Monday, October 31, 2022

Nine years married

Nine years ago today, Nigel and I were married, and this is now the fourth anniversary I’ve observed without him. In his last days, Nigel said that the day we got married was the happiest day of his life, and it was for me, too. But these anniversaries now fall six weeks after the anniversary of the worst day of my life. Nine years ago today, I got a title I never expected to get: Husband. Six weeks shy of our sixth anniversary, I got another new title, widower, and the two are now welded together.

Two days from now, November 2, is the 27th anniversary of when our life together began, the date we always used to consider our anniversary in those years before legal recognition was possible (Nov 2 was the date in 1995 that I arrived in New Zealand to stay). We also had January 24, the day in 2009 when we had our civil union. The thing is, despite having so many anniversaries to choose from, we didn’t actually celebrate any of them. It just wasn’t something we did.

What we did do, though, was talk about memories. For the day we were married, it was about the ceremony itself and the big family party two days later. For our civil union, it was the ceremony in front of lots of family and friends, and the big family party afterward. And Nigel often cracked jokes about the parties. In other words, they were memories pretty much similar to lots of others, ones centred on good times with the whānau.

And yet, those two days, our marriage in particular, were actually both about us, and our love for, and commitment to, one another. That’s why our marriage day was the happiest day for the both of us (and our civil union day was the second happiest). We knew how lucky we were, starting with what was a highly improbable meeting in the first place, and continuing on, right through to being in the right place at the right time to have our love and commitment recognised by our government, and celebrated by so many of the people who meant so much to us. Because that’s the other reason those two days were important: The people we also shared them with.

So much has changed since that day nine years ago—change has been pretty relentless, and much of it was dramatic or a big deal. But October 31, 2013 was a very big deal, and a happy one, for us both. For me, it still is.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. I love you.

Eight years married (2021)
It’s still seven years married (2020)
Mixed feelings day (2019)
Fifth Anniversary (2018)
Fourth Anniversary (2017)
Third Anniversary (2016)
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)

To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more

It ain’t over yet

This is probably one of the most obvious things I’ve written: The Covid pandemic isn’t over yet. Well, it’s obvious to those of us in the reality-based world, anyway, but for us, the evidence is everywhere. Last week, I got a sort of confirmation that a lot is still disprupted.

In my post about my Labour Day Holiday Weekend, I mentioned ordering small raised garden beds to plant my citrus in. I ordered them the night I published my post, and it was acknowledged the next day, Wednesday the 26th, and they said they’d email me a tracking number once the order shipped. Then, silence for two days. On Saturday, I got another email from them:
Due to higher than expected order volumes at our warehouse, staff absences and supply chain disruption we’re experiencing some delays in dispatching orders. We’d like to reassure you that we haven’t forgotten yours.
All of this left me wondering, how bad IS the current Covid situation in New Zealand? There have been a lot of anecdotal reports of staffing shortages everywhere due to people being out sick, and we’re pretty much done with the influenza season this year, so is Covid getting bad again?

As it happens, today—being a Monday—was the day the Ministry of Health released the weekly Covid statistics. There were 20,522 new cases over the past week, and that’s up from 16,399 the previous week. The increase is because of several factors, such as, that there are now several variants in New Zealand, the regulations have been relaxed (no longer much mandatory mask wearing, for example), people have changed their behaviours, and immunity from vaccines and boosters is waning at the same time new variants are becoming better at evading immunity.

Meanwhile, deaths of those with Covid or attributed to Covid had been declining for months, but have now stabilised. The ministry says that deaths lag behind infections, but didn’t suggest that the rising number of cases would necessarily mean the number of deaths would begin to rise again. However, it seems logical that with new variants that can easily evade our immune systems, infections will continue to increase, and that logically means that the number of deaths will, too.

Still, the biggest issue for the country as a whole is that in any given week, thousands of people are becoming infected with Covid, and that will continue to mean workers will be out sick. Staff absences due to Covid, and the disruptions that causes, are likely to continue to be widespread for the foreseeable future.

So, yes, Covid does seem to be getting worse in New Zealand, and disruptions will continue. I got another email this afternoon that my order was ready to ship (and the tracking information showed it was still “ready for next collection”, meaning not actually on its way yet). That means a five day (three business days) delay in my order being shipped. Hopefully, this won’t turn out to be a “remember when shipping delays were only a few days?” sort of thing. Maybe summer will help everything.

Still more kitchen adventures

Kitchen adventures have become a kind of hobby for me. Sometimes that means trying new recipes or methods, and other times it’s about trying products that are new to me, This weekend there were two of the latter type of adventure.

A couple months ago, I wrote about my various attempts at finding substitutes for meat, something I started doing to cut down the amount of meat I consume, as doctors’ (repeatedly) suggested. That post talked about the entirety of my efforts, including how at first Nigel and I tried meat-like substitutes so that we could just adapt the meals we ordinarily made. I haven’t done much of that for the past few years, but yesterday I made an exception.

Back in November last year, US company Impossible Foods launched their burger patties in New Zealand. It had been delayed, like so much else, by Covid, and also because they needed to get regulatory approval for their fake blood additive, leghemoglobin, which is derived from genetically modified soy, something involves the fermentation of a yeast called Picha pastoris. Genetically modified food ingredients usually need special approval to be used in products sold in New Zealand, which is extremely restrictive in how and when genetically modified things can be used.

In March of this year, Countdown supermarkets started selling the Impossible Burger patties, and this past Wednesday I picked some up to try (photo below).

There are several aspects to burger substitutes: The first is, of course, the taste, but price and ingredients are also important. Ingredients are particularly important to me—even more so than taste—for a variety of reasons.

When I opened the pack and removed the patties, with some difficulty, I noticed how much they looked and felt like meat patties. The instructions said to cook two minutes per side to one’s choice of doneness. I made cheeseburgers with the burger patties (real cheese, not vegan) using my ribbed grill pan, and turned each pattie three times, as I would with real meat patties, because it puts a nice sort of lattice pattern on them (visual appeal matters). I thought they were nice—not the nicest I’ve ever had, but better than the Beyond Meat patties Nigel and I tried (to me, they have a funny taste to them).

This is where ingredients come into the story: Both the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burgers are made in the USA—imported from a distance. The Impossible patties have lots of ingredients and are fortified with vitamins. It’s protein comes from soybeans, which may be a concern for some people: I read somewhere that most (or perhaps all) soybeans grown in the USA are generically modified, but the product definitely contains the genetically modified product, the fake blood.

Beyond Burgers, also made in the USA, have a somewhat simpler ingredients list, two points of which caught my eye: They contain “Pea Protein Isolate” (which isn’t further specified), along with rice protein. What concerned me a bit is that it contains potassium chloride, which is used as a low-sodium salt substitute. I’m supposed to avoid that because the blood pressure medication I take is potassium based (not that burgers consumed one night would have enough to affect me, but still). The patties also have “Beet Juice Extract” for colour, rather than genetically engineered fake blood.

The biggest issue with these burger substitutes is cost: They sure ain’t cheap. The Impossible Burger Patties are $12 (today, US$6.96) per 113g 2 pattie pack (a quarter US pound is approximately 113 grams), which works out to $10.62/100g. Obviously, that works out to $6 per pattie/burger, and it would be far cheaper to use real meat—or to buy a burger from a fast food joint.

The Beyond Meat Burger Patties are $12.50 (today, US$7.25) per 226g pack, which works out to $5.53/100g. In other words, the patties are twice as heavy—each one roughly 1/4 US pound—for nearly the same price, and so, arguably better value.

Based on flavour alone, I personally preferred the Impossible Burger—I thought it was really nice and very much like meat. However, I’d only rank it second, with Beyond Burger at third. The one I’d rank best of all is only available in New Zealand from fast food places, and that could mean the cooking methods affect the flavour, and maybe it wouldn’t be as good at home.

At any rate, back in February of 2020, a month after I moved to Hamilton, I tried Burger King NZ’s “Rebel Whooper”, something I forgot to mention here on the blog at the time. The plant-based pattie is made in Australia by a company called V2 Food. It was very, very nice, and—to me—indistinguishable from the regular meat-based Whopper. It is my top choice—so far.

There’s one more alternative, a beef mince product from Sunfed, a New Zealand company that makes vegan meat substitutes. Nigel and I tried their chicken substitute in February of 2019, and that effort was a failure. My brother-in-law, who was staying with me for a bit after Nigel died, took a pack out of the freezer to make a dish with it, and it was much better than mine had been, suggesting that my failure was definitely user error.

The same evening I bought the Impossible Burger patties, I also bought a pack of Sunfed's beef mince substitute, “Bull Free Beef Raw Prime Mince” (photo up top). To back a fair comparison, I should have made it into burger patties, but since I’d had burgers the night before, I wasn’t keen. Instead, I was in the mood for savoury mince on toast (using an online recipe, because it’s been longer than I can remember since I last made it; I used to make it for Nigel and me, but maybe not since). It was an incomplete success.

It started out well enough, but just as with the chicken, it ended up less meat-like than I’d hoped. That was because I actually made the same mistake: I cooked it in the sauce, instead of adding it to the sauce at the end. Even so, the flavour was nice enough, and I thought even as it was it would’ve made a nice sloppy joe, or a BBQ beef sort of sandwich thing, because that’s often shredded beef. Still, I’d experiment with it again (and I still have their bacon substitute to try).

I don’t have specifics on costs because of the post-errand tragedy I mentioned yesterday (the Countdown receipt was ruined by the spilled yoghurt). However, They also make a “Bull Free Beef Diced Beef” (which is chunks, rather than minced). That product is $13 (today, US$7.54) per 300g pack, which works out to $4.33/100g. The “Bull Free Beef Raw Prime Mince” comes in a 350g pack, though, and if the price is roughly the same, it would be around $3.74 per 100g. Either way, it’s the best value—if I can get the cooking method right.

Sunfed products are made in New Zealand from pea protein, and the beef products are coloured with beetroot juice (which means if I did make burgers from their mind, I’d need to wear gloves to avoid staining my hands). All their products are also GMO free, unlike at least one of the American products.

And that’s my latest round of kitchen adventures.

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

All photos are my own.

Sunday, October 30, 2022


Being busy can be a mere reality, or a choice. Which it is depends on a person’s circumstances, of course, so there’s a lot of variation. When we choose to be busy, there may be particular reasons for making that choice, things we may not talk about. This isn’t one of those times.

This past Tuesday, I wrote about “My labouring weekend”, which was about a shit-ton to use the technical measurement, of work I did outside around my house. Sure, I chose to do that work, but it’s Spring and things need to be tidied up so I can enjoy the summer, among other reasons (because there's always more to these things).

Wednesday evening, I went out to run some errands, which is unusual for me, mainly because I don’t like driving at night (I don’t have great night vision). I chose to do it anyway because when I was trying to organise my Thursday, I realised that if I ran the two errands in the evening, I wouldn’t have to go out the next day. That would give me more time for whatever project I chose to work on (depending on the weather). Plus, I knew the shops would have fewer people and the roads would be quieter, which were definite bonuses. I thought it was a perfect solution (nothing on TV that night, anyway).

My first stop was Bunnings, the Australian-owned home centre chain I often go to. I went there because I needed one more tomato cage, and it needed to match the ones I already have. I mean, obviously. I also wanted to get some of the long staple-like things used to secure weed mat to the ground, because the weed mat along my side boundary, on to top of the bank I keep talking about, is slipping. Back in 2020, when I put the stones out front, I bought some galvanised nails to secure the weed mat because I didn’t know if there was a drain line buried there, and I didn’t wnt t to risk puncturing it, but that’s not a problem along the fenceline (though there’s a drain line along the end of the slope, along the patio edge).

I ran into a slight problem: The garden area of Bunnings wasn’t staffed, it was getting dark, and so, I couldn’t find what I was there for. I eventually found the tomato cage I needed off by itself, not with the other cages, stakes and other plant supports (where they appeared to be sold out). I couldn’t find the long staple-like things. I bought the cage and headed to my next stop.

Next, it was the same Countdown I talked about on Wednesday (I went to New World last week—I really do generally alternate between them). Besides, Countdown is the only place I can get the peanut butter I like, and I was running low. I also bought something for a Test Kitchen post (still to come).

It was dark by the time I headed home, and I thought to myself that while I don’t like driving at night, I bet I’ve done more of it since I moved to Hamilton than in all my previous years in NZ; that’s probably not an exaggeration. Because it was dark, though, I noticed how many houses around me had twinkling lights on them for the Indian festival, Diwali. However, a couple days earlier, before I remembered it was Diwali, I saw some on a house I can see from mine and I thought it was someone putting Christmas lights up way too early—and then I had my DUH! moment when I realised what they were actually for.

Tragedy struck when I got home: I put the bag of chilled stuff too close to the edge of the kitchen bench, and when I took stuff out of it, I also removed the balancing weight, and the bag fell off. A tub of yoghurt landed on its lid, knocking it open. Half of it went all over the floor when I picked up the container (because the lid was askew). It was a big mess to clean up, but keeping Leo out of it was a bigger job (he’s a little guy, but he’d definitely have tried to eat it all). I got it all cleaned up, but lost half the contents. It was my own fault: I packed the bag at the supermarket, and I wasn’t careful enough when I put it on the bench. Things happen.

In the end, I didn’t do much the next day, apart from assembling the tomato cages, the one I bought at two others I hadn’t assembled yet. I didn’t do much else.

On Friday, I went out to lunch with my mother-in-law, then went back to Bunnings to get those long staple-like things for the weed mat—which weren’t in the garden centre, but inside the shop itself, so even if I’d spent more time I wouldn’t have found them on Wednesday evening. I also bought three bags of bark to help me tidy up that slope, and a cheap outdoor chair cushion so I can sit on it when I need to sit on the ground to pull weeds or whatever.

On the way home, I stopped at New World for a couple things I hadn’t been able to get at Countdown. In so doing, I demonstrated once again how I often alternate between the two shops.

That evening, we had an impromptu dinner at my brother-in-law’s house, so I had two nighttime driving excursions that week. It was also the last big thing I did because rain storms arrived Friday night, and have continued ever since, mostly with steady, but not necessarily heavy, rain.

This coming week I’m planning an unscheduled week: I have work to do outside, but this rain is supposed to continue most of the week, so it may not happen. I wonder if I can find things to do inside?

Nearly all of my various projects, both outside and inside the house, are things I’ll document; I just don’t know what or when. Still, despite appearances, they are structured if not scheduled. In other words, this coming week will be pretty much like any other week: Busy, which is both my reality and my choice. I guess that, too, is a kind of structure, also just like any other week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Change, avoidance, and supermarkets

A Facebook “Memory” popped up yesterday, too, and it included a photo I posted to Instagram (and so, Facebook), before writing a blog post about it. All of which made me think about change, avoidance—and supermarkets.

Four years later, that Countdown supermarket I stopped in is one of two in Hamilton that I go to routinely. I kind of alternate between that Countdown and the New World further down Te Rapa because they both have their own unique products, but these days they’re often out of stock on different things. And yet…

Both of those supermarkets are memory traps. As far as I can remember, I only went inside that Countdown with Nigel one time, but the last time I ever bought anything at the Kmart next door I was with Nigel (some winter scarves I still have, but that he only used one winter). I’ve stopped in there maybe a dozen times over the past four years, and always walked out with nothing because the shop had lots of empty shelves and they never had what their website claimed they had in stock.

The New World, on the hand, can be far more challenging. The first time we walked in there, Nigel said it was the nicest NZ supermarket he’d ever been in, and I remember that—and sometimes “hear” him saying it—every single time I walk in. I stopped in there with family around a month after Nigel died, and the memory hit me like a massive punch to the gut. “This isn’t fun any more,” I said to myself that day.

The thing is, I could’ve chosen to avoid those places—there are plenty of supermarkets in Hamilton that Nigel and I never went to (one in particular hadn’t even been built while he was alive). But I don’t do that, and I never have, because it’d be pointless.

Triggers, some quite strong and challenging, are literally everywhere—and nowhere. Anything can trigger a memory, even something as banal as a song used in a TV commercial (especially at Christmas…). My own brain serves up memories seemingly out of nowhere and connected to nothing. They’re unavoidable, and trying to hide myself away from possible triggering places would accomplish absolutely nothing.

Four years ago yesterday, I popped into what’s now one of my local supermarkets, and I never gave it a second thought. I couldn’t possibly have ever guessed that everything would change and my life would be blown up less than one damn year later, let alone that three years after that me going to that store would be just a routine thing, though one wrapped up in strong memories.

I think that the first year or so that I lived in Hamilton, I went to that Countdown precisely because it wasn’t that New World. With all the turmoil and upheaval of Covid lockdowns, and the loss of Sunny and then Jake, I learned to be more in the present, and even to be stronger within myself. Nowadays, I go wherever I want/need to go. I don’t avoid anything or any place because of memories, and when they show up, I just let the memories flow over me. No matter what kind they are or how they make me feel or react, they’re a part of me because Nigel was—is—a part of me.

So much has changed over the four years since I originally posted about stopping in that particular Countdown, and that includes me. After Nigel died, people often told me how strong I was, and the truth is, I always laughed when I read that. “You don’t see me when I’m not!” I thought to myself. No matter whose perspective was correct then, I’ve definitely learned how to be strong since. Now, I can absolutely go to any supermarket I want to, or any other place, and I know I’ll be okay—maybe even a bit better than that.

Funny how a Facebook “Memory” can bring such clarity. Still, I’ll take it wherever I find it. Even from supermarkets.

Seat of memory

Thanks to a recent Facebook "Memory", I found out that six years ago this month—October, 2016—I was asking Facebook friends for recommendations for a new desk chair, since mine was failing. It reminded me of things that change—and don't. It also reminded me that I apparently need reminders.

I didn't buy a new desk chair until we moved from Auckland's North Shore in February 2017, and even then it was only because the gas lift in my old chair was failing constantly. I found a chair at a NZ office products chain store in Pukekohe, liked the look of it, it was inexpensive, and it was the most comfortable I could find at the time. So, I bought it.

Sometime in 2020, during some lockdown or other, I noticed that the pleather covering on the seat of the chair was starting to flake off. That pleather is now mostly gone. Yes, it shouldn't have worn out so fast, but at the low price I paid it's just not worth the hassle to get it replaced; I wouldn't have a clue where the receipt is, and, anyway, it’d no doubt just happen again. It’s a reminder that you get what you pay for, something Nigel always stressed and I also believed. But I needed a new chair urgently, he was too busy with work to help with advice, so I took the easy route. Not for the first time, that was a mistake.

I later learned that I could've just installed a new gas lift in my old chair for a very low price—maybe a third of the price I paid for the new chair. Another lesson learned, this one an old one: Always fully research and evaluate alternatives.

So, with my current chair now pretty yucky-looking, I considered getting a super-duper chair I really like: It’s highly regarded (in reviews) and intended for gamers, so it’s rated for long hours of use—but it also has a very, very high price to match. However, I still have Nigel's desk chair, which was identical to mine but used far less (because I worked from home and he seldom did until his last few years). Nigel had me buy the chair for him because he liked the one I'd bought for myself in 2004. The fact mine lasted some 13 years is a pretty good compliment for that chair—and an indictment of that office products chain because I also bought the old chairs from there, and for a similar price.

I always thought my old chair was a good one, until the gas lift failed, though one arm was also badly worn from Bella sinking her claws into it and pulling herself up so I’d lift her onto my lap. After Nigel died, I needed to use his computer for lots of stuff, and I was surprised at how good his chair still was (and the upholstery is fine).

So, I plan to swap the chairs and use my current one in the garage when I work on projects there (assuming I ever manage to re-find the bolts to put the work benches together (I found them within a day or two of moving into this house, and put them "someplace safe". I think that safe place has a Klingon cloaking device installed. Or maybe it's Romulan?

These days I'm focused mainly on using what I have, either as is or re-purposing or upcycling, as needed, rather than buying new. I also donate/give away or sell usable things that I don't need. So far, there’ve only been a few minor things that I've gotten rid and later found I could've used—and I can't even remember what they were, so did I really need them? If all else fails, I responsibly dispose of broken/obsolete/truly unusable stuff.

The moral of the story (so I can re-learn it again in the future) is: When I need expensive things (furniture, tech, etc), shop for quality, not solely the lowest price, research all options and make an informed decision on how to proceed. I know all that of course—it's what Nigel always did, and I (usually) did that, too, because of him. I guess with "everything" going on, there are things I need to remind myself of.

Sometimes we need reminders to help us keep doing what works, and to avoid easy shortcuts. Such reminders can come from anywhere, even a random FB “Memory”—or from a blog post talking about it—but it’s the reminding that matters. I hope I’ve re-learned that lesson, too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

My labouring weekend

This weekend was New Zealand’s Labour Day holiday weekend (the public holiday was Monday). It’s traditionally the weekend people get their gardens ready for summer, which starts in only a few weeks. So, I decided to have my own “gardenathon”—who am I to buck tradition?

It was supposed to be sunny in Hamilton from Friday through Monday, so that sounded like I’d be able to get things a lot of things done. My plan was to pick up supplies and plants on Friday (to avoid the crowds), and then start planting out my recently-moved Vegepod. I joked on Facebook that had “more that I plan to do, too (and by ‘more’ I mean more than I can get done in three days, LOL).” Yes, well that turned out to be very true.

As it turned out, it rained Friday afternoon afternoon—a lot. Before that, the home centre I went to had very little of what I was looking for, though there were quite a lot of plants they hadn’t put out yet. That meant I could only get some of what I wanted, something that made me contemplate going to the other homw centre—on a holiday weekend. That may well be a sign I’d lost my mind. It also meant that mowing the lawns had to be moved from Friday to Saturday. Or, so I thought.

Friday night, I fell asleep in my chair watching TV. I was extremely tired because I’d had the worst night’s sleep maybe ever on Wednesday night, and only a bit better one Thursday night, so I was still weary on Friday. When I woke up, it was already getting light outside, something that’s never happened to me before (I’ve only ever dozed for a bit, then got up and gone to bed).

Because of all that, Saturday was a write-off. I went out for lunch with family that day, which was about perfect for my energy levels. I wanted to take a nap when I got home, but didn’t. I was in bed early (by my standards). Moving on.

Sunday, day two of the National Gardenathon, was my first real work day. First, I planted stuff I’d bought to put in my Vegepod—just some coriander and some curly parsley—the only plants I wanted that Bunnings actually had on Friday.

I planted way too much coriander, but I hope to dry some for use during colder months. I also planted too much parsley, but the thing about that is that I again bought the parsley that Nigel liked, and just as reflexively as I would’ve if he was alive, or as I did last time. Clearly I haven’t fully adjusted to living without him. I’m going to get some of the flat leaf (aka Italian parsley) that I like, too. At any rate, I don’t mind having the “wrong” parsley because I can use it to test to see if it does better in the Vegepod than it did in pots last time, where it got sunburned. I think it will.

All that was easy, but next—potting the tomato plants I bought—turned out to be a HUGE project. I had to clean out the two pots I used last time first, then I had to scrounge three more I’d found in the garage when I was working on that last year. I don’t know why, but the punnet I bought had five plants in it, and apparently that’s all it was supposed to have. But, then, I only had five suitable pots, so that worked out well?

Overall, it was as big a job as when Nigel and planted tomatoes at the last house, four years ago this same weekend (and we also planted herbs, including, of course, curly parsley). Leo supervised, mostly from under the patio table, the only shady spot anywhere on the patio (the sun was intense!).

I got way overheated, so I retreated to the air conditioned house, hoping to sow some of the seeds that evening, when it’s cooler. I didn’t.

Okay, then: One day of work done, and so much to do. Monday had a lot to fit in. As it turned out, I got a lot done—not everything on my list, but what I got done was pretty massive—for me.

My first job was to use the line trimmer in the back, both along the fences along all the boundaries, and the perimeter of the house. I also attacked (well, I did…) some of the weed clumps on the bank along one side of my section. The battery ran out of energy just as I pretty much finished back there.

My arms were VERY tired, so I took a break to drink some water (I had to hold the glass with both hands!) and to cool down. Then I got another battery and the charger from the garage, put the first battery on to charge, snapped the fresh battery on the line trimmer and headed out front. I was about two-thirds done when I suddenly ran out of line. So, I took the trimmer into the garage and put in new line filament on the first try, which hadn’t happened before. I finished the boundaries and house perimeter then went to get the lawn mower.

I mowed the front lawn and took another water/cooling break. When I walked into the house, the Move Ring on my watch was nearly closed (and closed as soon as I sat down to rest, LOL). My Exercise Ring was nearly closed.

After my rest, I went out back and started mowing that lawn. I also touched up some areas I hadn’t trimmed properly earlier. When I went back into the house, the Exercise Ring was at 150% of the daily goal, and Move Ring was nearly there.

I went back out one last time after the evening news and spread some grass seed where the Vegepod used to be. I also sowed some seeds in the Vegepod itself, and a couple pots. I’m not holding my breath, though, because the seeds are old, but, I didn’t have any reason to NOT use them. I also watered everything I’ve planted over the past two days.

I still had two plants to plant along that bank, but I left that job for this morning. In sum, over the three-day holiday weekend I managed to get done nearly everything I planned—and both the Move Ring and Exercise Ring on my watch ended up at more than 200% of my daily goal.

Today was to be the final planting (for this round), and, well, I ended up with a change of plans: I now won’t be planting my citrus trees on the bank along the side boundary. I began by loosening the ground with this thing I bought for digging holes: It has four tines, and a T handle at the top to make it easy to turn the thing to dig a hole—or, it did the last time I used it.

The spot where I was going to put the tree turned out to be very dense, solid clay, so solid that it looked denser than the kind we used in art class in school to make fancy fired and glazed pottery stuff for our parents (I did briefly consider buying a kiln and becoming a ceramicist…). Joking aside, it’s the densest clay I’ve ever seen in the ground.

Mostly, it came out in big, almost rocklike chunks, a couple of which are in the photo up top (with gloves for scale). After a half hour of hard work, the hole was no more than half as big as it needed to be, and I realised it would actually need to be many times bigger because it’d end up being an in-ground clay pot—but that meant poor drainage and the likelihood the tree would probably die.

So, my back-up plan: I’m going to plant them in containers (basically, a small raised garden bed), something a lot of people do, actually. I’m ordering them today and then get the soil once I know when the containers will be delivered. A setback, yes, but one I can work around.

Back in 2020, I planted a pittosporum along that boundary, but the other end, near my patio. The slope is a lot lower there, and the clay much less dense. There was also some topsoil. But I noticed the plant grew very slowly the first year or so, probably because of the dense soil (it’s doing great now). But I’d originally planned on planting them along the entire boundary to give me privacy, and now I have to rethink the whole thing. I guess I was lucky that Bunnings didn’t have any on Friday.

When I moved in, the lawns were barren patches of clay (builders always strip out the topsoil, but he didn’t put any back, and then he just had lawn seed sprayed onto the barren clay (and then never watered it…). It took two years before it filled in, partly because my mowing added organic matter through the grass mulch. It’s now largely weeds, but at least it’s green and full.

I guess it pays to be flexible.

This post is derived from posts I made to my personal Facebook over the holiday weekend.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Some days bring the oddest things

Some days bring the oddest things. We’re busy minding our own business, doing what we’re doing, keeping on keeping on, and then things go all unexpected. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

Last Friday, October 14, I was looking for something I knew would be in one of several plastic storage crates where I keep my purely personal stuff, mostly things I brought from the USA. I’d looked inside them recently when I was moving them, so I was aware, more or less, of what was inside. That was important because it meant I knew the thing I was looking for was likely to be in one of those crates—I just didn’t know which one.

I was looking for a paper I wrote for a class when I was in high school, about some family history: I’d “interviewed” my dad about his experience as a chaplain to German prisoners of war in Virginia during World War 2. I wasn’t certain I still had it, but I was pretty sure I did.

I knew that when I was in my teens and twenties I kept pretty much everything I wrote, but I also knew that the crates weren’t filled logically or consistently. While I knew that I’d brought the stuff to New Zealand at different times, I also knew that U’d repacked the crates several times, too, something that was obvious when I looked through them recently.

The paper was in the last part of the last crate I checked. Of course.

I wrote the paper in 1973 (probably), and the fact that it was nearly 50 years ago was—well, I chose to ignore that. Or, I tried to.

Along the way to finding my treasure, I ran across all sorts of things that gave me the warm and fuzzies: A workbook from my first grade class, and the parents’ book explaining the phonetic system used to teach us. I found some children’s books the Sunday Chicago Tribune published in the 1960s that I’d carefully cut out and assembled, and on one of the books I’d carefully written my name, using the backwards letters very young kids typically make.

I also ran across all sorts of things from my activist days, including newspaper clippings of the stuff I was involved in, photos, and more. I forgot about some of it, but a lot of it—especially the clippings—I thought were lost. Also in the “I thought were lost” category was political ephemera I’d collected in the 1970s and 80s, but I thought had been destroyed while in storage in the USA after I left for NZ. I’m happy I still have a little of all that stuff I thought was lost.

I found some samples of my work at my jobs over the past 40 years, though I have plenty more elsewhere. The vast majority of the crated stuff was pre-1995.

There were lots of odds and ends, too: The doorknob to my bedroom in the first house I ever lived in, something my sister salvaged for me before the house was torn down because I couldn’t go to do it myself. There were stray old photos, there were small souvenirs from the trips to the UK that my parents took me on (1971 and 1973).

Among the most random relics were my playlists for 80s mixtapes I made for myself so I could listen to my favourite songs in those pre-MP3/streaming days. I had them because I used to write down the song lists, then, when I was happy with the tape, I’d write the list on the cassette case’s J-card (a name I only remembered as I was doing my final edit of this post…). The tapes themselves are lost, sadly, but I’ve found a few of these playlists over the years and I’ve made Spotify playlists out of two so far.

In some cases, I own (or, rather, re-own…) the tracks, and that means that I could make Apple Music playlists, too. When I have a media server set up (longer-term project), I may do that, and I’ll no longer need a streaming service. At any rate, this playlist project will probably/almost certainly become the topic of a blog post eventually.

When I speak of things I’m sentimental about, it’s stuff like what’s in those crates. The thing is, I have so very little left of my American life that what I have is precious to me: It matters that I still have some bits and pieces connecting me to every era of my life, my childhood and youth in particular. As the saying goes, it’s impossible to know where we’re going if we we don’t know where we’ve been, and those things—even mixtape playlists—provide touchstones of my life.

Yes, I still have lots (and lots and lots and…) of stuff I both want and need to get rid of, but those plastic crates are off limits. To quote myself, those crates are “out of bounds”: They will remain with me for the rest of my life. It’s always important to know where our non-negotiable boundaries are.

Last week’s adventure also reminded me of one thing more: I have so many stories from my life yet to tell. I’d better get busy.

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 372 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 372, “Talking in whispers”, 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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

An unexpectedly easy job

It’s not easy for me to get projects finished (obviously), but sometimes it’s completely understandable. This past Sunday, I finally accomplished something that’s been on my to-do list for about a year, and it was one of those projects that I couldn’t easily do by myself. Or, so I thought

The VegePod raised garden bed I bought two years ago had been stuck in the ground for about a year, and it looked awful: It happened because the wheels were on the ground, not on a hard surface as it’s supposed to be, and the weight of the thing caused it to sink into the dirt, where it got stuck (it was too heavy for me to pull it out). Weeds then grew underneath, and later, when the cover got askew from strong winds, weeds grew inside it, too. Because I couldn’t move the VegePod, I couldn’t mow underneath it as I did that first summer. I also couldn’t get the weedeater underneath it, though I tried as best I could.

This all happened mainly because I didn’t use it all last year because lockdowns were at the wrong time, and that prevented me from buying plants. I actually tried starting some seeds, but we had a spring storm with strong winds that blew the cover off—and all the pots with seeds onto the ground, dumping out the contents before they even had a chance to germinate. I gave up.

I knew I wanted to use it this year, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to plant it out until I moved it. I made an elaborate plan for how I could do that by myself: I’d put a large plastic sheet on the ground, dig out all the dirt (to make it lighter and possible for me to move it), and then, I’d move the VegePod (assuming my plan worked and I could get it unstuck…), and I’d put put all the dirt back in it.

My first task was to remove all the weeds inside under the cover. Then, my next task was to start my elaborate plan—but I’d gotten a late start and I was a bit worried about how long it would take, and how physically exhausting it might be. So, I thought I may as well try moving it first.

I rocked it back and forth, lifted each corner in turn (trying not to overuse my back muscles), and I got the thing free! I pulled it over to my patio (which is cement), rolled it where it’s going to go, locked the wheels, and then went back to clear the weeds that had been under it.

After that year or so of undisturbed growth, some of the weeds had big woody clumps at their base. I pulled everything I could by hand, then used the garden fork to leverage the root clumps out of the ground (I’m composting all of that, of course). I’ll mow the lawns later in the week, then sow some grass seed at that spot.

Now that it’s moved, I can plant the raised bed—although it already has some thyme growing, I noticed. As it happens, the Labour Day holiday weekend, which is this coming weekend, is traditionally when people plant their gardens for summer (although it’s actually any time before the end of October that people shoot for; the holiday weekend just gives them an extra day to work on their gardens).

In my case, I also have to clean up my patio itself and remove the weeds growing around it, but those jobs are much easier. Planting out my gardens—including the hedges I never managed to get planted (except for one) will be a big job, but even it will be easier than trying to move that earth-locked VegePod.

This project took time to figure out because—not for the first time—I really didn’t have anyone I could ask to help me (I rarely ask for help on projects, anyway, so that I’m more likely to get help when I absolutely can’t do something myself, but this particular time there was no one available). It was also delayed because I needed to figure out where to put it. I knew it had to be on a hard surface, and I thought about putting down some pavers—but where? In the end, I decided to put it at one end of my patio, which is 8 metres wide by 2.6 metres deep (from the house to the edge). I don’t actually use the patio, so giving up one end for gardening won’t inconvenience me. Still, I can always move it somewhere else later on if I want to.

The important thing to me right now is that the worst of my outside jobs is done—finally!!!—and that makes me very happy. Now, on to the next one(s).

The photos up top are the VegePod before I started the project, and below is the spot before I cleared the weeds and after. The single photo shows the the VegePod after I took the cover off, showing the weeds growing in it as well as under it.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Auckland voters say little

This is the second post about the two areas where I followed the local elections, and this one is about the part of Auckland’s North Shore where Nigel and I lived until 2017 (links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this post). Before talking about the results, I first need to point out I have a vested interest.

When Nigel and moved from Auckland’s North Shore and bought in the southern part of Auckland, we did so by including our house on the Shore in the deal, so both houses were used for the total borrowing. We kept our house on the Shore and rented it out. When Nigel died, I obviously inherited that property, too (and the tax obligations).

New Zealand has a system in which people who own property somewhere they don’t live can enrol to vote on what’s called “the ratepayer roll” for the place where they own property. This is different from what’s called “the general roll” which includes all NZ citizens and NZ permanent residents who are 18 or older. The idea, basically, is that people who pay rates (similar to property taxes in the USA) on a property are entitled to have representation so they have a say in how those rates are spent. On the one had, that makes perfect sense: No taxation without representation, and all that. On the other hand, it also favours those who are fortunate to own property other than what they live in. Should someone get extra votes merely because they own property other than what they live in? Or, should “one person, one vote” be the primary consideration? The system makes me extremely uncomfortable and doesn’t sit well with my egalitarian values—though neither does owning a residential rental property, actually.

Still, the system is what it is, and those who tend to favour the rightwing don’t usually share my unease. If they’re likely to vote in a way I wouldn't support, pragmatically I needed to use the same system to vote in support of my values. I’ve always been a pragmatist, not a dogmatist, so enrolled in the ratepayer roll and voted (I posted my ballot to Auckland the same day I dropped off my Hamilton ballot; I posted it by the deadline suggested, so I presume, but don’t know, that it arrived on time and was counted).

The folks who live in Auckland have only Auckland Council—there is no regional council on top of it, as there is in the rest of New Zealand. The main body is usually called the Governing Body (or GB), and is made up of Councillors elected in one or two person Wards. Below that are Local Boards (also known as an “LB”, usually as an acronym for its actual name) to represent far more local interests, providing advice to the GB and deciding some very local things (like park upgrades, community funding, and whatever the GB delegates). The mayor is elected at large in the entire city, and despite a few powers, the mayor is merely one vote on the GB, which means the mayor may not get their way. Auckland uses the old fashioned “first past the post” electoral system for its local elections.

Auckland’s official 2022 results were released on Saturday, October 15. I’ll talk mainly about races where I had a vote, as I did when talking about the Hamilton/Waikato elections).


The Auckland mayoralty was won by a guy called Wayne Brown, who I did not vote for. He won 181,810 votes to runner-up Efeso Collins’ 124,802 votes. Collins, who I voted for, was endorsed by the Labour Party and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and was generally considered the progressive candidate (though one prominent rightwing political commentator tried to gaslight progressives by saying Collins was “anti-LGBT+” and “anti-abortion” which was deliberate misrepresentation of his positions). Brown, meanwhile, ran a pretty nasty campaign. He came across as a bit of a jerk, partly because of his habit of calling people he disagrees with “idiots” (or worse), and aggressively oversimplifying the issues Auckland faces. To me, he sounded as if he either didn’t actually know what he was talking about, or he was deliberately talking populist nonsense to win votes. Neither option is especially appealing considering Auckland will be stuck with him for three years. Whatever the reality is, it worked.

Collins, meanwhile, would've been the first Polynesian mayor of Auckland, which absolutely triggered “certain people”. The fact he was identified with Labour also didn’t help him with those same “certain people”, along with rightwingers generally. The main problem that Collins faced was the disgustingly low voter turnout overall (around 37% of all eligible voters last I heard).

However, poorer people and brown people are less likely to vote in general elections than are Pākehā (which generally means people of European ancestry). In my view, this is mainly because they’re considerably younger as a group than are Pākehā (young people of all groups have very, very low voting rates), and considerably less likely to own their home than Pākehā, both of which mean they don’t see that they have anything personally at stake. In a battlefield surrendered to older Pākehā who own property, it’d be a high hill for a brown progressive to climb. So, I’m disappointed by the results but not even remotely surprised.

Naturally, political journalists have labelled the win as a “sign of trouble” for the Labour government in the general election next year, which is just plain dumb. Next year is next year—we cannot possibly know what will happen over the next 12 months: Will the Russian dictator start a nuclear war? Will Covid come roaring back worse than before? We cannot know what the world will be like when the election is actually held, and this election can’t be used as some sort of crystal ball, especially because the results were so mixed.

Ward Councillors

I was entitled to vote in the North Shore Ward, which elects two Councillors. The top vote getter was my friend Richard Hills (who I’ve talked about many times on this blog, and I obviously voted for him). He received 19,269 votes. The second-place candidate, who was also elected, was Chris Darby, who received 17,123 votes. I voted for him, too (I’ve met Chris a few times, but I don’t know him all that well). Both Richard and Chris were incumbents—and both endured some horrendous personal attacks on top of a constant barrage of aggressively negative campaigning.

If the results for the Auckland mayoralty don’t really tell us much about voters’ mood, then the races for Auckland Councillor confuse things even more. In a couple cases conservative candidates defeated more progressive ones—and in a couple cases it was the exact opposite. A few incumbents were defeated, many others were re-elected. Commentators and partisans will try, but the results simply can’t be used to prognosticate any more than the mayoral election can.

Local Board Members

I was entitled to vote in the Kaipātiki Local Board (KLB) election, which elects eight members. The eight people elected were ALL from a motley assortment of candidates running on the “Shore Action” ticket, which is made up of a family associated with the now defunct left-leaning Alliance Party, as well as candidates associated with the National Party. I didn’t vote for any of their candidates this election because I assumed they’d again win control of the KLB. I was tempted to vote for one of their candidates, but I didn’t in the end because I didn’t want to strengthen their odds due to the spoiler effect inherent in the antidemocratic first past the post election system.

Instead, I voted only for the five Labour candidates, one of whom I served on a community organisation’s board with. The Labour candidates came in spots eleven to fifteen (the person who came in tenth was another person from that community organisation board). All up, there were 23 candidates vying for those eight positions, reinforcing the probability of negative consequences from the spoiler effect.

I don’t know most of the people elected to the KLB, and I don’t even know how many were seeking re-election. The previous election was in October 2019, and I was a bit preoccupied with far more important things at that time (in fact, the 2019 election materials arrived in the mail the day Nigel died; I don't think we planned to vote through the ratepayer roll that year, but, as I said, I was a bit preoccupied). Because I don’t really know most of the folks on their team, I don’t have anything against the team as such (there’s at least that one who’s good, and almost got my vote). However, I think it’s bad for democracy to have one party or bloc or whatever hold all the seats on a representative body.

And that’s it for the elections I was entitled to vote in. As I’ve said, nothing can be read into the results nationwide, especially when maybe 40% could even be bothered to vote. On the other hand, the voters of Gore (in the South Island) elected the youngest mayor in New Zealand history, 23-year-old Ben Bell—and by a whopping eight votes. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already tried to declare that’s an indicator of what’ll happen next year, too.

NZ voters send local government a message: ‘Meh.’ – the first post in this series
Hamilton voters shrug – My post about the elections in Hamilton

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Hamilton voters shrug

There were two areas I was following: Hamilton/Waikato and Auckland, especially the part of the North Shore where Nigel and I lived until 2017. To avoid making this post too long, I’ll talk about Auckland’s election in a separate post. To start, I’ll talk about where I live, Hamilton and the Waikato.


First, it’s important to note that back in 2020, the Hamilton City Council changed the way the city’s elections were run from the traditional First Past the Post system to Single Transferable Vote (STV), something I talked about at the time. I practice, we could rank all the candidates in a particular race, or just some of them. I chose this second method. The final results of the 2022 election were released yesterday evening, October 14.

Mayor: Paula Southgate was re-elected Mayor of Hamilton. I was glad about that because I ranked her #1. However, I didn’t rank any of the other candidates because I didn’t want any of the others to have a shot at winning. We had some real doozies on the ballot this year.

The mayoral candidate who came in dead last said in her candidate statement in the booklet posted with our ballots, “I may not have testicles, but I have more balls than most!” (exclamation mark in the original). The guy who came in second to last wrote—and this is verbatim:
As a universalist Christian part of the interfaith movement I believe in the endtime divine kingpriests heads of the 7 mountains transforming family religion education media and Government.
My honest reaction was, WTAF?!! though I said all the words. I don’t expect everyone to write in perfect prose or to use perfect grammar, but making friends with commas would be useful for people with high ambitions: “I’m a Father and would like to be Father of Kirikiriroa providing parental care and support to Fathers Mothers and Children.” The people of Kirirkiriroa Hamilton declined his offer, which is awesome, but personally I think the “balls” lady ought to have bounced above him in the rankings. The guy's candidate statement was probably the most unhinged I’ve ever seen.

The co-leader of a tiny far-right anti-vaccine and anti-government fringe political party came in fourth, sadly, but that was 1248 votes out of 32,354 cast, so, that’s something, I guess? At least we know how many loons are determined to vote? 

Hamilton has three wards for the City Council. The two general electorate wards are East Ward and West Ward roughly referring to sides of the Waikato River, and each elect six councillors. The third ward, Kirikiriroa Maaori Ward, has two Councillors to match the Māori population of Hamilton as closely as possible. It’s for voters on the Māori Electoral Roll only, and was just established this year to ensure Māori representation (Side note: Tainui, which is the Iwi for this region, uses double vowels rather than the more common macon—they write Maaori instead of Māori—and Hamilton uses Tainui’s preferred spellings; I don't, except in proper titles).

I live in West Ward, and I ranked 8 of the 17 candidates. Four of the candidates I ranked were elected, which, depending on how you look at it, means I could say that 50% of the candidates I ranked were elected, or that two thirds of the candidates who were elected to Council in West Ward were ones I ranked. I prefer this second option. Because of course I would.

I ranked only 8 candidates because I didn’t especially like the other 9, to varying degrees. The two elected to Council that I didn’t rank were candidates I didn’t want on Council, however, they weren’t ones I DIDN’T want, either: It wasn’t that I opposed them, it was just that I thought there were others who would be better for whatever reason. However, there were three candidates I absolutely did NOT want on Council, but neither did most everyone else—fortunately.

Among the candidates I ranked was Angela O’Leary, who was the second place finisher in the Ward, and yesterday the Mayor appointed her the new Deputy Mayor. O’Leary replaces the Geoff Taylor, who was the top vote-getter in West Ward—and the chief rival to the Mayor (he finished second to her in the mayoral race, some 1800 votes behind her. I didn’t rank him for either race, but I’m not upset he was re-elected to Council (yet?).

Overall, 9 of Hamilton’s 15 members of the City Council are women, and now so are both the top leadership roles for the elected Council. Hamilton’s results don’t really tell us much of the “will” of the electorate, not when only around 30% of eligible voters could be bothered to return their postal ballots. Also, it looks like only one pretty clearly hard-right candidate was elected (in East Ward), so it doesn’t look like Hamilton voters have suddenly veered to the right. Sadly, the leader of the extremist party came in third in the race for the two seats for the Kirikiriroa Maaori Ward, and while she lost, it was far too high.


I must begin by stating my bias: Waikato Regional Council is, in my not at all humble opinion, a pointless extra layer of governance and bureaucracy and cost to ratepayers, on top of all that for Hamilton City. I personally believe that there have got to me more sensible ways to do achieve regional goals without more politicians, bureaucrats, and costs. In American terms, it’s a bit like county government on top of governments of cities and towns, and considering that even rural areas have a town council, regional councils seem superfluous. Worse, the regional council still uses the old fashioned First Past the Post voting system.

The final results [PDF] were released yesterday or today (there’s no clear time stamp on their site).

We could vote for four candidates for the “Hamilton constituency”, which is what our voting area for the city is called. I voted for only two, both of whom won. I was very pleased that the two candidates I least wanted didn’t win (one of who came across as racist, the other as dogwhistling to the rightwing). The two winners I didn’t vote for didn’t bother me, but I was basically “meh” about them both, so not overly disappointed—especially because there were no better candidates.

Sadly, one extremist was elected to the Regional Council from a constituency south of Hamilton. He was the second-highest polling candidate (out of two elected), and is notorious for spreading conspiracy theories, among other things. Our former lawyer lost a seat in yet another constituency.

That’s it for Hamilton City Council and Waikato Regional Council for another three years. I have absolutely no idea what will happen between then and now, but, as always, I’ll be watching.

NZ voters send local government a message: ‘Meh.’ – the first post in this series

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Darn socks

We always hear how older generations knew how to avoid waste, often because of the Great Depression or the shortages caused by World War Two. To the extent that’s true, they taught what they knew to their children—often Baby Boomers—who, we are told, failed to teach their kids, and so on, leaving young(er) people today not knowing how to stretch food, to repair simple things, to grow food, and much more. Those impressions may or may not be true, at least generally, but I’m a Baby Boomer who was taught some of those apparently lost skills. Like darning socks.

When I was a young kid, I used to see my mother darning socks. With my dad working as a preacher and my mother a stay-at-home mother (as nearly all of my friends’ mothers were, too), she needed to make money go as far as possible. Eventually she taught me how to darn socks and how to sew a button on a shirt, things she would've thought would be useful for me. She never taught me to use a sewing machine, though, nor did she offer to do so, and I later wondered if it was because of gender roles of the time. I’ll never know, but I think that by teaching me to darn socks and sew a button onto a shirt, she have have merely responded to my curiosity (I watched her work and was fascinated).

In any case, knowing how to darn socks and sew buttons onto shirts was extremely useful over the years. I’ve been doing both for at least 55 years—though I started taking shortcuts with socks.

Her method was to take “darning thread”, which was like a rope of very lightweight threads, and weave a patch over the hole in the sock. This method was most useful for large hole, like on the heels. However, I eventually didn’t patch heels—I threw the sock away—because I could always feel the patch when I wore them, and it was uncomfortable. And, anyway, by the time the heel got a hole, it was usually too threadbare to bother darning.

A hole in the toe was always different, though, especially because it was often on a seam, and simple to simple stitch closed. I’ve darned socks this way since at least my university years, which means more than 45 years.

This suddenly became an important, priority task because in recent weeks sock after sock has developed a hole in the heel, and whenever that happened I threw the sock away. In this way, the situation became dire.

This sudden decline in my sock inventory began because several years ago—maybe eight to ten—I bought a LOT of socks at The Warehouse, New Zealand’s discount retailer that was originally modelled on Walmart. The thing about The Warehouse is that they have a particular product line for only a short time, as they constantly change suppliers to get products at ever cheaper prices, thereby increasing their profit margins. After being caught out several times (like with underwear), I finally learned to stock up on things in order for them to last for many years, because it was always certain that in a few months to a year the product I liked would be gone.

So, several years ago I bought pack after pack of socks at The Warehouse to replace the ones that were faded and worn out (nearly all had already been darned, sometimes more than once). Because I bought so many all at once, the socks are now wearing out all once, too. So, the sudden drop in my inventory of wearable socks is no surprise.

As it happens, I have socks with a small hole in the toe that I just never got around to darning (why take the time when I had so many in daily use?), but now I need them: This week, another sock gave me a hole in the heal I then had only four pairs left, and I had 6 and half pairs waiting to be darned. I completed the darning of socks yesterday. Back when I bought the stash of socks, I put aside a couple unopened packs (10 pairs), something I did to prepare for this very day. However, all of them will wear out, too, and I need to plan ahead.

I was recently at The Warehouse (they do have the best prices for ordinary socks…) and I looked at the packs of socks. Turns out, as usual, what they had was nothing like the ones I bought all those years ago (the current ones are made with thinner fabric, so they’ll wear out much faster). That’s the other reason I want to repair what I have: They’re better than what I can get now. At the same time, what The Warehouse now sells is nearly three times the price of the one I bought all those years ago: Back then, it cost me roughly $1.20 per pair, now it’s $3.

Which brings me to the moral of my story: We ought to have the right to repair anything we buy. Clearly I have the right to repair my socks or to sew a button on a shirt—no one would dispute that (though some have laughed at me and told me I should just throw out the socks and buy new ones), but there are plenty of things we buy that not only can we not not repair ourselves, it’s often impossible for anyone to repair them. That’s stupid and immoral.

Our landfills are clogged with things that can’t be repaired or easily recycled (another failing of manufacturers), and landfills have lots of such stuff, including large amounts of clothing and other textiles thrown into them. In the case of clothes, many people these days apparently don’t know how to repair them and feel they can’t justify the cost of taking them to someone who can when buying new is so cheap (price and quality…). So, into the rubbish it goes.

One of my core values is to live as sustainably as possible/practical, and I realise that sometimes it’s just not possible. I know that eventually my socks (etc.) will no longer be repairable. However, when I can, I repair things (including the humble socks) to delay the time when it has to be sent to landfill. If something can’t be repaired, I try to reuse it before throwing it away (for example, my cleaning rags are cut-up worn-out singlets). That’s better for the environment, obviously, but it also saves me a little money. Together, it’s a pretty good return on my investment of time and effort—for me. Others’ realities may be different.

I can’t repair everything, and I never could. Of course. But there are a lot of things I can fix, and all I need is a bit of time and little effort. It doesn’t save me huge piles money, of course, but, to me, living my values is worth far more than money.

Update: I had a late start today and had my shower after this post was published. When I went to put on socks, yet another one had a hole in the heel. I completed my darning just in time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 371 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 371, “Make believe”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Monday, October 10, 2022

NZ voters send local government a message: ‘Meh.’

New Zealand’s local elections closed at noon this past Saturday, with the earliest results available by evening. Today the preliminary results were released, with the final result to be announced in a few days. Traditionally, not much changes between the preliminary and final result. Overall, there were some surprises in the elections, but with fewer than 40% of eligible voters bothering to cast a ballot, it’s obvious that the message that the clear majority of New Zealand voters sent to local government was a resounding “Meh”.

New Zealand’s local elections are held on the second Saturday in October every three years (usually not the same year as Parliamentary elections), and the election is done by postal ballot—which makes the ever-declining rates of voting shocking to some observers. What’s certain is that New Zealand’s local election system is a disaster, and has been for a long time. Local Government New Zealand, which is an association representing local governments—basically, their lobby group—is calling for an independent review of the utterly broken local election system to figure out how to fix it. This is a very important thing, and so is it being independent (we can’t really trust Parliament or local governments to get it right). Still, the one thing that most people seem to agree on is that 2022 must be the last postal election in New Zealand.

People don’t use the postal system for much of anything anymore, something that’s true in countries around the world, of course. New Zealand Post delivered some voters’ election materials late, and failed to deliver them at all to potentially thousands of voters. These same delivery problems may also mean that thousands of ballots posted back in time may not have been delivered in time, and may not arrive until sometime this week, well after voting closed, and that means they won’t be counted at all (ballots had to be received by noon on Saturday, which is why I hand-delivered my Hamilton ballot to an official collection box—well, that, and the fact I wasn’t sure where I could post my ballot.

Against that backdrop, it’s difficult to be sure if the results are even representative of people who did vote, let alone the majority who didn’t. Be that as it may, we’re all stuck with wishes of the minority who got their votes in and counted, and that could be a problem in some councils. I’ll talk about Hamilton and Auckland in two different posts, but, for now, the important point is that things have GOT to change.

One problem we had this year was that a number of fringe extremists, or those supporting the extremist organisations, were trying to get elected to local government. According to Stuff, out of the some 3,000 candidates this year, around 200 “promoted false information or conspiracies”, and several were clearly affiliated with extremist groups. Of those 200, roughly a dozen were actually elected.

Local elections create an opening for extremists to take advantage of the pathetically low voter turnout to sneak into office and cause trouble, which makes those elections a huge vulnerability for democracy in New Zealand. In a time when democracy is under attack throughout the world, we must redouble our efforts to strengthen and protect it.

If postal voting was abandoned, what would it be replaced with? The obvious answer is in-person voting, as we have for general elections. Some people are pushing hard for online voting, but New Zealand’s security agencies have warned against that because of the huge potential for hackers to disrupt or steal our elections—even local elections, because adversaries would want to create chaos and division in NZ. However, I think the talk about voting methods misses the point: Why on earth would NZ voters care about local elections?

New Zealand has a unitary system of government in which Parliament is supreme. Local government has only those powers given to it by Parliament, and that doesn’t include many of the things that local governments look after in places like the USA, things like schools, police, fire, all of which are national in New Zealand. Local governments mostly administer legislation on behalf of Parliament—things like dog control, enforcement of the building act, and maintaining controls on the sale of restricted items (like alcohol, tobacco, vaping supplies). Local governments also maintain local streets and roads, collect rubbish, maintain parks and reserves, have events and promote tourism, manage public transport (if any), and take care of water and wastewater. The latter was a big issue among some—including the fringe groups—because of the governments proposed Three Waters Reforms, which is too big a topic for this post, but if Parliament pushed through the plans as proposed, it would’ve taken away one of the main things local councils do.

Because of all that, the argument goes that since local governments look after a lot of things that affect residents’ daily lives, if people can’t be bothered to vote—especially when the voting comes to their houses—it means they’re just plain lazy or too shallow. That’s nonsense.

People don’t vote partly, yes, because they either don’t appreciate or understand what local councils do, but local government is also confusing as hell, with very little information available to voters without them having to do a LOT of work and spend a LOT of time researching. Most people simply won’t do all that work, as we’ve seen. I’m on the side of those voters.

When voters receive their ballots, they also get a booklet with statements provided by the candidates themselves, all of which are (apparently) unvetted and unedited. The information booklet for Hamilton’s election was 36 pages long, and the booklet for the area we lived in on Auckland’s North Shore was 47 pages—and both were in relatively small type. Both booklets also had information on how to vote.

Aside from the booklets, some candidates advertised or had signs, some attended information meetings or debates (though in some places those fringe elements disrupted meetings by shouting at candidates so that no one could hear anything, especially from anyone the fringe didn’t like). There’s very little media coverage of smaller councils’ elections on the TV news, and not every place has newspapers—and even those that do aren’t necessarily any better informed.

The alternatives, then, are to spend hours and hours researching candidates, hours at public meetings on a weeknight, rely on that candidate supplied info in the booklets (and hope they’re not hiding being part of a fringe political group), or just don’t bother voting at all. Clearly the majority of New Zealand voters are choosing the last option.

What I think needs to happen is that postal voting has to be abolished and in-person voting has to be brought back—thenwe can think about online voting, though I personally think it’s a very bad idea, not just for security reasons, but because it would disadvantage older voters who may not be able to understand online voting, as well as poorer people who may not have a computer and/or an Internet connection at home. In-person voting, especially if conducted over a couple weeks like the general elections are, gets around nearly all those problems.

After the problem with voting is fixed, the next step is to have the Electoral Commission take over all responsibility for running local elections. Right now, councils run their own elections and are responsible for promoting them—and some councils are frankly useless at doing so. If the local elections were run like the general election, we can ensure they all work identically, that they’ll be promoted throughout the country, and that they’ll be secure.

I also think some systemic reforms are needed. All local government elections should be run under the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system to reduce the ability of fringe/extremist candidates to sneak in. Kirikiriroa-Hamilton just switched to STV this year, something I wrote about when the decision was made. I also think that single-member wards would be better than either completely at-large, or, have multi-member wards (Hamilton has two general wards, each with six councillors, and Auckland’s wards have one or two councillors each), because it would greatly simplify and reduce the amount of research voters need to do. However, if there must be electorates with two or more members to be elected, STV is on the only rational way to do it.

Voter registration should be automatic at age 18. There’s evidence that if someone doesn’t vote by the third election after they turn 18, they will probably never vote. We need to make it as easy to vote as possible, and automatic voter registration is one of the easiest ways to do that (people who have an objection should have to opt out, in my view, rather than expecting young people to opt in). I do NOT support making voting mandatory because forcing someone to vote doesn’t automatically make them care about elections or results. A better way to do that is to have robust civics education in schools, something New Zealand is set to make compulsory.

All the reforms I back will help, but they won’t fix everything: You can lead a person to the election, but you can’t make them vote. I certainly understand why some people can’t be bothered to vote in local elections, even if I think they “should” care and “should” vote—because I do? Probably. But the danger is that with a highly-motivated extremist fringe that, while tiny, is well-organised, we could have our democracy stolen in plain sight. We MUST change the way New Zealand’s local elections are done—while we still have a democracy.

Update – October 11, 2022: I decided to wait to talk about the election results in Hamilton and Auckland until after the final results are announced on Friday. As I said in the post, not much changes between the preliminary and final result, but, maybe something might? At any rate, it's probably best to wait until the counting is truly over.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Frozen spring

New Zealand is getting hit by a “tropospheric polar vortex”, with Antarctic cold air described as coming from “the belly of the polar region”. Spring, eh? Gotta love it.

Snow to low elevations (even sea level) in the South Island was predicted, and, in fact, it’s started falling. Christchurch may see snow accumulate, the first time it’ll have happened since the 1960s.

Overall, heavy snow watches have been issued for much of the South Island and parts of the lower North Island. This won’t affect Hamilton, of course. The watches are in effect until Thursday.

A few days ago, it was 22 (71.6F) in Hamilton. Tomorrow, the high will be 10 degrees (53.6F), and that’s after dropping to 0 (32F) overnight tonight.

Just yesterday, I put my heat pump in the living area on cooling because the afternoon got hot, and that was after it had been off for a couple days. This evening I put it on heating again, because the temps had already dropped significantly.

This sort of frigid storm system in Spring is very, very rare. In the upper North Island, October is when we usually start seeing more very warm days (like yesterday, or a few days ago), mixed in with cooler days—but without the nighttime temperature dropping down to freezing (actually, I don’t remember that happening over the past 26+ years, but I could’ve forgotten it, I suppose—or just blocked it from my memory).

Seriously, though, I despise wintry weather, and have for decades. But I know hot summery weather is on the way, even if it may not seem like it right now.

The forecast video above is from NIWA (the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research), a Crown Research Institute founded in 1992 to “enhance the economic value and sustainable management of New Zealand’s aquatic resources and environments, to provide understanding of climate and the atmosphere and increase resilience to weather and climate hazards to improve safety and wellbeing of New Zealanders.” I’ve noticed that a lot of the public-facing weather people at NIWA are North American. I have no idea why.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Pōti ahau – I voted (2022)

Today I cast my vote for Hamilton City Council and Waikato Regional Council elections at the St Andrews branch of the Hamiton library, the closest drop-off point to my house. It was a 20 minute drive in traffic.

I was originally just going to post it, but since that meant driving at least 15 minutes, I decided to see how long it would take—and how difficult it would be—to go to the library closest to my house. There was a drive-in and drop-off thing at a supermarket in Dinsdale, not far from the Dinsdale branch of the library (the next-nearest branch to my house), though the drive-on thing was only announced this morning, which seemed a bit poor. The main reason I chose not to go there was that the driving time would’ve been longer than what I chose.

The only trouble I had was that Apple Maps sent me a different way than I’d have chosen—though I couldn’t know that at the time, since I’d never been to the area the library’s in. It was fine in the end.

Hamilton City Council has done a pretty poor job of making it easy to vote, a topic I’ll return to soon, but the main issue this year was that there were FAR too few drop off points, and none at all in the entire northwestern part of the city. I’ll go into more detail about all that when I talk about reforming New Zealand’s awful systems for local elections.

Right now, I’m just glad it’s done for another three years. Also, a kind librarian snapped the photo above for me. Where would the world be without librarians?!