Sunday, 28 August 2011

Plants I Want In The Garden I'll Eventually Have

Prompted by the sudden memory of a bush that grew in the garden of the house I grew up in, and the two hour long search for its name that eventually ended in failure and having to ask my Dad who miraculously remembered*, I was set off on another planning jag for my imaginary 'one day' house.

Presented in no particular order, I give you plants that I wish to one day have in my garden.

Rose bush

Eucalyptus tree


Aloe vera

Lemon tree


Pacific blue (or Ceanothus papillosus roweanus)


Passionfruit vine

Silk tree


Daphne Odora

*It was the Pacific Blue, by the way, we called it The Bee Tree because bees absolutely loved it.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Darkside Of The Brightside

One of the many things that were not quite right with me at the start of the year was that I had quite a serious Vitamin D deficiency going on.

I had half the amount of Vitamin D knocking around in my blood that I should have, so my doctor recommended I get on a vitamin supplement to bring me up to speed and then start spending a bit more time in the sun in order to keep myself topped up naturally.

A few months of little capsules later I was back on track but when I had looked into how much time I should spend in the sun, the information I found started doing my head in.

Vitamin D Facts
  • The body produces Vitamin D in response to the exposure of your skin to ultra violet radiation from sunlight.
  • You don't get any Vitamin D from the sunshine that falls on you through a glass window, you can however get sunburn.
  • If you're outside in the sunshine but slathered up with sunscreen, you will not produce/absorb enough or possibly any Vitamin D.
I picked up a couple of those information sheets about Vitamin D and being 'sunsmart' from the chemist and neither of those wanted to tell me precisely what to do either.

The Vitamin D fact sheet told me what I'd be susceptible to if I continued to have low Vitamin D (osteoporosis, increased risk of cancers and diabetes, all sorts of fun things) , the dietary sources of Vitamin D (fatty and/or deep sea fish, eggs, beef liver etc) and some benefits of having healthy levels of Vitamin D (better sleep, healthy bones and organs, not dying a painful deadly death) but nowhere did it recommend a safe time of day or period of exposure.

The Sunsmart fact sheet listed all the dangers of sunburn and excessive exposure to ultra violet radiation (melanoma, CANCER CANCER CANCER!) and all the things you can do to avoid sunburn and CANCER! (sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, long sleeved/legged clothing, staying out of the midday sun unlike mad dogs and Englishmen) but had no real information on Vitamin D.

I had a search online and found a few handy bits of information but no proper guidelines.
Nothing that said 'You should get at least X minutes of sun during the summer and X minutes of sun during the winter and should avoid sun exposure during hour Y and hour Z in order to minimise the likelihood of sunburn and adverse effects of sun exposure'.

I did find a website that claimed sunscreen companies are masterminding a fear campaign in order to sell more sunscreen and don't care that they are perpetuating a population-wide Vitamin D deficiency that is leading to weaker future generations who are conceived by Vitamin D deficient parents and who then have to live with the resultant health problems for the rest of their time on this Earth*.

The myotherapist I've been seeing to bang my arms back into shape after they crapped out at the start of the year recommended 20 minutes of sun exposure a day taken in the early to mid-morning or from the late afternoon until dusk to avoid the worst of the ultra violet madness in the middle of the day.
It was nice just to get some advice!

So what I've been doing is still applying sunscreen to my face but leaving my arms free and clear for about half an hour on my daily walk before slathering them up too and so far so good.

But it's difficult!

After so many years of having the Slip Slop Slap message drilled into us and the 'No hat, no play' policy at primary school, it's really hard to ignore the urge to dip yourself in SPF30+!

Behold the brainwashing messages that were in production before I was even born!

So I'm doing my best to walk the line between getting too much sun and not getting enough because from all indicators if I cock it up, I will die!

*The health problems from being conceived/gestated by Vitamin D deficient parents are quite real, I'm not sure about the conspiracy part.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Goodbye, Sweet Ambrosia

I have now been a booze-free zone for over six months.

This isn't due to excessive party times or a dearth of funds, but because when I got sick at the start of the year I came dangerously close to developing a permanent and very uncomfortable inflammatory condition.
My doctor has told me to stay away from caffeine and alcohol for the foreseeable future (possibly forever if a particular blood test score never recovers) to avoid getting sick again, possibly for keeps.

Being booze-free has been easier than I expected it to be.

Part of the ease comes from knowing how I could feel if I decided to risk a tipple and that tipple sent me on a trip to Relapse Town.
Relapse Town is not a place I wish to visit. I drove by it briefly in June thanks to a small amount of chocolate and this reaffirmed my commitment to stay as far away from the poxy place as possible.

Yes, I definitely miss booze but for the most part I think I miss the ability to choose booze more than I miss the booze itself*.

I miss the idea of being able to have a glass of wine at dinner or when travelling. There's something wrong about not being able to have some red if you find yourself in Tuscany or Catalonia** or try the local liqueurs or cocktails of wherever you happen to be.

Anyway, in order to 'celebrate' my six month No Drinky Drinky I've decided to list some of the nice things about being booze-free.

Some Of The Nice Things About Being Booze-Free by Ricochet, aged 28
  • You save a bunch of money.
  • No hangovers.
  • When they put out articles like this you breathe a sigh of relief and when you stumble across articles like this you feel like less of a social pariah.
  • You can drive yourself and your friends home at the end of the night instead of having to wait forever for a taxi or having to crash at someone's house when you'd really rather be curled up in your own bed.
  • You never accidentally tell a deeply personal story to someone and then spend the rest of your life wondering if they were sober enough to remember it but not willing to ask them in case they'd forgotten or repressed it and your question brings it back to the forefront of their conscious mind.
  • You drop a few kilos.
  • You don't spend your entire party night ducking to the bathroom to tinkle after 'breaking the seal'***.
  • You realise that 'breaking the seal' is a myth after you see how few drinks you actually feel like drinking when they don't have booze in them. You don't need to go the toilet because you broke the seal, you need to go to the toilet because you've imbibed over a litre of liquids.
  • You know that the friends you have or keep are the ones who you genuinely like and who like you as a person and aren't just 'OK to hang around with/interesting after a few drinks'.
  • You remember everything you did at parties.
  • Less photos of you looking like you're a half-melted Madame Tussauds mannequin will exist to haunt you.
And as a bonus here are my tips for avoiding or minimising booze nostalgia.

Tips For Making Being Booze-Free Less Painful For The Previously Appreciative Drinker by Ricochet, aged 28)
  • DON'T decide you should check if that bottle of Baileys that's been sitting in your fridge for the last six months has gone off before offering it to your parents to take home. DO NOT sniff that bottle of delicious Baileys.
Actually that's pretty much my entire tip. Don't sniff booze, it'll smell delicious and you'll get sad.

I guess if you have places that you went out to drinking with friends and they're boring if you're not boozing or if going there will only cause you I'm-missing-out sads, you should avoid those too.

But apart from avoiding sniffing booze and checking the ingredients in desserts and some foods that aren't cooked at high enough temperatures to evaporate all the booze, that's about it for me at least.

They smell like the ghosts of Christmases past, the Christmases when you could guzzle Baileys.

*Always nice to find out that you don't have a chemical dependency that you've been in denial about.

**As we often do, amirite? *Pops on monocle*

***Breaking the seal = peeing for the first time during a night on the booze after which you'll have to go to the bathroom over and over again. I have no idea if this term is used in the US or UK, it probably is.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name...

"Why is it that you still keep your journal in books?" my Dad asked me the other day as I was scribbling earnestly. "I mean, is there any particular reason you can't do it electronically?"

Well, no... but yes.

It'd just be... wrong.

Apart from demonstrating that I'm such a Luddite that even my father has overtaken me, happily keeping all his affairs in order on a tablet, his question made me wonder why the idea of keeping an electronic journal bothered me so much.

I guess there are a few reasons.
  • A Beginning And An End - I like the idea of a journal being a finite length. It captures a chunk of your life, as much as you can fit into those pages. It can span years or months, depending on how much you have to say, how much has been going on. It has a beginning and an end. Once you've run out of pages, as long as you're around to do so, you start another one.
    An electronic file can theoretically go on indefinitely, stretching out in a long and cumbersome fashion that takes an amount of navigation to find anything you may want to read again.
  • Fidelity - Sure a book journal could get wet, get mildew, be burnt or lost or ripped or stained, but that would be down to location and bad luck. And even when damaged, it may still be decipherable. Data files corrupt. They can do it for no particular reason, or your computer may get a virus or overheat or shut down or just plain die. Then your memories would be gone. We have books in museums that have survived since the advent of books, scrolls and parchments from earlier still which are still legible.
    If it comes to a choice, I trust paper.
  • Handwriting - Not long ago when asked why he still handwrites his first drafts, Neil Gaiman pointed to studies* that have been done that prove your brain interacts differently with language when you write compared to when you type. It has to pay more attention as you form the words and sentences in your mind, then has to direct the nerves and muscles involved in moving your pen across the page. It's more involved.
    You get to chose different coloured pens for different moods or events, different kinds of inks, different types of pen that affect how your writing looks and how you feel about the act of writing. For some people writing a journal can almost be an artistic act.
    The fact is that a lot of the history and memories tied up in journals aren't just in the words but are in the physical item, the visual cues. The feel of the book, the scent, the handwriting, crossings out, misspellings and sketches of your younger self, the stains or tears or marks it may have gathered along the way all evoke deeper memories or associated feelings.

These are some of the many things that make re-reading old journals so rewarding, enjoyable and immersive. Not just the words themselves but how they're presented, how you recorded them and how you get to re-experience them.

So yeah, Dad, I guess there is a reason why I still keep my journal in books.
Because it's beautiful and it's the act of creating something as I write that keeps me interested in keeping a journal at all.
The memories are precious but so are the package they're housed in.

*I didn't bookmark the specific article at the time and have no hope of wading through his twitter feed to find it so here are two lifehacker articles on the subject: A Defence of Writing Longhand and Why You Learn More Effectively By Writing Than Typing.