Tuesday, May 31, 2022

My 5 favourite home changes

It’s the end of the month, which makes it as good a time as any to reflect on the five changes I’ve made to my house that are (currently) my favourites (for now)? Here we go:

1. The solar electricity system: This is probably obvious, not the least because I’ve talked about it more than any other change I’ve made to the house, or any projects I’ve taken on. I was thinking about this recently because of my impending review of the first twelve full months since the completed system was up and running, and it made me think about everything else I’ve done to improve the house. Still, this is definitely my favourite thing because it matches my values, long-held goals, and saves me some money operating the house. But, more about all that soon; right now I just wanted to acknowledge it’s first on my list. More to come…

2. The Solatube skylight in the kitchen: When I moved into this house, my kitchen was extremely dark. In fact, when I first saw the house, the dark kitchen was the thing I liked the least. So, in March of last year, I had a Solatube skylight sort of thing installed, and it did exactly what I wanted: It brought daylight into my kitchen. I’ve noticed that when I walk out to the living area (lounge/kitchen/dining) on a sunny morning, the area is filled with daylight (the sun is also shining on the front window at the time, and the light leaks in from there, too). The result is that it makes the place feel cheerful and welcoming, especially because I don’t need to switch on a light to make my coffee or give Leo his morning treat. On rainy mornings, it’s still brighter than it would’ve been without this change, however, in the depths of winter, when the sun is slow to rise and lazy about turning on its light, the effect isn’t nearly as dramatic or welcoming. Still, that’s only roughly 3-4 months out of the year, so most of the year I get the light first thing in the morning.

3. Window coverings: This was the first thing I did to the house after I moved in, but it, too needed revisions. In January 2020, I ordered window coverings for the living area and the bedrooms, and they were installed in February, and it turned out, I was extremely lucky: The following month, New Zealand went under its first Covid Lockdown. Maybe it was all that time sitting at home during the Lockdown, but as soon as July of that year, I realised I’d made a mistake with the window coverings in the two bedrooms, and that mistake was fixed a few weeks later. Then, March of this year, I added net curtains to the stacker doors in the living area, and that completes that project. Having said that, I still have to hang the other roller blind in the garage (due to boxes stacked in front of one window, the installer couldn’t get to one window when he fixed my error). I also want to put blinds in the windows of the toilet, bathroom, and en suite, the latter is because there are now houses on all sides of my house, and so, there’s less privacy than there was (even though the windows are frosted), The main reason I want to do this, though, is that none of those rooms are heated and they get cold in the winter, especially at night, and the cold en suite affects me every single winter morning and night (and it also gets hot in the afternoon in summer, with the sun hitting that window).

4. The ventilation system: When I bought this house, it had a split-unit (heat pump) air conditioner in the living area, and that was it. I had another one installed in the master bedroom, too (and a good thing that was, too), but I knew that wouldn’t help the other two bedrooms. If I’d had the cash before I moved in, I would’ve had ducted air conditioning installed, but I didn’t, so I concentrated on what I could do. As time passed, I realised that I had to do something, and in December 2020, I had an HRV system installed to provide some ventilation to the house. What I found out is that in summer the system switches on at night because the air in the attic is cooler than in the house (although, it didn’t switch on as much this past summer as it did last year; the nights were warmer this year, so the attic was warmer than the house). In cooler weather, it switches on in the morning, once the attic temperature gets higher that the house temperature (if the house temp is cooler than whatever I have it set for). This year, in late Autumn, I noticed that the house was quite cool in the morning when I got up (because the heat pumps were shut off; they’re on now), but when the HRV switched on, it pretty quickly heated up the house to a comfortable temperature. There are times in the year when it doesn’t help much, like in summer when the nights are too warm, or in winter when the sun doesn’t rise high enough to heat the attic until some hours after I get up. But there are other months of the year when it helps a lot, and when it does, it also equalises the temperature in the house. I still need to come up with a heating and cooling solution for the two smaller bedrooms, but that won’t be any time soon. I have a heater I can put in my office on cold days, and a fan for hot summer days. For now, anyway. However, if I could make one change, I would have insisted that a ducted vent be put in the hallway. The hallway gets very little air movement, and would definitely have benefited from a vent.

5. Data cabling: This is something I never blogged about in detail, but before I moved in to this house, and in addition to the master bedroom air conditioner, I had data cabling installed. I knew I was having my computer servers installed in the garage, so I had power points added to the spot where it was going, and also ethernet cabling run from that spot to all three bedrooms and also to the living area (there are three in that area). That’s because wired networking is faster than wifi, and the data it transmits can’t be intercepted as easily as it can be on wifi. This is something I use every single day: My computer uses the ethernet network, not the wifi, and my TV and its connected devices also use ethernet, as does the VOIP telephone system: They all benefit from the faster wired connection. I also had the same guy come back and install a UF aerial and wires leading to the jackpoints that were already in the living room (two of those) and the one in the master bedroom, and they’re still in use, of course.

Those are my current favourite changes to the house, and they’re technically the only actual changes: Everything else is mainly decorative. There will be more changes, of course, and many of them I’ll be doing myself or delaying (or both). But most of my projects this year will be more about clearing and decorating, because neither of those are done yet. And so it goes.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Jacinda Ardern delivers 2022 Harvard Commencement Address

The video below is the official video of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s address, provided by Harvard, and it’s well worth watching. I chose this version because it’s unfiltered—no commentary before or after, just the speech.

And, of course, I’m reminded yet again how glad I am she’s our Prime Minister.


New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was on the USA’s CBS “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” recently, and guns partly dominated the discussion, as they have on her entire trip. The Prime Minister did very well, and even still managed to do her main goal, promoting tourism to New Zealand. It’s her second time on the show, and both times were casual and relaxed. I think she did very well.

The interview is in three separate videos on YouTube (I watched them mere hours after the show aired in the USA), so I decided to post them here in order so no one else has to work out what order they go in (they were out of order in the YouTube App for my TV that I used to watch them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

That cleaning project

Last Thursday, I picked up something for a cleaning project, and on Sunday I finally got the chance to do it. The photo at left is the item I picked up on Thursday. This, then, is the why and how of that story.

Before getting into that, a note to be completely clear: I was not compensated in any way whatsoever for buying/trying that particular carpet cleaner (pictured at left), and I paid normal retail prices. I chose it after reading recommendations on the website of Consumer NZ (and I am a member of that organisation). There was only one retailer that sold that model, and that’s the reason I went to that particular store—again, there was no compensation of any kind. That out of the way…

This entire cleaning project was related to Leo: He is, I think I’ve made clear, the mostest bestest companion, however, he does have two flaws. Sometimes he barks a bit too much, and sometimes he pees in the house, always in the hallway leading to the bedrooms, bathroom, toilet, and garage (where the laundry is). It was this particular flaw that was the problem.

My carpets are all a mix of grays and blacks that make it a (very) dark charcoal sort of colour, and that means that I can’t usually see any wet spots. On the other hand, a “scuff mark” may look wet, and the only way for me to be sure is to touch the carpet. If it’s wet, I have a carpet cleaning machine Nigel and I bought many years ago—maybe 10? It has a hand-held nozzle at the end of a hose, and you press the trigger to spray water (with or without cleaning solution) on the spot, then release the trigger to then suck the water out of the carpet. It works well, but it’s intended mainly for treating spots, and I have to get down on my hands and knees, something that’s not as easy as it used to be. Well, it’s the getting back up that’s the issue, really.

The full problem here is, first, because I can’t see wet spots in the carpet, I don’t necessarily know Leo peed inside, so the spots dry, and that’s a problem because it makes the hallway smell (and it encourages him to hit the same spot again). Then there’s the problem of having to get down on the floor to clean it.

To deal with all this properly, I decided to get an upright carpet cleaner that has an agitator brush so I can thoroughly clean the carpets. I could rent such a machine for $50 a day (plus cleaning solution), but I think it may be too heavy for me to lift into and out of my car by myself. Having my own machine would be a better option, I thought, and it’ll pay for itself in a little more than 5 uses.

I looked on the Consumer NZ website and found the machines they liked best. There was the home version of the supermarket one, but it was quite expensive. So, too was their top recommendation (at around $700), a machine that also has handheld functionality, something I didn’t need since I already have a spot cleaner. My choice was the “also recommended” model, which was just an upright carpet cleaner—and less than half the price of the top recommended one.

On Sunday, after a rest day on Saturday, I used the machine, and I thought it went well.

I’d already thoroughly vacuumed the carpet, so all I had to to was put the machine together (no tools—just slot the handle in, really). Then, I filled the water tank with water and the included cleaning solution, and I was ready to go.

I downloaded and read the manual before I placed my order, so I knew how to use it—and I took on board their advice. How it works is that you turn the machine on and the brush in front starts spinning. You squeeze the trigger to spray the water/solution mix onto the carpet and the brush massages it in and then starts to suck the dirty water out of the carpet. You then release the trigger and pull the machine back towards you, and it sucks out more water. The manual recommended again pushing the machine forward and then pulling it back (without the trigger used) to suck up even more water, and that’s what I did.

The machine was easy to use, and not at all heavy to use or move. It was loud, as such machines tend to be, but I didn’t think it was horrible (I have far noisier machines). I did have a little trouble keeping the power cord out of the way, mainly because the power point is in the middle of the hallway. Ideally, I think, the power point should be behind the user who moves away from it, not toward it.

The whole cleaning process was easy, not strenuous, and not very time consuming, however, I had a tendency to move too quickly: It needs time to clean and, especially, to suck up the used water. I’m sure I’ll get used to it because I got better as time went on—as long as I paid attention to what I was doing.

The carpet was reasonably dry—well, only moist—in around 45 minutes. To help that, I put a fan on the floor at the doorway to my bedroom, which is at one end of the hallway. The fan kept air moving along the floor, which helped the carpet try. In the early evening, I moved the far into the bathroom doorway because the little bit of hallway that connects the bathroom and toilet to the main hallway gets little air circulation. I turned the fan off before going to bed.

The next morning, the carpet seemed dry, though I admit I didn’t crawl around to feel it all—maybe I should’ve to know for sure? I noticed that the “rows” left by the leaning machine were obvious, in much the same way that deep-pile carpeting shows vacuum marks after its cleaned. The machine’s manual also suggested vacuuming the carpet once it was thoroughly dry to make the carpet pile normal again. I didn’t do that because I was lazy, but I know it would’ve taken care of that problem.

When I dumped out the used water, it was very dirty, which didn’t surprise me at all: I walk up and down that hallway many times every day, to get from the front of the house to the ensuite when nature calls, to carry washing to and from the garage, to get to my office—for lots of things. Leo often trots along, too. I have what I call my “house shoes”, basically lightweight shoes that I only ever wear in the house (wearing slippers all day is a little too casual for me).

I don’t know how many tradespeople were traipsing over the carpet before the house was finished and put on the market, but in New Zealand, prospective purchasers always remove their shoes before looking at a house that’s for sale (unless the house is a wreck being sold “as is” for renovation, which isn’t all that common). Since I bought the house, I’ve had tradespeople install one thing or another, but even most of them take off their shoes.

All of which means that I have no idea how much of the dirty water—which, of course, is stuff that my pretty strong vacuum cleaner didn’t remove—was from the 28 months I’ve lived in this house, so I don’t necessarily blame Leo and me. Besides, carpet cleaners typically remove far more dirt than vacuum cleaners can, and the used water is almost always filthy, no matter how “clean” a household is or how often the carpets are vacuumed. I know all that, but it’s also a little reassurance that I’m not as useless at keeping the house clean as that waste water could make me feel.

And that’s the big cleaning project I took on this weekend. It went well, and definitely do it again—but how often? I read that people usually rent machines from supermarkets once or twice a year, though I wondered how they know that. In any case, a house with small children or pets (especially if there are both!) would be at least that. Doing it every season seems a big extreme, but maybe three times a year? We’ll see. And the next time that Leo leaves me a little surprise spot on the carpet, I may try using the carpet cleaner rather than the get-down-on-the-floor-and-back-up-again machine. All of that’s for another day.

A footnote:

In case you're wondering, Leo gets to go outside pretty much as often and for as long as he wants. I say “pretty much” because if he’s stuck in barking mode, I have to bring him inside so he doesn’t piss-off the neighbours (especially if they’re the objects of his barking). Also, in the heat of summer and cold of winter, I can’t leave the doors open all day. If the doors are closed, he may “ask” me to let him outside, and I usually hear him—though he’s really quiet. Our set routine is that I always let him out first thing in the morning, around midday, and again after his dinner. I try to always be consistent with those so that he’s used to it (I read somewhere that dogs thrive on routine—most people do, too, actually…), but I also let him out other times during the day, including if he asks to be let outside. If it’s raining, though, he’s far more likely to use the hallway carpet than he is on a sunny day, even if the doors are open. So, all my best efforts can be undone by the weather. He’s just being a dog, after all—and the mostest bestest companion—so I can’t expect him to understand and act rationally. The best I can do is create an environment for him to do natural dog stuff outside, rather than on the carpet, and to have back-up plans for when that doesn’t happen. That’s just me being a dog’s dad.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Egging myself on

It turns out, using determination to help us power us through the list of things we need or want to do can actually work—just not always, and maybe not for everything. That’s what I found out this weekend.

On Thursday of last week, I talked about how on that day and the day before, determination helped me to get stuff done. In that post, I wondered whether it would continue to help the next day, and, by implication, days after that. The answer: Sort of.

Friday has always been my cleaning day, though in recent months it’s been a bit haphazard and incomplete. This past Friday, however, I was determined to be more thorough, in part because I needed to get the house ready for the cleaning project I mentioned on Thursday (that will be a post of its own). I accomplished most of what I wanted to do, and even cleared away the last few boxes that had been stored in my hallway for many months—maybe since shortly after I abandoned the garage project. It was nice to again have the hallway empty, even if in a couple cases that basically meant putting the boxes somewhere else. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it for me on Friday—close to to getting everything done, but not completely done.

The next morning, Saturday, I was exhausted, so I only managed to make some eggs benedict for my lunch (photo up top). Still, that was something, right? Actually, it was: As I said when I shared the photo on my personal Facebook, “It was the best poached eggs I’ve made yet,” and that was absolutely true.

There was one thing I didn’t like, though: I bought the same New Zealand brand of bacon I’ve bought for years. It says “NZ Made” on the front, right under the “window” where you look at the bacon itself. When I took it out of the fridge on Saturday, I read the smaller print (under the “nutrition” label) for the first time ever. It said:
“Made in New Zealand with pork raised in any one of the following countries: Finland, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Spain plus other local and imported ingredients.”
I have no problem with the fact it had imported pork, but I think putting “NZ Made” in big letters is deceptive, even though it’s literally true: The bacon is made in NZ, but from pigs that weren’t. I buy bacon only a couple times in a year (at most), but if I buy any again, it won’t be that brand. I also learned that I should bring a magnifying glass with me when I go to the supermarket so that I can read labels closely before I buy stuff like that bacon, just to make sure it’s NZ made in every sense.

There was one other thing that wasn’t quite right: The hollandaise sauce. I used the same recipe I always do, the same one Nigel always used, but this time I forgot that I don’t use as much salt as the recipe calls for (I actually don’t normally put any in because the bacon is already salty, something else I forgot). I also nuked it just a little bit too long—we’re talking mere seconds—and that left the sauce “less than ideal”. And this is why I never even mentioned the sauce when I shared the photo on FB and Instagram.

The thing is, when I make poached eggs normally, I just put mayo on them if I put anything at all (other than S&P). To be honest, eggs benny is a lot of work for not all that much payoff. I think that in future I’ll probably mostly stick to making poached eggs on toast rather than full-on eggs benny.

There’s a side note here: I was recently watching a vlog from one of the YouTubers I subscribe to, and he often includes a short cooking segment. There are also frequently brief scenes showing him making poached eggs on toast to illustrate the start to his day. But in this particular vlog, he mentioned how he likes tomato sauce (ketchup) on his poached eggs. Now, I couldn’t possibly care less what someone chooses to put on their eggs, but what struck me about that is that he’s never once shown that in a video of his poached eggs. That made me wonder if I’ve ever done that with food photos I’ve shared—have I ever not included something that I think someone may not approve of? Maybe? Probably? I know that I’ve sometimes not shared photos of something I made because the photo of the dish made it look less appetising than it looked in real life, so maybe that counts? At any rate, watching that vlog made me want to be extra careful to make sure that when I share a photo of food I’ve made, it’s as close to reality as I can make it. Having said that, though, I felt that the photo up top of my eggs benny, even with the incomplete success of the hollandaise sauce, was one of my better food photos—and, yes, the photo showed exactly as I ate it. FWIW.

Obviously, I’m well aware that making poached eggs isn’t exactly a momentous accomplishment, and it wouldn’t have been even if I’d also made perfect hollandaise sauce. However, I’ve been feeling so flat for so long now that this is remarkable simply for being something that I accomplished. Is this the start of a new phase? Of new energy levels? Could it be—and this could jinx everything—the beginning of moving onward and upward again?

Time will tell, but at the moment the signs are encouraging—and so was the success of my poached eggs themselves. I think it’s important to always celebrate the little successes, because sometimes they need as much determination as the bigger efforts do. Fortunately, I’ve also had some successes with those lately, but they’re tales of their own. I’m determined to share those tales, too.

This post includes brief bits I included when I posted the above photo on social media.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Maybe sometimes determination is enough

Sometimes, things are just different, for whatever reason, and sometimes determination is enough. Like today.

For the past several weeks, I’ve dealt with extreme fatigue, bad enough that I haven’t felt like doing much of anything—including blogging or podcasting, obviously. While I try to force myself to get things done, for the most part those efforts failed. But sometimes things go differently, and it began yesterday evening.

I went to my mother-in-law’s for dinner, yesterday evening and also fixed her Kindle (and, of course, Nigel would’ve been surprised (mostly joking). On the way home, I stopped at the New World supermarket to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was interesting.

There were a lot of prices throughout the store that were obviously higher (like a bottle of cooking oil that was on special at a higher price than it’s regular price only a few months ago). But a lot of store specials brought the prices much closer to what they had been—still higher, but not as bad as they’d be otherwise. On the other hand, all the most affordable items (including things on the chain’s “price freeze” list) were really low or sold out.

Today I was planning on going to The Base shopping centre to run errands, so I thought I’d go to the nearby Countdown supermarket on the way home so I could see for myself what their prices are like. It turned out that today’s errands were 2/3 successful. I’m absolutely fine with that.

First up was my much-delayed haircut: I’ve probably needed one for “some time now”, but lately people have been fleeing in terror at the sight of my unruly locks, and pitchforks and torches were being readied. The threat to the mob is now sorted. Bonus points, today I got the young guy, and he was really interesting to chat with. The older guys I’ve had usually talk about sport, work, very superficial stuff. But today we talked about, among other things, how making YouTube videos because it’s what you want to do is more important than monetising them, unless that’s a business you’re running (seriously!).

My next stop was a nearby shop to pick-up something I ordered through click ‘n collect. There’s a story there, but it’s involved and includes a cleaning project I’m doing on Saturday (more about that afterward). However, as I walked back to my car with my purchases, the skies opened up and I was completely drenched. I changed my plans and went directly home, much to Leo’s delight. I didn’t need to go to the supermarket, anyway, so it’s no loss, but today’s soaking made me think that maybe I should keep an old towel in the car. It rains a lot in winter, after all.

While all of that is perfectly ordinary stuff, for a guy who’s had a lot of trouble getting stuff done, it’s a lot of activity in a short period of time. I don’t know that it suggests any sort of change or improvement or anything, but a good patch is always welcome, whether it hangs around or not.

Maybe tomorrow will bring more extraordinary-yet-ordinary stuff. Maybe sometimes determination really is enough?

This is revised and expanded from two posts I made to my personal Facebook. Because sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do, especially, for me, these days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 365 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 365, “So, anyway…”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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