Photography

I mentioned earlier that TJ had given me my first prime lens for a New Year’s gift. I have used nothing else all year, because using a prime, as opposed to a zoom lens was such a different experience that it was almost like learning photography from scratch again and I wanted to get really good with it.

Where I started: note the shadows on his lower face.

One unexpected advantage of using only the prime lens for an extended period is that I seem to be learning more about how my camera works in ways will also be an advantage when I go back to my kit lenses.

I seem to be developing an intuitive understanding of what various manual settings will do and when I want to choose which to change.

It’s not fail safe yet, and it all go out the window when life is moving too fast (I’m a crappy events photographer so far) but it’s coming.

Looking down directly into the light. The reflections are interesting, but distracting. The light, however, is even on his face.

I haven’t been able to get out on photo walks as much as I’d like in the last few months.  Part of that is why I needed to get off Facebook – to free up more time.  But in this case, that wasn’t the whole story.

There is also the cold and rain making many days simply not very appealing for running around outdoors with an expensive piece of equipment.

And the light.  Oy!  The light!

It’s still very strong, unlike winter sun in the midwestern US. But it comes in at a sharp angle that makes it very, very tricky to get a good photograph until you get really good at seeing light.

Changing the angle of his face meant less reflection and still maintained the more even light.

I don’t see light very well yet.  I get dozens of bad pictures, and only see the light problem when I examine the photo later on my computer screen. (Well, occasionally, I see it on the back of the camera – but the screen on the back of the camera was meant for younger eyes than mine.)

So recently, I decided to have a go at seeing light by playing with my camera at the dinner table after dinner. (and other times and places in the house out of the rain.)

Our dining room table is lit by three light bulbs directly over the table. As you can see in the first photo, that results in some harsh shadows on the lower face of anyone I photograph in that situation.

Grated, I could just use the flash, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise – and flash results in some pretty badly washed out photos at those close quarters.

I decided that the reflections are pretty cool, when they’re used intentionally. I had to see them on the computer to realise that one can actually make out the chess board! I want to work with that some more.

So, I pulled out my reflector.  I have had it for 13 months and still haven’t really figured out how to take advantage of it.  It’s big, and unwieldy for use outdoors. (The wind catches it like crazy, and living on the coast means quite a few windy days. When it was demonstrated in class, I missed the key point that the reflector was always held by an assistant.  Hmmm.)

First I tried setting it up to catch the lamp light and reflect it back into Jack’s face. It was too big to use that way in close quarters – it kept slipping and knocking into his chess board. Oops.

Eventually, I put it under his chess board and off to the darker side. They are hardly stellar shots, but they’re not awful and I did manage to get his face evenly lit.  I also learned a bit about using reflection to tell a story.

I need to practice more, but I am having heaps of fun with photography again!

Sustainable, ‘hyper local’ eating

Back in Michigan, we had joined a kind of “membership farm”. Not really a CSA. Rather a coop where we paid a membership/cow share and then we had access to whatever they were growing, which we ordered early in the week and then picked up and paid for across town at one of the co-housing social rooms at the end of the week.

We joined for the raw milk, but even after we had to stop buying milk, we stayed on for the meat and vegetables. Those were fantastic.

To round out our supplies. we shopped at the local food coop and hoped that they were dealing with farmers close to home. We were members there, too, but not involved enough to know the details of how they sourced their vegetables. Some of their pantry supplies were clearly imported but they were a really good supplier for us.

When we moved to Australia, it took time to find suppliers.  Oh, they’re around, but you have to know where to look.

We started with a couple of small, coop style shops downtown, but between the difficulty of hauling the stuff back to the bus stop and then home, and the high rents they paid, resulting in tourist prices for us, that wasn’t viable. So we went off searching.

We tried the big grocery stores (convenient) and they were like big grocery stores everywhere.  No indication where the fruit and vegetables were sourced.  “Healthy people tax” on the ones they claimed were “organic”, but with regular reports that they took their suppliers word for it, and there was NO accountability – and that lot codes they supplied were for non-organic products.

They also wrap everything in plastic.  Plastic bags, plastic boxes, plastic wrap.  I refused all the plastic, leaving me with few choices from the bulk buy bins.

For meat, it was almost impossible.  Grocery stores advertised “pastured” meat that was “grain finished for better flavour”. Butchers the same – and even the butchers that advertised range fed meats looked at me blankly when I asked if their range fed meats were grain finished.  It’s a bad sign when they don’t understand the question.  (I hoped it was my thick accent., but no.  For the most part I got sick from the corn feed on which they were finished.)

Within a year, we did find a farmer who was having his truly pasture raised beef and lamb prepared and packaged, and then selling it by home delivery. Except for the chicken, I have been able to eat everything from that farmer safely for three years now.

Sadly, as they have grown and gotten to be a bigger operation, they have become less reliable.  The meat is still good, but delivery has gone from once a week to once a fortnight, and we don’t learn until we get our delivery that they don’t have half of what we ordered, so we are often left short at the end of the fortnight.

Our niece, Joy, who is also a foodie, told us about another farmer doing something similar, but after a few weeks of home delivery, he decided that selling through butchers was far more efficient.  I’m sure it is, but since we don’t have a car or a driver’s license, and the butchers he is working with are two or three bus transfers away, that hasn’t worked out, either.

Thank goodness for a small hobby farmer who occasionally sells pork out of her bakery – and kangaroo that  is available at the big grocery stores.  No one farms kangaroo, and so far it has always been safe. Those see us through the weeks when our meat order is badly shorted.

We discovered early on, an amazing local, urban farm that is selling some of the best fruit and vegetables we have ever bought.  For a while, we were able to get a ride 15 minutes out of town to get our vegetables.  But people are busy, and we don’t know too many people as picky as we are, so that happened less and less often.  Then a few months ago, I discovered that they had started home delivery as well!

We have been gorging on beautiful, fresh food ever since! An interesting bonus has been that they mostly deliver what they call “mystery boxes”. Not unlike a classic CSA box, but you decide on small medium or large box and pay by the week.

I love opening our box every week – even now, in winter – it’s full of treasures, and I never know what to expect!

At least in winter, a large part of what we get is gorgeous greens of various kinds.  That has been a challenge.  It was more than we could manage to get through the greens before the next box came in, and yet we needed the box for all the other things we were out of.

I have known for years that we should be eating more greens, but I never managed to figure out how to work them in.  I had already started adding greens to every soup and stew I made, but that was suddenly not enough.

Eventually I learned through research about how other people keep up with their CSA boxes, is that pre-preparation is at least half the battle. When the greens are available, pre-washed and pre-torn, by the handful, adding a greens side to the meal doesn’t seem so daunting.  So, the day after the box comes in, I make a stew and spend the rest of my meal prep time washing and prepping greens.

It’s easy to toss a couple of handfuls or prepped greens into the stew, and when we have grilled meat, I ask Rod to cook the meat while I make a side of greens.  I need more recipes.  So far all of our greens are variations on one recipe. But we’re eating our greens, finally!

Greens recipe

  1. Saute some kind of onion and a clove of garlic in fat.
  2. Add the stems from the greens and saute until soft
  3. Add a couple tablespoons of stock and a tablespoon of soy sauce or coconut aminos and the leafy part of the greens.
  4. Turn the greens every few minutes (tongs work best) until they’re all wilted.

optional additions

  • a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • a drizzle of sesame oil
  • chopped apples (add at the stems stage)
  • seeds or chopped nuts

I will admit, though, that we have jars of dried greens and bags of blanched greens in the freezer waiting for…I don’t know what.  Maybe greens are less prolific in the summer when it’s hot and dry. I am still very much figuring out this four season gardening thing.

We still end up getting outside vegetables sometimes, because between them greens and starchy veg make up a large part of the boxes.  I’m making headway on the greens problem, but we have lost several winter squashes before we could use them because I have to limit the amount of starchy veg I eat in the interest of keeping my blood sugar more stable.  (More on that another day.) I hope that when my garden boxes get here, I can stop buying Chinese grown vegetables to augment the farm vegetables. Then I will feel we have “arrived”.

So, how to you serve your greens?  Do you have recipes for kale, beyond chips? or especially favourite silverbeet/chard recipes? What about Asian greens?  (bok choy, pak choy, and chinese broccoli mostly).

Keeping busy

We’ve been keeping pretty busy as a family. Jack is still heavily involved with chess and karate, as well as games day.  He also has a fortnightly writing club meeting for the third year running. Every year they publish an anthology of the group’s work and it’s been amazing to watch the young writers’ development over that time – Jack included.

Rod has his choir, his stroke survivor’s support group, and now, possibly, Toastmaster’s International.

Joel, Jr. and Autuma

I have had to quit my volunteer position with the Ministry of Food, but I have filled the time with projects much closer to home. The ministry is doing excellent work, but it became too much for em to keep up with after Rod’s stroke last year led to a massive number of doctors’ appointments over many months.

I have my photography, of course.  My eldest son, TJ, gave me my first prime lens as a new year’s gift and I have dedicated 2018 to learning to use it well.  I have been astonished at the difference in quality in the photos I take.  I’m starting to get some photos with it that I can even share! (These, however, were taken last year on our most recent visit with the Adelaide family.)

Rhazel

Together, we have been involved in a couple of projects, as well. First of all, we are participating in a Social Justice Discussion Group.  The group started large and enthusiastic and has shrunk to a smaller, dedicated core group.  We get together every other week to examine various social justice issues and our attitudes towards them.  So far we have covered race, religion, and economic justice.  Currently we are working on disability justice.

It’s been very interesting and I have revealed some biases in myself that I had not fully acknowledged or dealt with.  Always a good exercise. (The link is to the basic curriculum we started with, though it’s aimed at parents addressing social justice with their young children and is very US biased, so since we’re a group of adults and teens in Australia, a fair few changes have been required.)

Rodney

We have also been working through the Transitions Streets program with a group of neighbors. From a web page about transition Streets:

Groups of friends and neighbours meet every few weeks with a practical workbook to make easy changes in how they use energy, water, food, packaging and transport. Transition Streets groups explain what it’s like to take part, in this video ‘The power’s in your hands’.

While we started with the program, our group has rapidly branched out.  We still briefly cover the workbook, but we have found that there is little there that is new to our members, so after a brief review, we move on.  Our group involves a small bakery cooperative, a small urban farm providing food to the neighborhood, a small organic buying club, classes to share sustainable skills, a food share program,  and probably  a half dozen projects I am forgetting about. I am enthusiastic about all of the projects and hope to get more involved as I get to know people better and feel more comfortable.

Travis

Jack is still homeschooling, though it looks VERY different today than it did even a year ago. His current plan has him studying at home and working until 2020 to allow him to save the money for his university fees, so we are back to tackling things in a more leisurely and thorough manner.

The current focus of our studies is writing research papers. Jack’s future plans may well involve research and will certainly involve university, which generally involves a certain amount of paper writing.

His goal has move away from law, which didn’t feel like a good fit with his laconic temperament, to youth counseling and mental health. Helping one person at a time or researching how to best help folks with menal health challenges does seem more his style.

Azalea at 5 weeks

Oh! And Jack is still working as a chess tutor!  He worked three days a week last term on top of taking an outside Spanish language course first thing on Monday morning for the last two terms. The contract for the third work day wasn’t renewed for this term, which I, personally, think is probably just as well. He also gave up the Spanish class, which he loved, because he was just so exhausted by the end of the term and his home studies took a hit.  I had been hoping he’d be done with the current unit — which he has been working on for three years — by March or April, but he’s still plugging away.  We have adapted it to make it more relevant to a high-schooler and we just keep going. I’ll be glad when we can move on to things I chose with a teenager in mind!

Learning my place and finding my tribe

I’ll post this, despite having no idea that anyone still visits here.

I can live in hope, right? But with the feed subscription app broken, it’s probably not distributing notifications to people who think they are subscribed in addition to not letting new folks sign up.

I need a WordPress guru, I think.

Anyway, a year or so ago, I finally found the weed walk I have been looking for since I arrived! Actually, my friend Anabel pointed it out to me and I signed up immediately.

I had gotten pretty good at recognizing and “knowing” the wild herbs found in the Great Lakes, but in this totally new climate I wasn’t sure what I was seeing for the most part.  I knew plantain when I found it, though it’s not as common here as it was in Michigan. I was not sure of the dandelion – and come to find out, some of it is dandelion of a slightly different species than I am accustomed to and and some is another, similar looking but unrelated herb (Sow thistle). And if mallow grows in Michigan, I had never become acquainted with it – but it’s everywhere here.

I think I already knew more about herbology than the woman leading the walk, but the point is, she knows the LOCAL herbs and now I know more, too.  I’ll want to join another weed walk sometime, after I have made more of an acquaintance with the ones I met last time – but I feel it was well worth the time and money.

Even if I had gotten nothing more from the weed walk (and I most assuredly did) I would have relished the chance to get out to the river and spend time in a park.

Parks here are largely big grassy, well manicured fields. They are ideal for a game of “footy”, but they hardly feed the soul.

Along the river though, in the ravines where manicuring would be too much work, there are bits of wilderness left.  I live for those spots, where I can imagine myself far from the city in the peace of wilderness. (If you’re wondering about the photos I post that seem to be taken in wilderness, those are carefully framed photos taken in very urban environments that allow me to dream of wilderness.)

That will almost certainly be the thing that forces me to overcome my terror of driving on the right side of the car, on the right side of the road.  If I could do that, I could get my license and we could rent a car and drive to the wilderness – at least for  picnic once in a while. Two years ago I was not yet starved enough for nature to consider it.  Now I seriously consider it in fits and starts and one day my need for nature will win and I will learn to drive again.

That weed walk had another  interesting result.  It may have led to my finally finding my tribe here.

I have met some wonderful and amazing people since I moved to Australia. I have made dear friends, though they are all too busy to get together often.  (Just as well, my social stamina is at an all time low.) But they have all been very different from me and have introduced me to new interests.

After the weed walk, the woman who led the walk ask my permission to give my number to one of my new neighbors. (I did the walk a couple of weeks before we moved into out lovely little cottage, and mentioned that we would be living here.)

Through that neighbor, Amal, we have been meeting a bunch of other neighbors.  Most very young, all very interesting and all dedicated to permaculture and sustainable living.  Finally I have people around me who don’t find my lifestyle peculiar! It feels amazing.  They are even interested in having Rod ad I teach them some of the sustainable skills we’ve developed over the years, being as we are now “elders”.  (Most are ten or even twenty years younger than our older children.)  That feels amazing!

Rod has already taught a class in bread baking with another coming up, I think.  I will be scheduling a class in sauerkraut fermenting.  I am far from expert, and they know that, but I have succeeded a few times and we can explore together.

Astonishingly, it also sounds like these young folks will be happy to help us to move the raised garden beds I inherited from Rodney’s mother from where they are now to out new home, so I can start using them!

Life really, really feels like it’s all coming together here.  I am so excited!

Leaving Facebook

I keep meaning to blog.

I didn’t intentionally give it up.  But it always seemed like when the end of the day came so many things hadn’t been done.  Blogging never even made the list.

Where was I?

Well, part of it is the busyness of every day – but alarmingly often I had squandered a million ‘spare moments’ on Facebook. It’s fun – and it is wonderful to keep up with old friends and make new ones.  But there are other ways to do that that squander less time than the endless scrolling through click bait that is Facebook.

So, today I announced my intention to deactivate my Facebook account, at least for a while.  My intention is to spend that time doing the things I keep meaning to do: playing with my camera, walking, blogging, writing letters, reading, taking online classes.  All are more satisfying than endless scrolling waiting for news that someone I love is doing something interesting.

I will miss contact my friends and family, but I suspect that the ones who cherish me as much as I cherish them will find a way to be in touch.  I hope so. My children and grandchildren have been the main factor that kept me scrolling and if they don’t come join me elsewhere, I’ll probably be back, at least occasionally.  I hope to have developed excellent new habits first, though.

So, if you find me here – welcome! Please feel free to comment to let me know I’m not blogging into the aethers.  If you want to be in more personal contact, you can send e-mail or letters. If you need to know those addresses, you can contact me on Facebook in the next couple of day or through rodsmithastro.

Vignettes

These are all the small pieces that don’t really take up enough space to be an entire blog post, but that are still worth sharing. I’ve broken them down into subcategories, for organisational purposes.

Happiness:

A shy rose

There is so much ugliness in the world, and ignorance to said ugliness… Not physical ugliness, but mental. It can get disheartening. What a happy person must do in a world like this is to stay true to themselves and to others, to pick their fights wisely, and to stay properly informed.

I think I get enjoyment primarily out of other people’s enjoyment at the moment. I am put on the spot when people ask me what I would like to do, because, honestly, what makes other people happy is most likely to make me happy. Chess would most likely not bring any large amount of joy to the other person unless they have made chess a priority, as I have, so I would therefore probably not have much fun either. But if I were to do something that they loved with them, I would probably have more fun, even if I made a complete mess of what I was supposed to be doing. I suppose you could say, I run off of other people’s emotions. So, really, I insist, you choose!

Life really isn’t long enough to get away with not having fun. What ever you choose to do, enjoy doing it.

A lot of emphasis is put on living an extraordinary life, being famous, going beyond your peers, etc. Having an ordinary life, doing normal things, growing old, and dying is underrated; as long as you have enjoyed it, and you have not lived at the expense of others, you have, in my opinion, lived a good life. Life is not in the glory, life is in the living. Live life, whether or not you become rich and famous for doing so. If you do, good for you. And if you don’t, good for you as well.

It is much better, I think, not to take life seriously, and put on a good facade, than to take life seriously and get frustrated at people who don’t take life seriously.

No matter what you look like, how you act, whatever you do, how hard you try, there will always be someone who dislikes everything about you. Be yourself, and you will find people who like almost everything about you, and who accept what they don’t like.

We see best the flaws and blessings of other people. Objectivity gives us valuable perspective, and perhaps also gives us more compassion for our fellow humans.

Misc Other Topics:

Landscape with Lighthouse along the Great Ocean Road


I find people who don’t feel the need to at least pretend to be polite rather disheartening. I mean, sure, technically you don’t need to, but you also don’t NEED to shower before a date. Now, I can’t speak from personal experience here, but I’d say with nigh certainty that the date will go better if you have, in fact, showered recently, not to mention having brushed your teeth, or at least put on deodorant and munched some breath mints. Just as in a social situation, if you’re polite, or at least pretend to be, people tend to treat YOU more politely, not to mention making life better for other people.

There is no better or stricter mentor than experience.

It is one thing to state one’s ideals. To act on them is another kettle of fish.

Cool is just another word for confident. With confidence, the right people will see you as cool. Pretending to be someone else will never work, because, to quote a wise man, “There is no one youer than you!”

Emotions are temporary, but the world remains unchanged without action.

It is much better, I think, not to take life seriously, and put on a good facade, than to take life seriously and get frustrated at people who don’t take life seriously.

Time spent is time SPENT. There are no loans, refunds, or discounts. Spend it well.

You can only fool yourself temporarily. The truth comes knocking regulary, and you are left constantly patching up holes.

When the well being of other people comes second to your own whims, you need to reassess yourself.

Adapting your mannerisms to suit company is manners. Adapting your ethics to suit company is capitulation.

There are few truly evil people. There are many more who do not understand the consequences of their actions.

So my father and I were waiting at the bus stop, while it was pouring rain. Luckily, this bus stop had a shelter, so we remained dry… Until some dysfunctional dipstick decided to turn down the service road, giving us no time to react, and deliberately splash us with water from the gutters. Now, we aren’t talking a little “sploosh” that gets your feet wet, we’re talking about a mini-tsunami, covering us from head to toe in gutterwater. There were two options here: you either yell at them and carry on about it, or you could take it calmly and mutter something about inconsiderate people under your breath.

The thing about the former is: that’s what they want you to do. They are basically doing it to get a reaction. So, do you give them what they want? Well, do you give a screaming child a candy bar because they screamed? No. Therefore, I spat out the water, cleaned off my glasses, and started thinking privately of what the most cutting thing to call them would be. And I don’t ever need to share that name, not with them, or with any one else.

Attatching “taboo” to things, with some exceptions, increases the interest in said things, and germinates misinformation and other general stupidity about it. What would life be if it was completely free of taboos? Thoughts?

You have the right to disagree with someone. You do NOT have the right to be disrespectful to them because you disagree. Insults get no one anywhere. It does not matter how angry you are, or how justified you think you are, you must channel that anger into willpower, not into violence or hate, or you will get nothing done, and your frustration will grow because you aren’t getting anywhere.

Plan for the future, strive for tomorrow, be in the present, and learn from the past.

Advancement of any kind is rarely straightforward; advancement is more like doing the hokey pokey, intermittently taking two steps forward, and one back. It doesn’t mean you don’t have bad days, those bad days are just better than they used to be.

The difference between thoughts and actions makes the difference between an axe murderer and an average person. It also makes the difference between a world shaker and an average person.

When you have a bad day, it is crucial to just accept it and make tomorrow better. Beating yourself down for doing something badly almost always has more lasting negative effects than your initial defeat.

If putting ones plans into action was as easy as speaking about doing so, many more people would have done great things.

The culture of “lighten up, it’s just a joke” is the breeding ground for animosity.

Another Diatribe on Uniqueness

I don’t think that there are such things as “smarter”, “better”, “dumber”, or “worse”. I thing that everything and everyone has their drawbacks, and their strong points. Take me; I’m not really great at making things, physically. If you ask me to build a table for you, you will probably get a very uneven thing with 4 legs that may or may not stand up on its own. I am NOT a handyman. (Yet. I hope to get better at fixing/building things. It simply won’t do not to be able to fix my own problems.) But I do tend to think quite a bit, about all kinds of things. Like this thing that I’m thinking about and sharing with you, and many more.

Question # 1: Does my inability to build things or fix them make me any worse a person? No. Honestly, no. It means if I get stuck in the middle of the outback with a faulty motor, I’m pretty much screwed over unless a more mechanically educated person happens along and rescues me from my plight. But I could probably assist one of my friends in the writing of a document that needs to sound erudite and confusing.

Question # 2: Am I to rest on my haunches and say, “Well, this is where I am, no more improvement for me?” Also, no. Especially not for me personally, as even though I’m pretty educated for most of 14, I’m not that great in the scheme of things. If I stop progressing, I will end up being still 14 at 20, a comedic tragedy. But I don’t think anyone should give up on what they aren’t the best at, and they should not stop learning about what they ARE the best at. If you stop at any point and say “I’ve done the most I can,” you are depriving yourself of being the best you that you can be, which is a terrible self-disservice.

People tend to judge other people based from the point of view of their own strengths, so that a handy man views a scholar as being simply incompetent because he cannot perform a wheel rotation, and a scholar sniffs at a handy man because he cannot define a clause. Now, these individuals would be petty and narrow-minded if they existed, I’m simply using them as illustrative characters. I find myself a much better person for accepting people for who they are, accepting their strengths as legitimate strengths, than comparing them to who I am, and what my strengths are.

I think that everyone is, indeed, created equal. But equal in a wonderfully diverse way. I think that alone, a person is fallible. But together, we cover for each other’s shortcomings. Alone, we are relatively weak and vulnerable. Together, we are strong and intelligent.

A Letter to the Future

Dear Future,

I would like to apologise, first off, for the mess we have left you. We could not see past all our luxuries and conveniences to use forethought, and to conserve the planet we have the audacity to call “ours”. We could not see that by using up so many resources, here and now, we cut the life span of the future generations of humans.

I want to apologise for the lack of prudence we daily observe, driving our cars, chugging along on our busses… Drilling into the ground to keep our made-up economy afloat… Smoking and drinking excessively, to pass on malnourishment to our children and grandchildren… Cutting down massive forests to make room for ugly boxes of wood and brick.

I want to apologise that you do not see many of the animals that we see today; we’ve either hunted them to extinction or forced them out of their habitats. We seem to enjoy the squashing of other life to put our own interests at fore.

I want to apologise for the pollution that we spew into the water because we are running out of places to dispose of our own waste. I’m sorry for the trashmounds piling up in oceans, poisoning the marine life. I would like to apologise for the fact that real, unpolluted, unfiltered water is so difficult to come by.

I want to apologise for what we’ve done to the atmosphere, for the fact that you can see, from Canada, the smog cloud hanging over Detroit, for the acid rains that strip our trees of leaves and bark, for the garbage we burn into the air under the illusion that it “goes away”.

I want to apologise for the manipulative games we play with each other over thin oblong rectangles of paper, and the lies we bombard ourselves with, all shouting and pointing and never getting to any sort of point that really matters. I want to apologise for the fact that we brag about our “quality of living” when what we have is a vegetative sort of sentience… But boy, do we have some cool gadgets!

I want to apologise that we pat ourselves on the back, looking at a sheet of numbers that tell us we’re doing a good job, considering ourselves an “advanced species” because we have created a myriad of different technowhizmos and beepdeboopmeters for almost anything we want to do in this tiny life of ours. But for all of our bling and “life-improving tools”, we edge farther and farther from the simple beauty and savagery of what is living.

I just want to apologise that you will not get the opportunity to experience things that we take for granted. I want to apologise that you probably have a twisted sense of what life is, figuring it’s all about numbers and profit. It’s our fault, and it was our job to fix it.

Sincerely,

Isaac Smith

P.S To those reading closer to the present, I must say one thing: Enjoy what life you have while you have it. It’s a limited commodity.
It does not seem likely that we will be able to turn this whole conundrum around fast enough, due to the blank refusal of our fellow humans. But anything may happen, and you cannot know until you carpe the diem!

What Is the Meaning of Life – Beyond 42

The meaning of life, in the end, I think, is happiness. I mean, unless you believe in a God of some sort, there isn’t much point to living (as opposed to not living) unless it is for the moments of happiness we experience throughout our momentary lives.

So, if personal happiness is the meaning of life, why should you not live at the expense of others? Why shouldn’t you, say, stab people when you feel like it, or force other people to do things for you? Well, for a few reasons:

1) Living in such a world would give others the liberty to stab you, and force you to do what they want. And, to quote general wisdom, “There’s always a bigger fish”.

2) Happiness is best thought of as a finite communal resource. When you take away another’s happiness, or potential happiness, you take out from the communal “happiness” fund. Thus, not only does the person whose happiness you have taken lose happiness, your own happiness is decreased as well. The same goes for adding happiness; if you make someone’s day a little bit brighter, your own day becomes brighter as well. You have contributed to the communal happiness fund. (Most of us have empathy, which makes us fairly sensitive to the communal happiness fund. Some are less in tune.)

3) What you are getting from those people, or your actions against those people, may feel like happiness in the moment. But what you are actually getting is pleasure. Pleasure is temporary, not necessarily evil, but it is temporary. By gaining pleasure at another’s expense, you are eroding at your future happiness. When your pleasure wears off, whenever that is, you will be left with a sense of dissatisfaction. Something won’t sit right within you; something will feel amiss. That would be your happiness, conspicuous in it’s absence. So, if you are the type of person to use other’s without a second thought, you will probably go get some more pleasure.

So, really, if happiness is the point to life, we should strive to add to the “communal happiness fund” as much as we can. Remember, adding happiness to your own day counts!

2017 in Review

Well, 2017 has been one heck of a year. During these incredibly packed last 358 days(not even the whole year, I might still get some surprises! But I might forget to post this if I wait too long…), I have experienced what it is to lose a close family member, I have experienced the tragedy of losing a friend whose young life ended too soon, I have experienced what it is like to have my world flipped in under 5 minutes, I have struggled with temporary low-self esteem, I have made a plan for my further education (and determined that it should not interfere with my further learning), I have made significant bounds in my physical, intellectual, and mental development, and somewhere in there, I have turned 14. I have changed my mind on semi-important issues more times than I have woken up and gone to bed combined. I have made bounds in exploring my place in this world, and this world’s place in me. When life has knocked me down, I have found that the best approach is to pick myself up, brush off the dust, treat it as a learning experience, and keep walking, knowing I will be knocked down harder than that in the future. When life lifts me up, and I feel on top of the world, I have learned to keep my feet on the ground, and to rationally enjoy the moment, knowing that I will be dropped. I enjoy the cozy, lazy times curled up in front of the heater with my cat on cold days, and I endure the days that feel like the only purpose I have is to go to bed and wake up the next day, all with the knowledge that “this, too, shall pass”. I have learned so much this year… But I know that I will be drop kicked harder, lifted up higher, have more expected of me, do more, see more, be more, learn more, next year. The poignant knowledge that I don’t count for much except in a small part of this world, makes me realize just how much my actions matter, and drives me to create a life I can look back on in 80 years time and sigh at in satisfaction.

Au revoir, 2017, it was good knowing you.

2018, I look forward to meeting you.

On Shapeshifting (2016)


I am, or have been, living a life for other people. Sure, I know I’m also a person, but my behaviour directly correlates with how other people see me. If you see me as quiet/borderline reclusive, that’s because I fear to open my mouth, lest something spill out that will somehow ruin the conversation. Lest I offend. Lest I make myself look a fool. If you see me as slow and thorough, you’re incorrect; I’m just slow. I run circles around myself in my head and tell myself I made a decision when really I went with what I originally thought, because I couldn’t find my way out of aforementioned circle. This directly interferes with my decision making, and makes me both slow AND inaccurate. I want to single out every single error in my thinking before “releasing it to the world”, so to speak. I systematically forget that being wrong is a stepping stone to being right. I want to be right, first time, every time. I hold myself to a ridiculous standard, not only mentally, but emotionally; I stifle my emotions and my reactions for everyone around me, lest I weird them out or make them feel uncomfortable. If you see me as stable, you are definitely wrong. I am the epitome of self-doubt. I constantly think about ways to push myself to unnatural limits to please. At the end of each day, I think about every social situation I’ve been in, and I think about everything I did wrong, everything I did that might have done that could be possible taken the wrong way. I put everyone else ahead of me, but also assume my own importance in other people’s lives is inflated. Like if I slip up socially, I think about how I ruined the other person’s day and irreparably damaged my social standing with them. Thus, I ruin my own day exponentially more than I ruin the other person’s. So, through my clever deduction, I figure that if I talk less, there is less chance of making someone uncomfortable. I always second guess myself, leading to me stuttering, leading to me beating myself up some more over how socially awkward I am. That is the reason I have never been able to take the centre stage; I spend more time and energy thinking about how I present myself than what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

To summarize:
I’m not secure, I just seem that way because of how little I say.
I’m not deliberate, I just seem that way because of how long I take to reach substandard conclusions.
I’m not overly polite, I just seem that way because I stifle myself.

So, what do I need to do?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious: I need to put myself higher on my own priority list. I need to release the bonds that I have placed on myself so rigorously and so thoroughly. I need to stop judging myself with an iron fist of incredulous standards. To clarify, I will still be polite. I will simply follow the typical set of social rules as opposed to the Draconian laws I set for myself, but for no-one else. I will still look before I leap, but now I will leap, not uncertainly stumble my way to failure. I will still put other people’s safety and comfort before my own, but only to the extent that it does not infringe upon my ability to live and enjoy life.

This is the last self-punishment I intend to do, but it will be difficult to break free of years of self-suppression.

Enter “Archie” – Thoughts and Struggles with Anxiety

I’m looking back at my Facebook post from just over a year ago, about how I was fretting over my social interactions… I can safely say, I am no longer suffering from that frenetic worrying. Whether by the leave of some blessed higher being, or simply practicing the art of letting go, I no longer get anxious about very many social situations.

However, something rang true from that post that I have still been struggling with: I am a perfectionist. Everyone else can do as well or as poorly as they like, and I’m fine with it. They gave it a shot, it’s fine, they did way better than not trying at all. But when it comes to me?

“You can’t even remember what 7×12 is, you learned that in 3rd grade, you’re literally worse than a 7 year old right now.”
“You just gave your opponent your knight for free, wtf are you doing?!”
“You can do better, you’re just not working hard enough (after 3 hours of straight chess playing and study)”
“You didn’t remember what you just read, why are you even doing this, you’re hopeless.”
“How can you hope to be good at anything when you’ve played chess for 9 years, and you’re still not that good? Sure, you’re better than most people, most people haven’t wasted as much time on chess as you have.”
“That’s not straight. You can’t even draw a straight line. See him? He’s drawing a straight line, and he’s 8.”
“Why on this good Earth would you try to use a lemon juicer like that?”

That’s an introduction to Archie, as I’ve named that part of myself. Archie has been with me for a while, as the normal self-critic that most people have, but he’s come recently to dominate my mood periodically, when I start to do sub-optimally at something, such as halfway through maths, when I get something silly wrong due to not paying proper attention. I continue through maths, but my math brain is gone, and instead Archie is telling me how badly I’m doing, enrolling me in the cycle of getting things wrong, kicking myself, focusing on kicking myself more than maths, rinse and repeat. So that, by the time I’m done with my half hour of mathematics, I feel like a teapot, steaming out of the ears, whistling out of the nose, and red hot in the face.

I failed.

I did REALLY badly, that’s the fact of the matter. I was not performing at maximum efficiency, and I made frequent mistakes in anything that made me think more than superficially. If I accepted that fact, and moved on, okay, I would be having a bad day, but things happen.

But no. Archie keeps bugging me, squeezing my sternum, injecting me with blind anger and telling me,

“See? I’m right… You can ignore me, but you can’t hide from the truth; you’re worthless. You won’t be anything.”

So, I end up cooling down by some method, either taking a walk, or doing something easy and brainless. Then, later in the day, when I’ve removed myself from the situation, I look back and chuckle to myself at how silly it was.

I want to clarify that I realise Archie is simply me, or a reflection thereof. I’m not trying to distance myself from him, though I might like to. Giving him a name just makes things easier to sort out in my mind.

This is really bugging me these days, because it’s starting to dawn on me how much more inventive, creative, fun, productive etc. I could be if there wasn’t a part of me that said “Don’t bother, that’s a stupid idea.” Or at least, if I could tell that piece of me to be quiet in certain situations.

Most of the time, I’m fine. Okay, I’m less likely to value something that I came up with, because I don’t believe in my own ability. But that is a minor issue compared to the sporadic tirades of insecurity that dominate up to 3 consecutive days from time to time.

So that is my goal for 2018: Believe in yourself. Let your mistakes be reminders to do better next time. Strike a pact with your devil, and let yourself be free.

Australia Day Musings

So it’s nearly Australia day. People are putting up their flags, celebrating with a barbecue, etc. I’m fine with that, it’s great to have a public holiday to celebrate the peace you have found in this country or whatever.

However, Australia Day is currently on a day which many consider a day of mourning. January 26th was the day the First Fleet landed in Australia, without checking to see if it was okay with the initial settlers of the land.

After January 26th, 1788, the lives of the original inhabitants changed drastically. White men brought epidemics, they brought guns, they brought sadness, they brought the greed that had spurred them to conquer the other parts of the world… But perhaps the most devastating thing they brought were convicts. Tortured men who had been held in terrible conditions, and had most likely from birth been squashed by those higher than them in the British rat-race. Many of these individuals were depraved and desensitised by their life experience, and saw the natives as an outlet for their fury, their rage… And their tortuous instincts. At the hands of these white men, the native Aborigines suffered terrible violence and atrocities. When they attempted to fight back, they were slaughtered and labelled as vicious savages.

As the years went by, the British colony in Australia started to become attractive to the British government, and they started settling it as a proper colony as opposed to a giant Alcatraz. And in 1901, Australia became an official nation. Still, there was no permission asked of the native residents. And at no point, as the nation developed, did the government of said nation ask the original inhabitants for permission to inhabit this land.

The native culture of Australia has been derided and spat upon by people who do not have permission to be here. This was embarrassing back in 1788. It was embarrassing in 1901. It’s 2018 now. The least we can do, now, is to make Australia Day a day everyone can celebrate. Or at least, that does not coincide with the day of mourning of so many other Australians.

 

Homeschooling with a teen? How did that happen?!?!?!

It’s now been about three years since I took over as Jack’s primary educational facilitator.  I’m really enjoying it! Finally!  I get to learn, too! At least when Jack reads aloud. (It’s quicker and easier for him to read silently and then take notes, though, so he only reads poetry and simpler books aloud anymore.)

We completed the (Roman) unit we were working on during our move and started another one (Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation) a few months after we arrived. We’re almost done with that one, and in the next few months we will start the last unit I have for him (early modern and modern times).

Originally, I had planned to create two more units, but in the last few months, Jack has started to see his life path ahead of him and it takes him away in February 2020 to study at The Gordon to get the ATARs he needs to study law at Deakin.

I’m not standing in the way of a man with  a plan. I wasn’t so visionary when I was approaching 15 and I am pleased that Jack is.

Our schedule always seems to be out of sync with the Australian January to December school year, just as it was with the US September to June school year.   We will probably finish the current unit in March or April and start the next one three weeks later. It didn’t matter in Michigan, where we never had to register or report. It may begin to matter more  now, because not only do we have to register to homeschool in Victoria, but starting in March, there are new regulations that require that we be prepared to report to the state every three years.

I’m not looking forward to forfeiting the freedom we are accustomed to, but as a recent immigrant, I don’t really have a lot of choice.  Many of my friends are or planning to slip under the radar by letting their homeschool registration lapse when they move house over the next few years to avoid the meddling of he department. That doesn’t seem wise  for our family. Then again, while we are not following a plan that the government would recognise, we do have a  plan and our standards are high. The fines for not registering are not insignificant and it’s likely that we will pass the reviews as long as they are fair. Probably best we take our chances over the next couple of years.

I’m currently trying to figure out how to draw the parallels between what we’re working on and the Victorian curriculum for reporting purposes. It’s not technically required that we follow any specific curriculum, but human nature suggests that the more “familiar”  Jack’s education looks to the investigaors, the less deeply we are likely to be investigated, making everyone’s lives easier.

The system we have adopted over the last three years has evolved as he has matured. These days Jack chooses what he wants to study next from the shelf of pre-selected books.  Three years ago, he selected all the books for the week and plugged away until they were all back on the shelf, averaging 6 books per day and usually finishing by Friday, though some busy weeks required study on the weekends, too.  Recently, we switched from the many subjects briefly to a more focused  one or two subjects, totaling three hours per day. (He takes breaks to rest his brain, but he seem to  get more done when he focuses on one or two subjects for the day.)

I think that Jack being in charge a good thing because this is Jack’s education not mine and soon enough he will be at University where time management will be entirely his responsibility.

We call our units by the historical period we’re studying, but the historical period, while it defines the temporal boundaries of our units, is only a small part of what we do.

In the early years, we tried to match up history, music, art, and  whatever else was relevant to the historical period, so that we looked at classical roman art, looked for information on Roman music and performance, read novels based in ancient Rome, learned Latin root words, prefixes, and suffixes in English, and tried a meal that would have been familiar to ancient Romans.  That has started to wane a bit as we have added more material to Jack’s curriculum as he has matured. We still try to look at art and literature based in the period, but they have become a much smaller side journey as his studies have become more complex.

As an example of the new complexity,  Jack has been studying a lot of Australian history and civics this last four years. We also  read poetry and literature, science, philosophy, ethics, and maths and all the usual classical subjects. We even studied Latin for a while and I hope to get back to that soon, though maybe not while Jack is studying Spanish.

I think the best changes over the last three years is that that once I put Jack in charge of his education and asked him to decide what we were going to study nd when, he also started to step up and take responsibility for getting us started on studies once he’s had breakfast.  That makes me SO happy and proud of him.

Anyway, I have been writing and rewriting this for  11 months – suffice to say, homeschooling is very flexible and changes to meet current need- but it’s time to click Publish and move on.

Individual Potential and Uniqueness

Image

It gets on my nerves to hear the quote “If everyone was amazing, then no one would be amazing, everyone would be average.” This is so wrong; amazingness is not a competition. It is what makes you unique, and it is what you can contribute to the world. The cynics in my friends list will say “Well that’s great Jack, but ____ seems to resemble semi-intelligent pond scum more than they resemble anything amazing. What do they contribute?”

Well, I should say they have the potential to contribute amazing things. Potential needs to be cultivated in order to be realized, and today’s society is neglecting the cultivation of the inner awesome inherent in all of us.

“Amazing” is not one single thing… And that’s what makes it possible for everyone to be amazing.

Post #1

Hi all,

Jack here. If you follow my Facebook, you will have noticed that I come out with some very long winded articles. Among the requirements for the new Victorian Home Education Plan (or whatever they call it) is requirement of proof of education. I think my musings count as some proof of my education, but “Let me show you my blog” sounds better than “Let me show you my Facebook feed” when speaking to certain uptight individuals in the higher echelon of society. So, yeah, I’m going to be copying and pasting my more prestigious musing into the blog.

Enjoy!

Meet Magnus Katsperov, Emperor

Meet Magnus, the newest member of Team Smiffy.

He joined us on May 21, 2017, at the age of four months. He came for a visit one night, made himself at home, and never left.

Baby Magnus, four months old on adoption day

At this point, we can’t imagine life without him, though it might be tempting in the middle of the night on occasion – kittens will be kittens, after all.

He was originally thought to be a girl kitten named Mimi, but by July it ha become physically evident that this was no baby girl! A change of name was in order.

Jack created his name by borrowing elements from a couple of the best chess players in the world. It suits him – a very regal, strong kind of name. And like all adolescent males, Magnus swaggers around here like he invented “cool”. That wouldn’t work for a boy named Mimi.

Proving to us that even a clothes drying rack is a fine place for a nap, if the emperor says so.

Unlike most cats I have known, Magnus adapts pretty readily to change – at least so far.

He’s not interested in going outdoors without a carrier,bu he does enjoy his cat carrier and enjoys going to visit his friend Duchess, who lives across town.

To be honest, the trip in the car isn’t his favorite, but once he’s there he settles right in and makes himself at home and before long he and Duchess are playing together. Magnus is usually content for days after a visit.

That might just be because he’s still a baby – we’ll see if he keeps that quality into adulthood

Magnus, almost one year.

Hmmm. Very choppy writing an very little content.

My apologies.

I didn’t  want to skip another day and risk falling out of  the habit of blogging again, but I am very, very tired. Enjoy the pictures of our sweet boy and please ignore the drivel.

Whole30

I mentioned a few days ago that I have kicked off my first Whole30.

It’s already the 21st of January and I just finished reading the book, so I plan to continue to at least the end of February – assuming I don’t have any more lapses.

A few days in to my first attempt, (probably because this is actually so similar to the way we always eat) I fell into non-thinking mode and had a square of 80% chocolate after dinner (now replaced with cocoa nibs for the duration while the boys have their after dinner chocolate) and a glass of wine with dinner.

Oops.

Time to start back on square one. The wine was probably because we’re just past the holidays and social eating often means a glass of wine  with dinner. Not a big deal to give up – I just have to remember that I’m not doing that for now.

Honestly, the very hardest part is food timing. I have to eat breakfast before I can have coffee!!

For years it  has been my custom to get up between 8am and 9am and have coffee. Then, when I get hungry around 1 or 2 pm, I would have a “breakfast” of a big honking salad – three cups of greens, seaweed, an avocado, some onion, some fish…and that would hold me until dinner round 8 or 9 pm.

Bedtime is generally around midnight.

The Whole30 mandates breakfast within one hour of waking, eating three substantial meal every day, and no eating at least three hours before bed.

I have been forcing myself to eat breakfast before my coffee and I am getting closer to the one hour mark. The food  still sits like a rock on my stomach, but I am able to choke it down now. However that means that I am unable to fit lunch into my stomach until 4 or 5 pm, which is making getting dinner on the table by 8 much more difficult. Until I can get that sorted, I can’t officially start my Whole30.

Today, I tried an even smaller breakfast – I hope that makes it possible to get lunch in around 1 so that starting dinner around 5 will be easier.

Or maybe I’ll just give up eating entirely for 30 days.  That sounds easier.  I’m getting so sick of food.

Photography

I think I probably mentioned back in 2015 that I bought a new Nikon DSLR camera when my old Kodak ‘point and shoot’ died, and then I took took a 6 month photography certification class (cert II).

I was originally intending to take the full year class (cert III), but between my inability to understand the later assignments and the fact that most of the second half of the year was about studio work, I decided to just keep working with what I had learned in the first half. (The last thing I needed on a fixed income was the impression that I need an expensive studio setup!)

The class did exactly what I was hoping it would. It taught me how to get off automatic mode an into manual mode, and it gave me the information I needed to teach myself more.

There were assignments, especially toward the end of the course, that I missed entirely because I just couldn’t wrap my mind around what the instructor was asking for but I have a notebook of the assignments and my first results. I can redo the class as often as I want to now and learn more every time. I also now understand enough to make sense of YouTube videos and articles on Photography sites. Score! I won!

For the last three years, Jack and Rod and I have been going out on photo walks every few weeks, as time allows. I learn a lot from what catches their eyes, so that I am able to stretch out of my comfort zone even further. It’s been great fun!

I have continued to play with my kit lenses, the pair of zoom lenses that came with my camera and I have gotten to the point of being pretty happy with at least some of my results on every outing.

Zoom lenses are convenient. They let you shoot many different kind of images without changing your lens. Between them, my lenses ranged between 18 mm and 200 mm. That was super convenient and I got very lazy and attached to zooming rather than moving to get the shot.

However the thing about kit lenses is that they are intended to be inexpensive and to give maximum flexibility to a beginner who doesn’t yet know what they “need” in a lens. They are intended to be replaced eventually by a higher quality lens – possibly a prime lens – as the beginner becomes an experienced photographer.

There is nothing wrong with a kit lens. A good photographer can get stunning photographs with them! There is no equipment with which a mediocre photographer like me is going to capture a world class image.

Still, I was curious. A prime lens is smaller and lighter and is easier to travel with. A prime lens has higher quality glass because it doesn’t need to move as the camera zooms. A better quality lens should give crisper results.

Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to try one without buying it. And although they are  available in a range of prices, I couldn’t justify a new lens when I have two perfectly good lenses and I didn’t even know whether I would like using a prime lens.

Then TJ, my oldest son, gave me a New Year’s gift. My first thought was to squirrel it away for a rainy day…but that lens just kept tugging at me.  Rod encouraged me to indulge.  So we went to look.

As it happened, we arrived at the camera shop on a day when a lens of the type I was thinking about was on sale. A much better lens than I was ever likely to consider was available for almost exactly what TJ had sent.  I crumpled and left the shop the new owner of a 50 mm prime lens.

It gives a very  different result than I am accustomed to, in part because it is a wider angle than I usually use.  I have brought it out several times  around the house to try various ideas and to try to see how I can best use it.

It’s almost like the feeling when I first got my first camera- it’ that different.

What a wonderful challenge!  I’m having a blast!

Various updates

Hey! I came back! 😉

Rodney October 2017

That’s OK, there’s probably no one around to notice, but it may take time to get back in the swing of writing and find my voice again, so its probably just as well. (If you are reading this, lease let me know. It will make it more fun to talk.)

It’s interesting.  When I left, I had fully intended to document my emigration experience once I arrived, but for one reason or another – some technical, most not, I found that I was completely unable to do so. Writing has become far more difficult to me since I arrived.  I hope that will pass and I intend to keep trying.  If no other reason, because it’s been so handy to have the blog to double check things in!

Another part of the difficulty seemed to be tthat so much of the processing I was doing was at a level below the verbal- I just didn’t have words for my feelings.  There were no thoughts most of the time, just reactions. I really wasn’t expecting that. My apologies for being unable to take you on the journey.

Jack October 2017

I am completely enjoying Australia and it very much feels like home.  Actually, even as I went through the classic settling in reactions (being oddly emotional; seeing “familiar” from far away  in people in the on the street; finding that I was confused by all accents- especially America accents!) I still felt quite  at home and the things that evidently upset some immigrants didn’t bother me. It all just felt like a part of the process.

Now we are beginning our fourth year and as I find words, I will try to retroactively take you on the journey, but do feel free to ask questions.  hat may well help me to find words for things.

One side effect of my emigration was that I was presented with an amazing array of beautiful new foods — things that I had never seen or tasted before. If you know me, you know that I LOVE food. And I was unaccustomed to an urban cafe culture where every day life brought me to the vicinity of cafes where those beautiful foods were on display, looking and smelling amazing.

I remained pretty conscientious about my avoidance of gluten and wheat and obvious corn, since those are triggers that I know make me very ill very.  However, in the interest of curiosity I far too often indulged in things that “might be safe”.  Of curse, once I started that, I also started to feel less well (because many of the things that “might be safe” contained hidden corn), and the cravings also started.

By the 20th of December, the deterioration in my health couldn’t be ignored anymore. My blood sugar had become unstable after 5 years, I hurt in every joint and had dded new aches and pains o the collection I had before we discovered what was making us ill back in 2009, and I had no energy.  I knew it was time to stop eating like a tourist and start eating like I live here.  Time to take care of myself, despite the awkward social situations.  I am past the curiosity and reassured that none of those delights are worth the pain hey cause, but spending my life saying “no thank you” to friends has been a serious bit of dissuasion. But it’s time to put my health first again.

As of that date, I have started to eliminate everything I know is not good for my health.  As of January first, I have started working toward doing my first Whole30. I need to make sure that I haven’t triggered any new sensitivities through carelessness and this is a good way to do that. I didn’t get the book from the library until two weeks in and discovered that I was doing it wrong.  Oops. I’ll keep adding steps as I discover them through my reading of the book and will officially begin my 30 days the day I finish the book.

Even just so far, I am already seeing the benefits!  I have been able to climb the step stool again.  (It made my knees hurt too much before) Today and yesterday I have been able to get down on thee floor –really sitting on the floor!  — for he first time in a couple of years. And my energy is back. I found myself really enjoying walking fast for the joy of it today when I was shopping. Yep.  Totally worth it. I am enjoying life again and no taste is as good as this feels! (Besides, the hollow calories of those things don’t really appeal to me anymore. Best thing ever!)

OK, dinner is calling.  See you tomorrow!

Happy 2018!

It’s been seven months since I have been able to post. Against all evidence we have not fallen off the edge of the earth.

We have indeed moved, but in that move, my computer “got broken”. It took six months to get it fixed and then a few days later, it broke again.

It turned out to be a coincidence that it happened during our move, because it was a well known flaw in that model of computer.

Another coincidence was that Jack had, in the interim, bought himself a new, faster, more powerful computer and he was willing to gift me his old one.  Thanks, Jack!

It turns out that Jack’s old comupter is far superior to my old one on every way that matters to me – though the old one might have runs games faster than this one does.

It took a while to get e-mail and the blog and everything else running on this computer, but I’m back now.

There have been many, many changes for us in the last few months, and over the next few days, I hope to get updates posted.

Still in a holding pattern

To anyone who might still be listening:

Back in February, I posted that we are “on the move again”. And, we are, but, evidently, very, very slowly. We have looked at 20 properties so far. I have seen five (or was it six?) that I would happily have signed on to rent, but in each case, Rod, whose turn it is to make the final decision, had very valid reasons that they wouldn’t suit.

And so, the search continues. We saw six properties last weekend, on Jack’s 14th birthday, including two that would have contented me. I am, however, keeping out of the decisions to apply or not. (I could otherwise become overbearing on the subject – and that’s not fair when I selected the last two homes we’ve shared.

No, the lovely cottage to the right is neither where we live nor one of the houses we’ve looked at – just a very beautiful place I saw on a photo walk last August – the day before I broke myself, as a matter of fact.

The long search has made packing easy – I pack a box or two every few days and have reached the point where soon there will be nothing we don’t need day to day left to pack. The spare room is completely full and the back hallway is becoming impassable – which under the circumstances is probably a good thing. )(Packing in a panic at the last minutes is seriously no fun and terribly inefficient.) As always, packing the books is the hardest – I consult them regularly, and never more regularly than when I can’t reach them!

I hope to be in our new place by winter solstice, or my birthday at latest, so maybe I can live without them for a month. But my craft supplies?!?! A month without crafting? No, those I think, get back in the last week, along with the kitchen. How else will I stay sane?

Jack and I continue to take frequent photo walks, though not quite a frequent now that autumn rains and cold snaps have made them a but more risky. Up until this week, we continued to swap cameras – one of of us on the DSLR and the other on Rodney’s “antique” point and shoot. On Saturday, for his 14th birthday, Jack got a beautiful, expensive point and shoot camera. He didn’t often take advantage of the DSLR capabilities, and this means he doesn’t have to worry about carrying a big camera, but his photo quality should be more consistent now. That’s pretty important because he has to put together a photo portfolio by the end of the year for his homeschool review. (Art is a required subject and we figure it’s best to focus on documenting what we do, rather than trying to fit new subjects into our busy schedules.)

The other advantage, of course, is that with three cameras, we can all go for photo walks together. Rod is up to it these days, so it will be fun rather than frustrating.

I’ve mentioned my ‘project’ to reduce my thyroid dose. It’s still ongoing. I am down from 7 grains to 1.25 and in a few weeks I’ll be at 1. I was interested to discover that the reason that it took three months to recover after each reduction was that I have, since I retired, been steadily impairing my metabolism by under eating. At the office, I used to bring leftovers and eat them every few hours throughout the day. After Rod left, there were never leftovers because Jack and I didn’t have much interest in food without Rod. Once I retired, we were simply too busy to prepare major meals.

We occasionally ate lunch once we got here by experimenting with new recipes of various kinds, but as we got more busy, it got harder to make the time to prepare food and it was rare for all of us to be here together in the middle of the day, so we mostly stopped again.

The over-treated thyroid covered the symptoms of slowed metabolism, but when it was taken away, the symptoms came on with a vengeance. It was that and not the reduced thyroid dose, per se, that was making me so sick.

So in the last few weeks, I have been trying to make sure I eat lunch. I make up a batch of “veg dip” and cut up crudités to have on hand to make it as easy as possible.

Eating them as been harder than I expected, though,  because I have also lost interest in eating breakfast.  If I wait until I am hungry, I end up eating for the first time around 4 or 5 pm…which is not the direction I need to go. I am starting to have symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome from the fasting, so it’s getting more serious and I have to get it under control.

Is this, I wonder, how anorexia feels? I cold never really understand choosing not to eat – I love food! But lately…not so much.  Food seems like an awful lot of effort – not just to prepare, but also to eat. Honestly, it;s been easier lately to cook a meal than to eat it. That is bizarre, when I stop to think about it.

Of course, moving is also going to be expensive, so we have been putting aside every cent we can. We have been cutting way back on meat and expensive veg and eating more carrots and potatoes. I haven’t been able to re-fill my supplements or my bone knitting herbs since February, either. I am learning that they really, really were making a big difference to my health. Good to know – but probably also adding to my stress levels.

Oh well. It’s almost over.

Yikes! It’s dinnertime!

The guys will be home and very hungry in about thirty minutes because..wait for it…we all missed lunch!  chortle I crack myself up.

 

Broken!

In March of last year, so almost a year ago, I went to the doctor for the first time since my arrival in Australia.

It was time to check up on my blood sugar, since my glucometre had broken shortly after I arrived.

It turned out that my blood sugar was fine. However, since I was there, the doctor ordered a whole panel of blood tests.  Everything was delightfully normal, except…my thyroid hormone was frighteningly high! (Or rather, my TSH was nonexistent, for those of you who know what I am talking about.)

After chatting with the doctor – me very reluctant to mess with what was working, and the doctor very concerned about the long term health effects of hyperthyroidism, I went home and did some research.

Hmmm. My teeth have been crumbling for some time, and that’s one of the (minor) symptoms of over-medication with thyroid hormone. A number of other symptoms were also there.  I agreed to try reducing my dose by one grain. The first three months were miserable, but instead of getting worse, at the half-way point, I started to feel better.

Clearly the doctor was on to something.

When I had been feeling better for about two weeks, I made an appointment to get my blood tested again. Still far too high.  Worried, I agreed to try again. Same result.  Misery for three months, and then back to normal.  Testing revealed that the dose was still too high.

Hunh, interesting. I am currently down from 7 grains to three and feeling fine again.  Time to get another blood test done.

It appears that one of the side effects of working with Dr. Sickels and following the Wahls protocol is that my thyroid has healed. I won’t know for another six months or so how completely it has healed, because reducing my dose suddenly could be catastrophic, but I am hopeful at this point that I may be finished with my last prescription! (I was declared “cured” of seizure disorder in 2002, of diabetes in 2012, and now maybe of hypothyroidism.)

Now to the point of this post’s title.

One side effect of the reducing thyroid hormone has been weight gain in addition to the weight I had gained when we moved ‘down the hill’ to within a block of the best stop and the greengrocer. Of course. That was to be expected. It was only about 20 pounds. My clothes fit differently, but I didn’t change clothing sizes. (Partly because I expected that moment – unintentional weight loss can be expected to be followed by unintentional weight gain – and I always chose very forgiving clothes.) But I didn’t want that last five pounds that would doom me to more clothes shopping.

So, I started working a bit harder at using up energy.

Instead of going to the nearest bus stop, I went to the next stop walking as fast as I could.  If I had the time, I kept walking to the next, and the nest bus stop. It was going great! I felt stronger and fitter and more energetic as the days and weeks passed.  I was wonderful.

Then, in August, it all came crashing down when I was momentarily distracted and tripped over a rough spot in the pavement at full speed.  I came down hard and broke both an arm and a leg. The first serious break or injury of any kind in my life. (Being a physical coward has it’s benefits.)

No more speed walking for me for a while!  Actually, for a little while, there was no more walking for me at all. I spent four days in hospital before I was allowed to get out of bed. I gradually learned to get around and get my chores done with one arm and one leg. That was fortunate, because a few days after my accident Rodney (who had been carrying the load at home in addition to cooking meals and bringing them to me) ended up in the hospital with heart trouble!

As an aside, I came to Australia planning to get a job immediately. I discovered, however, that it had been determined that Rodney needs a full-time carer. That would be…me! After a year and a half, I had begin to think that Rod was really OK, and would be fine of I got a job, at least part time. Maybe not, though. It feels weird and wrong not to be working, but as the family keep telling me, I *am* working.  I’m educating Jack and caring for Rod.  Clearly he does still need me to do that.

Anyway, I hobbled around looking very silly with bone supports on alternate arm and leg.  When it came time to remove the casts, I thought my healing was pretty much done.  Then they were actually removed and I learned that my healing was just beginning. It took me a couple of months to be able to leave the cane home, and my leg is still a bit stiff even six months later. My arm took longer and may well never have its full range of motion back, but I can do everything I need or want to.

I was completely amazed when four days in hospital, medications, equipment, physiotherapy, and everything else cost me less than $50! I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but that was it. Amazing.

Soon after I could start to hobble around and get to town, I started brewing bone knitting herbal infusions, and I will continue drinking those until January 2018, since that’s how long it takes for bone to completely heal.  Other than that, or if you were to notice that I hold my arm at an odd angle to reach things, you would never know I had broken myself t nearly 60.

It was a very interesting experience. Until then, I had no real idea how knitting and recuperation worked,  and I had no idea what I was capable of until it happened. I don’t regret it, though I am in no hurry to repeat it.  (My back still hurts sometimes from the strain and contortion I had to use to get in and out of bed, to put on my own socks, and all those other little tasks you don’t eve think about until you have to.)

That may be the single most interesting experience I’ve had personally since arrival and that could have happened anywhere.

On the move again

Well, we’re on the move again.

We were home sharing with Rod’s youngest sister to allow us all to live in the neighborhood with Wenche. With Wenche no longer living here, we’re scattering.

Our lease is up in April, so we have some time to plan, and the rental market here is so fast that anything we find now is unlikely to be available when we’re free to sign a new lease, but we think we have probably chosen our new neighborhood. Maybe even the house, since we know of a cute one currently being renovated and probably available around the right time.  Rod is a bit reluctant, because its tiny and mouldy, and other things are available within a block that are much more spacious for the same price, so we’re not making any decisions until closer to the day.

So, I am back to packing.

It’s easier this time because Rod is well enough to help, Jack is old enough to really help, and I never really fell in love with our current place.  It’s nice, but I knew it was temporary, so disassembling it isn’t traumatic. Also, we’re moving across town, not across the planet, so it doesn’t have to be done so carefully. Packing starts this weekend with a good cleaning.  :p

It’s funny. I have slowly begun to realize that I am just now feeling like my Australian adventure is about to begin.  I have been here 25 months, and I thought I was settled in well and well entrenched.  We have a daily routine. We have wonderful friends. We know how to get what we need and how to find our way to where we want to go. But when we went to look at the cute little cottage a friend of mine told me about, it felt like I had been holding my breath and waiting. Now I feel like I am breathing again.  That isn’t to say I was unhappy.  Nor was I unhappy waiting in Los Angeles for five days for a flight that had room to bring us over. Both have been all a part of the process.

Maybe that’s why I am able to blog again?  I don’t know.

Wenche Abrahmsen Smith

Wenche Abrahmsen Smith
19 October 1922 to 3 February 2017

Rod’s mother died fairly suddenly today.

On Tuesday she was fine.

On Wednesday morning, she became dizzy and fainted. She was admitted to the hospital, as a precaution.

On Tuesday evening, her heart stopped twice. Twice, she was resuscitated.

On Wednesday she seemed to be rallying and we had great hopes.

On Thursday, she took a serious downturn and we were far less confident.

On Friday, we lost a beautiful soul.

***

Fourteen years ago, when I married Rodney and took him so far from home, Wenche welcomed me warmly into her family. For most of the years we were apart, she was my most regular correspondent, until arthritis made writing too difficult.

Wenche could have resented me for taking her boy so far away, but as far as I could tell, she never did.  She was, instead, warm and welcoming.

Maybe a little concerned that my enthusiasm for her son was unrealistic, but once she was sure I had realistic expectations, that never came up again. She was gracious, kind, sensible, and loving — always.

Good-bye, Wenche.  We are all going to miss you terribly.