Wednesday, January 31, 2024

First month over

Well, then: Here we are at the end of the first month of 2024. Sheesh, we hardly knew ye, and you scurry to oblivion. A new month looms—a leap month, no less—with all the opportunity that a 29 day month gives us to do—well, whatever it is we do. Or, don’t don’t do—no pressure!

This post is my 23 rd post for January, which, some may choose to say means I missed my targets for the month. Sure, yes, that’s fair, but: The last month I had more than 23 posts was the 27 I published in January 2019—back in the Before Times, when my life was sane and happy. I can’t and won’t compare this year to those happier times, and yet….

Compared to to After Times years, 2024 is starting well! The stats for the Januaries since 2019 tell the tale: In January, 2020, I published a staggering 9 posts. Okay, I shifted to Hamilton in that time, and my Internet wasn’t great. Then, in 2021 my output rose to an astounding 13 posts, and 2022 it rose astronomically to 18, and then 2023 to an absolutely astounding 19 posts!

I’m mocking my previous years to make a point, namely, that my blogging output has suffered for many years—ever since Nigel died, obviously. That means that achieving my old goal is, under the best of circumstances, a big ask. And yet I continue.

It’s more than fair to note, as, perhaps, some might, that I achieved this milestone, such as it is, because of my Fiji Trip 2024 posts. This is true, as far as it goes. However, it’s also likely that had I been in Hamilton all the time of that trip, I’d probably have published as many posts, and very possibly even more—you have NO idea how many posts are languishing somewhere between idea and first draft.

All of this is really beside the point: I’m long past the point where any measures of output equate to “success”. If I do or do not achieve the “one post per day” average is actually irrelevant for me—even though I do notice. These days, it’s merely about saying what I want to say, and by that measure this blog is still a runaway success.

Well, apart from the whole avoiding politics thing: I do kind of regret abandoning that entirely. Still, February is a leap month—that’s more time to help me fill my publishing non-goal goals. Or not. New months mean new realities.

Fiji Trip, Part Four

We’re now up to Sunday, January 21, a rather significant day. It was our penultimate day in Fiji, and it was a quiet one, over all. But that doesn’t mean that nothing happened.

After breakfast that morning, I walked partway down the beach with some of the others, and then they carried on and I went toward the water to take some photos while the tide was out. Unfortunately, I quickly became overheated, so I went back to nearby family members’ room to cool down before heading back to my room. It was still only 30 (86F), but the humidity was astronomical after all the heavy rain the day before. I decided it was best too cool down, then to go back out later to join the others for lunch poolside. The photo up top shows the vew looking eastish, and here’s the view looking back toward the resort:

Both of these photos are showing what’s covered in water at high tide, so, where I wouldn’t normally be walking. The closer I got to the water’s edge, the more “squishy” the sand became. I learned to back off when I sank into the sand “too much” (which really meant more than I was comfortable with—in order to keep my shoes clean).

I walked along the beach to a spot where I could see what I presume is lava, the spot where the sea/lagoon would meet the beach at high tide. As someone who comes from the middle of a continent, and who now lives a long way from the sea, I found this endlessly fascinating.

Be that as it may, I went back to my room to further cool down, and then at lunchtime I headed toward the pool area in the older area to meet the others for lunch. I have to admit, having lunch brought to us poolside was pretty much my idea of luxury (and, as always, it was really nice).

Here’s a photo I took from my seat, where I had my lunch:

The rains moved in, as they did every afternoon, and in a break I returned to my room to relax—and cool down. From time to time, I shot video, not up to the standard of a mediocre YouTuber, but nevertheless documenting what I saw and experienced, even the, um, unusual, including video that I didn’t used for anything whatsoever—though I had great ideas at the time. I looked up at the fan above my bed, over at the view from my bed, all of which was very artsy and all that, but it didn't amount to anything (mainly because editing video is hard in an iPad… or maybe I was too lazy?). All that recording including a view from where I was laying on my bed, looking out toward the balcony and the heavy rain that was falling at the time. Here’s a still from that video:

After that, it was time for my birthday celebration.

My birthday was a good one—low key, as I’d wanted, but spent with family. My brother-in-law made a fabulous dinner for us all, and it was awesome. They even sprung a cake on me (photo at right), much to my surprise. Old graphic arts guy that I am, I was amused by the space between “birth” and “day”. We also had more kava, which went well, I suppose (I only had one—it was, um, okay…). Later on, a Canadian couple staying at the resort joined us, and then some family members went night swimming—and REM was in my ears… [See the official music video on YouTube]. I was back at my room by around 10pm.

And that was the end of my “significant birthday”, and our penultimate day in Fiji. It was a very good day.

”Travelling gratitude” – After I was home.
Fiji Trip, Part One
Fiji Trip, Part Two
Fiji Trip, Part Three

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Fiji Trip, Part Three

Saturday, January 20 was our tourist day. We were only in Fiji for four full days (and parts of two others), so there really wasn’t much time to go sightseeing, not when there was photography, snorkelling, kayaking, and swimming to do—or just relaxing. Nevertheless, on Saturday we decided to drive to Suva, the capital of Fiji, on the southeastern part of Viti Levu, the main island. It was a two hour drive from the resort.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t initially all that enthused, first, because it was a long drive there and back, but also because plenty of people had told me that it was kind of run down, poor, and so, not a place to visit. I went anyway.

Suva is the country’s largest city, with around 93,000 people, and I thought it was fascinating! While it has things in common with large cities throughout the world, it’s also very different. The central business district was extremely busy, with heavy traffic—more so than some much bigger cities I’ve been in. Even so, it was easy to walk around.

Suva was also filled with mainly Fijian people, and we were clearly in the minority. It was actually the first time in my life I’ve been in a foreign city where I could clearly see I was in the minority, and I loved the new experience (obviously I’ve been in foreign cities and been in the minority, but until that day I couldn’t necessarily see that).

We did a little shopping at a mall called Tappoo, and after that we contemplated a stroll through the open air market pretty much across the road—but the fish smell was overpowering in the heat, and it was crowded, so we drove around a bit instead, especially near the harbour.

These are two decent photos I took in Suva. The tall, oddly shaped building on the photo on the right is the Tappoo mall. The photo on the left is looking in the opposite direction.

After Suva, we headed back, stopping at one supermarket to pick up some things for Sunday night’s dinner. However, it was kind of sparse, so we drove on.

Next stop was a huge supermarket I thought was really interesting, and then had a late lunch in the sort of food hall there. It turns out, the company that owns it (and the first one we went to) is in a dispute with the Fijian government, with all sorts of allegations flying around, including that the company is a religious cult. Such intriguing drama!

I noticed that many of the prices for New Zealand food products were comparable to shops in NZ (after converting currency), but some NZ things were MUCH more expensive. Fiji-made products were usually cheaper than the expensive imported NZ things, and the less expensive NZ products didn’t seem to have any local competition—which is the opposite of what I expected.

One thing I notice about Fiji is the omnipresence of Christian religiosity. The buses in Suva seemed to all have an enormous “JESUS” painted just above the windscreen, and religious slogans on cars were quite common everywhere. Nobody pushed religion at me, but it was definitely everywhere.

On the way back, the skies opened up and we drove through torrential rain. And now we can all say we’ve driven through a tropical rainstorm—another thing checked off the bucket list!

Once we were back at the resort, we rested before heading out to dinner. Fortunately, by the time we were ready to leave, the rains eased up. I shot a silly video of me out on the balcony of my room as the rain poured down (but the thunder wasn’t thundering). I also took this photo, imitating the pretend grumpy look (I wasn't actually grumpy at all):

We decided to go to a local bar/restaurant called “The Tipsy Italian” because they had live music. Several of us had pizza (mine was really nice). It was, technically, “across the road”, but it was a little far to walk, so we drove.

After dinner, it was decided that some of us would have shots of kava, a traditional Fijian drink made from a plant. It’s nonalcoholic and non-intoxicating, but may have a kind of calming, slightly sedative effect.

Traditionally, it’s drunk in a ceremony where everyone drinks from a shared wooden bowl (totally not my scene), and I had been told it tastes like dirty water (which is what it looks like…). What the bar had was a commercial version that tasted of absolutely nothing. It may have been more diluted than usual, for all I know, but in any case, I felt nothing from it.

The deliberately silly photo at the bottom of this post is me contemplating the shot of kava—and that was actually my second, because I forgot to do a selfie for the first. Oops.

The singer was awesome, singing Fijian songs and great covers of English language pop songs (including at least one New Zealand band), which was all the more remarkable because he didn’t really speak English—but he sure could sing it!

We didn’t stay late, and, like usual, I was actually ready for bed fairly early. After all, the next day would be a big day, whether I wanted it or not.

”Travelling gratitude” – After I was home.
Fiji Trip, Part One
Fiji Trip, Part Two

Rubbish communication

Recycling has become a touchy issue these days. Some people think it’s all a scam, that it’s all dumped in landfill (it’s not), some bizarrely see recycling as some sort of “virtue signalling” (probably because of their general anti-rational way of thinking…), and some people try their best to recycle everything, sometimes including things that can’t be recycled. New Zealand is about to change what it collects for recycling, and most people were probably blindsided by the news.

On January 16, the day before I left Hamilton for Auckland (and the start of my trip), I saw a Facebook Post from Hamilton City Council HCC) on changes being made to kerbside recycling. It said:
From 1 February 2024, the Ministry for the Environment is standardising kerbside recycling.

This means all Councils in New Zealand will be required to only accept plastics 1, 2, and 5 in the yellow-lidded recycling bins (along with paper, cardboard, clean tins and cans). Glass will still be collected in the blue/green glass crate as normal.

This is a change from what Hamilton City Council previously accepted, which were plastics 1-7.
At the time, I was very busy getting ready for my trip, and too stressed to give it any headspace. However, I was a bit annoyed with the Ministry for springing the changes on us. Hamilton, as their post said, collected plastics 1-7, and it annoyed me that we had to start throwing some plastics in the rubbish, and annoyed me even more that I couldn’t get rid of what I already had in my recycling wheelie bin because I’d be away the last time recycling would be collected before the change in the rules. The notice was so short!

After I got back from Fiji, I saw another post from a different local council, Waikato District Council (which borders Hamilton City Council), and their announcement directed people to throw absolutely recyclable things into the rubbish:
The new government recycling standards come into place next Thursday, but don’t worry we’re already on the right track.

The only changes to your recycling collection will be:

• No lids can be collected. Not even your ice cream container lid. This includes metal and plastic lids.

• Containers should be no larger than 4 litres.

• Anything under 5cm x 5cm can no longer be recycled.
My reaction to that was, WTF?!!, only it was the words, not the initials. HCC had said absolutely nothing about lids in their post, so, which was it?!

I decided to go to the source of the trouble and confusion, The Ministry for the Environment, finally finding the apparently unironically titled page, “Improving household recycling and food scrap collections”. It turned out that the new rules weren’t being “sprung" on us. As it appeared: They’d been finalised in March 2023—nearly a year ago—but this was the first I’d heard anything about it.

It’s possible that the evening news reported on it at the time, but if they did, I certainly didn’t hear it. However, it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing they would report, at least, not in detail. I also never saw any notices from HCC at the time, however, due to Facebook’s famously bizarre algorithms, I don’t always see what they post, and as far as I know, they don’t use any medium other than Facebook (and their own website) to spread news. Add it all up, and there was little chance I’d know about the changes earlier.

I looked through the information on the Ministry’s site, and found that Waikato District’s post was basically accurate—except about the ice cream container lids, I couldn’t find anything about that (the information is available as a PDF on the Ministry’s website). However, Waikato District got some things wrong, like about can lids: “Steel-can ends can also be accepted if securely enclosed inside the can, for example by placing the lid inside the can and squeezing the top of the can closed.” They can also be left partly attached to the can.

At first I thought I’d have to stop putting all lids (including metal jar lids) into the recycling, but then I remembered that HCC hadn’t said anything about metal or ice cream container lids, or about containers larger than 4 litres. So, it seems that for us, for now, that part isn’t changing.

I have absolutely no idea why Waikato District is going farther than HCC, nor whether their rubbish is sorted at the same place or not. However, strategically, it makes sense to hold off on banning loose metal lids, ice cream lids, and containers larger that 4 litres, if they must be banned, because making too many changes too fast will lead too many people to just give up and throw lots of recyclable things in the rubbish. Once they start doing that, it’ll be incredibly difficult to get them to start recycling again. It seems Waikato District doesn't see it that way.

The change in plastics recycling really doesn’t affect me: Types 3, 4, 6, and 7 collectively make up about 5% of all plastics, and for consumers, it’s mainly things like individual containers of yoghurt (the larger tubs tend to be type 2 plastic), sour cream, etc. So, in practical terms, this won’t really affect me all that much—but I took the time to find out the real story—I doubt very many people actually do that. Councils need to get much better at communication if they want people to comply with new rules, and to avoid confusing people.

This isn’t the first time I’ve criticised HCC for poor communication about recycling (See: “”Not really very clear” from January 2022), however, credit where credit’s due. In a new Facebook post on January 22, when I was still in Fiji, HCC was clearer about what the change is:
From 1 February 2024, the Ministry for the Environment is requiring all Councils across New Zealand to collect only plastics 1, 2, or 5 from the yellow-lidded recycling bins (along with paper, cardboard, clean tins and cans). ♻

You can tell what the plastic number is by checking the triangle on the bottom—some plastics look similar, so it pays to check. If there's no number or it's too hard to read, put it in the rubbish bin.

Examples of plastics 1, 2, and 5 👉 Milk, soft drink and juice bottles (without the lids – these go in the bin), large yoghurt containers, 2L hard ice cream containers, cream cheese, sour cream and cottage cheese containers, some dip containers, and some tomato, BBQ, and mustard squeeze bottles. It also includes meat trays and some takeaway containers.

Examples of plastics 3, 4, 6, and 7 👉 Small yoghurt/sour cream pottles, styrofoam, PVC pipes, polystyrene, biscuit and cracker trays, pill packets, some dip containers, soft plastics (plastics you can scrunch in your hand such as biscuit and cracker bags and trays, packaging from bread, rice, packaged vegetables and fruit, and shiny gift wrap) and some tomato sauce, mustard and BBQ squeeze bottles.
Although this is better, there was still poor communication: The bit about recyclable lids from milk and soft drink containers going “in the bin” may possibly mean the rubbish bin, but it’s not clear. The document from the Ministry would suggest that’s what HCC meant, because they’re too small, but it’s absolutely not obvious or clear.

Good communication from government wanting us to do (or not do) something is absolutely critical if they seriously expect compliance of any sort, especially correct compliance. However, many of the new regulations—about lids in particular—strike me as a “them” problem, not an “us” problem. If they’re “difficult” to process, then the correct action is for them to fix their procedures and methods. Failing to do so will lead more and more people to give up recycling in confusion and frustration. All councils already have problems with people illegally dumping rubbish, government at all levels, central government in particular, <i>must</i> get their acts together and make it easier to recycle, not harder.

Related: “Banning more plastics in NZ”, my post about the changes made last year.

The graphic up top is from the Ministry for the Environment.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Fiji Trip, Part Two

On January 19, the first full day of the Fiji trip, I went and visited the newer building at the resort. These photos are all of the building and from the beach in front, and I’ve captioned each photo.

The new building was built during lockdown, so it’s still quite new. As with the older section, the rooms looked really nice—but if you looked closely, there were things that weren’t exactly perfect. I’ve heard that that in Pacific Island nations it’s common to have buildings built by labourers who aren’t necessarily professional builders, and while that doesn’t mean they got it wrong, it can mean a lack of attention to the finisihing details. Even so, the air conditioning was great—far better than in my room.

I thought that, ignoring finer details, the rooms looked really nice, and so did the pool on the beach side of the building. However, I was told that there were some rough edges in the pool, again indicating the finishing work may have been a bit lacking. Behind the building was a single tennis court, and whenever it rained (every day, in other words…) the surface bubbled up. There was only one time I saw anyone actually use it, and it surprised me: It was for far too hot and humid for me to have even contemplated such a thing.

Having said all of that, the newer building was what many people may think of when they think of a Pacific Island resort, and it really was nice. The older section was nice in its own way, too, and its pool was far more sheltered from the sun than the newer one was.

All in all, it seems to me that it comes down to a matter of personal preference. I liked my room, and the pool area in the older section, but I liked the air conditioning and views at the newer building. Fortunately, for me, I got to experience both.

The newer building as seen from the beach. The blue rectangles either side of the sign are lap pools.

A close up of the end of one of the lap pools.

Looking from the building end toward the sea. That round area in the middle of the pool is seating.

The pool at sunset. It has a soft blue glow at night. This was actually taken January 21.

Back on the beach in front, looking more or less easterly. It's raining at the horizon.

Looking the other way up the beach, back toward the older area. It's raining at that horizon, too.

”Travelling gratitude” – After I was home.
Fiji Trip, Part One

Sporting a memory

When I saw this FB “Memory” (above) today, I had two thoughts. First, that this was exactly one week after I’d shifted into my house in Hamilton, an anniversary I didn’t mention this year because I was in Fiji (so… belated Happy Fourth Houseversay to me!). But the bigger thing that struck me about it is that it was only four months after Nigel died. The reason I went to the match is that my brother-in-law organised it, which makes this an example of what I was talking about the other day, about how he has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, even when I wasn’t necessarily enthused.

The night was really good, though I can see in my eyes that I wasn’t exactly bouncing with joy. Of course. The result of the match was, um, “an incomplete success” for New Zealand—yeah, that’s it. But a good night all the same.

Actually, it may surprise people who know me ub real life, but that wasn’t my first rodeo, er, sporting event in New Zealand. I went to two Boxing Day One Day International cricket matches at Eden Park in Auckland. The second, against England, was particularly memorable because of the “Barmy Army”, as England fans were known (my brother-in-law, a friend of his, and a friend of Nigel and me were there, too, but Nigel didn’t go and was the chauffeur instead).

I also was given tickets to a Warriors rugby league game at Go Media Mt Smart Stadium (then still called Ericsson Stadium) in the late 90s or very early 2000s. The Mad Butcher himself gave me the tickets. My brother-in-law went with me to that, and we also went to a North Harbour National Provincial Rugby match at North Harbour stadium in Albany.

I’ve never seen the All Blacks play in person, nor the Waikato Chiefs (based here in Hamilton), though of the two, the All Blacks are much more interesting to me, a former Aucklander (kind of a local joke, that…).

There was another thought I had when I looked at the photo of me: Nigel would’ve been so glad I went to the cricket that night, and that his brother made it happen. And that, in turn, led me to think about how Nigel had been encouraging me to do stuff outside my comfort zone throughout our whole life together, so his brother and sisters doing the same is apparently a family trait. Just another reason I was so very lucky to meet Nigel and marry into the family.

I never posted anything about that night here on this blog, nor did I post anything about my move at the time. That's because I didn't have the Internet up and running when I first shifted into this house (it took awhile…), and I had to use expensive (and slow) tethering to my phone to use my MacBook Pro, so I used that set-up mostly for email, and not much at all, for the first few days in particular. So, this post also documents a night I never talked about here at the time. I like that.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Five years after that important night

Five years ago this weekend, on Sunday, January 27, 2019, we had the party for my 60th birthday. Nigel did most of the organising for it, and everyone seemed to have a good time. The thing I remember most about that night is that he said such wonderful things about me and to me, personal and emotional things—and in front of friends and family, which totally wasn’t his thing, at all. That's what he was doing in the photo at left. I was so moved (and honestly surprised) that I completely forgot nearly everything I was going to say. It was magical.

Because that night, and especially Nigel’s speech, was so special to me, I knew I didn’t want a party for my 65th: I wanted to do something completely different, something that wouldn’t provoke memories of our better times. The trip to Fiji that included my birthday, but wasn’t for it, was the perfect solution: It was an overseas holiday at somewhere I’d never been, so I wouldn’t be stumbling across memories of Nigel and me.

Nevertheless, I intended to bring Nigel’s bracelet and a ring of his, either/both of which I wear whenever I want to “bring” Nigel with me, especially to some sort of family gathering. I forgot both of them at home (because I was hurrying at the end, having fallen way behind on my planned schedule). In the end, the only things of Nigel’s I had with me were definitely not emotive: A pair of shoes and some singlets and socks. He’d laugh about that—and be touched that it bothered me that I forgot his bracelet and ring.

However, once I got to Fiji, I realised that, for me, the trip was about me and my solo life. He and I had never been there together, and I don’t think he’d ever been there before we met, either (though I can’t remember). So, all my experiences were my own, though often shared with others, of course. Me accidentally leaving his bracelet and ring at home, I realised, actually underscored the point.

In the four years, four months since Nigel died, there hasn’t been a single day in which I haven’t thought about him, and us. Sometimes it’s long, deep thoughts, but mostly it’s brief, like a flash of memory about a good time or ongoing jokes he’d/we’d make, maybe even some good-natured, teasing profanity directed at him for leaving behind so much stuff for me to deal with. The point is, he’s “with” me every single day, no matter where I am—even overseas.

And yet, this is my life now. The trip proved to me that I can even do fairly big things (like an overseas trip) without him—though I definitely wouldn’t have done it all alone. I still have more work to do, but even I can see how far I’ve come, as well as how far I still have to go. The Fiji trip is an example of all of all that.

This birthday could well be the last time I do (or, more accurately, don’t do) something to try to avoid stirring up memories and emotions of the happy life I had. Way back in June 2020, I talked about working toward contentment rather than happiness:
Through all the thinking I’ve done, I came to realise something very important about my future: I don’t have to be happy, I just have to be content. Finding happiness is beyond my control—some people spend their entire lives looking for happiness, never finding it. But the latter? That’s something I can help along.
I realised that if I can reach a place where I’m content with my life, that will be good enough precisely because I won’t have the pain of failing to find happiness, and in that way, it’s far more likely that I’ll actually find happiness again. Or not. If I’m content with my life, it won’t matter

More recently, I realised that my life feels far more settled now than it did for the first three years or so after Nigel died: I’m becoming content with my life as it is. This is still too new for me to know whether this will last or not, whether this is my own next stage, or just a way-station before the personal turmoil resumes. Whatever it turns out to be, this is a very hopeful place to be.

Five years ago this weekend was a great family party, absolutely, but that party was also one of the most important nights for us as a couple, even though I didn’t grasp that at the time. I can now see that I’ve spent the past five years trying to hold onto the feeling of love I got from Nigel that night, but what I couldn’t see until recently is that I don’t need to try: The feeling is with me always—and that it endures in the context of the life that I’m trying to build. Yes, it’s a life on my own, not one I’d have chosen, and it’s also actually rebuilding from the ashes and rubble of my old life, but it’s still mine—AND Nigel’s love is still with me.

It’s been a long journey since Nigel died, and I still have a long journey ahead of me. But for the first time in years, I can sense the contentment I’ve been seeking. That’s pretty awesome—not as awesome as that night five years ago, but pretty good all the same. I’ll take it.

Fiji Trip, Part One

I’ve now been back from Fiji for five full days, which is as long as I was there. This is as good a time as any to blog about the trip. The question I had was, how?

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do one long post, break them up by day, or maybe arrange them thematically. In the end, I decided to do a bit of both, and I’ll include in each one my observations and opinions related to that post.

Today, I begin with the stuff I posted to my personal Facebook on Day 1, the day we arrived in Fiji, January 18, 2024.

I’m, beginning ist as I did on Facebook, namely, by sharing some scenery photos first, even though I took the photos of my room first. As it happens, there’s more to say about my room, anyway.

The resort is located on the Coral Coast, along the southern coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. It’s on a road almost halfway between Nadi (pronounced “Nandy” and rhymes with “Brandy”) and the capital, Suva. We arrived and departed from Nadi. The beach by the resort faces a lagoon protected by a coral reef—what gives the Coral Coast its name. The waves break on the reef, but the lagoon is calm, even placid and glasslike, depending on the time of day, the tide, and the weather. Folks in our group went snorkelling and kayaking in the lagoon.

The temperatures were pretty warm—around 30-32 degrees (mid 80s F), however, the humidity was at least 90% every day. Some days it was so bad I felt like I couldn't breathe properly. It rained every afternoon, as it tends to do in the tropics. Sometimes the rain was heavy and with lightning and thunder, and other times it was just steady. Whichever we got, it stopped by evening.

The resort has two distinct sections: The older, original part (where my room and some of the others were—half of us, in fact) and the newer building where the other half of us were, and that has its own pool. I’ll talk about the newer section in a different post.

The photo up top is from the beach right by the resort, just down from where the pool in the older section of the resort is. Here are a couple more photos from the same general area:

This is looking the other way from the same area as the photo up to.
The older pool has a covered area, and we had our lunch there twice, which was really nice. The rooms—called “villas” were very similar, as near as I could tell (I only saw two). My room was on the second floor of the main building, where reception and the restaurant were. And my room is a topic in itself.

This is the view from the pool area in the older section. 

My Room

When I first saw my room, I thought it looked pretty nice, and the air conditioner made it feel especially nice. Before I went outside and took the photos above, I took some photos of my room:
The view from the front door toward the balcony.

Looking along the right wall from the door, there's what appears to be a futon-like sofa with a wardrobe beyond it. The fridge and TV (which I never used) is at the back on the left.

The photo at left is looking the other way, including the strange loft-like space above the bed. I put my phone on the selfie stick to find out what was up there: Nothing but some extra flooring for the room. The top of the bed was very high—roughly hip-height from the floor, so my feet dangled when I sat on the edge. I haven't experienced that since I was a little kid.

When I first looked at the bathroom, I thought it was stacked-stone tile work. It was only later that I realised it was a kind of 3D wall panel made to look like that, however, it was very well done and installed and grouted in such a way that it was really convincing. In the photo above, the thing on the floor by the toilet is a door stop, because the door to the bathroom swings into that space.

The bathroom was quite nice, even though I wasn't going to take a bath, nor do I like bowl-type basins. It looked really nice, which I'm sure was the point.

Aesthetics aside, the shower wasn't great. I started thinking of it as my "morning dribble" because the pressure was so low. There also wasn't any hot water, though it was a cool-warm temperature (staff suggested to others that they let the shower run for fifteen minutes to get hot water). I didn't mind the temperature because it cooled me right down before heading out into the high heat/humidity to meet the others for breakfast. Family members who originally had the room right next to mine were moved because their shower sprayed out on all directions. I didn't have that, but the valve to direct water to either the rainshower head or the handheld thing on a hose didn't work: Turning it to the hand-held one left the rain head still going, but at less power. I left it on the rain head all the time.

In the room itself, I noticed things had become a bit neglected. There was laminate flooring in the room, and it had begun to curl at the seams, possibly because of the very high humidity, but it could also have been because of people coming into the room wet from swimming. At any rate, either porcelain tile or else luxury vinyl flooring would've been a better option, in my opinion.

Despite all that, I had no real complaints about the room. I was quite removed from all the others, though, which was fine for sleeping, obviously, but it meant I had no idea if folks were at the pool or whatever. Still, when we selected rooms, we didn't have a feel for the layout of the place, so we had no way of knowing I'd be off in the edge of the resort.

The food in the restaurant was excellent—no complaints at all (well, apart from poached eggs—they were overcooked). Staff were really nice and friendly, and made an effort to learn our names.

We wanted a mostly relaxing holiday, and we got that. The place was nice enough, and even if it needed a bit of attention, we still enjoyed our time there. I could've done with less humidity, though.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Reentering normal days

The sad thing about going away on holiday is all the work we have to do when we return home. There’s washing to be done, maybe some chores to do, and possibly earning the forgiveness of furbabies. I had all of that in the second half of this past week.

We arrived back in New Zealand on Tuesday evening, January 23. My cousin-in-law brought Leo home, which was incredibly helpful, especially since I was tired from the trip. I put the first load of washing on, and sat down to watch some TV—something I hadn’t done for nearly a week. I also, of course, snuggled with Leo. I shared the photo up top on my personal Facebook, adding, “I seem to be (nearly) forgiven…”

The next day, Wednesday, I did more washing, and also went out front to do the edges and mow the grass, something I hoped to do before I left, but I ran out of time. I also continued to pay lots of attention to Leo, and I could tell he was relaxing and readjusting—he spent most of the time sleeping.

On Thursday, I did still more washing and went out back to do the edges and mow. The bank along the side of the property was particularly bad, but I managed to knock the weeds to the ground, making it possible to see the pittosporum I planted this past Spring. Here’s the after photo:

However, none of that went smoothly.

On Wednesday, the line trimmer again stopped feeding line. I opened up the bump head and saw the line had become stuck on one side, as it had before I left on the trip. Back then, I couldn’t feed line the normal way, so the week I left for the trip I wound it manually. Unfortunately, by that time I’d run out of time to mow the lawns before going on my trip.

So, this week I again opened the bump head, pulled the line out (and threw it out, since it had already been trouble), and managed to re-fill it the usual way (not winding it manually with the bump head open). After I finished trimming and mowing out front (and the side yard), I stopped for the day (the trip home the day before was surprisingly exhausting for me).

Thursday morning, I took up the job again, working out in the back of the property. I had to change batteries for the line trimmer (because I was clear-cutting the forest of weeds along the bank along the side of the property). What I didn’t know was that the weed forest had lots of biting bugs in it. I do my yard work wearing jeans to protect my legs from flying debris, and, mostly, so I don’t have to put on sunscreen. The biting bugs decided my pant legs were actually feeding tents. It was an itchy evening.

Ordinarily, mowing in summer is very hot work, but this time it was a bit different. In the days before we left for Fiji, it was around 27 degrees (around 81F) or so at my house, but when I was working outside this week it was at most 22 (around 72F), and the much cooler temperatures made it so much easier! I knew rain was headed to us by the weekend, affected by the tropical cyclone heading toward Queensland in Australia, so I was glad to get it out of the way.

When I was outside working this week, I thought to myself that it was almost chilly compared to Fiji. The temps were around 8-10 degrees Celsius cooler than in Fiji, but the dramatically lower humidity levels is what I think made it feel so mild in comparison. Because of my trip, and my mowing adventures this week, I’ve learned that I can tolerate drier heat much better than heat with high humidity—in fact, I learned that I find it hard to breathe if the humidity gets too high, as it did in Fiji.

My reaction to the weather in Fiji, and being able to directly compare it with milder weather here in Hamilton this week, has proven that, for me, it really isn’t the heat, it’s the humidity. Good to know that in case I have future travels.

There were a few oddities along the way, too. On Thursday, after my mowing adventures, I went up to the supermarket to stock up. In the past, I’d have spent the afternoon relaxing, but I wanted to get the shopping out of the way. Also, every day I did all my hand dishwashing of the stuff I don’t put in the dishwasher (which I ran on Thursday); ordinarily, I get lazy about doing that.

I’m not trying to suggest that the trip has “changed” me, but I do think that doing stuff every single day, and sometimes going places, too, just continued when I got home. Knowing myself as I do, I doubt that’ll last long term, but maybe it’ll last for a little while yet so I can get some jobs done around the house—ideally before the next time I need to mow.

While I was doing that stuff, Leo fully adjusted to being back home: Asking for snacks, jumping in my lap when I sat in my chair, and generally keeping me in his sight—except whenever he decided to take himself to bed. Overall, though, I clearly really am forgiven.

And here I am on the Saturday of a holiday weekend feeling unusually satisfied with how much I got done this week—well, just a bit more that half a week, technically. I’m looking forward to seeing how much I get done next week.

Friday, January 26, 2024

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 411 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 411, “Island idyll”, 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.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Travelling gratitude

I’m going to talk about my holiday in Fiji here on my blog, possibly in one long post, or maybe several on specific subjects—dunno yet. I’m still sorting that out. In the meantime, however, I wanted to focus on gratitude, because I have a lot.

First, and most obviously, I’m grateful that I’m privileged enough to have been able to afford the trip at all. Times are tough for so many, and I was keenly aware of that. However, I was also keenly aware that Nigel wasn’t with me, and that my last overseas trip had been with him some six years ago. So, for me, it wasn’t enough to be able to afford to go, a whole lot of stars had to align to get me there—and my whānau worked to put the stars in the correct place (though I worked on it, too, of course).

I always had a policy that I don’t talk in blog posts about the people in my my life by name without their permission, something I started when I began this blog and then continued with my podcast. In addition to wanting to preserve their privacy (after all, they’re not doing public things like I am), I also believe peoples’ stories are theirs to tell, or not, and that’s entirely up to them, not me. I’m not going to break my rule now.

My brother-in-law organised the trip, and from the very beginning encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, first by convincing me to go, then to get me to try new experiences, like visiting a tropical island in the South Pacific. He knew how hard the trip would be for me, for lots of reasons, but he never told me off or whatever, and just encouraged me to stay the course. He also subtly checked in to see how I was doing, which probably helped both of us keep me on track. I think we all need people in our lives who will gently encourage us forward, and he has always been that for me.

Second, my cousin-in-law looked after Leo while I was away—and brilliantly, too. She’s a dog person herself, and Leo knows her and her two dogs—Leo’s dog cousins—so Leo staying with her was the perfect solution. She knew how really hard it was for me to leave Leo for that long, and for him to spend a night at a kennel (well, “dog resort”, pretty much) with her two. While I was away, she sent me messages updating me, but they were also very subtle reassurances that Leo was fine and happy. She even picked him up and dropped him back home, taking a LOT of stress off me. She’s an awesome person, and everyone in the family knows that. Now you do, too.

My sister-in-law arranged to get us to Auckland for the flight and home again afterward, including booking motel rooms for Wednesday night last week. Going up to Auckland the night before our flight made things so much easier for us both, and less stressful getting to the airport. It was definitely the right choice. She, too, understood that I struggled with going away, and why, and she was kind and supportive. She, too, has always been that for me.

There were ten of us on the trip, and each in their own way was integral to making the trip so much fun. This whānau is close, but we don’t “live in each other’s pockets”, as the saying goes, and we were able to enjoy time together (like breakfast and dinner every day, when all ten of us got together) as well as time to do our own thing. Whether or not we get to have a group trip like this again (none if us knows what the future holds…), I’m grateful for the experiences and memories of this trip.

Even though my mother-in-law wasn’t on the trip, she, too, encouraged me. Her support has always been there, including in the Before Times, so she deserves to be acknowledged, too.

The photo above is me with the family’s birthday gift to me: It’s a framed replica of a traditional Fijian fish hook and line, made in the traditional way. I hung it on my wall Tuesday evening, not long after I got home because it was easy: As soon as I unwrapped it on my birthday I knew where I was going to hang it. Every time I look at it—and it’s right near my chair, so I’ll see it a lot—I’ll think of them all and the lovely trip.

So, I’m grateful for all this, but mostly for my family (including Leo, obviously). Seeing new places, doing new things, making new memories—all of that is incredibly important, but I believe it’s the people in our lives that matter the most. Some people would say I was lucky to be able to afford the trip and to be in good health to go. They’re right, as far as that goes, but they don’t see the whole truth: The greatest luck in my life was meeting Nigel and marrying into this awesome family. Nothing can ever change that.

Beyond all that gratitude is, of course, another reality: I wish Nigel had been there, too—of course! I know that, in a sense, he was. I also know he’d be proud of me for having done this, and for returning to my old mantra that impressed him years ago: Feel the fear and do it anyway. Everyone I talked about in this post, including Nigel, is part of what made it possible for me to overcome all my obstacles and go on holiday in Fiji. And that’s why it was so important to me that I acknowledge my gratitude.

There’s also a bit of trivia about that photo: The shirt I’m wearing is the only one I brought with me that I didn’t wear on the trip. As usual, this is a many-layered story, but it’s one I’m glad to be able to tell.

This is a revised and expanded version of a post I wrote on my personal Facebook.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Fifteen years later

Today is one of the positive and important anniversaries in my life, and it always has been. Fifteen years ago today, Nigel and I had our civil union ceremony. Last year, I said:
I’ve often said how our Civil Union was, at the time, the happiest day of our lives—until we were married in 2013, and that day became the happiest of our lives. And yet, with everything that’s happened since that 2009 day, it would’ve been easy for this date to become lost. Naturally, I won’t let that happen.
I think that happy times always deserve to be remembered, even if there are terrible times that follow. Those good times aren’t diminished by those later bad times, but maybe the bad ones can, at least for a little while, not seem quite as bad. It works for me, anyway.

The anniversary of our civil union was the final event in my annual “Season of Anniversaries”, and even though I no longer refer to that—the joke doesn’t seem funny to me anymore—the anniversaries within that “season” are still important to me, and I still talk about them. I think that over time I may have new anniversaries that matter to me, too, but even if I don’t, the old ones are there for me. Sometimes that fact is very important.

I ended last year’s post by saying:
So, Happy anniversary to us once again. This anniversary was eclipsed by our marriage, and all of it was eclipsed by Nigel’s death, but it turns out that it was only a partial eclipse. I’m still here, my memories are still here, and our shared history and love are still here. It turns out, that’s plenty reason enough to celebrate.
Indeed. That’s the reason to continue to note the anniversary of a very happy day—even if it was only the second-happiest of my life.


2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today
2013: Fourth Anniversary
2014: An anniversary
2015: Anniversaries
2016: A seventh Anniversary
2017: Eight years later
2018: Nine years later
2019: Ten years later
There was no post in 2020.
2021: Twelve years later
2022: Thirteen years later
2023: Fourteen years later

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The annual increasing number: 65

Another birthday, and no big deal, right? I mean, it’s not like 65 is anything much. Heh.

So here I am, reaching the age of retirement, so called, and now five years since my last big huge birthday, the one where Nigel made me feel so special that I became utterly lost for words. Could anything top that? Of course not, so this year I decided to go in an entirely different direction. I’ll talk about the trip with family members soon, but, for now, I’m just glad to make it this far. So many don’t, after all. As well I know.

The thing is, how the actual f**k did this happen?!! I swear it was only a few years ago I was cleaning my apartment in Chicago to get ready for my 30th birthday party, looked at my watch and thought, “Huh. I’m thirty,” before I carried on with my cleaning. I dunno, somebody clearly must’ve made an arithmetic error somewhere.

There was a time I used to say that I celebrated my birthdays because there was only one way to stop having birthdays, and I wasn’t keen on that option. That much hasn’t changed in all my many, many years of life, but I’m far more relaxed about the alternative now than I used to be. That’s definitely the result of what I’ve been through in the past five years since my last my last big huge birthday, and I suppose aging, too, would have made such circumspection arrive eventually.

Unusually, I’m writing this post in advance, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to add my annual birthday selfie to the bottom of this post as I usually do before I publish it. If not, I’ll add it later [Update January 22: It’s now added].

So, yeah, this year is a rather significant birthday, and I have a completely different way of observing it this year—I’ll be away on a summer holiday with family. It felt like the right thing to do, the right solution, and I think Nigel would think it was a good idea.

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

None of us knows how long we’ve got, how many years (or decades…) we are from the end of the annual increasing number. I’m at peace with that, something that wasn’t possible when I worried about leaving Nigel alone. That’s the one and only thing I can think of that’s actually liberating about being a widower. There had to be something, I guess.
So, my annual increasing number happened. Again. This year, it actually was a significant age to reach, but, as I also said last year, “every age achieved is a gift. That’s another thing I understand even more now.”

The Illinois 65 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. Illinois 65 is an East-West road between Aurora to suburban Chicago at Naperville. As far as I know, I’ve never been on Illinois 65.

The Interstate 65 sign is also a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. Interstate 65 stretches from Mobile, Alabama to Gary, Indiana, near the Illinois state line. I’ve driven on I-65 when I was a grassroots LGBT+ political activist attending organising meetings in Indianapolis.

My Previous Birthday posts:

2022: The annual increasing number: 64
2022: The annual increasing number: 63
2021: The annual increasing number: 62
2020: The annual number increase happened
2019: Another 'Big Birthday'
2018: The annual increasing number: 59
2017: The annual increasing number: 58
2016: The annual increasing number: 57
2015: The annual increasing number: 56
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 1

A new year, a new series of posts about the songs that went to Number One, this time in the year 1984. This post is a little different from last year’s series: The first Number One IN 1984 was "Say Say Say", which I talked about in the linked post. However, the first Number One OF 1984 didn’t hit the top of the chart until January 21, 1984, and that song (video up top, cued to the start to where MTV’s playing of it began; the full version is more than six minutes long) was ”Owner of a Lonely Heart” by British progressive rock band Yes. The song would be Number One for two weeks, and it was the group’s only Number One.

I wasn’t a fan of this song or of Yes. When I was at university, I had a couple of friends who liked the band. We were talking one day and one of them was talking about them, ending their sentence with Yes. I responded, in a way that seemed hilarious to 18 or 19 year old me, “No!” And that’s pretty much where things stayed with me for decades.

Sometime in the past five years or so, my late friend Andy, who died last June, suggested I give the group a listen. Andy specifically suggested the band’s 1983 album, 90125, which is the album “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is from. I think he reasoned that because the album had produced a Number One hit, pop music-loving me be able to connect with it more than the band’s earlier albums—a perfectly reasonable assumption. I added the album to my Spotify because it was the best way to listen because it’s be free to do so. I never got around to listening to it before Andy died, which I regret, even though I know that in those years the last thing I cared about was listening to an old album by a band I’d never liked.

I decided to listen to it while I worked on this post. I can’t say listening made me a fan, but I noticed some years ago that I now often appreciate music and artists I that I once didn’t like—or, sometimes, even intensely disliked. So I can appreciate the album, and, probably, Yes as a band (I’ve still never listened to any of their earlier albums). However, I think that sometimes it’s enough to appreciate a work, even if it’s just because of its historic significance. It seems unlikely that anyone can like everything, after all. This won’t be the last time I listen to something older that I’ve never listened to before, but I hope if anyone ever asks me to give something a listen that I do so while I can still talk with them about it.

The music video was directed by graphic designer Storm Thorgerson, who had designed album covers for Yes, as well as doing work for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, and others. The video wasn’t one of my favourites from that era, possibly because I didn’t like the song very much, but it also just didn’t draw me in visually. To each their own, and all that—and, of course, “Arthur’s Law”.

As with the Number One that preceded “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, "Say Say Say", while I wasn’t particularly fond of the song or its video, I didn’t hate it, either. For both songs, I was mostly kind of indifferent to them. Nothing about that has changed for me in the 40 years since—not for either song.

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” reached Number 14 in Australia, 2 in Canada, 16 in New Zealand, 28 in the UK (Silver), and Number One on the USA’s “Billboard Hot 100” and “Mainstream Rock” charts, as well as Number One on the Cash Box “Top 100”.

The album 90125 (which is named after its Atco catalogue number, by the way) reached Number 27 in Australia (2x Platinum), 3 in Canada (2x Platinum), 25 in New Zealand (2x Platinum), 16 in the UK (Gold), and 5 on the USA’s “Billboard 200” chart (3x Platinum).

I’ve talked a little bit about the charts, and the first post in a new series is good place to point out some realities contained in the charts. Both charts I mention note a song or album’s peak (highest) position, but certifications (Gold, Platinum) are cumulative. Nowadays, the charts give much greater weight to streaming than to sales (of either physical units or digital versions) because physical sales have been declining for many years. The trouble is that older hit music can straddle eras, and Wikipedia ties to accomodate that. They include those traditional charts, as well as certifications. The problem is that many songs and albums maybe have high certification implying good sales, when, in fact, it at least sometimes can mean that it’s been streamed a lot.

In the case of this particular song and album, there’s a seeming discrepancy: The album seemed to sell better than its hit single did, even though the album’s peak chart positions were lower, and the certifications were much higher than was the case for the single. This is almost certainly because of streaming: At the time I was writing this post, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” had been streamed nearly 240 million times on Spotify alone.

None of this is actually all that important: Big Numbers = Good, no matter how the song or album gets there. But for a group like Yes, the difference between the single and album charts seems appropriate: They’re pretty much the definition of an “Album-oriented rock” band.

And that’s it for the first post about the Number One songs of 1984, a year that, like 1983, was important to me. It’s also true, as it was last year, that many of the songs that meant the most to me that year were never Number One. In 1983, there were 17 Number One songs (one of which, "Down Under", was Number One two different times). In 1984, there were 19 new Number Ones, plus the last Number One of 1983, "Say Say Say", for a total of 20 different songs at Number One in the year. The fact that, just like 1983, several songs had multi-week runs at the top of the charts means that maybe this year I can again work in more songs from the year, ones that weren’t Number One (except maybe for me personally). There are always stories hit songs, and sometimes the most personal stories aren't about hits.

Thanks for joining me back at the turntable for a new this series about 1980s music. The next post about a 1984 Number One will be on February 4—unless I have a chance to talk about some of those other, somewhat less popular songs.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The heat’s been on

It’s summer, and that means it gets hot (by local standards). Actually, that usually happens when we get a summer, unlike last year. This year we’ve been having a summer, and lately it’s been hot (by local standards). And I’m totally here for it.

Back in the land of my birth, a lot of people I know have been posting on social media about how cold it is in their part of the USA, and the preparations they made to cope, and how they’re doing. Honestly, that kind of bitter cold is precisely the thing I don't miss in any way—I’d much rather have the milder winters we have in the upper North Island of New Zealand.

Summer here is also milder than what I was used to in Northeastern Illinois. Every summer, there was at least one week in which the daytime temperatures climbed to 105F (40.6C) or so. The highest-ever recorded temperature in New Zealand was 42.4C (108.3F), and that was on February 7, 1973 in the North Canterbury town of Rangiora. [See also: ”New Zealand's five hottest days in history”].

Heat is relative, of course: One person may swelter in higher temperatures, where another may thoroughly enjoy it. Our recent hot weather was particularly pronounced in parts of the South Island, as is so often the case, with most of the North Island being cooler. In fact, the overall climate of parts of Otago and Canterbury reminds me of Chicago’s.

Things were different in the upper North Island. Our high temperatures in Hamilton tended to be around 27-28C (80.6-82.4F) during the heatwave. By my standards, I might call those temperatures by themselves “quite warm” rather than “hot”, however, there was also pretty high humidity at the same time, and as we all know—all Chicagoans especially—it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. The moist air felt much warmer than it actually was, and it was uncomfortable.

The worst of the temperature spikes eased a few days ago, and while it's still warm (or hot…), it's definitely better. All these high temperatures mean there’s also been a lot of sunshine, and that means that my air conditioning was free in the daytime—one of the main reasons I had the solar panels installed: I wanted to keep my house comfortable without paying huge sums of money to do it.

Still, I’m not even remotely insensitive or unsympathetic to those who suffer in the heat: I, too, cut back on outside activities when the heatwave set in, just as in the coldest part of winter I also stay inside. I may not think the temperatures where I live in in New Zealand are as extreme as in my native Northeastern Illinois, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the high or low temperatures—I do, and I adjust accordingly.

As I’ve said many times, I actually like summer a lot. Late spring and early autumn are okay, too, but I have no love for winter. Even so, the truth is that the climate here in the upper North Island totally suits me. The seasonal adaptations I make here also suit me much more than my adaptations in Chicago.

There are many reasons I decided to stay in New Zealand rather than return to the USA, and weather and climate was definitely part of it—though probably not the biggest reason. Still, whenever people wonder why I decided against returning, all they need to do is look at the bitterly cold weather in parts of the USA this week, and compare that to the hot (by local standards) temperatures here recently. For me, it’s an easy choice to make.

Friday, January 12, 2024

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 410 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 410, “Nine days to go”, 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.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Clothes maketh the sequel

I hate shopping for clothes, so much so that I wrote a blog post about that some three months ago. Yesterday, I finally made it out to pick up some bits and pieces for my trip, especially some clothes I talked about in that October post. It sure wasn’t easy.

My first stop was Farmers, a New Zealand department store chain. It’s one of the few places I’ve felt relatively okay shopping at—when I’m in the proper frame of mind, and apparently I wasn’t in one yesterday. I looked around at some stuff, but wasn’t really taken with what I was seeing. Some things were “kinda, sorta okay”, but Farmers isn’t cheap—nor the top of the market in pricing, either. I kept thinking that I’d be paying a lot of money to just settle.

The longer I looked, the more uncomfortable and anxious I felt, and I couldn’t work out what would look nice on me. I thought about asking one of the 20-something guys working there to help me not look like a grandpa trying to look like a “fellow kid”. Then, I became more anxious as I caught glimpses of myself reflected in the large mirrors on some of the support pillars. What I saw was a grandpa looking for stuff to look like my “fellow kids”.

Next, I saw an older man shopping. He was roughly my age, give or take, though his grey hair was mostly white, and my hair is still mostly its natural colour (whiskers notwithstanding at the moment). I thought he didn’t look any happier than I felt, and noticed he didn’t find anything other than a shirt. However, I also noticed that he was carrying a shopping bag from another shop, one Nigel used to shop at, and that shop was also recommended to me recently. I decided to go there, even if all I got from it was to get some physical space, away from the source of my stress, so I could calm down.

At the next store, a worker asked me if I needed help, and then helped me find what I was looking for at Farmers: A couple pairs of shorts and a pair of casual pants. The prices at the second store were somewhat higher than at Farmers, but I got what I was looking for, not things that were just “kinda, sorta okay”.

However, I still needed to get a swimsuit and a rash shirt, part of the reason I went to Farmers in the first place (I looked on their website and saw a set I liked, and it was on special). Even so, I (very) briefly thought about just going home, but I’d calmed down after finding the shorts and pants, so I went back to Farmers.

I was looking around and a woman who seemed to be the department manager asked if I needed help, and then led me to the display of the swimsuits and rash shirts I was looking for. I tried on the swimsuit I thought would fit (it did), but I tried on two rash shirts so I could get the size that felt the most comfortable (it was the one I thought it’d be). It was reassuring that I correctly guessed what would fit.

After I was done at the mall, I went to the nearby hardware/home centre to pick up a few things related to my trip. I also had a couple other things delivered today, things I ordered from a New Zealand online retailer because I couldn’t find what I wanted in the shops. Those are “nice to haves”, so price was important.

Yesterday I still had plenty of time to get the things I needed, so in that sense the shopping adventure wasn’t urgent—but that’s precisely why I wanted to do get it done. Getting it out of the way gives me more time to get some other things done.

I know, because I know myself well, that if I’d been in the right frame of mind yesterday, it wouldn’t have been stressful. The holidays delayed my trip: I hate the mall when it’s crowded. However, this week was back-to-work for most people, and that meant the mall was far less busy than only a couple weeks earlier. That was my final motivation to head out yesterday.

This is the first time in the past 4+ years that I’ve needed to get clothes with a deadline looming over me. Normally, I occasionally look for new versions of things I need to replace because they’re worn out, or I might just kind of browse in a shop, maybe buying something, but probably not—just like what I imagine most people do, and what I know Nigel did.

I’ve talked before about the disconnect between how old I feel and how old I actually am, and the time I’m most aware of that is in the weeks before my birthday—like now, for example. Five years ago, I needed some clothes for my 60th birthday party, and felt similarly stressed—except that Nigel was there to help me and advise me. This time, I just had to push through it, and going to that second store was critical to doing that.

Longer term, I have to find ways to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I know, though, that all the happy, peppy talk from others to grow old gracefully (or disgracefully, even…) is absolutely useless for me and will be until I feel more settled in myself.

Much of this is because my life was ripped to shreds when Nigel died, and my sense of self went, too. Rebuilding ME is what I’m working on right now. Sometimes that means finding strategies to get through momentary challenges, but longer term it’ll mean finding ways to deal with the underlying issues. Maybe I just need to buy clothes more often. Yeah, well, not for awhile, thanks. I feel makethed enough for now.