Friday, March 31, 2023

Not accidental

Maybe something was sparked, maybe it’s mere coincidence, or it could just be a logical development. Whatever the reason, progress has been made in my office. I’ll take it.

I removed three boxes from my office starting Saturday, as I said a few days ago. I dealt with the first one that day, then early this week I cleared out a box that I thought was art supplies (because I saw paint brushes in it), but it turned out to be the contents of my desk drawers, from the rolling unit I had to fix.

The rest of the week was spent going through loose papers and such, sorting and organising them, then filing the (very) few things I need to keep. I still have a few things on the dining table I need to finalise, but it’s the homestretch.

Which isn’t to suggest my office looks neat and tidy—far from it. Anyone seeing it for the first time today would think it’s a total tip, mainly because it is. That’s not going to change—yet.

The problem I have is that my office is the smallest I’ve had since early 2006, and because it has to store everything I need for my various projects—writing, podcasting, photography, maybe even video—and whatever else I come up with. That’s not all there is to it, and it never has been.

The truth—something I realised only last year—is that I’ve never been neat and tidy, and that Nigel and I were as bad as each other. In fact, none of our houses was ever “finished”. So, it may well be something of a miracle if my office (etc…) is ever truly tidy.

And yet: Getting things tidier is my goal, perfection is not. My office (etc…) may never be “Insta worthy”, but—maybe it will be? At least, somewhat?

This whole thing started this past Weekend, and it’s proven yet again that one step at a time really does make progress happen. Just like life, I’m told. We’ll see.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 378 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 378, “Sixteen Years”, 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.

The AmeriNZ Podcast is now sixteen

Today the AmeriNZ Podcast turns 16, a number of no particular importance, but given the obstacles and challenges that have repeatedly nearly killed off both the podcast and this blog, I think achieving another anniversary is worth—well, maybe not celebrating: Observing, is probably a better word. Despite its survival against the odds, I have some mixed feelings about the podcast (and this blog), precisely because of all that’s happened over the past decade.

Some people may naturally wonder why I bother at all if I have mixed feelings. I actually answered that in my post last year on the podcast’s 15th anniversary:
…I found out that it’s useful to have [my blog and podcast] as I explore this new universe I now live in. An explorer needs a journal to record their discoveries, and my blog and podcast have become that for me—an explorer’s journal. Apparently some others occasionally find them useful, too.
My journey is nowhere near completed, as far as I know, and there are more discoveries to make—or, maybe, to rediscover, because my explorer's journal helps me remember things I’ve forgotten, too. I know that neither I nor my blog nor my podcast will be around forever, but why not enjoy the ride until then?

Later today I’ll post a link the latest episode of my podcast, where’s I’ll talk a bit about its future and my plans. Later on, I’ll also publish a blog post where I’ll summarise that. At the moment, though, I just want to take a well-deserved (in my opinion…) deep sigh accompanied by a satisfied smile at managing to complete sixteen years of podcasting.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Better luck this time

There are a lot things I’ve learned about over the Internet, usable things and things that aren’t. This is one of those rare times it seems to be both.

Back in December, I made cream of celery soup for the first time, and I enjoyed it so much that I called it ”A kitchen triumph”. It’s the next thing I did that’s an example of information I learned on the Internet that was both usable and not usable.

Over the years, I’d seen many memes about how people can take the end of a bunch of celery and grow a plant from it, and this was often included in lists of plants that were the easiest to grow from kitchen cuttings. The photo at the bottom of this post was taken nine days after I made the soup, and, it turned out, that was the high point: Growth stopped after that, and it eventually started rotting.

When that happened, I thought I’d misunderstood the post I read on the Internet, because I planted the cutting in dirt. I decided I shouldn’t have done that, as I put the by rotting thing into the food scraps bin that Hamilton collects to take to a commercial composting facility.

A couple weeks ago, on March 14, I made cream of celery soup again. It wasn’t as good as the first time, mainly because the celery was dark green, and not as sweet as the first time. I also felt this celery was closer to being past its best, so when I took the end and placed it in water, like I did back in December, I wasn’t expecting much. I took the photo at the top of this post today, 13 days after I first put it in water. By that point, the first attempt was already failing.

Since I’d never done this before December, I didn’t know what to expect. The first thing I noticed is that stalks in the centre started to grow, alone with some leaves. The same thing happened this time, too, but it’s still growing and getting bushier.

The site where I learned about this said that doing this doesn’t usually produce celery stalks, and that it was better to think of it more like a herb plant, where leaves can be harvested to use as an ingredient. I never got that far in December—maybe I will this time?

At any rate, it’s just a bit of fun seeing what happens. I’m going to plant out my Vegepod with some herbs and winter crops to see what happens—that, too, is something I’ve never tired before. So far, I’ve had better luck sprouting the celery end this time than back in December. Hope4fully, the good luck will continue with my winter “crops”, too.

Further important changes

Here we go again: The personal organisation system I designed for myself earlier this month needed further changes. That’s not a surprise, of course, but one of the things I needed to change was.

It was only around ten days after I first talked about the new system that I needed to to make some adjustments to it. Those changes were all physical—the structure of the system—but they all related to the problems I was trying to solve. That was only half true this time

As I started to use the “to do” lists, I realised pretty quickly that I needed to use a pencil to write things on it, not a pen. That’s because I move tasks around all the time, and crossing things out was getting messy. Fortunately, Nigel left a crap ton (a technical measurement of weight) of mechanical pencils—the sort that are like pens, but with thin pencil “lead” that’s replaceable. It was a simple fix for a small problem. It made the lists much easier to use—and tidier, too.

A few days later, however, a new problem emerged with a part of the system not contained in the ring-binder: The Reminders App.

The “to do” lists were meant to help me remember things I’d like to do that aren’t critical and/or time sensitive—like doing laundry or running the dishwasher, for example. If something has a deadline, I put it on my Calendar or in the Reminders App, and those items are accessible on all my devices. That works great—but it’s absolutely not infallible.

Back in February 2021, I wrote about using the Reminders App to remind me to take my prescriptions. At the time, I was taking medication twice a day, and I forgot the second dose in particular often enough that it was a problem. Reminders helped me stay on track, so much so that I continued to use it when I dropped down to taking the pills once per day.

Around four months ago, give or take, the problem returned: I didn’t take my pills one day, but I marked it as “completed” on Reminders that day. I had no recollection of why I did that, but it’s reasonable to assume that I was going to get up and go take my pills—and then forgot.

My attempted revision was to leave that day’s empty pill pouch on the kitchen bench so I could look at it and verify that I had, in fact, taken my pills that day. That seemed to work well—until it didn’t, and the missing doses of medication problem unexpectedly returned.

This past Wednesday, I was tidying up the kitchen before heading to bed, and I noticed the pill pouch from Tuesday sitting on the bench. I was confused: Had I taken Tuesday’s pills that day? I thought I may have because I again marked the task as completed. But that would mean that I missed a day at some point.

I looked in my kitchen rubbish bin, and there was no pill pouch sitting there. I desperately tried to remember what I’d done that morning—me? Remember something?! However, I did remember that when I had my breakfast that morning, I sat in my chair, instead of what I usually do: Stand in the kitchen until I’m done (I don't have a big breakfast…). So, apparently, I again mistakenly marked the task as completed. It was midnight by that point, which meant it was closer to the next day’s time to take my pills than it was to that Wednesday’s morning dose. In that situation, the advice is to wait until the next dose time. I didn’t have a very good sleep that night: I kept worrying myself awake.

What this means is that Reminders was too easy to screw up, and even leaving the pouch on the bench wasn’t helping me. My solution—working so far—was to combine the two.

At 10am every morning, the Reminders App tells me to take my medication, just like always. When I do, I still put the pouch from that day’s dose on the kitchen bench. Then, at 2pm, I get another alert from Reminders—“Double check medication”—on my watch, all my devices, and my desktop Mac. My routine is to go to the kitchen and physically inspect the pouch, making sure it’s there, for that day, and that it’s completely empty. Only then can I mark the 2pm Reminder as completed. When I clean up the kitchen in the evning (usually before I go to bed), I put that day’s empty pouch into the rubbish. I don't do that any earlier because sometimes I like to triple, quadruple, etc., check that I’ve taken that day’s pills.

This revision still has the same flaw as the original system: I can mark the double-checking as completed even if it’s not, however, since my watch tells me stand up for five minutes every hour, anyway, I hope (!) I can just incorporate the 2pm checking into that routine. I’m also hoping that knowing the Reminder is coming will by itself remind me to take my medication if I haven’t done so, but marked the 10am Reminder as “completed”, anyway.

There isn't a lot more I can do, apart from adding yet more reminders. I picked 2pm because it’s still close enough to 10am that there’s no problem taking the medication then, and it won’t mess up my schedule for the next day, but I could add more Reminders if I have to. I’d rather not annoy myself with endless taps on the wrist from my watch alerting me to a Reminder to check that I took my medication that day. Even so, if I need to do that, I absolutely will.

Taking my medication is my only non-negotiable time-specific thing in every day, and it’s supposed to be done at roughly the same time each day. However, because it’s a daily thing, and in the morning, it’s easy to go through it all on auto-pilot. That’s why I started leaving the empty pouch on the bench in the first place: It gave me a way to reassure myself that I took my pills, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

It annoys me to have to develop systems to make sure I remember things that are so important, but it is what it is. I guess I should just be glad that I’m clever enough to come up with systems that work for me—for awhile, anyway. Still, I’m certain there will be further changes. That’s not a surprise, either.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

There’s progress behind the scenes

Yesterday I accidentally emptied a box stored in my office. I knew it had been there for awhile—I put it there, of course—but for some weird reason, my brain picked that day to fixate on it. So, I hauled it out to the lounge, opened it, and, well, not quite sure why that stuff ended up in a box (I repacked it in this house at some point). It’s dealt with now, the box is broken down, and that’s one less box contributing to the chaos that is my office. Baby steps, sure, but the clearing of a thousand boxes begins with a single one. Or, something like that.

I haven’t said anything about it, but the recent dryer repairs ended up helping me clear out my laundry area (and paths in the garage). Together, these things show there’s progress behind the scenes—but more about all that another time. Right now, I’m just happy that there’s one less box in my office.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

A mere three years ago

Three years ago today, at 11:59pm, New Zealand went under the first Covid lockdown. Like so many things, it feels like it was far longer ago than that, and also maybe far less time. So much has changed since then, not just the deaths and suffering, but also the rise of a persistent, aggressive negativism: People now seem to delight in being grumpy, contrary, mean-spirited, and judgmental. To paraphrase Dr. Julian Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space 9, people seem to have resolved to look every gift horse squarely in the mouth, and to look for the cloud around every silver lining.

From those early days of solidarity and goodwill, things degenerated into partisan political fights, with those on the right particularly keen to use the pandemic as a justification for all their bizarre conspiracy theories, no matter how unhinged or detached from the real world, and as reason to oppose everything the centre and left proposed, no matter how rational or common sense it may have been.

We saw this play out in their aggressive behaviour, from bullying workers in supermarkets, or masked customers in any shop, to their illegal occupation of Parliament grounds, other “protest” stunts that put people’s lives at risk, and, especially, in the vile rumours, disgusting personal attacks, and credible death threats they aimed at former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Ardern became their enemy because she dared to try to keep New Zealanders safe and alive in the face of a pandemic that, three years ago today, we knew precious little about.

Psychologists have written about the emotional and psychological toll that the pandemic took on people, made worse by the lack of availability of mental health help, and that’s certainly true. They’ve also commented on the role that social media has played in the rise of the aggressive negativism we see today, and the disinformation and conspiracy theories underlying much of it. That, too, is true. But surely at some level we’re masters of our own ship, and the enemy isn’t those who tried to keep us safe, however imperfectly they sometimes did that, it’s ourselves. As Walt Kelly’s Pogo put in 1971, “We have met the enemy, and he is us” [VIEW].

So many people would be much better off if they stayed away from social media, at least sometimes, and if they just ignored whatever l'indignation du jour might be—chances are it’s all bullshit, anyway. Most people know all that: Once the restrictions put in place to fight Covid were relaxed, they just got on with life again, and they didn’t keep falling down the social media doom spirals that a tiny but aggressive minority still live within. We all have the same choice choice: To live in the light or dwell in the darkness.

Today, three years after this began in New Zealand, the day has been a beautiful and bright sunny one at my house. I had plenty of starkly ordinary things to do today, and I didn’t have the time—or room—for the negativist zeitgeist. I wish the same for everyone. We all need more light and less darkness.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A story built on a story and about far more

The Installation in 2012.
This is a story built on a story revealing a bigger story. It is, in other words, about far more than what I did, the mini project I finished. Instead, this is about My One True Project.

Nearly two decades ago, Nigel and I were living in Paeroa and doing up our house, a former New Zealand state house built in the 1950s, and extended in the 1970s. I did a lot of the physical work—stripping wallpaper, priming, painting, and plastering (my grandfather would be proud). We hired professionals to do things like asbestos removal, plumbing, electrical, floor finishing, and wallpaper hanging.

Nigel helped me with some of the things I worked on, but his main focus was the aesthetic aspects. Sure, he consulted me, absolutely, but he drove the choices. It was his thing.

When we were in the final stages of work on the house, he decided he wanted to create an artwork—though he never called it that—to decorate our refurbished home. He wanted four square canvasses, each painted one solid colour: White, pink, orange, and brown. I helped him buy the pre-prepared canvases and the paint. He hung them on S hooks on our rotary clothesline to spraypaint them, and I was with him, to help and advise, if needed.

He hung the finished canvases in our lounge, and they looked good against the new wallpaper. I never asked him why he chose the colours, what it meant, etc., but I said to him that, to me, it represented our house: The white and pink were relevant to the original 1950s house, and the orange and brown were related to the 70s, when the house was extended. He said nothing, but smiled. Maybe that was what he was thinking?

As is my way, I devised a humour-based name for it: I called it “an installation”, using a lower-jaw-forward phoney upper class New England accent in an impression of a pseudo-intellectual dilettante. He liked my schtick, as he so often did, and imitated it frequently, as he so often did.

When we moved back to Auckland’s North Shore in 2006, Nigel hung the panels above our TV (photo above), where they stayed until his mum gave us a new artwork. We never hung the panels at our last house together, where they remained stored in the garage. Maybe we would’ve hung them if we ever finished settling in.

Here in my new house, I found the panels packed in different boxes, and saw one had been lightly damaged by something pressing on it. I fixed that with an iron, just like I might for a bit of a dent in wood. And—then what?!

I thought about hanging them above the TV, just as Nigel once did, but I knew my limits: I don’t have the patience that Nigel had—or the accuracy, if I’m honest—to make sure the space between them was equal, along with them all being aligned horizontally.

I suddenly thought, “what if I make them all one artwork?”, and then my logical brain kicked in: “But how?” And that’s where it remained for months. Until last week.

I suddenly realised that if I used the multi-hole strips usually used to make custom reinforcements, I could easily attach the four panels into one piece. And that’s what I did (photo shows that work in progress):

Once done, I hung The Installation above the TV, where it had been two houses (and around a decade) ago. It’s now the same, but different.

I don’t have anything that Nigel created that’s not technological, mainly because he never made artwork. He didn’t think of himself as in any way creative in an artistic sense, but he absolutely was. For one thing, he was a WAY better graphic designer than I ever was—and I got paid to do that sort of work. So, the fact that he had a creative vision and saw it through, with minimal help from me, made The Installation special to me.

It also reminds me of happier times—specifically, doing up that house in Paeroa together, and our years living in that house in Auckland’s North Shore. Without even trying, I can picture The Installation on the wall in Paeroa, or above the TV in Auckland, and I don’t need photos to remind me.

That’s all in the past, though. I have a solo life now in a house that wasn’t completed while Nigel was alive. I’m now trying to create a new life, a new version of me, without Nigel—what I recently dubbed My One True Project.

Which brings me back to The Installation.

It’s special to me because Nigel created it, and for the happy memories I associate it with, so I then took all that and made something from it—I built something new from those pieces, exactly as I’m trying to do with my life. Some people would hate The Installation (yeah, well, “Arthur’s Law”, and all that). They might think it’s silly, pointless, maybe even a waste of space. Some might say the same of me and my efforts at building a new life. Clearly I don’t care about that, either.

The thing about creating—whether artworks or lives—is that it’s impossible to please everyone, and some observers honestly seem determined to see only darkness. What matters, in my opinion, is that we create what we must, and to never give a moment’s thought to what anyone else thinks.

So, in this case I built something out of pieces that Nigel created, just as I’m building a life made in part of all the bits and pieces I take from the life we had together. This mini project was really so much more, so much bigger, than it may seem. But, then, everything we do to create our lives always is.

Above is the before and after view from my chair. There used to be a big empty white wall above the TV, and now there's something there. It's a good result.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The power of summer

Summer has a lot going for it—in a normal year. One of the many things I like about the season is that (in a normal year) my solar panels generate a lot of electricity, but was that dramatically different this year? Naturally, I had to look at the numbers to see what happened in this year's non-normal summer. That took a lot longer, and a lot more work, than I expected.

I’ve been working on this post for the past three weeks, each version different from the one before. It began because I wanted to see how the storms in January and February affected my power generation, but then I wanted to to know, precisely how well the system was helping me meet my only goal, namely, to tread a little more lightly on the planet and to live a little more self-sufficiently, as Nigel and always dreamed of doing. I think I finally figured out how to explain it.

It turned out to be difficult to work out the clearest and most accurate way to talk about how the solar panels perform. After several attempts, I finally worked out that I need to be able to answer these questions:
  1. How much electricity is created by the panels?
  2. How much of that electricity do I use myself? and so,
  3. How much power is sent to the grid?
  4. How does the production affect my power bills—how much electricity do I still have to buy?
The chart at the top of this post answers the first three questions for the first two summers the panels were in operation (the system was installed and switched on after Summer 2020/21 was over; in New Zealand, summer is from December 1 to March 1). The chart shows the results for each month of those summers, and the total amounts for the seasons.

Next, let’s look at how much electricity I purchased for all three summers I’ve lived in this house:

This chart shows how much electricity I was billed for in kilowatt hours (kWh). There’s an important caveat here: The billing period is from the third week to the third week of every month. That means that the bills for each summer month were actually for the period from the third week of November to the third week of February. Moreover, the meter reading wasn’t necessarily taken on the same day. Meanwhile, the data on my production is for calendar months. So, there isn’t a perfect alignment between the data for my generation and for what I was billed for. To get that, I’d have to put the daily data in a spreadsheet and then match it up more precisely with the billed periods.

Even if I did that, there’d still be one more problem: There’s a mismatch between how many kWh of electricity the power company credits for having been supplied to the grid by the panels, and how much the system records as having been sent to the grid, and that can be for more OR less electricity than my system says it sent. I have absolutely no idea why the numbers don’t match up.

All of that maters for the next chart, which ties to work out approximately how much total power was used at my house over the past two summers (with 2020/21 shown to compare months):

Putting aside the imperfect match between monthly periods of time, what this shows is that my approximate total power consumption—the solar power I used myself combined with what I bought—is actually higher than it was before the panels were installed. Despite that, what I actually paid less than I did before the panels were installed.

The lower bills are because of a simple fact: Every solar power kWh that I used myself is a kWh I’d have to buy if I didn’t have the panels. It’s not just that the power I used was free (thought it is), it’s that the price I pay to buy electricity is higher than the credit I receive for power I send to the grid. For both those reasons, it makes sense for me to use as much of the power I generate as I can. As I’ve talked about before, I do power-hungry things—laundry, running the dishwasher, even charging batteries—in the daytime. I also can run my heat pumps 24/7 to keep my house at a constant temperature and still pay less than I did during my first summer, before the system was installed.

Overall, the data shows that over summer I’m buying a bit more than half as much electricity as I did before the panels went online—in fact, in that first, pre-solar power summer, I bought nearly twice as much power as I did in the following two summers combined. So, yes, I’m treading a little more lightly on the planet (though I can do better still, of course).

Which brings me back to the question that started all this for me: How was the system’s production affected by all the storms? These two monthly charts show that:
This underscores what I said at the time: Cyclone Hale wasn’t too bad in Hamilton—roughly like any other rainy day—and the Anniversary Weekend storm was much worse. Cyclone Gabrielle, however, was the worst of all. There were still good days for solar production in those months, but bad days can be very bad.

In each of the past two summers, February was less productive than either December or January, and that makes sense: Bad weather is most likely in February, which is in cyclone season. Even so, production is always highest in summer, and lowest in winter, due to the longer days of summer (more sunlight). Winter is usually rainier/overcast more than in summer, too, further reducing the amount of power that can be generated.

That’s my swim through the pools of data about how the solar panels perform. The main thing I found is the most obvious thing: The panels are helping me to achieve my goal and to live a piece of the dream that Nigel and I had. That’s a huge win. The lower power bills are pretty good, too, though.

Monday, March 20, 2023

An odd, mostly not notable anniversary

Today is the third anniversary of when the last house that Nigel and I shared went to new owners, and that happened six months to the very day after Nigel died. I would never have expected it, but I seem to have added this anniversary to my list: Clearly  I can’t forget it, and, in fact, it’s been on my mind lately. Apparently it is every year now.

Last year on this date, I wrote a post about this anniversary, and I noted that it was an “odd semi-notable, mostly not notable anniversary”. That’s very true, and I’ve been puzzled by it and the fact that I’m always aware of it. Looking back what I said on this day in 2020, 2021, and 2022, I can see there’s been a bit of reflection, but my question is, why? I mean, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of other days I feel reflective.

I think the answer is the strange—and very powerful—convergence of things happening around that time. The fact that the sale of our final house together happened six months after Nigel died to the very day powerfully cemented those two things together. Then, of course, a mere five days later New Zealand went under its first Covid lockdown. If the sale of our house hadn’t been completed before Lockdown began, it’s possible the sale may have fallen through, or, at the very least, it would’ve been delayed for some five weeks. I was keenly aware of that at the time, and felt very relieved and lucky that Lockdown wasn’t even announced until a few days after the transfer of ownership was finalised.

But there’s clearly more to this than all that, something I don’t fully understand. I posted the image up top to my personal Facebook this morning, and realised only when I started to put this post together that I did that in both 2021 and 2022, too, though those were about the half-year point between Horrible Anniversaries. I think that the house sale was back in the mix this year because housing has been on my mind a lot over the past year or so, mostly because I feel so unsettled—and, of course, the very reason I feel so unsettled is what happened three and a half years ago today.

I don’t know whether I’ll remember this anniversary next year or not, but I bet I will: March 20 next year will be six months from the fifth Horrible Anniversary, and I know for certain that will be on my mind a lot.

Still, there are things to do, things I’m doing, and there are things I’ve done toward building a new life. It doesn't bother me in the least if I need to take some time out to reflect on where I came from, where I’m at, and where I might go, and if that means noting an “odd semi-notable, mostly not notable anniversary”, I’m fine with that, too.


2020: Six months
2021: 78 weeks today
2022: Some things, I don’t forget

Some rare good news

The storms that plagued New Zealand, and Cyclone Gabrielle in particular, haven’t left much room for good news. But the Lotto NZ has provided some.

The image above is an email I received this morning from Lotto NZ letting people registered to play through their App that this past Saturday's “Special Must Be Won Draw” raised $11,770,000 to help people impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. This was part of the government’s response to help people affected by the cyclone, and it’s something that’s been done in the past for other disasters, too.

The funds will be distributed through the Lottery Grants Board, which distributes the net proceeds from Lotto’s games to community organisations. In this case, the $11.7 million will go specifically to the affected communities, meaning a lot of help for the communities in that region specifically

I bought a ticket for the draw, and so, gave a bit of money to the effort, as did hundreds of thousands of other Kiwis. Small, simple things like this make it very easy for people to help.

For the record, I did not win any money in the draw. Even so, I was glad to see the communities affected by Cyclone Gabrielle did win.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Did a favourite return?

When some sort of prepared food we like disappears, it may disappoint us. If that item returns, it may or may not be a good thing. I just found that out, yet again, with my Friday evening favourite.

Many, many, many years ago, Nigel and I started calling Friday evenings “Takeaway Night”, because, as is fairly common in New Zealand, we often got food from takeaway shops—pizza, burgers, fish and chips, or maybe Thai, Indian, or Chinese food, depending on our mood. When we moved back to Auckland in 2006, we started spending Takeaway Night with family. I talked about that many times on this blog during those years, especially the times I cooked instead of us getting takeaways. When Nigel and I moved to our final home together, we still had takeaways on a Friday, but it was nearly always just the two of us (along with our furbabies lurking nearby, hoping we’d drop something).

After Nigel died and I moved to Hamilton, I often got together with family on Friday nights, often with someone cooking, and sometimes we had takeaways. Lockdowns and busy schedules reduced the number of times we got together, so I started having pizza on Friday evenings.

This is a simple pleasure for me: I’ve always loved pizza, but there are no decent pizzerias anywhere near my house, though one is “yeah, okay, I guess”. Two chain pizza companies deliver to my area, Domino’s, and New Zealand chain Hell Pizza. Domino’s isn’t great, and Hell is inconsistent—sometimes really nice, other times just “meh”. It was easier—and FAR cheaper—to make pizza at home.

I’ve tried making pizza from scratch a couple times (most recently in October 2021), and it’s a LOT of work for what’s supposed to be an easy simple pleasure. So, pizzas from the supermarket were my best answer among the available options.

Back in March 2021, I shared news on my personal Facebook that the Christchurch factory of my favourite supermarket pizza, Romano’s, had burned down. I said on Facebook, “Romano’s is the only brand of supermarket pizza that either Nigel or I liked.” Even after he died, I continued to buy the pizzas until the fire. I found out last week that their pizza is back in Countdown, so I bought our favourite variety (in the photo above), and another variety, too.

The first thing I noticed was that the pizza was smaller than it used to be, and in a box. I was neutral about the different packaging because the box is recyclable, of course, and will help protect the pizza. However, when I opened the box I saw that the pizza itself was packaged similarly to how it used to be in the old days: It was in a non-recyclable plastic pan-like thing with a plastic film cover (that film is recyclable separately where I live). I also noted that the base is sourdough, which was also used in the frozen Australian-made pizzas I made do with after Romano’s pizza disappeared, but I don’t recall that being used before. I also noted that the labelling called it “Premium Pizza”.

On Friday night, I decided to have the version one I’m pictured with, hoping that the product is as good as Nigel and I both thought it was. I also have a different one in the fridge for another night. At the very least, though, I hoped it’d be “good enough” because I’d really rather buy a New Zealand-made product instead of the Australian frozen pizza.

No: It wasn’t the same. First, the base: The company manufactures supermarket own-brand pizzas as well as blank (or whatever it’s called) bases. I tried their base once, and I didn’t like it. Unfortunately, that’s what they used in this pizza, not the original base. Second: The other ingredients had little if any flavour (apart from the cream cheese, oddly enough). I think they may have simplified their manufacturing processes, which makes some sense. But the toppings, surely they should’ve been “premium”?.

I followed the instructions diligently, but when I make the other pizza, I’ll do things differently (there are two more varieties, other than the one in the fridge, that I can also try). You never know, I may yet find one that’s “okay enough”.

So, it was disappointing, but not hugely: I expected it’d to be different. I guess it just matches everything else that’s different now. And the search for something I like—maybe a new favourite—continues.

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.

Friday, March 17, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 377 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 377, “Man with a plan”, 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.

As if to prove the point

Sometimes, the best made plans really do go awry. My new organisation system was barely finished when the first obstacle came up. When that happened, it validated my decision to design the system. I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

At the time I published my post on my new organisation system, I hadn’t yet put everything in the “One Ring-binder To Rule Them All”; I knew how I wanted it all to go together, as I described in that post, but I hadn’t actually done it yet. It fell apart the very next day.

I decided that since I’d already published the post, I’d better get around to actually assembling everything into the new binder. That meant I’d have to punch holes in the new sheets (the ones in the existing two binders already had holes). There was a small problem: I had absolutely NO idea where I’d put my hole punch. Obviously, I’d put it “somewhere safe, so I can find it again”.

By pure luck, I found it—though its “somewhere safe” turned out to be a perfectly logical place. I punched holes in all the sheets that needed them—and then immediately filled out a sheet for the hole punch itself (photo up top), so I could put the sheet into the “Somewhere Safe” section and not lose track of it again.

And then I hit a completely unexpected problem: The binder I’d bought to use as the “One Ring-binder To Rule Them All” was a three-ring binder: New Zealand’s standard is a 2-hole binder. My hole punch only punches two holes, and everything I’d already set-up was punched with two holes.

A small digression: The USA isn’t the only country that uses three-ring binders, however, their standard is based on the paper sizes used on the USA and some other places in the Americas (technically, the standard’s called ANSI/ASME Y14.1). Most of the rest of the world uses paper that corresponds to the international (ISO) standards for paper sizes, (ISO 216).

The placement of the two holes in ISO countries is governed by another international standard, ISO 838, while the US-based system doesn’t have official standards, though there are customary positions of the holes.

What all of this means in practice is that my ISO two-hole punched sheets cannot fit into a US-standard three-ring binder. At first I was simply stunned: How could I not have noticed that the ring binder had three rings?!!! My probably obvious conclusion is that since I grew up with such binders, I simply didn’t “see” that it had three rings. However, I've only seen two-ring binders in New Zealand, so I wasn't expecting it to be different. Whatever, I needed a solution.

I decided to re-use the 2-ring binder I’d used for the original “Somewhere Safe”—but the new system has far too many pages for a binder that small. So, I crammed everything into the binder for my projects. It wasn’t the solution I wanted: I wanted to be able to put a cover sheet in the clear pouch of the binder’s cover, but the binder I had to use had no such clear cover. I realised that function would have to trump esthetics—for now.

Curious, I checked out the website of the store where I bought the three-ring binder and found out that they don’t sell 3-hole paper punches—only ISO 838-compliant ones. How, I wondered, would any New Zealander buying that three-binder actually use it?! I did a quick search and found some places in NZ that sell three-hole punches, ranging from around $30 to $170 (roughly US$19 and US$105, respectively). At least one of the punches was also capable of doing ISO 838 two-hole punches. There was no way I was going to buy a second hole punch, especially because I’m not certain that I didn’t bring the one I had in the USA; I haven’t needed a three-hole punch in all these years, so I can’t remember if I brought it or not (but it’s possible because in 1995 I had no idea about ISO 838 holes and two-ring binders).

And that’s where everything stayed until last Friday. I recorded a podcast episode where I talked about my new system, and I talked about the binder blunder. As I was editing the episode—and nearly finished, too—the solution suddenly popped into my head. I leapt into action (more or less…).

I had a two-ring binder I used to store all the recipes I’ve clipped or printed out, but instead of punching holes in them, I put them into clear plastic sleeves (mainly so I can wipe them clean if I splatter anything on them). Those plastic sleeves have multiple holes so they can fit into any ring binder of any standard. So, I transferred the recipes to the three-ring binder, then transferred Mission Control into the two-ring former recipe binder. As a bonus, it’s a better binder, with a slightly larger capacity, and the ring mechanism is a bit more robust. And, it has a plastic sleeve cover. All problems solved.

This whole episode shows that the memory and focus problems I designed Mission Control to help are all over the place: This isn’t just about projects or things I need to do or finding things/misplacing them, it’s about clearing out mental clutter so I can have a shot at focusing better. That doesn’t mean I’d have noticed that it was a three-ring binder before I bought it and went to use it, but maybe the odds would’ve been a bit better?

This incident really did validate my decision to design the Mission Control system, and there’s one thing more. Maybe—just maybe—knowing that I have the system gave me enough head room to allow me to suddenly have the brainstorm that solved the problem, even in the middle of editing a podcast episode. Maybe. But feeling vindicated isn’t bad, either.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Tomato work

Vegetable gardening is a lot of work, with uncertain rewards. Depending on weather, among other variables, it may or may nor be worth the effort—specially financially. This year I decided to plant tomatoes again, and it was a perfect illustration of all that.

The year began with disappointment, when I discovered that blossom end rot had appeared on my tomatoes, the same thing that doomed my tomatoes in 2021. In 2021, I picked them mostly green and managed to get some usable ones, but so few that it just didn’t seem worth doing again. Lockdown in 2022 made it impossible to plant on time, anyway.

Planting tomatoes again this year, then, was a bit of a leap of faith, and while the blossom end rot seemed to suggest doing so was a mistake, it turned out that it only affected the first fruit. I suspect it may have been because I didn’t water enough at the beginning.

The next challenge came from the skies: All the storms we had in January and February. There was no damage to my property (or the tomatoes) from the storms, but each time I knew there could be other damage, and I knew I needed to act, and first did so after the Auckland Anniversary Weekend storms. Doing so created a new experience—and more.

I was facing a reality I know very well: Whenever there’s heavy rain, tomatoes may split (my mother told me that when I was a kid). It’s caused by the sudden glut of moisture, and the cells of a tomato’s skin can’t divide fast enough, so the tomato’s skin splits. When the split is horizontal, the tomato is usually fine, but when it’s vertical, it’s more serious, in part because it’s usually wide and deep, and insects, dirt, etc, can get into it and cause rot. After the first cyclone (Hale), one of my tomatoes split vertically, and by the time I noticed, it had mould in the crack.

My solution to the cracking crisis was to pick all the tomatoes that were even partly ripe. I did that to prevent them splitting (something that’s most likely the riper a tomato is).

It started to sprinkle again as I finished picking (including some that already had horizontal cracks—the photo up top shows that harvest and what the cracks look like). The cracks probably happened because of the constantly changing soil moisture, with periods with lots of rain and some that were hot and dry; there’s no way to know for sure.

I decided to first use up all the tomatoes with a split. Rather than cooking them into sauce though my usual method (more about that later), I’d slow roast them and then make them into tomato pureé. Technically, this was a tomato sauce that was crushed and sieved, and not a passata, which is made from uncooked tomatoes. I chose to do this because it generally intensifies the flavour of the tomatoes, and I knew that many of the tomatoes weren’t fully ripe.

So, I sliced the tomatoes in half and cut out the core and any parts that weren’t fully ripe (I’d already found that they were quite tough). I laid them out in one layer in a baking pan, brushed olive oil on them and ground some salt (which helps draw out excess water). I roasted them at around 110C (around 230F) for about two hours. Here’s the before and after roasting:

Next, since I don’t have a food mill, I pressed the cooked tomatoes through a strainer (the screen mesh variety). The mesh kept the skip and seeds and let the “good bits” through. When I was done, I put cling film over the bowl and put it in the fridge overnight—only because by then it was too late in the evening to use it.

I’d used passata a few times, but most of them are imported from Italy, and cost around 65¢ per 100g, though one made in Australia is only 54¢ per 100g. The bigger problem is that each bottle is 700g, which could easily be enough for two cooking adventures, however, once opened the bottle should be used pretty quickly. I generally only make tomato sauce one a week.

Awhile back, switched to tins of crushed & sieved tomatoes made in New Zealand. The tins hold 400 grams and cost only 50¢ per 100g. I think that this product must be cooked to remove water, since that’s common with tinned tomato purée. Real cooks and chefs would turn their noses up at using such a purée instead of passata, but I’m just a home cook on a budget, and it works well for my needs.

In the end, that tray of tomatoes probably produced around 600g of purée, and for less than I’d pay for the 400g tins (though I can’t be bothered to work out the precise cost, I’m nevertheless certain it was less than 50¢ per 100g). When I was ready to make my sauce, I took some more tomatoes, cut them up and softened them in the pot with the onion and garlic, before I added the purée and let everything cook.

Ordinarily, if I had ripe tomatoes in good condition (where I didn’t have lots of bits to cut out), I’d take a tomato, put in a pan of boiling water for a few seconds, take it out with a slotted spoon and drop it immediately in a bowl of ice water. This causes the skin to split (on purpose, so it’s easier to remove), then I chop up the tomatoes and start my sauce.

Without fresh tomatoes, I ordinarily use a tin of chopped tomatoes and a tin of the crushed & sieved tomato purée, and if I happen to have a ripe tomato or two, I’ll cut it up—skin and all—and put it in the pot. Kinda lazy, and probably not what I’d do if I was going to serve it to a guest, but when it’s just me? Speed and ease are valuable things.

I did a couple more harvests (after storms…), though I cooked them in a pot instead or slow roasting them because it didn't seem to make any difference. I got three meals out of doing all that pureeing, plus three lots (the equivalent of 3 cans) of purée are in the freezer.

There are probably still a few tomatoes left to harvest this season, weather, bugs, birds, etc., permitting. Even so, based on what I did harvest, I’d say I got around $8 worth of purée, plus maybe that much again in tomatoes I cut up for sauce or to have in salads or sandwiches. Let’s be (absurdly) generous and say that it was four time that—$32—but even then it wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to cover my costs. The plants were probably only around $5, but there were bags of soil designed for tomatoes, bagged compost, a new tomato cage, some fertiliser—all of which added up to more than that overly generous $32. However, prices for food items have soared since I planted the tomatoes, so maybe I at least broke even? I probably would’ve if I’d been able to have more tomatoes fresh—but, then, I seldom buy fresh tomatoes, so is that really relevant?

It’s not all about costs, of course: It’s a lot of ongoing work to grow tomatoes, and I’m not sure the relatively low financial return justifies the amount of work, especially when I seldom buy fresh tomatoes. If there was some way I could better control the weather—like by growing tomatoes in a greenhouse—it might work better (less prone to splitting from too much rain, for example). But that’s not a viable option right now.

Next year, I think I may focus on stuff I actually buy and use, like salad stuff, and maybe things I can freeze, like peas and green beans—assuming I can be bothered at all. If I grow tomatoes, they’d be from harvested seeds and I’d have far fewer plants to look after. Right now, though, I’m not really thinking concretely about what I will (or may) do next Spring, though I’ll think about it before winter, probably. Part of the problem this year—in addition to horrible weather—was that I didn’t really plan. But how easy is it to plan when extreme weather may still be likely?

The bottom line—in this case, pretty literally—is that, no, growing tomatoes was not financially viable (in fact, it cost me money to grow them). My next step is to research to see what, if anything, is sensible to grow.

It turns out, though, that I found out that marigolds grow well at my house.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

My new projected system

Sometimes I think I should literally make “projects” my middle name, but that would be literally silly. Nevertheless, these days I’m all about big and small projects, but the truth is that all those projects are sidelines for my one true project: Creating a new me. It’s been hard, frustrating, disappointing, and often fraught work, but every once in awhile I catch a glimpse of a way forward. The challenge can be adopting it.

Back in December, I published “The order of things”, a post that was about the background behind some of what I’d been up to (and blogged about) in the weeks before that post: I was slowly decluttering the living space of my house. In a postscript at the end of that post, I said that the project “evolved organically, and without any planning”, and because of that, I came up with a workable way forward by accident.

My work on projects since then has continued to be “what I can, when I can”, and, overall, it’s continued to work well. In a way, it’s based on something I learned as a child: Breaking up big (and probably unpleasant) jobs into small, easy to complete tasks makes me more likely to finish the big job. I realised that if my job was, say, “tidy my bedroom”, that was an intimidating thing, but if I started with “clean off the top of my dresser”, and then moved on to the next task, I could get the whole job done through a series of small tasks. I eventually realised that putting those tasks on a list meant I could also check them off, which gave me a sense of accomplishment.

Ah, lists! It always seems to come back to “to do lists” and the like, and for good reason: They once worked for me. Back in 2015, I talked about a paper-based organisation system I designed for myself when I was an activist in the early 1990s, something that worked astonishingly well in those pre-smartphone, pre-Internet days when few had a computer. But, that was then, and nothing I’ve tried in all the years since has worked, whether paper-based or electronic.

And this is when December’s accidental method changed everything.

I’d been successful in accomplishing a job I really did hate—decluttering the living area—because I went WAY back to tried-and-true methods that never failed me (breaking big jobs into small tasks). I realised it worked because because it was right for ME, and that meant if I designed an all-new paper-based system for myself and my current needs, I might be able to expand this circle of success. At the very least, it was worth a try.

So, over the past few months I’ve been working on a new system, using the concepts that worked well 30 years ago, but making it one that fits my current needs. I think it’ll help, and, in fact, I’m more optimistic about it than any other thing I’ve tried, and that’s mainly because I designed it for myself. This, by the way, is the system I mentioned briefly in my post yesterday about my dryer.

Here’s my system and how it evolved:

I should say first that I have a long, long history of devising nicknames for stuff. Sometimes they appealed to my sense of humour, sometimes it might have been a bit judgey, but they always ended up being easy to remember (this is actually how all Leo’s toys got names, too).

Originally, I was gong to use two binders and a clipboard, but this evolved over time to one ring-binder. Yes, given the very memory problems the system is designed to help, I may misplace that one binder and all its parts, rather than, say, “losing” one binder. However, the binder I’d be most likely to “lose” would be the one I used the least, so adding stuff I’d access frequently would make it more likely I’d keep track of that one binder, especially because I’d have less to remember overall.

The name for this One Ring-binder To Rule Them All: Mission Control. It’s a nod to the USA’s space programme that I grew up with, as well an apt description of its purpose. There are currently four distinct sections within that one binder.

What’s Up?

This section began simply and evolved. Its name is inspired by the 4 Non Blondes song of the same name, which repeats the refrain, “What’s going on?” (the song’s not called that, the story goes, because of Marin Gaye’s song with that name). I liked the more cryptic “What’s up?” as a title for this section.

This was originally going to be just a single sheet on a clipboard, and called “The Waiting Room”. I meant it to work in place of a “to do list”, but just as a list of things I need to do “at some point”. Since I don’t have daily tasks with deadlines, let alone a long list of weekly or monthly tasks, this made the most sense to me. I usually just have stuff I need to do, and forgetting those things has often caused me trouble or, worse, money. I hoped that the list would lock down those things I need to do so I don’t forget about them, but if something was urgent, then I’d do as I do now and use apps on my devices (mainly Reminders or Calendar) to send me prompts to act. The list is for all the many things that aren’t urgent, and that I keep forgetting about. I realised early on, though, that this was the weakest link in the system.

And so, even though I haven’t had much success with “to do lists” for a very, very, very long time, I decided to try yet again. I couldn’t use the “to do lists” from my 30 year old system because it was wrong for me in 2023 (it had three columns: Letters, Phone Calls, and Miscellaneous, and virtually everything I’d need to record now is miscellaneous). So, I decided to try a system I used unsuccessfully at two or three times since 2016. The sheets themselves make sense to me, and I’m hoping being part of this system will make me actually use them. This is a devloping topic I’ll talk about again after I try it out for awhile. Meanwhile, the sheet “The Waiting Room” will continue as a place to write down what I need to do “at some point”, and the “to do lists” following that sheet will be for things I do need to prioritise.

Somewhere Safe

Originally a binder of its own, this next part is a log all the things I find and want to be able to find again. There have been several times I’ve found something and put it “somewhere safe, so I can find it again,” and then had absolutely no idea where that “somewhere safe” was (those failures gave me a title, through…). A specific sheet (in the left of the photo up top) goes behind alphabetic dividers (in the right of the photo). When I find something, I’ll log it on the sheet in the section that makes sense (like, “S” for “staples”) and where it is. Then, the theory goes, when I need something, I’ll check the book to find out where I put it.

The idea isn’t new: For each of the last three house moves, I made what I called “The Manifest” to list the contents of boxes we packed so we could find something we needed, especially before the boxes were unpacked. An online shop had a New Year sale with the dividers quite cheap, and, fortunately, I ordered some immediately (I’d have forgotten if I hadn’t). This is where this whole project began—after having forgotten to start it many, many times.

Activity Monitor

This section begins with a list of all my projects, written down as I remember them, and each line is numbered 1 to 31. I don’t (or, I hope I don’t…) have 31 projects, but that same New Year sale had other binder dividers no doubt intended to sort things for a month. Each numbered tab will have a specific sheet for each project that’ll list materials needed, and steps completed. The idea is that this will let me keep track of my projects, and the list of projects will help me to stop completely forgetting about any projects or their needed supplies (which happens again and again). The name is a playful way to avoid using the word “project”, while also keeping track of my active projects (it’s also the name of an App for the MacOS that allows users to monitor what’s using the CPU and various system resources, and is something I’ve used many times).

Ideation Station

The final section is also lifted directly from my decades-old system. It takes its name from what I called “Ideation Sheets”, a blank piece of paper with a single skinny rectangular box at the top where I write the thing I want to brainstorm about. I devised this method decades ago, and called them Ideation Sheets as a mockingly overly-fancy and pseudo-intellectual way to describe them (and this section is called “Ideation Station” just because I thought it sounded nice, though it also made me think of a space station, which is appropriate for use in a binder called “Mission Control”.

They work kind of like an outline for an essay or speech: The user writes down a topic sentence and then sub-points pointing back to that topic sentence. I’d been taught to do that in high school and again at university and I loathed it because I felt it was far too restricting and didn’t allow for my loose and free-flowing writing method (I found editing far easier than writing chained with the tight constraints of rigid outlines, but, that’s just me).

The way I used these in real life is that I’d write whatever I was trying to figure out in the box at the top of the sheet in order to help focus my thinking. It might be about trying to figure out whether I should do something or not, or to consider all the variables related to something I was planning. Sometimes it was a traditional outline, other times, words or phrases written with arrows to show connections. Or, it could be something else entirely. The real point was that I deliberately kept it completely open so that I could use it for whatever, and however, I wanted.

I’ve been doing versions of that on scrap paper ever since I abandoned the system from decades ago. In fact, Nigel and I used a version of it every single time we even merely considered moving somewhere, as well as evaluating properties when we were actively looking. It served us very, very well.

• • • • •

There’s a common theme running through my new system: Finding a way to not forget stuff all the time. I’m trying way too hard to keep way too much in my head, but at my age my brain just isn’t as elastic or as good at that as it used to be. If this paper-based system can help me keep track of all this stuff I desperately try to remember, then I don’t have to actually remember it anymore (and whether I do or not becomes irrelevant), and that, in turn, reduces stress and anxiety.

Another common theme is that I deliberately made it light-hearted. The “Somewhere Safe” name is obviously mocking myself, and “The Waiting Room” is kind of a dark-humoured attempt to say what this list really is, namely, the place where things I need to do wait (because, by definition, they’re not urgent). All the other names are from similarly playful thinking.

The next aspect all of this is my “what I can, when I can” method. I’ve learned how important it is to focus on one big job at a time, and not attempt everything everywhere, all at once, so to speak.

I have particular ideas about where my next decluttering focus will be, and as the weather cools I’m going to re-start the garage project. The whole point of the decluttering is that reducing physical clutter will reduce mental and emotional clutter, too (which may well help my memory, too). In a way, I designed this “Mission Control” system to help me declutter my head. While I’m optimistic it’ll help, I’ll report back later on, regardless of whether it does or not.

This all started because “what I can, when I can” works for me. That much will endure.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Things not counted

Five years ago this evening, Nigel and I completed the 2018 NZ Census. As it happens, I also planned on doing my solo census stuff this evening, but that was purely coincidental. It was only because of a FB “Memory” that I knew the coincidence of dates; there’s no way I’d have remembered that this was the same date we did the 2018 Census. Here’s the Memory of what I said five years ago on Facebook:
I always used to look forward to doing the census, but this year—not so much. It’s the “both individual forms” part I mentioned five years ago: This year, it’s just me, just one one individual form, and I listed my status as “widower”(screen grab above).

As I said at the end of last month, I knew this was coming. Of course I did. I was also aware it’d be the first to not count Nigel, and to count me as a widower. But the “weirdness”, as I called it, was a bit more unexpected. I guess it’s one of those things that are hard to grasp until they arrive.

This Census was the first to ask about sexuality, asking, “Which of the following best describes how you think of yourself?” The options were: “heterosexual/straight”, “gay or lesbian”, “bisexual”, “another identity”, “prefer not to say”. Nigel and I would’ve talked a lot about that, what the results might be, that sort of thing. I miss those chats more than I could ever express, no matter how hard I tried.

Most of the time, I’m not sad, aside from occasional teary times brought on by a reminder or memory (or nothing at all). Mainly, I’d describe what I feel in one word: Tired. It’s exhausting learning/relearning everything about living alone here in the last third (roughly) of my own life. There are so many things I never knew how to do, and many more I’d forgotten about, because someone else always took care if it.

I stumble and bumble about trying to figure things out without my best friend, adviser, confidante, and soul mate at my side, and that makes everything difficult every day. I don’t need a rare thing like a census to remind me. Still, I push on as best I can, screwing up constantly (and sometimes spectacularly), and pausing to rest whenever I need to.

This evening, I closed another chapter in this story when I completed my first solo census. There’s one more thing about this: It’s likely to be the last significant “first”. No wonder it all feels weird. Focusing on the task got me through it, but even though I tried my very best, it was incomplete. There was just too much missing.

My screwed-up imperfection

This post celebrates an achievement, something that was completed today. I suppose it’s also a sort of assertion of my right to be me, in all my screwed-up imperfection. Mainly, it’s evidence that, one way or another, eventually, I do get things completed.

Three weeks ago, I began the process of getting my dryer repaired. Anyone familiar with this story may well echo the very words my brain shouted at me: “Why TF did it take you nearly five months?!!!” Real me replied, “Because it did. It took that long for the same reasons everything takes so long; this was no different.” For that very reason, every time I burst through the barriers and accomplish something, I celebrate.

Quite some time ago now, I stopped complaining about being tired (except when it’s unusually bad), about having trouble focusing, and about having a thoroughly unreliable memory. That’s because after several years of complaining where it matters (to my doctors), nothing’s changed very much, and so, I decided my energy, such as it is, was better spent on finding ways to adapt. I’ve come up with specific ways to cope with what appears to be the way things will remain, and one of the most important things has been to stop beating myself up over my numerous failures—or, failures to complete, as the case may be.

Which brings me to the dryer: Everything followed the usual path.

At first, I simply kept forgetting to do anything about it, mainly because in the summer I usually hang the washing outside to dry, anyway, but the truth is, I’d have kept forgetting at any time of year—until laundry time, probably. Then, I’d forget again. I also had trouble focusing on it. It took an unusual alignment of things to break through those barriers.

First, I looked for the receipt, but couldn’t find it. Then, I looked through my bank statements to find the exact date I bought the washer and dryer. That way, I could register the products—once I found the serial numbers, which I knew were on the receipt. I figured I’d have to pull the dryer from the wall to find it on the back (and heat pump dryers are HEAVY…), but I had a brainstorm and looked in the door opening. Sure enough, they both had a sticker there with the model and serial numbers. I took photos of the stickers with my phone so I wouldn’t have to run back and forth or decipher my handwriting. This photo tactic is actually another adaption I rely on.

Next, I went to the manufacturer’s NZ website to register the machines. Then, I rang their help line, and the very friendly person told me they don’t schedule repairs, and I’d have to ring the repair company, located a few suburbs south of me (a suburb in NZ is a neighborhood in Americanese). The clearly confused, and so, somewhat flustered friendly person there told me they need a job number to establish it’s a warranty repair. Through talking with her, I worked out that the best thing to do was to ring the store where I bought it, and they would coordinate the repairs. This was, of course, what I originally realised months ago.

I don’t remember everything going on at the time the dryer failed, however, it was the day before the third anniversary of Nigel’s death, and not long after the first anniversary of Jake’s death, and at that time I just couldn’t cope with dealing with bureaucracy, so I didn’t. At some point after that, I became convinced I needed to find the receipt—even though I knew that wasn’t true, because many years ago we needed the same retailer to organise repairs on something else. Somehow, I managed to both know and forget all that.

Three weeks ago, then, after the other two friendly phone calls, I rang the store, and the very friendly person looked up my purchase on their system, just as they’d done all those many years ago, just as I always knew (and also forgot) they would, and booked the repair for me. It took, at most, 15 minutes (probably less). I got a confirmation email within minutes.

The repair company contacted me and a technician came to the house on February 20. He determined the motor was faulty, and said they’d order the parts, but couldn’t say for sure how long it would take. The next day, I received a text telling me the parts had been ordered and it should take 3 to 7 business days. The following Tuesday (5 business days later), they texted me to say the part was in and they wanted to come and collect the dryer on Friday morning (March 3). They did, and the guy told me that they were quite busy, so he didn’t know how long it would take but they’d send me a message when it was done. That message came at at 3:56pm that same day. They wanted to bring it back today.

The dryer was delivered early this afternoon and is now back in service. The guy told me that one of their technicians just happened to have time and fixed it on Friday. After they left, I immediately put on a load of washing. Of course.

The core of this particular saga isn’t about the dryer, or even about faults in my memory alone, but instead, it’s about how those faults, combined with my inability to focus, are responsible for so much remaining undone for so long. It isn’t merely that I forget things, it’s that my poor or missing focus means I don’t even realise that I need to remember something. So I don’t.

I’ve developed a system to help with that, and that’s a huge topic in itself (I’ve been working on it, and a post about it, for months). Right now, the important thing is that it’s part of the adaptations I’ve made to cope with my current reality. The single most import thing I’ve done, though, is to stop tearing myself to shreds over things I haven’t done. Bullying, even of oneself, is never a motivator of change: It only creates more pain. The system I created is to deal with the core problem—my inability to focus—and stopping my self-bullying has removed the unnecessary pain, shame, and, perhaps, self-loathing that self-bullying causes.

As for the dryer repair, I absolutely cannot recall any time a provider of services (like repairs) actually did what they said they’d do in the timeframe they said they would. To do so with such great communication and friendly staff kind of raises this nearly to the level of being unbelievable. It was a thoroughly refreshing interaction. So much so, in fact, that I rang the retailer to let them know how awesome the service was: People only ever ring to complain, so I wanted to do something positive.

This won’t be the last thing that’ll take forever to complete (I have several small projects that are far older than a mere five months). With some luck, the systems I’ve developed will help make delays a choice (like the delays of those old small projects), and not just something slipping through the cracks like the dryer repairs did. We’ll see. Right now, though, I burst through the barriers and accomplished something. I’m celebrating the win.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Falling out of summer

Today is the first day of Autumn in this part of the world. Yippee. The image above is a post I published on my personal Facebook this morning, and it’s my actual sentiment: We didn’t have much of a summer this year. I’d rather not think about what Autumn and Winter may be like.

As I’ve said recently, summer is usually (relatively) hot and dry in Hamilton. This year, it hasn’t been either very often, and now we’re in Autumn, where the days shorten, and the temperatures cool as we slide into winter with its short days, cool-to-cold temperatures, and lots and lots of rain. Something to look forward to?

So, looking for the bright side: Well, the cooler temperatures will mean it’s cooler in the garage, too, and that could mean I could start over again on that seemingly endless project. There are also plenty of other inside projects (he says with an understated tone of voice to match the huge understatement) that I could work on during the inevitable rainy days. I could also—um, no, that’s all I got.

This particular seasonal change really does feel more like a disappointment than a relief, as it has (for some people…) in other years. And, of course, summer—real summer—is my favourite season, while winter is my least favourite. Early autumn and late spring are both “okay, I guess”, as I often say when I don’t really mean it.

Joking aside, whatever the weather delivers, I’ll have plenty to keep me busy. Of course. I always do. And while this post is very much tongue-in-cheek, it’d be nice to have some calm, settled weather this season. I think we’ve all earned it.