Monday, 20 October 2014

Tattie Harvest!

Over the summer I've grown radishes, dwarf runner beans and regular crops of salad leaves, all in tubs and pots on the patio alongside the usual sweet peas. This year I also managed an unplanned potato crop! This came about because I use our own compost in which to grow veg and one day, in between the salad leaves , I noticed a little seedling that looked a lot like a potato plant. I left it for a few days and, once I was sure it was a potato plant, I dug it up and transplanted it into its own pot. The only explanation is that it must have come from an eye in a potato peeling left still unrotted in the compost ( I had forked it  over a few days before and a peeling must have worked its way down.) Since it was so keen to live and grow, I thought I would give it a chance, and it not only grew into a bit of a monster, it produced a crop which wasn't bad seeing it just came from the compost. We are planning to eat the tattie crop, it looks like they are King Edwards, with some slow roasted pork chops and apple sauce on Wednesday.

At the moment I just grow veg in pots but the plan is to create a little vegetable garden. Mr M felled two pine trees this summer revealing a lovely sunny spot next to the wall which we think would be ideal for raised beds. Then I can grow runner beans, onions, potatoes and salad and will officially be as middle aged as I possibly can:)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Mental illness

I had a dream last night. In the dream I was living in a beautiful house. The house was surrounded by a wonderful garden and there were amazing views of the sea and a stunning coastline.My initial feelings in the dream were that I could not believe I had been given this incredible place to live; I walked from room to room admiring everything and I couldn't wait to explore the garden and walk along some of the paths by the coast.
Then, looking out of one of the windows up a country lane, I saw a black spectre making its way toward the house. Spectres usually glide but this one was walking purposefully like it was on a practical mission and had tucked up its dementor-like robes so that you could see it had legs. This sight was so incongruous that, at first, I laughed out loud, but then I felt a sense of dread because I realised it was coming to my beautiful house and coming to get me. Very soon the dream turned into a nightmare as I tried to evade the spectre. I would look up to find  it beside me as I read or washed up dishes. It would reach out and touch my arm or my side and, wherever it touched, my flesh would go cold and numb and turn purplish blue. I tried to block the spectre by locking doors or building barriers but no physical barrier could keep it out.
The next part of the dream, I was looking in the mirror in the morning, and all the places the spectre had touched had  become discoloured and were beginning to putrefy. I then decided that, in my next attempt to evade it, I would go out to the garden which had a rose garden through a pretty arch. The rose garden contained some truly beautiful specimens in crimson, flame, yellow and pure whites and it was heady with scent and summer sun. I felt that I would be safe there. To my horror, the spectre followed and laid its arm around my shoulder in a comradely manner while I was trying to admire the roses. In desperation I noticed some steep steps down to a harbour and sea wall, the sea looked deep and surprisingly choppy given the summer weather but I wondered if I could escape the spectre by plunging into the sea or whether, there too, it would overwhelm and drown me.
This was the point when I woke from the dream and I knew at once that it was about a  case that happened at work last week. I can't say more than that as the details are obviously confidential. The symbolism of the dream seemed to me to translate to the idea that you can be in wonderful circumstances ( the sumptuous house) with good prospects ( the view) but that mental illness can still come out of the blue and lay its chilling fingers upon you. I want to say that I am not at all concerned about my own mental health, if anything, after a childhood marked by some difficulties and some emotional and mental illness in my early adult life, I have experienced what I would describe as post traumatic growth. The dream, I think, was a salutatory reminder that mental health issues can affect anyone, and that I should not be complacent or dismissive when others cannot seem to find a way to escape them because that may be their personal experience. The rise in mental health problems in adolescents is something that I am aware of through my work, and it troubles me deeply and often frustrates me. I think the dream may have been an exercise in empathy.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Keeping out the cold

I don't know if I've mentioned it before but we don't have the heating on in our house until half term. It is a sort of rule and- annoyingly- nobody in the house except me seems to find it challenging as October goes on and the chillier nights draw in. This makes me feel like a wimp and I tend to just brave it although I've learnt a few little wrinkles to keep me warmer. For anyone who is still managing without heating, this is my advice on keeping warm.

1. Layers- you've heard it before and it is true. Fleeces are also great as is a blanket in the evenings. Marks and Spencer's thermal socks with slippers are indispensable.

2. Warming food- we tend to make casseroles and soups at this time of year. This kind of fare is both warming and healthy as it delivers lots of vegetables and is usually reasonably low in fat. I do also sometime treat myself to crumble and custard which is an instant warmer.

3. Exercise. If feeling the chill, I take myself off to the gym, usually early evening or late afternoon at the weekends. After working out strenuously it takes me most of the evening to cool down. Again, it is not only warming, it lifts your mood and is so good for you. If we could bottle the benefits of exercise it would be a wonder drug - and it can help you cut down on the heating bills!

4. A hot water bottle. One of the pleasures of the colder weather is the comfort afforded by a lovely hot water bottle, electric blanket or best of all a warmer partner to put your icy feet on. If said partner is the one who insists you don't need the heating on yet, be  completely unapologetic!

5. Memory. Some of you can no doubt remember a world without central heating and the arctic experience of waking up on mornings when there was ice on the inside of the windows and the fire was not yet lit or had yet to get going properly. As kids we lived in a chilly curate's house in Wales and we used to steel ourselves, leap out of bed then dash downstairs to dress in front of the fire. I never spared a thought for my mum who had had to get up to light that fire. I was telling an older teacher about this once and she said that they had children who rarely had heat in the house and whose parents slapped on a layer of goose fat on their kids'chests to serve as insulation at the start of winter, covered it with brown paper and left them in the same clothes until the spring.

Just be glad we don't live in conditions like that anymore!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Fear , Ebola and UKIP

With a few exceptions, our students are really worried about Ebola. I mean really, really worried. I tried to interest my tutor group in the issue of the rise of UKIP last week, we got some discussion but it was the fear of dying of Ebola that engaged them most. One young lady told me that if it wasn't for Ebola, she wouldn't be worried about anything, or as she put it, "Like not worried about anything AT ALL, ever." I got asked if I wasn't worried and, tongue in cheek, I replied that at my age there's a lot of things that can get you. They seemed to think this was completely reasonable, and after all should anyone in their forties really worry about dying, we are half dead anyhow...
Of course, Ebola is a very serious concern and so perhaps I shouldn't laugh, it did make me reflect though on how much humans are driven by fear- and selfishness. I was listening today to a report on the race to find a vaccine alongside Margaret Chan's comments that there are no vaccines because the disease has been hitherto confined to poor African countries, or as she said, "the rich stay rich, the poor are left to die." Now we are threatened, even though this is to a much lesser extent, our fears impel us to find the will to act.
The rise of UKIP, I believe, is also fuelled by fear, our impulse to protect ourselves from that which we think threatens and contaminates us and our willingness to disregard the interests of others. Given the economic situation, the rise of parties such as UKIP was surely only expected, but has undoubtedly been fuelled by the lack of vision of the other parties, their reliance on bland and risk free politics, possibly by their fearfulness and lack of courage.
One of the messages repeated again and again in the bible is not to fear. I tried to encourage the worried students not to be too afraid, to have concerns but to see the bigger picture and to remember that, if our greatest fear, whatever that is, turned out to be groundless, we would very soon find something else to be worried about.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Flying the nest

On  Monday we took son number two off to university. He hasn't been in touch with us yet but his Grandma has been favoured with a text announcing that everyone is really nice, he has been having a good time and has done some maths - that is what he went for after all, not just to drink a lot of alcohol...
The house feels very quiet without him. His father is jubilant, I miss him already.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The summer is over and we are not yet saved

 A rather chilly second half of August has been topped off by a Bank Holiday weekend which has managed to continue the theme of cold and wet weather, even delivering frost in some areas on Saturday night. Add to this the fact that I can no longer convince myself that I am not yet back at work, and it certainly does seem that the summer is over.
In the meeting yesterday, I was thinking about this summer, about how I have not wanted it to come to an end and my fervent hopes that this coming year at work will not be as difficult as the last one was (please Lord...) In many ways this has been a blissful summer for me as I have really taken the opportunity to relax and have enjoyed doing simple things, growing vegetables, walking the dog, reading along with the occasional day out. Kev and I also went on holiday alone together for the first time since the boys were born. I was pleased to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it just being the two of us, and this was a relief as, after twenty years, it isn't always the case!
In terms of what we have heard on the news and seen on our TV screens, this has been a far from blissful summer. The shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in July, the worsening situation in Palestine, the terrible atrocities in Iraq and concerns about the increasing power of the so called Islamic state in the region are all not just distressing in themselves but a cause for international concern and anxiety about the future. I also personally am saddened and horrified by the way that religious extremism can lead to such evil, and I am not complacent as I know that religious extremism of any shade can lead to the justification of inhumanity. In the words of Jeremiah, we might say that the summer is over and we are not yet saved.
It was a very silent meeting yesterday. Perhaps, like me, people have come to the end of knowing what to say or feeling that words are very helpful. I find it more and more of a tragedy that in this difficult world, in which we suffer what Shakespeare referred to as "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to", that on top of this we feel the need to engage in conflict and inflict further wounds on each other. I have not blogged this summer about any of the horrible events in the news. What is there to say that has  not said by others or does not seem like a platitude?
It may seem pale and pusillanimous, but in the face of  this summer, with all its personal goodness and happiness for myself and all its suffering, conflict and atrocity for this world, all I could do was to place it, myself and the future in the hands of God.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Seizing the day

The very sad death of Robin Williams has led to a lot of media comment on the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. There has been a lot of  thoughtful coverage but also many twitter comments and opinion pieces which still show how people can react with hostility and condemnation to an illness which they do not really understand, perhaps partly because they find the subject matter baffling or threatening. Unfortunately, religion has often helped perpetuate the idea that suicide is sinful, a viewpoint which fails to see that the sufferer may be so ill that they may believe their loved ones are better off without them.
I am interested in the issue of our mental health, partly because I have had contact with a fair number of students with depression and other mental illnesses in the course of my job, and partly because my early life was characterised by some level of mental health problems. I was diagnosed with a mental health issue which affected me quite seriously from my early to mid teens  and I experienced an episode of post natal depression following the birth of my second child. I have however been enormously fortunate in that I have been free from any mental health problems from my late twenties onward, something which I attribute to having come to terms with some personal issues, in particular  the fact that I was sexually abused, a life circumstance which can lead to a range of effects in later life.
 Mental health problems such as depression are not necessarily rooted in external circumstances and it is possible that, as with other illnesses, depression can arise that seemingly has no cause. Anyone who is suffering from a serious mental health problem should not hesitate to seek professional help, so I do not want to offer the following in a way that suggests that self help alone is always the right way forward. At the same time, we all need to be aware of our mental and emotional well being just as we would any aspect of our health, and these are things that I have found helpful.

1. Accept yourself.

You can't be whole unless you are prepared to believe that basically you are OK, that you are deserving of being valued and respected by others and that you can forgive yourself. This process  can be more difficult for anyone who has faced abuse, neglect or bullying in childhood, however many of us can find it difficult to suppress our inner critic and to realise that our shortcomings and failings are really just a part of being human. One of the most positive aspects of a faith can be that understanding of the intrinsic value of every person and the knowledge of being forgiven and cherished. Sadly faith can sometimes work in the opposite way and encourage a critical attitude towards the sinfulness of self and/ or others. Of course we should try to be good and Godly- virtue really is its own reward - but avoid a joyless and hand wringing type of faith.

2. Be yourself

I don't bother to do things that I don't enjoy anymore unless I have to for a good reason. I enjoy walking the dog, doing the garden,  spending time with quite a small circle of family and friends. I try to take time to savour the things I enjoy and to practise mindfulness. I'm not interested in buying a lot of things or going out a lot. I prefer thinking and reading to watching a lot of TV and I only drink alcohol in moderation. It might be really boring but it suits me! A really important part of being yourself is not letting yourself be pressurised by other people's expectations. Know what your values are and do what feels right for you. I think this is something which gets a lot easier as you get older and is one of the few major advantages of your advancing years!

3. Exercise and eat well

This might contradict point 2 for some people, but luckily I mostly enjoy exercise and also really enjoy good food. If they could bottle the benefits of exercise, it would be a wonder drug in terms of physical health. Exercise also contributes to your emotional health by releasing feel good endorphins and is great for lifting the mood if you are feeling down and just giving general mental balance. It is much easier to exercise if you find something you enjoy doing. I also think that when you exercise, you tend to eat better as you have a sense of the need to provide your body with proper nutrients. OK, I can get a bit obsessive about this one, and I don't always want to go to the gym but I know I feel better when I do.

4. Accept that life isn't always fair

Accepting that life is not always fair, that there may have been difficulties in your past and there certainly will be difficulties in your future, is essential to achieving emotional balance. If you can let go of bitterness or resentment or anger that this or that happened to you, or that your boss could treat you better or you are not as smart or beautiful or rich as  some other people, you'll be doing yourself a massive favour. Of course some life events are horrendous, you are bound to feel grief or distress at loss or terrible adversity. There is nothing wrong with grieving, or being angry at times and it is right to fight against injustice. As far as possible, however, aim for balance, recognise that life owes you nothing out of the ordinary, ask yourself if things really are so terrible and try to put things in perspective  as this builds resilience and emotional robustness. Life isn't always fair but it is there to be lived as fully as you can in whatever circumstances you find yourself.