Friday, August 26, 2016

One week later

One week ago yesterday, I left the hospital, so that means that today marks one full week since that adventure. On the whole, it’s been a good week, and even the bits that weren’t ended up being good, too.

I’ve felt good ever since the procedure, with no angina or any other problems. The side effects of my new medication have mostly gone away, so, I’d be good to go.

The complicating factor has been the gout attack that began, really, a week ago today. It wasn’t too bad at first, became very bad on Saturday, good again on Sunday, bad on Monday, good Tuesday—and, to mix things up a bit—stayed good until Thursday.

Friday I went to see my doctor primarily to see if there’s a stronger pain reliever I could take, and there isn’t. NSAIDS like ibuprofen, which was part of my usual treatment for a gout attack, conflicts with my statin. Worse, anything else could cause bleeding, since I’m on blood thinners for six months or so. That means that paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen) is all I can take.

The worst part of a gout attack for me isn’t just the pain, it’s that just before a big attack, and at the earliest stages, I feel like I’ve got the flu—feverish (even if I don’t have a fever), general achiness and feeling yucky (that’s a technical term). It’s very unpleasant.

Because of all that, the gout attack has forced me to rest, which is probably a good thing. Much as I’m keen to get on with things like exercise, if I didn’t have the gout attack, I may very well have tried to do too much. So, the gout attack, unpleasant as it has been, is actually a good thing because it slowed me down a bit to give my body a chance to recover from the previous week, and even to heal from the condition that’s been fixed.

The doctor wrote a repeat prescription for my new blood pressure medication, keeping the dosage where it is for a month. My reading was much lower than when I saw her the week before, though part of the reason for the higher reading back then may have been stress-related. At any rate, it’s on the right track.

Meanwhile, I’ve lost about 3kg (the better part of 7 pounds) since all this began, which is a good start. I’ve also found some Apps to help me track and monitor my exercise, but, obviously, I haven’t been able to start using them yet. When I do, I’ll talk about them in more detail, along with another App that is supposed to help people make healthier choices at the grocery store.

So, all in all, I’m making progress and I feel good. Naturally, even though the gout attack has been oddly helpful, I’ll still be glad when it’s over.

And that’s where I am one week later.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

AmeriNZ Podcast 321 is now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 321 – Seasons” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This episode was recorded on Tuesday, but I couldn't post it until today due to major problems with the podcast site. The problems were kind of complicated, though ultimately simple to fix, but it took me two days to figure it out. And I think I have.

This is now the tenth season of the AmeriNZ Podcast, but that's not the only reason this episode is called "Seasons".

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

We just get better

The photo above is of me holding a copy of the bill I received when I left the hospital last week. The joke is that the paper is blank. The reason it’s a joke is that we don’t get a bill. Instead, we just get better.

Like most developed countries, New Zealand has a single-payer healthcare system, perhaps better known in the USA has “socialised medicine”. So, when we leave hospital, we get instructions, maybe some prescriptions, and that’s it: We do not get a bill, and we have nothing to pay for our hospital stay.

This is not to say that it’s “free”, however, because we pay for our healthcare through our taxes. We’re all well aware of this fact, and we all support this arrangement. Most New Zealanders don’t have any form of private health insurance mainly because we don’t need it.

Some Americans like to declare that a national healthcare system like New Zealand’s are “bad” because they “ration” healthcare. That’s utter nonsense, and I’m a typical example of why that is.

They say that because things like surgery are done according to need, that is, the sickest are treated first. That’s not a radical concept, and it’s one we support. But even most elective, non-urgent surgery gets done in a reasonably timely manner.

What happened to me is typical. I was seen by a doctor who determined there was a problem, then I was sent to the hospital where I was evaluated and treated and sent home all within four days. And, my case wasn’t urgent in the same sense as someone who had just had a heart attack. If the sort of “rationing” that American commentators claim exists actually existed, I’d have been sent home to wait for the procedures that, in fact, I received promptly. Our reality beats their fantasy every time.

I did some rough calculations of the costs my procedures in the USA. This was difficult to do because everything is listed as ranges. Moreover, it’s difficult to work out what “extras” might be charged for, like drugs dispensed, consumables uses in my angiogram, three consultations with cardiologists, two with cardiology staff, two with pharmacists, and one with a nurse who deals with after care.

Nevertheless, looking at what I could work out and using only the non-insured rates (since they more accurately reflected the costs), by a VERY conservative estimate I’d have had a bill for $US18,370, though it could easily have been five or more times that amount depending on things like location. At today’s exchange rates, that works out to NZ $25,130.16 at a bare minimum. Instead, I paid nothing directly.

There were charges that I do pay. First, I’ll be billed for the trip in the ambulance, which I believe is now about $100 (it’s going up and I don’t know the new price). If we’d made a family donation to St John, the ride would have been free. I also had to pay for the doctor’s visit (which is subsidised by the government) and also $30 (today about US$22) for the ECG performed there, though had it not been urgent, I could have had that done for free elsewhere, too.

My prescriptions were harder still to compare. Based on what I found on prescription price comparison sites, I worked out what seemed to be typical prices. They all added up to about US$83, which today would be about NZ$113. I actually paid $25 (today, a bit over US$18).

Many Americans have prescription plans in their health insurance, and we have something like that: A government agency, Pharmac, buys our most common prescriptions in bulk, negotiating the best price. The most important drugs are fully subsidised (also called "fully funded"), meaning there’s no direct cost to patients, and some are partly-subsidised, meaning there is a charge for the drug to cover the difference between the manufacturer’s price and the Pharmac partial subsidy.

In my case, all the drugs were fully subsidised, however, the chemist (pharmacy) charges $5 per drug processing fee. This fee, set by the Ministry of Health, is the same regardless of whether the prescription is for three months or one month, which is why most people get a three-month prescription at a time—it makes the cost of the medicine negligible.

So, I had extensive hospital treatment for which I received no bill, the ambulance is run by a charity and I will pay about $100 for that, and I had to pay some routine expenses at the doctor plus a dispensing fee at the chemist. All up, I’ll be out of pocket maybe a couple hundred dollars for what would cost—at a bare minimum—over $18,000 in the USA.

I know that many Americans would argue that because they have health insurance, they don’t pay the full amount. The truth, though, is that they do pay for healthcare through their insurance premiums, and their taxes also go to the healthcare industries one way or another, in addition to whatever they pay out of their own pockets. The difference is that in countries like New Zealand, it’s simpler, more direct, fairer, and you don’t have businesses doing nothing more that clipping the ticket as patients are being treated. By that measure, our healthcare system is vastly superior to that of the USA: It’s virtually impossible for a New Zealander to go bankrupt because they get sick or are injured.

As I think I’ve made abundantly clear, the quality of the care I received was outstanding. I cannot possibly compare it to the USA (or any other country) because I haven’t experienced healthcare in any other country in decades, nor hospital care since I was a child, and things have changed a fair bit since then. So when I talk about how great the healthcare I received was, it's a declarative, not comparative, statement. Even so, I bet it was at least the equal of anywhere in the USA.

We don’t have “free” healthcare in New Zealand—in fact no one does. But the way we pay for healthcare through our taxes, and the fact we don’t get a hospital bill, makes ours a fantastic system. I simply can’t imagine living any other way.

We don’t get a bill, we just get better.

No one owns blue

A Phil Goff for Mayor sign on Waiheke [Facebook]
The USA isn’t the only country with people who do silly political things based on their political ideology, naiveté, or lack of information or clarity of thought. New Zealand has them, too, of course, but complaining about the colour used in political advertising is probably among the oddest examples of this.

A person filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over a billboard for Phil Goff, a candidate for Mayor of Auckland example above. The person wrote:
“I am complaining about the content of Phil Goff’s election billboard content, namely the use of blue to fill the billboards. To me this is passing off and trying to mislead voters who associate blue with national [sic].”
The Chair of the ASA, Heather Roy, a former MP for the rightwing Act Party, “acknowledged the Complainant’s view the use of the colour blue on an Auckland mayoral candidate’s billboard was misleading as it was associated with the National Party.”

After a convoluted review process that considered the rules, ethics, and the requirement in legislation to give political speech as much leeway as possible, Roy finally concluded, “the use of the colour blue in the advertisement before her was unlikely to mislead or deceive voters and the advertisement had been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility.”

Accordingly, the ASA ruled—correctly—that the signs were NOT in breach of the rules and there were no grounds to proceed.

As a graphic arts professional, I can’t help but look at the larger issue here: NO ONE owns the colour blue!

It was absurd in the extreme for the complainant to argue that the use of blue was “passing off and trying to mislead voters who associate blue with national [sic]”. Blue is a colour commonly used in advertising, and is meant to convey feelings of safety, intelligence, reassurance, and trust, among other things, which is why political parties, banks, financial and medical institutions all love using the colour so much. But the complainant’s assertion here was really that in New Zealand politics blue is associated with the National Party alone. Bollocks.

Parties contesting elections for the NZ Parliament do, indeed, have particular colours associated with them, but National isn't the only party to use blue. For example, the Colin Craig Conservative Party also used a lighter tint of blue. Others have used a shade or tint of blue, too, though not always as a dominant colour. It has frequently been used in campaigns for local government politicians of all political stripes.

Similarly, the blue that Goff is using is nowhere near the same shade of blue as National uses, so what the complainant was really suggesting was that all shades and tints of blue are the exclusive identity of the NZ National Party. Yet, I’ve already shown how that’s not true, that blue is used in political campaigns all the time.

The complainant’s suggestion that Goff’s use of blue was “trying to mislead voters who associate blue with national [sic]” is just plain stupid for another reason: Phil Goff was Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party 2008-11, and before that he served held various portfolios as a senior Minister in the Labour-led Government from 1999 to 2008. He’s been a Labour Party MP for all but three years from 1981 to the present. In sum, there is no way on earth that any New Zealander could ever in any way even remotely imaginable be “misled” into thinking Goff was anything other than Labour.

Roy correctly noted how unlikely it was that anyone could be confused about Goff's use of blue. She also noted that “the colour blue was strongly associated with Auckland City,” and she’s absolutely right about that, too: Shades and tints of blue have been part of Auckland signage, logos, and printed materials for decades, and are part of Auckland Council now.

I have no idea why the silly complaint was made—was it partisan pique? Political mischief? Sincere but woefully ill-informed opinion? It doesn’t matter. Whatever the motivation, the complaint was rejected, as it should have been. However, by making a complaint that was doomed to fail, and using specious arguments in the process, the complainant does look awfully silly.

Sometimes, complaints to the ASA are useful, particularly when companies make misleading claims about their products and services. This, however, was not one of those times, and it also won’t be the last such unhelpful complaint we’ll see.

We have plenty of people who will make even sillier and more pointless complaints.

Related: A PDF of the complaint is available from the ASA website [click to open the PDF]

Full disclosure: I support Phil Goff for Mayor of Auckland.

Photo credit: The photo above was posted to Phil Goff’s Facebook Page and is an example of the election signs he uses.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Internet Wading for August 2016

This month’s collection is about language and pop culture, two of my favourite things that aren’t politics. At least, not usually. As usual, a little history, science and creativity makes the mix, too.

When we talk about the evolution of the English language, Latin is an important part of the story. The video above tells us “What Latin Sounded Like – and how we know”. Decoding the evolution of languages is always a bit of a detective story, and the story in this video is no different.

“Proportional Pie Chart of the World’s Most Spoken Languages” tells us a bit about the state of languages on the planet, while “20 misused English words that make smart people look silly” shows that even native speakers can mess up (fewer v. less is one of my own pet peeves). And, while we’re trying to fix that, “Can’t quit saying ‘um’ and ‘ah’? Just learn how to use them better”. Sounds reasonable.

Speaking of Rome, “Pompeii: Incredible images, unprecedented detail laying bare their bones and have perfect teeth” tells us about discoveries made in examining the remains of some of the victims. The story includes this:
“So far, only around 100 of the victims have been captured in plaster. The total number of bodies to be found is approximately 1,150, and that’s with a third of the city left untouched by archaeologists.”
Also from the distant past, “10 Insane Stories That Didn’t Make It Into The Bible” shares stories that I’d mostly heard. Mind you, many of the stories that did make it into the bible are pretty “insane”…

Not related, exactly, “21 Signs That Story You're About To Share Is Secretly B.S.” can help people avoid sharing so much nonsense on social media—and what a wonderful thing that would be.

“Jack Davis, 'MAD' Magazine Cartoonist, Dies at 91”. Davis, who died July 27, was one of my favourite artists at MAD. Roger Green included him in one of his July “Rambling” posts, which are remarkably similar to these Internet Wading posts, almost as if I stole borrowed the idea or something.

Speaking of Roger Green, he wrote about visiting the Lucy Desi Museum in Jamestown, New York. He and the family did not, however, get to visit the statue of “Scary Lucy”. And, of course, “Lucille Ball's 'Scary Lucy' replacement statue unveiled”. And in the comments people criticised the new statue, too. Of course.

And finally this month, for no particular reason except it’s related to my profession, “7 Graphic Design Documentary You Should Be Watching”. Even I haven’t gotten through all of them yet.
• • •

That’s some of what caught my eye over the past month, things that didn’t make it into blog posts—and most wouldn’t have, of course. But that doesn’t make them any less interesting to me.

We all make plans

"But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep."
We  all make plans—long term, very long term, much shorter term, and sometimes much more immediate plans, like for later in the day. Sometimes all of those plans can be totally disrupted by good or bad things, and sometimes the disruption is both good and bad.

I was in hospital most of the past week due to a chain of events that ultimately saved my life. It meant I didn’t have the week I’d planned, but because of it all, I’ll have weeks yet to plan.

This all started, really, in February when I saw my doctor for a relatively routine check-up. She ordered routine blood tests, which showed somewhat high cholesterol, but not scarily high levels. But I also had high blood pressure, so she doctor put me on medication.

What followed was several weeks of feeling bad, profound fatigue and, later, angina, though I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time—I just thought the pills were giving me indigestion. I complained to the doctor I saw (my usual doctor was on annual leave), and he said that I was a “naïve patient” because I’d never been on that class of drugs before, so it might take many weeks to settle down. It got mostly better eventually.

A couple months later, the doctor I saw (a third one) increased my dosage, since my BP still wasn’t low enough, and all the bad feelings I’d had returned. I gave it a month, but it just never got better.

So, feeling worse than I can ever remember feeling, I made an appointment with my actual doctor to see if maybe I could change to a different drug. That was this past Monday morning. I explained everything I’d been feeling, she listened, and—suspicious—ordered an ECG. Next thing I knew, I was in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

At this point, I still thought it was a bit over-the-top for dealing with a reaction to a prescription, but the Emergency Department doctor as concerned. He wanted me to have a treadmill stress test, but the earliest appointment was Thursday and, he said, “I don’t want to wait that long to get you tested.” So, he admitted me to hospital.

I had my test the following morning, and they stopped it only a few minutes in because of an abnormal reading in the ECG. After that, the cardiologist decided I needed an angiogram, which I’d have the next day.

The hospital performs around 20 angiograms a day, using two teams and two labs. Even so, there was no guarantee of when I’d been seen because someone in a more critical condition might come to hospital. The next morning, Wednesday, they told me it would be around 12:30pm.

At 10am, the nurse from the unit came to get me because they had an opening. It was a bit of a panic, but I got ready and off we went.

The procedure itself was not painful at all, apart from the needle they used to inject the local anaesthetic in my right wrist. My arm got a bit hot as they injected the dye, but that wasn’t horrible, either.

There were only two freaky parts. First, I could occasionally feel something moving around inside my upper arm and into my armpit. The other was that I could sometimes see the monitor they were looking at, and I could see my dyed arteries dancing around on the screen. That was surreal because I knew it was my heart, and yet, it was on a screen—it could also be a video.

They found a blockage, and placed a stent to open it and reinforce the walls of that artery. I was told it was a “significant blockage”, but the next day I found out it was 90% blocked. I’d had absolutely no idea.

What this means is that if my doctor hadn’t started everything in motion, it’s possible that sooner rather than later the artery would have blocked and I would’ve had a heart attack, and it cold very well have been fatal. Again, I’d had absolutely no idea that was the case.

I’m now well on the mend, with new medication, some instructions for diet and exercise, and a new lease on life—kind of literally, really.

All of this came about because my doctor listened to me and investigated my complaints, but the reason I complained was because Nigel both nagged me and coached me. Without his support, I may not have pursued this, and there’s no way of knowing whether I’d have had another chance.

Already, only four days after the procedure, I can say that the profound fatigue I’d been experiencing for a very long time has gone. I haven’t yet experienced any more angina, and they said I may not, but they gave me medicine for that specifically. I feel pretty great, really, and have slept well and become more rested than in a very long time.

The main lesson I take from this story is to listen to one’s body, talk to the doctor about any concerns, and insist, if need be, on being listed to. Then, to be sure to follow doctors’ instructions. The other lessons, such as not taking life for granted, are ones we all know but sometimes need to be reminded of.

This all explains why I often struggled to blog regularly, or podcast more often, or continue making videos: Sometimes I was just too tired/drained to do any of that, and it had a cause. As I return to full strength, I expect to be better about all those things.

So, all my plans were disrupted and the cause was a bad thing. But it led to a very good thing—living. I’d much rather not have gone through all that, of course, but the end result was a good one.

We all make plans. Because of the disruption to my own plans, I’ll now have the chance to continue to make plans. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.

The photo up top is one I took of Hubbard Road in Paeroa in 2005. I used it in a post back in 2010. The caption is from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Settling a dietary question – maybe

I seem to have settled a dietary question: I really can't have mushrooms. That’s a pity, because I like them, but at least I can be pretty sure I’m doing the right thing in avoiding them.

I've avoided mushrooms for years because they're supposed to be a trigger for gout. For the same reason, I've avoided beans, pulses and legumes. But over the past year or so, I began to wonder how true those old admonitions are. In November last year, I posted “Information contraindication”, in which I talked about the huge confusion over what is and isn’t good for people with gout.

The reason this has remained unsettled for me is that, unfortunately, the only way to find out for sure is to try some of the “forbidden” food and see what happens. That means courting a gout attack, which isn’t an easy thing to contemplate.

This past Friday, we had pizza for our takeaway night, and one of them had mushrooms, which I deliberately ignored. As is my custom, I had the leftover pizza for breakfast yesterday morning. This morning I woke up with gout pain in my foot that wasn’t severe, but bad enough that I needed to take pain relief.

Last week I’d had a mild attack in a different joint in the same foot, an attack that was pretty much done by yesterday. As I mentioned in passing in a post in May of last year, having something gout-related going on seems to make it easier to get another gout attack in that area of the body. In May of last year, I’d had aches in a joint that might have made me more prone to an attack when I injured the joint. This time, I was getting over a mild attack when I ate the mushrooms, so maybe they wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t already been dealing with a mild attack. Still, I can’t always know the extent to which I might be vulnerable, so it appears to make sense to avoid mushrooms at all times. However, all those equivocations are why I can only say I’m “pretty sure” I’m doing the right thing in avoiding mushrooms.

Which still leaves questions about beans and the like. I still think that a largely vegetarian diet might be beneficial for me, but I’m even more reluctant to find out now than I was before. Still, when I get past this mild attack, and am less likely to be scared of causing pain, I may try it and see what happens.

Right now, though, getting past this attack is my only goal. Making myself the subject of my own medical experimentation can definitely wait.

Photo above is a detail from a photo by Max Straeten provided and licensed by Morguefile.

Endorsing around

Most of the time, it seems, we only get to vote for a political candidate who’s merely “okay”, or maybe just “not as bad” as the other one. But, if we’re lucky, sometimes we get to support a candidate enthusiastically. Most of the time, that’s probably from a distance, a politician we don’t actually know. This year, I get the chance to support people I actually know and can enthusiastically support.

Nominations for our local government elections closed on Friday, and among the candidates running for Auckland Council from our ward is my good friend, Richard Hills, who I’ve mentioned a few times in the past. Here’s what I said on Facebook:
I've known Richard for several years now, and I can honestly say he's the Real Deal: Honest, hard working, committed to and passionate about making things better for our communities, and he's relentlessly positive. Those may be rare things in many politicians, but they all describe Richard. I've worked with him on political campaigns and projects in our local community, so I've personally seen all this in action. I'm honoured to count him as a friend, and I couldn't possibly be more enthusiastic about endorsing him for Council.

I hope everyone in North Shore Ward will join in me in helping to elect Richard Hills to Council!
I shared a post Richard had made on Facebook that included the graphic above. He wrote:
Big news. After a lot of discussions and encouragement from across our community, I have decided to stand for the North Shore Ward. I love this place and I want to be a part of positive change for our region, I will continue to advocate for more efficient and affordable public transport, walking and cycling initiatives and Rail to the Shore, parks, sports field and reserve upgrades, and making sure young people have just as much say as everyone else in the decisions for our future. I am excited but I do need your help. Please like my page https://www.facebook.com/RichardHillsCouncil/ and please donate here, anything big or little will make a huge difference. Each billboard costs $40 and $30 is 1000 pamphlets. I would appreciate your support.
I’ve taken part in political campaigns for 40 years this year, and I supported candidates even before that. But most of the times I’ve been able to cast a vote for a friend, it’s been here in New Zealand.

Richard’s also seeking re-election to the Kaipātiki Local Board (campaign graphic at right), a position he’ll have to forfeit if he is elected to Council, and two of his running mates on the Kaipātiki Voice ticket this year (Ann Hartley and Lindsay Waugh) are also friends I can enthusiastically support, so I’m really lucky. I said on Facebook about them: “The entire team has done a great job, and I'm sure the five of them will do even more great things for the Kaipātiki community in the next term,” though, as I said, if Richard is elected to Council, he can’t serve on the Local Board, so there will be four of them.

Here in New Zealand, with politics that are far less detached and formal than in the USA, it’s not hard for someone to get to know a politician personally, or to become friends with them—even politicians with a national profile. It’s one of the things I truly love about this country.

And so, because of the informal nature of New Zealand politics, when I used the word “endorsing” in my Facebook post, I was really being a bit playful, not just because ordinary people like me making “endorsements” is kind of unimportant, but especially because that’s not really a thing in New Zealand. In the USA, who does (or does not) endorse a candidate is treated like news, with journalists turning in numerous stories about politicians not endorsing other politicians, or not rescinding such endorsements when they’re provoked.

In the USA, it’s expected that high-profile politicians will receive endorsements from politicians and famous people, including celebrities, all of whom may be transferring some of their aura onto their chosen candidate—though some clearly want to get some of the politician’s. We just don’t have that in New Zealand.

In this country, newspapers don’t make political endorsements, and it’s a given that national politicians support others of their party (or remain silent) because of party discipline central to the Westminster-style system of parliamentary democracy. In local races, where the national parties barely compete (if at all), prominent members of a community will sometimes band together as supporters of a candidate, but even that’s pretty rare.

In New Zealand, politics on the local level is mainly personal—who voters know or, at the very least, have heard of. Personal recommendations can matter, but real endorsements of the type Americans are so familiar with are pretty rare.

So, by using an unusual word, I was kind of hoping to subtly underscore my message. Because this year, I get the chance to support folks I actually know and can enthusiastically support. I hope my fellow voters will join me in voting for my friends, because they truly deserve our votes.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Cold again—again

This has seemed an unusual winter, a bit wetter and a bit colder than in other years. All of this is relative, of course, relying on memory and perception isn’t, well, reliable. Even when they're accurate, winter here is still mild compared to winters where I grew up. All of which changes nothing about how it all seems. Of course.

The photo at left is a screenshot of the phone App for our weather station taken this morning. 1.6 degrees is 34.88 in Fahrenheit temperature, which is pretty cold by Auckland standards. It was cold enough for ice to form on car windows, so I was glad I didn’t have to drive anywhere this morning.

Cold as it was this morning, it was considerably colder last month. However, thanks in part to this blog, I also know that a cold snap in July of last year was warmer than this morning was. So, my perception that this winter is colder isn’t merely perception, after all. I knew this blog would come in handy for something.

The cold snap came after a blizzard struck parts of the country including eastern parts of the North Island, and that means that colder weather was over much of the country.

This evening was considerably warmer than it was yesterday evening, so this cold snap appears to have been very brief. That’s the best thing about it, as far as I’m concerned.

The main thing about this, though, is it goes to show once again that Auckland’s weather can be colder (and hotter…) than many people realise. Sure, it’s milder than NE Illinois where I grew up and lived before I moved to New Zealand, but this is where I live now, and the way weather feels to me now is what matters to me, not what it was like where I’m from. I suppose if I were to move back there, it would all change again; it’s just the way we humans seem to work.

I’m so very ready for Spring…

Monday, August 08, 2016

Bright spot

I’m a big believer in at least trying to find something positive at a time that otherwise may not be, though I’m the first to admit that I frequently fail in the effort. This photo is an example, something that brightened days that were otherwise dark, literally and figuratively.

Last Tuesday, the sun was shining (shocking, I know), so I went outside and snapped the photo above. It’s of a tree that blooms like that in late winter. I have no idea what it is, though a neighbour said it was some sort of wild cherry. I do know that it was “planted” by the birds, and at the moment we have two others on our property.

Most of the year, these trees are pretty ugly: Darkish green leaves, tall trunks, mostly straight, so no particular interest to the tree. They lose all their leaves in autumn, and remains bare sticks until the flowers appear, an explosion of colour that almost makes it possible to forget how forgettable the tree is the rest of the year.

But what makes the tree even better—the best of all, in fact—is that they attract tui (rosthemadera novaeseelandiae) to to our garden. The birds are well-known for their love of the colour red, in all its shades, so much so that I’ve seen advice in newspapers to put out some food for them in a red bowl at the height of winter to encourage the birds into your yard. I’ve never done that, and because of these trees, I don’t need to.

As they feed, the tui squawk and squeak and chirp and whistle and click, filling the whole area with their song (more about that another day, but the link above has sound files). I think it’s one of the most magical sounds in New Zealand. So, even though the weather has been awful for weeks, and we’re still coming to terms with a very sick cat, this was a little spot of brightness, and it certainly lifted my mood.

Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to find something positive at a time that otherwise may not be. This was one of those times.