Monday, June 27, 2016


I've always been aware of food in slightly different ways from most. My childhood was filled with avoiding eating, and parents desperately looking for ways to get me to do just that. Biscuits, cake, fruit, anything to get food into me at pretty much any time. In those days before formula, I was a baby who 'wouldn't' breastfeed, and who didn't tolerate milk. I have an idea of the reasons for my rejection of both, but that's a whole 'nother story with no factual basis. I was painfully skinny all through school, accompanied by much name calling and many sneers. I finally put on a little weight when I went to boarding school for two years, but didn't make it out of the 'underweight' category until I was 27, just before I got pregnant. By the time I emerged from having babies (I was almost 39 when I had my last) I had moved firmly into the overweight zone, and by my 64th birthday in September last year was only just under the obese line.

Because one thing I loathed eating was meat, shortly after I left home in the early 1970s, I became vegetarian. In those days it was pretty unheard of in our culture and I had to work hard to learn about how to eat. No internet back then, so my best resources came from the Seventh Day Adventists. Later, when I became pregnant and had babies, I had to go through more learning, but by then there were a lot more books, though still no internet.

Just over three years ago, in a desperate attempt to become healthier and resolve some health problems, including severe depression, I was advised to remove gluten from my diet. This time my investigation of how to eat both gluten-free and vegetarian was made considerably easier by having access to the world via the internet. Now, as a a diabetic, gluten-free vegetarian, I won't say it's easy, but it's still achievable.

What I have recently noticed is the change in the way we, as a culture, regard food. 'Back in the olden days' when I was a child, food was about nourishment, with an occasional treat. Dessert was a piece of fruit. In summer when the trees in the orchard were dripping, it was a bowl of fresh fruit with cream. If there were visitors, we might have fruit and trifle and jelly. Occasionally - like a couple of times a year, Mum would make ice cream but it was never all that nice as she was way too busy to keep taking it out to beat it by hand, so it was always a bit icy. Pavlova at Christmas time. When we went into Hamilton every 2 or 3 months, we'd have lunch out - which pretty much meant a sandwich. Thin white bread. Single filling - egg or ham or cheese n onion. A cream bun. A cup of tea for Mum and Dad, a glass of lemonade for us. Coffee barely existed, and no juice. The main focus of food was having good square meals.

 When I was first seriously investigating food, as a new vegetarian, again, it was about how to get a good square meal, but a few years later when I had small children there was an additional question: how could we give our children healthy treats? 'Healthy treats' didn't just mean healthy stuff for birthday parties, those tables were still spread with sugar and food colouring. No, 'healthy treats' meant everyday sweet stuff filling kids at morning tea time, lunchtime, afternoon teatime, dessert time, and every moment in between time.

And so it has progressed. 'Healthy' has come to mean a regular diet of carrot cake, chocolate zucchini cake, paleo treats filled with almond flour and coconut flour and masses of dates. There are seemingly endless books and tv programmes and blogs and internet sites, some just about things that taste divine, but increasingly about 'healthy' things that taste divine - always with 'divine' defined, albeit unstated, as 'sweet'.

Recently, in my hunt for nice, but diabetic friendly, recipes, I bought a magazine specifically aimed at diabetics. About 80% of the recipes in it were carb filled, artificially sweetened desserts and cakes! Then I visited a a vegan blog and found this description of a recipe: "Creamy, decadent, thick, smooth and very tasty." This was the moment I realised that our attitude to food has become one where 'decadent' has been redefined as a positive.

At I found the entry for decadence:

  • The act or process of falling into an inferior condition or state; decay: Some historians hold that the fall of Rome can be attributed to internal decadence; moral degeneration or decay; turpitude.
  • unrestrained or excessive self-indulgence.
Okay, so I'll admit it: I have been excessively indulgent. I could make excuses, I can even give some 'good' contributing reasons (eating habits taught in childhood, depression, blah blah blah) but the bottom line is that I have been 'decadent', even though I know my eating choices have been healthier than those of many others. Unfortunately, this decadence has combined with my genetic inheritance and other factors and led to acquiring this horrible present and future called diabetes.

But seriously? Isn't it time to realise that healthy eating, especially in this age of sedentary living, does not involve sweet and carb-filled yummy stuff? That this obsession with treating ourselves  several times a day is indeed decadent?

I wish the rest of society would realise it so that I, having fallen into decadence and decay, wouldn't have to face constant temptation, guilt and resentment. I wish for the people I love to realise it before they too find themselves in a 'fall of Rome' experience.

Oh, and just as a post script: despite being a 'devout' atheist, I acknowledge that the bible has some wise words, and so I ask you to consider this before you respond when I speak of my depression, diabetes and other conditions. "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Matthew 7.1

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

BFF v Friends for a Season

Over the past few years I finally reached a point where I seem to have a good grasp on how to control the depression that has plagued me since I was a teenager. I have to work on it every single day, but it is under control. As the black cloud retreats, I have started to see myself a lot more clearly, and am discovering new things about myself. I’ve always been confused about the whole introvert / extrovert thing, and have finally realised that I am closer to the introvert end of the scale. It was confusing because I have always needed people, yet they often exhaust me. I now realise that after a childhood of being criticised, of been punished for exhibiting feelings (sadness, anger, even happiness), of having those feeling disputed, of never being enough in any way, I was left with so much self-doubt that I needed other people to tell me what I was doing right or wrong. There has been a constant war inside me between what I thought and felt inside, and what others told me I should feel and think. As my depression has stayed at bay for longer and longer, the self-doubt has receded, and my self-esteem has improved – and I have started to recognise that some of my friends are not healthy for me. I suspect that I have not been healthy for them either!

A few weeks ago on Facebook, I asked for hints on buying a bike. I explained:
“I've been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes so am desperately trying to get my food intake back to what it should have been, and then some. I'm exercising more (walking and treadmill), and trying to pluck up the courage to buy a bike and do some riding.”

I got lots of advice, but one person told me I should get an electric bike, because her mother had gotten one, and it was great how she could get around now. I explained, even though I thought it was clear from my original post, that I didn’t want a bike to get around on, I wanted it for exercise purposes. She persisted. Basically, she was saying that I needed an electric bike because I am too old for an ordinary bike. She’s spent the whole of our many years we have known each other making critical remarks about me, my husband and my kids, in a way that on the surface was complimentary or helpful. “You look nice today, you must have made an effort.”  I’ve had enough. I unfriended her, and have no interest in any future contact. I’ll be polite if our paths cross, but I’ve had enough.

About a year ago I realised that although another friend sometimes asked about my husband and my sons, she never asked about me. So I stopped saying anything about myself. After another six months, I decided not to be the one to make contact next, as it seemed to be me five times out of six, although she always seemed happy when I did. When she had moved to a smaller house, she had given me some craft things that she no longer had room for. I have been cleaning out my craft room, and realised I was never going to use them and so contacted her to ask if she wanted them back, or whether I should pass them on to someone else who would use them. Turns out she now had room and would like them back, so yesterday I visited. When arranging to call around, I mentioned that I would let her know for sure if I was coming, as, because I hadn’t been well, I never knew for sure until the morning, whether I would be well enough to drive.

When I got there she commented that I had lost a little weight and asked if I had been dieting or if it was as a result of being sick, so I told her it was both, and explained about my diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. Soooo….. she didn’t ask what I was how I was going nor what I was doing about it, she just told me…….
  • ·        That diabetes is her worst nightmare: that it means you are likely to have liver failure, kidney failure, go blind, get gangrene – “you must never again go barefoot”. That it was simply the worst thing to get because you will die in a horrible manner. This went on for several minutes.
  • ·        That it is totally due to obesity, and that I always had ‘carried too much weight and eaten too much sweet stuff’, and that’s what leads to obesity and then diabetes, so basically it is self-inflicted.
  • ·        She told me that if I ate the right diet I could alleviate it a bit, but that it would inevitably get worse until it, well, you know….
  • ·        She told me the right diet was a paleo type diet, but that as I am a vegetarian, well, *shrugs*…..
  • ·        She told me there is absolutely no genetic component to Type 2 diabetes, only Type 1.

She knows everything about diabetes, apparently. Except she doesn’t. Except that damn low self-esteem – I doubted myself, I thought maybe I’d read everything wrong. I came home and spent hours on the internet checking as many sources as I could before my eyes got too tired to read. So some of what she said is true – bits I already knew were true and didn’t need ramming down my throat. Some of what she said is not true, but I had to double check because, you know, self-doubt. And some of it was really fucking unnecessary and unkind and well, just plain nasty! And again I found myself angry. Again I realised that a long-time ‘friendship’ had always been based on my neediness for affirmation, but that instead this was yet another person who had spent years telling me, in a nice way, what was wrong and bad about me, and telling me what and how I should have done better. I don’t really want to talk to her again.

Just as was the case with my mother, these people are not deliberately being nasty. They, I am sure, genuinely think they are being nice, being helpful. So although my first instinct was to write vitriolic letters to them, telling them how horrible they are and how I never want to speak to them again, I won’t. I talked to another, newer friend this morning, and she asked me what I hoped would come from writing such a letter? How would it make me feel? And, of course, I knew instantly that while writing about it would make me feel better, actually sending a letter would not. My mother is long dead, and neither of the friends will read this, so here it is. And to everyone who does read it, including myself, I say, think about what you say to friends. Make sure your words are friendly and kind.

I realise that I no longer have a desperate need for friends at any cost. Nor do I need to make an issue of ending a friendship. I can just let go and drift away, and be pretty comfortable spending time alone.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Reading: Miraculous Abundance

Miraculous Abundance: One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer

Recently I was talking with two of my sons, both with degrees in computer science, and interests in robotics and AI - as in Artificial Intelligence as opposed to Artificial Insemination - and thus immediately you can see how their paths have diverged from mine. Not that I am interested in artificial insemination, but it is certainly closer to my areas of interest than the other AI! They were talking about robots taking on much of the work, about food grown by robots, and air-grown lettuce fed nutrients by robots / computers, about having a universal basic income, about freedom to do what they like. For me, doing what I like means getting out and growing food myself. Getting my hands dirty, watering and weeding, sowing and planting, being stung by bees as a tend the hives, and making books. I am far more fallible than the robots will be, but it's doing what I like.

I have doubts about such a future: even if it comes to be, I suspect there will be huge disruption, culture shock, and disintegration before we reach a point of ease. I suspect that this society will be one of even more extreme difference between the privileged and the poor. On top of that, I worry about the actual logistics of such a society. And right at the end of this book, comes a definition of 'technoabundance' which spoke to my unease: "creating goods with little or no recyclable value based on a predatory utilization of natural resources, renewable and nonrenewable. These goods are available in quantity, but for a limited time only, and not for all. They produce waste and contribute to the destruction of the biosphere." The Herve-Gruyers were speaking within the context of farming, but I think it applies to everything. My sons probably think I am uneducated in the area of technology, which is true, but I fear they are naive in the area of human behaviour: those who love power will always strive to  control the economy and most everything else. My sons, are way too trusting.

Meanwhile, others are way too frightened - some of the survivalist websites I've stumbled across have useful information tucked in among terrifying fear and hatred. They have gone back to the land in a primitive reaction to their fight or flight instinct.

The Herve-Gruyers have a completely different attitude. They have developed their farm through permaculture, but have brought so much more to their book: their previous lives, ongoing travels, investigations and experiences, working with scientists - they have a progressive attitude to growing food. They haven't just gone back to the old farm ways of their cultural history: they add ideas from all around the globe, from the past and present, and look to the possibilities that the future may bring.

The book covers so much and makes a fascinating read. We learn about their interesting personal history, about how their farm and ideas developed, things they have tried that have worked and not worked. I love the mixture of theoretical and practical, the discussions around philosophy and ethics, and pictures. Pictures are always good!

I loved this book! It is inspiring, interesting, well written, and totally agreeable to me - in the sense that I agree with it, but it expanded my knowledge and understanding as well. My sons wouldn't like it, but I'm tempted to buy a copy just in case they might be interested one day.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Attachment, Detachment, and Growing The Fuck Up

It's a few years now since my youngest son moved out - he just turned 26 - but in that time he has been back for a while, and another son and his wife have been and gone a couple of times. However, we really are on our own, just Mac and I, now, and I'm still finding it hard.

Attachment is a word that is widely used, and has many different meanings and contexts, which I have been contemplating for a while now. Well, 'contemplating' has very calm, considered, rational overtones, so is, perhaps the wrong word for what I do, but I'll leave it there for want of an alternative that isn't negative!

As an atheist, I have no trouble seeing humans as just another animal species. All mammals, and many other animals too, have a natural instinct to attach, to bond, strongly, to their babies. It is a matter of survival - the rare mother who does not bond wanders away and the baby dies. Attachment is a physical necessity. Eventually, after the mother has nurtured, protected and taught them, the young become independent and move on.  But animal mothers don't seem to have the same trouble as many human mothers when it comes time to separate from their young. 'Attachment parenting' wasn't a term used when my first child was born, but the concept was certainly around: I learned it from many sources including La Leche League, Dr William Sears, Jean Liedloff and others. I still believe in the 'baby-led weaning' concept that La Leche League promoted, not just with respect to breastfeeding, but also with respect to separation from parents.

All these ideas address the attachment of the child to the parent, but the only places I see talk about the mother's attachment / detachment, it seems to be in very negative terms. Why doesn't she move on, get a life,  how pathetic is she? These comments come from people in general, and, in many cases, from the adult children themselves, irritated by parents, mothers especially, who still fuss and worry and tell them what to do. My mother certainly did that to me, though I never felt that it stemmed from love: more a concern for what the friends and relations would say if I got anything 'wrong'. I do it to my children too. I try not to, but I still do it.

I didn't want, or even like, children until suddenly as I headed toward 28 years of age, I desperately wanted a baby. After several miscarriages, I had my first son and fell in love with him in a way that I knew could never be repeated - except it was - three more times. The 'attachment' was instantaneous at each birth, and never wavered. I had not come across the idea of 'attachment' parenting when Greg was born, that came later. But I was 'attached' to him - and still am.

I assume my mother loved me in her own way, but I didn't feel loved, mostly just judged - and found wanting. She was certainly 'attached' to me in that everything I did, even as an adult, was judged in terms of what people would think of her if I got things wrong, large or small: she was disappointed that I didn't marry a man with a degree; she was worried others see it as her failure to teach me when I didn't fold my nappies the right way. I guess that's a form of 'attachment'.

I am certainly still 'attached' to her. Even though I'm 64, and she's been dead for 27 years, her voice lives in my head, constantly telling me I'm not doing things right, not well enough, not anything enough. I've gradually pushed her further away, learned to overrule her, to say 'fuck you! I'll do it my way,' often, but I doubt I'll ever get that voice completely out of my head.

I'm 'attached' to my husband. I'm 'attached' to friends and other family. Humans are social animals, and live in groups to one degree or another. Even hermits rely on being part of a wider society, whether it be this interesting man in New Zealand living in the bush on the Kaikoura coast, or the men living in the wilds of Alaska, coming in for supplies just a couple of time a year. Few people could survive without all the other people living within society.

I started seriously examining religions and philosophies when I was in my last year at school. I went to my first yoga and meditation classes in my first year of university, 1969. I've been looking and learning ever since. I have issues with the christian idea of 'attachment' to god before everyone else, including self. I have issues with eastern ideas of getting rid of 'attachment' to things, ways of behaving, people. I keep going back to the idea of humans as animals. As social animals, As interdependent animals. I can't get past the idea that attachment to other people is necessary for society to function successfully.

Emotions, feelings, love, hate, anger, contentment - I'm content in the knowledge that they are physical things. Being sick lately, depression was starting to kick in my doors, but a couple of days of sunshine and a mega dose of Vitamin D has me feeling heaps better. It's not magic, it's not spiritual, nor god-given, it's science. Not completely explained yet, but enough that I don't feel the need to believe in a supernatural being, nor in myself as somehow other than natural, than an animal.

Because we humans have the ability to think, theorize, remember, consider alternatives, resist first instincts, doesn't make us better than other animals except in that we have opportunities to take the long view and resist the immediate temptations. Now having diabetes, I'm wishing I'd done more resisting of sedentary pleasures instead of physically active ones, resisting chocolate in favour of broccoli! At the same time, we are foolish when we ignore our animal instincts without consideration of the reason those instincts evolved. And we need to be careful what we do when rationalizing that a feeling, emotion, role is unnecessary or obsolete.

I accept that attachment is necessary for successful parenting. I accept that children grow up and become independent, and that although they will still have attachment to their parents, it will be at a greatly lower level than when they were small children.  And that attachment is not always positive. And that I have no power over my children's attachment to me.

What I am struggling with is my attachment to my sons. I feel that attachment as strongly as ever. I hate that I know so little of what happens in their lives, not so much the big stuff, but the little things. I feel lost when one eats something he used to hate. Those little intimate unimportant / important details that I used to know about my sons. I feel the need to spend time with them, but they, unlike me, have little spare time in their busy lives. Our attachment seems to be so much more in my consciousness than in theirs. I remember when my parents died 27 years ago, I felt bereft, orphaned, severed from my past, even though my mother had been mostly unsupportive. I know my sons would similarly miss me if I died. But I also know that they need me in their lives far, far less than I need them in mine. Their need is simply to be aware that I am there, in the background, available. My need is different, I hunger for their presence, for their company, for their vitality. I know that this is mother-love. I know too, that it is excessive, partly because my own mother brought me up to believe that I was, and never will be enough. Being a mother, a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother has been the most wonderful job I could have had, but one from which I was made redundant from. All my other interests - bookbinding, sewing, gardening, permaculture, beekeeping, writing - are still of secondary importance to being a mother.

So having come to terms with the reality and necessity of attachment, my search is now focused on how to 'get a life', a real, meaningful, enjoyable life, largely detached from my sons, while still retaining the love and attachment that make for happiness when I do get to see them.

Fuck, but growing up never gets any easier!

Friday, June 3, 2016

April Holiday: Homeward Bound

Leaving Golden Bay felt sad. We delayed by stopping in Takaka again, and having coffee in the park with Amy and a friend while the children played.
 Then it was back up and over the Takaka hill and down towards Nelson where we had coffee with Raewyn before heading back to Picton.

 On Friday we caught the ferry back to the North Island, and was sad to say goodbye. At our age there is always an awareness that 'this might be the last time.'

Heading up the Kapiti Coast, just past Pukerua Bay, the sky was starting to cloud over, but it was still stunningly beautiful.

 We stayed in Palmerston North again for a night, and went out to dinner with Jeff and Konny. The clock tower in the central square is stunning in its tackiness! But it was lovely to spend time with my 'baby' boy and his fiance.
 Then suddenly it was over. Somewhere in the north was home.

April Holiday: Golden Bay - Takaka & Te Waikoropupu Springs

Wednesday we did something I'd been especially looking forward to - meeting another internet friend for the first time in real life. Amy is a musician, and a designer seamstress extraordinaire. She is also a lovely friendly and generous person who helped me when I was feeling very tentative about buying my first ever overlocker. I love her beautifully designed clothes. And at last I met her, and her children.

First Amy took us to look at the little shop she runs, along with a couple of other women. The Enchanted Toadstool is a very cool mudbrick building set in the Takaka community gardens.

From there went went to see the amazing Te Waikoropupu Springs. Those of us who have visited the Blue Spring near Putaruru think that's pretty amazing, but think Blue Spring times ten! Simply stunning, totally magical.

Then it was back to the camping ground for the last night, with a stop at a gorgeous little beach on the way.

April Holiday: Golden Bay

On Tuesday we went to visit the tutor of the willow weaving workshop. Because I had bought cuttings from him, and then come to the workshop, he invited us to go see his willows growing. The main thing I learned was that I had planted them in totally the wrong place!

Something I loved about Golden Bay was the way people were so friendly. Someone like Peter living in the Waikato would not be nearly so open and friendly, not because of anything inherent in their personality, but simply because they would be overwhelmed with visitors. Peter showed us all around his property, and then we sat and chatted for about an hour in the sunshine, with coffee and biscuits. I was glad I had taken some jars of my homegrown honey, so could offer a gift.
 A 'kiln' for boiling willow.

Our next stop was Pohara Beach, a long golden beach with just a handful of people present, even though it was school holidays. The beaches are shored up with large boulders that have been brought in and which were full of fossils!

Driving a little further we came across the Able Tasman Monument. What a bunch of crazies, to set out across unknown seas - but I'm glad they did.

The rest of our day was spent visiting The Grove and The Labyrinth, both of which feature amazing and beautiful rock formations. The Grove was especially beautiful.

 The Labyrinth was.....odd.....
..... as warned about on the notice. Somewhat tacky to an adult, but I'm sure kids would just plain love it.