Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Mowing down challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 368 is now available

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

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

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Nigel would’ve been 58

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, sweetheart. Always.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Sometimes, deciding is what matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Substitutes teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Good ideas aren’t always the best ones

There are times when good ideas end up being not the best ones, when the consequences almost cancel out the benefits. That happened to me this past week.

On Thursday, I went to have my second Covid Booster shot. A second booster is only available to over-65s, I thought, but I found out recently that I’m eligible, even though I’m not yet 65, because of my coronary artery disease. Pretty much the only time that’s been an “advantage”. I seized the opportunity.

The night before, I went online to make the booking at the pharmacy nearest to me, and, at the time, all the Thursday appointments were available, so I was the only one booked in at that location. That didn’t surprise me, because the vast majority of New Zealanders are double-jabbed, many already may have had their first booster, or they’ve had Covid and have to wait three months for any booster. The staff there told me that most of their vaccinations are given to walk-ins without appointments.

I had my jab around 10am Thursday, then stopped at the nearby supermarket for some bits and pieces for the week, and went home. I didn’t plan on doing much in case I started to feel bad, but I felt fine all day—until I didn’t.

Around 8pm, I started to feel yucky: “flulike” symptoms of aches and a fever-like feeling, even though my temperature was normal. I eventually took some paracetamol, watched a bit more TV, and went to bed, still feeling bad.

Around four hours later, when the paracetamol was wearing off, I woke up. I got up to take some more, and immediately started shivering badly, similar to after the dental hygienist appointment last June, though not as bad. Just like I did in June, I put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt (which again confused Leo, because it’s what I put on when I get up in the morning) and went back to bed.

Four hours later, I woke up again, took more paracetamol, threw an extra blanket on the bed, and crawled back in. Leo snuggled up against me.

I woke up a few times after that, feeling utterly awful, and I started regretting having had the shot, since this was by far my worst reaction to it. On the other hand, I also knew that it meant my immune system was responding, which was the whole point, and that not going through the awfulness could’ve meant dealing with far worse from the actual disease—or not, but there’s absolutely no way to know what would happen.

Still, one thing I was certain of is that there’d be no way I’d get another jab of that particular Pfizer vaccine again, not when each of the last two jabs made me feel worse than the one before. However, there’s unlikely to be any more jabs of that one, anyway, because new vaccines are in development. In any case, it’ll probably be a year or more before I’ll have to decide.

This incident also now seems suggest that the shivering thing is the way my body now responds to what it perceives as an infection. There are things I can do to better prepare the next time I feel yucky like that, such as, I can keep a bottle of water and packet of paracetamol next to my bed, rather than having to get up in the cold and go into the even colder en suite to take the pills.

Feeling so utterly beside-myself-miserable, as I did, I couldn’t help but think about how Nigel would’ve looked after me, the same way I looked after him when he was sick—until that last time, when nothing I could do for him could possibly make any difference (though I tried, anyway, of course). Still, Leo stayed snuggled up against me all night long—and he’s laid in my lap much of Friday, too. Obviously it’s not the same, but it definitely does help.

The whole thing was over by late Friday afternoon, maybe 20 hours after it began.

The question now is, given my terrible time with this jab in particular, will my values hold up, will I continue getting Covid jabs, or will I hesitate? I honestly have no idea, but there are times when the consequences of a good idea almost cancel out the benefits. That fact, and this particular incident, will definitely be on my mind from now on.

The photo up top is of me after my jab, during the mandatory waiting period. When I shared it on my personal Facebook, I joked, “you’d think I would’ve turned my ring the right way round…” The photo below is of Leo on Friday, as he napped on the blanket on my lap. Yes, he’s using my hand as a pillow. He’s a good boy.

Friday, August 19, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 367 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 367, “Doing things”, 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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Tentative progress

Three weeks ago today, I began the changed hypertension prescription. It’s still early days, but so far, so good. Coincidentally, today is also an important anniversary: The day this journey truly began.

Six years ago today, I received the stent in my coronary artery that made it possible for me to be here today to note the anniversary, and to talk about where my health journey is at. As I’ve talked about many times, what got me through all that, including the events of that day, was Nigel, who was with me every step of the way. It makes me really sad that in what turned out to be his last years, I was far from my best, and I simply wasn’t able to be 100% present. It wasn’t my fault, of course, and—again thanks to Nigel—I kept pushing doctors to change medications, and that meant that the last year (roughly) I had with Nigel was better than the one before it, which is—something? I guess. But that also helped me to push for change yet again.

This has been on my mind a lot over the past few weeks in particular, and it’s part of what was both my motivation for making the change, as well as the source of my shame and disappointment over not doing something sooner. I talked about that last month.

I was, of course, nervous about the new drug because I knew there were no guarantees: How we react to prescriptions is often unique to us. That first day, my head felt much clearer, as if the brain fog I’d complained about had eased. I neither accepted nor disputed this was an actual change, nor that it was related to the drug change—I just noted there was a difference.

While the first day or two went well, the next couple weeks made me deeply sceptical that the new drug was any better than the old one. I was still tired, but I couldn’t tell if it was better, as bad, or worse than the other because a different feeling overwhelmed me: Sleepiness. I felt as if I could drift off at any moment—even standing up. In fact, I ended up having several naps, and on at least one day I had two naps.

During that time, I also went to the vampires for my annual blood tests. I told my doctor I wanted to get that done, and that I was particularly interested in getting a CBC (because my blood thinner can, rarely, negatively affect platelet levels), PSA (because it’s a good idea), and the usuals (cholesterol and urate levels). I jokingly told my doctor, “and you can order whatever you want, too.” It turned out that he checked my levels for blood iron, Vitamin B12, and testosterone, all of which can affect energy levels. All my results were in the normal range (my cholesterol and liver function results were slightly elevated from what they had been, but were still normal; I think this may be due to my having gained weight over the past year).

A little while later—only a few days—things suddenly changed. I began to feel better—not great, not like it was a return to the allegedly halcyon days between my stent and the start of beta blockers, but better. There was something else I noticed: I was inwardly feeling, for lack of a better word, brighter

During this time, my sister-in-law and some of her family arrived from Australia for a visit. I saw them the evening they arrived in the country, and the following Saturday, but that was before I noticed any change. By the end of last week, though, I was suddenly feeling more engaged, more upbeat, more present. By Sunday, I realised it seemed to be a definite change, and not just a fluke.

In the days since then, my energy levels and mood have varied, so whatever’s going on seems to still be settling down. This makes sense, of course, because it can take anywhere from a month, to six weeks, to several months before adjustment to a new drug is complete. That means I still have no way of knowing where all this will settle (today, for example, I was extremely sleepy in the morning, and had a nap before noon).

Today, my next batch of pills arrived, though I won’t need them until next week (I don’t think they’ve ever arrived this early before). As recently as maybe 10 days ago, I was thinking I was going to have to contact my doctor and ask for another pill change, even though I know it takes time to adjust and I hadn’t yet given it much time.

And then this morning there was the most extraordinary thing of all.

I woke up a bit early, after a little more than 7 hours of sleep, and I wasn’t quite ready to get up (and neither was Leo, who was asleep against my side). I was laying on my back just thinking about nothing, really. and I suddenly realised I felt nothing in my chest. For months I’ve often been aware of the feeling of my heart beating, especially whenever I laid on my back. At it’s worst, I felt like I’d had a bit too much coffee, or even like I was having a panic attack. But not today. It was an awesome feeling.

I’d forgotten until that moment how after I started the drug I just switched from, I often felt that anxiousness sort of feeling, and I was becoming concerned enough to take it up with my doctor—but then it mostly left my awareness. Maybe it was all the Covid dramas going on, or maybe I merely got used to it. Whatever the situation, I was often unaware of those sensations, or forgot them immediately afterward, and today it was their absence that I finally noticed.

All of which makes me think that maybe this new drug really will be better for me than the previous one was. Maybe. At any rate, it’s hopeful enough that I now think about waiting and seeing how things are going in another three weeks, rather than how I should contact my doctor about making another change. The way things have been going over the past few months in particular, that’s a pretty dramatic development.

This whole rollercoaster health journey started in earnest six years ago today. On that day in 2016, no one could have known that Nigel had a little bit more than three years left—of course: We almost never know precisely when our days will run out, and we tend to act as if they never will. On that same 2016 day, the health path I was on changed from one leading to my own final day rapidly approaching, to pushing that day years into the future. The main reason that could happen is that I had Nigel in my life—in fact, he’s the main reason I’m still here even now, even after his death, including that I’m learning to be my own advocate, as I (finally…) have been lately. I learned so much from our life together, and survival itself is the biggest lesson of all. And that’s why this particular anniversary, and the gratitude it fills me with, will always be important to me. So, too, is holding onto hope and positivity. Nigel taught me that, too.

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

Welcome back

Three weeks ago today was the last time I published a post on this blog. The break was unplanned and unexpected, but it would’ve been a good idea, had it been one at all. As far as I know, this is only the second time I’ve taken so much time off.

It all began, as such things sometimes do, by accident. I’d been struggling with deep fatigue, as I talked about back in June. That fatigue often left me unable to even contemplate doing a blog post or podcast episode, and if I started one of either, I often reached a point where I had to stop and walk away. When that happened, I almost never went back to finish what I'd started. Many planned posts and episodes were never actually begun.

This was happening, of course, when I published my last post in July (the last one until today), and that post was about beginning my new blood pressure medication, how hard it had been for me to take action on that, and why. There’s always an adjustment period for any new medication, and this one was no different (I’ll talk about that in a separate post). At the time, I was trying to record a podcast episode—several times.

Then, I just stopped.

It had gotten to the point that I just couldn’t face going to my computer for anything, and I didn’t go near it for several consecutive days last week. That’s not to say I wasn’t “creating” during that time: I was posting to social media, my personal Facebook in particular, and I used my iPad to write blog posts (sometimes, as has been the case for a couple years now, based on those Facebook posts). I never published any of them, obviously, mainly because once evening set in, I wasn’t motivated to go to my desk.

During that time, I was also trying to tidy my house because my sister-in-law was about to arrive from Australia for a visit, and she’s never seen my house: I wanted it to be perfect, then pretty nice, then okay, then not totally horrible. My diminishing expectations were the direct result of that same fatigue and my inability to sustain the physical work I needed to do.

That all means that I was busy, when I had the energy, in the daytime, and not motivated or energetic in the evenings; nothing much happened, in other words. It had been about a week since my last blog post when I realised I didn’t have it in me at the time, and I decided to just stay away until I felt ready to resume. That’s today, and this post.

There’s actually kind of a backlog of stuff I was working on but never finished, and while not much of it is time-sensitive as such, some if it’s getting old enough now that if I don’t publish them soon, I should consign them to my infamous “Drafts” folder, where many blog posts that never were disappear.

So, over the next week or two, there will be some days on which I may publish several posts. Or, maybe not, but today will be one of those days (that health update post will be up later today).

While all this has been happening (or, not…), I’ve been working on a few behind-the-scenes things that I’ll be talking about soon (they’re not relevant to my recent break—my “blogcation”?). It turns out, though, the unplanned and unexpected break was exactly what I needed, and it would’ve been a good idea if had it been an actual idea. Sometimes good things are totally unplanned and unexpected, and this was definitely one of them.

Now, back to it.