Mostly, Nigel just preferred to stay home, what Americans nicknamed a “staycation”, because he just wanted to relax and decompress from his intense, stressful job. The furbabies and I loved having him home.

Nigel and I spent nearly all of our spare time together, and he started working from home (like me) more and more as the years passed. We both loved having the other one around, and no, for Nigel it wasn’t just so I could make him cups of tea! At least, I don’t think it was…

What was so great about the “staycation” thing is that we’d go out for lunch, maybe wander around the shops a bit, or maybe go for drive. Or, we might just watch a movie at home. Just nice, relaxing stuff done together.

People think that mourning the death of a spouse is about missing them being around, but that’s only one part of it. It’s also about losing the shared way of life, the day-to-day ordinariness, our shared past, and everything that could’ve been our future, together. Mourning the death of a spouse is an enormous thing precisely because it’s so enormous.

Little memories, like the one FB served up today, are, by themselves, just nice, sweet memories of good times. But they’re also a piece of the puzzle that is our life, a puzzle that now has too many missing pieces to ever be completed in a way that even remotely resembles the picture on the metaphorical box, the image we had of what our lives were going to look like.

But we all change our lives all the time, don’t we? When I was a little boy, I was sure I was going to be a preacher like my dad and his dad, then some years later I was going to be an archeologist, then, a few years later still, a politician—all of which is hilarious to me now. Instead, I constantly revised my path to take advantage of opportunities, to achieve goals, and then to build a life with Nigel in a different country located far away and in the two opposite hemispheres from everything I’d ever known. That wasn’t merely the biggest decision I’ve ever made, though, it was also the direct and logical result of literally everything that happened in my life leading up to the point at which I made my choice. The pieces of the puzzle of my life, it turned out, connected seamlessly with Nigel’s own puzzle.

These days, I’m in a state of flux, once again revising my path to take advantage of opportunities, to achieve goals, and to again build a life, one without Nigel. I make lots of mistakes, I frustrate or disappoint myself all the time, and sometimes I even make myself angry at myself—exactly like I did all those years ago.

My original path led me to the best life, better than I could possibly have imagined. Maybe that’ll happen again, maybe it won’t, but as I work to assemble the new puzzle, I keep finding pieces from the old one, and it turns out that they all fit into this new one. I don’t know what this puzzle’s going to look like because the metaphorical box has no picture—and I now realise, it never did.

Funny the things a thirteen year old memory can spark, like seeing the entire puzzle, and not just the areas where nothing seems to fit. This piece did fit, though, and that’s how puzzles are completed: One piece at a time.

Those staycations were truly awesome, though.

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook on April 16.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A mini-adventure

I went on a mini-adventure yesterday: I went to a neighbourhood shopping area a relatively short drive from my house, closer than the big name places I normally go to, and with far less traffic and congestion on the roads—even at the end of the school day, it turned out. I didn’t know all that because I’d never spent any time in that area before. It proved educational in a lot of ways.

It all started because I wanted to pick up some chicken for tonight (I’m making my own-style chicken stir fry; “own-style” means not a recipe as such, just a bit of this, a bit of that, whatever I have that I feel like putting in it). I could’ve gone to a supermarket, but the Thursday before Easter is usually crazy busy (the shops are all closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as they are every year, and yet somehow masses of people manage to forget that—every year—and mob supermarkets).

It made me wonder if there was butcher shop near me, since all I wanted was chicken, and it turned out there’s a fairly large one in an area of Hamilton called Nawton. I didn’t know there were many shops in that area (because I hadn’t been there), but I knew it wasn’t exactly an upmarket part of town. Still, I don’t let that stop me (not in daylight, anyway), so off I went.

It was really well-stocked with diverse cuts, including cheaper things like bacon bones, brisket, and large bags of frozen chicken drumsticks, for example. The prices seemed pretty good, but I wasn’t certain because prices for meat and vegetables have soared in recent weeks, and I no longer have any idea what supermarkets charge for the same things. However, I noticed that they seemed to pack most things into packages priced at $15, and some packs were marked as “bargain packs” at $13.99 (same use by date). Personally, I’d find that easy for budgeting. As A result, I bought a little more than I’d intended. [I later did a price comparison, which is at the bottom of this post]

The same little shopping area has some food places (like a sushi shop), a branch of a Waikato-based bottle shop (“liquor store” in Americanese), a pub/cafe-ish looking place (it had a “gaming lounge”, which might influence the clientele they get), and it also had the Nawton branch of Countdown (I forgot there was one), and a small independent food store (“supermarket” doesn’t seem like the best term for it).

I plan to go back again, on a less busy day, at least to go back to the butchers, but I’d also like to look around the Nawton Countdown, too (the one I usually go to sometimes tries my patience…). So, when I need my next supermarket trip (next week or the week after), I think I’ll go there, maybe have some sushi for lunch, too. I like supporting local businesses, especially independent ones, so I’m willing to give it a go.

I guess more mini-adventures await.

A footnote: Price comparisons

Today, I decided to compare the prices I paid at the butcher with what two supermarkets charge, so I went to the websites for both Countdown and New World and tried to match same to same. The short version is that in every case, I paid less at the butcher than the current non-discounted prices at the two supermarkets [Important note: Supermarket prices were accurate at the time I checked, but they may change quickly. Also, in the case of some prices for Countdown, I had to work out the unit price because the supermarket didn’t provide that information, displaying only the price for a small pack. I may have made errors in those calculations, but I doubt it]. One kilogram (kg) = 2.2 US pounds, and today 1 NZ dollar equals around 68 US cents. 

Chicken: I bought boneless/skinless chicken breasts and thighs, and both were free range. At the butcher, the breasts were $13.99 per kilogram, at Countdown it was $18/kg, and New World charged $24.99/kg. The thighs were $17.99/kg at the butcher, 25/kg at Countdown, and $22.48/kg at New World.

Premium Beef Mince: This is the top-of-the-line sort of beef mince (“ground beef” in Americanese), with the lowest percentage of fat. I paid $19.78/kg at the butcher. Countdown didn’t have premium beef mince available on its site, but New World charged $24.99/kg.

All three suppliers sold basic versions of the meats (in this case, meaning non-freerange), though I had to look at the butcher’s website to find out their price for ordinary versions. Chicken breast: $13.99/kg at the butcher, $12.90/kg at Countdown, and $11.99/kg at New World (the price listed at the butcher is the same as free range chicken breast—maybe that’s all they offered at the moment?). Chicken thigh: $16.99/kg at the butcher, $22/kg at Countdown, and $22.99/kg at New World. Beef mince: $13.99/kg at the butcher, $14.90/kg at Countdown, and $14.99/kg at New World.

All up, the directly comparable products were usually considerably less expensive at the butcher, and, with the possible exception of chicken breast, the prices for non-freerange products were also cheaper at the butcher. It’s important to note, however, that supermarket specials, promotions, and package deals (like Countdown’s “3 for $20” offerings) can make supermarket prices competitive with the butcher’s prices (putting aside issues of personal preference).

The lesson I take from this is that if I’m not making a special trip, it probably makes sense for me to buy meat from the butcher, but it would probably erase all or most of the savings if I wasn’t buying other things at that shopping centre, too, especially because I eat very little meat. If I was feeding a family—or even two people—it would make more sense to make a special trip. Still, other shops in that shopping area may provide the rest of what I need in a routine shopping trip, and, if so, it could be worth stopping at the butcher, maybe stocking up and freezing stuff.

As it happens, I’ve been researching budgeting for food as a single person, and that’ll be the subject of an upcoming blog post. This turned out to help with that research. Not bad for an unplanned mini-adventure.

This post began life as something I posted to my personal Facebook yesterday, but this blog post is greatly expanded from that, including the price comparisons.

Friday, April 08, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 364 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 364, “Changes all around”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. A list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Jake would've been fifteen

Yesterday would’ve been Jake’s fifteenth birthday, but his fourteenth turned out to be his last. Jake died here at home a bit more than five months later, only about a week and a half before the second anniversary of us losing Nigel.

The the photo at left is from Jake’s fourteenth birthday last year, and what strikes me about it is that he’s as subdued as Sunny was in the photo on what turned out to be her last birthday, her twelfth. That’s coincidence—it was often not easy to capture a photo of either unless they were laying down. However, both were unwell when I took their last birthday photos, and both were already in their final decline, so capturing a subdued moment was probably most likely for both.

Over the past three years, I’ve endured a constant parade of loss, what I referred to in February last year as “a Danse Macabre”. The first to leave was Bella, a loss I was really sad about. Then Nigel’s death ripped everything apart, especially me. Sunny stayed with us nearly a year and a half afterward, and Jake left about seven months after her. Throw a global pandemic into this mix, and sometimes even I’m amazed—or shocked, sometimes—that I’ve managed to survive.

All of this loss has definitely held me back and made it impossible to truly move forward, or to find a new life without Nigel. So, when I say I’m stubborn, I’m absolutely not joking, as the evidence of my continued existence proves.

But I do miss Jake. And Sunny. And Bella. And, obviously, Nigel most of all. I think Leo does, too, and that’s been on my mind lately.

Leo still sniffs Sunny and Jake’s collars, Sunny’s especially (they were best friends), but recently something odd happened: He started standing at the baby gate I put up to keep the dogs from running to the front door. Then, he’d cry softly, the same way he does when his ball rolls under the sofa, or when he wants to go outside. But there was nothing in the entryway that was even remotely related to any of that, and I hadn’t changed anything in that area for months. What was up?

I lifted Leo up and let him sniff around, but he didn’t seem fixated on any one thing. That didn’t stop his crying, so I again carried him to the entryway. I had him sniff the harness I bought for him, something I hung on the coat tree in the entryway. Maybe he’d seen it, I thought, but he wasn’t remotely interested—but he still wanted something.

The only thing I could see was another dog lead, the one I used to take Jake to the vet the day before he died, though I could've used it for Sunny at some point, too (I had two that were identical, so I probably mixed them up frequently, for all I know). Was that it? It’s been there since that day last September—why now?!

I had no other ideas, so I took the lead into the house and put it on a low shelf where Leo could sniff it—and he now does that several times a week, sometimes several times in a day. He also hasn’t cried at that gate even once since I put the lead within sniffing distance.

Then yesterday, another oddity: I was in the bedroom folding washing, and Leo was there—until he disappeared. I walked past the door to the en suite and saw Leo in there, staring at the toilet roll holder.

For many years, right up until many of her teeth were removed, Sunny used to steal the toilet toll from the holder and pull out the cardboard core, which she’d eat (she never ate the paper, but she left a shredded paper mess for us to clean up). Nigel and I started putting the toilet roll on the cistern when we went out, but Sunny still tried to get it. To stop that, we put empty cores on the floor below the toilet roll holder, which Sunny would grab and chew up. I dubbed it her “tasty, tasty snack”, and Nigel and both thought it was weird behaviour, but funny.

A little while after I’d caught Leo looking at the toilet roll, and thought about how odd it was that he did that, I remembered Sunny and her tasty, tasty snacks. Leo then walked into the en suite, and he looked again at the toilet roll holder. I had an empty toilet roll core that I hadn’t yet put into the recycling bin, and I gave it to Leo, who grabbed it and ran to the front of the house, tail happily wagging.

Before Sunny got sick, she and Leo both got toilet roll cores—Jake was never the least bit interested. However, Leo’s shown no interest in them ever since Sunny could no longer chew the cores and they both stopped getting them.

Again, why now? Why not months ago? And what was up with the toilet roll core obsession yesterday? I don’t know, of course, but I wonder if maybe he’s mourning Sunny and Jake. I know the feeling, obviously, so it’s logical to think I could be projecting; I just don’t think I am.

All of that’s been on my mind the past few days, starting with thinking about Jake and his birthday, and on to all the thoughts that go with that. Mainly, I just miss the family I lost, and I really do feel that Leo does, too. Jake’s birthday is what sparked all these thoughts for me, and while I have no certainty about what’s sparked Leo’s recent behaviour, mourning is as plausible an explanation as any. It’s also good for both of us that we still have each other.

Related posts:
Jake is 14 – What turned out to be his last birthday
Jake is 13
Jake is 12
Jake is 11
Jake is TEN
Jake is 9
Jake is 8
Jake is 7
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival
All posts mentioning Jake

Sunday, April 03, 2022

The second annual April 3 lawn mowing

The Facebook “Memories” served up to me this week have been find of funny/odd. Three different times it served up “Memories” of things I’d posted in the past, and then repeated this week. Most of the time, I get “Memories” that aren’t worth sharing, but it’s not often I get so many revisited things so close to each other

This past Tuesday, the “Memory” was about the time I took my mother-in-law to a Japanese restaurant near our house on Auckland’s North Shore, and that same day six years later I went out for lunch with her, my brother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law, and we went to a (really nice) Japanese restaurant here in Hamilton.

A couple days later it was a post from four years ago, where I shared a Cher meme about changing our clocks (New Zealand went back to NZ Standard Time at 3am last night, or this morning, depending on how you view such things).

Today, it turned out to be that I mowed the lawns this same date last year (which was a Saturday, of course, and we also changed our clocks at 3am that night (or the following morning, depending on how you view such things). As it happens, I was planning on mowing my lawns today, too—is this now an annual thing? Maybe it could be part of an all-new Season of Anniversaries?

That’s where the coincidences ended, and today’s adventure was a bit more challenging that last year’s was. In fact, it was much more difficult.

I was mowing the lawns today because it was a few days overdue. I couldn’t be bothered mowing last week, when I should’ve (I did other things), and it was becoming fairly urgent: The weed paspalum was sending up spikes for its seedheads, and it made the lawns look particularly untidy.

The problem with paspalum is that the stalks for the seedheads are generally low to the ground, and also springy, so the mower doesn’t always chop it off at the ground. So, I often have to go over the same plant two, three, even four times to finally get the stalks chopped off.

So, mowing the weed patch—sorry, “lawns”—took a *LOT* of effort. That fancy new battery I bought for the mower at the end last year ran out of power with about 20-ish minutes of mowing to go, the first time that’s ever happened with that fancy new battery. It was interesting to me because it ran out of juice at roughly the same area where the older battery used to die, and that happened often as the lawns thickened over time, which is why I bought the fancy new battery. I hope this isn’t the way of the future, but if it is, I have the old battery to ensure I can finish the lawns once I start.

When I was done, and put the fancy new battery on to charge, I drank a lost of water and grabbed an old towel to wipe up my sweat. Then, I stood in front of the air conditioner for a bit, and went to sit down in my chair to rest a bit—all of which is my usual post-mowing routine in summer. I gradually cooled down, and decided to go have a shower, so I started to stand up—and things didn’t go well.

Neither of my legs seemed like they’d be able to support me: The calves of both felt like they were cramping, and a couple times I thought they might give way. I hobbled out into the kitchen, and drank some more water, and then I grabbed an open bag of potato chips from the pantry. At the time, I was craving potato choips, and it occurred to me that maybe I’d sweat a lot more than I’d realised, and I was low in salt.

When I was a kid, on very hot days my mother would make me drink a small glass of water with some salt in it. She said it would help prevent heat stroke (though I had no idea what that was back then—I was probably like five or six at the time). She also said it would prevent muscles cramping from me overheating.

So, with that childhood memory, combined the fact that I almost always give in to food cravings (because they’re quite rare for me, and I figure that when I get one my body is trying to tell me it needs something in that food), I sat down with a more water and that bag of chips. A little while later, I did, in fact, feel better, though my legs were still stiff, pretty much until I was done with my shower.

Nothing like that has happened to me in the two years I’ve been mowing my lawns, though my lower back has started to hurt more frequently by the time I get to the end of the job. I think that’s mostly because I need to lose weight: I’m carrying too much belly fat. But that weird, weak-legged, nearly crampy feeling? Never had anything like that happen before.

So, I think the next mowing related thing I need to do is find a water bottle holder I can clip onto my lawn mower’s handle. That’d be a very good idea, especially for the summer. And, I need to lose weight to help my back. Adulting is bloody hard work!

And that’s been my coincidental week of “Memories” that turned out to be different, though similar, this week. The mowing one was the most different of all.

I hope next week’s “Memories” are much tamer.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Let’s talk about tech, baby…

Over the past year, I’ve upgraded several of my personal tech items, things I use every day. Sometimes they come up in later posts, but one came up only after the fact. I decided to review where this is all at, and what I think about everything now I’ve actually used it.

First, a bit of preface: I’ve been replacing my everyday tech in order to get ready for retirement in a couple years, since it’ll be prudent to watch my money carefully. By replacing everything now, I should be able to stagger future upgrades, especially since some of these recent replacements will be good for many, many years to come.

Here are all the things I upgraded, in the order they arrived.

Mac Mini – February, 2021: I bought this (photo in the original post) mainly because I no longer needed the portability of my MacBook Pro (MBP), and because I was frustrated by the MBP’s limitations, especially, not enough internal storage space, but also the lack of ports to connect things I often need, such as, a slot for a MicroSD storage card (like a camera uses), or to plug in my external keyboard. I needed to buy a dock, commonly called a dongle (which annoys me*), in order to fix both problems.

When I bought my Mac Mini, I upgraded it, something I couldn’t do with my MacBook Pro (if I’d been more patient, and ordered it directly from Apple, I could’ve, and I might not have needed the Mac Mini, at least, not so soon). However, the Mac Mini has the same problem: Far too few ports to plug devices into, so I had to get a dock for that, too. All Apple computers currently have a major anti-consumer flaw: Memory and internal storage are soldered onto the motherboard and cannot be upgraded later. However, as various countries and the European Union look to pass “right to repair” legislation, Apple is starting to take some tentative steps toward not treating their customers with quite so much contempt. We’ll see.

In any event, the Mac Mini is truly awesome: It’s fast, responsive (not necessarily the same thing) and silent, all of which are very good things. My MBP was, at the time I bought it, the same (though not as quiet), however, the Mac Mini with Apple Silicon M1 Processor is dramatically faster. My only complaint is what I’ve already noted: Not enough ports and no ability to change the RAM or internal storage. I did have to upgrade some of my software to run properly, but that's not about Apple itself, exactly, except that the upgraded software was better able to take advantage of the M1 chip.

This machine will last me for several years. The various new Mac models that have come out over the past year are nice, and they’re technically faster, but not dramatically, in my opinion, and what I have is fine for my current needs.

I thought about selling my MacBook Pro, but they tend to get about half what I paid for it, so I’m leaning toward keeping it and using it when I travel around New Zealand, as I plan to do when the plague eases. That way I can blog or edit video or whatever wherever I am.

Apple TV 4K
: This is a device to stream content over the Internet. I bought it on March 17 last year, and never mentioned it at the time (a picture I took for a post I never wrote is at left). I have, however, referred to it since then, just last week, and only in passing.

I bought it partly because I had a free trial subscription to Apple TV+ (Apple’s own streaming service—what it is with so many companies appending a “+” to their streaming service’s name?!) because I bought the Mac Mini, but mostly because I anticipated there would come a time when the Android box would no longer work and I’d need other ways to access streaming services (which was what last week’s post was talking about).

I like the Apple TV except for three things: It cannot stream Freeview (there’s no aerial port), and it has no web browser, so it can’t stream those former video music TV channels (I tried that on the Android Box, and it couldn't connect). The third thing is that the remote it came with is, without any exaggeration whatsoever, the worst Apple product I’ve ever used. Not long after I bought my Apple TV, the company announced it was releasing a new remote that fixed my major complaint (the damn trackpad), but I’d have to buy the new one separately. I did that last week, and I’ll talk about all that in an upcoming post. The important thing for now is that, as I said, I do like the Apple TV, and also that I can view all the streaming services I watch, including YouTube and, er, um, Disney+ (another damn “+”!).

An iPhone 13 Pro: I bought this in In January of this year (photo in the original post) to replace my iPhone 7. I like it a lot. The camera is really good, though I haven’t yet had all that much opportunity to use it much (that damn plague again…). The phone is fast, has excellent battery life, and is much, much faster at downloading updates than any of my older phones ever were. In other words, it just works.

There’s nothing that I actively dislike, but: It took awhile for me to get used to because it’s so different from what I’d used in the past. For example, scrolling back to the home screen is counterintuitive, and I had no idea how to close open Apps (theoretically, I don’t need to, but I do, anyway). I also couldn’t figure out how to turn off the torch (flashlight) which I’d accidentally turned on (and I didn’t know how I’d accidentally turned it on…), so I’d tell Siri to turn it off. Since then, I’ve Googled things I couldn’t figure out how to do (like how to access the control for the torch), and none of those things were obvious or intuitive, in my opinion.

My biggest dislike is that there’s no home button or fingerprint scanner. Instead, it uses facial recognition, and that can be—interesting. It can’t recognise my face when I’m wearing a mask (no surprise, really), but sometimes it can’t recognise me when I have reading glasses on, while other times it instantly unlocks when I’m wearing those same reading glasses. Sometimes it struggles to recognise me even when I’m not wearing glasses. That unpredictable inconsistency is bloody annoying: I’d MUCH rather have a fingerprint scanner. I can't turn that function off, though, because I have some Apps that need that level of security to use the App, and the alternative would be to enter the App password each time—and that can't possibly end well.

I bought a new iPad (9th Gen): I bought this at the end of February to replace the 2013 iPad Air (First Gen) that Nigel handed me up (photo in the original post). That old iPad was nearing the end of its service life (the newest iPadOS wasn’t compatible, for example, and Apps were often no longer working). I really, really like the new iPad. Like the iPhone I bought the previous month, it’s fast, responsive, has great battery life, and updates quickly. Unlike the iPhone, it uses a home button and fingerprint recognition, which I much prefer. The new iPad is lighter than the old one, and the screen and sound are both much better.

When I bought the new Apple TV remote, I also bought a case for the iPad to protect it, and an Apple Pencil (First Gen):

The case said it has “military-grade protection”, a statement which gave me so many questions. The pencil is a stylus that actual artists use to draw actual pictures on actual iPads (whoops, sorry: I got carried away with my actualisation there). I’ve only experimented with the pencil a little bit so far, but it’s been absolutely brilliant at translating my chicken-scratch handwriting into editable “typed” text. I could’ve bought a cheaper pencil from another company, but I knew for sure this one would work. I didn’t “need” it, but I never claimed I did: I just wanted it. The case was reasonably priced, as such things go, and I decided to get that rather than a keyboard because I never used the one with the old iPad (which, in case you’re wondering, is part of a case that won’t fit my new iPad). The new case also has a special compartment to hold the Apple Pencil, which is part of the reason I bought both, actually.

I didn’t buy the latest iPad with Apple Silicon chips in them because they’re significantly more expensive that the 9th Gen model I bought, and the iPadOS isn’t yet fully able to take advantage of the new chip. Buying the less expensive 9th Gen model meant I could get larger internal storage which is useful (not the least because I’m lazy about deleting Apps I no longer want).

As for the old iPad, it really has no market value anymore, since the iPadOS can no longer be upgraded (and it's slower, the screen isn't as good, etc). On the other hand, it IS working, so I'm going to delete most of the Apps on it and use it as a digital photo frame (I found a stand that Nigel got for some device that will be perfect to hold it). Because all my Apple devices play with each other, I can set up a folder with photos for the old iPad to use in a slideshow. That's the plan, anyway.

And that’s where things are at: My upgrades are done for now, though I know I’ll be adding new tech for other reasons—that’s just part of me and my everyday life, and it always has been. All of this will be stuff I’ll be talking about in the future, unless I forget again, which may be likely. Right now, though, that's my talk about tech, and all the good things and the bad things that may be. Right now, though, it’s time to go make some dinner. I’m thinking maybe eggs; for some reason, I have a taste for something seasoned with salt and pepper.

*The word “dongle” was originally used primarily for small devices that had to be plugged into a computer port in order to run software—a kind of physical anti-piracy protection device. They were extremely annoying. The modern usage to mean a bunch of ports is borrowed from the earlier usage, but it jettisons the “big brother” overtones of the original usage. Sometimes, I’m a language purist, and the modern use of the word just feels wrong to me.

Friday, April 01, 2022

A productive day

Today was a productive day, though unplanned. That’s a common enough thing, but in this case it also pushed forward more project work. Of course.

Yesterday, I went to one of the home centres to pick up some stuff. They didn’t have most of what I wanted, and I balked at buying stuff for a soon-to-be-relaunched project. Instead, I bought some things that weren’t on my list (I actually had a list…), stuff I’ve wanted for a long time—since before Nigel died. They’re actually mostly for longer-term projects (one of which I bought now because it was on special). I even bought something on my list(!): I bought a bag of gypsum to help break up the clay soil in areas where I want to plant stuff.

However, I forgot the one thing I went there for: A new TV aerial amplifier. That’s what led me back to the store today—with a new list.

I got the amplifier (went to that first…), plus the stuff I balked at yesterday, and, um, a couple things not on the list. Sigh.

The soon-to-be-relaunched project is The Garage of No Return v2.0. Now that the weather is somewhat less hot, I can actively start drawing up my work plan, and that’s why I needed the supplies: So I’m ready to go when temperatures permit. This is a multifaceted project, one actually made up of several smaller projects. I’ll talk about each one on its own, as they happen.

Meanwhile, this week I’ve been (slowly) working on a new project, my office. Ever since I moved into this house, my office has been a dumping ground, the place I put things I can’t figure out another home for. After I get it cleared and organised, it’ll be the space for me to create, not a place to avoid because of the clutter piled high. Stay tuned.

The amplifier helped with the TV itself: It could tune in Freeview TV channels and radio stations that it couldn’t get before, however, TV One is still awful on the TV and also on the Android box (my usual choice), so I’m thinking there could be a problem with the broadcast itself (the area I live in is a bit dodgy for TV broadcast signals). Still, the amplifier provides surge and short circuit protection, so that’s good, anyway.

And that’s been my past two days. It may sound like small, unimportant stuff, but it actually wasn’t. And that’ll become clearer in the weeks ahead.