Monday, 28 December 2015

How to be happy

What is happy? What makes you happy? What are the things you chase in an effort to be happy? How high on your list of priorities is being happy? And, ARE you happy?

I'm noticing lots of blog posts about wrapping up 2015 and looking ahead to 2016. A lot of them focus on looking ahead and making sure 2016 is better than 2015. A lot of them talk about being happy, striving to be more happy. 

So, I started thinking about happy too. 

The things that make me happy are pretty simple really. A nice meal with someone I care about. Cooling rain after a stinking hot day. A call from one of my children. Finding a book I've been searching for for months (that was yesterday afternoon!). Having things to look forward to - my goddaughter will be here in January and emailed me asking to meet up for lunch. That's not a definitive list, it's just what popped into my head as I typed. If I try to make it longer, my head will empty out and I'll have nothing to type because it won't DO lists! The really important thing about that list is how random it is, and how 'small' each thing actually is, how fleeting. Also, apart from the book, how there's not much to do with actual 'things'. 

The flip side of this is the number of support groups I belong to for chronic illnesses, and the number of people I know who are really sick. Being happy is a topic that comes up in many different guises, mostly in the framework of NOT being happy, due to pain, many losses, issues with doctors/drugs/family/friends, any number of other things. Alongside that are my own sadnesses - illness, the loss of my beloved friend from ovarian cancer, news from No.1 that his youngest half brother is battling Hodgkins Lymphoma for the second time at 15, endless delays with Dragon Dad's business that see us still in Sydney a year after he said we need to be in Melbourne, and so on... And yet, despite my illness, I have achieved a number of important (for me) milestones and goals, I was able to spend time with Lizzie before she died that was very special and that will always be a lovely memory, No.1's reports of his brother's progress are peppered with his awe about how the boy is managing that for himself that has been a huge lesson for No.1 about real priorities, and the extra year here has enabled - among other things - me to have priceless time with a cousin that I'd not have had. 

For me, happiness is not just a feeling. It's a 'doing'. Happiness isn't something that just happens, it's something we make. All year, I've watched the gratitude thing happening on Facebook - people posting a number of things for which they're grateful daily for a week and tagging friends to challenge them to do likewise. I resisted picking up those challenges, because I usually resist being part of the herd, but I watched with interest. The big flurry of gratitude posts has faded away, but there are a few individuals who clearly decided that it was a good habit to make and continue posting daily. Clearly, they've found that habit, in itself, created a different attitude with which to approach life. 

The reality is, if someone is determined to be miserable, there's not much anyone else can do to help them. We've probably all had that experience of trying to cheer up a friend who's having an awful time over something. And, being miserable isn't bad. It's absolutely natural in the face of sad or nasty things happening, and needs to be acknowledged as valid. However, I question a determined effort to NOT try to move out of it - particularly if that comes with building complaints about how no one understands, and how increasingly lonely the person is getting. That old saying, 'Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.' comes to mind here... It's very difficult to be with someone who is always unhappy, always complaining, always asking for support and help, but refuses to make any effort of their own to change their situation. 
 
Dragon Dad does this stuff. He smiles at everyone he encounters, and mostly, people smile back. He chats with the checkout staff at supermarkets and asks how their day is going, and usually, by the time our groceries are all bagged and we're paying, we get sent off with a 'Have a nice day!' that's NOT like the routine script they get trained to deliver to customers. He managed to get himself moved to an earlier flight home one time by being friendly and nice to the airline staff - the guy before him had been aggro and demanding and didn't get the flight... Basically, Dragon Dad approaches life positively, and a lot of positive stuff comes right back to him. Consequently, while there are inevitable challenges he has to face, he's a pretty happy guy most of the time. He's made a habit of doing that, and it's paying off.

When friends ask me how I am, and what's happening with treatment, and so on, I find that they are often more unhappy on my behalf than I am myself these days. Don't get me wrong - I'm NOT happy to be sick. No one in their right mind would be! BUT, I'm alive and breathing, and there are many other things in my life to think about apart from being sick, so I make the choice, as much as possible, to do that rather than dwell on the illness and what that means for me every day. There's a blogger I've been following who has terminal bowel cancer, and has four little girls - the eldest has just finished primary school. While there are definitely posts she writes about her darker times, her blog is mostly a shining story of someone who is fiercely living each and every moment she has, and focusing completely on that. As things stand, she's just passed the time span she was originally given to live - and with fabulous humour, posts photos of herself as the 'undead' that are so triumphant I have to smile when I see them. There's a lesson there - a BIG one. My disease is highly unlikely to kill me. Hers is ultimately unlikely to let her live - but is that what she focuses on? Hell no! Her energy goes into every moment she can have with her husband and little girls, and she celebrates that, and there are, as a consequence, oodles of dizzyingly happy posts to read on her blog! 

Every single thing we encounter in life can make us happy or unhappy - it's a matter of how we respond. How we choose to respond. We can let ourselves get beaten around by circumstances that are less than ideal, wallow in the misery of being neglected or hurt by people we thought were our friends, bemoan our lot constantly - and we will be very unhappy most of the time. Alternatively, we can choose to tackle life quite differently and look at the other side. The frustrations of delays that have held up Dragon Dad's business and our move have been very real. The lost time can never be regained, and that sucks. On the other hand, he's had much more down time for us to spend together and for him to get stuck back into his cycling (and now he's decided to compete in the World Masters Games in 2017...oy!!). We've had more time to spend with family and build relationships there. We were able to get our second kitten from the same breeder as the first one. We've also been able to do the sorts of things that one never does in the place where we live - and make sure that we create some excellent memories to take with us. I got to meet a friend I had met on line in person, because our cities are just close enough for that to happen if we plan well. At times it's all been very frustrating, but on the whole, it hasn't been a terrible year. 

I'm going to finish with another meme that someone posted in one of the support groups I belong to - I think it's a great idea, especially if the notion of making your own happiness is a foreign concept. Is it a little bit twee and geeky? Maybe. But, I figure, if it makes a difference to how any of us feel and helps build a different attitude to living, then that doesn't matter at all. 
The good things don't have to be spectacular - while we'd like to win the $50M in Powerball, the odds against that happening are enormous, so it seems to me to be a bit of a waste of energy to focus on that particular hope! However, if you manage to time your next grocery shop (as I managed to the other week) so that you get one of those times that nearly all the things you usually buy are on special, well, that's something to be really quite tickled about I think! And if you manage to achieve something that you didn't think you could, even if it was a struggle to get there - well, go you!! Add that in too and the hell with the struggle - you did it, and that's what really matters. You made it happen. And I really believe you can make happiness being a normal thing in your life happen too, if you really set your mind to it.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Herbs and spices - more than just good flavours...

I've calmed down since my rant about Dragon Dad slaying my mint and lemon balm, but have been thinking about my new herb garden when we move, and the sorts of things I'd like to do. I lust after one of those traditional walled gardens with lots of hedges separating beds of different herbs, but it's highly unlikely I'll ever live in the kind of house that has the possibility of that kind of garden! And, hedges or lawn need to be not part of a herb garden in my life - the possibility that Dragon Dad might feel moved to do more overenthusiastic trimming needs to be minimised! 

My reality is probably going to be raised beds, because they're easier to work in, and paved pathways around and between them so that there's NOTHING to prune!! Something like this:
Ultimately, I'm not too fussed, as long as I can have a dedicated space to grow what I use most of the time, plus a few other odd things that I like to have in the garden because it's fun. I cook with them all the time, and I've long had an interest in the medicinal properties of herbs and spices, as they were all that was available to people to deal with illness and injury for millions of years, until medical science began to create drugs a bit over 200 years ago. There's a brilliant three part series that screened here on SBS TV that can be obtained from ABC shops on DVD called Pain, Pus and Poison, that's well worth watching for anyone who is interested in the developments over that 200 years. I also just found it on Amazon.

I digress. In an email conversation this morning, following a post on Facebook, I was asked if I'd write a blog post about the herbs and spices I use and why. In between bits of work today I've been thinking about how best to construct it, and what to say, so it's taken me most of the day to get to it. I must stress, as a disclaimer, I am NOT a doctor, nor am I a qualified herbalist. I am writing this from personal experience, and it is not intended to be instruction. My main use of all the herbs and spices mentioned in this post are in cooking, with an eye to their beneficial qualities, and I do make tisanes, or teas, from some of them specifically for medicinal purposes. The book I use mostly for reference, which of all my books on the subject is my favourite, is the Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, by Andrew Chevallier. Follow the link for the Amazon page for purchase. 

I will list the herbs and spices that are part of my regular cooking, along with their common medicinal properties. I'd also suggest, for those who are interested in experimenting, that you look into Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbooks, which are focused on Middle Eastern style dishes, and commonly use lots of herbs and spices. It's an easy way to get into using them and accustoming yourself to the flavours if you've not cooked that way before. Indian food is another cuisine that uses a lot of spices and many herbs, and provides easy access and familiar flavours for many. I can't go there as I'm allergic to chilli! It's something that takes familiarity more than anything else, if your usual acquaintance with herbs is a sprig of parsley to garnish! 

Here's what I use on an almost daily basis in one of other combination:
Herbs

Parsley: (I like continental, or flat, parsley for the stronger flavour). The leaves and stalks are highly nutritious, and provide an excellent natural vitamin and mineral supplement.
Mint: Ordinary garden mint has mild digestive benefits. Variants, particularly peppermint, can have slightly different, or stronger, properties. Peppermint is particularly good as an anti-nausea remedy, in addition to being useful for soothing the whole gastro-intestinal tract. Topically, it can relieve pain and headaches. 
Basil: The quintessential Italian herb, and for me the flavour of summer... It can relieve indigestion, and ease flatulence, stomach cramps, colic, nausea and vomiting.  Externally, it's an insect repellent and the juice from the leaves can ease bites and stings.
Dill: This one calms the digestive system and can relieve wind. It's a mild diuretic, which can be useful for all sorts of conditions that cause fluid retention, and chewing the seeds improves bad breath.
Garlic: Nature's antibiotic. All the alliums (the onion family) are natural antibiotics. I'd like to think that one of the reasons I don't often catch colds is because of how much garlic we eat! That, and I love onions, and eat them most days one way or another. Garlic is also beneficial for the circulatory system, can help regulate high blood pressure, lower blood sugar and improve circulation. It has decongestant properties, which is why it's suggested as an addition to a hot toddy.
Bay: Another digestive aid - it stimulates the digestion, can settle a wonky stomach and helps with the breakdown of heavier foods like meat. The essential oil can be diluted into a carrier oil (grapeseed or something else that's light) and used as a massage oil that eases muscle aches and arthritic joints. A decoction (where you boil the herb then let it steep) of leaves can be strained and added to a warm bath for to ease aches and joint pain.
Spices

Cinnamon: Stimulates circulation, especially to the extremities - which, for arthritics, can help ease inflammation. It's also a digestive aid - useful for nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. It can help ease the aches and pains of colds and flu.
Ginger: This is one of the kings of spices for digestive issues. It's a powerful anti-nausea remedy and is good for travel sickness as well as nausea caused by prescription drugs. It aids digestion, eases wind and colic. It's a circulatory stimulant, and increases sweating, which can help ease a fever. Added to a hot toddy, it can aid coughs and colds.
Turmeric: There's been huge quantities of research into the medicinal properties of turmeric and many mainstream doctors are telling patients to take it either through cooking, or in capsule form (my own rheumatologist included). It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and is also anti-bacterial. It can be used to ease nausea and improve circulation. It is also an anti-fungal.
Cardomom: Another digestive aid, it can ease indigestion and griping stomachs. 
Pepper: Improves digestive function, and has antiseptic qualities that are particularly useful for the gastro-intestinal tract. The essential oil can be used to ease rheumatic pain, but that must be done with qualified supervision.
Cumin: This spice relieves flatulence and bloating, as well as stimulating digestion. 
Coriander: Both a herb and a spice, it has many uses. The fresh herb, infused as a tea, can be used as a remedy for flatulence, bloating and griping. The seeds can be chewed to freshen the breath. A lotion made with the seeds can be used for rheumatic pain - again, that is something that should be sourced from an expert. 

I use all of these herbs, singly and in varying combinations, most days. For dinner last night we had grilled chicken that had been marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and pepper, and our salad had chopped dill and parsley added. Other nights there might be more spices, and less herbs. It varies. One way or another though, I add SOMETHING to what I'm making. Dragon Dad has a bit of a delicate stomach, and the mint, dill, parsley, basil combination that lands in our salads, couscous or other grains, at least three to four times a week was started so I could see if it would help. He's noticed a significant difference in his digestion in the time that I've been really focused on doing this, and if I haven't made a good herby salad or side dish he complains and asks for it - and he was skeptical initially... For myself, my drug list and accompanying side effects is now very large, so between that and the herbs and spices, I can't honestly tell what's doing the most good. One thing I do know though, is that everything smells so good, and on the days my appetite is off, that's a huge help. 

Again, I have to reiterate that you're unlikely to get into any strife adding these herbs and spices to your cooking. However, if you want to investigate further and look into using essential oils, tinctures and teas, consult an expert, because like misused drugs, some of these, used wrongly, can be dangerous. 

And, because it's beautiful, the Chelsea Physic Garden, which is on my visit one day list... A garden planted specifically because of the medicinal properties of the plants absolutely fascinates me! Dragon Dad would have the whipper snipper out to do those lawn edges though...!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Needless deaths at Stereophonic festivals

Photo: Sky News



Sydney

One young woman, Sylvia Choi, 25, pharmacist, dead.
Another person taken to hospital, and now recovering.
A man charged for allegedly supplying Choi with the MDMA she took.

Adelaide

One young man, Stefan Woodward, 19, dead.
Two others, a young man and a young woman, being treated in the Royal Adelaide Hospital for drug overdoses. 

Melbourne

Teen taken to hospital in a critical condition from drug overdose, now in intensive care serious but stable.

Brisbane

Twenty young people hospitalised after overdosing.

WHAT is going on with our young people? In articles I read in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend, those interviewed were obviously sad about the deaths, but at the same time, were seemingly blase about the drug use. "Everyone does it" - apparently. What they did want were better options for on site drug testing so they could be more sure that what they're taking is safe. I had to read that over a few times, to be honest. 

The risks don't appear to make any difference to their decision making, even the deaths... Said one 25 year old in a SMH article:
If we really want to look at why people are putting themselves at risk, it's because they think the risk is worthwhile ... The feeling of happiness is unparalleled. 
So, they're at a music festival - which one assumes they wanted to attend - and they're with their friends, which is a good thing, but neither of those things is enough. They have to get high too. And risk dying. 

In the same article, from a rap by Melbourne musician, Remi:
The pupils of our generation are looking pretty gacked, huh ... We know we're f***ing stupid for doing it but whatever... 
Reading through various Facebook threads following articles about the deaths, there is blame flying in all directions. The police haven't cracked down enough, or they've cracked down too hard, which results in people taking all their drugs at once prior to being searched on entry. There aren't good enough tests available to check the drugs themselves to see that they're 'safe'. It's the dealer's fault for selling compromised drugs. That the first aid people didn't do enough... 

At the end of the day, there are two people to blame for the deaths of Sylvia Choi and Stefan Woodward. Those two people are Sylvia Choi and Stefan Woodward. They CHOSE to buy those drugs and they CHOSE to take them. Sylvia Choi was a pharmacist. You'd think, of all people, she'd have had a better idea than most just how dangerous that drug could be. 

The cold hard reality of all these recreational drugs is that no one knows how safe or unsafe they are, often until it's too late. There will be more deaths, as long as our young people feel they need to take them in order to have a really good time. There's no point in trying to lay blame on anyone other than the users. THEY are the ones making the decision to take that risk. I have no time for dealers, at all, and I think that the consequences for those caught dealing should be much more severe. But, at the end of the day, no one is forcing these kids to buy and take the drugs. 

Friday, 4 December 2015

The rape of the mint...

WHAT is it with men and whipper snippers and/or chainsaws??? I've been trying to think of something that women do that's sort of equivalent, but I can't - and I KNOW I'm being gendered here...but, ARGH!!!

We have two freestanding garden beds in our rented house. The first summer we were here, I got very busy with vegetables. The lettuce and herbs went well, the radishes were fabulous, the pick and come again old Italian varietal spinach was wonderful, but fruit flies decimated the tomatoes... And then Dragon Dad did his first clear up one day when he was mowing the lawns and took the whipper snipper to both beds and went down to ground level. I DID say at the time, that there had been other things in the beds that needed saving - ie, basil that was still viable, chives that were a permanent crop, Italian parsley that I'd FINALLY got well established (takes SO long), other herbs, and that old variety spinach, etc... He shrugged and said it had been messy and it was annoying him so he cleared it up.
 
I haven't tried to go again with vegetables - for one thing, all of this last year we've been poised for the interstate move that's been put off again and again. I did get some herbs going again in the big bed though, and we've been thoroughly enjoying the mint that took off, as well as other things. 
 
Today, it was lawns again, and I went outside to pick some lemon balm to try and see if a tisane with that and mint might ease the awful headache I have that's a side effect of a large drug infusion that happened on Thursday. This is what I found:
The mint, lemon balm and oregano have been annihilated. AGAIN. NOT happy. Both the mint and balm had got a bit leggy, and in need of cutting back. Cutting back. Not mown. Cutting back, fed, and watered so they could thicken up again. 
 
My mother was a mad gardener. I lack her dedication. But I do like to potter. And I DO love having fresh herbs available for picking - they're at their cheapest in the fruit and veg shops at present, but that's still $1.50 a bunch...which can add up when you use them as I do. There are lots of heavier jobs I can't manage easily now - damned RA. And sometimes - as in the case of my unfortunate herbs - I tend to put those jobs off, or do them in bits. Both tendencies clearly offend Dragon Dad's need to have things just so, and done in one hit!
 
Years ago, in one of my childhood homes, there was a huge exotic tree of some variety I can no longer remember that grew just behind the BBQ and screened the business end of the back yard from full view. My father had a chainsaw which he must have borrowed for some particular job, because I don't remember him owning one. His job finished, he was obviously having so much fun he had a go at the tree. Pruned it he did - so he said to my mother. Mum wasn't big on getting angry - she keep a lot of things down. That day though, I remember just how quiet she got - always a sign of imminent danger... The tree was a butchered, ghastly thing with great amputated thick branches sticking out all over the place. It took a very long time for it to recover and for enough growth to cover Dad's efforts. Mum never really forgave him - and the chainsaw was sent back to its owner very smartly. I don't remember ever seeing Dad prune anything ever again. 
 
Somehow, when we move and I get organised with herbs again wherever we're living, I'll have to manage it in such a way that prevents these over-enthusiastic efforts. Pots maybe - the various planter boxes and pots scattered around the property here never see the whipper snipper close up. So that may be the answer. What I do know is that there'll be no lemon balm tea for me - because that I can't buy in the fruit and veg shops, and it'll be a while before there's mint in any of our salads.
 
Who else has this issue? And can anyone tell me WHY they feel the need to be so over the top?? 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Vegans shaming and terrorising non-vegans

Today, I discovered a handy little button on Facebook that enabled me to stop following someone, and still stay friends with them. Why would I need this? Said friend isn't someone I've spent a lot of time with, but I do like him. He's a bit 'alternative' in many ways, but the thing that made me reach fast for that function when I found it is his constant posting of really gory memes and images that are intended to shock and revolt people who eat meat. (oh, and FYI, don't look for examples in this post, because there won't be any)

I have my own food foibles. I'm Jewish. I follow Jewish dietary laws - to an extent. I don't eat treif - i.e. 'forbidden foods', those specifically mentioned in Torah as foods to not eat - and I don't mix my meat and dairy products. I don't go to the extent of purchasing only kosher meat (partly because it's horrendously expensive), and I don't have two separate sets of everything to keep utensils apart. The latter is mostly because Dragon Dad isn't as observant as I am, because he doesn't find it meaningful so wouldn't keep everything neatly in its place, AND any scallop on a restaurant menu has his name on it...apparently. I'm also allergic to chili - which, let me tell you, can be a complete and utter nuisance, since SOMEONE, in their infinite wisdom, started a trend where 'season to taste' appears to now mean add salt, pepper, and CHILI to the dish, and it's not always mentioned on menus, which can have pretty nasty consequences for me. 

I have NO issue with anyone's food choices. My personal thing - as with many things - is that I will respect the choices of others as long as they'll extend me the same courtesy. And that's where it starts to get murky.

There's a largish populist movement that is spreading dietary solutions for a vast array of medical issues - from the common cold through auto-immune diseases to cancer. There have been a rash of 'health bloggers' exposed in recent times, for extreme diets that have been promoted as 'cures' - which they're not - and social media has been the forum for many a war of words in the comments following posts about these bloggers. I wrote a post for Creaky Joints on this, and got a 50/50 mix of support and pillorying.

My own Facebook feed, courtesy of the algorithms that ensure that I will have 'items of interest' given preference based on my activity over the things I may prefer to see, keeps offering up all sorts of things about alternative diets. And I have a few activist friends whose most frequent means of communicating their passion is to post the goriest, most shocking images they can find.

In the wake of America's Thanksgiving holiday - and feasting - there have been all too many posts about the poor turkeys. Today's 'best', that I can still see in my head, is the bucket of bloodied turkey heads. I can't remember the text that was printed over it. 

The thing is, I eat meat. Not a lot of meat, but I do eat it. And fish. Because I believe that a balanced diet of ALL the food groups is the healthiest option for me. I had a period where I was a complete vegetarian - with eggs and dairy included - but with an overactive metabolism, I lost so much weight it was getting dangerous. The rest of my family weren't prepared to go down that road either, and I don't care what anyone says, it's a pain in the tuchos to have to cook multiple meals for one family for EVERY meal.
 

They say, the people who post all this blood and gore, that it's activism. If someone can explain to me how it's effective to post constant blood and gore that most sensible people will choose to stop following one way or another, I'd be grateful. MY response is to block it. So they're not getting any message of value across, to my way of thinking.

It is MY choice to eat the meat that's part of my diet, small component though it may be. It is a vegan or vegetarian's choice to NOT eat that meat. I'm not about to call either of them out for that. Why should I have to have that stuff shoved up my nose? 


What is it about social media that seems to give license to people to operate potentially very differently to the way they might in person?

I do try to source ethically produced meat from small producers where possible. Sometimes I can't - for any number of reasons. And that's MY business. I don't expect to be attacked for that, or for choosing to eat meat in the first place. And I don't think anyone else should be either. 


So, the radical vegans out there need, in my opinion, to remember their manners, and treat others as they would wish to be treated - and get all that blood and gore off their pages. I WILL block those posts from my feed, because - and this may shock... - they are tiresome. They DON'T move me to stop eating meat. They annoy me because all I see is the cheap shock tactic behind them. 

And here is a picture of my cats. Because, as far as I know, very few people eat cats, so they can't possibly be contentious - unless someone wants to take umbrage because I'm being facetious. 





Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The great tech addiction

So, overnight, my world nearly stopped. Last night, I was chatting with a friend on my iPhone 6. We wrapped up our chat and I put the phone down. About half an hour later I picked it up again, and it was black. Black screen, completely unresponsive... Of course, I panicked. Because, apart from anything else, it's less than a year old and replaced a very long lived iPhone 4 which, when it died, did exactly the same thing. 
Cartoon by Sean D'Souza
So, it's just a phone, right? Argh... How many of us would truly admit that any more? When the iPhone 4 died, I had to face getting a new one - several models on from that, and didn't have the foggiest idea about setting it up - because although I might swank around with a smart phone, and have a recent model laptop, I under utilise their capabilities, and am pretty clueless about what to do if they have any problems crop up. When I bought this iPhone 6, my cousin set it up for me - synching the old one to my laptop (because it turned out we could still do that) and then loading all the information across to the new phone so that it was, effectively, the same phone. Which, for me, made it the easiest adjustment to a new phone - EVER.

An early trip to our local mall and phone provider shop - because it's insured and at the very worst, I knew they'd replace it - and a techie sales assistant who knew a few iPhone tricks, and it seems my phone is alive and well, and was just having a major freeze for no good reason at all. Life crisis averted. 

However, the experience DID push our dependency on technology right up my nose and it was a confronting experience. Uncomfortably so. 

Interestingly - synchronicity being what it is - Dragon Dad and I were having a conversation about another tech phenomenon late yesterday afternoon. He'd been doing taxi duty for an interstate friend who did a fly in fly out for a job interview. Said friend is an internet guru who comes from a marketing background, and is going for a job at a major uni that has campuses all over the country and has no online presence for the students. So there's a ginormous push on to assemble a team and get a functional student portal up ASAP. 

These student portals are a new thing since I was last studying - it was only ten years ago that I completed an MA... At that time, the University of Adelaide gave us a university email account, so we could communicate easily with whoever we needed to, but really, that was about all, in terms of university based technology. The library would email us about overdue books - which I discovered the hard way when it occurred to me that perhaps I should check said email and found the huge list of emails demanding the return of some books I'd forgotten, and the steadily accumulating length of time I'd not be able to borrow books as a consequence...

These days, those portals offer up student timetables, allow for electronic submissions of assignments, text lists, assignment and exam results and goodness knows what else. It occurred to me, and I said this to Dragon Dad, that when you think about time travel stories where contemporary people are dropped back into previous eras, and have to learn to manage with much more basic technologies and ways of doing things, that if you picked up a current uni student and dropped them back 10-15 years into the uni environment then, they'd not have a clue. 

We had to drop hard copies of assignments in. The results were posted on public boards in the buildings that housed particular subjects. Timetables were given out at the beginning of each semester and we were expected to copy them into our university issued diaries and manage our time ourselves. Messages, pre email, were delivered to our pigeon holes in the building where our course was based. Results came penciled on returned assignments and end of semester results were posted on notice boards in the foyer of the building where that subject was based. Basically, managing our own course and attendant tasks was firmly placed on our shoulders. 

I said all of that to Dragon Dad, feeling that the students today have an awful lot just handed to them and managed for them, and perhaps that's one of the contributing factors for the oversized sense of entitlement many of the current generation are attributed with having. He bit my head off, saying that it was awful to have to look for results on a public board, and what would it be like to see a less than wonderful result up against other people's good marks? Well, I had the answer to that - it sucks. Big time. I failed my Psych One Statistics exam absolutely spectacularly. And there was the shameful mark, up there for the world to see. But, until we had that conversation, it was something I'd long forgotten about... It certainly didn't scar me for life. It's just what happened with marks back then and we took it as it came, and dealt with it. We ran around - physically - delivering assignments with moments to spare before the cut off time. We picked up our basic reading lists at lectures, knowing we were expected to build on that by trawling the library shelves in our own time. 

Dragon Dad is very quick to declare that people are soft. He is entirely capable of delivering a huge rant about the current crop of young cyclists he sees when he's out on his bike, with their trendy coordinated gear and expensive bikes, who think they have to race everyone, but then can't pass him when there's a headwind.... They're soft, he says. They don't train properly, he says, because they're not prepared to deal with the pain. And so on. 

I have to say, throughout our whole conversation about the student portals, I was listening to his arguments thinking that if it were cyclists he was talking about, he'd be declaring them soft, the same as he does the young cyclists who are dependent on their computerised gadgets that monitor all their riding stats for them. 

I have no argument about the undoubted convenience of online student portals, and all the things they do. But it concerns me that it's another technological tool that takes a lot of the personal responsibility out of the equation for everyday nuts and bolts at university. There was another article somewhere I saw recently asking readers their opinion on whether there should be mandatory individual tablets for early primary aged children. All this technology, from the outset, bothers me. There are too many basic skills that are being lost because of an insistence that we take the techie option. It reminds me of this cartoon:
Phones conk out, systems go down, electronic files can be corrupted or lost altogether, emails disappear into cyber space - and then we, who are now SO dependent, can't function. How is that a good thing?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

New post on Creaky Joints - Brain Fog and Memory Dysfunction

I have a new blog post up on Creaky Joints, which, while I've never intended for The Original Dragon Mother to have a focus on rheumatoid arthritis, there's been enough content here in recent months where it has featured that if I've written a post for Creaky Joints that is about something that affects my every day life at a personal level, I'll bring it here. And this one does, as it's about a phenomenon that is common to many people with chronic illnesses, especially when those illnesses create ongoing pain, and it impacts at all levels. For instance, the last 24 hours have seen me manage some epic fails - which is difficult for me to cope with - and I can put them all down to the impact of this particular product of RA. 
 
It's called brain fog, and while that sounds funny, the reality can be anything but. You can read the full post HERE.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

October - taking stock...

Mrs Woog - WHERE would I be without you some days...? I've had a huge list of writing to dos, and top of the list has been paid work, so that had to come first. now I'm left with a backlog of blogging that has to be done. So, to kick start that, I'm taking the 'easy' way out and pinching this idea from Mrs Woog again - I did one of these a while back and found it to be an interesting exercise. Feel free to pinch it from me, and also to drop some of your stuff from the list into the comments - sharing is caring, and all that stuff...you know...!

Making: A new dress for the first time in absolutely forever. It's cut out and ready to go.
Cooking: Lots of different vegetable dishes - tired of salads all the time.
Drinking: Monkey 47 Dry Gin with Fevertree tonic. AWESOME.
Reading: Second Half First, Drusilla Modjeska. Actually, just finished it, now going back and rereading bits. Look for a review on Books Anonymous soon...
Wanting: More new books by Drusilla Modjeska, and to meet her again (bucket list item).
Looking: At my list of things to do - I wish someone could explain to me how lists just keep growing...
Playing: Scrabble on Facebook! So much fun.
Deciding: That I really do need to start de-cluttering instead of just thinking about it.
Wishing: That the de-cluttering fairies would come and do their magic so I don't have to actually DO the de-cluttering!
Enjoying: Writing blog posts where I don’t really have to think to hard, like this one! Thanks Mrs Woog! (Stole this response too...)
Waiting: To move to Melbourne - been waiting for a year now...it's getting old.
Liking: Balmy days with a crisp breeze.
Wondering: How my eldest will go in his first full length triathlon this weekend at Noosa.
Loving: Dragon Dad. Yeah, I know...mushy moment.
Pondering: All sorts of weirdly existential things that I can't put neatly into a line or two.
Considering: Different ways to build Dragon Mother...
Buying: Books.
Watching: The new season of The Good Wife, and enjoying the change of pace.
Hoping: The games will stop and Dragon Dad will be able to move the business forward to the next stage without any more of the turkey cock posturing that's going on...
Marvelling: That the road toll isn't considerably higher, given some of the stupid things I've seen people doing on the road lately.
Cringing: The bright young things with their bottoms hanging out of too short shorts - HOW is that attractive?
Questioning: Why so many people I know seem to be going through such a hard time lately.
Smelling: Freshly mown grass - they must have just done the lawns in the park across the road.
Wearing: Best $100 I've spent in a long time: THIS
Following: SciBabe - new Facebook page that pokes at all the 'woo' out there - the anti vaxxers, paleo nuts, etc... Brilliant - sarcastic satire.
Noticing: How much thinner my hair is getting, and that the grey hairs aren't blending so much into the natural streaks as much as making a definite statement...
Knowing: The hair loss is the bloody disease and accompanying drugs, and I can't stop it.
Thinking: I really need to clear my desk - it's seriously messy.
Admiring: The spirit I see in so many people fighting serious illness.
Sorting: Books - they're all over the house again. I swear they have legs...until it's time to get back to the shelves...
Getting: Very tired of being sick and needing to be MORE inspired by the fighting spirit of other people with chronic disease so I can find my mojo again.
Coveting: More of the range from the boutique at Double Bay I love...
Disliking: Getting in the car after the stepson has driven it and being blasted out through the back window by the volume of the radio!
Opening: The front door which the stepson keeps dead bolting when he comes in late - heaven help that we have a night time emergency!
Giggling: At the antics of my cats - they're good for a few laughs every day!
Feeling: Weary. The disease seems to be changing again and it's wearing. Either that, or the drugs aren't working any more...
Snacking: Grissini - NOM!
Helping: A few people I know who are battling at the moment - at least, I hope I'm helping!
Hearing: Lots of music I used to play in orchestras when I played French Horn - I miss it.
Needing: A HOLIDAY! Seriously - it's been two years since Dragon Dad and I last got away.

I remember, last time I did a post like this, finding it an interesting process, and being surprised how long it actually takes to work through a list like this! I'll be interested to hear from any of my readers if they do one - and what it might look like...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Growing out of tantrums

Cartoon by Basley

Today, I caught up - on the phone - with an old friend that I've not spoken to in ages. Way too long. She's known my kids since they were small, so there were lots of questions and fillings in about where they're at and what they're doing these days. And also a lot of reminiscing about different stages we went through, the kids and I, and the involvement she had with them - an un-asked for loan helped me get No.1 out of the school where he was unhappy and into the university school for his final year, and that couldn't have happened without her help. 

She made me realise, in the telling, that if anyone asked me for my parenting philosophy - which I'd not really considered in any containable way - I'd have to come down to it being all about logic. This wasn't something calculated. Definitely not something I sat down and thought about before I put it into action. It was something I arrived at by accident, often when I had my back hardest against the wall when they were trying something on and I was desperate. 

Logic takes a lot of the angst out of dealing with tough situations. Allowing for the fact that most kids will keep arguing long after it's sensible when they're trying to prove a point or really want something, it also robs them of fodder for most arguments. 

For instance, No.2 was a hard nut to crack with acting out. Unlike No.1, who's a bit of a control freak, No.2, when his dander was up, really didn't care what anyone thought, so was eminently capable of acting out no matter where we were. The horrors of the public toddler tantrum are all too well known to most parents, and we had more than our fair share of those. I did walk away and leave him writhing and screaming on the floor in supermarkets when he lost the plot - many times. I endured the 'bad mother' glares that were shot at me at point blank range by the holier than thou bystanders too. The reality was, as long as No.2 had me engaged, he was going to keep going - while his vocal cords lasted! Walking away becomes the only defence. There comes a point though, when that all changes. 

I remember the occasion - in yet another supermarket - when he lost the plot over something - what it was, I can't remember... He must have been 9 or 10 by then. I was aware of the looks - hard not to be. But I realised that the condemnation wasn't being directed at me. It was landing fair and square on HIM. I had an epiphany that day, and had the presence of mind to deliver it to him. Speaking VERY quietly - because that's all they hear when they're sounding off and kicking the trolley - I got very close to his face and informed him that if he thought he could shame me into doing what he wanted by chucking a tantrum in the supermarket then he needed to do a very fast rethink. He wasn't getting ANY sympathy from passers by, because I was getting all of that. He was too big for me to be blamed for his bad behaviour at that stage. He was clearly old enough to know much better. Having told him that, I grabbed the trolley and moved on. He was VERY shocked. I remember that. He shut up fast too, and scuttled after me. 

Did it stop the tantrums? Not straight away. He was too much in the habit of them, and too darned stubborn to give them up straight away. But reminding him that he was creating a situation that got ME a lot of sympathy, while he gained nothing, did cut them short and slowly they lessened. It got so that I could shoot him the death stare - Dragon Dad calls it my 'school teacher look' - and he'd swallow down whatever was about to erupt. 

Cause and effect. Consequences. Hit them with logic. It's really hard to argue against clear logic. 

You want a note for the teacher to excuse the homework not having been done? Really? And WHY wasn't it done? Oh, that's right, you decided, despite reminders, that playing cricket with the neighbourhood kids, followed by mucking around in your room instead of just getting it done was a better option. You'll get into trouble without a note? I'm sure you will...how is that MY problem? It's not my problem, it's your problem. YOU didn't do the homework. I didn't do anything to stop you doing it... YOU made that decision. So YOU need to tell the teacher and deal with whatever she decides is an appropriate consequence. That's not fair? HOW is that not fair? YOUR homework, YOUR decision, YOUR consequence. 

Logic. It's a beautiful thing. 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

#RABlog Week: Day 7 RA Blogs I read

It's the last day of the #RABlog Week event. I think I'm going to miss it... It's been something of an effort to post each day - something I rarely do - but at the same time, I've enjoyed digging around where I'm at on different aspects of the day to day aspect of living with RA. It's also been amazing reading posts by other bloggers who are participating. To those of you who have stopped by and read my posts - thank you! Thank you for spending time here. And to those of you who have left comments, thank you so much for your feedback!
This last post is about other RA blogs I have read. Some have stuck in my mind, some I've identified strongly with, some not so much. One thing that's been a stand out for me has been the general tone of positivity in the posts I've read. So much courage, so many people with fantastic attitudes, so much humour, and so little self pity. It's been uplifting and encouraging to feel that, in the face of so many stories of such difficulty and challenges. 

So, particular bloggers...

I've been following Arthritic Chick for some time. The internet was in its infancy when I was first diagnosed, and certainly, there was no social media. When it all changed for me over the last few years, I went online to find resources - particularly about biologics. I found AC's blog and spent a lot of time plowing through it. I love that she's such a fighter, and that she's local, so the information about the medical system was relevant for me. We're now good friends, and that's something I treasure. We encouraged each other a lot through this week of blogging.

I found Lene Andersen's blog about twelve months ago, I think - around the time I became part of an Australian online support group. Her story is so different to mine - although, we could all say that about each other, given the vagaries of the disease. But again, I found someone who was so articulate, such a fighter, and so busy finding ways around the disease to keep living! It's been great reading Lene's posts this week, and hearing what she had to say to the daily prompts. 

A new one I enjoyed this week was Kat Elton's Blog - I really loved the exercise post. AC and I keep pushing exercise in the support group we both belong to - sometimes we get howled down, sometimes we get people responding positively...it's a sometimes fraught topic. I loved Kat's tone in that post.

I've also enjoyed 'meeting' Lawrence 'Rick' Phillips - after having his emails in my inbox! I take my hat off to you, Rick, for coordinating this event, and contributing your own posts as well. I loved reading your I feel supported post - you and I were the only ones to play with that wild card, I think and wrote such very different posts!

I think those differences and similarities happening simultaneously in so many of the posts I read were an integral part of the richness of this experience - both writing and reading through this week. There were other posts I read, but I can't remember whose they were, because brain fog! AND, my head will NOT make lists. It's been great - and I hope it happens again next year. If so, I will definitely be there...

Friday, 25 September 2015

#RABlog Week: Post No.6 On support...

Today's prompt:
Today's topic was actually about onset stories - how and when our RA started, things that happened, and so on. However, I've written two posts on that, both with slightly different foci - one here on the blog, which you can read HERE, and the other for Creaky Joints, which you can read HERE. So, I'm going with one of the wild card options instead:
I feel supported - so many times we need support. When do you really feel supported? What do others do to help you feel supported. What is the main support they offer?
Support is a many faceted thing, and something that, for a person with a chronic illness, can feel more than a little bit fraught. I'm a very independent person. I always have been, but it wasn't until I got sick and started needing help with various things that I realised just how independent I am. It burns to have to ask for help - I really struggle with it. Part of that comes from having spent so much of my adult life single - there was no one to ask. My kids learned to pull their weight around the house, and accept that sometimes we couldn't do things because I wasn't well enough, but I don't know that I'd label that 'support' exactly - besides, that wasn't their job.

These days, I have a wonderful partner who is incredibly supportive. It's in his nature - it's not something special he puts on for me because I'm not well. He's supportive of people generally. That doesn't mean he always gets it right though. He's an archetypal alpha male - so he knows stuff... He not only knows stuff, he knows it better than anyone else. That can be something of an issue at times. He sometimes second guesses me, forgetting that over twenty three years, I've had quite some experience developing strategies to get things done. I may look like I'm not managing to finish a particular activity because I'm on the couch and there's still stuff everywhere. What's actually happening is that I've divided the task up into stages and I've built in rest periods and he's walked in on one of those. It doesn't mean he has to rush around finishing everything because, *obviously* I can't manage to finish it myself! Sometimes too, he makes an executive decision that we won't do a particular thing because he decides it'll be too hard for me to manage. That gets right up my nose - it's no one's place to decide what I can do except mine. It's plain arrogant to make decisions for other people, and I told him that when we talked this out recently. To his credit, he got it, and apologised. I know he struggles with it still, because he wants to help, but he's having to learn to stand back and wait for me to ask.

I think that's probably the worst aspect of what happens for a lot of us. People mean well - I know they do. But they make assumptions that aren't theirs to make. I had a conversation with a friend recently about supermarket shopping. On bad days, she and I both use the trolley as a walking aid - we look 'normal' leaning on a trolley, rather than being younger women (obviously not in our dotage yet!) hobbling on walking sticks. She'd had an experience shopping with a friend who was 'helping' by pushing the trolley for her...refused to give it up because, NO, it was more helpful if my friend didn't have to manage the trolley. My friend needed the trolley for support to walk the supermarket...but nothing she said seemed to go in... The real issue was that the friend wasn't listening. My friend's actual needs weren't being heard. That feels just awful - and you don't have to be sick to have an experience like that.

One of the most supportive people I have in my corner is my rheumatologist. I got so lucky when I ended up with him. He is amazing. I saw him last week for a follow up visit after an MRI, and we had the most extraordinary conversation, which keeps coming back to me. He started by telling me my MRI pics were 'spectacular'. That's actually NOT something I wanted to hear - because it pointed to the severity of the issue. So he sorted out a couple of referrals for me and another follow up appointment, and then said to me that I was a complex case. That he could understand that in the past, I'd have had difficulty being heard by doctors and other medical personnel. That I'd have struggled to have them take me seriously - because my presentation isn't straightforward by a long way, and some of the side issues are pretty left field. Then he said to me that he wanted me to know that he was listening to me, that he'd always listen. 

He has a different level or awareness than any other doctor I've had. I spent two weeks in hospital when the disease lost the plot. My partner had to be overseas for business during part of that time - it was unavoidable and not moveable. A friend came from interstate to be there and came in every day, but had to leave before my partner came home. She left on the Saturday of the middle weekend. My son had been dashing in each day - sometimes very early in the morning - sneaking past the nurses because it was way ahead of visiting hours - or quite late. I was quite unprepared, on the Sunday afternoon to see my rheumatologist's head come around the curtains. I was gobsmacked and asked him what he was doing there - and why wasn't he with his children...? He told me that he knew my partner was still away, and that my friend had had to go home again, and he wasn't sure if I'd have anyone to visit me that day, so he just thought he'd pop in... He came to the hospital JUST to visit me. He is something else, that man.

It can be tricky with friends. Our friends have their own lives, as we do, and they're not as tangled up in ours the way family members can be. At the same time, they can sometimes manage to be a bit more objective than family members. Some of my friends are great - they ask, and they listen. I had one I was supposed to meet up with after a long time of not seeing each other, and on the morning of the day we'd booked, she called me sounding like a dead thing. She had the most filthy cold, and was calling to check whether we should get together or not - having remembered I'd said something about being more vulnerable to bugs and viruses. So, we cancelled. Because there's no way I could have been in the same place as her without risk, due to being immune-suppressed because of the drugs I take. She's the same friend who carted me around a string of antique shops hunting a really classy walking stick - because I truly hate the one I have from the chemist. It's black and plain - but it's a chemist stick - an 'aid', and it makes me feel like I need it. What I want, if I have to use a stick, is something so unbelievably classy and outrageous, that I *could* be using it just because it's so cool...then maybe I won't feel so bad about having to use it - my friend understood that too, and gave up a day to take me hunting.

I have other friends that don't really understand. One who, if I have to cancel a date, gets difficult, saying it would be good for me in myself if I got out. That's as maybe, but if I DO have to cancel, it's because, physically I'm really not doing well, and pushing it any further by keeping the date, is potentially going to trigger a big flare that could put me behind even more. I understand her disappointment - I'M disappointed too...I hate having to cancel something I've been looking forward to doing. Having to placate someone who doesn't get it on top of that disappointment makes it that much worse. 
I'm not much of a 'joiner' - I don't belong to groups much. Online support groups are something that have grown exponentially with the internet and social networking. They can be enormously useful for sharing information and support. However, they can also be hotbeds of competition and aggression. I have to admit, that shocked me. I ended up cutting back to one local group that we keep relatively small, and is one of the 'healthiest' online environments I know of. In other places I've seen people one-upping each other with symptoms and disease severity, taking people down if they appear to not be as sick as others, and other bad behaviour - because that's what it is. And it's NOT support. I think it comes down to one of my mantras - don't assume. When you're online, you can't know what's going on behind the stuff you see in posts and comments because you're not interacting directly. There's a remove and a sense of anonymity when we're online and that's something I have to keep remembering, because it appears to give some people license to behave badly. If we run into that when we're really struggling, it can be incredibly destructive.

Being truly supportive comes down to a few simple things - whether you're trying to be supportive of someone who's sick, or not. These are in the first person, but obviously can be adapted.
  • Don't impose what YOU think is support. Be respectful of me and ASK.
  • Listen to the answer - really listen. One of the hardest things I struggle with is being heard - don't just ask, hear and answer and go ahead doing what you intended to in the first place - listen to exactly what I said when I answered you about what would be most helpful.
  • Lose the general 'let me know if there's anything I can do' thing. Most of us find it quite difficult to ask for help, for a whole lot of different reasons. Be specific about what you can offer. If you're able to offer to drive me to an appointment if I need it, let me know that that's what's on offer so I know to call you and not someone else if I need to be driven somewhere.
  • Don't prevaricate - if I ask, and you have a genuine reason that you can't help that day, just say so. Don't make excuses - a simple, "I'm sorry, I'm already committed for that time" is absolutely fine. You don't have to justify yourself to me. And I need to be able to get on with calling someone else. 
  • Most importantly, allow me to make my own decisions about what I can and can't do. Don't ever assume. I may fall flat on my face - and I have. But that's for me to work out. 
It's not easy living with a chronic illness - and that's not to play the victim card, it just isn't. Having to care take others around the whole support issue is an added stress that just isn't necessary. It's one of the things that will stop me asking, if I think it'll land me in one of those difficult conversations. If you want to help, great, but think about what that really means. I don't need people to make allowances for me, as if I'm deficient - because I'm not.
 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

#RABlog Week: Post No.5 On not running a marathon!

Today's prompt:
Exercise and RA - write about your favourite exercise. What do you like about it, and what keeps you going?

I've never been a fitness junkie. Pre turning 40 when EVERYTHING changed - I'm absolutely convinced that some huge hormonal thing happens at 40, even if menopause is still a ways off - I had one of those hyperactive metabolisms that just doesn't put on weight. To the point that my mother used to keep putting food in front of me, forcing me to eat it because she was frightened I might be anorexic. I wasn't - it's just that nothing stayed in my system long enough to take up lodging. Fast track to that doomed birthday, and suddenly I find myself with jeans that are too tight, and skirts that don't do up - WTH???

I didn't do anything different. I just had a birthday. So, it MUST be something to do with the aging process. That was enough to get me off my butt and looking for some kind of regular exercise that I could learn to enjoy enough to keep it up. I'd always walked a lot, but that wasn't doing it, and mindful of the RA, I wasn't about to try doing something that could cause harm, so I convinced myself to join a gym that had a pool so I could start swimming laps. The thing was, I wasn't THAT enthused about swimming...

The mornings used to be quite a fight. I'd fall out of bed into a swimsuit and grab my prepacked bag with goggles, towel, drink bottle, etc, and get in the car and the whole way there would chant to myself, 'Go to the gym, do NOT turn the car around, go to the gym, do NOT turn the car around...' I'd get there, park, drag myself in, fall into the pool and start. Week after week I kept going, gradually working up the number of laps, looking for that lovely buzz you get after lifting weights (I'd tried that, and liked it, but it was scary with wrists that could just fail without warning...). The buzz didn't come. And then one magical morning, I hit thirty laps (of a 25m pool) and there it was. You do get a buzz swimming - you just have to do it for longer to achieve it!

From that point on, I started to enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed feeling my body getting stronger, the development of lean muscle, and my jeans being comfortable again. I also realised I was regaining rotation in my shoulders that had been stiffening up, and less pain in my hips and knees with the extra support of stronger muscles. With the exception of the morning I felt good at the end of the forty laps that became my standard swim, and foolishly swam another ten and stuffed up my dodgy neck (not RA, wrecked from two separate accidents) I wasn't hurting myself either because the water supports your body, and provides resistance as well as the cardio workout swimming gives. 

I managed, off and on, to keep up that routine on average days a week for years. There'd be breaks when I moved or changed jobs until I got back into the routine, but it was keeping me stronger and fitter, as well as much more supple than I'd been. When the disease changed its mind about being mild and turned aggressive, everything stopped. I had horrendous reactions to MTX, had to change drugs, was getting very much worse very fast and ended up in hospital. It was a very long time before I was well enough to get back in a pool and actually try to swim. I was also much heavier courtesy of prednisone, and even now that I'm no longer taking that, I'm finding it - as I'm that much older again - much more difficult to shift the weight. 

I got back to semi regular swimming last summer when my eldest started training for his first triathlon and my partner was mentoring him. I went along, and while they were doing their thing in the 50m pool, I'd go inside to the warmer 25m pool and get going. By the end of the summer I'd built back up to 20 laps a session 2-3 times a week. It felt good. I haven't managed to maintain that through winter because we don't have an indoor 25m pool near us, but in the next month or so, I should be able to start again. We're moving interstate soon and I'm hoping that wherever in our new city we end up, we'll be close to an indoor pool so I can swim year round. I have to shift this extra weight because I have a very fine frame and anything extra it has to carry is adding extra strain to joints - so it's coming off - somehow!