A TED talk about Brexit

I wish videos like this (and information like this) were available 2 years ago.

Because it's well worth a listen

https://www.ted.com/talks/carole_cadwalladr_facebook_s_role_in_brexit_and_the_threat_to_democracy

Would you like to ask me a question?

I'll try to answer them, if I can. Ask away in the comments :)

On slavery and freedom

Earlier today Jon Krakauer shared an article which he said, "It blew my mind. Please read it. Right now."

I read it just now. And it's true: it's an immensely well-written, powerful piece.

Please read it. Now.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html

Do I have diabetes?

So, have I got diabetes?

No. Maybe.

Before anyone throws a chair at a computer screen, asking how can someone maybe have diabetes, let me explain to you how diabetes is measured and diagnosed; it will probably explain a lot of what I'm wanting to say here.

6 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, I had what's called "gestational diabetes" - diabetes during pregnancy. We knew this because early in the pregnancy I was sent for a glucose tolerance test where I was asked to drink a large sugary drink and for the next 2 hours my blood sugar levels were monitored to see how my body coped with carbs.

The answer was: it didn't. Not very well, anyway.

I spent the remainder of that pregnancy keeping in strict control of my diet, and towards the end of the pregnancy used a medicine called Metformin because my doctors were concerned about the fact that I wasn't able to put on weight. They could see that baby was growing, but my weight stayed the same, so technically I was losing weight.

***

About half of women who experience gestational diabetes, will go on to develop diabetes later in life. One way to think of it is, pregnancy is like a stress-test which shows body's reduced ability to produce insulin when increased load is required. As insulin-producing ability then decreases with age, women who had diabetes during pregnancy are just already "closer" to that borderline.

***

During pregnancy, the guidelines I was given from the hospital for blood sugar monitoring were this:

* less than 5 mmol/l on an empty stomach ("fasting"),
* between 6-7 mmol/l an hour after having started eating ("post-food").

I never had any trouble with fasting levels (mine were usually around 4.6) - only with post-food numbers, and gradually I learned to choose my food very well to stay within the required limits. It marked the beginning of my interest in LCHF food.

***

Another thing I need to explain here is glycated hemoglobin, also known as Hba1c.

Hba1c is, basically, a long-term blood marker which shows how high average blood sugar levels have been in the last 3 months. Unlike finger-pricking blood tests which show, exactly, how much glucose is in the blood at any given time, Hba1c  doesn't measure highs, it doesn't measure lows - it only measures the average. And in a normal, healthy person Hba1c is usually between 20-40 mmol/mol.

Now, there are actually two reasons why someone's Hba1c may be normal. It may be that 1) the person's insulin production is very strong, so even though they eat a diet of ice cream and soda drinks, their glucose level never gets high enough for long enough to be reflected back in their Hba1c levels.

But there may also be another reason. Even a person with a 2) compromised insulin-production (ie, diabetic) can have normal levels of Hba1c because blood glucose levels go up in reaction to eating carbs. If a person doesn't it enough carbs, then their glucose levels will never get high enough to be reflected back in their Hba1c levels.

So, basically, if you sent a person for a glucose tolerance test (like is customary in pregnancy), then they may totally fail the test - and you'd be inclined to say that they are "diabetic". However, that same person may have an entirely normal Hba1c level because if they 1) modify their diet and 2) do exercise, then although their body doesn't produce a lot of insulin, it doesn't matter because their diet doesn't require a lot of insulin.

And in New Zealand, at least, diagnosis of diabetes is made not in response to glucose tolerance tests, but according to Hba1c levels. As long as person glucose levels are kept normal, it doesn't matter what their body would do if they drank a large glass of sugar water - there is no need to label them "diabetic" if their diet is not causing them to have high blood sugars. That is also why some people may be heard saying that "they've reversed their diabetes" - meaning, they've changed their diet and lifestyle so that their Hba1c levels drop back into normal range.

***

5 years ago, a couple of months after having given birth, I performed a couple of 'random' blood tests to get an idea on how my body was functioning post-pregnancy. I learned that if I ate what's considered 'normal' food in our society, something that is high in carbs (pasta, pie, potatoes etc), my post-food glucose levels would go above 8 mmol/l, sometimes even 9 mmol/l. My doctor at the time explained to me that it is not a problem as long as: 1) Hba1c levels remain normal and 2) fasting glucose remains low.

They explained to me that, basically, increase in fasting numbers is the first real sign of trouble in the insulin-production, and as long as mine remain at less than 5 mmol/l, all should be well, providing I eat a healthy diet - something reasonably low in carbs.

And THAT, long story short, is where I discovered the first signs of trouble two weeks ago. I pricked my finger in the morning, right after getting out of bed, and discovered that after 14 hours of not eating, my blood glucose was...

...6.7 mmol/l.

I think the exact words that went through my head were this: "Shit. Here we go"

***

Because, look, THIS IS NOT YET DIABETES and I know that. I know that! In fact, someone with actual diabetes might look at this number and think, "Oh, come on Maria, mine is 13." Whatever.

But the point is: ever since having gestational diabetes, I have lived in the knowledge that one day I will, probably, develop diabetes. It fits my medical history, and my family's medical history. And although I feel equipped to deal with it - though I wish it may never come - keeping an eye on it NOW gives me a chance to take care of my health before any potential damage from high glucose levels is made.

I have watched for years as my Hba1c levels have crept up, despite my relatively conservative consumption of carbs. 31 mmol/mol, 33, 35. The latest blood marker on my Hba1c level was 37 - just 3 digits short of the considered "normal range". I have not descended into panic over these numbers - rather, I have acknowledged them as the quiet progression of age and disability, and have offered them the respect they deserve.

Which still doesn't mean that I was prepared to see 6.7 mmol/l on a glucose monitor one morning.

That number - before any food has been consumed, in fact, more than 12 hours since last food had been consumed - has nothing to do with my self-control. It is a number I cannot affect. That number is a reflection of my hormones kicking in in the morning, getting my body ready for raising from bed, my metabolism converting energy stored in my tissues into blood glucose - and my pancreas not being able to deal even with that.

It is not diabetes (I think some countries draw the line at 7 mmol/l on empty stomach) - but it is a first real warning sign of the gradual degradation in my insulin production.

***

So, do I have diabetes? No. Maybe. If someone sent me for a glucose tolerance test - the way diabetes was diagnosed in the old times - then it's anyone's guess whether I would fail it. I think I probably would.

But I don't. At the moment it only matters what my actual blood sugar levels are doing - not what they would in the face of a fictional glass of sugary water - so for the moment, I don't.

And I intend to keep it that way. For a long, long time, if I can help it.

I'm okay

To measure oneself not by the numbers on a doctor's computer screen - not by the images of a brain on a radiologist's printout, not by the orthotic braces supporting an ankle, not by hearing aides attached to the side of a head, not by the amount of pills swallowed before bed - but by what the body is capable of.

I've known for years that one day I was likely going to see these numbers on a glucose meter, but nevertheless I have a process of grieving to go through. To re-learn to measure my health not by the markers on blood test results, but what my body is capable of, and the places it'll take me. Regardless of what I need to get there.

I'm okay. Sad, pissed off and tired, but okay.

 

Goddammit

Goddammit.


Goddammit.
Goddammit.
Goddammit.

"Where'd you hear THAT from?"

Great. I have a human-induced climate change denier at my workplace. A religious one at that. Seems to be, at least in part, a denier because of the religion.

Fun times.

The Distinct Burden of Being A Climate Scientist

Please read this article.

It’s the End of the World as They Know It - The distinct burden of being a climate scientist
https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2019/07/weight-of-the-world-climate-change-scientist-grief/

When plumbing and drainage videos make people laugh

Most of my classmates are 20+, 25+ years old. Some are even 30+ years old.

Which makes it especially comical when a 19-old-boy, has come to polytech directly out of high school I think, starts giggling loudly when we watch a plumbing and drainage installation video.

Apparently, he still can't keep a straight face when sentences "let's lubricate this end" and a word "penetration" are used in a construction context.

;)

What's quantity surveying like? According to my tutor, it feels like this:



And in case it's not clear, according to my tutor, quantity surveying feels like that bear cub in the video feels: climbing up a too-steep slope, over and over and over again, until finally... it's done.

Assignments and Instagram accounts

I wish I had a camera to show you the setting: an otherwise empty computer lab - aside from me and my stuff spread across two desks - Coldplay's "Everglow" blaring on the speakers, tangy smell of an apple I've just eaten, architectural plans and pens everywhere.

I am working on my next school assignment. This time, it's a large manufacturing facility next to an airport runway. I am tasked with choosing a good 'building envelope' for it, given that it has to block out a lot of noise from the planes, keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter, be easy to maintain etc. I am trawling through websites of Xflam, Volcore, Pyrotek, tracking down acoustics engineering values, R-values, trying to figure out if I can 'sandwich' a noise barrier between two insulating panels (would it even work?).

If you are interested in seeing (some of) the stuff I do at school, please head over to my Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/allthingsqs/ . It's not everything, but it'll probably give you an idea of what quantity surveying is.

And here is 'Everglow'.

School holidays are almost over

It takes about 2 weeks to get used to spending time with kids all the time. Ironically, school holidays are only 2 weeks long, so by the time I get the hang of it, they head back to school.

And so do I.

Five more months, Maria, five more. And then it'll be over.

PS. Don't quote me on this yet, but I am considering... continuing studying next year. :/ Not quantity surveying any more, but on the architectural technology side, and not full-time, just part-time, one 4-hour class a week. I want to learn to draft well by hand and SIT has a very good tutor teaching it at the moment. And then semester after that, maybe, to learn to use Revit well.

Ehh...

*says the girl who already has 2 Bachelor's degrees and 1 half-done Master's, and is about to graduate with a diploma. Not sure if it qualifies as 'addicted to learning' but here we go. :/*

Syllables and 5-year-olds

Have you ever had a 5-year-old tell you, syllable by a pointed syllable, "The. Rule. Is. I. Don't. Like. Cau-li-flow-er. It's ten - ten syllables!"?

Well, at least she knows syllables, I guess...

Does a rabbit cost more than an internet cable?

A friend bought a (domesticated) pet rabbit. You know, like, a house-trained kind - the sort that poops in a litterbox (like a cat) and that can be snuggled with in front of a TV in the evening. A cute thing!

That same friend also learned that, apparently, even domesticated pet rabbits chew through internet cables if given a chance. Even if those internet cables are nailed into bottom of skirting-boards :)


Other words my kids mis-pronounce

Instead of "animals" they say "aminals".

Instead of "hospital" they say "hostipal".

Antibiotics!

OMG! It has worked! It has worked!!!

After 7 weeks of illness (whatever the heck it was, flu, cold, upper respiratory & sinus infection, call it what you like), it is finally going away! I AM FINALLY STARTING TO FEEL LIKE A HEALTHY-ISH PERSON AGAIN!

It is such a relief. Or shall I say: it is such an amoxicillin.

I know some countries struggle with over-prescribing of antibiotics and that, cumulatively, such an approach builds on the already existing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But in my family, and in the practice of my GP, it's luckily the other way around. We try not to take antibiotics.

However, after 7 weeks of what felt like the most strenuous, ongoing, frustrating, draining case of "common cold" which, at the end, gave me such a frontal sinus infection that I felt like my eyes were bulging out of my face (not to mention the whole row of my upper teeth which hurt every time I crossed a kerb on my bike), we finally went on a 10-day course of amoxicillin and...

Oh. My. God. This is so spectacularly, splendidly awesome that I bend down to tie my shoes and it does not hurt any more. I no longer get bleeding from my upper sinuses. And when I blow my nose, my sinuses do not equalise through my tear duct.

In the course of this illness I have also learned that, apparently, I have a deviated septum - which probably played a role in not being able clear this cold. Having never broken my nose (as far as I'm aware), I can only assume that the genetic composition got passed down from my grandad. I mean, judging by the outside appearance of the nose, anyway :)

How to pronounce spagetti

I am going to be a little sad when my kids no longer say 'pascetti' instead of 'spagetti'.

"Can we have pascetti for dinner?"

The things people will remember you by

My husband picked up Heather Armstrong's book I brought home from the library.

Me: "It's that blogger I've followed for years. We've talked about her."
Him: "Nah, doesn't ring a bell."

Then a couple of minutes later:

Him: "WAIT, IS THAT THE WOMAN WHO CAUGHT HER DAUGHTER'S POOP IN HER HANDS?!"
Me: "That's the one."
Him: "Oh yeah, now I know who you're talking about. Cool."

And by the way: the book is pretty readable. It does make me think though, holy hell, Heather, no wonder you're so high strung given the sort of stuff - amount of stuff, really - you do in your life but, hey, we all choose our own ways to live, yeah?, so you're alright. I do feel sorry for you, though, most of the time.

Can a 6-year-old walk 3,000 km?

There is a family who have recently completed the Te Araroa trail (3,000 km) in its whole length with two kids.

https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/the-longest-walk

This, too, shall pass

A friend told me that when her baby was born, her husband went into a serious bout of depression. He was unemployed. Depression had happened, on and off, before in his life; but this occasion, especially, the bottom-pit was sustained. The baby was unsettled, life felt... uprooted.

Eventually he'd gone to see their GP and said that whilst he doesn't plan suicide as such, he does wonder sometimes what it would feel like to throw himself in front of a truck. The GP organised a psychologist's appointment for that very same day and said that 'ideation' - thinking about it - is the very last step before 'planning' it. So, yeah, it was very good he'd finally come to see a GP! And whilst it really would've been better if he'd come earlier :), this was good. They could do something about it.

The friend is better now. Her husband is better. Their kids are grown.

I remembered this story when, a few months ago, I was walking to school in the morning through drizzle and darkness and thinking, man, I wish I could get a few months off somehow. I remembered that our family had bought life insurance and trauma insurance for the next 15 years. (Trauma insurance, in a nutshell, is like a halfway between health insurance and life insurance: if any of us get diagnosed with some serious, debilitating disease like cancer or stroke or whatever, then we get a payout of about 2 times our annual income which would, in theory, help us cope with the situation whilst we need to take time off work to care for the kids and the ill one.)

I was walking and thinking, what if I got diagnosed with something that's serious enough to warrant a payout, but not immediately debilitating? Basically, something that would give me an excuse to say, sorry, guys, but I need to go off and live for myself for a little now. Maybe go backpacking for a couple of months, whilst I still have health, before having to come back and deal with treatment or whatever. It's not that I wanted to be ill - I was just trying to picture scenarios that would allow me to go away for a couple of months. (And, no, I don't plan on insurance fraud. It's not really my kind of soup to get into.)

When I caught myself picturing that scenario in my head, I thought to myself with a grin: Maria, that's not good. 

And to be fair, it probably was one of the hardest times of this year. My daughter had been ill for several weeks, getting up between 4:30-5:30 each morning with a hacking cough. She still hadn't started school, so I was driving kids to different places of childcare at 7:20 each school morning. My own school assignments had started piling up. Weather was windy and rainy, and as we don't own a clothes-drier, I was routinely hanging up washing at 6:40 am and planning my dies around when and how I'm going to get the clothes clean. My husband lost his job. A washing machine broke down. I had low iron and had just started another treatment to try to get iron levels up into normal range. Just... stuff building up.

I went for a long walk with a friend and whilst I did note that I could not think of anything to drop from my days, it did feel good to just accept that I was in a bit of a trouble for the moment.

***

Within a few weeks, things were better. My iron levels were higher, the treatment was working. Washing machine was repaired. My husband had started another job. The autumn winds retreated. My daughter started school, making morning dropoff into a single act of taking kids to daycare, in a bicycle trailer no less! Some days I would not even touch the car.

And this is how it always goes. 'This, too, shall pass.' Whatever the occasion, whether it's a tough autumn, or a 3-year quantity surveying study, or walking up a hill towards Gillespie pass, or a baby who does not sleep - eventually, it will, always, pass.

***

Photo from yesterday:

About to go drop toys off at the toy library. 'Horacio' the horse didn't fit in the storage pocket, so he'll have to hang out like that. Sorta works like a bike flag, IMO. By the way: yes, the kids still fit in the trailer. Both. It's a bit tight, like sardines, but they fit. (If anything, it kinda keeps them from annoying each other physically, because once they're in, they can't move much in there :).)

The life of a student

There comes a point in the evening when I am (attempting) to proof-read my assignment and I cannot decide, when I've written "Maintaining faces" in an underpinning section, is "faces" the correct spelling?

Or is that how "faeces" (=poop) is spelled?

Faces. Faeces. I look at the words, unable to decide, and then realise:

Maria, go home. You are tired, that's what you are. At a point where you cannot decide how to spell "faces", it's time to go home.

So I go home.


Smell of fresh bread in the morning

We bought a breadmaker. Aside from waking up to the smell of fresh bread in the morning, there is now this: when the bread comes out of the machine with the spinning blade still attached to the bottom, my husband calls out, "It's a boy!" When the bread has a hole in the bottom (left by the spinning blade that's detached), he calls, "It's a girl!"

Yes, honey, I can see that fresh bread is making quite an impact of your life ;)

Butter

Ha! My 8-year-old has figured out the good stuff :).

8: "Can I have a marmite toast, please?"
Me: "Okay."
8: "Just a little bit of marmite. Lots of butter!"
Me (grinning): "Okay."

Angry

I stood up from the computer last night and muttered, "Fuckin' money."

I then stopped in the middle of the room and said to my husband, "Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world. United States is..." I trailed into an exasperated sigh.

14 million. 14 FUCKIN' MILLION!!!

Yemen's population is 29 million people and about 14 million are on the brink of death - due to starvation. Almost 100,000 (!!!) children under the age of 5 have already starved to death.

I don't care why a country goes to war, because the moment you start intentionally bombing water networks (oh, hello Saudi-coalition airstrikes!) to wreck as much havoc on civilians as possible (5,000 cholera cases every day!), you have nothing to do with governance, diplomacy or international relations.

What you are instead is conscience-lacking, sociopath, hypocritical evilness pickled into a monstrocity jar. I don't care if your ceiling is made of gold and your clothes come from Armani. You are evil.

Peace out.

PS. Why do I read up on world events? Honestly, I don't know. It's easier not to.

However, I'm also at a point in my life where I feel that, actually, ease is not a valid argument for obstaining. The same way that not voting is not being 'apolitical' - what it is, is letting other people make the decisions instead.

Discomfort urges me to make changes to my own way of living. Yes, seeing photos of toddlers who are on the brink of death (and will likely never have good health again due to these stresses) leaves me traumatised, just as seeing seagulls whose guts are so full of plastic that they, literally, cannot eat - but it also means that I am more likely to not be complicit.

PPS. I look at the human evolution and it reminds me of a beech mast year. A plethora of seeds fall on the ground, pest population peaks at incredible numbers and then - collapse. Boom!

This is not sustainable.

Svalbard

Some places will forever stay with me. Svalbard is one of them.


This week I learned that Kaisa Rebane, an Estonian blogger I've followed for a while, has landed in Svalbard to start working as a sled dog guide & handler. I just about squealed when I read that. "OMG! What kennel?! Who with?!" I wrote to her and she replied back, not quite the same team I worked with, but close. She's down in the valley, I used to drive past the kennel she works at now.

I went to bed, buzzing with the energy of feeling excited for her, remembering the life changing moments I had there, wanting... back. Not, as in, wanting to go there now, with kids and family in tow (though how gorgeous would that be!), but wanting, just for a time, to be that 23-year-old again; with an open mind and a panging heart, looking for a place to be.

I returned from Svalbard, straight into the practical realities of finishing a law degree in Estonia, but... it never left me. What I learned there never left me.

No-one will ever know what it felt like, exactly, when I spent those quiet nights at a church up on that hill, and what it felt like when Troels said to me, "I think you'd really like it in New Zealand," (that's what started it all). How alive I felt the morning when the blizzard ripped a stack of dog harnesses from my hand, and I realised I had forgotten my gun at home. My first ever frostbite. The way my heart pounded when the snowmobile started crashing through the river ice and I muttered into my facemask over the scream of the engines to just do what Hans had told me: push the gas pedal. PUSH THE GAS PEDAL!!! If you stop on the river, the snowmobile will crash through the ice; you need to drive until the tracks are on the solid ice again. Man, it was such a wonderful place to be a 23-year-old! I tear up thinking about it, grateful to the bottom of my bones of having been welcomed in and just to have spent a winter there. Of having breathed there, and watched the Northern Lights up above the kennels.

What a wonderful experience it is to now watch someone else's life there, but how saddeningly beautiful it is, too. In a way that makes the eyes well up.

*sigh*









Life in tidbits

Why is it that after months of looking for work, the week I sign a contract with one company, two other opportunities pop up? #notimpressed

Having said that: it feels good to get paid.

***

19 June 2019 - first frost of the year.

***

After 6 weeks coughing which, at times, got almost debilitating, I finally seem to be on the mend. It's not over yet - but at least I have the energy to bike again. In the morning, I strap the kids into our Chariot trailer and pull them along to a YMCA program. Then, I bike off into my own morning class.

At 7:20 am it's not even light yet, but here we go: me on a bike, kids laughing with glee in the trailer as we ride alongside main street, high-vis clothes on, lights on. Ice on the street.

It's kind of nuts. In a good, but very tiresome way.

***

I friend I haven't seen in a while is looking to do a PhD in Germany or UK. Meanwhile, I am thinking: come on, find something in Dunedin, New Zealand instead! Because how cool would that be!

It's good to have new friends, but I miss the old ones.

***

I start looking into the measurement assignment and then realise the irony: I am doing it to the tune of Bruno Mars' "today I don't feel like doing anything" :D


***

The school I am studying at just got accredited to extend a 2-year diploma program into a 3-year degree program. Am I going into a third year?

HELL NO. I'm done. In November, I am out. I've had enough of this.

Overheard at the dinner table

Mister 8 to his sister: "When I turn 9, I'll be older than you."
Miss 5 in reply: "When you turn 100, you'll be dead."

How mountains, oceans and starry nights make for better people

Jo Marchant wrote an article for New Scientist on why mountains, starry skies and oceans make for kinder, nicer people.

Okay, I'm making a bit of a leap here. She didn't actually write that mountains, starry skies and oceans SPECIFICALLY make for nicer people. However, she did write about the feeling of awe and explained what it does, neurologically, in a person's brain.

The article is behind a paywall, so in case you haven't got a New Scientist subscription, I'll sum it up here.

In 2003 two University of California, Berkeley researchers named Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt started studying the feeling of 'awe' and came up with a definition of what it is. "They described awe as the feeling we get when confronted with something vast, that transcends our frame of reference and that we struggle to understand. It's an emotion that combines amazement with an edge of fear. Wonder, by contrast, is more intellectual - a cognitive state in which you are trying to understand the mysterious."

Basically, awe is something that is likely to give you goosebumps (second only to feeling of cold) and make you go, "Whoa, this is AMAZING." A bit like standing on a ridge in the mountains and struggling to grasp how vast the space is. Looking up at a starry sky at night and not being able to get your head around the fact that each star is, basically, like another huge Sun somewhere in space. Feeling the bow of a ship crash over a huge ridge of water on the Southern Ocean and thinking, sh*t, I am so small compared to all of this. That's what awe is. (Wonder, on the other hand, is likely to make you go, "Oh, wow, I wonder how that's possible?")

As Keltner and Haidt studied people who were made to experience awe, they noticed something peculiar: people who experienced awe (as opposed to just happiness or pride etc) changed their behaviour and perceived themselves smaller. They were more likely to help a person who stumbled in front of them. They were more ethical, generous and felt more connected to other people. They signed their names smaller, they drew themselves smaller. The experience of feeling awe diminished their sense of self-importance, but did not change their self-esteem.

Basically: they felt just as good about themselves as before, but they wanted to help others more.

Then, in 2017, another researcher (Michiel van Elk from University of Amsterdam) presented a study of functional MRI scans of people who had experienced awe. His findings struck a chord with what Keltner and Haidt had said before him, because the differences could be seen even on an MRI scan. "Awe quiets activity in the default mode network, which includes parts of the frontal lobes and cortex, and is thought to relate to the sense of self. 'Awe produces vanishing self,' says Keltner. 'The voice in your head, self-interest, self-consciousness, disappears. Here's an emotion that knocks out really important part of our identity.' As a result, he says, we feel more connected to bigger collectives and groups."

Meanwhile, a team from Arizona State University found that awe calms the fight-or-flight response. "Experiencing awe made people feel as if they had more time - and made them more willing to give up their time to help others.

The article goes on to discuss that humans are not the only primates to experience awe - chimps show signs of awe, such as goosebumps, during thunderstorms. The feeling of awe carries an evolutionary neurological function - but we don't, necessarily, utilise it nowadays.

Jo Marchant talks to people who say that teenagers are reporting an increasing sense of disconnect, and that the rise of hatred in the US (and elsewhere) may be connected to the lack of awe. People are spending their days gazing at their smartphones. If we are no longer getting to experience awe, then we are - neurologically - set up to be less humble, less charitable. Education, with its focus on test results rather than exploration is taking awe away from our kids. That has far-reaching consequences not just for education itself, but for the entire human race.

***

To me, the article is not mind-blowing per se, but it does confirm what I've thought all along: that children need to learn both that they, themselves, are important and that the world around them is important.

And to help them learn that, I need to bring them to places that will make them go, WHOA! THIS IS SO WICKED!

Svalbard 2008

New Zealand 2010

School, work, kids, life, health etc

I am so, so tired.

November. Maria, I tell myself, just hang on until November.

This is hard. There is, of course, another option - that rather than being hard, I am just a wuss instead. But, actually, I don't think that's the case. It's hard.

I am keeping abreast with the assignments coming out of school, intent on not ever falling behind, always the first to hand stuff back in. I've been ill for a month. My daughter has been ill for a month. My son has just come out of 2 months of plaster-casts. I've started a job - after 3 months of being an intern, the company have decided that they want to keep me on. My husband lost his job. Twice. And then when a washing machine breaks down (why does it always break down at the most inconvenient times? Or is it that any time feels hard/inconvenient for a washing machine to break?) then life just, promptly, becomes a major pain in the hole.

There is so much going on, no wonder I feel overwhelmed at times.

November - I need to hang on until November when 1) I graduate, 2) start full-time work and 3) my husband stops his work.

F*ck this is hard.

Free Solo

Watched it. LOVED IT! Currently watching it for the second time in a week.



Alex Honnold in Free Solo

Assholes: A Theory

Oh wow. What a movie to make!



Description of Assholes: A Theory on IMDB

Description of Assholes: A Theory on RNZ

It is worth double-checking

It is worth double-checking when:

  • a white person says that people of colour do not get discriminated against,
  • a cis male says that women do not get discriminated against,
  • a real estate salesperson says that a house is warm,
  • any salesperson, really, says that their product is good,
  • a person who is not renting says that there isn't a rental shortage,
  • a person living in a wealthy area says that schools in a poor areas get adequate funding,
  • a person whose parents contributed towards their house deposit says that real estate is affordable,
  • a person whose family are all university-educated says that there aren't social barriers for attending uni.
This list could continue.

The bottom line is: if they are not the person who would experience the problem if the problem existed, then they may not be aware of it.

A f*cked up world sending chills down my spine

The Russian city of Arkhangelsk near the Arctic circle hit 28.9 degrees last week. In mid-May.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide concentration was measured at 415 ppm at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory on Saturday. It has never been as high in the entire human history.

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The entire modern human society fits in the last 12 thousand years. TWELVE THOUSAND. Before that, anatomically modern humans developed about 0.5 million years ago. Their predecessors, the Neanderthals and Paleolithic hominins, about 3 million years ago.

Estimates vary, but it's possible that last time CO2 levels were as high as they are today, there existed only about 100,000, maybe 300,000 humans on the entire planet. They were basic hunter-gatherers, living within the means of subsistence. Food in, poop out. Minimal shelters made of wood and stones and leaves.

Today, the world has about 7.2 billion humans. It is about thirty thousand times more than then, and we consume copious amounts of absolute crap WE DO NOT NEED.

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Housing, transport, food.

Think what you eat, where it comes from, how it's packaged.
Think where you live, how much space you are taking up, how you are heating it, what you are doing with outdoor space.
Think how you travel and where.

DO NOT VOTE FOR Republicans if you're in US, or National Party if you're in New Zealand.

Use your brain - it should not be too difficult to recognise what political organisations are aware of the problem, and have the balls to at least try tackling it through policy. Vote for those people. 

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THIS IS SO FUCKED UP.

When silicone penis implants make me laugh

I'm reading a book called Bonk by Mary Roach and it really is a very amusing read. For all sorts of reasons!

One paragraph in particular. Mary describes attending a surgery - as a visitor. A silicone penis implant is being inserted into a 70-year-old man's, well, penis. The rod is not going in very well.

"Dr. Hsu presses on the kinked rod. The novelist Martin Amis once described an impotent character's attempts at intercourse as being like trying to feed an oyster into a parking meter. This is like trying to put a parking meter into an oyster."

If you want a good laugh and to, occasionally, wince then I highly recommend this book. You'll most certainly do both!

To legalise cannabis?

I've been around people who are high on pot. I've also been around people who are drunk on alcohol.

I know which one I prefer.

Autumn is here. I think.

I don't know if I've lived here long enough to say with certainty that it's unseasonably warm, but... 20 degrees in mid-May!? Alder tree is still green (front left), birch is midway through dropping its leaves (back right).


It's been averaging 15 C for a month now. No frost. Is that... normal?


Stuff is still growing. Even the salad greens! Watercress (photo below, front left on the foreground) is sprawling like a king. We eat watercress almost every day, but it seems to be keeping up with our eating speed, so we're not running out of it. Tomatoes (they are in the planterboxes, ie they are not inside a greenhouse) are still ripening.


And, if anyone's interested: we've had planterboxes for about a year now and I've discovered that slugs don't seem to want to climb up in there. Where we had kale growing behind the house in the ground, slugs were eating it, but the kale in the planterboxes - not so much. I guess slugs don't like crawling over rough-sawn timber to get to the plants. Either way, yay for me!

Loving, loving, loving the boxes! The only disadvantage I can think of is that they're expensive to set up initially (especially if you do it like us, with 200 mm x 100 mm macrocarpa timber), but once they're up and running, they're awesome.

Golden rules of parenting

The parent exiting house and leaving the other parent at home with kids is to say, "Good luck."

The remaining parent is to acknowledge the statement by raising his/her eyebrows. For theatrical effect, a loud sigh can be performed.

Fonterra changes milk tanker schedule to help a family

Andrew Oliver is one of only eight people in the world living with Fryns-Aftimos syndrome. The extremely rare condition means that at 35 years old, Andy has the mental age of a 6-year-old.

Fonterra's milk tankers are Andy’s favourite thing in the world and local drivers have long known that Andy won't go to bed until they've made their evening trip to his family’s farm.

But when it became unmanageable for his parents, the dairy exporter stepped in to help. It changed its entire milk tanker schedule in the district so that Andy can go to bed on time.

via radionewzealand

Stuff I have found whilst looking around

Indonesia is changing its capital city away from Jakarta in the face of rising oceans and climate change.
www.ecowatch.com/indonesia-to-move-capital-jakarta-2636197365.html

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Good article on Christchurch terror attacks.
www.nzgeo.com/stories/brothers-and-sisters

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So, I'm about 4 years late to this party, but when you see this dress and this shoe - what colour are they?

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According to this book, there are only two species of animals where males take interest in rubbing females' 'mammaries' - ie, boobs. It's humans and pigs. No-one else!
www.goodreads.com/book/show/5981308-bonk

Good advice

"Don't take criticism from people you would never go to for advice."

Hmm. I think I may remember that one.

My dog's an opportunist

I've written before about my Labrador Retriever being always, always hungry.

But it goes deeper than that, of course. Up until a few years ago, she would get fed (once in the morning, once at night) but not until she has followed one of us around the house like a limpet, sticking her snout into backs of people's knees, making us trip over - her labradorian way of saying, hey, look, you! You haven't fed me yet. Feed me.

Then, one day, accidentally, she got fed twice in one evening. I had already fed her dinner and left the house to go to writers' group; and then my husband, unaware that she's already been fed, gave her dinner again because, apparently, 'the dog behaved like she hasn't been fed yet'.

Well, call me bananas, but the dog has learned from that.

Now even if she's already been fed, she will - in an opportunist way - follow people around the house like a limpet, making a face of feed me, feed me, please, master, and... sometimes, she has actually pulled this off. It's now come to a point where, before giving her food, me and my husband check with each other, "Have you fed the dog yet!?"

Today I gave her the breakfast. She then continued hanging out in the kitchen with me, looking at me all sad-faced.

You have already been fed, dog! I know because I WAS THE ONE WHO DID IT!!! Sod off.

I love her, of course, but, man!, she can be a persistent bugger.

This is such a typical construction story!

My friend owns an old house in Southern Invercargill. I think it was built in the 1940's. The previous owners had floral carpet throughout - including the kitchen.

About 3 months ago he finally decided to pull the trigger and strip the kitchen carpet. Who can blame him? (And who would put carpet IN FRONT OF A SINK in the first place!?) Underneath the carpet he discovered rimu tongue-and-groove flooring - otherwise beautiful stuff, but a couple of the boards were borer-damaged.

He hunted down replacement rimu flooring from Demolition World (which I adore), but it didn't quite fit - it's hard to find flooring with the original 1940's dimensions. And anyway, when he pulled up the damaged boards it appeared that some floor joists were damaged, too.

So he had to replace some floor joists and pull up more flooring in the process.

By the time he replaced the joists and kinda-sorta fixed the floorboards, he didn't like the hodge-podge look of the mismatched timber flooring. He decided to lay vinyl flooring over the timber.

Initially, he planned to put what's called a 'quarter round' around the edges of the room, so conceal the narrow gap between the vinyl flooring and the wall. But then he thought, come on, man, do it properly! He pulled up the skirting-board, laid down the vinyl flooring and was about to put the skirting back when he thought...

Hmm, it would make sense to replace the wallpaper now that the skirting is off, rather than trying to cut the wallpaper in the future to match the top end of skirting.

So now he's replacing wallpaper.

And it all started with a carpet he did not like :)


Stuff I've found whilst looking around

A team of researchers have discovered that playing techno music (and, more specifically, a song by an artist Skrillex) puts mosquitos off from biting. 

The theory is, male and female mosquitos struggle to harmonise their flight tones in the presence of techno music. Something about the combination of high frequency and low frequency sounds keeps them from mating and, as a result, from biting and sucking blood. There is now research underway to develop sound-based insect repellent products for people. (Man, I hope they're going to develop something which is inaudible to a human ear, because when I listened to Skrillex's music that was used in this research, I kind of got the feeling that if I blast this sort of stuff from portable speakers, then it's going to drive away both mosquitos and humans who may be nearby.)



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@suddenlysamantha is an interesting Instagram account of a transgender woman. She used to be a father to 4 boys and now, after gender-transitioning, remains married to the same woman and they together continue raising their family as two mums (is the correct term gay relationship? Not sure.). Her wife, Laura, is described in this interesting Wbur story.

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I still haven't figured out if it's true that certain monkey babies tend to play with 'gendered' toys: boy monkeys with boy toys and girl monkeys with girl toys. But this Reddit is a good place to start.

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A gallery of a family who photograph themselves once a year for 21 years.

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Kyle Griffin is the last remaining Twitter account I follow in terms of watching the garbage bin fire that is the US politics.

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Did you know that it's possible to give birth to children who are NOT genetically related to you? Or that 1 in 8 people are actually twins, but their twin was reabsorbed and they were born 'single'? Or that some women carry within them cells of their born and un-born children? From this North & South article:

"Bianchi found a woman with goitre, which had destroyed her own thyroid cells. Oddly, the gland was still secreting healthy amounts of thyroid hormone. The gland, it turned out, was stuffed with her son’s cells. The evidence, writes Zimmer, pointed to an amazing conclusion.

“A fetal cell from her son had wended its way through her body to her diseased thyroid gland. It had sensed the damage there and responded by multiplying into new thyroid cells, regenerating the gland.”

In another case, a woman’s liver had been ravaged by hepatitis C. Years before, she’d had a pregnancy terminated. Incredibly, her aborted son’s cells, still bearing the Y chromosome of the father, came to the rescue by rebuilding an entire lobe of her liver."


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New Zealand Geographic explains in this article how sea ice helps to cool the planet not just by acting as a 'reflecting mirror', but through a mechanism I had not heard about before:

"When sea ice forms on the Southern Ocean, the salt is expelled, leaving very dense, saline water sinking onto the Antarctic Continental Shelf. It forms a kind of river system, pouring through canyons into the abyss of the deep ocean. As the cold water descends, it also transports heat [...]."

A New Zealander in Estonia, an Estonian in New Zealand

I just listened to this interview and laughed. 

Calling Home: Don Payne in Estonia www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/sunday/audio/2018691821/calling-home-don-payne-in-estonia

Don is from Invercargill, but he is now living and working in Tallinn, Estonia - after having gone to Europe on a 'working holiday' in 1987 and never gone back to New Zealand. I am an Estonian living in Invercargill, New Zealand - after having gone to New Zealand on a 'working holiday' in 2009 and never gone back to Estonia.

He talked in this interview about looking for a place to live that would be affordable - which is exactly how I ended up in Invercargill, having also looked for a place to live that would be affordable.

Fun times :)

PS. Estonians, let me know: can you access these RNZ interviews that I keep on linking here?

Saving more than just a Hutton's shearwater

In an old New Zealand Geographic magazine, March-April 2017, is a beautiful article about Hutton's shearwaters.

In it, the author Rebekah White describes how Kaikoura - a little town on New Zealand's South island - has become protective of these wonderful little seabirds. Education programs are weaved into the children's schoolwork: data gathered by the public gets processed by high-school statistics students, a biology class does DNA testing on fledglings etc. The local 'Hutton's champion', a lady called Nicky McArthur, has correctly anticipated that the most effective way to disseminate information within a community is to give it to children as homework - it is working.

The article ends with beautiful two paragraphs (bold lettering added by me):

"But what Harrow and McArthur and the trust recognise is that most people don’t get to take part in the care of anything fragile. The work of saving things goes on around us as invisibly as the dawn flight of the Hutton’s.

Looking out for little birds on the road means that people are looking out in the first place, that they’ve started to notice a world that’s not their own. To recognise a shearwater and pick it up and put it in a box is to exercise a muscle of care for something outside the human realm. Perhaps, after all, it’s worth saving one of a hundred thousand shearwaters, granting it another chance to race down the ranges to the sea, just as the stars are fading out, for breakfast."


Fundamentally, this is the building block of empathy - the difference between someone who learns empathy, and someone who goes through the world without care for others, standing up only for their own, personal needs.

I don't remember which other article it was that I read a couple of weeks ago, but in it the author made a point that to protect something (in this case, they were talking about New Zealand's native forests) people need to experience a sense of ownership and belonging. It is what will drive them to take protective action on behalf of 'inanimate' objects such as trees and rivers and such.

And that begins with taking kids outside.

Invercargill's Queens park at the moment
Cold, foggy mornings of the autumn

Very, very disappointed tonight

I titled this post "Winston Peters is an idiot" at first but then thought better of it. Because, fundamentally, it is never a fault of a single person - it is a system.

https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/387253/no-mandate-for-capital-gains-tax-pm

https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/387291/capital-gains-tax-shutdown-threatens-govt-s-other-plans

So, to sum it up: tonight, I feel very disappointed. However, this, too, shall pass. Having already started to move off from the 'anger' part of reaction to today's news, I am looking forward and seeing what needs to be done next.

New Zealand is my home.

The side-effect of having drugs with lots of side-effects

A while ago I talked to a pharmacist who said that, by the time people take 7-8 different drugs, half of the drugs are probably to counteract side-effects of other half of the drugs. In fact, it often becomes difficult to tell apart symptoms at all. A patient may start experiencing, say, heartburn - if they are on drugs which may (or may not) cause heartburn then doctors don't really know if the heartburn is caused by 1) other drugs or if 2) it's caused by something in the physiology of the person.

So the patient gets prescribed antacids - which then start interacting with something else the patient is already taking, and the patient gets prescribed another drug to counteract the problem. And then another problem appears, so they get prescribed another drug. And then another. Meanwhile, the pesky heartburn may have been a symptom of a genuine medical problem after all, but it got overlooked because everyone assumed that it was just a side-effect of another drug. Or not.

(You see where this is going, right?)

In extreme cases it may be necessary - under medical supervision - to remove all (or most) drugs and start from zero. If for no other benefit, then at least it gives everyone an opportunity to ascertain what symptoms the patient actually has on their own, and what was just side-effects of the plethora of drugs. Because possibly, the patient needed only 2-3 drugs, rather than 7-8, and unless unnecessary drugs get eliminated, the patient will just continue using more than they need, and heighten the risk of 1) under/over dose, and 2) side-effects.

This is, a bit, like how I am feeling now. I'm at a point where it becomes difficult to tell the difference.

For a long time now I have been low on iron - iron deficiency anemia, it's called. Curiously enough, although I have been taking iron supplements (in addition to a varied diet which, for a while, included  even lamb liver - ehh!), I have struggled to bring the numbers up. Since 2017, I haven't been able to get even into the bottom of what's considered 'normal range' in New Zealand (20-200 ug/L) and instead have had blood tests hovering at around the 10 ug/L mark.

The side-effect of taking iron supplements is, unfortunately, constipation. Having been through a vaginal birth, constipation is not what I need at the moment - due to somewhat obvious (and lasting!) effects a vaginal birth can have on a woman. Dare I not say more, okay? Okay.

So, I've been taking iron supplements with kiwis - they act as a natural laxative and C-vitamin in them helps to absorb the iron. But recently (6+ months) I've started having abdominal pain - at first intermittently, but now at a point where we are starting to wonder, have I developed ulcers? Acidic foods are not nice to eat any more, and having an empty stomach is not nice, either.

So the question becomes, if that is correct and I do, indeed, have stomach ulcers - have I developed them due to taking iron supplements with kiwis (on an empty stomach)? Or may the ulcers be one of the reasons I have low iron?

Or maybe abdominal pain is caused by something else entirely?

To try to track down the reason I have low iron, my GP has asked me to start taking blood clotting medicines for 3 months. You see, I also have heavy periods, and one of the theories is, I am simply 'flushing' iron out too quickly each month to be able to replenish iron stores through diet. So for 3 months, I have been asked to take blood clotting medicines and to stop taking iron supplements for the moment. If at the end of 3 months the blood tests reveal that my iron stores have started increasing, then that will give us an answer. If not, then we'll look into other options.

But now the problem is, my ocular migraines have become worse. Side-effect of blood clotting medicine (tranexamic acid) is, unfortunately, heightened risk of seizures, migraines and headaches. I get migraines anyway at the moment, so I don't know if the frequency is due to blood clotting medicine, or something else. Same with abdominal pain - it may be the side effect of the medicine, or may be something I have anyway. Hard to tell.

For the moment though, to counteract the migraines I am taking a bit more migraine medication. And pain killers.

And if you then try to google the interactions these drugs have, then it REALLY becomes a bit of a too-hard-basket, because... how does the acid affect the uptake of hormonal supplements? Do their dosages need to be changed based on the dosages of other things I am taking? There isn't enough research data to narrow it down. One of the hormonal supplements I am using (progesterone) is 'off-label' use anyway - it is normally part of a hormone replacement therapy for middle-aged women. For me it's part of a seizure medication based on a promising clinical trial that was done a couple of years ago. It seems to work well (yess!) and that's the good thing, but because it is rarely used in a way that I am using it, then there is very little clinical research to show what it does, how it does it and what affects it. Or how it affects other things I may be doing.

I'm at a point where it feels like I am looking at a spiderweb spun by a spider who was caffeinated (don't you love that NASA actually does experiments like that?) and thinking, wtf. I don't even know which way to approach this thing any more.

Abolish the Daylight Savings

If New Zealand held a referendum on whether to keep - or abolish - Daylight Savings then I would definitely vote to abolish it.

I do not need this twice-a-year backwards and forwards hippity-hopping in my life.

The older I get, the less I am liking it; to a point where I now think that people who support Daylight Savings are obviously not working parents of young children. Or if they are, maybe they have more forgiving working hours, but the bloody murder that happens in my house twice a year is just... grrrgh!

I dropped my daughter off at daycare and said to the teacher, "She's about 2 hours short of sleep, so I fully expect the afternoon to go pear-shaped." The teacher replied, "I think most people in this room are feeling it at the moment."

Yeah, no shit Sherlock.

Who will it hurt? It's all about balance

On the whole, I have been happy with New Zealand's reaction to the recent mass shooting in Christchurch. The country has moved to ban semi-automatic weapons. Many media outlets recognise the importance of not naming the shooter, not showing his face - not offering him fame. Several organisations that are to do with weapons and hunting (most importantly Fish & Game, but also gun retailers etc) have made public statements in support of banning semi-automatic weapons.

However, it does not mean that there were not voices of dissent. Just yesterday I listened to a man make a public statement to the Parliament select committee, where he compared the banning of assault weapons to the systematic disarmament of Jewish people just before the Holocaust.

I listened to him talk and thought to myself, right. You are comparing a total disarmament of one racial/cultural group (ie, discrimination) to banning of military-style assault weapons. Man, you have some serious gaps in your logic here.

Fortunately, voices that have supported the law changes have been louder - as they should be. These voices emphasise that New Zealand has an active hunting community with a variety of rifles available to them, and that military-style semi-automatic weapons are not required for hunting. (I laughed yesterday when a man made a public statement saying, in essence, that if you struggle to hit a deer in 10 shots, then maybe you should hire a professional to do the job for you.)

Today I listened to the discussion around the compulsory buy-back of such weapons: it will become a requirement for all people owning such weapons to hand them in, and get some financial compensation for it (the exact numbers are still worked on). After a certain time, being in possession of these weapons will become a crime.

A man was complaining to the media today that such a scheme is unfair: he, personally, had done nothing wrong, so why does he need to hand in his gun? He didn't shoot up a mosque. To which, automatically, came out voices in support of the buy-back: people who say that it's important to recognise that people who were attacked had done nothing wrong either, yet they paid with their lives, their healths, their family members' lives. Keeping such weapons in New Zealand puts all of us at greater risk. It allows people who have such nefarious ideas as the mosque shooter had (and, you bet, there are more people like that not just in New Zealand, but everywhere) to have access to weapons which are, specifically, meant to kill humans.

And that's the part, I think, which is so important to ask: who will it hurt?

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It's like a couple of weeks ago when some New Zealand parliament members were up to, really, quite silly antics. It was another Select Committee meeting and Labour members were late. Meeting was meant to start at 8 am, but by 8:10 only 5-out-of-7 Labour members were there. National members decided to walk out of the room in protest and stood just outside the door when the attendees were counted, thereby making sure that the meeting was cancelled because there wasn't enough quorum inside the meeting room

(For the next two days, it felt like they spent most of their energy on political piss-fighting over this incident: National members were saying that Labour is lazy because they can't get out of bed in time; Labour were saying that National is childish because they can't understand that a Labour member was ill and they were spending the morning looking for a replacement.)

But the real question to ask here was, who was hurt by this political game-playing?

The submitters - members of the public who were meant to speak at that meeting - were hurt. About 15 people had travelled to Wellington to make their submissions to this committee. Some were there to talk about child poverty, others about mental health. Because the meeting got cancelled at just after 8:10 am, then these people who were already in Wellington, some after having travelled from afar, were told to go home.

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Regulations, for the most part, get put in place where it's important to recognise the collective wellbeing over a personal liberty. I am not allowed to own a tank and drive it down a street - it would put other humans at risk of being injured, and would damage the roads which we all, collectively, pay for. Yet I am allowed to own a car.

I am not allowed a semi-automatic weapon, but I am allowed a hunting rifle.

It's a balance.

Same goes for freedom of speech. Some very vocal freedom-of-speech 'absolutists' have spoken up recently in New Zealand, saying that it's wrong to forbid hate speech - it would lead to curtailing of the freedom of speech in its entirety.

To that I say: there's a difference between freedom of speech, and the freedom of providing a platform for hate speech.

I would probably be allowed to say, in private to my friends, that I hate Jews. (I don't, actually, but let's take it as an example.) It's my freedom to say it and I won't be jailed for it. But it does not mean that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever should bear the responsibility of allowing me to broadcast it publicly.

'Hate speech' is a very narrow sub-type of communication. Hate speech is, specifically, targeting someone based on their religion, race or sexual orientation, and is calling for violence or prejudice against those people. We already have fundamental humans rights in place which recognise that a person should not be discriminated against based on their religion, race or sexual orientation; and so putting in place protections to guard against that is not, actually, going over the top. It's a responsible attitude.

We already have societal norms in place for not allowing child pornography, because we recognise the collective responsibility for it. We don't allow couples to take photos of themselves having sex and then put up large posters with the photos next to a highway - regulations kick in for doing it in public. Sex, itself, is not criminalised - but there are limitations around how publicly it can be practiced, or broadcast; and who it can be practiced with.

When I drive my car on a highway, I am not allowed to go faster than 100 km/h. Putting in place a limit to my speed does not take away my right of driving a car.

Ever seen the exact moment a bridge 'washes away'?

New Zealand's West Coast is experiencing a 1-in-a-100-year rain event. Yesterday, an entire bridge 'washed away' near Franz Josef glacier, and the rivers are running near or above record flows.

New Zealand Herald has a video of the exact moment the bridge gave way.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/national-video/news/video.cfm?c_id=1503075&gal_cid=1503075&gallery_id=205095

Edited to add: as far as I'm aware, it's the ONLY place to cross Waiho river on the West Coast. Now that the bridge is gone, the closest 'detour' is either 1) by plane or helicopter, or 2) to drive about 800 kilometres around the Alpine Range (through Arthurs Pass, Wanaka and back up Haast Pass). Except, of course, that storm has damaged so much of the road on the West Coast that it's not passable to cars at the moment.

Whinge whinge symposium 3.0

I have lost my 'mojo' - for school, I mean.

Yesterday a programme manager I used to know bumped into me at school and asked how my studies are going. I replied, "Looking forward to getting out of here!" He looked at me and nodded, "I bet."

It's hard being the first students of tutors who are only just starting their job; and in the last 3 years I've had... three. Every year our teaching staff change, then halfway through last year quantity surveying standard (ie legislation that governs how work is done), changed, too, so I am constantly sitting in class, trying to learn from tutors who don't know what they're doing, or who are trying to learn the thing they're teaching us... as they're teaching us.

I've got to the point where I am thinking, "I really can't be arsed to do this any more."

I've had enough of school. I want to get out of here, start work and learn how people actually do this stuff, rather than having to listen to people who 1) have never taught before, or 2) have never worked in New Zealand before, or 3) have never seen the new standard before. I've had enough of being the first "tester" student of teachers who are only just working out what they're doing, how they're doing it, getting their materials ready.

Every student that will arrive at this school after us will be better off for it, but I have had enough. I want OUT.

Even my kids have had enough. The whole family have had enough of these 7:20 morning starts. Most of my kids' classmates are probably not even awake yet when my kids are already walking out the door. And when, for this emotional price, comes another year at school where I am sitting in class, thinking, wtf is this?, then I'm just DONE.

Yes, let me play my little tiny violin. It's an orchestra symphony of "Whinge whinge symposium 3.0". I have a whole plethora of tiny violins taking part in this symphony!
I am glad that mass shootings are covered by New Zealand's ACC. I mean... it's sad that we're even having these sorts of discussions this week, but! I am glad that ACC exists. I'm glad that people who were affected - regardless of their immigration status - will receive help with burial costs, living expenses etc.

It's been a long weekend.

"Because [they] did not feel abused until much later in life"

"It's confusing - the word "abuse" - when you say "sexual abuse" because [they] did not feel abused until much later in life." Oprah Winfrey


Yes. Yes. Yes.

It may take years - even decades - to look back at something and realise that what happened was 1) abuse and that 2) the victim was not at fault. (It took me over a decade.) It is the reason why in criminal law - at least in well-functioning democracies - statute of limitations does not start 'ticking' until the victim realises that abuse took place. It is not until they look back and go, "Shit, that was abuse. Oh my god, I was abused..." that the clock starts ticking, leaving them with 7 or 10 (or however many years different countries leave for such cases) to bring the complaints forward.

Sexual abuse, in a lot of cases, happens silently. It is usually perpetrated by people the victim knows. Let me re-iterate, just for the sake of making this point: if your child will ever abused, sexually, then chances are you know that person.

It's a bit like posters hanging in Invercargill's swimming pool: they caution adults to put away their phones and watch their kids because drowning happens silently. There are no cries of help when someone is struggling to breathe. It is the same with sexual abuse: if a child is young, unless they've been taught to recognise what's okay and what's not, they may not understand and may not even speak up when abuse happens.

Please have these conversations with your children from a young age. Talk with them up into their adulthood. This stuff matters.

Conservation burials

Recently I listened to Caitlin Doughty being interviewed on Radio New Zealand National. She talked about cremation, cemeteries and handling death in general.

I had heard about Caitlin before and was reasonably aware of the "natural burial" concept where deceased' bodies get buried in their natural state: no embalming, in biodegradable coffins made of softwoods (or, better yet, bodies wrapped in shrouds - so forgoing coffins entirely), in shallow graves. The aim of "natural burials" is to help bodies biodegrade without introducing toxic chemicals into the soil (ever wandered what embalming liquids are made of?).

But in this interview Caitlin mentioned something that I was not familiar with: conservation burials.

Conservation burials are, basically, cemeteries of natural burials that have been set up to become conservation lands. Burial process itself remains the same: there is no embalming, deceased are dressed in natural fibres, coffins (if coffins are used at all) are made of sustainably grown timbers, graves are shallow (within the "active layer" of the soil where plant roots are able to get to the nutrients), plots are filled with compost-rich soil to allow aerobic microbial processes to take place. Gradually, such cemeteries turn into parks filled with native plants or even outright native bush.

However! In conservation burials the land management takes a step further: the land is designated as "conservation" land, meaning, it gets a protected status. Say, someone purchases a plot of land adjacent to a national park. They set up a natural burial cemetery and as bodies are interred, cemetery fees go towards the maintenance of the land and the legal fees of gaining protected status. Then, as a native bush is established and the cemetery is full, the land may even be handed over to the government - with the protected status already in place - and become part of the conservation estate.

Hearing her talk made me rethink my own stance on being cremated.

So far I have requested from my family (and in my will) that if I died, I don't want to be buried. I don't want a "plot" where people have to deal with the upkeep. Instead, I have asked to be cremated and the ashes to be scattered somewhere - and if anyone's up for it, then for the ashes to be scattered in Mount Saint Elias national park in Alaska.

However, having heard Caitlin speak - and having realised that there is even a natural cemetery being set up in Invercargill - I have decided that I would be quite happy to be buried instead. Cremation is energy-intensive. If a natural burial achieves a goal of being interred someplace that won't have a tombstone, won't have a "plot" - it'll become a native bush instead - then I would be quite happy, and excuse the pun here, I could definitely live with that :).

Environmental sustainability is a hard, hard topic

I don't know where to start. Where does one start when the ideas are a mixture of anger, frustration, hope and a need to spread information?

Because, fundamentally, this is where it's at. The need to spread information.

Last year I attended a class called "Environment". It's compulsory both for architectural technicians and quantity surveyors who are studying at this institute. Unfortunately though, the class is run by a tutor who really has no idea what he's talking about: the man is trained in steel construction and the environment class has been "given" to him, I suspect, to simply fill his teaching quota. He has neither knowledge nor passion for environmental design, impact studies or sustainability in general.

Which is why, in the very first lecture of the year, I found myself in a curious position of wanting to be the teacher instead. Our tutor was making introductory remarks on climate change when another student spoke up that climate change isn't real. "It's just another way for the government to put taxes on everyday people!" he was exclaiming, "And besides, the earth cools and warms all the time! It goes through these cycles. It's what earth does! "

I looked towards my tutor. He wasn't saying anything. The man had no intention - and I suspect, knowledge - to refute what my fellow student was saying and I was sitting there, thinking, really? This is where we're going to leave it? I spoke up. "Look, guys, how about we make a deal. When you're sitting around a table drinking beers with friends, you're welcome to make grand-standing statements and not back them up with any evidence. But when we're in class, can you please reference to where you get this sort of information from!"

That other student was not impressed. For several minutes we went back-and-forth, he was making angry remarks at me, I was making angry remarks right back at him - it was a piss-fight, really. Eventually we wound down, and the tutor continued his lecture/slideshow about environmental impacts on building design and I sat there thinking, someone has to do something. This class has twenty-odd students who are in their prime time for absorbing science-based knowledge on environmental impact of built structures and no-one providing them with it. Once they are out of school, that's it. At the moment they are, somewhat voluntarily, sitting in a class listening and watching. THIS IS A LOST OPPORTUNITY.

I asked the tutor if he would allow me to make a presentation on sustainability the following week. Sure, he said, go ahead. A week later I got up in front of the class, powered up my slideshow I had meticulously prepared and launched into a 30-minute lecture. On one hand, I felt spectacularly out of place - it was clear from the content of the lecture that I was trying to fill the gap that my tutor was leaving so painfully open otherwise. On the other hand though (and you may say that it was just my personal grand-standing), that presentation was good. As much as it wasn't my role to be in front of the class like that, that day, I made a good job of teaching.

The talk covered sustainability, planetary boundaries, development of human societies and a history of mass-extinctions. I tried, in the best way I could, to explain why it's important to keep the planet in the Holocene: that developed human societies have never existed in anything other than a stable climate of the Holocene. I touched on fossil record of mass-extinctions, referenced everything I could with outside sources so as to not leave anyone wondering where I got this information from and by the time I sat down, I was both proud but also very tired. I don't actually like making public gestures of dissent. (Even if I feel very compelled to do something in the absence of anyone else doing something.)

A couple of days later, I received surprising and absolutely humbling pieces of feedback from my fellow classmates. Several said that they had enjoyed the talk, learned from it; one of them, in particular, sat down next to me in the hallway and said that my lecture had explained to her why we need to study environment. Before that, she said, she had wondered why architects even need to have this class - and after, she said, she felt compelled to go home and learn more about it.

My jaw just about dropped to the ground hearing that. But with the pleasure of having done something important, a painful realisation came that... these students were the easy ones to talk to. Most were young adults in early 20's, there to learn, an almost literally captive audience with a personally-driven interest in the topic.

But try talking to (much older) adults who really don't care. Geesh!

To the point of glitter


My daughter attends a daycare who are, let's put it this way... not the most environmentally conscious business I've come across. One thing in particular has been rubbing on my nerves lately: their profuse use of glitter. Big pots of plastic-based glitter are used in their crafting and it ends up ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE. On the floor, on furniture, inside clothes, inside bags, on the floor at our home, on food. Everywhere! The mess is such that the daycare have taken to using glitter outside, rather than indoors, and they brush the glitter onto grass and sandpits. "It's easier to clean up," they say.

(insert sigh)

I looked at it and one day talked to one of the teachers. "Hey, so... have you guys thought about limiting the use of glitter a little?" - "No, why? Kids love it." - "Yeah, I know. But the thing is... glitter is a microplastic. It's basically made of whole bunch of little plastic pieces. When you brush it off, it ends up in the soil, wind takes some of it, it goes down waterways. When you wash it down the sink, it doesn't even get captured by the filters in the water treatment plant - it's just too small. It ends up in the ocean. It's actually quite bad, environmentally-speaking." We talked for a while and she said she'd pass the message on to others in the monthly meeting.

I waited. And waited. Nothing happened.

About a month later I went to see the manager at the daycare. "Hey, so... have you guys thought about...?" We went through the same conversation as with the teacher, except that manager's reply was, basically, that they are making progress towards being more environmentally friendly, but stopping the use of glitter "is not a step we are ready to take". Oh.

My daughter continued bringing home copious amounts of glitter-basted artwork. I wasn't ready to give up, so I, cheekily, printed off a couple of interesting articles on the environmental effects of glitter and slid them, quietly, onto the table at the staff room at the daycare. The manager might be a bit slow, I thought to myself, but it doesn't mean that the teachers won't catch on to the message eventually.

Then, at Christmas-time, the daycare dropped an even bigger bombshell. They gave each child a bag of glitter mixed with oats and sugar (called "reindeer food") and encouraged everyone to sprinkle it on their grass so that it would sparkle in the moonshine and attract "reindeer". ARE YOU NUTS!? I gasped to myself when I saw that letter (actually, I used more colorful language than that, but that's beside the point). In the evening I complained to my husband, "Don't they realise that mixing oats and sugar into the mixture is going to make the birds eat the glitter!?" Birds' tracheas are small. Pieces of glitter are going to damage their digestive tracts.

I wondered what to do about it and, eventually, wrote a letter directly onto the daycare's intranet site, for other parents to see. Please consider NOT sprinkling it on your lawn, I pleaded with them and explained the reasoning. You could use a plate in the kitchen instead and when the kids go to bed at night, chuck the glitter in your rubbish bin. I also asked the daycare, in the future, to NOT include glitter in the mixture; oats mixed with sugar will do.

It feels like a tiring, quiet war I am waging with people that, fundamentally, don't understand.

I look at people designing fancy, multi-level standalone buildings with many corners and think, ugh. The more corners and sides a building has, the more energy-consuming it is. It is harder to make it weather-tight, it's more expensive to maintain. I am not saying that all houses need to be rectangular boxes, but there has to be some balance in there, and currently there isn't. There is so little medium-density building in New Zealand it's not even funny.

A definition of "fair" share


I walk around every day asking myself, if every person in the world lived the way I am living - would there be enough resources? And the answer is that, at the moment... no. I think I am using more than my fair share. Not by much, but I am somewhere above the median: if every person in the world lived like me, we wouldn't have "enough" Earth to make it possible, I don't think.

The painful thing is though, in New Zealand terms I am a very insignificant consumer. Almost every item I own (apart from personal electronics and tools) is second-hand: clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, appliances. We are a one-car family - which, in a low-density town, sometimes takes a fair amount of effort. (The car, itself, will probably be the last petrol-driven vehicle we own - a 2006 Honda it will probably last long enough for alternative methods of transport to be in place by the time we recycle it.) We are gradually establishing a garden. We are attempting, in the process of renovating our house, to use as many recycled items as possible/practical - to keep what we've got and improve it, rather than rip it out and replace it.

But we're not perfect. Just recently me and my husband flew for a two-night vacation in Auckland (a 3000-kilometre roundtrip) and my friend who is studying environmental systems rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, come on guys..." The year before our entire family flew from New Zealand to Europe. (Our first trip in 8 years.) It is a delicate balance to strike: trying to do what's necessary whilst living in the human community and trying not to piss too many people off in the process, and to allow some personal alleviances... Excuses, excuses, really.

So... how to do it, then?


I find solace in the words of Johan Rockström from Stockholm Resilience Centre who has said that, in order to de-carbonise the world, we need to halve our emissions every 10 years and double our renewable energy every 6 years. He himself has said that, the beauty of this approach is that it can be scaled: a country can do it, a local authority can, a person can. I can look at my own carbon footprint analytically and say, I need to halve it by 2029.

I find solace in this approach (moreso than others') because it gives me a baseline to work with, rather than leave me anxiety-ridden with every environmental mistake I've made. As long as I am working to halve my emissions at this rate, I say to myself, it's workable.

Find cleaning products with packages that are entirely biodegradable. Tick.
Find doggy poo bags which are biodegradable. Tick.
Replace plastic-based clothes with natural fibres, where possible / practical. Tick.
Re-sole shoes, rather than throw them out. Tick.

Bit by bit, find a way to reduce the current footprint.

At the moment, I look at the land around my house and admit that, ecologically-speaking, it's a wasteland. It's mostly grass - a lawn. We mow it with a petrol-powered mower - which we own - and the amount of "useful" land around my house is, I don't know, 10%. If that.

But! We don't use any herbicides or pesticides. Even now we have insects throughout the plants and birds on the trees around us. Over time as we establish plants and a garden, more and more of the land will be "useful": either edible plants which we will consume, or native plants necessary for the ecosystem. We aim to only have a small "clearing" in the back yard and the rest of it will be... used for something. Food. Plants. Buildings.

We eat meat, yes. But! Already I am pushing back the quantities. It is hard to do in a household where people have to merge their dietary preferences, but already I am asking myself, can I cook one more vegetarian meal tonight? Postpone the meat by a day. Then postpone another meaty meal by another day. Over a year, that actually makes a difference. (And, for the most part, my husband doesn't even know I am doing it.)

It's a bit like that David Roberts' article in the book I linked earlier today, "The Best American Science and Nature Writing", but wealthier people produce more carbon that poorer people. Period. It's good to recycle, yes, and sustainable / organic / etc makeup is better than something that is full of endocrine disruptors but... most carbon emissions come from lifestyle choices.

The size of houses.
Meat consumption.
Car use.
Vacation travel.

No amount of good-looking merino t-shirts and sustainably-grown cotton totes is going to offset someone who regularly flies across countries for fun and lives in a big house and has children. Period. No matter how many Instagram followers they have.

So these are the questions I pose to myself, and answers I attempt to come up with. But I find it frustrating that, whilst I ask these questions of myself, I have a large plethora of mostly older people - and, please!, don't start throwing things at me because I KNOW THERE ARE NICE OLD PEOPLE OUT THERE, and if you are reading this, chances are, you are one of them, but it doesn't change the fact that, as a whole, above-30's-and-40's are where bulk of the problems are - I have a large plethora of people around me who don't. They neither ask questions of themselves nor understand the need for it. (Meanwhile, New Zealand kids are planning to organise a mass-protest of school walkouts to demand action for climate change.)

I am learning to speak up, and trying to learn how to do it more gently. When someone says to me that Estonia will be better off for global warming, I try to talk to them about climate change instead. I explain that "global warming" doesn't, simply, mean that it will be warmer: it means there will be more adverse, unexpected weather. Bigger floods, longer droughts, stronger winds. There will be crops that will fail more often than before, coastal erosion that will affect people's home insurances, large-scale weather events that will damage property, delay work. New types of pests will move in, old types of animals will struggle to get by. Roads may become unsuitable for what they were built for, lakes may have too much algae to swim in. A good example is when in New Zealand, recently, train network had to be stopped for a time because warm weather made electrical lines sag. The company is now retro-fitting the entire network with cable-tensioners which are common in tropical countries - a large cost for something that had never been needed in New Zealand before.

Meanwhile, all this will happen in the background of world events where millions of people will be displaced and need a new home to go to. Is everyone ready for that?

It's, like, when a couple of weeks ago a certain orange man in the US was tweeting about the cold weather and saying how it proved that there was no global warming. I think it was the National Weather Service?, correct me if I'm wrong, who tweeted a reply something along the lines of: come on, for the last time, weather and climate are NOT the same thing.

Have you read The Water Will Come? My husband ranted for days after reading it, because he was so frustrated with the fact that it is already happening and, yet, here we are having these arguments over whether something needs to be done or not about it.

On the whole, these topics leave me exceptionally frustrated, but at the same time, I am hopeful. I know I cannot bear the weight of it alone, but I intend to bear it alongside others. I cannot directly affect the amount of renewable energy I am producing, for example, but I can vote in a way that makes a difference. (I will probably NEVER vote for a New Zealand National Party, ever. But that's probably already clear from the other social choices I am making.)

But it's hard. Hard. Hard. Hard.