25 September 2014

Plants, or gruesome news?

As I ate breakfast this morning, I contemplated the little forest of vegetable seedlings on our dining room floor. I sowed the seeds about five weeks ago. Each night we tenderly carry them inside out of the cold, and each morning they go out into the sunshine of our front porch. They are thriving, and the tomato plants have that unique ripe tomato smell.

Some of the tomato plants will be sold
- we're not planting out that many plants!

What else am I to think about as I eat my first daily meal? We cancelled the newspaper. The ipad could provide me with a world's worth of terrorist beheadings, priests molesting children and political scandals. To me, these things are a bit like junk food and malicious gossip - juicy and inviting to gorge on, but completely unhelpful to a calm and happy life. (Watching TV may also come to mind, but it's thankfully it's not in the house.)

I could talk to my children. This morning, however, after almost an hour of lunch and breakfast making, calming arguments (calming is the wrong word - I yelled 'Cut it OUT!') and requests for things I don't have the energy for, I wanted an escape while I ate. I'm a productive and functional mother on school mornings, but not a particularly warm-hearted or patient one.

It's amazing how different strains of tomatoes have such different leaves, artichokes are already furry when still tiny, and basil leaves are so tidy and compact when young.

Baby basil leaves almost look like cartoon leaves!

I do love reading selected blogs, and would have done so this morning except I was already up to date. My current favourites are Soulemama for her daily dose of calm and creative inspiration, Ben Hewitt for his amazing writing and unconventional thinking, and tinyhappy for her little posts that so nicely represent her own handmade New Zealand style. Homegrown Kitchen also gives me a nice healthy foody buzz.

These lovely people, and my baby plants, leave me in a much better place than beheaded journalists do.

21 September 2014

Let there be flowers

Every spring I am stunned at the beauty of flowering bulbs, and swear I'll plant some in autumn. Every autumn I forget. Thank goodness for the 'instant tulip' garden on sale at The Warehouse two or three weeks ago. I carefully transplanted the almost-flowering tulips into an old planter, and look what appeared.

They make us smile every time we step in or out of the front door. But truly, our entrance way is a bit less beautiful when you see the wide angle shot.

We also have blossom trees, which will give us summer fruit. The white blossoms are on our two plum trees (a red and stunningly flavoured Hawera, and a yellow and almost nectarine-like Luisa) and a pink-flowered miniature peach, which strangely is taller than me. After a week of high winds and rain - just when we need the bees most! - today has given us enough stillness and sunshine to allow those most vital insects to come. I couldn't see any on the blossom when I checked, but hopefully they've visited and done their good work.

We love summer fruit, and plums grow very well in Hamilton.

When I get our 2015 calendar, I'll be writing 'bulb time' on the April page in big capital letters.

15 September 2014

Meditation, my best anti-migraine drug

If you found this page by searching 'meditation and migraine', I know why you're here. You are desperate. The rest of you probably know someone who does suffer from migraines. Maybe this post will help them.

Please also read the postscript to this post.

I meditate, almost every day, and it's worked better than any drug I've ever taken. My migraines have gone from several times a week, to about once a week. I can mostly control those I do get with abortive medication (triptan drugs). I salute the people who discovered those, over and over again.

How I do it
I wake up in the morning, drag myself into a sitting position and meditate, without even getting out of bed. I tuck my pillow under me and sit cross-legged.

Eyes closed, I let my awareness sink into my breathing, trying to notice only the breath going in and out of my nostrils. It's like submersing in a freshwater pool on a hot day, losing myself in the cool stillness of the water.

After about 10 minutes, I change and just 'dwell' inside my head, feels like cruising in a fine blue sky. I notice how calm and clear it is, and how lovely it feels just to sit quietly inside it without thinking. Sometimes I explore different parts of it - eye sockets, temples, base of skull. As I think about each part, it relaxes.

This second phase is by far the most pleasant for me.

After another 10 minutes, I open my eyes and dive into the day. Or, more often, reluctantly drag myself out of bed and go and make some school lunches.

How I fail, but it works anyway
Ah, how good it would be just to stay focused on my breath, or perpetually inside a mind that is like a clear blue sky. The trouble is that my brain begins to chatter and thoughts begin to roll, one following the other. I notice this, and move back to my breath/clear mind. This re-focusing happens over and over again. It happens to everyone, I understand, except for monks who have been practicing for decades.

Note: my thoughts are not that fascinating, but my mind repeatedly tries to trick me that they are vital. I remind myself firmly that this is not true, not for every minute of the day, and that the benefits of leaving the thoughts and going back to the meditation are enormous.

Too simple to be true?
It seems like nothing, really - 15-20 minutes a day repeatedly trying and failing to dwell in a calm part of the mind. But bizarrely enough, whatever happens in my brain is profound.

I've written earlier posts about this. This post talks about what meditation changes in the brain, and this post talks about a meditation retreat I went on, and what I learnt.

My own style
I've read a lot about the science behind meditation over the last few months. The evidence for its benefits is amazingly strong for many different common problems (including anxiety, immune function and so much more). I also learnt that the benefits are there no matter what type of meditation you do - and there are many different types, which, like religions, all think that their way is superior. Therefore, I just do what I like best and feels easiest.

How to start
I started by thoroughly exploring the Headspace website, listening to the founder's TED talk here, and doing his online meditation (the first 10 days are free and thereafter the cost is very reasonable). Since returning from my meditation retreat, I stopped paying Headspace and just did my own meditation. My own version is quite similar to Headspace's, though.

How long it took
My migraines improved instantly after I began the free 10-day online meditation. I've been meditating almost daily for eight months now, and with time the stability of my brain (as in how easily it slips into migraine mode) seems to get stronger and stronger. Still, if I get a nasty stressful shock, or get way too busy and tired, I will get one. (I take a caffeine pill or drink coffee if I think one is imminent, and this works if I do it quickly enough.)

Of course, weekly is still too often, but I hope that with time the length of time in between them will lengthen. I'm still a baby at this meditating business.

Placebo effect?
I would have written about my success earlier, but was reluctant because in the past I've had other apparent successes. I'd do something new (which usually involved spending money) and it would seem to work for a couple of weeks. Inevitably I'd end up disappointed. This time, after eight months of improvement, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Preying on desperation
There are a lot of people out there wanting migraineurs to part with their money for a 'cure'. When you're desperate, it's very tempting to pay up. It's just SO disappointing when the cure doesn't work. I've tried different supplements, acupuncture, an osteopath, and a gluten and dairy-free diet. They all seemed to work for a couple of weeks. The preventative medication made no difference to me.

But this works for me. Maybe it will for you, too?

If you have any questions or experiences to share, please leave a comment.


I stopped meditating about 18 months after I wrote the post above, because my migraines got much worse again, and I decided the meditation wasn't helping. As soon as I stopped, they got a lot better. How's that for crazy? Possibly I'd been getting so quietly annoyed at my wandering mind that I was sabotaging my own efforts. That was a year ago. Since then the migraines have got worse, got better, got worse again... they are like an ephemeral cloud that appears and blows away again, and usually I don't know why.

I'm sorry if I got anybody's hopes up - but maybe it will work for you. I do still find the mind-training tricks I learnt from meditation to be very useful in my life.

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9 September 2014

Creating ecosystems in the garden

Outside, everything seems to be trying to reproduce. The mizuna, broccoli and lupins are going to seed - and so are our broad beans, the seeds of which we shall eat. We haven't grown them before, so they're an adventure.

Flowering lupins in front.
Broad beans, garlic, parsnips and lettuce.
Then there are daily eggs from our chickens, and the tuis are chasing each other and singing their hearts out, no doubt getting frisky.

As I look at the garden photos I took today, I realise how much I''m now trying to create little ecosystems in the garden. Maybe 'recreate' is a better word, because everything in nature exists in ecosystems.

I'm trying out a combination of the three flowers that are apparently proven to be good beneficial insect hosts: alyssum, buckwheat and phacelia. Many more are said to be so, but according to the scientist that writes in NZ Gardener magazine, those three are backed by solid evidence. I've mixed them together in a jar, and simply sprinkled them over the soil, which I'm keep moist and watching hopefully. Alyssum and phacelia sprout incredibly easily - I know that from experience - and I expect buckwheat does too.

Blueberry bushes newly mulched with pine needles. The pine needles
acidify the soil a bit, and blueberries like it a bit acidic.
Buckwheat, phacelia and alyssum seeds are sown in between.
Strawberry plants. Peas are popping up under the trellis,
which will feed us and add nitrogen to the soil.
Radishes have sprouted between the strawberries,
and will hopefully be eaten before they bother the strawberry roots.
To the right of the strawberries are either alyssum or marigolds
- I can't remember which seeds I sowed!

A few more garden peeks, not 'ecosystem' related:

Purple sprouting broccoli. Divine stuff.
Tulip bulbs approaching flowering.
Tomato seedlings - are yours done yet?
Big, healthy mint leaves, sprouted from a couple
of manky roots from a neighbour's plant.

8 September 2014

Lying around to teach children

A week or so ago I eased up on my usual frenetic pace and sat around a bit more. (I've had a sinus infection - all gone now - this stuff is magic for sinus infections but only if it's been opened in the last two months or so. Better than antibiotics.)

Lying in bed, I become a magnet for my children (and the cat) who cosied up next to me and chatted. "I wonder what humans looked like while they were evolving?" "Could we make wool from the cat's fur?"

Last night I sat down after dinner to stroke and scratch the cat. "What does DNA look like?" asked Jack. (He'd been reading a New Scientist on the coffee table.) Then he asked about atoms and electrons and how many atoms would be in his bedroom.... (not infinite! Just extremely hard to count!).

Too much science in this house, probably! We talk about lots of other things, too. Due to the smoochiness of our darling cat it's often about how nice the cat makes us feel, what he might be up to on his outside adventures, etc. Maybe it doesn't matter what we talk about, and what matters is the feeling of closeness and the opportunity to bring things up in a relaxed fashion.

I first learnt this lesson when I was pregnant with Anna. Two-year-old Jack turned out to adore me lying in bed all day with terrible nausea. We discovered that bent Mama knees make a good slide, and little boys can be happy for hours on end with a constantly available mother.

Nearly nine years later I learn the lesson again... a slow learner, for sure!

5 September 2014

Lazy ways of doing things well: some tips

The soft spring rain falling this morning has inspired me to share a few tips. I like them because they are low energy time savers.

1. Put houseplants outside in the rain for a few hours. They transform: the dust is washed from their leaves and they spring into good health like magic. (I choose soft rain and avoid strong wind, cold or direct sun.)

2. To defrost something quickly, put it on an aluminium oven tray. My husband - who understands physics much better than I do - tells me that aluminium is very conductive. If the tray has air circulating underneath it speeds things up even more. (If I'm defrosting meat I put it on a plate and then on a tray. It's not quite as fast, but I don't want meat juices dripping off the tray. That wouldn't be a problem if I had an aluminium tray with a lip around it to catch juices. That said, I have been known to place almost-defrosted steak directly on the tray for half an hour - the runny juices seem to mostly ooze out in earlier stages of defrosting.)

3. Stand on one foot, often, with the other leg reasonably straight. It's an instant buttock workout, and it's practical: you really want your muscles to be strong enough to support you on one leg only, both to prevent falls and generally have a fully functioning human body. It can be done while peeling potatoes, washing dishes, brushing teeth, reading, watching TV...

Yay to being productively and sustainably lazy. Do you have any tips to share?

1 September 2014

Amazing creative pottery

Anna (aged 8 years and 3 days) is doing a weekly clay pottery class. It's amazing to be surrounded by the incredible things sitting around drying in the studio. I tend to trip along through life forgetting how incredibly creative humans can be. My eyes have been opened by Anna's class.

These fairy tale towers were made by the class's lovely teacher, Tania Hollatz, to give the children ideas for their own towers. They are freshly made, and still damp.

Anna's made a tower too, but it's not quite ready. Here's her teepee from the first lesson. Who would have thought that pottery could also be a lesson in architecture?

How lucky Anna is to do the class and have her mind opened up to these possibilities! Sometimes it's good to forget sport and academic pursuits and just throw ourselves into creating lovely things.

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