Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Storms and storms to come

This past weekend, Auckland was hit with unprecedented rain. So far, Auckland has endured more than 800% of its normal January rainfall (about 55mm of rain): This January dumped 454mm—so far. Put another way, over the past 40 days, Auckland received 41% of the amount of rain it would normally get over an entire year. On Friday alone, the city received three times the amount of rain as it normally receives in the entire month of January—and most of that fell in a couple hours. The resulting flooding was deadly: Four people lost their lives. And at the moment, a new heavy rain system is on the way.

At least 5000 Auckland properties needed to assessed for flood or landslide damage, and when I checked earlier today, more than 200 houses and buildings had been red-stickered, which means no entry, and they cannot be used. Some early estimates where that this could be the costliest weather-related disaster in New Zealand history, and the second most costly overall (after the Christchurch earthquake). [Related: ”In photos: Auckland devastated by flooding, slips”, and the Stuff video above]

Community organisations have begun distributing things people need—chiefly food, clothing, personal supplies—and a relief fund is being set-up by Auckland Council to help communities in need. There will be more of all that.

While the focus has been on recovery, a new storm system is approaching. Northland has already declared a state of emergency, and a red rain warning has been issued for that region, the northern parts of Auckland, Coromandel, and the Bay of Plenty. All of those areas were affected a couple weeks ago by ex-Cyclone Hale, and the storm over the past weekend. The storm system over the next couple days will only make things worse because the hardest hit areas aren’t getting a chance to dry out between storms; sodden ground could mean more flooding than the amount of rain would normally cause. In other words, a very worrying time for people in the affected areas.

In light of all this, it feels shallow to mention this, but people who know me personally—or even just read this blog—will want to know: I’m fine, and while there’s been some surface flooding in Hamilton, and hasn’t been very serious. To the north, east, and south of us, there’s been a lot more flooding, but the winds and weather patterns spared us. We did get a lot of rain—far more than we got from Cyclone Hale—but it was nothing like what Auckland got. We were very, very fortunate.

The weekend’s storm had me very worried about all the folks I know in Auckland, of course. It was surreal to read the live reports and to see video images of places I know. Two of the people who drowned in the storm died in an area of the North Shore called the Wairau Valley, and I knew exactly where they were talking about because Nigel and I spent a lot of time in that area over the years. I can’t recall anything like that happening in my entire lifetime.

There’s been a LOT of criticism of the communications from Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (responsible mostly for state highways), and, especially, the city’s Mayor, Wayne Brown. Here’s just some of the critical reporting:
There’s no dispute that official communication to desperate, frightened Aucklanders was non-existent for much of the evening. The only reliable information came from some Auckland Councillors (Richard Hills being a stellar example), local Members of Parliament, Auckland Local Board Members, and the news media. The Mayor and all official channels were silent until late in the evening. Whether Brown is uniquely and personally responsible is something that will be determined over time, but so far he at least seems to be trying to appear to be engaged—now—and that’s a good first step, but I suspect his massive ego and notoriously prickly personality will cause more trouble in the future.

A more immediate governmental impact is that today Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced his cabinet reshuffle, and as part of that, the prime minister announced that MP Michael Wood will become Minster for Auckland. “The floods occurred right at the time when reshuffle was right at the front of my mind,” Hipkins said. He also noted that, “When Auckland succeeds, the country succeeds. I know that the last few years have been particularly tough for the City of Sails.” The position didn't currently exist, but it has in the past.

This has been a challenging time for Auckland and the entire northern part of the North Island. With a third of New Zealand’s population living in Auckland, disasters in the city and region affect the entire country. Thanks to the worsening storms caused by climate change, this is only the beginning of bad times. We'll all be watching to see how the city and country adapt.

Friday, January 27, 2023

A different food experiment

Recently, I decided to try something different for grocery shopping: A subscription for delivery. It looked like it would work out costing me less than if I just used the conventional pay-as-you-go delivery. Did it?

Many business are adopting a subscription model to get a regular income stream. They know that a large number of customers won’t get the maximum benefit from their subscription—in fact, some (many?) don’t use it all, and don’t cancel (gyms have long used this to their advantage). In my opinion, subscription services make great sense if they’re used to the maximum allowed, and if not, there have to be other compelling reasons.

Supermarket online ordering and delivery is still labour-intensive: Despite efforts at automation, at least part of every order must be picked by a human. Here in Hamilton, orders are entirely picked by humans (for now, anyway). So, a delivery fee of $14 (around US$9) for orders under $200 (US$129) seems reasonable to me.

The supermarket chain’s delivery subscription service is currently $23 a month (around US$15) for “unlimited” deliveries of orders of at least $80 (around US$52). There are “fair use” restrictions, but for most customers a single delivery a week is all they’d need.

A word about costs before evaluating them further: Food prices in New Zealand jumped 11.3% last year, which is the biggest jump since 1990. This means that due to soaring costs, $200 doesn’t buy nearly as much food as it used to, so it’s easy to hit $200. At $200, the delivery fee drops to $9. It’s important to note that NZ food prices aren’t directly comparable to other developed countries, most of which have always had lower prices overall.

A customer getting groceries delivered once a week would pay $14 or $9, depending on how much they order, every week. With a monthly subscription, those weekly deliveries would cost $5.75 each, as long as the order was for at least $80.

Looked at another way, it would cost between and $36 and $56 for ordinary delivery (depending on how much is ordered) every month, and that means a subscription brings a savings of $13 to $33 a month, respectively. Someone ordering only twice during a month would save $5 for the month with the subscription service compared with the $28 it would cost using pay-as-you-go for orders less than $200. Someone ordering more than $200 2 times in a month would spend $5 more (if they order three times, they'd save $4).

The company also offers 6 months for a discounted $118, which works out to $19.67 per month. Order four times in a month, and the delivery fees work out to $4.92 a week.

There are many factors to consider, starting with, how often does a person buy groceries? I read somewhere that the average Kiwi goes to a supermarket twice a week (not always for a big shop). I shop once a week, on average, though I’ve also often gone two weeks without shopping.

There are also costs specifically related to going to the supermarket, including petrol, wear and tear on the car, and the time it takes to drive to the supermarket and back home again (to avoid making this even more complicated, we’ll assume the time spent shopping in a supermarket and online is the same). For me, it comes down to working out whether those costs are (or could be) $5.75 per week. I think it’s unlikely they could cost me that much (or even $4.92).

Next, does shopping online save money compared with shopping in store? Maybe.

Everyone knows that supermarkets go out of their way to entice customers to spend more, with all the new products and specials presented enticingly. I grew to really dislike going to the supermarket with Nigel for precisely that reason: He had to look at everything, and wanted to try all sorts of new things. It took twice as long and cost much more than if I went shopping by myself, as I ordinarily did.

At home, there are no alluring displays, obviously, but specials are still offered, including “online only” specials. In my experience, it’s easy to add unnecessary things to an online order, though maybe not AS easy as in person: At home, it seems to be easier to resist temptation. Even so, “extras” frequently somehow get added to my order.

The main disadvantages of ordering online are, first, I can’t choose fresh items, like fruits and veggies—I depend on the order picker to choose good stuff. Also, things may be out of stock when the order is picked, which means I may get a substitute (if I permitted substitutions), or I get nothing (I’m not charged for what I don’t get, of course, but if they substitute, they honour the special price, even if the substitute has a higher price).

One recurring problem for me is that it’s easy to not grasp the size of a package I’m ordering online. For example, I bought a 1kg bag of salt and a 5kg bag of frozen chicken drumsticks because I didn’t stop to think how big they were. If I’d shopped in person, I’d have seen it and made different choices.

However, there are also advantages ordering online, chief among them the fact I can shop whenever I want to, like in the wee small hours when all the shops have been closed for hours (I’ve often placed orders either side of midnight). I can also compare nutrition and ingredient labels MUCH more easily—the print on actual labels is so damn small! It’s also easier to compare the prices—and unit prices—of competing products online, rather than having to try to read the stickers on the shelf in the shop. And, finally, I can also call up previous orders to make it easier to get the same things again (current prices are always shown). I could even save lists to make my ordering even faster than it could ever be in person. Finally, I can pause my online ordering to go check if I’m running low on something (especially useful when the product is on special).

After I began the 30-day free trial, I placed five orders. At the regular delivery prices, I would’ve spent $70 for the deliveries. With the delivery subscription, the same five deliveries would cost me the flat $23 fee, or $4.60 each (compared to $14 each without the subscription). All up, in this scenario, the subscription would save $47 in delivery fees—or, would it?

The truth is, I don’t normally order groceries to be delivered every single week, which is kind of necessary for it to make sense. If I ordered twice a month as I used to, I’d save $5 (plus a tiny bit more from not driving to the supermarket and back). On the other hand, if it saves me hassles and frees up my time to work on projects at home, could it be worth it?

The bottom line for me is this: The overall benefits of ordering online (that I mentioned above) outweigh the disadvantages most of the time. However, the savings from the delivery subscription isn’t enough of a savings for someone like me. That’s mainly because it could encourage someone to order more frequently to get maximum value, and that could mean spending more. Moreover, it provides an incentive for me to shop at only the one supermarket. This is bad for me because the other chain has different specials in a given week, and each chain has products that aren’t carried by the other chain.

I think pay-as-you-go delivery option is better for customers like me because it would better suit anyone who doesn’t need to order more than a time or two a month. It also doesn’t have the effect of locking customers into shopping at only one supermarket. Obviously, all of that is precisely why the supermarket chain wants people to use delivery subscriptions.

I also think that the delivery subscription, as currently offered, would probably suit a large and busy household that buys a lot of groceries every week, but doesn’t have anyone with the time to shop in person. That’s not my household, nor am I that busy. The delivery subscription service, then, is a good option for some customers, and maybe I’m just not one of them.

However: I also think that, properly managed, the subscription service could help me cut my grocery budget. That’s mainly because of the inherent advantages of ordering online I mentioned above, and especially that it’s definitely easier to edit an order online than in the shop because at home, the site or App keeps simply a running tally of how much I’m spending, and removing an item from the order is easy. In the supermarket, I’d need to keep a running tally of how much I was spending and then put some things back. The subscription fee itself becomes a fixed budgeted amount, and because it’s fixed, I think it could take off some of the pressure to maximise how much I order to make it “worth it”. If I’m right, I could place three or four smaller orders rather than two big ones. Maybe?

I decided, then, to extend the trial for another month to see if the opportunity for better budget management is real. If I then decide to cancel, I’ll only have spent $23 for two months worth of orders, however many that is, so it’s not like it’s a financial risk. I’ve wanted to find ways to better control the expense of grocery shopping, and this might be a good way to do it. I expect t know for sure by the end of next month.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The new team begins

Yesterday, The Governor General of New Zealand, Dame Cindy Kiro, signed the official documents appointing Chris Hipkins the 41st Prime Minister of New Zealand. His Deputy Prime Minister is Carmel Sepuloni, and that’s historic in that she’s the first person of Pacific heritage to be in that role. The transfer of power was smooth and easy. Now, it’s back to the business of governing.

I’ve never met Chris or Carmel, though we’ve all been at Labour Party events at the same time. This means that my opinion of them is based on the same sort of real-world observations as anyone else. From what I’ve personally seen, I think they’ll both do well.

The one question that’s asked a lot is, can Chris lead Labour to an election victory later this year? Not only is the answer “absolutely!”, I think any one who bets against him and Labour is being very foolish. [See also: ”Chris Hipkins as PM could sway 12% of voters, new poll suggests”]

The news media has been referring to him as “new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins” (maybe they think lots of us somehow managed to miss the news entirely over the past week?), but he (of course) has all the power and responsibility being Prime Minister, and having been part of the Labour Party government for nearly six years, there’s no learning curve.

Despite being ready to go as soon the documents were signed, he nevertheless hasn’t announced any policy changes, though there will be some. Instead, he’s only said that dealing with the cost of living crisis will be his central focus.

I think that it’s obvious that some of the previously announced policies will be put aside. Journalists seem convinced the proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ will be put on hold, and there are likely to be changes to the Three Waters programme that the hard right has been attacking relentlessly especiallu because it talks about “co-governance” between the Crown and Māori in dealing with of water/wastewater/stormwater. Some rightwingers have had a good time mischievously using that—or, rather, their cartoon version of it—to successfully rile up racists.

The thing about having a “new Prime Minister” is that he can change the agenda, removing unpopular things, pushing things that are more popular, and explaining things cynical rightwing politicians are deliberately misrepresenting. Being a new face gives him the opportunity to reset, something Jacinda couldn’t have done as easily, or perhaps at all.

She certainly could have dropped unpopular policies, but if she’d done that, rightwing politicians would’ve attacked her for doing it: She was in a no-win situation. Chris, on the other hand, can change pretty much anything because he’s in charge now, and the agenda is his to set. He’ll also be handling the traditional election year cabinet re-shuffle, so the team going into the election will be his own.

That’s one of the main reasons Labour is in a stronger position electorally now than it was before Jacinda resigned: It’s not just a new leader, it’s also a new team, and a new game.

Obviously, there’s plenty that can still go wrong. Next month, for example, the Reserve Bank governor may follow through on his threat to deliberately wreck the New Zealand economy by triggering a recession, though with inflation now stable, it seems less likely—or, at least, that’s what all sane and rational people hope.

There are also plenty of things that can go right, too, of course. With new leadership, new policies, and new energy, there’s currently a wind in Labour’s sails.

All of which is why Labour could well win this year’s election. It would very, very foolish to bet against them.

Related video – MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle reflects on the departure of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Fourteen years later

Yet another year, and it’s now been fourteen years since Nigel and I had our civil union ceremony. Things are the same as for any other anniversary that Nigel didn’t live to see, precisely because he didn’t live to see them—and I did.

I’ve often said how our Civil Union was, at the time, the happiest day of our lives—until we were married in 2013, and that day became the happiest of our lives. And yet, with everything that’s happened since that 2009 day, it would’ve been easy for this date to become lost. Naturally, I won’t let that happen. Last year, I said:
This anniversary used to be the final event in what I called my “Season of Anniversaries”, something that also doesn’t matter anymore. Even so, some of the anniversaries within that “season” were and remain important to me: The day I first arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, the day I arrived in New Zealand to live, and, of course, my birthday. I’m still learning what they all mean without Nigel as part of them—except, of course, he still is.
And that’s the point. Nigel is gone, but everything he was, and what we were together, is still very much a part of my life. I can no more remove them than I can cut off an arm or leg. The logical thing to do—the only thing, really—is to acknowledge these many anniversaries in the way that makes sense to me, in the context of my new reality.

So, Happy Anniversary to us once again. This anniversary was eclipsed by our marriage, and all of it was eclipsed by Nigel’s death, but it turns out that it was only a partial eclipse. I’m still here, my memories are still here, and our shared history and love are still here. It turns out, that’s plenty reason enough to celebrate.


2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today
2013: Fourth Anniversary
2014: An anniversary
2015: Anniversaries
2016: A seventh Anniversary
2017: Eight years later
2018: Nine years later
2019: Ten years later
There was no post in 2020.
2021: Twelve years later
2022: Thirteen years later

The blog backlog

Unfinished work can be found almost anywhere, and whether the work is paid or unpaid is irrelevant—unfinished work is unfinished work. For example, I have plenty of unfinished projects around the house, which is pretty obvious based on what I’ve said on this blog over the past couple years. However, it also turns out that even this blog has a backlog, with lots of unfinished and unpublished posts. Maybe that goes to prove that such backlogs aren’t less likely to happen when the work is unpaid? Maybe it makes it more likely. In any case, backlogs seem to be just one of those things that can happen to anyone.

For me, the barriers to finishing my household projects are many and varied, and sometimes unique to specific projects. The blog backlog, though, is mostly tied to age-old barriers, shared among them all. This time, though, there are also aspects that are a bit unusual for me.

Not having enough time is one problem, something that’s is actually quite common this time of year—there’s so much going on that it’s easy to simply run out of time. Clearly blogging isn’t the most important thing I need to do on any given day, so publishing new posts isn’t a priority. That’s certainly nothing new.

This year, though, I have a twist on an old problem: Finding the right voice.

In the past, I’ve talked about not wanting to talk about various topics, often relating to US politics, and that sort of thing has remained (particularly my desire to avoid US politics, even though those posts used to be among my most-viewed). The current problem isn’t about not wanting to talk about something, but, rather, not being able to figure out how to talk about it.

I have several posts I’ve been working on for, in some cases, several weeks, and among them are posts that have gone through several different drafts each—all because I can’t find the right way to put something. In some cases it’s been about trying to avoid too much detail dragging down the whole thing, in other cases it ends up that the draft hasn’t conveyed what I was trying to say. I know that’s happened to me in the past, but I can’t remember a time I’ve had so many all at once. It seems to be purely coincidental, but knowing that doesn’t help.

This situation has created a backlog of posts because I have several other nearly-finished posts that I haven’t completed/published because other things have come up, including completely unexpected things (and the linked example needs a follow-up post…).

I clearly won’t force myself to rush through posts, but the backlog is getting big enough that I want to push some through, even while I try to find a way through those posts that stubbornly will not allow themselves to be finished. This means that for the next while, I’ll probably be posting more than usual (meaning, more posts in a day). I want to clear the back-log of posts in part so I can have enough clear headspace when new topics pop-up, especially unexpectedly. And, there are also regular topics I want to talk about, things that relate to specific dates, and the current backlog threatens them, too.

As I’ve always said, I do this blog just because I enjoy doing it, and having a backlog of posts doesn’t change that—if anything, it creates a challenge, and I like challenges. All up, then, it’s just one of those things.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The annual increasing number: 64

Well, well—another birthday! This year isn’t a “significant” one (not a notable age, in other words), but I observe them all. I always used to say that “having birthdays beats the alternative,” and it’s obviously something I understand even more now.

This year, I invited the Hamilton family around on Friday for a low-key thing similar to the weekely get-togethers we used to have. We ended up having pizza, which is always a favourite of mine, organised by one of my sisters-in-law. As usual, everyone had left before dark (it stays light until nearly 10pm this time of year), and Leo and I had a quiet rest of the evening. Leo had a particularly quiet evening: Having visitors wore him out.

The next morning, my cousin-in-law picked me up and we went to the Tamahere Country Market, something I haven’t been to in a very long time (no particular reason). After that we went to a new-ish cafe in the area we wanted to try, and my cousin bought me lunch for my birthday. We stopped at a couple shops, then went and visited my Nigel’s mum before heading home. My cousin dropped me off early in the afternoon.

That was pretty much my day: I was very sleepy by then, mostly because I’d been up just a bit too late Friday evening, and I’d had a terrible nights sleep a couple nights before that. This is why I couldn't finish this post last night. Actually, I didn’t even open the bottle of bubbles I’d put in the fridge to have to celebrate my birthday (maybe this evening).

My annual birthday selfie is at the bottom of this post, and I almost didn’t share in on social media yesterday evening. When I did, to Instagram, I said:
Leo joined me for my annual birthday selfie this year. He’d just finished singing “Happy Birthday” to me, and I’m actually not kidding—it’s the only song he sings along with (I had to help him, which was a *little* odd for me, LOL). I look so tired because I am—I had a bad night’s sleep last night, so I’ve been sleepy all day. It happens. But I had a good birthday, anyway.
When I looked at a larger version of the photo on my iPad, I decided the photo was nice despite me looking tired, so I shared it. It’s now also my profile photo on Facebook, because the past two years my birthday selfie became my profile photo for the year. This year, I’d like to change it from time to time like I used to do.

I said earlier that it wasn’t a significant birthday this year, and that’s because my specific age isn’t. However, 64 IS significant in a way that’s meaningful to me: I’ve now attained an age my parents never did. A few months ago, I reached the age at which I’d lived longer than either of them did, but when I hit 64, that milestone was unquestionably over. I’ve been aware of that point for decades, especially when I neared 60. Now, that’s done. So: What’s the next one?

I suppose the next milestone would be to live longer than all my grandparents, but in the case of my dad’s dad, that’d mean living nearly three more decades. Right now, that seems like too big a mountain, but, maybe? I don’t actually care, but in high school I was certain I’d live to “at least” 120. That’d mean living the better part of six decades more. Um…

I still believe that having birthdays beats the alternative (though three—or six!—decades more seems a bit greedy…). I’ve been fortunate that, despite everything, my birthdays since Nigel died haven't been awful, and most have been quite nice (though the first one without him was pretty bad).

None of us knows how long we’ve got, how many years (or decades…) we are from the end of the annual increasing number. I’m at peace with that, something that wasn’t possible when I worried about leaving Nigel alone. That’s the one and only thing I can think of that’s actually liberating about being a widower. There had to be something, I guess.

So, once again, my annual increasing number happened. It wasn’t a significant age to reach, except to me, but every age achieved is a gift. That’s another thing I understand even more now.

The Illinois Route 64 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. Illinois Route 64 runs roughly east-west across the state, between Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive and the Mississippi River, where it crosses into Iowa and becomes Iowa Highway 64. I have no idea whether I ever drove on Illinois Route 64 or not, but it’s entirely possible.

The Interstate 64 sign is also a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. Interstate 64 crosses Illinois from the Mississippi River at St. Louis to the Indiana state line at the Wabash River. I have definitely driven on Interstate 64 because it’s briefly concurrent with Interstate 57 near Mt Vernon, Illinois, and I-57 was the road I took between my university and my hometown.

My Previous Birthday posts:

2022: The annual increasing number: 63
2021: The annual increasing number: 62
2020: The annual number increase happened
2019: Another 'Big Birthday'
2018: The annual increasing number: 59
2017: The annual increasing number: 58
2016: The annual increasing number: 57
2015: The annual increasing number: 56
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

Friday, January 20, 2023

My strength comes from learning and hope

The image above is a Facebook “Memory”, a reminder that I was feeling hopeful on this day four years ago, though it was mixed with understandable trepidation. If I’d had any idea what this current decade of my life would bring, I wouldn’t have been “intrigued”. A mere nine months after that day four years ago, my entire world was destroyed, and I’m still living in the ruins.

Until relatively recently, I beat myself up constantly over how slow my progress, such as it is, has been. I was an idiot.

On 22 February 2011 at 12:51pm, Christchurch had a severe earthquake that in ten seconds destroyed much of the CBD and eastern suburbs. Nearly 12 years later, the rebuild still isn’t finished. What on earth made me think I could rebuild my life in only 3 (and a bit) years?!!

It turns out that the time since the third anniversary of Nigel’s death has been among the worst of the whole journey. I know some of why that is, some of it mystifies me, but a bad fourth year is also apparently a relatively common experience in profound grief.

As I’ve documented, I constantly learn more all the time, and that’s been the source of whatever strength I’ve had. I always find better ways to manage this journey, and freely abandon what simply doesn’t work for me. But it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, and it utterly exhausts me. Some days all I can manage is nothing at all. Other days, though, are very different.

I choose to push through dark days not because I “have to”, but because it’s what I do, probably because I’m stubborn. But I know all too well that no day—no single second—is guaranteed to anyone, ever, and if I’m not in a position to “seize every moment”, I’m definitely seizing every one that I can, even if it’s only that one moment.

This evening I’m getting together with some of the whānau and we’re having pizza—two of my favourite things at once! It’s sort of an early birthday thing in a year in which my birthday isn’t particularly significant.

My birthday four years ago definitely was significant, and in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Four years ago I said I was hopeful, and the thing is that even now, despite EVERYTHING, and despite how f*cking hard this journey has been and is, I’m still hopeful. I found out that hope is the strongest part of me. I wish everyone could feel that kind of hope.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Sudden, unexpected change

Today, there was what the news media is fairly calling a “shock announcement”: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is stepping down as Prime Minister no later than February 7, and will leave Parliament in April. “You cannot, and should not [be Prime Minister] unless you have a full tank, plus, a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges,” she said. “This summer, I had hoped to find a way to prepare for not just another year, but another term – because that is what this year requires. I have not been able to do that.”

It was widely expected that today the prime minister would announce the date of the NZ General Election, and she did: Saturday, the 14th of October. Many pundits also expected her to announce a cabinet reshuffle, something governments always do in an election year to present a fresher face to voters, and they also though there might be a shift in some policy priorities, especially the ones the rightwing and the news media have been attacking. No pundit in recent weeks picked that Jacinda would step down. I didn’t, either.

The Labour Party Caucus in Parliament will meet on Sunday, and if a candidate has the support of two-thirds of the caucus, they will become the new Party Leader and Prime Minister. If not, then the choice will be made by vote of party members (people like me). I fully expect the new Prime Minister will be selected on Sunday, but I have absolutely NO idea who it will be.

I was actually working on a blog post for today when I got a pop-up notification that she was about to speak to the news media after today’s Cabinet meeting. I stopped work so I could find out when the election will be. My jaw dropped at the real news.

I’m actually not all that surprised, really. She has become the object of vicious hatred and harassment by the lunatic, unhinged far-right, including lots of serious and credible threats of violence and death. At the same time, her daughter starts school this year, and if she remained Prime Minister, she’d miss so much of her daughter’s formative years. I don’t blame her in the least, and I’m happy for her, though not for the country.

Some folks who didn’t like her opined that she must be jumping because she “knows” Labour will lose the election. That’s wish-fulfillment fantasy. In fact, her staying could also pose a risk to a third term because she is the focus for so much inchoate dislike among the general public, rightwing voters, and the news media. Without her leading, there may be a better opportunity for the party to make its case to voters—depending on who the next Labour Party Leader/Prime Minister is.

Jacinda is the Electorate MP for the Mount Albert Electorate. When an Electorate MP resigns more than six months before an election, there’s a byelection in that electorate (like Hamilton West had thrust on it for no good reason last year). By resigning from Parliament in April, six months out from the General Election, there will be no byelection.

If she thought that Labour would definitely lose, she’d have chosen to run as a List MP in the General Election. If Labour lost the election, she could then resign and the next person on the Labour Party list would enter Parliament. That would’ve been the clearest possible sign she expected Labour to lose. Resigning her seat in April indicates nothing certain, except that she wants out.

Having a new leader and, no doubt, new portfolio assignments, will mean that Labour will go to the voters with a new-look team, which can actually make them more competitive, because shiny and new is always better for getting voters’ attention. That's why governments of both parties do a cabinet reshuffle in the run-up to an election.

At the same time, without Jacinda at the centre of Labour’s campaign, she’ll blunt energy of the aggressive far-right loons who hate her to the core of their being. On the one hand, this could make it harder for Labour because the loons would’ve helped split the rightwing vote, which would help Labour and the Greens. On the other hand, with her gone, voters who aren’t loons but who don’t like her may not see National and it’s aggressive far-right potential coalition partner, the Act “Party”, as being so attractive—especially when voters look at the far-right agenda the two parties would promote. The lack of aggressive loons fighting Labour, combined with her non-loony opponents now more relaxed because the person they don’t like is gone, could mean that ultimately this is all a wash. Maybe.

Everything is riding on who is selected as the next party leader. If Caucus gets it wrong, then the election’s results won’t go their way. But, if they get it right, Labour’s back in the fight with a good wind behind its sails.

If Jacinda at her best was leading the party into the election, then only a fool would bet against Labour winning a third term. But as she herself has said, she not at her best, and she feels she has to go. The new leadership team will be able to change policy priorities, jettisoning ones that aren’t connecting with voters, and that’s likely something that Jacinda couldn’t have gotten away with.

There’s one more possibility I’ve seen people talking about. If the new leadership feels that they’ll lose the next election, they could push through the last of their agenda while they still have power. This seems highly improbable. First, it would signal that they expect to lose, and, more importantly, the incoming rightwing government would just repeal everything, anyway, so it would all be for nothing—and could possibly just had victory to the Right.

So, my bet is that the new Prime Minister and leadership team will move quickly to chart a new direction so it’s fresh—and looks fresh—heading into the General Election. If they can show energy and enthusiasm—as, indeed, Jacinda did heading into her first election as Labour Leader in 2017, then it’s a whole new game. Interesting times.

All that said, the country owes a huge debt to Jacinda Ardern and her government for leading the country through a perilous time in the world. Whoever becomes Prime Minister next, and whoever is elected in October, has a big task living up to her example.

Here’s the complete text of the Prime Minister’s statement today:
Today I have two important announcements to make.

The first is the election date.

Under the last government, the practice began of sharing the election date at the beginning of election year.

Early announcements allow for planning and preparation by the Electoral Commission, agencies, and political parties, and is, I believe, best practice. That’s why in 2020 we announced at the beginning of election year, and I do so again today.

The General Election for 2023 will be held on Saturday the 14th of October.

In setting this date, I have considered the advice of the Electoral Commission, Public Holidays and school holidays, the advance voting periods, and important events and fixtures. I believe this date best accommodates each of these factors.

Consideration of the date over the summer, and the impending election and new political term has also given me time for reflection.

I am entering now my sixth year in office. And for each of those years, I have given my absolute all.

I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging. You cannot, and should not do it unless you have a full tank, plus, a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges.

This summer, I had hoped to find a way to prepare for not just another year, but another term – because that is what this year requires. I have not been able to do that.

And so today, I am announcing that I will not be seeking re-election and that my term as Prime Minister will conclude no later than the 7th of February.

This has been the most fulfilling five and a half years of my life. But it has also had its challenges.

Amongst an agenda focused on housing, child poverty and climate change, we encountered a major biosecurity incursion, a domestic terror event, a major natural disaster, a global pandemic and an economic crisis. The decisions that had to be made have been continual, and they have been weighty.

But I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case I probably would have departed two months into the job!

I am leaving because with such a privileged role, comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also, when you are not.

I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple.

But I absolutely believe and know, there are others around me who do.

We achieved a huge amount in the last five years. And I am so proud of that.

We are in a fundamentally different place on climate change than where we were, with ambitious targets and a plan to achieve them.

We have turned around child poverty statistics and made the most significant increases in welfare and the state housing stock we’ve seen in many decades.

We’ve made it easier to access education and training, improved the pay and conditions of workers, and shifted our settings towards a high wage, high skilled economy.

And we’ve worked hard to make progress on issues around our national identity, and I believe that teaching history in schools and celebrating our own indigenous national holiday will all make a difference for years to come.

And we’ve done that while responding to some of the biggest threats to the health and economic wellbeing of our nation arguably since World War Two.

The team that has done all that, they have been some of the best people I have ever had the privilege of working with, and they are well placed to take us forward as we continue to focus on our economic recovery with one of the strongest economies in the world.

They are also a team who are incredibly well placed to contest the next election. In fact, I am not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election, but because I believe we can and will, and we need a fresh set of shoulders for that challenge.

I know there will be much discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so called “real” reason was. I can tell you, that what I am sharing today is it.

The only interesting angle you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, that I am human. Politicians are human. We give all that we can, for as long as we can, and then it’s time.

And for me, it’s time.

I intend to remain the Member for Mt Albert through till April. This will give me a bit of time in the electorate before I depart, and also spare them and the country a by-election.

Beyond that, I have no plan. No next steps. All I know is that whatever I do, I will try and find ways to keep working for New Zealand and that I am looking forward to spending time with my family again – arguably, they are the ones that have sacrificed the most out of all of us.

And so to Neve, mum is looking forward to being there when you start school this year.

And to Clarke, let’s finally get married.

As for the next Labour Leader. The caucus has seven days to ascertain whether one individual holds more than 2/3rds of the caucus support.

Caucus has today agreed that a vote will occur in three days’ time on Sunday the 22nd of January. If a leader is successfully elected, I will issue my resignation soon after to the Governor General, and a new Prime Minister will be sworn in.

If no one is able to garner this level of support within caucus, the leadership contest will go to the wider membership.

My opportunity to thank the many people I need to, will likely come in April when I depart Parliament, 15 years after having been sworn in.

Till then, I see my role to help the Labour Party, who I consider my family, navigate this next phase. And then, to leave the next colleague who takes on this role, all the space they need to make their mark.

For my part, I want to finish with a simple thank you to New Zealanders for giving me this opportunity to serve, and to take on what has and will always be the greatest role in my life.

I hope in return I leave behind a belief that you can be kind, but strong. Empathetic, but decisive. Optimistic, but focused.

That you can be your own kind of leader – one that knows when it’s time to go.

Source: New Zealand Labour Party Facebook Page.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Mowing isn’t the story

I mowed the lawns again this week, which, by itself, would be nothing remotely unusual, just an “everyday chore” kind of thing. This time, however, the mowing wasn’t the star of the story because I first had to call on all my new, old, and new/old skills to solve a problem.

Contrary to how it may seem, I don’t blog about it every time I mow the lawns: That’s what Facebook’s for. However, if I had mentioned it here on December 3, I’d have said that the line in the line trimmer’s line snapped off inside the spool while I was using it (something I know so precisely because I mentioned it on Facebook that day). I had no idea how to fix it, so I put it in the “too hard” basket (when I remembered it at all…) and just mowed.

Eventually, that little thing became a big thing.

Last week, I noticed the edges (fence line, house perimeter) were getting bad. I needed to get the line trimmer working again. I needed to figure out how to do that. That was Monday’s first job.

I knew I needed to check the manual, but I had no idea where I’d put it, just that it’s “somewhere safe, where I can find it again”. I also didn’t see a model number on the trimmer. So, I went to the website for Bunnings, which is the only chain selling Ryobi products, because they often have product manuals available. Turns out, the model I have has been completely changed, so the manual was of no use.

I went back to the line trimmer and finally found the model number (on a sticker on the shaft, not anywhere I’d looked), googled that and found the manual on the Ryobi website. I’ll be kind and just say the manual was utterly useless, with no mention of the problem or how to fix it.

I still wasn’t sure what to do, but, hey, Google is my best friend, so I searched for how to fix jammed line in a Ryobi line trimmer, and found a YouTube video by some guy in the USA on exactly what I needed to do. It was clear and simple, unlike the official product manual, and it took me mere minutes to open the bump head, remove the old line, put the head back together and then reload the line. Simple—when you know how!

So, Monday afternoon, I trimmed and mowed out front, and also swept up the trimmer debris (there’s always quite a bit, mostly from doing the edges by the concrete). It had taken me all day to get to that point, so that was it.

The next day, Tuesday, I mowed the back of the section, after first using the line trimmer to tidy the edges of the house perimeter, around that patio, and the flat part of the fence: I didn’t attempt to trim the weeds on the bank (which I’ve now nicknamed “The Devil’s Lair” because I hate it).

I also pulled out (by hand) Kikuyu that had gone mad, as it does, around the spot where I park my rubbish and recycling wheelie bins. There was rather a lot of it. The line trimming went really well, though. So did the mowing, of course.

Finally, I swept up the mess the line trimmer flicked everywhere on the patio (it’ll be good dry matter for my compost bin), and poured boiling water on what was left of one pesky weed that grows in the tiny gap between the concrete patio and the brick veneer of the house.

This story is, on the surface, about another week of mowing, which I’ve been doing around once a week for quite a while now. However, this story is actually about overcoming yet another obstacle.

Nigel and I bought the line trimmer in 2018, possibly to prepare for my birthday in January 2019 (because we knew people would be coming round to the house that weekend). He put the thing together. I don’t know what I was doing at the time, but I didn’t even know he was doing it, much less see how it went together.

When the line broke, I knew I’d have to figure out what to do, so I turned to the time-honoured solution of googling to find the answer I needed. It took a lot longer than I expected, mainly because I thought—foolishly, it turned out—that the manual would have instructions on what to do. When it didn’t, I at one point I thought I might have to replace the entire head, but I came to my senses, realising that couldn’t possibly be true—it couldn’t have been that badly designed!

I kept googling until I found the video that taught me what to do. The guy in the video even mentioned that the line snapping off inside the head was a common enough thing—so why did Ryobi make absolutely no mention of it in the manual?! If the manual had been even a little clearer and/or complete, I might’ve figured it out.

The important thing, really, is that I hit a problem, and at first I avoided dealing with it. When it was becoming important that I fix the problem, I persisted (for hours…) in trying to find the right solution, until I did, and then I fixed the problem. This sort of progression is nothing new for me, not would it have been unusual for Nigel, either. But ever since he died, I’ve had to figure out everything on my own, no matter how far outside my areas of knowledge and experience it might be, and then do that over and over and over again. I do this sort of thing whenever I need to, no matter how annoying them may sometimes be, like because of, oh, I don’t know, maybe a useless product manual or something.

When I shared this story on Facebook on Tuesday, I added:

Two loads of washing done, too. All of this stuff makes up my normal chores, and has nothing to do with any projects. I mention this because it goes to show I’m always doing stuff, even if it’s not big, creative, or Insta worthy. When this post comes up in my FB “Memories” next year, it’ll remind me that I actually do quite a lot daily. I need that reminder from time to time.

I definitely do need such reminders, because I definitely forget how much I actually do. I now also realise sometimes I have to do a LOT of work to do before I can do whatever work I actually want to do. This was another one of those times, and there will be more. Like always, I could call on all my new, old, and new/old skills to solve a problem. I need to remember and appreciate the role that plays in so much of what I accomplish.

This time, mowing definitely wasn’t the story.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Tomatoes and me

For the past few years, tomatoes and I have had a fraught relationship. I’ve grown them many different summers, usually with great success, but here in Hamilton, well, it’s been a challenge. However, maybe, quite possibly, the tomato tide may be turning.

Yesterday afternoon, I inspected my tomatoes extensively for the first time since the stormy weather ended. It appears that (so far…) there's no more blossom end rot. This time, it really was only the "first fruit" that was affected. Hopefully. Of course, this saga may change again.

Last Tuesday, I shared photos to show what this “blossom end rot” affliction looks like. I said in that post that I’d harvested two tomatoes that weren’t ripe, but had the affliction, and added, “I’m trying an experiment: Will [the two tomatoes] ripen up a bit more, or will the rot take the whole thing before then? I don’t know, but I want to find out.”

The results are in: They ripened just fine (photo up top). The rot didn’t spread, and so last night I cut out the affected part, then chopped up the good part and cooked them as part of a tomato sauce I made for a pasta meal. The tomato was just fine except for the small bit at the bottom.

In that same post, I said that “I also picked a bunch of green tomatoes, ones that so far show no sign of rot, to see if they’ll ripen normally, or if the rot will appear.” So far, no rot (which is what I expected), and two of the tomatoes have now started to ripen. The largest one has imperfect skin, probably from being picked too early, so if it completely ripens, it, too, will become part of a cooked tomato dish of some sort.

My lessons so far are, yes, the green tomatoes do seem to ripen without developing the rot, and also that the rot affliction itself may have passed. I need to make sure I give the plants plenty of water (when it’s not raining all day…), but it seems that the crop will be good after all. Maybe.

It’s good enough news that I’m now seriously thinking about how I might change things for next year, which is quite a big turnaround for me. I’ll also plan how I use my Vegepod more deliberately: It’s doing very, very well, but I have too much of some things and not enough of others. Live and learn.

I only revived growing tomatoes in 2017, after a break of many, many years. In 2017, I planted some tomato plants I raised from seeds I took from some supermarket-bought tomatoes, and they were very productive. Nigel had been largely indifferent to me planting tomatoes—until they started to deliver.

The next season, he was much more interested, and we planted store-bought plants. That crop was the most productive of them all, producing tomatoes into winter. Nigel was thrilled, and even shared a photo of the winter haul on his own Facebook page. I have no doubt that if he had lived, he’d have been even more involved in gardening the following season; he died around a month before it would’ve been time to plant for the 2019/20 season. I planted nothing, of course, and shifted to Hamilton in January, 2020, around the time the tomatoes would’ve started producing.

Clearly, for me something as simple as gardening can carry a lot of extra weight. Even so, the whole reason I began this again was that I like growing my own food, and that’s still what matters to me. I definitely wouldn't say that gardening is a passion, but like so many other things, I think it's interesting and fun, though not something I feel driven to do.

My hopes for this year’s tomato crop have revived. Maybe my future in growing them has, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Today’s cuteness ration

Leo is very cute, obviously, and a very good companion and entertainer. I frequently share photos of him on my Instagram (which is public) or on my personal Facebook (which isn’t public), however, I don’t always share them here, too. That means that not everyone gets to see Leo’s cuteness. This post is a bit of a catch up—and includes blog exclusives!

The photo up top is one I shared a couple days ago, and it depicts what I found when I was ready to crawl into bed. I said in its caption:
Last night, Leo climbed onto my pillows while I brushed my teeth & got ready for bed. He usually lies on Nigel’s pillows, but I’m lazy about re-fluffing them, so last night he climbed onto my unsquished pillows instead. A moment after I snapped the photo of us, he crawled to the other pillows and I was allowed to go to bed. In the photo of just him, he has a “What?!” look on his face, but he was probably waiting for me to tell him to move. Every morning I wake up and find Leo snuggled up against me, not on any pillows. He’s a good boy.
This actually isn’t even a remotely new thing for him. The first time I shared a photo of him on pillows was in June of 2019, and there was the time in this house, back in September 2020, when he decided to sleep right next to my head. He’s also not the only furbaby to do something like this.

Back in January 2018, I woke up with Bella asleep on my pillow, on top of my head. Even Jake got in on the act back in 2012.

Sunny probably did it, too, but I didn’t share any photos of her doing it.

Here are two more related photos: The one at left is Leo laying on top of my pillows, before I took our selfie. The photo at right is one of Leo on “his” (actually Nigel’s…) pillows, taken last night:

Next up, Leo unintentionally making me laugh:

I said in my caption for that photo:
Yes, I’m (very) easily amused, but I always laugh when I see Leo carrying his toy like this, as if he’s a cartoon with a big blue smile. That stuffed toy, btw, is—was?—a blue dog, which he knows as “B-Dog”, and whenever I ask him where B-Dog is, he runs to get it (all his toys have names he knows). At first, I thought it was a little creepy, him having a toy dog to chew up and destroy, but, then, when I was a little kid I had the original “GI Joe” toy human. On the other hand, I didn’t chew it up, so…
I actually had other toy humans, including two dolls—sorry, “action figures”—from Marx Toys, the first was Johnny West and also Chief Cherokee (a toy I’m sure couldn’t be sold these days).

And finally, at the bottom of this post is a photo of Leo and me that I took yesterday afternoon, but didn’t share anywhere (I’d already shared several on social media over two days, so I decided not to). That concludes today’s cuteness ration.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Three years ago, I turned a key

Three years ago today, I unlocked the front door of my house as owner. It was sixteen weeks to the very day after Nigel died, and I’d never have been able to do it without the help and support of family and friends.

In particular, I need to single out my brother-in-law, Nigel’s younger brother, who drove to Auckland more than once to attend meetings with me, went with me to the realtors’ office the day I signed the contract to purchase, and again to pick up the keys. He also was basically project manager for me, overseeing work I had done on the house before I moved in (I was still living in Auckland at the time). Cliché, I know, but I’ll be forever grateful.

I moved into this house 12 days after I took possession, and it’s fair to say life was a massive roller coaster after that—especially because of the plague, but also my own journey was, and is, its own roller coaster.

Good, bad, and indifferent, this particular story arc in my life began three years ago today, the first giant step forward in my journey to find whatever I was to become. That journey continues.

Thank you to everyone who’s been sharing this with me.

The photo above is from my 2020 post about this, “Rehoming myself”. I published it a couple days after I got the keys, so it has some more of the story than I shared on my Facebook at the time.

Tomato data

Last week, I talked about my first disappointment of the year, the fact blossom end rot had returned to my tomato crop. I thought maybe I should show more clearly what I’m talking about.

The photo up top is of two tomatoes I picked Sunday. They’re not quite ripe, obviously, but if you turn them over (photo below), the rot is obvious.

The unaffected part of the tomato is perfectly safe (and normal), even if it doesn't look like it, but the tomato also isn’t completely ripe, so it’s not at its best. Because of that, I’m trying an experiment: Will they ripen up a bit more, or will the rot take the whole thing before then? I don’t know, but I want to find out.

I also picked a bunch of green tomatoes, ones that so far show no sign of rot, to see if they’ll ripen normally, or if the rot will appear. I can’t remember for sure, but I think that two years ago the green ones eventually ripened without rotting. Now I’ll know for sure.

These small experiments will help me make an informed decision over what I do (or don’t do) next year. Will I try again, or will I just give up entirely? This will help me decide what to do.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

What moving forward looks like

This holiday season just ended marks a major change for me. I decided to change what I do for Christmas decorations, to make it something that I specifically wanted. And, if I change my mind later, I’ll change all this, too.

Yesterday was Epiphany in the USA (in my time zone, it was the day before), and that was the day my mother took down the Christmas decorations, especially the tree. If it fell on a weekend, she’d pick a nearby weekday because I’d be at school. “No kid should have to see their Christmas taken down,” she told me at the time.

Ever since then, I’ve always taken down my decorations on or near Epiphany, just like she did. While I haven’t kept most of the other Christmas traditions I grew up with, that ‘s one I’ve always kept. However, some years it wasn’t necessary, because there were many years Nigel and I didn’t put up any decorations, and certainly no tree. When there have been some decorations, however, this is one tradition I’ve kept.

This year, however, I made a major change: I bought a new Christmas tree.

Over the past year, I began to feel I wanted a Christmas tree with ornaments again. It’s what I grew up with and had when I started my adult life. Nigel and I also used to have a fake tree that we put up and decorated with ornaments, but mice got into it and we threw it away, and we eventually replaced it with a minimalist gold tinsel tree. We last used that tree in 2016, at the second to last house we shared, something I talked about in a post last year, when I used the minimalist tree again (that post also lays out the history of the tree and has links to photos from earlier years).

My new-found desire for a “traditional” Christmas tree wasn’t about returning to old traditions, but, rather, making new ones. It was a sign that I wanted to move forward and do things differently.

I wanted a tree that has rigid plastic needles, rather the cellophane-like ones that are common on most fake trees. I’d had a fake tree like that in Chicago, and it was by far the most realistic type I’d ever seen (I bought it from the flatmate of a former boyfriend for some absurdly low amount, like $15).

As Christmas neared, I looked at online retailers, after discounting one from The Warehouse that was cheap, but also panned in reviews (for good reason) as being far too sparse. The ones I saw were the better part of $300, and even pushing $600 (for ones with lights). I decided to forget about it—there was no way I was going to spend that kind of money. And yet, I couldn’t forget about it.

I got an email from one company announcing their latest sale, and a tree I was interested in was on special ($90 off, I think it was). I ended up getting the “slim” version (because the space I have for it isn’t very large), but also 7 foot tall so it’d have some presence. I ordered the tree.

When it arrived a couple days later, I opened the box and saw the needles were exactly what I wanted, however, when I went to set it up later I noticed that the needles closer to the “trunk” were all of the cellophane-like kind, and I realised that’s why it was much less inexpensive (the daylight shot at the bottom of this post makes it easier to see the needle types). Next, it took me awhile to get the branches sufficiently spread out to look realistic, so it took me quite a few days to get it ready to decorate. I decided to get some sort of tinsel garland to mask some of the too-open gaps, but I didn’t.

Instead, I went to the local Farmers to get a tree topper because they, too, sent me an email about their sale. It turned out that everything—including their previously expensive trees—were around half the original price. Fortunately, so was the tree topper I wanted. And some LED lights I bought for the tree.

Even then, I didn’t start decorating the tree, and time passed. I decided to put the lights on, and while I knew they were all USB-powered, I hadn’t stopped to think that meant I had to find USB adapters. Fortunately, all Apple devises used to come with one (they don’t anymore), so I had a few. I snaked the lights on the tree—and still didn’t decorate it.

I planned to decorate it on Christmas Eve, but I ended up not feeling well, and didn’t. I decorated it on Christmas Day, mainly because I felt there was no point in decorating it any later than that when I planned to take it down on January 6. That didn’t exactly happen, either, but not for any particular reason.

So, Saturday the seventh—which, remember, was actually still January 6 in the place of my birth—became the day. That took me hours, mainly because of the lights being all tangled together and overlapping each other.

The lights! They were nice, though most of their settings involved flashing or pulsing (I had to push the button on it eight times to get to the “always on” setting). When I was looking for a tree, I saw several with lights as part of it, and I thought to myself, “who’d want that?!!” because I was remembering the old days of Italian lights, where if one light burned out the whole string would shut off. These days, such lights are all LED, of course, and if one burns out, it has no effect on the others—though they take forever to actually burn out. If I hadn’t been so out of touch on Christmas lights, I probably would’ve bought a tree with lights.

Still, despite my clear rustiness with using and decorating such a Christmas tree, I was happy with it overall (at least the tips of the branches were what I’d envisioned…). There are things I’ll do differently next Christmas, but that’s nothing I have to worry about right now. The important thing is that I got what I wanted, and I started what I wanted. I can always change my mind again if I want to.

This whole thing—including all its messiness—is what moving forward looks like.

This daylight view shows the tips of the branches in detail, and some of the others are
somewhat visible, too. I didn't like the lights' white wires.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Things are popping

I’ve been busy the past few days, though not with anything that’s ready to talk about—yet. However, together these things may prove to be a big deal. More later.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing what I started doing a few weeks ago: Working on projects a little bit at a time, basically, what I can, when I can. Progress is slower, of course, but I keep moving forward instead of getting discouraged and giving up, at least for awhile (it’s happened).

Once I have the ducks in a row, and can fairly evaluate what I’m up to, I’ll say more. For now, though, what matters is that I think I’ve made a breakthrough. Even if it doesn’t work out, I’ve already moved things forward and I still am. That’s good enough.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

In other news today

There was some actual news here today: There was a 5.1 earthquake at 5.39am this morning near Te Aroha, a town roughly an hour’s drive, from Hamilton. I was sound asleep at the time, and it clearly wasn’t strong enough here to wake me up. However, other folks in Hamilton, as well as people in Auckland, said they felt it, and some in Hamilton, at least, were saying that they also felt a much weaker aftershock a little after 11am. I was awake at that time, but didn’t feel that, either.

Hamilton, Leo, and I were never in any danger—this time. The riftz zone that today’s earthquake was in has the potential for causing significant shaking in Hamilton and Auckland. Whether it ever does or not is another matter entirely, and, of course, is entirely unpredictable.

This sort of thing is a good reminder for us all to check our emergency supplies, and I know mine are lacking. While I always have several days of food on hand, I don’t have excess water anymore. Nearly five years ago, I wrote about making emergency preparations after a major storm we’d just experienced. That effort included stockpiling water. Not even a year and a half later, Nigel died, and four months after that, I was moving to Hamilton.

The movers I hired to pack up the house for the move packed all the bottles of water I’d set aside (I’d frankly forgotten about them), something I found out when I started unpacking in Hamilton. The water had been stored for more than 20 months when I found the bottles, so I ended up watering plants with them and putting the emptied milk bottles in the recycling—all except one. The last 3-litre bottle of water went into the bottom of a tall outdoor plant holder I had on my patio so the wind wouldn’t blow it over (it’s pretty lightweight).

In addition to food preparations, I also have to secure my tall furniture (mostly book shelves) to the wall so they won’t fall over if there’s every a big earthquake. I’d talked with Nigel about doing that with the shelved in my office at the last house, but never go around to it. Those same shelves are in my office in this house, too—and still not secured. I was thinking about that job when I checked Facebook and saw a “Memory” about assembling the second set of shelves in my lounge, something I talked about here on the blog a couple days later.

Today, then, was interesting. First, an earthquake happened, not that I knew anything about it at the time. That, then reminded me that I need to beef up my emergency supplies, and finally secure my tall furniture. Put another way, nature added another project set to my list—because, obviously I don’t have enough projects yet. Still, this emergency preparedness project might be a bit more important than most of them—though I’d really rather not have my work tested once it’s completed…

The first disappointment of the year

This year isn’t off to a great start for me, and it only took three days: This year is repeating a disappointment I already experienced. Days of heavy rain have returned, too. Years may change, but that doesn’t mean that things within them do.

Yesterday evening, I went out to check on my tomatoes before I watered them, something I do every evening. I discovered that the first ripening tomato, which I talked about a week ago today, had visible rot: Blossom end rot has returned. That’s the same thing that ruined my tomato crop two years ago, the last time I tried to grow tomatoes.

Blossom end rot is caused by the plant not taking up calcium, and that usually happens because of insufficient water. The cells at the blossom end (what we’d think of as the bottom of the tomato) die and begin to rot, eventually consuming the core of the fruit. The good part of the tomato is edible, but you have to get to it quickly, probably while it’s still green.

Tomato plants that are in the ground need a deep watering at least once a week, and ones in pots probably every day. I’ve always known this, and I’ve always watered my potted tomato plants daily(except on rainy days, though I still check on them). This is the second of only two seasons this has happened to my tomato crop, and it’s only happened in Hamilton: It never happened in Auckland or Paeroa.

The advice I found was to add calcium to the soil at planting (too late), and to feed the plants with liquid tomato food. I’ve never done either, and never had this problem anywhere but here in Hamilton. This leads me to wonder, what’s different about this place?

The only thing I could think of is that I’m growing them next to my concrete patio. Is it too hot for them? It seems improbable—plenty of New Zealanders do the exact same thing, and tomatoes do well with hot summer weather. I simply can’t think of anything else that’s different to the other places I’ve successfully grown tomatoes.

Two years ago, I harvested my tomatoes while they were still green in order to get any at all, and I may have to do the same again this year. Once the rot starts, it’s useless to to wait for the tomato to ripen because the whole tomato will start to rot, like the one I checked on. The same advice said it’s often just the first fruit to ripen, but I think that probably only applies to things like citrus (which are currently also in pots next to my patio…), because I certainly didn’t see that two years ago.

The question is, what now?! I’m reluctant to throw more money at this, given the uncertainty that anything will help. Moving the plants isn’t an option, mostly because tomato plants are quite fragile. Harvesting the tomatoes while they’re green may be my only option.

Two years ago, I decided to give up on growing tomatoes, a decision that was reinforced when the final Covid lockdown hit last year at exactly the time I should’ve been planting. Maybe this time I’ll finally get the message and give up?

My first thought after my discovery was exactly that—I should give up on growing tomatoes. My second thought was that I was glad I didn’t plant even more stuff, as I’d originally planned. As it is, most of the seeds I planted never sprouted, and the coriander plants were all eaten by bugs. Little wonder it feels like nature, or the Hamilton climate, is telling me to give up.

After my discovery, and mentally counting up all the gardening failures at this house, I thought that I should sell the VegePod and the planters I originally bought for the citrus(but then decided not to use for that—I had pans to use them for raised garden beds instead). I was so discouraged that I went back in the house without watering the plants, and just sulked a bit. I did eventually go back out and water the plants in case the rain didn’t arrive today (it did).

I’d also considered mowing my front lawn (at least) yesterday evening, to get them sorted before the rainstorms began. However, the when tomato incident happened, it was already later than I’d mow, so by the time I was done watering the plants it was too late (it was nearly 8pm by then). I’m hoping that the lawns don’t turn into a jungle by the time the rainstorms stop in a few days or so—or, more likely, that there’s a long enough break in the rain that I can get them mowed.

This latest disappointment is just another among so very many over the past few years, though it’s also among the least important, obviously. Regardless, it makes me think maybe it’s time to refocus my attention and energy, such as it is, onto things that aren’t steeped in disappointment and that won’t cost me money for the privilege of experiencing it.

I need to plant the seeds of projects that won’t be so disappointing and discouraging. I just need to figure out what that could be.

Monday, January 02, 2023


There are plenty of holidays this time of year, both the ordinary ones and, for us, the New Zealand public holidays. This leads to a problem: The most common thought I have this time of year is, “What day is it?”

We have four public holidays this time of year: Christmas Day, Boxing Day (December 26), New Year’s Day and the day after New Year’s Day (January 2). If any one of them falls on a weekend, the observed public holiday is held the next weekday. It’s one thing to have disruptions in routines two weeks in a row, but throw in movable public holidays and my confusion is compounded.

For New Year this year, New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday, but January 2 fell on a Monday (today). So, the public holiday for January 2 was held today, as expected, BUT New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday this year, so the public holiday will be held tomorrow, January 3. There’s even more to confuse me this season.

Christmas Day fell on a Sunday this year, and Boxing Day fell on a Monday, when it was observed, so the Christmas Day public holiday was observed on Tuesday, December 27. That's just like what's happening this week, except for one thing: There’s a trading ban in place on Christmas Day, and that doesn’t move (trading bans require most businesses to be closed, but some can open, especially in tourist areas—the rules are weird. such as, there are no TV commercials allowed, though programme promo ads are okay).

The effect of all this is that we get two four-day weekends in a row most years, but that could mean Thursday through Sunday, Friday through Monday, or Saturday through Tuesday (this year), and next year it’ll also be Saturday through Tuesday because Christmas Day and Boxing Day will be Monday and Tuesday the end of this year, as will January 1 and 2, 2024. There will be no four day weekends for Christmas 2024 and New Year 2025 because 2024 is a Leap Year.

Is it any wonder why this time of year I can’t remember what day it is?!

Figuring annual leave (vacation) into this mix makes it more complicated still, but I’ll leave that out of this—my head hurts too much already. I can’t turn to my favourite TV shows to pass the time, either, because most of them take a hiatus between roughly mid-December and mid-January (some take a longer break…).

What all of this collectively means is that the markers I might normally have for time/days of the week—everything from people’s daily routines, shop hours, what service businesses are open, and even television—is disrupted and unpredictable. This time of year I have to make a point of looking at the day and date on my watch and devices to have any hope of knowing when I am.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to get lost in the laissez faire, lazy fair, nothingness of this time of year, or, at least, that used to happen to me when Nigel was alive—it’s only fun when it’s shared with someone else. Without a companion, this time of year is just a confusing intermission from time itself, right up until it inevitably comes crashing into the house again, knocking over furniture and spilling drinks on the carpet, just to remind us that normal time is resuming.

Or, so it seems. Me, I just spend this time of year constantly asking myself, “What day is it?”