Happy birthday dad, although you can’t hear me

This is the time of the year that I wish I was like those people that believe the dead are watching over us, can see and hear and connect with the living—although the thought of my deceased friends or family hovering over watching me in the shower or bedroom is quite disconcerting. I didn’t have the chance to say good bye to dad, so every time it’s his birthday that sinking feeling of disappointment and frustration with myself comes out to haunt me.

So dad, although you can’t read these words, that insane part of me insists in writing that I have always loved and always will. And there isn’t one day that passes that I don’t wish I could change history and be at your dying bed holding your hand and saying that your life mattered.

I know your life wasn’t perfect dad, but I loved you with all your prejudices and imperfections. You tried your best, you were one of the unsung heroes of this world that survive dysfunctional families, poverty and mental health issues. These heroes don’t make the headlines but they are the people that, like you, get out of bed in the morning for their daily toil, to simply do what is right.

One of the stories that always plays in my mind is of your determination to go to university without any financial or emotional support from your parents. You came to value an education you never had access to. How hard it must have been to find the will to study when sometimes you could only afford two meals a day. You overcame dire adversity to later give opportunity to those in need. I remember you driving sick people to hospital and in many situations helping the poor improve their lives.

Of course, there were things I din’t love about you, like your blind devotion to your work, your jokes about people of colour or beliefs about the role of women in society, but I learned to read you between the lines. I knew these came from a place of pain, shame and hurt and not of greed or hatred—your family hurt you a lot. I can’t forget when your mum came to visit the tiny premature twins just out of the incubator and said “oh, but they are so ugly.” I can’t fathom growing up in home like this, where your mum never noticed you needed glasses, until an older sister realised you were being picked at school for being stupid because you could not read the blackboard.

This side of you thought me not to take people at face value, we all carry a lot of baggage and have our demons to face. And you did a great job at stopping the cycle of rejection and neglect. I think the four of us felt very much loved and cared for.

There is one particular line you wrote down in the copy of The Little Prince you gave to mum when you were still dating in 1967, quoting the author: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” You saw potential in myself and in others when sometimes we saw none. You showed us to hear the voice of the heart and to respect everyone, regardless of their colour or social status—you may have spoken about white supremacy but your actions told another story. I remember when my four-year-old brother threw the house keys at a distance and said to the nanny ‘it’s your job to get the keys’. You saw the scene and told him how to treat people and to go get the keys himself. You wanted to open a workshop to give disadvantaged kids skill to get a job. You had so many dreams.

But life presented you with a hurdle too high to overcome. The nasty captain of depression hooked and brainwashed you, forcibly inducing you to believe lies over truth. It’s a shame that eventually you stopped seeing your own potential and your successful past faded in the background, no matter how much we told you were worth it. 

Life is unfair and yours was cut short by cancer. You would be 72 today. I’ll always remember you as a generous soul with many dreams and a hero that thought me how to hear the whispering voice in my heart.

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2 adults, 2 kids, loads of rubbish

Waste-produced

How much rubbish does your family produce in a week?


As soon as the garbage man drives away with our detritus most of us think it’s no longer our problem. Out of sight out of mind. But all that garbage, along with the waste created to produce it, is simply put in a big hole in the ground, or it’s first burned in an incinerator and then dumped in a landfill. Both ways produce a lot of pollution—the materials and food scraps that fill these landfills breakdown and eventually release methane and other toxic substances that pollute, kill animals or destroy their habitat and damage the environment in many other ways.

And man, we produce a lot of garbage! I wanted to measure how much waste my family produced in a week but within four days the 55 litre container was overflowing. Mind you, this container doesn’t include our food waste and I’ve been reciting the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra for a while, I’m quite conscious of what goes in my shopping trolley. So, even with sustainability in mind, I’m still creating a lot of pollution.

I guess for me the issue is that I’ve focused on recycling more than everything else. Recycling is the easiest part as it requires minimal change in routines and habits. It does have its benefits, recycling reduces the amount garbage on the planet—and  consequently the pollution it generates—but for various reasons, recycling alone isn’t enough to make a considerable impact on the environment . Firstly, for you to produce one bin of household garbage, the extraction-production-distribution process has already filled up 70 garbage bins—so your bin sitting in the kerb is just the tip of the iceberg. To compound the problem, each year we are increasing our consuming and offsetting even more the benefits of recycling. Another issue is that some products simply cannot be recycled—think items like rubber tires, Styrofoam, plastic, fiberglass and metals.

Treating and re-processing our waste can only make a difference to a point. What we really need to do is to reduce the amount of waste we produce. This means we have to avoid over-consumption, something very hard to achieve because in the developed world where we have a lifestyle that supports consuming more than what we need (if everyone adopted my lifestyle for example it would require 3.5 planet Earths to provide the resources—according to WWF, take the quiz—I’m horrified with my results!).

Changing a lifestyle is hard, we are creatures of routine. We are not used to using products (clothes, shoes, gadgets, toys, decoration items, cars, etc, etc) until they completely wear out instead of buying newer, more fashionable items. We buy more food than we need to eat (think obesity crisis), we buy by impulse without really considering if we need it (think mindless retail therapy). To change our consumption habits we need to develop awareness that there is a problem and the motivation to want to make a difference.

In the last two years I’ve grown interested in learning more about the harmful effects of human activity on the environment. But I’ve been on this planet for four decades, why have I taken so long? After all, scientists and activists have been talking about it for ages. I guess like most of us, I was just too focused on my routines and didn’t really stop to consider the impact of my actions on the planet. I believe everyone has their lightbulb moment when they realise there is a real issue and that they can part of the solution. Thankfully it’s not too late to start taking action yet.

If you care and want to make a difference to the environment by reducing your consumption, here are a few ideas for beginners like me:

  • Start by measuring your impact. In this way you will learn how to make the most effective changes to your lifestyle. See calculator.
  • Think before you buy. Are you making an emotional purchase or do you really need the item?
  • Buy products (including food items) with the least amount of packaging.
  • Fix things whenever possible. For instance, my son just cut a hole in this school pants. Ordinarily I would turn this item into a wipe cloth and buy a new one ($30 won’t break the bank). But with my new mindset I will get it repaired for $15.
  • Use your consumer power. Reject food and goods produced in an unsustainable manner. Your habits can propel  companies to listen and change their practices.
  • Raise awareness. The lifestyle changes we make as individuals are critical, but we need mainstream participation. Use social media to share the word, add your voice to online campaigns and support high-level policy change.

I hope that one day it will take much longer for my family to fill up a 55 litre bin with garbage.

Gluten-freedom: don’t be a slave of the food hype

glutenfree

I’ve been on a gluten-dairy-sugar free diet for four weeks. When I signed up to the challenge I told myself if I noticed any positive changes to my health I would permanently remove these ingredients from my shopping list. The verdict: I haven’t seen any improvements whatsoever. None, zero, nill.

This is disappointing. I have several friends that made an oath of allegiance to such diet and swear they got rid of their medical problems. Everywhere I go I hear people talking about paleo and the evil grains and how much better they feel by eliminating these items from their diets. And I did my research, both online and by reading these two books:

Brain Maker by Dr Perlmutter – the author makes a strong case for the connection between brain and gut health and the important of cultivating good intestinal bacterial for your overall health. He proposes a gluten and grain free diet supplemented by lots of fermented food.

A Mind of Your Own by Dr Kelly Brogan – the author advocates a gluten-free paleo diet through which you can cure your depression and anxiety and many other health issues without the need of medication.

I grew confident that diet was the answer to most maladies of our health, even though my new gained knowledge was contrary to my doctors opinions. When I spoken to them about it, doctor #1 a GP, said that unless you are allergic to these ingredients such diets increase the risk of you becoming mineral and vitamin deficient – her recommendation was to stick to a balanced diet. Doctor #2, a psychiatrist, said more or less the same thing but emphasised the importance of eating more nutritional food as opposed to eliminating certain food categories. But then, the resources I consulted warned that mainstream doctors are part of the system to keep us hooked on medication.

The issues that I was trying to address with a better diet were my slow digestive system and a tendency for anxiety and insomnia, but none of these conditions improved by restricting what I ate. I still wake up at 3am once a week and can’t go back to sleep and my gut mobility continues below the speed limit.

Some well meaning friends have argued that I already eat well enough so it would take much longer than four weeks to see a difference. But c’mon, my body and mind have not given me any signs that a month on a high intake of vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, pulses and a small amount of organic meat have had any impact on my health.

Another thing I found troubling with this diet, specially the gluten-free part is that many people encourage replacing gluten with other refined grains. But if you do this you end-up worse off in terms of nutrition. See for yourself in this comparison of a gluten-free and a wheat bread loaf:

Baker’s Delight wholemeal loaf, ingredient list: Whole Grain Wholemeal Wheat Flour (65%), Water, Yeast, Iodised Salt, Vegetable Oil (Canola), Wheat Flour, Soy Flour, Vitamins (Thiamin, Folic Acid). Nutrition (per 100g): protein 10.9g,  sugar 1.4g, fibre 6.4g, carbs 37.9g

Helga’s sunflower and quinoa gluten-free loaf, ingredient list: I couldn’t find the ingredient list on their website so here is an image from the package. Nutrition (per 100g): 6.3g protein,  sugar 3.8g, fibre 4.2g, carbs 40.1g

bread-loaf

Wholemeal wheat flour provides more protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals than the gluten-free alternatives like rice flour, tapioca and maize starch. I’d rather eat the wheat loaf, it’s much more nutritional. Unless you are intolerant or allergic I see no point in settling for a poorer alternative.

So what’s my conclusion from all this? Well, although food doesn’t seem to be the villain in my health, I feel that this is a better way of eating overall. Once you eliminate gluten, sugar and dairy you inevitably reduce the purchasing of processed and take-away food. You buy more raw and natural ingredients and cook more at home. And this is a better alternative for the environment as there is less packaging and chemicals involved. I didn’t start this journey with the planet in mind but for me this is now the one of the main benefits of changing my diet. The other take-away from this experience is that I became more aware of what I eat and the nutritional value of food.

I’m not going to ordinarily put sugar, gluten or diary back in my shopping trolley but I’ll put a few grains of salt on this food hype.

My kids are giving back

Lucasandpickles

Yesterday my children did their first volunteering job. We went to Monika’s Doggie Rescues and took Pickles for a walk. Like the other 150 dogs in the centre, Pickles has a story of abuse, neglect or violence. As we strolled the rural streets of Ingleside, Pickles barked and lunged at every other dog that crossed our way. The volunteer at the shelter said that Pickles probably had never seen another dog until he was rescued—he forgot how to be a dog. Apart from not being comfortable with others of his kind, he was a happy dog and Lucas and Thomas loved playing with him.

I must say, our volunteering work yesterday was not a huge effort for my kids—they are natural animal lovers—but it was a fun way to show them the importance of giving back to the community. Our visit to the dog shelter exposed them to a few realities they aren’t used to:

  • Suffering is part of life – they are safely bubble wrapped by caring parents.
  • Making do with very limited resources – mum’s bank never seems to run out of funds.
  • Only selflessness can make the world a better place – no kids, Pokemon is not saving the planet.

I don’t think my kids are the only ones out of touch with the realities of life—most children today are too sheltered and have too much—they don’t understand that the privileges they have are not equally available to others just a few postcodes away. And it’s not their fault. Most of us parents spend a good deal of time ensuring our children have great educational experiences, wonderful holidays, eat organic food, are creatively stimulated. Unfortunately, we don’t put as much energy in making sure they understand that not everyone is as fortunate as them and that those with privileges have a duty of care.

That’s probably because we aren’t as socially engaged as we should. It’s easier to get busy worrying about achieving the best possible outcomes for ourselves and our children than getting involved with the problems of our society. But there is need all around us and we are all part of the solution. It’s never too early or too late to start.

I did volunteering work as a teenager when I was a girls guide. Since then, there has been university, career, kids. But I guess the seed was planted and I feel it’s time to roll up my sleeves again. I’m making giving back part of my parenting agenda. We are definitely going to visit Pickles and his friends again.

Sick in bed wondering why eat healthy

IMG_5982

I haven’t had a cold or flu for 22 months. I know it has been this long because last time I got sick it was so bad I had to call the paramedics. Much to my surprise this winter the flu came for a visit again and and I’ve been bedridden for two days already. I’ve been eating so well, I thought my immune system was strong enough to attack the bad guys and keep me healthy. I follow a good diet overall and I have abstained from processed sugar, dairy and gluten for three weeks. I’ve been eating primarily fruit and veggies, whole grains that don’t contain gluten, nuts and a little bit of meat. And yet, I’m lying under the blankets with a box of tissues. Why bother with a heathy diet? I know that a diet is no guarantee of a disease free life. So why am I restricting my life from all the tasty, high-calorie food if I don’t even want to loose weight?

The problem is that lately I’ve been hungry for information about two topics, health and the environment. These two ingredients are dangerous, you come across recipes that can cook up a storm in your brain. Now I know enough to make me uncomfortable about some of my purchasing choices. Ignorance is bliss.

Here is a brief summary of why I’ve cut back on junk or processed food:

For better health – refined and processed sugar and grains are striped of their vitamin, minerals and fiber. So when we eat processed food we are generally eating empty calories. These foods have a high glycemic index which means that they lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels and eating them is linked to increased risk of many diseases. Processed food also attacks your digestive system and gut health destroying good bacteria. Modern medicine knows that gut microbes influence digestion, allergies, and metabolism. Some research even show how our bacterial ecosystem is helps regulate how we think and feel.

You can find a comprehensive list of refined carbs and sugar here.

The Planet – processed food contains chemicals, involves energy-intensive production processes and all that packaging typically ends up in a landfill. In Australia our consumer appetite for packaged food means that each of us produce 200Kg of packaging per year. That includes all those chocolate foil wrappers, take-away containers, biscuit trays, etc. Collectively we throw 19 million tones of packaging in the bin. But the moment you cut back on processed carbs and sugar you start eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains and naturally consuming less packaged food.

So I’m adjusting my diet. I’m not quite there yet. I’ll continue researching and learning and sharing. Eating healthy is not as hard as I thought it was. And if a sweet-tooth like me can do it, anyone can. I haven’t noticed any changes to my body or mind yet, but I do feel that my actions are more aligned with my principles and that I’m making a difference, even if minimal, to the planet. The way we eat does have an impact in our ecological footprint. As for my health, at least I didn’t have to call the ambulance. 

date-coconut-cacao

Health snack: date, coconut and cacao balls, recipe below

How about you? Do you think your diet is making a difference to your health or the environment?

Disclosure: Dairy got in my list because I’m lactose intolerant but often eat foods containing lactose (e.g biscuits).

I got a few emails asking for the recipe of the photo so here is my little recipe for the sweets pictured | Also in Portuguese for my Brazilian friends:
1 cup of dates | 1 x de tâmaras
3/4 cup of shredded dissected coconut | 3/4 x the coco ralado (dissecado ou fresco)
1/4 cup of cocoa powder for rolling | 1/4 x de po de cacau para enrolar

Step 1: Place dates in a medium bowl and cover with water. Stand for 1 hour. Drain and discard seeds. | Coloque as tâmaras num recipiente com agua por 1 hora, tire o excesso da agua e retire os caroços

Step 2: Process dates and shredded coconut until mixture comes together | passe as tâmaras e o coco no processador ate ficar uma pasta

Step 3: put cocoa in a shallow dish, roll level teaspoon of mixture into small balls and roll them in the cocoa power | coloque o cacao num prato raso, enrole a mistura como brigareido e passe no cacau

Chaotic day, got better, then… you tell me.

exclamation-lego

I know you’ve had days like this too. Days sent to try you. In such days you just want to go back to bed and start over. These days for me tend to begin like a nightmare, tormenting me in the middle of the night, like when insomnia comes for a visit. But this time it was my youngster whispering in my ear “bad dream, bad dream”. It was cold  and I had no energy to take him back to where he came from so I made a slight sideway move and he hopped on between my husband and I and snuggles under my wings. Luckily I managed to get back to sleep. But not for long.

“My throat hurts, I can’t sleep.” I get up and go on a blind expedition to the bathroom to get the medicine box. Before I reach the power switch, ouch! When a 60Kg person steps on a mega strength Lego piece it hurt but 1am it hurts even more. When the evil ridges dig into the ball of my foot I scream so loud the dog wakes up— my husband surprisingly manages to sleep through it all. “Here darling, have a lozenge.” I walk my eldest to his bedroom and wait for him to fall asleep. Back in my room, the youngest took possession of every inch of my side of the bed so I retire to his. I bring my phone with me, I still hope I will wake up at 5:30am to go for a run. But child with sore throat still woke me up another two times before the alarm takes me from my slumber. Just 10 more minutes, I beg the universe.

When I finally woke up there was no time for exercise and it felt like I had already ran a marathon. I quickly got dressed and I rushed out of the house to catch the train before the rest of the tribe got up demanding my attention. My husband was in charge today but if the kids see me around they find a way to occupy me. I was excited that besides all the chaos of the night I was still catching an early train and thus would get a seat. But as soon as I reached the station and got my Opal card from my wallet I spotted the crispy bank notes I should have left in the kitchen bench for the cleaner.

I literally ran home and back to the station again, limping because of the Lego nugget I crushed. Magically I got a seat on the train. Ok, time for some meditation and gather energy for the the day ahead. I try to pull my headphones from my handbag but they are stuck. I pull harder and harder and two kiwi fruit fly out of the bag and go rolling down the carriage. I man next to me starts laughing, I look at him and smile —one’s got to laugh of his tragedies… I see passengers lifting their feet and looking down. To avoid further embarrassment I let go of the fruit.

Eventually I arrived at the office and put my porridge in the microwave while I recounted the morning to a workmate. The porridge overflows. “Not your luckiest day” my friend says. I wondered what more could go wrong today. Thankfully not much. The rest of the day ran smoothly, well, depending in your point of view. When I got home at night I learnt that the Liberals had officially won the federal election. I’ll let you be the judge.