Thursday, August 31, 2023

The weirdness epidemic

Until recently, the folks with odd political beliefs were on the fringes, the ones with bizarre beliefs even farther our in the void. These days, though, bizarre counterfactual beliefs aren’t limited to the shadows, the darkness where ordinary, rational people weren’t troubled by them. Instead, increasingly unhinged beliefs are creeping into the most unexpected public of places—like discussion about a new bus route.

This past Monday, a new bus service was launched herein Hamilton, liking the east and west sides of the city. Once the service is fully operational in October, the bus will run approximately every 15 minutes on weekdays, connecting the transport hub in the northwest part of Hamilton with Waikato University to the southeast, passing through the area I live, and the centre of Hamilton, among other parts of the city. This means that I could take the bus to get into the centre of the city rather than driving there, something that would probably mean I’d spend ages looking for a place to park. Other people will see different advantages related to their lives, of course.

In the comments to a Facebook ad promoting the launch, there were a lot of ordinary negative comments, similar to ones that can be seen on pretty much any public Facebook post. There were also a few railing about Hamilton City Council, and railing against one’s local government seems to be New Zealand’s leading indoor sport. However, there was also this:
“Hullo There’s that 15 minute brain tease again. Getting us ready for the 15 min city. No chnace. Vote them all out” [poor punctuation was in the original]
I’ll admit, when I first saw the comment, I thought it must be someone making an incredibly lame attempt at humour, which is pretty common when an ordinary person encounters bizarre comments like that. So I looked at the individual’s profile, and it was filled with promotions of conspiracy theory (including some very unhinged ones), attacks on those the conspiracy fans think are part of some sort of evil global cabal plotting to control them—in this case, by making their lives easier.

Naturally, the conspiracy nuts don’t accept there’s no good whatsoever about “15 minute cities”, which has become one of the more recent obsessions for the fringe. Here in the real world, the actual fact-based truth is obnoxiously simple and easy to understand. ABC (Australia) Radio National explained it this way:
The 15-minute city is an urban planning concept where neighbourhoods provide residents with the basic things they need — shops, schools, parks, leisure options, health care — within a 15-minute radius by foot or bike.
That’s it! The whole thing a framework for developing cities to make them more liveable and resilient, and far less dependent on using fossil fuels to handle the necessities of life. One of my biggest frustrations about where I live is that I have to drive everywhere to get anything I may need, and that includes healthcare and parks, but it’s the fact I have to drive to get a bottle of milk that really annoys me. Someday, there will be a commercial area just a few minutes’ walk form my house, and I’m really looking forward to that.

There’s nothing even remotely new about this idea—it’s as old as civilisation. People’s walking distance to basic necessities and amenities dramatics increased, or disappeared entirely, as private cars and their roads expanded (often with a fair but of corruption in the promotion of transport by car).

When Nigel and I visited the USA, he was shocked at how there were areas of ordinary cities in which it was impossible to to walk from one shopping centre to another. In fact, on our last trip there, we had to call a taxi to get us from one to another because there was absolutely no way to walk from one to the other.

And yet, being able to walk places is seen by some folks as just another “globalist conspiracy”, one that will, depending on the conspiracy fan, lead to government confiscating cars, forcing people to live in “ghettos” (an… interesting choice of words…), concentration camps (another interesting choice…), or open-air prisons that people won’t be allowed to leave without a permit. They say it would lead to fights for survival like out of the “Hunger Games”.

It seems to me that their obsession was fuelled by the fact the World Economic Forum promoted the urban planning framework, and to the conspiracy fans, the WEF is the embodiment and container for all the evil conspiracies the fans promote. Interestingly, the Left criticises the WEF, too, but for mostly entirely legitimate and rational reasons.

I have no idea how we as a society—as a civilisation—come back from this. How can we save the folks who are deeply the mired in obsession with imaginary conspiracies? How can we help them back toward being rational people who contribute to the body politic, and not exist entirely outside it? I have absolutely no idea, but as I’ve said many times, especially on my podcast, we must find a way, and if we fail to do so, it will be at our peril. [I talked about 15 minute cities in Episode 385 back in June, following a mob of conspiracy obsessives disrupted a simple public meeting in Hamilton].

One guy, so obsessed with conspiracy theories that he makes silly comments based on his bizarre beliefs on a public forum about a bus service may not seem like anything important or dangerous. However, we’ve seen time and time again how people who obsessively believe in bizarre conspiracy theories turn to violence when they grasp that no one outside their rabbit hole takes them seriously. The influence of the obsessives is growing, mostly because unscrupulous politicians pander to them in pursuit of power. We MUST find a way into our shared future that includes us all, and that means we must reject politicians who pander to the obsessives, and we must never ignore the fringe.

Personally, I’m glad for the busses every 15 minutes, and I look forward to the day when I can walk less than 15 minutes to buy a bottle of milk. There are far more people like me than there are folks who mutter darkly against those things, and that fact should give us all some hope.

The photo up top is of the brochure promoting the new bus service that I received last week. The cover of the brochure promotes the fact that weekday service will be approximately every 15 minutes. Maybe reading comprehension isn't necessary for conspiracy obsessives?

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 396 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 396, “Noodle day”, 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.

Fixing an unexpected problem

Yesterday, I completed an unanticipated project, something that amounted to re-doing what had been a completed project. On the other hand. It was also an opportunity to not merely re-do the project, but to do it better. And that’s a good thing.

Back in December of last year, I put a cover over the table and chairs on my patio. It was something I needed to do because the furniture had been exposed to the elements ever since Nigel and I moved to our last house in early 2017, and they were deteriorating. I’d have preferred to have the entire patio covered, however, that wasn’t in the budget. This was an affordable option that left the table and chairs outside in case I wanted to use them—and out of the garage, where there wasn’t any room, anyway.

Fast forward to last week when I mowed the lawns. I was out on the patio at one point and happened to glance at the cover. I noticed that the tops of the chairs had rubbed holes into the cover (before and after in the photo above).

Repairing the holes, while possible, wasn’t really the best option because the whole point is that the cover has to be as weatherproof as possible, and patches may not be. Since I was going to replace the cover anyway, I needed to work out how to prevent it from happening again. At first I thought about putting fabric on the stops of the chairs, and then I suddenly realised that the perfect solution was pool noodles—and I have no idea why I thought of that.

I’d never heard of pool noodles until a few years ago, and even then it was only because some were being sold in one of the home centres under that name. Later, I found out through YouTube videos and Pinterest that people made stuff out of them. Somewhere along the line, they must have wormed their way into my noodle—um, brain.

It turns out, there’s something of a DIY genre devoted to using pool noodles for all sorts of projects and “hacks”, and I guess I’ve now joined them. Well, I did once I finally got some.

My first challenge was to find them. It’s still winter here, not exactly prime season for them, so I wasn’t sure if the home centres would have them in stock. Their websites said that they did, as did another store recommended to me. In the end, I went to one of the home centres where, reviews told me, they were being sold for “the best price in New Zealand”, and they were—at least a third less than the next nearest price. A bigger draw, however, was that I could get the new cover at the same place.

My next dilemma was noodle colour. My instinct was to choose blue, but this is an election year in New Zealand, and blue is the colour of the conservative National Party, so that wasn’t an option. Red is the colour of the centre-left Labour Party, but the red noodle looked kind of orange. So, I went with a kind of lavender colour, mainly because I’m old enough to remember when lavender was used a lot by LGBT folks (supposedly because it was a blend of pink and blue, though I’ve never found a source for that claim). I picked out three.

Next, I wanted some carabiners to use to make some quick-release ropes for added tie-down protection. In my original version, I tied rope to the table legs, but my new approach would be much faster and easier to undo if I wanted to use the table. But—which ones should I buy?

I wanted a pack of them so I could make sure I could make enough ropes, and I found a pack of nine at a good price, but there were three matched pairs and three single ones in different colours. I’m not OCD, but this pushed me toward that. I ended up buying two packs so each colour would be paired. Why? So I can easily see which rope I’m undoing by looking at the colour of the carabiner—both ends of the rope will be the same colour (a bit like electrical or data wiring).

Finally, I bought a grommet kit so I could add some grommets to the bottom of the cover to give me something to hook the ropes onto. That part was dead easy.

All up, around $100 for everything.

I started cutting the noodles into thirds (50cm long, the width of a chair back). That was relatively easy. Cutting them lengthways to make the slit to go over the chair backs was a little more challenging, but it only had to be a reasonably straight line—perfection wasn’t necessary. I used an ordinary shop knife to cut the noodles (photo at right).

I took the old cover off and put the first noodle onto a chair back, something that was more difficult than I anticipated because the tops of the chair backs are actually a little deeper than I realised because I didn’t take the cover off until that point. The back itself is a stretched mesh fabric that sits around a centimetre in front of the top metal frame, and that meant that I needed to spread the noodles open a bit more than was possibly a good idea. One them split a bit at one end, but enough was intact to keep it attached to the chair back—I think? I have one entire pool noodle extra, though, so I can easily make replacements if I need to.

When I put the new cover on, I could see that it was sitting on the chair backs much better than it had before. At the moment, it looks like it turned out exactly as I wanted it to. We'll see what happens in the next big storm.

Just like when I bought the cover in December of last year, this is meant to be a relatively short-term solution, something to protect the table and chairs until I can have a fixed cover built over the patio. But that’s a longer-term thing, possibly a year or two away (maybe more…). The cover for the table was a good idea last year, and my new, improved version is an even better idea. If I need a third attempt, though, maybe I’ll need to find a way to hurry the building of the cover. I should add that I plan to cut the old cover into smaller tarpaulins, so it's not headed to landfill.

Yesterday I completed an unanticipated re-do of a project, but that gave me the opportunity to do the project much better than the first time. It turned out to be a very good thing—so far.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Good things that happened

I talk on this blog about a lot of things, but when it comes to my own life it’s often just quite ordinary things. This is another of those posts, this one about two good things that happened to me in recent days.

The photo up top is of the sky visible looking out from my patio area late Friday night. I’ve shared plenty of photos of the sky over my neighbourhood, both at night and in the daytime, and that underscores what I think is an interesting fact: Some of the best, prettiest skies I’ve seen have been visible from my house. Every other house has had something really nice about it, and I’ve shot plenty of photos around them and the views visible from them, but for pretty skies, this place has had the best. I have no idea why that is, but it’s certainly a nice thing.

The photo at the bottom of this post is of my first lemon to ripen, and it’ll be ready to pick pretty soon. I bought a lemon tree and a mandarin tree, apparently before Labour Weekend last year. I say “apparently” because in a post about that weekend, I didn’t actually say I’d bought them, I just talked about planting them. At any rate, I couldn’t quite decided what to do with the plants, and I eventually planted them in big plastic pots and put them just outside the patio, on the bark covering the low bank next to it. Such plants can grow well in pots, if they’re big enough, though the lemon can apparently live for some years in a small pot.

I noticed a few weeks ago that the plants looked like they needed a feed, so I bought some citrus food. The label said when to feed the plants and how much, but also said not to fee them over winter. I fed them anyway, and the lemon tree looks much better, the mandarin only someone better. It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t persevere and plant them in the ground, anyway.

Be that as it may, I wasn’t expecting any lemons this year, and even though it’s quite small, it’s definitely welcome. There are two smaller lemons, too, that are nowhere near ripe.

The fact that I’ll soon get my first lemon form the tree is a nice surprise. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what to do with the whole yard, something that was probably helped because the relentless rain and frequent cold spells meant I could actually do any work out there, and that kept me from possibly making a bad choice or something. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Yet another pretty sky over my neighbourhood, and an unexpected lemon may not sound like a big deal, but to me they are. There are things I don’t like about my house or Hamilton generally, sure, and my life’s still at best uncertain, and sometimes it’s a downright mess, but despite all that, there are things about living here that I like, that I think are pretty, that make me smile—or are just nice. We all need good things to happen sometimes, and I have such times, too. I just don’t talk about that often enough. Maybe I’ll change that now. Pretty skies and unexpected lemons are pretty powerful, really.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Nigel would’ve been 59

My Nigel was born 59 years ago today, a number that underscores how we never got the chance to grow old together. Next year he would’ve turned 60, eight months after I turn 65. And the fact we don’t get to share that makes no sense, even now.

This year, I’m particularly pissed-off. When I turned 59, Nigel often said to me, “Fuck you’re old!” and, “I can’t believe I’m going to be married to a SIXTY year old.” I was very much looking forward to returning the favour this year. However, he’d of course have already started his new jokes at my birthday this past January, with an updated, “Fuck you’re really old!”, and this year he’d have added, “I can’t believe I’m going to be married to a SUPERANNUITANT!”, using a somewhat old-fashioned term for “pensioner” one that he would’ve used precisely because it was old-fashioned: He would’ve felt it underscored me being old. I would’ve pretended to be annoyed and said to him, “Not yet!” every time he said that, just like I did when I turned 59. And we would both have thought that what we were saying this year was hilarious.

And that’s the thing: For me, this grief journey isn’t about being sad and crying all the time, not anymore. Instead, it’s about remembering him, smiling, and laughing at our lame jokes. This is something I touched on in my post about his 58th birthday:
…There’s never a day I don’t think about him, of course, but his birthdays have always been the day I’ve been most keenly aware of how much I loved him, and how thankful I was to share life with him. That’s still every bit as true, except the sharing life part is now past-tense, filled with memories of happy times, his laugh, and that cheeky grin he had when he was joking mischievously—including when it was at my expense.
For me, his birthday has become a chance to celebrate everything we had together, how meaningful that was, and how his legacy still helps shape my life, even when I deal with new (to me) things like figuring out and understanding problems with my home ethernet network, for just one example—though there are many others. It’s also a chance to celebrate his life and accomplishments, and to remember what a little shit he could be, too, and that mischievous, cheeky grin of his when he was one. Those are all good and happy things—just like our life together was.

For the first couple years of my grief journey, there wasn’t all that much difference for me between Nigel’s birthday and the horrible anniversary a little over three weeks later. I couldn’t help but think of what was, rather than what is, nor—especially—the space where the two merge and go with me as I move forward. This has been an evolution—and for all I know, it may continue to evolve and change. Actually, it probably will.

This year, I went out for lunch with my mother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law. We went back to Saints Public House, the place we went to recently (and it was still really nice). It was the sort of thing we often did for Nigel’s birthday when he was alive, so it was the perfect thing to do today.

My trip there today was also symbolic of how things have changed. As I was getting ready to leave the house, I was thinking how I should set my GPS to guide me there again, and then I tried to picture my mental map—and it was there. This hardly ever happens anymore, but today the map was there and, it turned out, it was perfect (not that I relied on my dodgy memory, of course: I still set the GPS, but I absolutely didn’t need it). On the way, I also thought about how happy Nigel would be that I do stuff like that, going out to meet-up with family, and that I drive wherever I want to go, including over narrow country roads, and even at night (though I still hate night driving…) .

The point is that I’m doing what I need to do, what I was always capable of doing, and what Nigel encouraged me to do. Yet even as I do these ordinary things, I still carry him in my heart, and in my memories, and I celebrate all that we had—and take all of that forward with me.

But yeah, fuck he’d be old!

Happy Birthday, sweetheart. Always.


Nigel would’ve been 58 (2022)
Nigel would’ve been 57 (2021)
Surviving the day and being okay (A2021 post on how I handled his birthday)
We celebrated Nigel’s birthday (About the party in 2020)
It won’t be a good day (2020 – the first birthday after he died)

Special Note:I didn’t talk about Nigel’s birthday on this blog while he was alive because I wanted to protect him, and so, I didn’t share stuff that was personal to him. I talk about it now because I have no way of knowing who may run across my posts, and maybe they'll help someone else in a situation similar to mine. Besides, I love talking about the most important person in my adult life.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Time to do it again

It’s that time again: Time for my latest test in the National Bowel Screening Programme, something that’s sent every two years to Kiwis between the ages of 60 and 75 (for Māori and Pasifika people, it’s ages 50 to 75). However, I last did the test back in 2019, and the results were negative. I received my latest kit (above) this past Monday.

However, I didn’t do the test in 2021. I got the kit (and still have it somewhere…), but I think the reason I didn’t do it at the time was because of lockdowns or other Covid-related things going on, and then, as usual, I just plain forgot. This year, though I’m definitely doing it.

One factor that’s still in play is the dwindling number of agents for NZ Post. The company has closed most of their own PostShops, and uses agents for the services they used to provide, and one of three agents in the northwestern part of Hamilton closed last year. Of the two remaining, one is a place I tried to ring NZ Post to complain about, but the wait was too long. That leaves only the other place, so it’ll have to do. The issue is that I need to post the kit back to the ministry of health, and there are very few places to do that any more, the agents probably being the only places where it's possible to post anything.

At any rate, I think the programme is a good idea, and important to poo—I mean, do it…

This is a TV commercial promoting the test that’s been running for about a year:

Friday, August 25, 2023

Winter realities

It’s still winter in the Southern Hemisphere, something we’re certainly keenly aware of here in New Zealand, and the fact that meteorological Spring arrives one week from today doesn't exactly soften that reality. Maybe next week? This has been a more “normal” winter, which is probably why it’s seemed hard this year, and the realities of winter—the cold, the rain, the dampness—seemed a little more real this year.

Last year, our winter was unusually mild—often warm, even—and fairly dry. Spring was more or less “normal”, though maybe still a bit milder than other years. Our summer was unusually wet—including those three major storms with the first few weeks, and a lot of rain the rest of the season, too. Then Autumn, and a continuation of the rainy and stormy summer. I think those facts together have made this winter seem harsher than it really was: Despite more rain and storms than usual, overall, this winter has been more or less like they used to be. Unfortunately, those are also the sorts of winters I hate, especially when they’re wetter than normal. Still, I adapt.

As I’ve said before, mowing the lawns during winter can be a challenge because they’re so often wet. On the other hand, the fact that the cold weather makes the lawns grow more slowly means it’s usually possible to wait until things dry out at least a tiny bit before attempting to mow the grass. This is just one of the challenges of winter, and watching for a couple sunny days is necessary.

The photo up top is of the sofa arm nearest my chair in the living area. It has a tea towel I don’t use for much of anything on the arm to protect it from Leo: First thing every morning, he goes outside and when he comes back in, he wants to sleep in my lap. However, because the lawns are always heavily wet in the mornings (from rain, heavy dew, or both), his paws are soaked. The photo below is of my “lap blanket”, which he will lay down when he comes back inside from his morning rounds.

I started using the blanket my first winter in this house, because he was always coming in with wet, and often muddy, paws. I have a few such blankets, so I can wash them and not have to get my sweatpants wet or dirty—or my regular pants later in the day, because he loves laying in my lap, especially after being outside.

I added the towel not long ago because I noticed he was leaving wet paw prints on the sofa arm, and with the clay exposed on the bank (where he and the neighbours’ dogs catch up with each other), I knew I needed to protect the fabric so I don’t have to clean it. Whenever I’ve just finished mowing the lawn, he also tracks in grass clippings. The photo above shows the towel after I’d already shaken it once. Basically, the towel’s a kind of antimacassar, something I’d never even heard of until I moved to New Zealand and heard Nigel use the term—though I don’t remember why he did. He had to explain it to me.

Something I did almost as soon as I moved in was to put a bathmat I bought for our last house in front of the door to the patio that the dogs used. At the time, the “lawn” out back was mostly clay, and the matts helped protect the carpet a bit (I have two from the last house, so I always have one to use when the other has to be washed).

Finally, there’s a pretty much year-round issue of Leo tracking grass clippings into the house, however, in winter he tracks in much more because it sticks to his paws and undercarriage. I could vacuum every other day and probably not stay on top of it. Of course I’m not that diligent: Weekly is good enough for me, unless I don’t feel like it some week, in which case it gets worse. Of course.

On the outside of the house, the wet and damp weather makes all yardwork, not just mowing, difficult to do. In winter, the clay “soil” is heavy and dense, and in summer it like concrete, so there’s a sweet spot in spring and autumn in which it’s moist enough to dig, but not water-logged enough to make it too heavy to dig. I almost inevitably miss most of those sweet-spots every year, which is part of why landscaping has been such a physical challenge. This year, it’s also been cold, which makes the wetness and dampness feel even more unpleasant.

I hate being cold most of all, and my house often feels cold. The living area is pretty good, especially if I close the door to the rest of the house. However, the hallway and two of the bedrooms and main bathroom have no heat (I installed a heat pump in the main bedroom, but the en suite is unheated). When the sun is shining brightly, it heats up all the living spaces, but when it’s not—at night or on cloudy days—the house outside the living area can get quite cold.

There, too, I have adaptations: As the sun goes down, I close the doors to the toilet, main bathroom, and guest room. My office and the hallway are still cold, but not as bad as when I don’t close those doors. Yesterday, with the sun shining brightly, I turned on a micathermic heater in the hallway, which helped a LOT. They’re more energy-efficient than other electric space heaters, but free if I run one when the sun is shining.

I should add that absolutely none of this is new: At our last house, I put an old bathmat in front of the dog door on the ground level of our house, which is also where my office was located. I also used a micathermic heater in my office (and on really cold days/nights, I used another one in the rumpus room my office was attached to, the path to and from the rest of the house). The dogs also used to track in grass clippings, though we had a service take care of the mowing at that house.

While I’ve learned to adapt to the winters here in New Zealand, and as frustrating as the wetness and cold can be sometimes, it’s still infinitely better than the hell that was a Northern Illinois winter: It doesn’t snow in the upper North Island, we don’t get hard frosts in this part of the country, and it never gets even almost as cold. By comparison, we have it pretty easy. That doesn’t mean I hate winter here any less, though.

And that’s my biggest winter reality of all.

Related: “Autumnal realities”, my blog post from April of this year.

The grass clippings even stuck to Leo's toy bone.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 395 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 395, “Sunshine!”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Regular household duties

This week, I mowed my lawns. It’s a common-enough thing, of course, but through it I realised I have a problem, and I also found another one I have to deal with. It’s just regular life, really.

The mowing itself went quite well: I mowed both the front and back lawns and when I finished, I’d only used around two-thirds of the battery’s charge. I don’t know why things went easier this time, but the cold weather has allowed the growth of the grass, which is probably the main reason. However, another factor could be that I now store the battery for the mower in the house, at room temperature (which is considered ideal), so maybe it held its charge better.

The mowing adventure aggravated what appears to be a new affliction: Inflammation along my sciatic nerve, somewhere in one of my gluteal muscles. The symptoms first appeared over the weekend, and at one point I had some sharp—but brief—pain in those muscles.

However, by Tuesday morning it was no worse than an ache, so I decided to go ahead with the mowing. Part of me thought this affliction arose because I’ve been aware that I’ve been sitting far too much lately, and I need to move more. This inflammation usually goes away in around 4 to 8 weeks, but it may return. I clearly need to move more and get fitter, but knowing that doesn’t change my current reality.

Because I was out on the patio on Tuesday, I happened to look at my patio table and chairs, still under the cover I got for them last December, and I noticed that there were holes in the cover where the cover was sitting on the backs of the chairs. I came up with a plan to take care of the problem (by re-doing the project—stay tuned), and planned to go get the supplies yesterday. Unfortunately, I was still sore from the mowing adventure Tuesday, so I didn’t go. I was a little too sore today, too—but I may go this evening. We’ll see. At any rate, I only noticed it because I went outside to mow the lawns, so another good thing that game from that.

I’m not a big fan of the complications of ageing, of course, and that’s a topic all its own. Right now, though, the reality is that I’m dealing with challenges as they arise, finding workarounds when necessary, and, basically, doing what I need to do. There are always regular household duties waiting to be carried out, after all.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Adventures happen

I still have adventures, mostly small, and I usually talk about them here. Sometimes, however, I simply forget. Last Friday was one of those times.

Last Friday I met up with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and cousin-in-law for lunch at a place none of us had been to. I shared the photos on social media—Instagram, my personal Facebook, and also as my first post on Threads (as an Instagram share). But I forgot to share it here, something I only realised today when I was looking at my photos and saw the one above. I’m going to fix that now.

The place we went to is called Saints Public House in an area northwest of Hamilton called Te Kowhai, which is a ten minute (or so) drive from my house over country roads. The building is a repurposed church from 1906 that had originally stood in central Hamilton. It was closed due to earthquake risk, and was eventually moved to Te Kowhai where it was refurbished and made earthquake safe.

The fact the place used to be a church amused me, and I joked, “You can tell the building was deconsecrated: I didn’t burst into flames when I walked in.” Of course I don’t think that’s a real thing that can actually happen, but as a now secular heathen preacher’s kid, it was funny to me—and others, of course.

The place had a really nice feel to it—welcoming, cosy, and fun, all in one. I liked being able to see the original construction details, including the iron rods used to tie the exterior side walls together, something that was often done in churches of that era so they could have large, open roof spaces without rafters. The organ pipes at the front appear to be from the church, too. There was a book of photos for customer to look at, and it showed that before it was closed the ceiling was painted. There were no antique photos of the inside to show if the ceiling was originally just wood, as it is now, but natural wood was quite commonly used in New Zealand churches during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To me, one of the most spectacular examples of that is Old St Paul's in Wellington, formerly an Anglican “provisional cathedral” and now a government-owned facility and tourist attraction.

Free phone charging station.
The food and coffee at the cafe was very nice. I had the Crispy Chicken Waffle, which was great. The good food, friendly service, and nice vibe led me to say on my social media post, “I’m definitely planning on going back,” because I am. In fact, I may even take myself there on a lunch date.

As I was sitting there, I couldn’t help but think about how Nigel would’ve liked the place: We had similar reactions to public spaces like cafés, and we both appreciated the sort of vibe this place had. I also know he’d have noticed the phone charging station—the first one like that I’ve seen anywhere. And, of course, I know he’d have liked the food. These are the sorts of thoughts I have whenever I go somewhere new like that; I imagine I always will.

It was a good time, with good food, good company, in a place with a good vibe. And yet, I forgot to mention it here at all. That’s a shame because part of the reason I share such things here is so I can go into more detail than I do in social media posts, and to provide relevant links. But this blog is also where I chronicle this new life journey I’m on, and I think it’s very important that I also share details of the good experiences I’m having, the fun times when my mini-adventures happen. But I’ll probably continue to forget to share some of them. That happens, too.

Important Note: I used the name of the café for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and the meal and coffee I had 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 owners, operators, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Furry adventurous

Today began with a bit of an adventure, of sorts. It began because of a delivery, and it all made me remember to finally share some Leo cuteness. It’s been a furry day, actually.

Leo and I had been having a leisurely start to the day, mainly because I knew that my latest batch of prescriptions were being delivered this morning, so I was just kind of relaxing in my chair. The driver arrived near 10:30, and I saw that as the driver put the package in my letterbox, he looked up, which I thought was because Leo was barking at him, but I realised he wasn’t looking at my house, but up the street somewhere.

When I went outside to get the package, I heard a small dog bark, and I looked over to see my next door neighbours’ female dog. “How’d you get out?” I asked her. She barked a bit, then sniffed the grass at her feet as she stood on her family’s side of the invisible property line.

Not long after the next door neighbours moved in, their two dogs got out, and it took a search party of their friends to find their male dog. When I saw the female, I assumed the boy was already on an adventure. Nevertheless, I decided I should put the girl back in their yard.

I went inside to put my prescriptions in the house, and when I went back out I saw that the boy dog was there, too. I talked to them both nicely, and by name. She barked at me, a bit and he just looked verrrrry suspicious of me (I was told he’s his daddy’s boy). This time, though, they let me lead them back into their yard, and I closed the gate and made sure it was latched. Then I left a note in the neighbours’ letterbox. Leo was barking through our front window the whole time.

I gave us our breakfasts, and afterward I sat back down in my chair to catch up in the news and such, as I do every morning. When I was ready to go have my shower, I looked behind my chair, and there was Leo (photo up top). When I shared the photo on my personal Facebook, I said:
“Leo’s latest thing is to sleep on the floor behind my chair, up against the curtains covering the doors to the patio. And, I’m all for it!”
I think it’s adorable, though it’s just an extension of what he’s always done: He generally sleeps near me, or else he sometimes lays at the far end of the living area, at the base of the corner cupboard, which is near the doors to the patio I use to let him go outside (photo from June is below; the ratty shoes are what I slip on when I go outside—often to bring in a barking Leo…). In the late evening, he may take himself to bed.

Today, too, I used the electric grooming clippers on Leo, the first time I was able to make them work. A few days ago, I went to get our small battery-powered clippers, something we bought for Jake, I think, so we could snip off little bits of matted fur between groomings. I put a fresh battery in it, turned it on, and it was running very slowly, something I remembered Nigel had noticed and then stopped using them. With a, “why not?” attitude, I got out oil we had for the various clippers, applird it, and then it was perfect. It made me wonder why Nigel hadn’t tried that, because he was so diligent about keeping the main clippers clean and oiled. Maybe he just forgot.

Since oiling the little clippers worked so well, I oiled the big grooming clippers, too—and they seemed better. I’d tried using them on Leo several times in recent weeks, and they never seemed to clip anything. Since the last time I tried, I’ve been clipping off matted fur with scissors (Nigel would be thoroughly appalled if he saw me do that—I wasn’t allowed to use scissors near our furbabies, which is probably why I work so very slowly and carefully), and I also used the little clippers. None of that was enough.

This afternoon, I tried the big clippers for the first time since I oiled them, and they, too were perfect. I only cut a little bit off of Leo today, but it was enough to let me know that I can now use them. Leo seems to be prepared for the ordeal grooming session. I hope that I am, too.

Finally for this day of dog news, I let Leo outside mid-afternoon, and he barked, which drew out the neighbours’ two dogs who joined in on the barking. Their gossip sessions never last more than a minute or two, but it was enough to let me know the two hadn’t escaped yet again.

Clearly, Leo was a very helpful boy today.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Seven years since a very important day

Today’s Facebook “Memory” (screenshot above) is of a very significant day in my life—literally. Seven years ago today, I got a cardiac stent that saved my life, and the reason that it happened is Nigel, something I talked about in more detail on this anniversary in 2021. However, important as the events of seven years ago were, I didn’t talk about that anniversary on this blog for several years. In fact, I didn’t start talking about it until after Nigel died. I think I had a specific need to do that.

I first commemorated the events of April 17, 2016 back in 2020, and that was, I think, because I’d become acutely aware of life, death, and the sometimes movable invisible boundary between them. In 2020, I was trying to make sense of what everything meant in my new reality, one in which nothing made any sense.

The whole of the past seven years were sometimes extremely difficult, with plenty of challenges, many of which seemed insurmountable at the time. Nigel helped me get through the first three years after the stent, something that I know was often hard on him, with my repeated hospitalisations and inability to live a normal life for much of those years. Since then, It’s been up to me to deal with every single health challenge and worry, and while sometimes I manage that pretty well, it’s been its own struggle.

I think that the fact I’ve survived the past four years isn’t because I’m “brave” or “strong” or any of the other words people like to use for people like me. Instead, the secret is really that I’m bloody stubborn—a trait, it turns out, that can sometimes be a good thing. It also helps that my brain, while it may intensely fixate on things sometimes, never stays focused on health worries for long. Thise two things—along with support from family and friends and, of course, a bit of luck—is how I’ve made it to the August 17 anniversaries four through seven. My blog posts over the past four years, then, have actually been about the process figuring out survival in the vastly altered reality I found myself in.

There’s one thing more, though: I use that brain fixation to latch on to good things, and it doesn’t matter what. It might be a get-together with others, a nice meal I made myself, or, maybe especially, playing with Leo. Basically, I look for the moments that are good, the things that make me smile, and the things that don’t involve any thoughts about life, death, survival, or healthcare. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, negative thoughts and worries can and do pop up unexpectedly, even in the middle of good times, but, fortunately, I know they’ll pass.

Over the past four years, I’ve come to (slowly) understand how consequential the events of seven years ago were, but even more so how important Nigel was in getting me to that point. Since then, I’ve been learning how to do all that for myself, an ongoing project. Little wonder I started blogging about the this particular anniversary: It helps me work things out. That’s a pretty good reason, really.

Previous posts on this anniversary:

Tentative progress – 2022
Days of focus on living – 2021
Adventure reflection – 2020
The day I could have died, but didn’t – A 2017 post about the day that led to the stent
We all make plans – My 2016 post on getting the stent

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 394 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 394, “Hairy day”, 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 landmine day

This started out as a rough day—no idea why. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep? That’s usually the case when I have an early appointment, as I did today, in this case, to take my car in for its annual service. Maybe, but I’ve been feeling low for awhile now. Maybe being tired was just an amplifier.

At any rate, I was on my way to the dealer, and was stopped at a traffic light. A car on the main road did a U-turn while other traffic was stopped, something that’s legal, for some reason). I suddenly had a vivid flashback to sitting at that same intersection with Nigel when a car in front of us did the same thing. I’d never seen that manoeuvre before, and was taken aback. I’m sure Nigel and I must’ve talked about it.

After dropping my car off, I walked up to Bunnings, partly to look, but also to pick up a couple things. I was wandering around, and was suddenly aware that the music playing was “Everything I Own” by Bread, a song about a father who died, because the chorus seized my attention [WATCH/LISTEN]:

And I would give anything I own
I'd give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again

I really wanted to cry, but didn’t. But I also didn’t stick around much longer.

I next stopped for a coffee and the music was “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus, which is about loving oneself without someone else (because of a bad relationship) [WATCH/LISTEN], but the connection to me wasn’t the song itself, but, rather, that I recently shared an 80s-inspired cover by UK band Deco [WATCH/LISTEN] on my personal Facebook page, and that sharing was firmly in the new life I’m trying to learn.

From there it was lunch and a catch-up with my mother-in-law, which was as awesome as ever. There were no odd reminders, not even the photos of Nigel she has on display triggered anything, which wasn’t surprising: I have the same photos out in my house, too.

The landmines today were jarring because they were totally unexpected, as the strong ones usually are. I have reminders coming up that I’m well aware of: Nigel’s birthday is next week, and the fourth Horrible Anniversary is around four weeks after that. However, because I know they’re coming, I’ll probably be okay when they arrive—so far, I always have been.

The thing is, sudden reminders—triggers, basically—can happen any time, any place, out of nowhere. That’s precisely why they’re so powerful: Our attention is suddenly jolted into full awareness of what’s always been there quietly, in the background, and that can be upsetting.

I’ve learned not to worry about such unexpected reminders, that they’ll inevitably pass, and pretty quickly, too. The trick, I think, is to accept that reality and ride it out—in fact, trying to ignore or suppress it only makes it stronger and last longer.

I’ve learned a thing or two about being a widower, you see. Dealing with landmines is just one of those things.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The ‘end’ of Covid

At one minute past midnight last night, the New Zealand Government ended all remaining Covid restrictions. This means that Kiwis testing positive for Covid will no longer be required to isolate for seven days, and requirement that all visitors to health care facilities wear face masks also ended. In essence, life in New Zealand for most people is now completely back to “normal”, like what it was in the pre-Covid times.

In announcing the change, the Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall, said, “While our case numbers will continue to fluctuate, we have not seen the dramatic peaks that characterised COVID-19 rates last year.” The Government also pointed out that the levels of the virus detected in wastewater, and also the number of hospitalisations related to Covid, have been trending downwards since the beginning of June, and also that over the past month the number of cases of Covid reported have hit their lowest levels since February 2022. All of which is very good news.

The Government conducted a massive advertising campaign to encourage New Zealanders to get this year’s influenza vaccination, and that seems to have helped take some of the strain off the healthcare system. I received my influenza and Covid booster shots back on May 30.

I think today's change is a sensible move, not the least because—if we’re truly honest—plenty of people (probably most) were ignoring the last remaining rules, anyway. On the evening news last night, a mask-wearing person talked about how even though there were signs telling people to wear a mask when entering her healthcare facility, few did. Last June, I went for my routine blood tests and wore a mask. While I was there, a woman came in—not wearing a mask. As I was leaving, a different woman who appeared to be my age or somewhat older, entered, also not wearing a mask. I didn’t take mine off until I was outside and walking toward my car.

A few days after my blood tests, I had an appointment at my doctor’s office. It was simply to check my blood pressure and weight, which hadn’t been measured (officially, that is…) in several years. I wore a mask, of course, and from what I could see, the patients there did, too—more or less. One older man was wearing his more like a chin strap, and the masks of others didn’t seem completely seated properly. In other words, compliance with the rule looked to me to be sort of half-hearted—at a doctors practice, no less, a place with sick people in it.

This being an election year, TV journalists asked if the relaxed requirements were some sort of election ploy. I mean, of course the people who hate Labour to the very core of their being because of the Government’s sound, fact-based response to Covid would suddenly completely change their minds about Labour simply because the Government removed the last two restrictions. Sometimes the idiocy of journalists is absolutely breathtaking.

Other, more rationally-inclined journalists asked health officials if it was sensible to relax the requirements while it's still winter, the season with the most respiratory illness. That absolutely was a fair question, and there were differing opinions in the answers, as one would expect. However, with the Covid-related demands on the public health system far lower than has been the case in a very long time, and with Spring beginning just over two weeks from now, it seems to me that this is as good a time as any, and many healthcare professionals agree with it. Will the change “help” Labour’s election campaign? Of course not—but neither will it hurt them. I’ve seen with my own eyes how many people are completely over the restrictions, anyway, and they have been for quite some time.

I’m someone who’s considered at higher risk of bad outcomes if I catch Covid (or influenza, for that matter), and even I can see the sense of ending the last restrictions. We’ve all moved on, and the Government is really just catching up. Clearly some TV journalists have some catching-up to do, too.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Stabilising goals

The image above is a Facebook “Memory” that popped up today, as it does every year on this date. I blogged about the story behind it back in 2021, but what I didn’t talk about back then (or very often) is that the goal for that stabiliser is one that’s still not realised. I often wonder if it ever will be.

That stabiliser wasn’t exactly cheap, though less expensive than a good oue would’ve been, and that’s the reason I was so determined to get it working—and why I still haven’t given up on it. However, not being able to use it didn’t stop me from taking photos, many of which were to illustrate blog posts. None of them needed that stabiliser, of course.

In 2015, I started making some YouTube videos, and the stabiliser would’ve been handy for some of them. I might have eventually worked it out, but in October 2016 I stopped making any videos. I always intended to make more, but just never did.

At that time, I had plans to make a portable studio for the garage, and was researching lighting options. However, in February of 2017, we moved to the other end of Auckland, along the southern edge of the Manukau Harbour, and there was too much work to do to settle into the new house.

Even so, I continued making plans for a garage studio, and in March 2019 I refurbished some old worklights that I planned to use for photography and video lighting. Nigel and I used them to take photos for some stuff we were selling on NZ’s auction site, Trade Me.

Then, of course, all my plans stopped on September 20, 2019.

Once I was here in my current house, I started thinking about what I wanted to do, and I knew whatever it was, it would include all sorts of creative work. The various Covid lockdowns gave me plenty of time to work on ideas and plans, including for making videos again.

In October 2021, a couple months after I blogged about that Facebook “Memory”, I ordered some studio lights from a photography supply company in Auckland, along a light cube (basically a small collapsible cube used for taking photos of objects). I planned to use both for photos, and the lights (possibly?) for making videos. In the end, the only thing I’ve used them for (so far…) was—once again—to take photos of things I was selling on Trade Me.

In that same era, I also got a ring light, which are used for vlog-style videos, selfies, and video conferencing (I used it for the latter, a family night on Zoom during a Covid lockdown). More recently, I bought a rig to hold a cellphone, something that gives me two handles on either side of my phone, something that makes it more stable than holding the phone by itself using one hand—or even two. Since phones’ video recording includes image stabilisation, the rig gives me just enough stability to make the image appear as if it my phone was on a tripod—well, it did in my tests, anyway. The rig also has a tripod mount and can accept “cold shoe” camera lights (this means lights that don’t get power from a camera), and I bought a pair of battery-powered lights for it, and all of that was pretty inexpensive.

Meanwhile, I also shortened the length of my audio podcasts, trying to keep them to around 18 minutes or less. My idea was that if I could shorten the podcast episodes, I could record them as video to upload to my YouTube Channel, and also post the audio as I always have. The videos have never happened, obviously, but my audio podcast has become weekly, which I think happened in part because I started making them shorter.

All of this lighting and other filming gear was always about making videos again—in fact, that’s the only thing a stabiliser is used for (nearly all the other equipment I bought could be used for photography, too, or it was usable only for photos). I’d enjoyed making videos for the time I did, and I thought I’d like to see if I could get good at it.

More recently, it became obvious to me that what many people now perceive of as a “podcast” is in video format, not audio, and audio-only podcasts have become kind of a quaint relic in some ways. I watched various YouTubers to get a sense of how they did what they do, but I noticed that much of what they did was about “monetising” their channels, which allows them to make a living from YouTube, something that was never my goal (not the least because it would mean paying tax on the income to two countries, along with twice the compliance costs). As it happens, YouTube places ads in front of some of my videos right now, but I don’t get a single cent of that—YouTube gets all of the money (my Channel isn’t even eligible to be monetised at the moment). I think it’s funny how much time I spent entertaining the idea of trying to make money from my videos while YouTube already was—but just for Google, not for me!

I still have no idea whether I’ll resume making videos of any sort, but my equipment has been, and will continue to be, useful for photos. For me, right now, that’s enough. I guess there’s stability in that, too.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also more

Last week, I published a post about three songs that, while hits in 1983, never made it to Number One. I said in that post, “and of course, there are many more in that same category, as there are every year." Roger Green left a comment on that post, and so, this post is the “Roger Green Edition”, in which I give my own reaction to three more songs that never reached Number One in 1983.

The first song this week, this time in chronological order, is “Dirty Laundry” by American musician Don Henley—however, there doesn’t appear to be a version of the music video on YouTube, which is a shame, but the audio is available there [LISTEN].

The song was released October 18, 1982, and reached its peak of Number 3 on the Billboard “Hot 100” the week ending January 8, 1983. The Wikipedia article linked to above sums up the song very well: “The song is about the callousness of TV news reporting as well as the tabloidization of all news”. I liked the song at the time, and liked both Henley’s solo work and the band he co-founded, the Eagles. I also liked the video (and, while that video isn’t on YouTube, the video for his single released in 1984, "The Boys of Summer"remains one of my all-time favourite music videos). The truth is, “Dirty Laundry” pretty accurately encapsulates my current cynical and often exasperated opinion of contemporary journalism, TV journalism in particular. Wouldn’t have expected that from a song that was a hit more than 40 years ago.

The song only reached Number 59 in Australia, but was Number One in Canada, Number 7 in New Zealand (Platinum), Number 3 on the USA’s “Hot 100” (Gold), and Number 59 in the UK. It was also Number One on the Billboard “Top Rock Tracks”, and Number 5 on the CashBox “Top 100”.

Next up, “Jeopardy” by the The Greg Kihn Band:

The song was the band’s highest-charting single, reaching Number 2 the week of May 7, 1983. It reached that number in the middle of the three weeks at Number One for Michael Jackson’s “Beat it”, dropped to 3 the following week, when David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was at Number 2, and then to Number 8 the week after that when “Let’s Dance” went to Number One. I mention all that because it’s a good example of a song that was a hit, but that never made it to Number One because other songs got there instead.

To be honest, it’s a song I only remember when it’s played on the radio—although, I have it on a series of 1980s music compilation CDs from Time-Life, which I ordered because of a TV commercial. That particular CD was for 1983, but a sort of “compilation compilation disc” from the series included their second-highest charting song (it reached Number 15), 1981’s “The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)”. Quite frankly, I preferred that 1981 song, but if I’d been on the Jeopardy! TV game show, I might have liked the Greg Kihn song more—in fact, I may have made it my theme song, had I been on the TV show. Sadly, I’ve never run across a song that would fill that role for me (and, no, the 1981 movie song “Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)”, was never a possibility…).

At any rate, the song “Jeopardy” reached Number 11 in Australia, Number 4 in Canada, Number 17 in New Zealand, Number 63 (ouch!) in the UK, and, in addition to Number 2 on the “Hot 100”, it also reached Number 1 on BillBoard’s “Hot Dance Club Play” chart (which seems… surprising?), and Number 5 on Cashbox.

Finally today, a song that epitomises this phemomenon of a hit song being blocked from Number One by two stronger hits. That song is “Electric Avenue” by Guyanese-British singer Eddy Grant:

“Electric Avenue” was released on April 18, 1983, and reached Number 2 the week of July 2, 1983, after 12 weeks in the charts. That week, Irene Cara’s "Flashdance... What a Feeling" was spending its final week at Number One, and The Police were at Number 3 with "Every Breath You Take". The following week, those two songs would swap positions, and “Electric Avenue” remained at Number 2. That 1-2-3 alignment held until August 6, when Electric Avenue dropped to Number 6. That means that the song was Number 2 for five consecutive weeks. The Police would remain at Number One until the week of September 3.

The title of the song refers to the street of the same name in the Brixton area of London, and it’s inspired by the infamous Brixton Riot of 1981 which was sparked by heavy-handed and racist tactics used by police. Margaret Thatcher, unfortunately UK Prime Minister at the time, acted true to form and denied that racism and unemployment had any role and attacked anyone who dared suggest that that they did. She was an utterly awful excuse for a human being, really. Because few of the recommendations of the post-riot Scarman Report were implemented, riots broke out again in 1985 and 1995.

While I was aware of the 1981 Brixton Riot, I wasn’t all that aware of the whole story: By that time, I was more focused on fighting the Reagan regime. Even so, I probably heard about the song’s connection to the riots somewhere along the way, if only because most of my friends were also Left-of-Centre, and many were activists, too.

One of the reasons the song became such a big hit may well be because Michael Jackson broke the colour barrier on MTV. He became the first Black artist to be played heavily on the network, and by the time “Electric Avenue” was released, they were actively looking for more music videos by Black artists. And that, to me, is highly ironic: A song that was at its core a reaction to racism and about ignoring the issues faced by Black people was promoted by a cable network as part of its response to its own racism and refusal to acknowledge Black artists.

I liked the song back in the day—it was hard not to—but Roger had a more personal connection to the song. I have it on a compilation disc that Nigel bought at some stage, but I read that it’s not available on any streaming service because Grant didn’t like the (terrible) compensation they pay to artists. So, I checked Spotify and all I could find were covers, often using Grant’s name, however, I found other songs by him were available, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

With five weeks at Number 2 in the USA, the song was definitely a hit, blocked from Number One by two very big hits. It reached Number 2 in Australia, Number One in Canada, Number 32 in New Zealand, Number 2 in the UK, and, in addition to Number 2 on the “Hot 100”, it also reached Number 6 on BillBoard’s “Hot Dance Club Play” chart, Number 18 on BillBoard’s “Hot Black Singles” chart, and Number One on Cashbox.
• • • • •

These three 1983 songs singled out by Roger are all examples of hit songs that never made it to Number One against strong competition from other, bigger hits. There are plenty of others that met a similar fate, of course. But that’s enough for now.

Thanks for sparking this week’s post, Roger!

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 7
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also

Mending my own business

I’ve long repaired clothing items when I can, and I talked about darning socks back in October. While I can’t repair a hem or do similar sewing tasks, I can do other useful things, like replacing buttons. Yesterday I replaced three buttons, something that was inspired by a shirt than cannot be saved.

The photo above is a closeup of a major tear across the back of what was once pretty much my favourite short-sleeved shirt—so much so that I wore it in several selfies over the years. However, as it became a bit older and worn (a bit like me…), I only wore it at home, and when I wasn’t going anywhere. I knew it was only a matter of time before it would be unwearable, and that finally happened recently: I was tucking the shirt in before putting on a sweatshirt when it got cold, and with a loud rip, the mid-back got a gaping gash across it.

I liked the shirt because it was baggy, and because it didn’t need to be ironed, however, that may have sped it’s demise: As it got older, it got wrinkles (a bit like me…), especially in the lower half of the back (totally unlike me…). Those creases, as high points in the fabric, became worn until one eventually tore open. Would ironing have extended its life? Well, probably, because if I needed to iron it I wouldn’t have worn it very much (at any given time, I have quite a few shirts waiting to be ironed).

Three shirts could be saved, though: Two shirts had buttons broken in half, and a third had lost a button for its button-down collar. All the shirts had spare buttons sewed onto them, so all I needed to do was match the thread colour closely enough and sew on the replacement buttons.

I chose the button-down collar to fix first because I knew it’d be the hardest: I had to figure out where the button went. I also struggled a bit getting the spare button freed—which made me wish the original button had been attached nearly that well. In the end, I succeeded. I haven’t worn the shirt in eons because of the missing button, and I’m not sue how much I wore it before that, so it’s kind of like a new shirt, I guess.

I next took on the two shirts with half-buttons. I again struggled with getting the spare buttons freed, and then managed to drop the first one making me spend a couple minutes looking for it on the floor. Oops. Both of these shirts were also “at home only” shirts, though I have worn both “in public” in the past.

My next step was to iron a bunch of shirts, including one of the formerly half-button shirts, part of an attempt to maybe prevent a repeat of the back gash incident. At this point, I should be wrapping up the story, congratulating myself, and celebrating another small victory. But this adventure wasn’t done with me yet.

As I ironed the button-down short, the iron hit something in a pocket: It was the button that had fallen off. I had absolutely no recollection of putting the button in there when it fell off, and, in fact, thought I remembered simply discovering it was gone. Now I have a loose little button for the shirt, which I’ll put in my sewing kit in a tiny plastic bag with a note telling me what it is. Just in case. (yes, I did consider sewing the loose button into the seam, but, too much work. For now).

It turned out in the end that while there are limits on what repairs I can do, there are also limits to what can be repaired (like the gash in the back of that shirt). However, the bigger obstacle seems to be, as it so often is, misremembering things related to what I want to do, in this case, that I put that button in the pocket of the shirt it fell off of. Forgetting all about that meant that I ended up making more work for myself—and it gave me a loose button.

While the extra work and loose button has a kind of shoulder-shrug of unimportance, it’s also yet another example of how my unreliable memory causes problems—very, very minor ones, sure, but problems nonetheless. I wish I had the kind of memory I had 20 or 30 years ago, but that’s not the way these things work, so this was one of my motivations for creating my personal organisation system. There were other things that helped me work out how to structure the system, but finding ways to compensate for my unreliable memory was chief among them.

That new system has worked pretty well. It’s also much easier than trying to get a spare button freed. So, yay.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 393 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 393, “Movable barrier”, 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.

Powering ahead—for now

I recently received my first electricity bill from the company I switched to back in June, and the results were… surprising. Technically, the pricing was comparable but, without any savings. It could be that I made a mistake.

To be able to compare like for like, I took the number of kilowatt hours (kWh) I was billed for and then took the rate my former company charged to see approximately how much my bill would have been had I not switched. The result was a surprise: The subtotal I was billed was actually around $40 higher than the former company would’ve charged me. However, that amount was reduced by the credit for solar production (higher than the former company would’ve paid) and a special promotional credit for my solar power (that credit expires after 12 months). That and pre-purchasing power at a discounted rate meant he amount I was actually billed was lower than it would’ve been under the old company—technically.

The main reason my new bill was higher was because of what they call the “fixed charge” (also known as a “daily charge”), which is a fixed amount suppliers charge every day. My new provider charges me $2.45 per day, while the former company charged me a mere 90¢ per day (and that was an increase from the 60¢ per day they used to charge me). That’s charged every single day, even if I don’t use a single kWh of electricity (I sarcastically joke that it’s a charge for the privilege of buying power from a company, but it’s actually about maintaining the lines network—apparently). The fixed charge accounted for a third of what I was billed this month and—let me repeat this—it had absolutely nothing to do with my actual power consumption.

While I saved a bit of money by pre-purchasing power at a discounted rate, I felt it was a bit of a hassle—enough to save a few dollars a month? I’m not sure.

On the other hand, the fact that the new company has differential pricing based on time of day means I can plan to use electricity I have to purchase when it’s cheaper. Here’s an actual example: Yesterday, I washed my duvet cover set, and those things are always difficult to get dry—they turn into a ball, often swallow their pillow cases, and generally take extra time (and work) to get dried. I knew it would take a couple times through the dryer to get it fully dry, but there wouldn’t be enough sunshine hours left in the day to dry the duvet using solar power. So, I turned the dryer back on after 10pm, when the power dropped to the lowest charge, their “night rate”. That meant my dryer was cheaper to run than if I’d used it in the evening. Could it turn out that I save money as I get better at managing the power I buy? Maybe? And, do I really want to have to micromanage when I use what electrical devices? Probably not.

Also, the device that regulates the power sent to my hot water cylinder switches on at 6am every morning to use purchased electricity to heat up my water in case I want to take a shower before the solar power is available to heat the water (which is very important in winter because hot water may not be actually hot until late morning or early afternoon). This is also on the cheaper night rate, so that now costs me less than it did with the former company. It’s not enough saved to cancel out the higher fixed charges, but could that, and managing my power use for cheaper times of the day, help cut the amount of power I have to buy enough to make up for other charges? I’m not sure.

My winter power bills are always dramatically higher than in summer because I generate so much more power in the summer. So, looking at it over a year’s time, it could be that, averaged out over an entire year I might still save money—but, to be totally honest, I’m very sceptical that will be the case, especially when the promotional credit expires. This past month I purchased a somewhat smaller amount of power to what I bought this time last year, and the bill was higher. That’s not encouraging.

Even so, I’m going to stick with it for now to see how it goes. While it currently doesn’t appear to have been a good move to switch to this company, it’s certainly possible that things could even out. Still, I have questions, but, for now, I have a somewhat open mind about it all.

All things considered, I think the best idea is to resume researching my options, even as I watch what happens with the company I switched to. Clearly this story isn’t yet finished.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Voters deliver more good news

Voters in Ohio have just handed Republicans yet another huge defeat and stood up for the right of the people to decide for themselves what they want, and not be dictated to by overreaching authoritarians. One would think Republican politicans would learn from their ongoing string of defeats, but apparently not. Fortunately for them, voters are willing to school them again and again.

The Associated Press correctly headlined their story, “Voters in Ohio reject GOP-backed proposal that would have made it tougher to protect abortion rights”, because even though the vote wasn’t about abortions rights (technically), what it was REALLY about was abortion rights, and absolutely everyone knew it. The referendum was the Republicans’ plan to make it nearly impossible to amend the Ohio state constitution to protect abortion rights by raising the number of votes to approves such measures to 60% from the simple majority it’s been for more than a century.

Republicans claimed the measure was to prevent “outside groups” from meddling with Ohio’s constitution, which was the only partially honest thing they said about it—but they were still being completely dishonest: They really meant they wanted to prevent a measure to protect abortion rights from passing by referendum, something that would’ve drawn support from outside the state. They knew that such measures can struggle to get to 60% approval, especially in a mostly Republican state like Ohio, so they moved with their idiotic power play.

The Republicans also decided to put their thumb on the scales by holding the referendum in the middle of summer because, they were cocksure, only the most rightwing Republicans would vote at that time of year. The Republicans vastly underestimated the determination of pissed-off voters.

For decades, and even as recently as only a few years ago, Republicans kept claiming that they wanted Roe v. Wade overturned not to ban all abortions, silly voter, but merely so it could be returned to the states to decide. They threw in, “let the people decide” for extra emphasis.

Of course we now know that Republican politicians have been lying for decades, because as soon as the Supreme Court’s far-right Republican majority overturned Roe, Republican-controlled states went at breakneck speed to ban all abortions in their states, and finally started speaking honestly and admitting that their goal was a nationwide ban on all abortions, with no exceptions. Voters responded with, “Oh yeah? WATCH THIS!!! and have handed Republicans loss after loss whenever they get the chance to vote—which is precisely what Ohio Republicans were trying to make impossible for the people of Ohio.

Here’s the obvious lesson in this and similar results in Republican-controlled places like Kansas and Kentucky: Trying to ban all abortions without exception is a losing idea. Republicans’ insistence on going ahead with their radical agenda on abortion—in defiance of the will of the people—along with their ongoing wars against books, education, women, people who aren’t white, and LGBT+ people (among many, many, many other idiotic crusades) are costing them elections. The Republican “Party” is now a far-right cult with absolutely nothing to attract the majority of voters.

This is why Democrats did so well in the elections of 2018, 2020, and 2024—and the latter was supposed to be a “Red Wave” year in which the Republicans would take full control of Congress. Instead, Democrats held the Senate, barely lost the House to a caucus under the total control of its most lunatic and irrational members, folks who care only about waging unhinged Republican Party ideological wars, folks couldn’t possibly care less about delivering for the people who elected them. But hey, at least they managed to elect a lickspittle coward to become the weakest Speaker ever.

Because of Republican extremism, in 2022 Democrats took power in states, such as, gaining full control of Michigan’s state government for the first time in decades. In 2022, they also defeated every single one of the party’s candidates who set out to be just like the party’s Dear Leader, the unemployed orange Florida man who’s currently facing multiple criminal indictments with more to come.

The fact is, everyone who believes in democracy, the rule of law, and the right of voters to decide issues for themselves, should be glad that Republican politicians seem to be so universally myopic—or even outright stupid. Every time they move to advance their christofascist agenda, they piss-off more voters and end up being humiliated by them. That’s why we know for certain that between now and the 2024 US elections, Republicans will do everything they can think of to prevent people from voting, because, as a party that wants to do the exact opposite of what the people actually want, all they have left is trying to stop democracy itself. The voters of Ohio have shown that when voters have the opportunity, they’ll show the Republicans the door. Long may it continue nationwide.