}

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 374 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 374, “Forging ahead”, 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, November 28, 2022

Projected completion

Household projects can be finite and closed-ended, or they can be the exact opposite: Imprecise and never-ending. Most are probably somewhere between those two. Pretty much all of my household projects are actually a bit of both: They’re finite, but they also don’t necessarily “end”, even when they do. Today I completed a project that underscores that reality.

Three weeks ago today, I had the filters for my ventilation system changed. To prepare for that, I had to clear stuff out of the laundry area so that the guy could get into the attic, and that made it as good a time as any to take on my laundry shelving project.

This project had been delayed for ages—so long, in fact, that I can’t even remember when I bought the shelves. They’ve been stored in the garage for ages, and were kind of in the way because I’d kept them out so I could get to them easier—eventually.

Part of the delay was that I knew how much work it would be to clear the laundry area, but I also had a little trouble working out the best way forward. Everything began to come together three weeks ago.

I kept having time conflicts, but the true stalling point came two weeks ago when I finished installing the shelves—and I did’t like the look. It took me a little while to decide how I wanted to proceed, but I bought some storage containers.

Last Wednesday evening, I got the last shelving bits I needed, but I needed to find the time (there was some lawn mowing going on during this time, too). Today was the day to put up the final shelf, and clean things up.

I went out and got some more storage storage containers, and I also repurposed some milk style crates for things I wanted easier access to, I hung the last shelf, took the final photo, and that was it. For now.

The thing I didn’t like was the very reason I came up with this set up: The hanging rod above the laundry tub. I find it jarring. The rod gives me a place to hang shirts to dry, but I later realised I can hang the shirts from the shelves, so maybe I don’t need the rod at all? I decided to leave it as it is for now, and maybe take it away later.

I originally bought three lidded storage bins for the top shelf, with the intention of using them to store things I don’t need frequent access to, like vacuum cleaner bags, extra foil, paper towels, that sort of thing. When I got home, I realised I could fit four bins on that top shelf, and then I realised if I moved the next shelf up a bit, I could also put three more bins on that. That meant I could have two more shelves, instead of just one more.

I moved the third shelf up a little bit, and repurposed three open red crates (Nigel and I bought them for storing records more than twenty years ago. They’re used for things I need easier access to, like my cleaning cloths and also hangers for the shirts I hang to dry.

Right now, I have no idea what I’ll put on the bottom shelf—I’ll live with it for awhile to get a feel for what would be a good use for them. I also may replace the single bottom shelf with two shorter ones (the system is designed so that shelves can be overlapped to creat custom lengths). That way, it’ll match the shelf above it—that bit of overhang really annoys me. Of course.

The small solid shelves next to the sink were actually for the kitchen, but I couldn’t make them work there. In the laundry area, however, they give me a handy place to put my laundry supplies. I’ll probably use the others for cleaning supplies or something.

A few minor points. First, all the bins and both of the laundry baskets were made in New Zealand. That was on purpose, because it matters to me. The dot up near the ceiling in the first two photos was a wall anchor for a shelving system I was going to install (during the first lockdown, I think it was), but it didn’t fit the way I wanted it to—and it was the most expensive shelving system by far. It was in Nigel’s offices in our last two houses, and I now plan on using them in the master wardrobe instead. That wall anchor, however, didn’t grip correctly, and that gave me an excuse to stop the first attempted installation. I removed it after the second photo and patched the hole before installing the new shelves.

So, that’s another project “finished”. I’ve mentioned some minor changes I may make, but I could also make other changes after I live with it—or I may may not change much at all. But I always make changes to “finished” projects—always.

There are still a LOT of household projects for me to finish, but. I know one thing, though: Pretty much all of my household projects are finite, but they also don’t necessarily “end”, even when they do. This one is no different.

The photo montage above shows stages of the project, from top to bottom: "Before", three weeks ago today, "during" in the middle (the assembly instructions are laying their ready for me to use), and "finished" taken today, at the bottom.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Whether weather

Weather has been the biggest character in my story in recent weeks, and because I have so much I want or need to do outside. This isn’t the first time we’ve had weeks of more or less daily rain, and it won’t be the last, of course. What makes this year so different is that the bad weather is preventing me from doing things I want to do. Weather may well be a recurring character in my story for a some time yet.

had a nice, relaxed day yesterday. It was sunny, with pleasant temperatures, and without even a drop of rain. I thought about doing some work outside, but, I didn’t. And I was okay with having a day off everything.

Later, I had a reason for regret: “Threat of thunderstorms and tornados in North Island, snow in the south”, Stuff reported. That meant my Sunday could be a washout—perhaps literally—and none of what I planned, or deferred from today, was likely to be possible. Still, I was okay with that, too. As I always say, because it’s always true, it’s not like I don’t have plenty of inside stuff to work on.

That evening, I went out to check my tomatoes, something I haven’t been able to do very often lately because of all the rainstorms. They’re doing really well. I planted the tiny plants five weeks ago today, and since then they’re grown and bushed out, and there are blossoms everywhere (photo up top). That’s very promising. I still have more stuff to plant, but that’s also been delayed by all the bad the weather. Fortunately, they’re the sort of things (like salad stuff, for example) that I’d normally do successive plantings of, anyway, so the delay isn’t really much of any issue.

As it happens, I slept late today, and I’ve done very little. I’m still feeling tired, it turns out, and the grey, rainy day isn’t helping make me feel at all peppy.

Still, I did a little research in my down time and found a place where I can get the storage bins for my laundry area for a bit less that I paid for the first ones, plus the shop also has a couple other things I’d like to get to further my (inside…) organisation projects. That’s the basic plan I have for tomorrow, with maybe some more added onto it if I’m feeling perky enough.

It would’ve been nice to be able to do whatever I wanted today, but that’s not always the way things go. Weather impacts my projects a lot these days, but so does how I’m feeling (because all my outside work, and much of my inside work, is physical labour of one sort or another).

Still, “what I can, when I can,” and all that. Each day I find things to do, no matter how small, that push things forward, no matter how little. It’s the motion that matters, not the speed. The weather may delay me or slow me down, but it can’t stop everything completely.

My mother used to say (quoting her school days’ elocution lessons), “Whether it rains, or whether it snows, we shall have weather, whether or no.” I’ve learned that whether weather matters some days or not, progress can still happen. My tomato plants back me up on that.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Picturing memories

Isn’t funny how old photos can stir up all sorts of associated memories that weren’t present, or weren’t made yet, at the time the photo was taken? The photo above, from this very day and date in 2016, is exactly like that. And, I must say, I really upped my selfie game that day, getting the dogs' poses just right.

Nigel and I were in Hamilton that afternoon six years ago today for a family birthday party, and we’d stopped at the New World supermarket at Rototuna for some snacks for the party. I stayed in the car to help keep the dogs calm, and because the weather was weird at the time: It was a bit too warm to leave them in the car without all the windows open quite a bit (the one next to me was wide open), but also the afternoon was threatening the possibility of rain. A bit like today, actually.

A bit more than a decade earlier, Nigel and I were living in Paeroa, and when we drove into Hamilton (usually to get supplies we needed for renovating our house), we passed where the New World would be built. At the time, there wasn’t much in the area but a petrol station.

Three years after this photo, I was looking at houses in this same area, and one I was interested in was within walking distance of this shopping area. Unfortunately, the owners were selling the house themselves and had an, um, optimistic view of its value. If the house went on the market now—well, when the market recovers—it’d probably be on for at least 40% more than what they were asking in 2019 (the house I eventually bought would be worth at least that much more, too, actually).

These days I sometimes go to that same New World, though by myself. The last time wasn’t all that long ago, right after I’d met my mother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law for lunch at a nearby café. I still like that area.

And all of that is what I think about when I see this selfie of me and the kids, with them earnestly watching for their other daddy to come back. Sometimes, I do that, metaphorically speaking, too, though it's usually only in memories or old photos. Just more to add to the memory pile.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Worthy of a special dinner

Yes, the photo above is my dinner, and yes, it’s Thanksgiving in my native land, but the two aren’t actually connected that tightly. Most years since I moved to New Zealand, I’ve had, at most, a turkey sandwich for lunch on Thanksgiving, but those products don’t seem to be at supermarkets any more—or, at least, the two closest to me don’t stock it (I checked). So, I bought a small frozen “turkey breast roll” (by the same NZ company that used to sell sandwich turkey), and figured I could slice up the leftovers for sandwiches. I only bought it, though, because it was at a super-special price at Countdown. Otherwise, I’d have skipped it this year.

I also bought some orange kumara (sweet potato) for a curry I make (because the red/purple skin kind is too hard to peel). I also made “stuffing” using some of the bread I made last weekend, and I had some frozen green beans. The turkey roll didn’t make any juices, so I didn’t make any gravy (and I’m out of the mix kind). Still, it was very nice (even if the turkey tasted a bit more like chicken…).

If the whole thing hadn’t been spur of the moment, I could’ve had the family round, but my house is a tip, with the lounge filled with lots of bits and pieces from my projects outside. My dining table has been buried for weeks.

So, I told myself I had to completely clear the table so I could have my “special” dinner sitting at the table like a (somewhat) civilised adult. It took me a couple hours because I dealt with the stuff on the table, and didn’t merely move it somewhere “for now”. I now have my table back, which is a good start, if a small one.

Today, then, was really about making small progress, and also giving a nod to my heritage. As it happens, the last time I did any sort of Thanksgiving dinner was six years ago today; Facebook “Memories” reminded me, and that I made roast chicken (Nigel didn’t like turkey).

All of this came after I had an emotional crash earlier today. I’ll talk about it eventually (because I think the topic deserves it), but the gist is that I had a demand made of me that was, at that moment, the “last straw”. I’ve been trying so damn hard to make progress around the house, outside in particular, and it’s been extremely difficult for a lot of reasons. Today I felt as if it was all pointless, that I was shoved back a hundred miles from the start line. Crushed, I was also livid, and I found myself swearing profusely if, say, an inanimate object fell over in the middle of me doing something.

I talked myself off the ledge, and I was aware that Nigel could always do that—but even more aware that none of this stuff would be happening if Nigel was still here.

The point of the story, or it’s connection to my pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner? First, I was able to experience and then move past a bad time today, and that my determination—or maybe it’s stubbornness—made that possible. Second, even after a terrible awful (nearly) two years (which followed another bad year and a half), I can still confront adversity with my usual “Oh yeah? Watch this!” attitude. Even when low points come along, I can still push past them, and that’s something to be thankful for, which makes it worthy of a special dinner, regardless of the date.

Tonight, because of or despite everything, it was more than worthy.

Again seizing opportunities

Yesterday, I again seized an opportunity to get something done. The window was brief, and I wasn’t sure I’d succeed, but I gave it a go anyway. And I won. Again.

I’d been watching the weather, which was supposed to be awful on Thursday, so I did my errands, including going to the supermarket, on Wednesday evening. I knew it had rained after I got home that evening, and during the night, but up to early afternoon yesterday, it was just brief sprinkles a couple times along with strong winds. I knew the rains would come again eventually.

However, in the meantime, I thought I may as well start mowing the back lawn because it wasn’t raining at then, and I figured the winds would’ve helped dry out the grass. I was (mostly) right, it turned out, and I managed to finish the whole back yard.

When I began the mowing task, I thought to myself that if I could just mow the part of the lawn that I can see out the windows and deck doors of the living area, then I’d be happy (it was annoying and more than a little depressing to see it deteriorate and not being able to take care of it due to all the rain). I also had painful memories of what happened last year when rain delayed mowing for even longer. The fact I finished the whole thing was huge, for a lot of reasons.

It was an active day.
However, I had to mow very slowly because the grass/weeds were so long, and the battery gave out about two-thirds of the way through. With the mower silent, I could hear “squish squish” of the sodden ground as I walked to get the new battery.

The mower gave out near the drain in the lawn, and the fact the ground was so spongey meant that it had become very wet in all the rain we’ve have in recent weeks. The bigger issue is that it wasn’t soaking into the ground. There’s really nothing I can do about it, either.

This wasn’t a suspire to me, given the thick, gluggy clay I’d recently discovered was what passed for “topsoil” on my property. I also knew that residents were complaining to each other about how poorly their sections’ drainage was, and that one neighbour had to hire a drainage contractor to install piped drains to carry the water away because there was no way the “soil”, so-called, could absorb it.

Apart from spraying gypsum to try to help break up the clay a little, there’s nothing I can do to make it handle stormwater any better than it does. And, there IS a drain there to carry away surface water, which is good. The main thing it means is that mowing so soon after rain will always be problematic in that particular part of the lawn.

The boss inspected and approved my work.
In any case, getting the lawns mowed was critical to getting the planters out there so I can put the citrus in them. I’ve only assembled one of the planters so far because I simply don’t have any room to keep them in the house until I can fill them with dirt. Now, weather notwithstanding, I at least have a shot at getting that completed.

And all of that’s true only because I again seized an opportunity to get something done. But, the terrible weather is nowhere near done with us. Further progress may mean again seizing opportunities when I can. And so it goes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Discovering an origin point

Yesterday, lost in the excitement of my lawn mowing adventure, was something unusual: A Facebook “Memory”. What made it unusual was that it told something that I didn’t know until I saw it: I’d documented an origin point.

Yesterday’s “Memory” (image above) made me realise that back in 2012 I talked about the first time I ever saw “Black Friday” used in marketing here in New Zealand. Until yesterday, I didn’t pay any attention to this FB “Memory” when it popped up, and that’s possibly because in recent years it’s become impossible to get away from the bloody thing! There are now constant TV commercials and daily marketing emails promoting “Black Friday Sales”—on different days, even different weeks, and some sales have been done over several days—or weeks.

This has been going on since October in some cases, and that makes zero sense and is confusing as hell. I’ve seen some news media efforts to help people work out whether something’s much of a sale or not, though there are some regulations about falsely promoting sale prices that aren’t real (a chain that sells luggage was just fined for doing that regularly, not necessarily on “Black Friday”). But the inconsistency makes it difficult to plan for “Black Friday” shopping, as so many Americans do.

The whole thing was wasted on me, anyway. Nigel and I didn’t usually buy each other Christmas presents (just birthday presents), and we only bought something for his mum. If the place we were spending Christmas that year had young kids, we’d buy them something. Other than that, we avoided the seasonal shopping madness, which was pretty awesome for us. It made Christmas so much more relaxing (all the more so because we had two weeks off during that time of year). Christmas shopping is still not a “thing” for me.

After the surprise that I’d documented the actual point when a shift in NZ culture began, I wondered what I said about it at the time on this blog. The answer, sadly, was “not much”.

A few days after I posted on Facebook, I published a post called ”Thanksgiving thoughts”, and I mentioned the email, along with the marketer’s explanation of “Black Friday”—but without an image or naming the retailer. These days I’d do a screen grab of the marketing message, and, in fact, I later did that several times for posts about using US-based things—“Black Friday”, Independence Day, Halloween—as marketing hooks. The only contemporaneous evidence I have showing when “Black Friday” promotion began in New Zealand is from my own post on Facebook. Mind you, if we were talking about something that happened a couple centuries ago, that would be enough, but, yeah, not in these Modern Times™.

By 2015, I still wasn’t impressed. I said in a post, “the whole 'Black Friday' thing has nothing to do with New Zealand and it feels forced (especially when some retailers have been trying it on for weeks already).” The latter part has never changed, but the first part?

Five years later, in 2020, I’d noticed the change:
The next tactic is that retailers are trying is to promote “Black Friday” sales, even though there’s no Thanksgiving Thursday for it to follow. Even so, it’s arguably been more successful than trying to hitch onto Halloween, and for much the same reason it works in the USA: It’s closer to Christmas. Now, too, retailers that sell tech stuff are promoting “Cyber Monday”, bless their hearts.
I still think that the promotion of “Black Friday” has been FAR more successful than retailers' attempts to make Halloween a thing in New Zealand (it still isn’t isn’t, though, as I’ve noted a few times, some years it’s more popular than others).

These days, I sort of tune out most of the ubiquitous “Black Friday” advertising, and I similarly don’t notice “Cyber Monday” ads very much. So far, there hasn’t been a push to promote other US-born things, like the day for shopping at small, independent businesses, “Small Business Saturday” (which would be easier to market if it was the day after “Black Friday”, but it isn’t always).

“Giving Tuesday”, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, also isn’t here, and neither is the anti-consumerism protest, “Buy Nothing Day”, which is held on “Black Friday”. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t Kiwis who sympathise with “Buy Nothing Day” (of course there are!), and there are also people who promote buying local, even without a “Small Business Saturday”. However, most of the Kiwi efforts at “don’t buy that, buy this!” are aimed at promoting New Zealand-made products, not who to buy them from (although it’s often the case that some NZ-made products can often be found more easily at small independent retailers, so there’s some natural overlap).

All this holiday hype doesn’t really affect me, as I said, but I also can’t escape it. It seems to me that the promotions this year have been particularly omnipresent, and maybe retailers need that? The prices of ordinary things, food in particular, have been soaring, and just today the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced yet another huge jump in the Official Cash Rate, meaning that homeowners will see their mortgage payments rise and, in time, rents will go up, too. There may not be as much cash to spend during whatever promotion retailers push. Maybe “Buy Nothing Day” will become an accidentally commonplace thing this year?

I find all this fascinating, not just the attempts at marketing, nor even the effort to integrate American retail concepts into New Zealand culture. At a far more personal level, I’m fascinated that I documented when I first noticed the emergence of “Black Friday” in New Zealand. At the time, and even for some time afterward, I didn’t know I’d documented the origin point of a cultural shift in New Zealand, and if it hadn’t been for that Facebook “Memory”, I still wouldn’t have realised it.

Change is constant, and we don’t always recognise it when it’s right in front of us. Ten years ago I noticed something unusual, mentioned it, and now I can pinpoint when one particular cultural change happened. I’ll never again say “Black Friday” is useless. Except when I do.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Seizing a brief opportunity

It hasn’t been easy getting stuff done recently: It’s rained all or part of nearly every day for at least two weeks, and the current rainy weather is making it impossible to get any outside projects done. Actually, it’s made it difficult to even make any progress on outside projects. One somewhat desperate solution has been to seize a brief opportunity.

Today I took advantage of a few hours without rain to mow the front lawn (the photo above is a progress shot, taken when I stopped to scoop out grass goop from under the mower). The weed “flower” spikes by the footpath are mostly paspalum, and have shot up because of all the rain lately, as have lots of other weeds—everywhere. Those spikes are the bane of my existence because they’re hard to cut at ground level without making two passes. This time, they seemed “drunk” from the couple weeks of rain: I was able to get most of them in one pass.

A neighbour walked by as I mowed, smiled and waved. I must be back in my neighbours’ (somewhat) good books again—unlike the owner of the currently vacant rental across the street—that lawn’s a sea of yellow weed flowers. Not mine—for now.

I’d just finished the front lawn and opened the side gate to the back when the rain returned with some warning shots—mere gentle droplets. I put the mower away, locked the gate, and came inside—and then the clouds dumped heavy rain. Apparently, tornadoes are possible (NOT American style), though not necessarily in our area.

It was 24 at my house (75.2F) with 67.8% humidity when I was mowing, so it was uncomfortable out there (temperature dropped a degree or so and the humidity soared when the rain resumed). At least we got a few hours without rain, and even a little bit of sun.

The back lawn is a MUCH bigger job, and I have absolutely no idea when the weather will actually improve (meaning, no rain for a couple entire days; I won’t get greedy and ask for sunshine). Rain, heavy rain, and/or thunderstorms are predicted until December 1, when it may be “partly cloudy”. It’s weird that I’m actually looking forward to the possibility of a day that’s merely cloudy.

The weather app on my phone and iPad I use the most-frequently is from the NZ Met Service, and it provides the usual useful weather information (which is how I know the weather won't be great for the next ten days). They added a special section to the app called “Laundry Drying Time” so that people (like me) who hang their washing outside to dry can see how long it will take (this time of year, it’s usually around an hour on a sunny day). Lately, however, it’s been saying “Wet all day” followed by an indication that the next good drying day would be in “5+ days”. Because I have to dry my washing in the house, I took an an ordinary oscillating fan (with the oscillation turned off and set to its lowest speed) to blow air on the drying rack to help the laundry dry faster. Otherwise, in this weather it could take two days, and the rack isn’t all that big.

This afternoon, I received an alert on the App local governments use to send official announcements and reminders to subscribers. It warned that there was a “Severe weather watch in place for Hamilton,” and advised us to, among other things, “Secure all loose items in your yard.” So, I did: I took a couple of 2-metre-long bungee cords I’d bought to secure the net cover of the Vegepod (photo below). At least two different storms had blown the cover off the Vegepod and across the yard, so I decided to do try to prevent that happening again. This was the first serious storm since I bought them.

It turns out that was probably a good decision: Heavy rains, strong winds and thunder all swept in repeatedly late this afternoon and all evening. Many times it rained so hard that I had to turn up the TV volume because the TV was being drowned out by the storm. I checked on the Vegepod just before sunset, and the cover was still secured. [Update – November 23: The cover was still firmly in place this morning, despite storms all night long.]

It hasn’t been easy getting stuff done recently, but today I got things done, including one thing—securing the Vegepod lid—that I wouldn’t have had to do if we had nicer weather (no strong storms, in other words). I also seized the brief opportunity created by a few hours without rain to get the front lawn mowed. One does what one can.


Monday, November 21, 2022

That time normality returned—again

One year ago last week—at 11:59pm on Tuesday, November 16, 2021—Hamilton finally joined the rest of New Zealand at Covid Alert Level 2, which meant fairly normal life again. The first thing I did was ring the moving company who shifted me from Auckland to Hamilton in January 2020 to come to my house to collect the last of their boxes (the Facebook “Memory” above is about that). Covid Lockdowns had delayed that several times by then, and I was keen to act quickly in case we ended up back under Lockdown again.

The boxes were collected the following morning, on November 17, and that meant I again had some space to move around in the garage, and, I thought, I could resume my project clearing the garage. It didn’t work out that way: I didn’t resume the project because by that time of year, it was already getting too hot in the garage. I also haven’t re-started the project since, apart from some small, isolated tidying here and there, though I suppose the shelves installed put in my laundry area are at least related to the larger project. And, of course, the garage is now starting to get hot in the daytime again.

The truth is, it feels like much more than a year ago, because 2021 felt like it was a few years long: It was a terrible year, the second-worst of my life, actually. That year, I lost first Sunny and then Jake seven months later. Then along came the absolutely brutal Covid Lockdown covering Hamilton and parts of the Waikato for weeks and weeks and weeks. New Year’s Eve last year was among my best ever because I got to shove that f*cking 2021 out the door.

Looking back on it now, I think 2021 just plain wore me out (and, of course, so did 2020 and late 2019…). On top of that was, as still is my belief, medication holding me back. Because of all that, I had several different stretches in which I got little or nothing accomplished for weeks on end. I now see that I was just too exhausted—mentally, physically, emotionally, existentially, all of that, and every other kind of tired I didn’t think of to include in that list.

However, things improved this year, beginning in the second half of the year, especially in late August. The improvement’s still not quite as much as I’d have hoped, but it IS improvement. Besides, this is a long, arduous journey, not a race, and certainly not a sprint. If it’s not going as fast as I’d like, it’s still progress—I’m doing “what I can, when I can”, and that’s all that matters to me.

However, it’s also true that I still have a long way to go to finish this transition toward whatever my life will become. The progress I’m making is important, not merely because I’m getting stuff done, nice though that is, but because it’s evidence that I’m beginning to recover from the better part of three years of hell. “Beginning” is the important word there.

One year ago last week, normality returned—again. The months that followed were a time of recovery for me, and now I’m again beginning, slowly, to move forward. And that’s definitely something good that’s happened in 2022. It’s a nice change.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

A time away

I went to my cousin-in-law’s birthday party yesterday evening, and that meant I got to catch-up with family members I don’t see very often. It was an awesome time—yummy food, great talks, lots of good vibes. And yet…

Obviously, I thought about Nigel a LOT, especially about how much he’d have enjoyed the night, but last night was much easier on me than the last get-together a couple years ago, which was something like five months after Nigel died.

Yesterday, I wore his bracelet as well as a ring he used to wear many years ago, something I do when I go somewhere and want to “bring” him with me, symbolically speaking. I do that all the time, actually, but I seldom mention it, though I think I should talk about such things more often. [I talked about the bracelet in a post from October 2019, and in a post about Nigel’s birthday last year, I included a photo in which I’m wearing both the bracelet and the ring, though I often wear the ring on my right index finger.]

The reality is that Nigel is never far from my thoughts, and family gatherings turn the dial up to 11. I know that’s just how it is, and I’ve found coping mechanisms that work well for me. Other people may find other things that work better for them, but the key is knowing oneself.

All that’s just my constant background reality. Yesterday, I had a lovely evening together with the large extended family. Even I, despite everything, can be aware of and appreciate how lucky I am.

A footnote: I seldom mention folks by name because it’s not my place to tell their stories—that’s up to them to tell their own stories, or not, their choice. However, I’ve always enjoyed coming up with fun titles or nicknames for folks in my life, and “cousin-in-law” is one of those (it covers a large number of people…). There’s no such title, of course, and yet, maybe there should be?

The two-photo montage up top shows some of the countryside in the King Country, a region of the Waikato a bit more than an hour’s drive south of Hamilton. The party was held there, and a lot of the family lives in or is from that area. I created the photo montage for my personal Facebook.

Friday, November 18, 2022

AAA 2022: A decade-long inquisition

Here we are again—and it's a decade of asking. Ten years ago, in 2012, I began an annual year-end series of “Ask Arthur” posts (I also had two July series, but abandoned that idea). I skipped 2019 because I was “a bit absorbed by other things going on at that time”, as I put it last year.

The “Ask Arthur” series of posts is a chance for people to ask me nearly anything, and I try to answer whatever I’m asked. I’ve never had a question about a topic that was “off limits”, however, I’ve always said that if I couldn’t answer a question for any reason, I’d say so. It turned out that I've never had a question that I wouldn’t answer. It also turned out that I haven’t yet met a topic I don’t have an opinion on. Who’d have guessed that?

Over this ten-year series, I’ve been asked about myself, my past, about life in New Zealand—mine or in general—about being an expat, and what I think about various topics or events in the news. The possibilities are nearly endless.

To ask questions, simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. To avoid being public there, you can send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page.

Finally, as I always note, this idea is stolen from inspired by Roger Green’s “Ask Roger Anything” (“ARA”) posts. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or, something like that.

So, over to you: Ask your question whatever way works best for you, and I’ll do my best to answer.

All posts in this series will be tagged “AAA-22”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

What do you want to know? (December 2012)
Ask Arthur (July 2013)
Ask Arthur – Again (December 2013)
Ask Arthur Again, again (December 2014)
Ask Arthur yet again (July 2015)
It’s that time again (December 2015)
It’s ‘Ask Arthur’ time again (December 2016)
Let the 2017 asking begin (November 2017)
Let the 2018 asking begin (November 2018)
There was no “Ask Arthur” series in 2019.
Sure, why not ask again? (December 2020) Yes, ask again (November 2021)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

2022 Christmas New Zealand Christmas TV Ads



It’s the Christmas Season (already…), because New Zealand's promotional and advertising push actually began at least a month ago, when I saw the first Christmas ad on TV. I held off sharing any ads then, not only because I felt early/mid October was far too early for Christmas, but also because, at the time, I’d only seen one ad on TV.

In the weeks since I saw that first ad, more have joined the pack, so I started creating this year’s YouTube playlist (above). I began this new playlist tradition last year when I noticed how many posts now have missing videos (ads in particular), which kind of makes those posts pointless. It’s only been one year, but so far this has proven to be a good idea: All of last year’s ads are still available.

I have a set of criteria I use for the ads I include in the playlists. First, they must be airing on New Zealand television, not merely online or on social media or whatever. Second, they have to be New Zealand companies, or companies that are connected to New Zealand. This is because international ads might be seen in many countries, though our ads aren’t necessarily seen elsewhere (the word “necessarily” is actually relevant to this list).

At any rate, on to this year’s list. The annotations below include spoilers, so you may want to watch the videos first. All that out of the way, here’s a bit more about the videos, all of which are included in the order I first saw them:

1. “Make Someone Happy” – Michael Hill Jeweller. This is what I was actually thinking of when I said ads “have to be New Zealand companies, or companies that are connected to New Zealand”, because Michael Hill Jeweller, although founded in New Zealand in 1979, is an international company headquartered in Brisbane, Australia. They operate in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, and their Christmas ads run in all three countries, however, they “aren’t necessarily seen elsewhere” (which is why this ad is “relevant to this list”). If they have a Christmas TV ad next year, I can just link to this rather than explain it again, right?

Anyway, this ad focuses on a small part of last year’s ad, “Make Their Christmas”—literally. The little boy in that ad passes a present to a girl through a stone wall, and that seen is repeated in this ad—and updated with the now-adult characters. In last year's ad, the boy also hands a Christmas present to his mother with the tag, “to the love of my life”, one assumes from his father, and that line is also repeated in this year's ad. Finally, the backing song is, once again, "Only You" by Yazoo, a song I blogged about in 2020 because it had become strongly personal for me. In fact, it still is, which is probably why I like the ad so much—even if New Zealand doesn’t have snow at Christmas. It's also kind of refreshing to see ads revisit characters from previous ads and show them in an entirely new context. That's not done enough, in my opinion.

The rest of the ads on this year's playlist are from New Zealand companies.

2. “Let's make Christmas magic (30 seconds)" – New World. New World is one of two supermarket chains in New Zealand, and the only one that is New Zealand-owned (each store is individually owned). I think this ad is fun—especially the guy’s rapid-fire explanation for why they’re doing the “impromptu Christmas song”. One of the people sings about “glasses for free”, and glassware is in a lot of shots. This year, New World is offering a glassware promotion, but the song is the only place it’s even hinted at, unlike last year’s “Something’s cooking at New World” ad, which prominently featured the cookware promotion they had on at the time. Personally, I much prefer this year’s approach. [Full disclosure: I shop at both New World and Australian-owned Countdown.]

3. “Get Christmas magic delivered (15 Seconds)” – New World. This ad is related to the ad Number Two, but promotes Christmas delivery of groceries. I thought this ad was a clever add-on to their main Christmas ad. [Full disclosure: I've never used New World's delivery service, but I do use the one from Countdown.]

4. “Nigel's Christmas Wish” – The Warehouse. This ad is—well, kind of odd. It reminds me of some UK stores' Christmas ads from years past, and it’s nice and all, but I kind of don’t get the message? I mean, apart from the obvious, the “Whatever your Christmas wish. The Warehouse.” tagline. I any case, I didn’t know it was called “Nigel's Christmas Wish” until I went to create this year’s Christmas ad playlist, and it made me smile. I think my Nigel would’ve smiled, too. [Full disclosure: I shop at The Warehouse.] Update – December 1: The Warehouse has been partnering with a radio station brand on “12 Days of Wishmas” to give people around the country a prize package and $3,000 cash, and part of that involves taking “Nigel” on tour around the country for the presentations. The short videos of each stop are broadcast each evening during the news broadcast (and can be seen at the link).

5. “The Home of Christmas” – Farmers. This ad is for Farmers, a 113-year-old New Zealand department store. They’re also running some specific product ads, but this is their sort of general Christmas ad. The ad is fine, but their ads are generally not particularly special or creative—not that it matters to me: I shop at Farmers (especially for clothes), both in person and online, and it’s probably my favourite department-type store in New Zealand.

6. “Mitre 10 With You All The Way This Christmas” – Mitre 10 New Zealand. This ad is from Mitre 10, a New Zealand-owned chain of home improvement stores. Unlike it’s largest competitor, Australian-owned Bunnings, Mitre 10 is a co-operative. This year’s ad is built on a series of TV ads they’ve run promoting DIY [for example, watch one such ad, “Mitre 10 With you all the way 45 sec”]. I think the ad works by itself, and also as part of the series. [Full disclosure: I often shop at Mitre 10, as well as Austrian-owned Bunnings Warehouse.]

Update – December 1, 2022: Additional ads either started airing or the videos only became available after the original post. They are:

7. “Merry Techmas Song” – Noel Leeming. Noel Leeming is owned by the same retail group that owns The Warehouse (Number 4 above), and specialises in tech things, small appliances, whiteware, that sort of thing. This commercial is a continuation of a series of ads in which a character is called “Noel”, and personifies the store brand, very knowledgeable about tech, and always willing to help. A previous version of the Noel character was played by a female actor, and the most recent is played by a male actor, the first actor to start singing in this ad. This ad breaks my usual procedure because it’s not from the store itself (it still hasn’t posted the video), but from a new (August 2022) YouTube Channel that seems to be focused on ad analytics. Because of that, this ad is the most likely of this year’s bunch to disappear.

8. “Air New Zealand presents ‘Not quite Silent Night’” – Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand started their Christmas TV advertising a little later this year than last year (this ad just started airing on December 1), and this year’s ad is less focused on the airline than previous years’ ads have been. Maybe it’s intended for multiple markets? It’s a simple, sweet ad, but I bet that “certain people” will be upset about the use of Christian Christmas Carol as the backing music in an ad centred on Santa Claus, but I know for sure that “certain people” definitely will be upset by the fact the song is sung in Te Reo Māori. Bah! Humbug! Personally, I don’t have a problem with either, but I did think that “Silent Night” was an odd kind of song choice, though the ad takes its title from the song.

Those are all the Christmas ads—so far, at least. It's possible I missed some by not watching at the right time (or maybe just not paying attention during the ad breaks…), but I don't think so. Actually, it seems to me that there’s been less variety in Christmas ads the past couple years than there used to be, especially not as many international ads (like, for example, Christmas ads for soft drinks). There's another ad running, one for NZ Post, but I featured that one in my first Christmas Ad post in 2019, and it hasn't changed.

If any more NZ ads start airing—and it's still possible since, as of today, it's still more than five weeks until Christmas. If there are more, I’ll add the videos to the Playlist and the annotations to this post. However, you can also follow the direct link the YouTube Playlist if you’d rather skip my comments. In any event. Merry watching-mas!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The day ended with less than at its start

Today was a very big day, especially for the littlest member of this household: Leo was shorn today and is now ready for summer (photo above). As I did last time, I bought some dog treats at the pet shop where the groomer is so that I could bribe him to start forgiving me for inflicting that on him. The strategy even worked—eventually.

After I dropped Leo off, I went to Mitre 10 Mega home centre place/store/whatever just down the way a bit. I had eggs benny for breakfast at the Columbus Coffee there (NZ coffee cafe chain, with locations in Mitre 10 Mega locations; I mentioned Columbus Coffee in a post in 2016). After that, I had a wander around the shop and realised I hadn’t been there in months—maybe not since the mask-mandate ended (some people still wear them, btw). I bought a cultivator (that claw-like thing I’m holding in the photo at the bottom of this post) and a new hammer.

I needed the cultivator to work on clearing weeds (a bigger projected than I expected—I thought I’d be done and would have posted about it by now). The hammer—well, I somehow misplaced my hammer, and I know from experience that the best way to find a misplaced tool is to buy another one. Actually, some years ago, Nigel and I noticed that the currently missing hammer’s head was getting loose, and we needed a new one (the handle is plastic or fibreglass or something, and it’s difficult to get the head to stay seated once it starts coming loose). We never got around to it. Today was as good a time as any. However, since I don’t use a hammer very often (so far, mainly to hang pictures), I bought the store’s own brand because it it was inexpensive and (at least) good enough.

They decorated the Christmas Tree at
The Base shopping centre while I was there today.
After the filters were changed last week, and since the laundry area was emptied out, I decided to hang the shelving system I bought ages ago for the wall above the machines. This, too, was supposed to be a quick project that I thought I’d have posted about by now. This, too, didn’t work out that way.

I had all sorts of time delays, the garage was hot and humid many of the days I did have time, and I kept running out of things, like wood screws long enough to hit the wall studs, wall anchors, etc. I had plenty of those things, but I had to stop and find them.

It got worse though in that once I was finished installing the shelves, I didn’t like the result. I need to make some adjustments, so this project is also delayed further. Honestly, if I’d had any idea these projects would be so fraught, I’d have done a series of short update-style posts. Maybe for the next project.

At any rate, I also got some storage containers for the shelves in my laundry area (and filled two of them so far), and figured out some of what I’ll do to modify what I installed. I think it may not be until next week that I’ll have time to finish the project. Or, not—I really should just stop trying to guess when these sorts of projects will be done.

After we got home, I took the photo of me below, and it was around that time that I noticed that Leo would sometimes just stare at me, and that’s because he can actually see me now that his fur is trimmed away from his eyes. This evening, I let him outside after his dinner, and I watched him through a small window in the lounge, with the blinds tilted open as they are during daylight. He raised his head and froze, looking directly at me from around 10 metres away, then came running back to the house and came back in through the door. That’s never happened before. The lighting must’ve been just right.

At any rate, I actually got a lot done today, though there’s less of Leo than there was this morning (and less in my bank account…). Leo also seems to have forgiven me. I guess the bribery worked.


Didn’t know, didn’t ask, then learned

Recently, I had a thing done at my house, a sort of “ongoing maintenance” thing. I was surprised by the cost, for several reasons, and then I learned some things in the process. But I don’t know that it’ll change anything.

Back in December of 2020, I had an HRV ventilation system installed in my house (which this past May I called my fourth favourite out of “My 5 Favourite home changes”).. I asked the guy how often the filter needed to be changed, and would they let me know when it was time? They need to be changed every two years, he said, and that they’d contact me. They rang in October and sechduled the work for Monday of last week (November 7). This is where things got a bit rocky.

The woman who rang said she’d send a reminder email and the pricing, but either she forgot or what we had was a failure to communicate, because I never got the email. However, I also forgot to follow up—but somehow remembered the date of the appointment, if not the time.

My first order of business was to clear a path from the garage's overhead door, then to clear out the laundry area because the hatch to the attic is located there. I got both done.

The guy arrived mid-morning that day (I kind of thought that was the time, but I couldn’t remember). He changed the filters (old filters are in the photo above), then did a test of all the vents to make sure the air flow was optimal.

Then, I got the bill.

It cost me $370 to have the two filters changed, which seems like an awful lot (I thought it might cost around $200). I was actually pretty relaxed about the shock. As I put it on my personal Facebook:
Still, it is what it is. It needs to be done to ensure that the air that’s blown into my house is clean, and the filters are custom, so I’m just quite surprised, not angry or whatever. I have enough problems without dirty air, too.
People commented about changing such filters themselves, and I’d vaguely thought about that, but hadn’t pursued it before the guy came to change the filters. After the comments, I looked into it and I found out there are some available for $62 each, which would mean that doing it it myself would’ve saved me around $250. Worth it? Well…

There’s a lot going on in attic, and not just the HRV system and its duct lines to the whole house. There’s the sort of duct for the Solatube skylight thing that crosses from its roof connection on one side of the roof peak over to the other side where it connects to the ceiling in roughly the centre of that particular attic (that was my second-favourite thing among “My 5 Favourite home changes”).. Then, there’s all the wiring connections for the solar panels (number one on my favourites list), which enter the house in that space and run to a wall in that same area where in connects to its inverter and the power distribution panel in the garage. Finally, there’s the data cabling and TV antenna/aerial cables I had installed (and ordinary power and the water lines).

So, yep—there’s a LOT going on up there. I’d need to make sure that clumsy me wouldn’t damage any of that stuff—in addition to not falling through the plasterboard ceiling, of course. On balance, it might be “worth” all that extra money to avoid calamity or personal injury. I mean, sure, I can do anything but surgery, but the real questions are, “should I?” And, “do I actually want to?”. To be determined.

I had a thing done at my house and was surprised by the cost, for several reasons. But I learned some things in the process. Even so, I don’t know that it’ll change anything. At least I have clean air.

Friday, November 11, 2022

What a tangled web

New Zealand’s Hamilton West Electorate for Parliament is about to have a byelection. This is so utterly stupid, expensive, and unnecessary, but here we are, anyway. For the first time in my life, this is a byelection that affects me personally: I live in the Hamilton West Electorate.

The saga began August 11 when Auckland’s right-leaning newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, ran an opinion piece by the then-MP for Hamilton West, Gaurav Sharma, alleging widespread bullying in parliament, and singling out leadership within the New Zealand Labour Party’s parliamentary caucus, which he was a member of at the time. In the days that followed, he made allegation after allegation, but never provided credible evidence or corroboration in support of his allegations. The Caucus voted to suspend him from Caucus until the end of December.

Sharma continued his accusations, accusing the prime minister of “lying every step of the way”. On August 23, the Labour Caucus voted to permanently expel him from Caucus, making him an Independent MP for Hamilton West. At the time, the prime minister ruled out invoking the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act (also called “the waka jumping act”) to expel him from Parliament because a byelection would be an “unnecessary burden” on taxpayers.

On August 29, Sharma wrote a very, very long Facebook post alleging that he “was the one who raised concerns re staff, not the other way around” before going on to make serious allegations about alleged misdeeds by his staff, and in very specific details. Although he didn’t use their names, using only initials, to refer to them, one of his former staff members told The NZ Herald, "This is a breach of our confidentiality. It's bringing up past trauma—we've already lived it once." The former staff member also said that Sharma should “move on”. Sharma should’ve taken that advice.

Finally, on October 18, Sharma announced in another Facebook post that he’d resigned from Parliament and said he’d stand in the byelection he was causing by resigning. He alleged—yet again with no evidence—that Labour planned to invoke the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act six months out from the election because then a byelection wouldn’t be needed. The prime minister was unequivocal: "We have not, and are not, considering invoking the waka jumping provisions, nor do I know the basis of Gaurav Sharma's speculation." She added, "Gaurav may wish to reconsider his decision given he is unnecessarily costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars to trigger a byelection he then intends to stand in. We consider it unnecessary and wasteful given the general election is scheduled for 2023."

The byelection will be held on December 6, with early voting opening November 28. There are 11 candidates standing, and they’re certainly a motley assortment (listed, as on the Elections NZ site linked to, in alphabetical order by surname):

DANSEY, Georgie, Labour Party. I will be voting for her.

DICKSON, Gordon John, Independent. He ran in the Tauranga byelection in June, and he finished in last place out of 12 candidates. He also ran as the Labour candidate for the Selwyn Electorate in 2014, finishing in third place.

DU PLOOY, Rudi, running as the candidate of both the far-right christianist New Conservative Party and the utlra-far right theocratic christianist One Party. The two parties had separate candidates in the Tauranga byelection, coming in 8th and 6th, respectively, out of 12 candidates. This candidate won’t fare much better this time out, either.

FU, Frank, Independent. I know absolutely nothing about him except that in the recent local government elections, he ran for Auckland Councillor in the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa Ward and came in dead last (out of six candidates; two were elected in that Ward). He, too, won’t fare much better in this election.

McDOWALL, James is the candidate of the neoliberal ACT New Zealand party, and currently an MP elected on the party’s 2020 Party List. I’d never heard of him until this election, so I know nothing about him, but his party has recently been promoting elements of right-wing populism.

OSMASTON, Richard, Money Free Party. In the recent local elections, he ran for mayor of SIX different councils. He promotes anarchism, in the classical sense, as part of the “Money Free movement”. He’s another candidate unlikely to do very well.

POCOCK, Naomi, The Opportunities Party (TOP). I know nothing about the candidate, but I’ve never thought much of the party. They style themselves as “centrist”, and are often associated with “radical centrism”, a political philosophy that I personally find too conservative, which is something I’d say of the party, too. Still, they’re likely to do better than the independent candidates or the radical rightwingers.

POKERE-PHILLIPS, Donna, the candidate for the extremist NZ Outdoors & Freedom Party. They are probably best-known for being opposed to vaccinations and the measures to combat Covid, and its supporters were part of the loons, goons, and cartoons illegally occupying Parliament grounds earlier this year. As for Pokere-Phillips, she came in fourth out of eight candidates in her run for Mayor in Hamilton’s recent local elections, however, that meant she only got 1248 votes out of 32,354 ballots cast citywide, and was eliminated in the first round (Hamilton elections are conducted under the Single Transferable Vote system), so being fourth isn’t as significant as some might think based only on her finishing position. She also ran for City Council as one of two Councillors from the Kirikiriroa Maaori Ward, and ended up in third place. That does mean she made it to the final iteration of the vote under STV, but lost to the second-highest ranked candidate. That, too, sounds more impressive than it is: There were 1951 ballots returned citywide, and only among voters on the Māori Electoral Roll. She’s likely to finish low in the rankings, but may make it as high as the middle, as she did in the Mayoral election.

POTAKA, Tama, National Party. I know nothing about him, but I don’t support the National Party, so he won’t get my vote.

SHARMA, Gaurav, the former Electorate MP, now running on his own party label, “New Zealand Momentum Party”. I know nothing about the party, or even if it exists, but apparently his campaign is being funded by a wealthy businessman. Whatever, I won’t vote for him again.

TAIT, Jade, of the ultra-far right christianist Vision New Zealand. The party is Christian nationalist in nature, and is affiliated with a fundamentalist “Christian” “church” in New Zealand. The party leader is one of the leaders of the church, and her husband is its self-proclaimed “apostle”. This candidate will do about as poorly as the other radicals running.

WAKEMAN, Peter, of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party. Candidates from this party run in all sorts of elections in order to promote and advance the cause of legalisation. I support their goal, but no one takes the party seriously.

That’s it—the whole list of the candidates on the ballot, along with my genuinely and sincerely held opinions about it all. But, of course, there’s one more thing about this sorry mess: Political games.

The National Party is pretending to be the “underdog” in the race, even though their candidate is actually the clear and obvious favourite to win. They say that the then-Labour Party candidate had a 6,000 vote majority in 2020, and that’s a lot to overcome. That’s bovine excrement, something that a party favoured by farmers knows very well.

The truth, which National knows very well, is that the wind is still at their back: Times are tough for a lot of people, the far-right has stirred up a LOT of anger toward the government, and the prime minister personally, some of which has been vicious and advocating violence. National is the likely beneficiary of all that, despite not being the specific source. However, the complicating factor is that ACT, an even more rightwing party than National, and one that’s in Parliament already, could siphon off votes from National. The far-right parties could also siphon off some rightwing votes, but probably only a tiny amount that they might have received if the far-right candidates had not been in the race. Collectively, the extremists might take at most 2-4% of the total vote. The Opportunities Party, being “centrist”, may also take some votes from National.

Labour may also lose some votes to The Opportunities Party, and some of Sharma’s voters in 2020 will likely stick with him. However, there’s no party on the centre-left or left to take votes from Labour, so the biggest obstacle for Labour is likely to be the fact that supporters of Labour may not bother to vote at all. Actually, hardly anyone will vote, regardless of who they support.

While the Opportunities Party could take votes from both National and Labour, perhaps just as a protest vote (a sort of “a pox on both your houses” kind of thing), it’s also possible that, as no doubt has happened many times, some protest votes may go the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis party. The independents are unlikely to play any role.

Finally, journalists have insisted on referring to Hamilton West as a “bellweather” electorate because the electorate supposedly “always” elects the candidate of the party that wins the general election nationwide. I should say first that I haven’t been able to verify that’s actually true (the research for this post was already talking far too long). More importantly, though, this is a byelection, something Hamilton West has never had before. Even if the journalists’ truism is, in fact, true, it only applies to general elections, and that’s nearly a year from now—a very, very, very long time in politics. So, whoever wins the election will not necessarily be a “bellweather” of anything whatsoever. Mainly, I just loathe sloppy and lazy citation of banal truisms rather than using hard data and actual numbers, but there’s also been little polling, and no poll results at all released since the final candidates were announced.

The bottom line for me is that this never should’ve happened. I don’t know Sharma, I don’t know what his motives might be, or even if he has any. I don’t know what his future agenda might be, or even if he has any. But as a taxpayer, I resent him causing us taxpayers to have to pay for this byelection for no good reason whatsoever. Even though I couldn’t have known how things would turn out, I nevertheless regret giving him my vote in 2020. I won’t make that mistake again.

Disclosures: I’m a member and supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have absolutely no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on some 50 years closely following politics and election campaigns (obviously I started when I was an infant…), as well as my personal values. I voted for Gaurav Sharma in New Zealand’s 2020 General Election, the first election I was able to vote in the Hamilton West Electorate.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Waiting and worrying

I haven’t said anything about US politics in ages, for a lot of reasons, but in the background, I’ve been feeling literally sick for quite some time because my homeland may be about to begin a less-than-slow-motion self-evisceration. I’m literally sick of feeling this way about the USA.

On the other hand, I have hope that opinion polls, which have been thoroughly unreliable since at least 2016, will continue their record of being perfectly imperfect, and they’ll be wrong once again. It’s not just that I want Democrats to win, though obviously I do, it’s that I want democracy to survive. If the other guys win, US democracy will need to be booked itself into hospice and palliative care. If the good guys win, there will be a chance that democracy can recover and heal.

But there’s nothing more that anyone can do now. I hope I’ll soon feel better. I hope the majority in the USA—and that its democracy—do, too.

No place like home

There are a lot of often-quoted sayings about “home”, often sappy or mawkish, but nevertheless revealing, at least, of how people feel about the idea of home, or their perception of it. Among those sayings is, “there’s no place like home”, and whether we click the heels of our ruby slippers three times or not, we may find out that it may connect us to something very different than what we imagined. That’s something I now understand very, very well.

The way most people take the saying is as a sort of declaration that the place they consider “home” is the best place on the planet, and to such people it probably is. But there’s another, more sombre way of taking the phrase: That there’s no place that’s like home—or, more simply, no place IS home.

People may feel that they have no home for many reasons, and the feeling may be a temporary or permanent. It can be caused by physical displacement (by natural disaster, famine, war, etc.), by abuse, or any number of terrible things. There’s one more personal terrible thing, I’ve learned, that cause us to feel disconnected from the concept of “home”, and that’s profound grief.

For 24 years, my home wasn’t really a physical place—after all, Nigel and I lived in five different houses in three completely different areas in New Zealand. Instead, for me, “home” was wherever Nigel and our furbabies were. That began to unravel when Nigel died.

In the first year, I wondered constantly about my literal place in the world, something that wasn’t helped by lockdowns and other Covid restrictions. Then Sunny died, then Jake died, and Leo and I had to carry on as a duo—against a backdrop of even more lockdowns and Covid restrictions.

It’s no surprise, really, that with two years of massive changes and upheavals I began to feel I wasn’t connected to any physical place: My family of six had been my home, but Leo and I were all that was left. At the beginning, my question had been “what now?!”, but after all those changes and challenges it became something more like, “where now?!”

It’s not that I thought there was a specific place on the planet where I might feel at home, though in daydream-like thoughts I sometimes imagined Leo and me in places all over the world. Mostly they were just idle thoughts, and actually far less consequential than an actual daydream, but through that I came to realise that there’s no physical place that feels like home to me—it turns out that, for me, there’s no place that’s like any home.

This is the point in the story where I should talk about my breakthrough moment, how I solved the existential—or, residential—dilemma, but I can’t do that because it hasn’t happened, at least, not yet. For all I know, it may never happen, and this feeling may remain with me for the rest of my life. Or not. I have no idea what will happen.

This reality has made me matter-of-fact (in my description) about where I live: “Does this place suit me right now?” When I ask that question of myself, if the answer is even a lukewarm “yes”, or even just a shrug of the shoulders, then that’s good enough. If that changes, I might go somewhere else. Or not: The universe may prefer to move toward disorder, but we humans seem reluctant to break up whatever order we’ve achieved in the hope of a better stasis somewhere else. And, of course, after three years of upheaval and negative changes, I want—I need—to rest, to regroup, to recharge my batteries, all of that, and this house, and Hamilton generally, is as good a place for that as any.

However, none of that changes the fact that in a sense I don’t feel connected to the planet because I don’t feel connected to any place on it: I have no “home”, I have a house that Leo allows me to share with him. While I’m (mostly) joking about that sharing bit, it’s nevertheless true that as the last of our family, Leo and I being together is as close as I get to feeling a sense of “home”, and that’s still not about geography (and this is now the sixth house and fourth area of New Zealand that I’ve lived in).

What this means in practical terms is that while I (theoretically) could live anywhere in the world, in reality there’s no particular place I want to live. And so, the place I’m—we’re—living right now is quite literally as good as any other—and, to be fair, far better than most.

Whether my reality changes, and if so, when or how, will depend on a long list of things, many of which are outside my control (like the real estate market and the cost of living, for example). Some of it will also depend on the course of my journey and the building of my new normal. I think, or maybe hope, that as I work out who and what I am now, everything else will fall into place, too. If so, maybe I’ll also feel something when I think of home, because it’s never really been about a specific place for me, but maybe even that could change.

Still, for me, there’s no place that IS home. For now.

I originally created the graphic above for a 2007 blog post .

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Boring bacon

Tonight I tried what was possibly my last plant-based imitation meat product. It wasn’t a disaster, exactly, but it wasn’t exactly a success, either. It was, in fact, boring.

Tonight, I tried “Boar Free Bacon” (photo above) from Sunfed, a New Zealand company that makes a several vegan meat substitutes. In my post last week, ”Still more kitchen adventures”, I said that “I still have their bacon substitute to try”. Tonight was the night.

I got the sub the fake bacon when I ordered their beef mince product online, but the store fulfilling my order was out and substituted the bacon. I’d never seen it before, and when I looked at through the window in the package, it looked like “bacon pieces”, basically chopped up bacon, which most supermarkets sell. So, my original plan was to make a bacon and egg pie—until I remembered that it must be cooked first, and doesn’t work like normal cooked meat products would.

When I was researching my post for last week, I saw a promotional video for the bacon on their website, and only then realised the products was formed to imitate, more or less, rashers of bacon. Change of plans: Bacon and eggs? Poached eggs on toast with bacon? I didn’t know, but the cooking ultimately helped me decide.

When I opened the pack (with some difficulty), it smelled exactly like a smoky bacon—hickory, perhaps, or maybe manuka. Either way, it smelled real, the first of these products I’ve tired that did. The instructions said to fry it in oil on a medium-high heat for around three minutes, frequently turning them until crispy. When they first started cooking, it smelled just like cooking bacon—until it didn’t. As it cooked to crispiness, the smell entirely disappeared—and the entire pan filled with an unappetising foam (photo below, and the foam got worse a minute or so later, entirely covering all the bacon).

I took a piece out and placed it on some paper kitchen towel to drain, and tried it. The texture was spot-on—exactly like real bacon cooked to crispness. However, it also had absolutely no flavour.

I decided to scale everything back and just make a bacon sandwich of the sort I used to make when I was a kid, though it was using white bread in those days. Instead, I used my homemade bread that I toasted. I wanted to put some hickory BBQ sauce on it for flavour, but what I had in the fridge, it turned out, was well beyond elderly. I knew it would need help.

So, I put some edam cheese on the toast, the bacon, and some tomato sauce (aka ketchup). It was—okay. The texture was perfect, but the bacon’s flavour was basically nothing. I could taste the cheese, tomato sauce, and the bread, but not the bacon. It was yet another kitchen failure.

Unlike other Sunfed products—the chicken and beef mince—I don’t think there’s anything I can do to improve the experience. I won’t be buying it again.

After I turned off the hob (stovetop), and the pan cooled, the foam calmed down, and left behind what appeared to be a lot of oil—liquid, anyway, but pretty sure it was oil because the pan was greasy after I dumped it into the rubbish.

So, I’m zero for three on Sunfed products, and the others I’ve tried have been kind of “meh”. Long ago, while Nigel was still alive, even, I began to think it was better to make meals that don’t have meat rather than use meat substitutes to make dishes that normally have meat. If the substitutes aren’t nearly identical, and they never are, then the results are likely to disappoint. But meals that never had meat in them in the first place don’t have that same problem, and so, to me, they’re the better choice. So far, at least, that’s certainly been the case for me.

I have health-related reasons to cut back on meat and to increase the percentage of plant-based foods that I eat. The lesson I’ve learned from all this experimenting is that—for me—plant-based needs to be actual plants, not plants pretending to be something else. Other people’s preferences, requirements and such are their business, of course. And mine are mine, too.



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.