Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My first bubble bath

Not so much fun.
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Flower power

Asleep in the pram on our walk at Constantia Nek.
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Shucks, Schuster!

No no no no no nooooooooooooooooooo..... see what happens when you open a can of worms? They all crawl out. Yup. All over you. In a bloody mess.

Just got an email from our ward councillor to say that:

NO walls or fences are allowed ANYWHERE in our street.


The neighbours are really going to hate me now.

Down the rabbit hole: Lessons in life

The saga of our fence continues. I've finally decided that it's time to tell you about it.

After we bought the house, and before we moved in, our house was burgled 3 times in 3 years. This is mainly because the house is at the end of the row, so is more accessible. Despite our 6ft wall around the back of the development, people hop over the fence and use our road as a shortcut to get to Langa station, because the only entrances and exits to Pinelands are on Forest Drive, which is miles away. One of their favourite spots for hopping the wall is right next to our back fence. (You have to give them credit for ingenuity though - they use an earthing wire to pull themselves up and over - a bit like spiderman...)

Understandably then, I was very nervous about moving into the house. In order to increase our security we put up a palisade fence around the front of the house. What we didn't do though, was follow the plans. (Lesson #1: Read the plans/ instruction manual FIRST. Seriously. It may save you heartache and money. Don't be so bloody male about everything and dive in head first.)

We put the fence up right on the kerb. (Let's be clear about this - G had NOTHING to do with this decision. I accept full responsibility for the fence's position.) Our street boundary is about 4.5m or 5m from the kerb, at the edge of our garage. Given how easy it is to break through our garage door (which would give easy access to the house), I didn't want to make it easy for that to happen. I wanted to be able to work in the garage, with the garage door open, but still be safe and secure. I also wanted to be able to park both cars behind a security fence. Neither of those things are possible if you put the fence on the boundary. (And with a baby in the house, security is really important to me... and of course, there's the fact that I'm a woman, and my maid is a woman, and rape really isn't a pleasant experience for women.)

In addition, I don't want people walking across my driveway to go around the corner and hop over the development wall. We already have a problem with vagrants sleeping against our garage wall and leaving their faeces and rubbish behind (my dogs love it, but me? not so much). I didn't want them to be able to use my driveway as well (here lies MY boundary).

Someone complained about our fence. I'm fairly sure I know who it is (I know who you are and I know where you live!), because in the first few months of us being here (starting during our renovation works before we actually moved in) we had several complaints. If I'm right, this person just likes to complain about everything and is a general neighbourhood nuisance. (Shame on you!) (Lesson #2: Neighbours in a small neighbourhood know EVERYTHING. "We, Toys, see EVERYTHING.")

However, the complaint did make a valid point that I didn't consider when we erected the fence: being on the kerb means drivers have to slow down as they go around the blind corner. (Of course, drivers should be slowing down anyway, but some don't.) If two cars were to pass each other in front of our house (which is RIGHT on the corner), and one was to veer past the mid-line (as happens when you don't slow down around a blind corner), then the other car would bash its side view mirror on our fence if it tried to veer out of the way. (Lesson #3: Don't be so bloodyminded all the time, Woman - ask others for advice before making major decisions, because maybe they know or can see a side to something you can't or haven't.)

In retrospect, I should have put the fence 50cm from the kerb to avoid that problem. (Lesson #4: I can actually admit when I've made a mistake. Even if it takes me several months to get there. Eventually, I'll admit it.) If I had, then whoever complained probably never would have. Maybe. Anyway!

As a result of the complaint, we received a visit from the council, who immediately sent us a demand letter giving us 10 days to move our fence. The threat was that if we didn't, they would, and they'd bill us for it. I duly wrote to them to explain why the fence was where it is. I explained that I would be happy to move the fence back by 50cm or so, but I was not happy to move it back to the boundary, for the reasons I've outlined above. I also said that I didn't have the money to move the fence at the moment, and that if they did it and billed us, we would not be able to pay them either.

The council replied to say, in effect, "tough". (Lesson #5: The council doesn't care. Ever.)

We then looked at leasing a portion of the verge, but it will cost us R5000 to apply, several months to process, and there is no guarantee our application will be successful. (The monthly fee is quite small, so it would be feasible from that perspective.) R5000 is a lot of money to just throw away like that if the application is unsuccessful. Plus, in the meantime, we would still have to move the fence back to our boundary and then move it forwards again if our application was successful. (Talk about a las... I really should just have put the fence 50cm from the kerb.) (Lesson #6: see Lesson #1)

Off I went then, to double check with the council that the street boundary was where it appears on the plan, because 5m is a LOT further from the kerb than is normal (2.5m - 3m is usual). That investigation was delayed while the council tried to find their copies of our plans (our copies went missing during the kitchen renovation). After several days, the plans arrived. I scrutinised them and discovered that (shock! horror!) either everyone else also has their fences in illegal positions, or the plans are wrong. (Lesson #7: Even bad stuff can have a positive spin off...)

So today I went back to the council, with my dearest dad in tow (as he's a surveyor by trade) to help me. (Let me play the dumb blonde!) (Lesson #8: Parents never stop being needed. Children are a responsibility for LIFE. Like a life sentence, but longer, more complicated and more expensive.) What we discovered is that Field Close is, almost certainly, a private road (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WTF?!?!) (Lesson #9: Expect the unexpected), but that the legalities of setting up the Home Owners' Association were never followed through on. While the legal bungle is fine by me (HOAs are always a pain), what that means is that - if we're right and the road is a private one - we don't have to move the fence!!! (Lesson #10: Council screw up a lot. If you catch them at it, you can save your ass.)


Of course, if our street IS private, then that means we own the council money anyway, for back taxes for rates on the verges which we (and they!) didn't know we owned. And that could work out to be quite a hefty sum. Boo! (Lesson # 11: Council always get their pound of flesh, one way or the other.)

If our street is private, then I think we'll go ahead and move the fence back 50cm anyway, to appease our neighbours. I can live with 50cm - it means we can still park a 2nd car behind the gate and it means I can work in the garage with the door open and not feel at risk, but it still keeps the vagrants and their mess off my driveway. And if it keeps Old Complainer off our backs, then that's not a bad thing either.

So now the ball is in the council's court again. It'll be interesting to see how they respond. Of course, it may be that our street isn't private after all (in which case, the council plans of our suburb are wrong!). But until the matter is resolved, the fence stays where it is. (Lesson #12: Perseverance wins the day.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nate's dedication

Today we dedicated the little man to God. His name means "Gift of God" and that he is. We recognise that because Nate is a gift, we are merely stewards of his life. He belongs, first and foremost, to God. As such, we choose to raise him within the community of faith that is the church, teaching him to obey all that Christ has revealed to us and taught us. We will need God's help to be the best parents to Nate that we can be.

We hide Nate under the wings of the Almighty, and cover him in Christ's blood, that no harm or evil may befall him. Our prayer for Nate on this special day is that he will grow into faith himself, choosing to find his identity in Christ. We ask that he will grow into all that God has planned and prepared for him, choosing never to compromise or shirk God's will. May he walk the path God has called him to and may he complete all the good works that God has prepared in advance for him to do. May his life be fruitful, and may he bring words of life, hope, encouragement, joy and peace to everyone he meets. May his gifts and talents find their greatest expression in glorifying God. May he share in his Creator's creativity and develop an enquiring mind. May anger, depression, pride and rebellion have no place in his heart. Rather, may the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control) grow daily in him. May he be filled with the Spirit to the fullest measure. May he know the voice of the Lord and be obedient to it. May he know the height, depth, breadth and width of God's love for him, and may he never doubt either God's love for him, or our love for him.

Junior fishbowls

On Wednesday I took Janel to have a full OT assessment. Given that she was born 7 weeks prem, we've had lingering concerns about her development. Comments from her teacher at nursery have played into our concerns. Upon discussing some of our concerns with her paed, he advised us (if for no other reason that to allay our fears) to have her assessed.

On Friday, G and I went back to hear the report. It's mostly good news: she's FINE. In some areas, like in building a tower with particular blocks, the OT said she'd never had a child her age use all the blocks, or so quickly, to build such a well balanced tower. *parental glow*. In others (like completing a 3-D maze) she didn't score so well. However, the overall report is that she's reached every milestone she should have for her developmental age and has no lingering physical problems that are not typical for her age group.

The bad news. There's always bad news. The bad news is that her emotional landscape is fractured. (Those are my words, not the OT's.) This means that she's not coping well with stress, and has adopted the detachment strategy for coping. Hmm... Actually, as I said to G as we were leaving, this assessment has really boosted my confidence in my own parenting skills. The reason for that is that I knew this. Intuitively I knew this. I knew that Janel has no physical problems. I knew that all the odd physical and behavioural things we have been seeing and dealing with were not because she was incapable, but because she was trying to express something going on internally for which she has neither the vocabulary nor the cognisance to recognise. The fact that I knew this means that I really do know my child and that my instincts about her are right. When it comes to Nellie, "I really should listen to [myself] more often". (Sorry - that's a very personal family joke.)

Reflecting on her life, this internal scatteredness she's experiencing is no surprise. She was only 9 months old when I fell pregnant with Zoe, and that pregnancy was horrible, so I wasn't feeling great and so wasn't really being a good Mommy to her. She was 16 months old when Zoe died. Not only was that a massive shock to her, but as a family it took a massive toll on us. She was only 19 months when we moved to SA - leaving her much-adored day-mother behind. She was only 22 months when she started at nursery (in itself an event that took her about 4-6 months to adjust to), and 23 months when we moved house again. She was then nearly 3 years when I fell pregnant again (another time of Mommy being a bad Mommy because I felt so ill and sore, but both of us were feeling paranoid and stressed about the possibility of losing him), and then Nathan was born 3 months ago. Plus, we moved house AGAIN 4 months ago. That's a pretty big catalogue of major events to deal with for any person, let alone a small child who can't express what she's thinking and feeling.

Under the circumstances, I think she's done amazingly. The OT said she suspects that Janel has the potential to be a BRILLIANT child. I agree. She's being hampered by her inner turmoil, tying her up in knots and making it difficult for her to adequately participate in group activities.

Knowing this is good news. It means there is something we can do. Thus, we're strongly considering a short course of play therapy sessions for her, helping her to not only process all she's been through in her short life, but also to create some inner infrastructure for her so that she can continue to develop and grow into the beautiful person she is.

Of course, this assessment has cost us an arm and a leg. But I think it's worth it. I want my child to be able to make the right choices in her life. At the moment, when she's faced with a choice she can't handle, she's choosing not to engage - it's the whole paralysis thing again (see yesterday's post). She'd rather detach than engage. She can play on her own happily for quite a while, but put her in a group situation and she's overwhelmed by the choices she has to make. I'm hoping that by helping her to create her own fishbowl, or at least give her the tools to do so, we will be enabling her to deal with the anxiety she feels and that, ultimately, she will be a better and happier person for it.

And if not, well, she will have had some very expensive play dates!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We need a fishbowl

The thing with fishbowls is that they limit the fish, in terms of where they can swim. That seems rather obvious, I know, but it is important to consider this, because it has massive ramifications.

I recently came across a website called TEDtalks. It's a video hosting site for inspirational talks. This morning I watched a 20 minute talk by Barry Schwartz, on his latest book 'The paradox of choice: why less is more". Being the good student that I am, I took notes. Briefly, his arguments were that:

1) Increasing the number of choices we have increases our inability to make a choice, thus increasing paralysis. He quoted a study in which it was found that for every 10-fold increase in the number of medical plans they offered, companies saw a 2% drop in the uptake of ANY medical plan by their employees. I get this. When I'm faced with 10 different types of shampoo, it takes me HOURS to make a decision. Give me only 2 and I can tell you immediately which one I want. (This doesn't work with chocolate as I'll want all 10. THAT decision is easy.)

2) Increasing the number of choices we have decreases our satisfaction with the choice we ultimately make, because we feel there should be a choice that is perfect in every way (which there isn't). So true. Clothes shopping is like that for me. There are SO many different types of jeans now... firstly I have to get the right size (which is brand dependent), then I have to decide on a colour (blue, red, black, green, white, stonewashed, acid washed, etc, etc), then I have to decide on whether I want a hipster or full waisted pair, and then I have to decide what leg shape I want (boot-leg is my usual favourite, so that's fairly easy), and the type of fit I want (regular, slim, etc). NO WONDER it takes me ages to work through the various combinations and try on the resulting possible matches. And then, once you find the pair that fits best (note: NOT the perfect fit, because nothing fits me perfectly anymore), I then have to work up the guts to pay the ridiculous price attached.

3) There are opportunity costs involved in every choice. ie. every time you make a choice FOR something, you are also making a choice AGAINST something else. I learnt this lesson while in the UK. G and I were very jealous about his siblings' travel exploits, until we realised that we'd made different choices, and that neither set of choices was right or wrong. We discovered that we're creatures of habit: we like to have a fixed abode with our creature comforts; we like to have a regular place of employment; we like to have a relatively stable network of friends around us. We DON'T like constantly having to share our space (including our bathroom) with 5 others; we don't like having to work out which trains/ tubes/ buses we were going to use to get to work; we don't like having to phone up the agencies all the time to get work; we don't like being away from our friends. The cost of the travel opportunity is all those things we don't like. The cost of the non-travel opportunities are that we never travelled as much as we wanted to. Once we realised that though, the stress of those choices faded. (We'd still love to go travelling more, but now it will have to wait until the kids are a bit older.)

4) Increasing the number of choices we have leads to increased expectations that there should be a perfect choice. When I go out for a meal, not only should what I feel like be on the menu, but it should be perfectly prepared. Enter: the DIY menu. I'll have the XYZ burger, but with the sauce & onions on the side, with extra ABC and NO GHERKINS! (or whatever....) If we can't get the perfect choice, then everything else feels second best. And who honestly wants second best?

5) Increasing the number of choices we have leads to increased personal responsibility for our own happiness, and thus to increased depression. This one is quite simple. When there was only one choice, if you didn't like it, you could blame "them" - the manufacturers, the people in charge, the world. Now that there are lots of choices, ONE of them should match you. Thus, if you are unhappy with your choice, it's your own fault for not choosing correctly.

Barry summed up by saying: Some choice is better than no choice, but more choice is NOT better than some choice. There is clearly a tipping point, at which the 'some' becomes 'more'. When I travelled through southern Africa I was struck once again by how happy those with nothing (or very little) are. They have a joy that isn't affected by how much they have, or what they're wearing, or where they live. Their joy is a simple joy at being alive and having real community. It's a godly joy.

The paradox of choice is a problem for the affluent, no doubt about it, but it's about having access to too many things - whether they are experiences or goods. If you have the opportunity to go on holiday EVERY holiday period and you have the luxury of choice in your destination, then pretty soon you become disillusioned with all these fabulous places, and with going on holiday. If you only have the option of going on holiday to one or two places, or only once a year, then you truly appreciate what you have.

The paradox of choice says that having lots of choices is bad for one. The simple solution is to limit your own choices. Since the fishbowl we used to live in has been smashed, it is up to each of us to recreate our own fishbowl. When we go out for a meal, I always start limiting my own choices before I even get there. I ask myself one simple question - do I want a veggie, beef, prok, chicken or fish/ seafood meal? By limiting myself to only 6 choices, and by making that decision BEFORE I get into the restaurant, it makes my decisions about the meal a lot easier, because by choosing one option, I'm cutting out a whole bunch of other decisions that I might need to make. If I decide, for example, that I want a seafood meal, then I already know that I won't have a starter. That's because seafood is usually more expensive and I don't have a lot of cash to splash out on. I also know that if I'm not having a starter, I will definitely be having a pudding. (Well, actually, no, I always have pud, no matter what meal I choose...) But you get the idea.

Of course, we're so accustomed to having a wide range of choices that limiting oneself feels silly and antiquated. But it works. On occasions when I don't limit my meal choices, I seldom have a good dining experience. When I do, I usually have a great meal. Take a few weeks back - we went out to Constantia Nek Restaurant. Before we'd even arrived I knew I wanted the roast. Now I haven't been to this particular restaurant in well over a decade, probably more like 2, so I had no way of knowing what the quality of food there was. I still barely glanced at the menu. I wanted the roast. I ordered said roast. It arrived. It was GLORIOUS! That might be coincidence, except that I've had the same sort of dining experience far too many times for it to be just conincidence. I never really knew what it was. Now I do.

When I choose to live in the fishbowl, life is actually better.

Of course, the fishbowl is also a metaphor for Jesus. When I choose to live as a Christian, in relationship with Christ, limiting myself to following his guidelines for life, then life is actually better. I have fewer choices in life, and therefore my overall sense of joy is higher. When I choose not to limit myself in this way (the Christian jargon for this is that I dethrone Christ and put myself on the throne of my life), then life isn't quite so good.

So - what fishbowls do you construct for yourself? or what fishbowls SHOULD you construct for yourself? What limitations on choice should you impose on yourself, in order to increase your overall joy and happiness?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Never again will the entire world be under flood

It would seem that winter has decided to get in a few more days before it will relinquish its hold on the Cape. As the rain and the sun battle it out for dominance, we've had two days with the most incredible rainbows. I've been fortunate to be outdoors at the right moment, to be able to document them.

These ones were taken this morning at Rondebosch Common, around 8am. (Notice the double rainbow just visible in the top two.)

These ones were taken yesterday, at the Koeberg Interchange and on the N1 southbound, around 9am.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who's that then?

Such a serious little face! And such gorgeous little Yoda ears. (I'm pretty impressed with this photo as it's a self-portrait with my phone camera. Not bad, eh, when you've only got a 2mm silvered patch on which to glimpse your reflection to help you figure out where you're actually pointing the camera at?)He's discovered that hands taste much nicer than dummies. He seems to prefer sucking the skin along the side of his hand between his thumb and first finger to sticking his fingers in his mouth. The result is that he winds up trying to stuff his entire fist into his mouth while making sounds like water going down a partially blocked drain.

You have GOT to be kidding me!

While listening to a news bulletin on 567 CapeTalk I was absolutely gobsmacked at one story. I'm still convinced I heard wrong.... Apparently, people who have TB are selling their infected spit to make money.

Who on earth would purchase someone else's spit? I mean, sharing germs and spit with your nearest and dearest is one thing, but this is in an entirely different ball park. I've contemplated a lot of wacky things in my lifetime, but buying stuff that comes out of a stranger's lungs AND THEN PUTTING THAT IN MY MOUTH is definitely not one of those.

Apparently, the buyers are hoping to be able to access grants and aids from the state as a result of infecting themselves. OK, I know that things are financially hectic for many people in the recession, but this goes well, well, well beyond scraping the bottom of the barrel!

As I said, I'm sure I heard wrong.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My sweet child

Nate is a growing boy. In every sense of the word. He turned 3 months this week, and already the 3-6 month baby grows are just about too small for him! Proper clothes seem fine (pants may occasionally be a bit small around the hips over cloth nappies), but those baby grow things that have toes on the legs? Forget those! One of Priscilla's friends who works across the road asked whether we've got him on solids yet because he's growing awfully fast. Ahhh...? No. But it looks like we may have to start well before the usual 6 months starting time if we're going to keep up with his nutritional demands.

He's giving the most beautiful smiles now. And talking! Not as in actual words (he's not QUITE that advanced!) and not cooing, exactly, but more as in 'nga' type of sounds. Yup, the little man is definitely attempting to hold conversations with us. He almost sounds like he's trying to laugh at times. He LOVES conversations with you, and will grin and laugh and smile at you so much it's nigh on impossible to get on with anything else if he's awake - he's just too cute. (Nellie must have been this cute too, but I don't recall feeling quite this elated at these milestones. I guess losing Zoe makes me appreciate him all the more.)

When on his tummy, he's already pushing up on his arms. Granted, he's not extending his arms yet, but he's definitely lifting his chest off the ground.

When on his back, if he's gripped your hands, he can almost pull himself into a standing position. If you hold most of his weight up, he tries to stand - but that's just the innate reflex of something to push against, rather that being indicative of him actually trying to stand.

And he's started trying to turn over. Thus far, he manages to nearly get onto his side. He's got the gist of what to do - pull your legs up and then over to the side - but just can't hold the position long enough to fall over. I reckon a few more days and he'll get it. (How long until he's crawling, I wonder, and I need to baby-proof the house again?)

His colic is fast disappearing (THANK GOD!!!!!!!!) (could that be because he's now just on formula?? I gave up on breast milk a few days ago - too much stress to keep expressing since actual breastfeeding wasn't happening - him and me = NOT compatible in this regard). His reflux is under control (he's still got it, but with limited pain associated). Thus, he's started sleeping better (THANK GOD!!) which means he's also started feeding better! (as have we....) We've had a few nights of properly sleeping through from around 8pm till around 5am, as well as a few nights with only one wake up.

During the day he is also sleeping much better, which means that he's much more alert after his feed. He's also quite happy to lie on his back now (THANK GOD!!!!) and play with his toys (and when I say play, what I really mean is stare at them and bat/ kick rather inefficiently at them). He's particularly fascinated by a pink, green and yellow tortoise . It plays a few bars of music if you hit it, but he hasn't discovered that yet - he simply loves the shape and/or colour combination, apparently (so much for the penchant for black/ red/ white/ primary colours/ geometric patterns ideas!).

One of his favourite things right now is being tickled under the chin or having his nose tapped. He also thinks you're incredibly funny if you blow zerbits at him (he still gets a very unpleasant shock if you actually zerbit him - don't try that unless you want him to cry!) or pull some other funny face. Another is lying on his change mat with NO NAPPY. Hmm... that was ok with Nellie... but I'm nervous of the multi-directional pee thing with him. Come proper summer though, I'm sure we will be spending lots of time in the garden under the tree, and then he can be nappy free to his heart's content!

So, all round, life is very good with him. THANK GOD! AT LAST! I knew it would come, but I'm really pleased it has finally arrived.

Now if the rest of the family (and I include myself in this) could just get with the programme and

a) get better (Nellie & I have horrible coughs while G has some nondescript low grade infection), and
b) stay healthy,

we'd all be extremely happy - especially this part of 'we'!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Growing up in beauty

When you live with someone (in this case, a child) it's often hard to notice them changing, because you see all the incremental changes. However, from time to time there will come a moment when you suddenly become aware of just how much they've changed. I had a moment like that last night with Nellie.

I was about to leave to go and give my lecture, but was trying to help G get Nellie in the bath and deal with Nathan. While I was sitting on the edge of the bath, pouring the water in, she came into the bathroom. No fussing. No crying. No screaming. No tantrums. She then proceeded to undress herself completely. She went to the loo. G then brought her some juice, so she decided I needed something to drink too, and poured me some water from the basin taps (a big deal, I can tell you!). Following this little feat, she hopped into the bath. All the while, we were having a conversation about Nathan.

This little encounter took my breath away and made me cry tears of joy. I had a moment of revelation, seeing my little girl all grown up: beautiful in body, but even more beautiful in spirit. It was all I could do to not grab her and eat her up. While I don't want her to grow up, because that means she will move away from me (both literally and figuratively), at the same time, I experienced such joy at seeing just how independent she's become.

Although she's still little, and a child, and definitely still has LOTS of moments, I'm beginning to see that the true nature she's developing is a beautiful one. Last week, while I was feeding Nathan, we had been eating something. She finished and asked what she should do with her plate. I asked her to put it on the sink. Then, without even being asked to, she noticed I had finished, so she picked up my plate too and carried BOTH to the sink. How thoughtful and sweet and kind is that?!

She is also increasingly loving towards, and concerned about, Nathan. Of late, she's been quite determined to ensure that someone takes care of him. If I'm not doing it, then she wants to know who will be - G, Priscilla, or the dogs? Of course, as with all siblings, there are times when she doesn't want to know him or be helpful in caring for him (like putting his dummy back in his mouth), but then I have to remind myself that that's normal behaviour for siblings.

Nellie & I are very similar in many ways. She is a very strong and determined child who likes to boss others around. Our similarity has the potential to cause tremendous fighting and stress when she becomes a teenager, and I've been quite concerned about this for some time now. I want to instill in her the values and character traits that will help us avoid real conflict in those years. These little glimpses I'm getting of who she's turning into fill me with such hope and joy that we are raising a beautiful little girl and that she's going to turn out more than fine in the end.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Why washing your hands may be bad for you

This is the text of the lecture I gave this evening to a group of our top academic kids at school as part of an extension programme we run for them.

Good evening. This evening we’re going to be talking about a rather unusual topic – something that is rather close to my heart. Actually, it’s rather close to YOUR heart, as well as mine. We’re going to be talking about parasites.

Now why on earth would I choose a topic like this to discuss? When I was at university, I had three weeks of lectures on parasites and our lecturer started off by telling us how ubiquitous parasites are. It was a description he gave that initially captured my imagination, but as I studied these creatures I began to realise how incredible and amazing they are. If I had not opted to become a teacher, I think I might have become a parasitologist and spent my days marvelling at them.

The description my lecturer used was this: If all living tissue apart from parasites was instantly removed from the planet, you would still be able to see the outline and form of everything you see now – humans, animals and all plants. Think about that for a second. You would still see ‘people’ walking around, you would still see ‘trees’, ‘plants’, ‘dogs’, ‘cats’ and ‘butterflies’. If our success as a species is measured by our numbers, or our proliferation, then we don’t even rate on the scale, let alone come close to winning the prize. Rather, it’s the parasites that do. Humans have more DNA than most other species, we are much more technologically advanced and like to think that we have the greatest impact upon the earth. Yet, the humble parasites are more successful than we are in many respects.

Many people think that when discussing human parasites, we are discussing a Third World problem. This is not so. With the rise in international travel, increasing pollution and water contamination, increasing sexual promiscuity, and with many parasites becoming immune to the treatments we currently use (such as DDT to control parasite vectors), many people in the First World are infected and are not even aware of it. These parasites may enter their hosts’ bodies through any contaminated food or water they consume, by burrowing through their skin (either while swimming or while walking barefoot over contaminated soil), through the inhalation of contaminated dust, through sexual contact with an infected person, or through a vector like a house fly or mosquito.

Talk to any international traveller and they will probably be able to tell you a horror story of some sort. In Ecuador mosquitoes can deliver a Bot fly egg onto your skin, which will hatch and the larva will burrow into your body. In Malawi, swimming in the water will expose you to another microscopic burrowing parasite that will use any of your hair follicles as an entry point to your blood. In Nepal, drinking mountain water could result in a leech entering your nasal passages. Closer to home, in the Kruger Park, a mosquito bite could give you malaria.

Every human being has several parasites, they simply aren’t aware of it. Just in our guts, there are about 3200 different parasites we can have, from unicellular through to multi-cellular organisms. That number accounts for only about 30% of all human parasites, with the other 70% living in our other organs. Parasites really are ubiquitous, and as such, they deserve our special attention, and our grudging praise for the manner in which they manage to survive despite our best efforts to eliminate them. They are the ultimate Survivors!

For the benefit of the non-biologists present, let’s just spend a few moments reviewing some basic information about parasites.

Basic parasite info

Parasites exist on and in all living organisms, not just in animals or humans. In multi-cellular organisms they can be found externally – ectoparasite, internally in body spaces – extracellular parasite, or internally inside cells – intracellular parasites. In the life cycle, parasites have at least 3 different forms they adopt: eggs, larvae, adult; but many have several different larval stages. Often the larval and adult stages have different hosts and are unable to survive if they wind up inside the wrong host. If they do survive, then they are unable to reproduce. In other words, each parasite and each parasite stage is specially adapted to a specific host. This adaptation includes specialisation to:

  1. gain entrance to the host (or attach to the host in the case of an ectoparasite),
  2. bypass the host's defences or immune system, and
  3. avoid detection by the host that would lead to its destruction

This indicates that parasites have evolved alongside their hosts. It’s a pas de deux as first the host species evolves to try to protect itself and then the parasite evolves to bypass the host’s new adaptations, and then the host evolves again, etc. All of this begs the question though – what exactly is a parasite?

So what exactly is a parasite?

At school one learns that the definition of a parasite is any organism in relationship with another, in which the parasite benefits while the host is harmed. The parasitic relationship is more fully defined as a long-term one, one in which the parasite is highly specialised and adapted to suit their host, and one in which the parasite reproduces more quickly and frequently than the host. The parasite depends upon the host for protection, nutrients or some other life-supporting function and therefore the parasite does not usually kill the host, although it does reduce the host’s overall fitness. In truth, parasitism is much more complicated than that. In fact, it can be very difficult to prove or demonstrate what harm has been done to the host.

As a biology teacher who happens to be a Christian, I am often asked by my students why God created parasites. My students want to know what ecological role parasites play. Until recently, the only answer I could give was that they help to control population sizes by being the top predators or by being the keystone species (the species that has the greatest impact on the environment), or occasionally provide some small benefit. For example, as you sit here, you all have the parasite E.coli in your gut. Most strains of this parasite are fairly harmless, and in fact, most strains actually benefit their host by producing Vit K for you and by preventing other parasites or infections that could potentially kill you from being able to flourish.

However, the latest research has given me another, better answer. The latest research has shown that some parasites actually benefit their hosts in such a way that removing them would have a detrimental effect on their host’s survival. Specifically, it is now understood that many parasites help to prevent auto-immune diseases and allergies. Imagine that!

What is an auto-immune disease? This is any disease in which the body begins to attack itself, because it mistakes some organ or tissue as being foreign. Asthma and Multiple Sclerosis are both examples of auto-immune diseases.

The human parasite Schistosoma mansoni is a flat worm trematode, or fluke. It normally causes two different infections. In the larval stage it travels in the blood, feeding on your blood, and causing Bilharzia. In the adult worm stage it infests the intestines where it mates and lays eggs. These eggs can become trapped in the intestinal tissues instead of passing out of the host’s body. If this happens it causes an immune response that blocks the colon, leads to blood loss, increases blood pressure and causes swelling of the spleen and oesophagus which can tear and cause internal bleeding. All round, not a pleasant character to have living inside you.

Type 1 diabetes is caused when a person’s own immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas. These cells are responsible for producing insulin, which is essential for regulating blood sugar levels. Amazingly, research has shown that being infected with the Schistosoma eggs prevents the person from developing diabetes. This is because the parasite eggs release a soluble enzyme that stops the host’s immune system from producing the specific T Helper cells of the immune system that destroy the beta cells of the pancreas. So – having the parasite (which causes all those nasty side effects) can actually save the life of the host. Isn’t that a thought?!

Of course, this complicates matters when trying to define a parasite. If parasites actually benefit the host, can they still be called parasites? It would appear that for our immune systems to develop properly, they need to be exposed to these parasites so that they can learn to react against them, but also so that they are regulated by these parasites. Thus, for the moment, the answer is yes. Although parasites do bring benefits, those benefits are only fringe benefits. Their main effect on their host is still assumed to be a negative one. As our understanding and knowledge of parasites grows though, there may come a time when we change our definition, but that is the nature of science – constantly changing and adapting to accommodate new knowledge.

I am particularly fascinated by Schistosoma. The adults consist of a double layer of membranes. The outer one is continually shed and replaced as a protective mechanism against the host’s defences and digestive system. It’s only 1cm long, but the male has about 8 testicles. The Schistosoma is also one of the few parasitic worms that actually has a separate male and female worm.

Interestingly, if an infection only contains female worms, they don’t mature properly and remain unable to reproduce. However, if an infection contains only male worms, they still develop properly. In other words, the females need the males to develop, but the males don’t need the females.

When both males and females are present together though, they form mating pairs that last for life. This is because the females actually live inside the males. Well, sort of. Even though the worms are only 1cm long, the males are about 10x the width of the females. They develop a special groove on their side, and the much slimmer female crawls into it and spends the rest of her life there. She will lay about 300 eggs a day, which is basically the same as her own body weight. (Some parasites can lay 1 million eggs a day, so 300 per day is pretty insignificant.)

Another reason I’m fascinated by this particular parasite is that I was infected with it back in 2000, after going on holiday to Lake Malawi. It was only after my trip there that I discovered that the leading centre for the study of Schistosoma is found on Lake Malawi, not far from where we camped. It’s found there because the Lake has the highest incidence of the parasite in the world. There’s almost no way to avoid it if you swim in the lake. That’s because the parasite’s other host is a water snail. After it completes the part of its life cycle in the snail and leaves it, the parasite swims through the water, using its forked tail to propel it, until it finds a human. It attaches to your skin while it begins to search for a hair. As soon as it finds a hair, it then burrows through the hair follicle and into your bloodstream. Of course, it’s so tiny you won’t feel a thing, although you may develop a mild rash at the point of entry. You initially develop normal flu symptoms, but after those symptoms disappear you are left feeling extremely fatigued – a bit like Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome. That’s because the parasite is feeding on your blood, so you don’t have enough red blood cells to meet your own oxygen demands.

But let’s get back to the recent research on parasites.

The Hygiene Hypothesis

This new knowledge about parasites is part of what is becoming known as the “Hygiene Hypothesis”. This hypothesis has been in development since the late 1980s. The term was coined by the media following a short article entitled ‘Hayfever, hygiene and household size’ by David Strachan, in which he commented that:

Over the past century declining family size, improvements in household amenities, and higher standards of personal cleanliness have reduced the opportunity for cross infection in young families. This may have resulted in more widespread clinical expression of atopic disease, emerging earlier in wealthier people….

Atopic disease is an allergic hypersensitivity in parts of the body that are not in direct contact with the allergen. E.g. developing eczema on the elbows.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Erika Von Mutius compared the health of children in East and West Germany before the Wall came down. Her hypothesis was that the children from East Germany, living in much poorer and dirtier environments, would suffer more illnesses related to allergies and auto-immune diseases. When the Wall came down, she was able to really compare the two groups of children. To her surprise, the children from East Germany were far healthier than their counterparts from West Germany, despite having a more restricted diet and living in less healthy environments. This surprising result caused her to investigate further, whereupon she discovered that children in East Germany spent more time in crèches and nurseries where they were exposed to more germs. This piece of research leant further credibility to Strachan’s research.

In a nutshell, the current explanation of this hypothesis says that until sanitation became commonplace, exposure to germs and parasites was a regular threat that our immune systems faced. Our immune systems have two types of immune responses, caused by two different T Helper cells – TH1 and TH2. TH1 cells react to germs (viruses and bacteria), while TH2 cells react to allergens. Exposure to germs stimulates the TH1 cells, which in turn suppresses the TH2 cells. Thus, if we are not exposed to germs, the TH1 cells are not produced, so the TH2 cells overproduce, and we experience allergies.

This theory has been refined to include our reaction to parasites. In pre-sanitation times, if the immune system reacted to a parasitic infestation with a TH2 response strong enough to kill the parasites, the body’s own tissues would be seriously damaged in the process. Thus, our immune systems evolved to be able to tolerate parasites to some extent, by producing fewer TH2 cells, rather than kill them outright and damage our own bodies in the process. Since the body’s immune system has adapted to tolerate parasites, its responses to the mild allergens like pollen have also effectively been toned down, since these also require a TH2 response.

However, since the advent of sanitation, we are no longer routinely exposed to these parasites. The consequence of that is that our immune systems are no longer maturing in the way they should, and with fewer anti-inflammatory chemicals being produced, with the result that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of allergies and auto-immune diseases.

This research has been backed up by tests done comparing lab mice and rats to those found in the wild. The lab mice and rats were fed a healthy, nutritionally rich diet as well as being given various vaccines and kept in conditions similar to what people in the First World experience. Researchers then compared the production of antibodies called immunoglobins between the two groups of organisms. They found that those in the wild had significantly higher concentrations of the antibodies that prevented parasitic, bacterial and viral infections and also had significantly fewer allergies or auto-immune diseases.

If true, then this Hypothesis has potentially major implications for diseases like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, asthma, hayfever, some cancers, eczema, Parkinson’s, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a host of other diseases. It might be possible, for example, to harvest the soluble enzyme produced by the Schistosoma eggs, or to synthesise it in a lab, to give to diabetics to stop the development or escalation of the diabetes.

In 2002 it was found that long term infections with tapeworms resulted in increased levels of anti-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines being produced. At the same time it was noted that high levels of these anti-inflammatory chemicals corresponded with fewer allergies and auto-immune diseases. Thus, the spin off from a parasitic infection is that these cytokines are produced. It might be possible to synthesise these chemicals in a lab to assist those who suffer from auto-immune diseases.

In the meantime, though, a branch of medical treatment is being trialled in which people are deliberately infected with parasitic worms, or helminths. The helminths obviously have to fulfil certain criteria, such as not being able to reproduce in humans, in order to protect the patient from potentially life-threatening side effects of a parasitic infection. Currently, there are only 3 species that meet all the criteria necessary: Hookworms, Pig Whipworm and Human Whipworm.

Crohn’s disease is one type of Inflammatory Bowel Disorder, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is an auto-immune disease that is also thought to be inherited at some level. Treating patients who suffer with Crohn’s with Hookworms results in a 100% recovery rate. This kind of medical treatment falls under a new branch of medicine called Darwinian Medicine or Evolutionary Medicine.

Multiple Sclerosis is a brain disease in which the myelin sheath around nerves is slowly lost. As this layer is lost, the nerves cease functioning and progressive disability ensues. In 2007 Correale and Farez conducted a study with Multiple Sclerosis patients. 12 patients were already infected with intestinal parasites, so 12 uninfected patients at a similar stage in the disease were found. The 24 patients were then followed for 4.5 years, monitoring the development of the disease in each of them. It was found that the 12 who were infected with the intestinal parasites had fewer incidences of relapses and a greatly reduced disability accumulation. Being infected certainly did not cure the MS, but it did substantially reduce the impact of the disease.

Of course, nothing is ever quite that simple. Since the Hygiene Hypothesis was first proposed there have been several studies that seemed to contradict it. The incidence of asthma, for example, in poorer urban areas in the USA is increasing. This contradicts the Hygiene Hypothesis, which would expect that the poorer areas have a higher incidence of germs and worms, and thus that children should have fewer incidences of this auto-immune disease.

The problem arises because asthma can be caused by a variety of different things. It might be a reaction to cigarette smoke, vehicle emissions, an allergic reaction, obesity or an inherited condition, to list just a few. If the condition is inherited, then no amount of exposure to helminths during early childhood is going to help. If it is caused by obesity, and the subsequent inflammatory response of the lungs, the only a change in diet and loss of weight will help.

Thus, when considering the Hygiene Hypothesis, one must always bear in mind that chemicals, viruses and hygiene (i.e. exposure to helminths) impact upon the prevalence of a particular disease. When treating such a disease, or trying to prevent it, one must tackle the problem from several different directions at the same time.

One of the reasons that I quite like studying parasites is that they are so different to us. They usually consist of a just a digestive system and a reproduction system, with the more advanced ones possessing a few very basic senses. Yet, for all their relatively primitive development, they have such a massive impact on the world. From their impact on food production, to our health, they are responsible for so much of the suffering in the world. With advances in medical technology, we may yet be able to curb them, but I seriously doubt we will ever be able to eradicate them. If this recent research is to be believed though, then I’m not sure we would want to eradicate them.

So what does all this mean for us? Does it mean we should give up being vaccinated, or that we should stop cooking our food properly? Does it mean we should go around deliberately infecting ourselves with parasites? Quite simply, no. While exposure to germs and parasites is now accepted as having immunological benefits for humans, these things are still pathogens. They still cause tremendous disease and can threaten our very lives. However, there is a case to be made for not using antibacterial soaps, for allowing our young children to spend time with lots of other children so that they can be exposed to germs, and for letting our children play in the dirt. Maybe we should all relax and get a bit filthy, and maybe our grannies were right when they told us that what didn’t kill us would make us stronger! Maybe washing our hands all the time is actually not as good for us as we used to think.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Effects of OBE

Back in May, we had the rector of UWC present a professional development session to the staff. During the session he commented on several discussions he'd been having with a variety of lecturers.

He had been asking them how they found the first cohort of OBE students (given that 2009 is the first year that kids who have been on the OBE system since they started school have entered tertiary institutions).

His summary of those discussions made the staff laugh: the kids have all the interpersonal skills we'd love - they can ask questions, they can relate to staff, they can debate - but they can't read or write or add.

His comment, while tragic, is true. At least, it's true in my experience.

On Friday, according to SABC News International, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, said basically the same thing in her address to principals at a conference in Polokwane when she was commenting on why transformation in the private sector is not taking place: "Excuse me, I will not appoint someone who cannot read; write and add. I don’t care how committed you are,” she said

The education department is adamant that OBE is here to stay. Personally, I have no problem with OBE. All good teachers teach in an OBE style: even under the Apartheid government that was true. What I have a problem with is the manner in which the curriculum has been changed and the manner in which OBE is being taught now. I don't mind if OBE stays. I mind if the current curriculum stays. There is no balance in the curriculum, and to my mind there has been no real referencing to the needs of tertiary institutions or the developmental stages of teenagers' brains, let alone any attempt to accept that one simply can no longer teach it all at school: there has simply been too much progress, research and development in every field to continue to teach all the history AND all the current developments at school level.

That debate aside though, there is an even bigger problem in education: a lack of teachers. If I was teaching classes of 20, instead of classes of 30, or if my colleagues at other schools did not have to teach classes of 40 or 50, then maybe, just maybe, the kids would have enough individual time with their teachers to get both the knowledge AND the skills.

Beautiful hands

I just love this photo... Of course, it helps to have great subject material! I have to confess that I did tweak it slightly with Picasa, but only slightly. I wanted the effect of having it look like I'd taken it with an SLR, rather than with my phone. But irrespective, doesn't he just have the most gorgeous little hand?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A cool place to stay...

The Grand Daddy Hotel, in Long Street, Cape Town, has a very unusual suite of rooms. Up on the roof are 7 caravans. Yup, caravans. They're the American Airstream trailers and they've been revamped and redesigned to the swanky style one would expect from a hotel.

At least, so I am led to believe. I, of course, do not have the money lying around to treat myself to this sort of luxury. And that despite the R600 I got today from my temporary side-line business of furniture sales.

Bridget McNulty (a diabetic whose travel blog I follow) recently reviewed them on 'Just the Planet'. If you're a Capetonian, or just someone interested in quirky places to stay, then her review is well worth the read.

The solution to the weight-loss problem?

When people see me now, they mostly comment on how thin I'm looking. While this is great, it's also awful. I seem to have lost most of my pregnancy weight from Nathan, but I've still got my pregnancy weight from Janel & Zoe to lose. I reckon there's a good 10-15kg there that could easily disappear without anyone noticing it. My ribcage has expanded outwards, along with every other part of my body*. All my clothes, apart from my preggie pants and pyjamas, still fail to fit me around the waist, hips, ribs, arms, thighs... oh sod it! I still feel horribly uncomfortable in most of my clothes. I still feel fat. (I don't care what you say - I may hide my rolls and flab well, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.)

One of my problems during pregnancy was that I simply couldn't exercise because my pelvic girdle (the bones that your hips are the edges of) was loose; so loose, in fact, that any movement of my legs was incredibly painful. I had to wear a special girdle thingy just so I could walk. Stairs were a no-go for me. Long distances (anything longer than from my classroom to the staffroom!) were a no-go. If I forgot that little rule and tried to go for a walk, I'd suffer for hours and possibly a few days afterwards. It all started at the beginning of the pregnancy, with the girdle thingy becoming a daily feature from the 3rd month. Just think - 5 months of no exercise at all, with a further 2 months of next to nothing at the beginning and another 2 months of next to nothing at the end while I was waiting for my pelvis to come together again. That's a HANG of a long time to go without exercise.

Since coming home from the hospital, I've been trying to get more exercise. However, it's very hard to break old habits - in this case, a 9 month-long habit. It's much easier just keeping the status quo of doing nothing, of being lazy.

I've been reading some of the latest research on weight loss which seems to indicate that exercise does NOT help you lose weight. It helps you get healthy, yes, but in non-weight related ways: it reduces blood pressure, increases lung capacity, increases flexibility and bone density, etc, etc. It does NOT help you lose weight. In fact, it's been shown that regular doses of moderate activity (note: not exercise) every day helps you lose as much weight as going to the gym 3-4 times a week. So there's no point (from a weight-loss perspective) in spending hours sweating it out at the gym.

If exercise doesn't help you lose weight, what does? Eating right. Plain and simple. Eating whole foods, eating unprocessed foods (i.e. cutting out sugar in all its forms), eating smaller portions, eating more vegetables and fruit, drinking more water and less caffeinated drinks.

Now, anyone who knows me will know that I am a chocoholic. No doubt about that. However, I am also a snack-aholic. Trying to restrict my portion sizes has, to date, only caused me to snack after the meal because I still feel hungry. I can wolf down a very decently-sized main meal, have two decent-sized helpings of pudding, and STILL have space for a snack. Not healthy when one's metabolism is no longer that of a rapidly growing pre-teen or teenager, but rather that of a rapidly-approaching middle aged potato that's been sitting on the couch for the last 9 months. I have tried, really I have, not to snack, but I wind up getting ratty and irritable within a very short space of time. My body craves the calories. Failure to get them = G and the kids have to put up with Ms Snap-your-head-off-if-you-so-much-as-look-at-me-wrong-and-even-if-you-don't-I'll-still-snap-it-off-because-I'm-hungry-and-need-to-eat-SOMETHING.

All of this left me feeling rather hopeless. If I don't have the willpower to get up from my desk chair and get the exercise I need, and if exercise doesn't help anyway, and if I don't have the willpower to moderate my food intake, I'm in serious trouble. I don't want to wind up like the people on 'The Biggest Loser', but I feel like I'm heading that way if something doesn't change, and soon.

This week has brought me a revelation though. We ran out of bandwidth last weekend. (That in itself was a revelation... wow - internet-lessness is... like... wow.) While waiting for the new month to begin, I decided to get started on the garden that DESPERATELY needs attention. Shortly after lunch on Monday I got stuck in. Apart from a few hours on Thursday and Friday morning, I was in the garden during daylight hours for the remainder of the week. I dug holes, laid gutters, weeded, planted plants, planted more grass runners than I care to think about, hauled 6 Vibrocrete wall slabs from the back of the property to the front (MAN! those things must weigh a ton each! I could only carry one at a time, and even then: only just!), hauled 6 concrete paving slabs from the back of the property to the front, hauled bricks around, and built brick borders for the beds.

It may not sound like much, but it was hard, physical labour that took me all week. (We now have a front garden, as opposed to a front building site.) Even now, there is still one small area that needs a gardening solution before I will be happy declaring that the front garden is fully completed. For now though, it's as done as it's going to get until I have more money to spend on plants. (And if I say so myself, it looks pretty damn good, even though the planting still has to mature and the grass has to grow.)

As I was reflecting on the effect of all this activity on my body, I realised that my food intake has changed this week. Firstly, I am not eating more. This surprises me because I've certainly been working like a dog. I would have thought that (as usually happens with exercise) the increased metabolism would cause me to increase my calorie intake. Not so. Secondly though, and probably even more important, my snacking habit has been greatly reduced. Again, I have been very surprised by this. I can't really explain it, except to think that my snacking is actually a comfort thing, rather than a need for extra calories, as I had always thought.

Maybe my snacking has more to do with my state of mind than my state of body. If this is true, then I think I've just found my personal key to losing weight. I haven't craved chocolate or biscuits or rusks or sweets in the same way. (Of course, I've still wanted them, but I've been satisfied by smaller quantities, and I've had days of no cravings at all.)

Most of my snacking is done after supper. Of course, since I've been asleep in bed by 9pm (or earlier) this week, it would have been rather hard to snack, even if I'd wanted to**. But here's the thing: when addicts talk about recovery, one of the things they mention is that in order to break a habit, you need to change your pattern of behaviour. If you normally have a bottle of wine when you get home from work, then don't come home directly after work. If you normally have your cocaine at the night club, stop going to the night club. In my case, that could read, if you normally snack after supper, go to bed as soon as you can after supper so you can't snack. (As a long term solution though, going to bed this early doesn't bring me much joy.... no more Desperate Housewives, no more movies, no more going to cell group, no more socialising, no more anything...)

Because I'm hyper-flexive (yup, my body is just one long catalogue of deformities, infirmities, and such like) I've always been nervous of sports that require my muscles to work hard to prevent injury. That rules out pretty much everything except horse riding (been there, done that, broke my spine doing it), cycling (been there, done that, not so effective with a broken spine), swimming (been there, done that, couldn't be arsed with the early morning training, the cold water, the foot cramps or green chlorine-induced hair colour) and yoga/ callinetics (been there, done that, too expensive to pay for classes). I've always known that it was hard work (my favourite work avoidance behaviour at school and university was weeding our lawns at home), but until this week, I never really rated gardening as a solution to my eating habits. Fancy that?!

So, surprise, surprise, it would seem that: garden more = eat less = lose weight. Plus it's fun. There are only two problems with this: one - it's a very solitary pursuit, which means that (certainly once I'm back at work) it will mean even less time with my family; and two - I have a small garden, which means that once the back breaking work is done over the next little while, there shouldn't been too much to do in the line of maintenance work (or is that just my fantasy?).

Still, I've got a month and a half left. Let's see how much of me is left when I go back to work before I make any final declarations though. Until then, here's hoping that all this work at least gives me the start of my summer tan.....

*I'm seriously thinking of investing in a few corsets to help my ribs return to their previous size. The only problem with that is that whatever fat is residing inside will be pushed outwards.... Maybe a nip and tuck with a boob job would sort it all out? Nah, I reckon a corset is the cheapest and least painful solution.

**Sex is also supposed to be a fun way to lose weight. I wouldn't know. Being asleep so early put rather a damper on finding out. Even if I'd wanted to (and I was too tired & too sore to want to, sorry), it's rather hard to be energetic about sex when you're fast asleep - and snoring, apparently. I wouldn't know about that either - I don't listen to myself when I sleep. Do you?

Friday, September 04, 2009


This week I've been suffering from internet-lessness. According to Urban Dictionary, internet-lessness is the state of being without internet access. I prefer it's alternative definition: It is also "a rare disorder that usually only appears in parts of Africa, South America and Mexico. It is a rather contagious disease that originated in Zimbabwe where the virus was conceived. ALL contact with the host Mr Robert Mugabe most be avoided. God speed and God save us all." Of course, our case of internet-lessness was not caused by this esteemed gentleman, but due to our own greed in consuming that most precious of commodities in Africa - bandwidth.

According to the Nashua mobile website "Broadband has been scientifically proven to eradicate Internet-lessness. Side effects may include increased cleverness and coolness."

Ahh, that would explain it then. THAT'S why I have become increasingly stupid this week. It would also explain why my garden has evolved. (I will post a picture or two when it's all done... still some work to do on it next week.)

It has been surprisingly refreshing to have an enforced rest from my favourite activities. However, my conversational ability has become increasingly limited to the words: garden, digging, planting, tired, and sore muscles, while my body has been increasingly limited to the actions of sitting down and sleeping. Thus, it is with great joy that I have been cured of this insiduous affliction.

If something major has happened in your life since last week this time, and I haven't commented yet, you will need to inform me again. I am simply too unaccustomed to browsing back in the status updates to find your announcement.