Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ban Elite Sports to Improve Mental Health



Welcome to Mental Health Week. This morning I was listening to the radio on which an ex-elite athlete was discussing the hidden mental health issues he suffered from during his career, and how he was now committed to campaigning for changing the culture within elite athlete circles so that athletes could feel free to 'come out' about mental health issues, and be trained in dealing with their emotions. All good stuff. People talking about how they feel? Especially if those people are elite male athletes who are supposed to be tough and win all the time? That is a great and worthy endeavour..

BUT...

Nowhere in that conversation this morning did I hear anyone question whether elite sport itself might actually have been contributing to the mental health issues to start with. All I heard was that Australia is a great sporting nation so that sport is a great place to be talking about mental health.. well, yes, but what if the sport is causing it?

If you think about it for a minute, if you had to set up some laboratory conditions to cause mental health problems, what would be more likely to do so than to look for a child with talent, train them up to think that winning is everything, and that their talent defines them as a person, then put them under increasing pressure as they get even better at what they do, so that eventually, not only is their whole life consumed by training for one single goal, also, thousands or millions of people live vicariously through their failures and successes, and if that isn't enough pressure, they wake up one morning and realise that they have become a sock puppet in the hands of the gods, er, the sponsors.

Ah, yes, and now we come to The Money. Elite sport wouldn't exist without it. Televised sport makes SO MUCH MONEY for its sponsors. The whole edifice has been built by money, and for money. And all of it creates intolerable pressure for the frail human beings at the centre of the arena. It is around two thousand years since huge arenas were last built for sport. First time round it was for gladiators. They probably had mental health issues too.

Just think, once upon a time, those elite athletes were eight year olds who liked to kick a footy, or play tennis, or run and run with the wind in their hair. What kind of a cruel society would take such a child and force them to waste their youth by practicing the thing that they love, to the exclusion of every other good thing life has to offer, hour by hour and day after weary day, for the hollow twin prizes of fame and fortune, which they may or may not attain? Is it any wonder that their mental health breaks down?

Australia could be a great sporting nation, but isn't, because most of us only watch sport rather than playing it. And the handful of sporting heroes that we watch on the telly? We are actually breaking them mentally just by watching, because in doing so we are siding with The Money.

Ways for Australia to be a great sporting nation and solve mental health issues in sport? Watch where the money is. If it's big enough to attract money, it's probably big enough to mess with your mind.. Playing footy for your local team on a Saturday afternoon? No money there, so go for it. Likewise Thursday night mixed netball, Monday night Div 2 hockey, bowls at the club, capture-the-flag on your local school oval with fifty of your best friends, and running, anywhere, with the wind in your hair.

Brought to you by Mental Health Week Life - Making Society a Nicer Place So That Mental Health Problems Mostly Go Away By Themselves.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Here is the News

News stories tend to frame issues in such a way as to reduce our will or even capacity to imagine them in profoundly other ways. Through its intimidating power, news numbs.
Alain de Botton, The News: A User's Manual, Received Ideas 8


I don't have a TV, so I don't watch the news. Even when I did have a TV, I still didn't watch the news, because I don't believe that the news is healthy viewing for young children. I briefly had a news feed on the front page of my search engine on my new computer, until I worked out how to turn it off. I happen to think that always knowing the latest news about everything is an overrated aspect of modern life.

For a start, news isn't really actually news, in the sense that we believe that the news is some kind of objective window onto the reality of what is happening in the world. Whatever the news is, it isn't that. Watch any commercial news program, or scan any news feed, and what you will see is a selection of salacious gossip about celebrities, some gratuitous and graphic violence, some feel-good stories involving children and animals, a lot of sports coverage, and some token sound bites from geo-political hot spots. National public broadcasting companies are a little more classy and a little bit left-leaning, but essentially the same beast. When I do listen to the news, almost exclusively our own Australian national public broadcaster, the ABC news, on the radio, I am continually exasperated by how much airtime is taken up by speculation - talking heads predicting whether house prices will rise or fall, what politicians are going to do next, whether international heads of state will start a war or who is going to win the Japanese election. This is not news in any sense of the word, so much as it is fortune telling. But by experts, of course. So it is practically news. Because experts are never wrong.

But this is just nit-picking about content. My huge objection to the news is its insidious project of presenting the world view that it favours as a given. I am not talking about politics, the ideologies of the left or right, or international affairs. These are debated endlessly and you can choose your news outlet to reflect your own views. What I am concerned about is that the news fails to reflect thoughtfully on our way of life at all. The chief project of our society is to not question the way we live. It is to assume that we are fundamentally correct in all our ideas and to interpret all news events through that lens.

In my utopian parallel universe journalism would exist to unpack our assumptions about our world, to drill deep, to lift the rug and find all the dirt we've swept under there. Maybe to ask the question about where the emperor's clothes have got to anyway.. Now, of course this kind of journalism exists, but it is not generally featured in any kind of major news outlet. You have to go searching for deep journalism, then you have to wrestle with its conclusions and sit quite uncomfortable with its ramifications.

Several years ago I read an article by a journalist who had travelled to West Africa to visit cocoa farms, and the children who were sold as indentured labour to work on those farms. She secretly met with these children who didn't know where their parents were, who had never been to school, whose lives were endless labour in the cocoa plantations. And she took them chocolate. They had no idea what happened to the cocoa pods when they left the farm. They chewed the raw cocoa to keep up their energy to keep working.

This one article, which I cannot find now all these years later, had a profound effect on the way that I think, and the way that I shop. When we, as consumers, discover that chocolate would need to be ten times more expensive in order for cocoa farmers to make a decent living, it becomes clear that something is terribly wrong with the way that chocolate is currently produced.

It made me aware enough to start hunting for evidence about how other food is farmed and processed, and made me want to find out who makes my stuff, and under what conditions. This kind of journalism asks several key questions - how does our society really function? And what kind of stories do we tell ourselves in order to keep its machinery functioning? For instance, when we buy chocolate, what stories do we tell ourselves about the child slaves who made that cheap chocolate possible? How do we push them to the back of our minds as we stand at the supermarket shelves? That is a story I am quite interested in.

Maybe we could ask different questions of experts - instead of endless predictions about events that are going to happen one way or the other anyway, we could ask about how to make things better.

We might ask ourselves questions such as: who benefits from the news, who benefits from the stories it tells, or neglects to tell about our society?

We might think about our relationship to the news. Is the news entertainment, and are we merely consumers of the spectacle that is the nightly news, or are we citizens, receiving important communications about the truths that underpin our society? If the latter, if we are citizens and journalists are actually bringing us vital information, what are we going to do with that? Are we going to let it change the way we think and act?

These are some of the things I think about in the odd half hours that I don't watch the news..



Saturday, September 30, 2017

Green and Thrifty




Green and thrifty fun this week: I made breadcrumbs from the crusts of loaves that didn't get eaten. First I toasted the bread in the oven on low, let it dry for a few hours, then blitzed it in the blender. If you make breadcrumbs like this you can store them in a jar on the shelf and they will last forever. Well, actually, forever is a very long time. It is more likely they will get used up on homemade chicken nuggets first.



I laid another couple of metres of brick path. Now, it does look like this is a path that is leading nowhere, but never fear, all will become clear when my master plan is completed, sometime before 2025, almost certainly.



I pulled out all my celery plants as I need the space for baby spring plants. I cut a lot of the celery and spread it on baskets to dry in the sun. When it is done I will grind it up and add to salt for celery salt to make my soft boiled eggs more interesting. If your celery goes to seed, you can also use ground celery seed to make celery salt. Ground up dried celery is also good to add to soups and stews. It is naturally slightly salty. You can also make celery salt with the leaves of the celery you buy at the greengrocers.

I planted more seeds and moved a bunch of self-seeded seedlings around to fill up the gaps in my flower garden.

My mum brought me rhubarb from her garden and we ate lemons, tarragon, rosemary, rocket, kale and the last of the celery from the garden.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Cheap Pear Day!


Yesterday morning I popped into the vegie shed (just what it sounds like - a large shed. With veg. It is a farm gate outlet for a local farm. It also sells lots of other local produce at very reasonable prices. It is one of my regular haunts) for apples and carrots and milk. On my way out I saw pears selling for 89c/kg (40c/lb). I don't know if this is cheap for pears elsewhere in the world, but here it is very cheap fruit indeed, where anything under $2kg/90c/lb is a real bargain to stock up on. I walked right back in and bought a boxful.



This is what 11kg (24lbs) of pears looks like.

I ditched my other plans for the day and made pear butter (pears stewed down with lemon juice and zest, nutmeg and cinnamon, then blitzed with the stick blender). Then I bottled it and used my biggest stock pot to preserve them (just a fancy way of saying 'boiled the heck out of the jars for 15 minutes'). This is what 11kg of pears looks like when made into pear butter.



It is considerably reduced in volume. It is a delicious way of storing fresh, local produce in a convenient, shelf stable package. When I run out of room to store preserves in the kitchen, I shove them under my bed! I really like being able to have stocks of food that don't require filling up a freezer. Seeing jars of food in the cupboard allows the survivalist in me to relax and not worry about starving to death if the power goes off. Also, preserves are so convenient. This morning Rosy took yoghurt with pear butter and toasted oats for lunch in a thermos. It took several hours of my day yesterday, but will mean several weeks' worth of fast food.

I have no idea why pears were on sale in the spring. Usually these sales are on at the height of autumn. Maybe they are running out of space in cold storage at the pear farm? No complaints here. I would much rather preserve on a chilly spring day than a hot autumn afternoon! But.. I miss my fruit trees! I miss lots of free fruit to process into a year's worth of free food! I am beavering away at the garden to clear and build some terraces so that next year I can plant fruit trees.

Preserving food is so satisfying, but makes for a long and tedious job of peeling and coring. I amused myself by listening to random episodes from The School Of Life. These five minute videos by British philosopher Alain de Botton address those issues that are vitally important to our well-being but don't generally get covered in academic curriculums; Resilience, How to Forgive, Overcoming Bad Inner Voices and How to Complain are some of the topics you might encounter. Little nuggets of philosophical gold all wrapped up in the soporific tones of the planet's most soothing philosopher. What's not to like?

Updated to add: Pear Butter Recipe as per request from reader:

Peel, core and quarter pears while listening to philosophical essays of your choice.

Put them in your biggest pans - I distributed mine between my two biggest stew pans.

Now, this can only be a rough guide, depending on how many pears you start with - add about half a cup of water, the zest and juice of half a lemon, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 2 heaped tsps cinnamon to each large saucepanful of pears. Cook with lid on for about an hour, or until the pears are soft and taste delicious, stirring occasionally to ensure they are not sticking.

Whiz up the pears with a stick blender or mouli, push them through a strainer, or pop them in a blender. At this point you can reduce the pear butter down further, cooking on low with the lid off to make a more reduced, thicker sauce. I was happy with my original blended sauce and bottled it immediately.

Collect your clean, warmed jars (I pour very hot water into them, leave for a couple of minutes, then tip it out again. You can also warm them in the oven). Put quarter of a tsp of citric acid into the bottom of each jar to ensure that the pear butter is acidic enough to preserve in a water bath. Ladle in the pear butter, leaving about a centimetre (1/2 inch) headspace at the top of the jar. Put the lids on and lower into nearly boiling water in your largest pot, covering the jars by a couple of centimetres (1 inch). A teatowel on the bottom of the pot stops the jars clinking around in the boiling water. Leave them on a quiet boil for 15 mins, then wrestle them out with tongs and a tea towel (I really must buy some proper preserving tongs as I keep dropping the jars using my cooking tongs..).

Now you have lovely pear butter to eat with yoghurt or spread on toast or serve with pork or make pear tarts, or maybe just eat straight out of the jar.. :)


Monday, September 25, 2017

Out With the Old




I do like to be thrifty, so I save the seed that I don't use one year and use it the next year, or the year after that. Some seed will survive that treatment, and finally germinate, but it will never spring up with enthusiasm and vigour like fresh seed will. Two weeks ago I planted out a bunch of old seed, and some cornflower seed that I bought this last autumn. The results are in. As you can see, I will have a wonderful crop of cornflowers soon, and not so much broccoli. The children will be pleased. Yesterday, the first buttercrunch lettuce seed finally raised its old and tired little head. It is up, but it doesn't really want to be. I can tell it just wants to go back to bed. I know how it feels. The cornflowers, on the other hand, are like peppy and energetic toddlers, jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, and rampaging about full of vim and vigour.

The moral is, use new seed. This is a marvellous excuse to order more seed, so there is the silver lining. Seed catalogues, mmm...



Storing seed is of course, something that does need to happen, although preferably for not more than a year. Seeds are best stored in a cool, dark, dry place. I store mine in a basket on a high shelf in my bedroom, which is in the southern corner of my southern hemisphere house. It is the coolest room in the house and never by chance gets the slightest ray of sunshine.



Many of my seeds are collected in the garden in the autumn, and I throw them into a paper bag and into the basket. If I am lucky, I will label it.. the gold standard would be after six weeks or so, when the seed is good and dry, to re-package it in an airtight container - a jar or ziploc bag, which will help it to keep for longer. I mostly do not do this.

As a lazy gardener, often I save seed by just letting the plants seed all over the garden, and then in the spring, moving the plants to where I want them as they pop up as ten thousand tiny seedlings. This does actually create more work than saving seed properly in the first place, but is kind of fun. Right now I have lots of tiny lettuces popping up all over, a million tiny viola plants, seven million baby warrigul greens and about the same number of calendula plants. I am thinking of starting my own plant nursery.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, looking at seed websites. Such a chore.

Oh, and remember to buy local seed. There is almost always a small local seed company. They will be breeding plants for local conditions. The other place you can find local seed and seedlings is in the gardens of your neighbours. Ask! Gardeners generally love to share.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Green and Thrifty


Daffodils and forget-me-nots. Does spring get any better than this?


For my green and thrifty project this week I used up all my remaining lettuce seeds, planting them in a thick band along the edge of my pea patch. My plan is to be able to cut several weeks of baby lettuce from this projected prolific lettuce mixture.. will keep you updated. After that I can buy new lettuce seed, which is exciting, because although I hate shopping, I love buying seeds. So much promise from such a tiny packet! And one packet of lettuce seed costs the same as a bag of gourmet baby lettuce..

My girls have filled the bathroom drawers to overflowing with all the creams, cleansers and make-up they have been buying over the last few months. I declared a moratorium on buying anything new until everything is used down to the last product (they buy all of this out of their allowance/earnings, although they are very welcome to use whatever plain and boring product I provide for family use..). I offered to use up anything they didn't want anymore, so am now working my way through tubs of 'blueberry' flavoured body lotion and several tubes of sample moisturizers. Posy is very keen on making her own personal care products, which I am very excited about, but it seems wicked to throw out what we already have. So we are aiming for a clean slate after which we will be doing some bathroom product DIY.

I am also using up various other things that people have kindly given us. A bottle of dog shampoo came with a bag of dog treats and dog food sadly left after a friend's dog died. My dog is a delicate snowflake and requires medicated dog shampoo, so I am using the donated shampoo as a floor cleaner. I figure it is all soap, right? So I squirt some in the mop bucket with some eucalyptus oil, and off we go.

When we moved into this house the owners had left various things behind, including a bottle of disinfectant, which is a product I don't normally use, being green and hippy and all that. It has sat in my cupboard for a year, and finally I have broken down and am using it to clean the bathroom just to get rid of it.. maybe this is not so green and I am poisoning the waterways with it? It is thrifty though, and soon it will be all gone and that pesky bottle will be out from under the laundry sink, where it is taking up valuable laundry real estate.

In my yard there is a large, but not yet full-grown horse chestnut tree. I was disappointed to discover it was not edible, and its medicinal value appears to be both arcane and complicated to use as a home remedy.. however yesterday I was excited to find that apparently the horse chestnut can be used as a, wait for it... laundry detergent! It comes from the same family as the tree that produces soapnuts. Soapnuts are an apparently effective laundry detergent (I don't actually know this from personal experience, as I have never used them, but I hear this is the case..). However soapnuts need to be imported from the tropics, and there is a horse chestnut right outside my door. My only problem is that right now in early spring there is not a horse chestnut to be seen here in Tasmania. But for those of you who live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the perfect time to pop out and collect those conkers before all the pesky children do, and whip up a batch of laundry detergent. If you do, PLEASE let me know how you get on with it. I am dying to know! Recipe here and FAQ here.

Not thrifty - I neglected to take the library books back this week, and I can feel overdue fines accruing.

Also not thrifty - The dog ate the shea butter that Posy and I bought to make lip balm and moisturiser. Sigh. That was a very expensive beauty treatment for the dog. On the bright side, it won't kill him, and will probably make his coat shinier.

Tell me about your green and thrifty projects this week. Or your frugal fails, if they are funnier.. :)


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Green and Thrifty





This week I have been chitting potatoes. Chitting is the best garden job for the lazy gardener. It just means letting your root vegetables sprout out of their tiny eyes before planting, so involves no actual work at all other than taking the seed potatoes out of their string bag and laying them out in a tray in a place that has light but not full sun. Taking them out of their bag is important, because they will still sprout if you leave them in the bag, and the delicate sprouts will break off as you pull them out of the netting bag.. ask me how I know..



I have planted the first seeds of the year, some of which are quite old seeds from the bottom of my seed basket. The only ones which have sprouted so far are the ones I bought this last autumn. Most seeds grow best if they are reasonably fresh, which is why seed swapping parties are the best. I am determined to use up all of my old seed this year so I can buy new with a clear conscience. I also saved a lot of seed last year, which I will either plant or share. Seeds are not resources you can hoard. Seeds have to be grown and saved again in order to keep them viable.

As I was driving a child (forget which one) on some no doubt vital excursion this week I spied a rather large firewood log abandoned in the gutter, so I pulled over and loaded it into the boot of the car, child sinking down in the passenger seat and moaning, "Muuuum, do you have to?" Well, yes, my darling, I do - as a member of the Wombling club it is my duty to be making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind..




My friend Monique and I swapped some of the many self-seeded goodies popping up in our gardens. I took her love-in-a-mist and violas and she gave me lettuce, kale and parsley. I love sharing plants. Plants are so wonderfully, generously prolific. With a little patience and the kindness of other gardeners, most plants are not something that need be part of the money economy. In autumn I gave away dozens of jonquil bulbs that have been quietly multiplying in my wild garden for decades, and this year there will be dozens more to share. They are growing so thickly they have stopped flowering, but given a year and enough space they will continue growing in other gardens for decades more. Nature isn't going to stop growing plants and we may as well make the most of it and share the bounty around. It astonishes me just how extraordinarily fertile an average plant is, given a little encouragement..

I have been enjoying some low key thrifty adventures in the garden this week, how about you?

PS In other news, the article I wrote for Earth Garden was bumped from the spring to the summer edition. I will have to wait another three months to see my name in print :( But it will happen!







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