Monthly Archives: April 2013

In the Congo – African Forest Elephant

My late Mother-in-Law collected elephants and now I seem to buy elephant euphemera in her memory. This post also has some interesting info about the African Rainforest Elephant. Enjoy! xx Rowena

Artist Daniel Mackie, Artist behind The DM Collection

African forest Elephant watercolour painting
The Congo Rainforest is the world’s second largest tropical forest, covering 700,000 square miles. It spreads across the basin of the Congo River and across six countries. So its big! Big enough to hide a brand new species?

Well, up until recently it was always thought that the Forest Elephant was a smaller subspecies of the African elephant. It was generally considered that, although the elephants had adapted to their forest habitat, they were still Savanna Elephants. But they weren’t.

Forest Elephants

When a DNA identification system was set up to trace where poached ivory was coming from, scientists found that the African Elephants consisted of two very different species. They expected slight variations in the genetic makeup, but were surprised to discover two different species.

About 2.5 million years ago two genetically different strains of elephants evolved in Africa. The forest elephant, which found its niche in the equatorial…

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On Yer Bike, Mummy!

It’s a conspiracy! As much as I have endeavored to avoid exercise, it still finds me. Despite my very best avoidance techniques, it still haunts me like an obsessive, deranged stalker. There is no escape!

Why? Why does it still bother? Why doesn’t it just give me up as a lost cause?

I don’t know because I’ve seriously played hard to get. I’ve prayed for rain so I wouldn’t have to go swimming. Back at school, I was permanently excused from PE after having an asthma attack during the cross country. I was sent off to sick bay where sister gave me cough mixture and then sent me back to class. I was away from school for a few days after that and my parents wrote a stern note. Forget being stoic. This had been some kind of near-death experience and needed to be taken seriously. I wasn’t allowed to do cross-country ever again!!  I have to confess that I also felt like I was going to drown in the school pool. That was when we were doing our Bronze Medallions in lifesaving and I had to swim lap after gruelling lap fully clothed to pass. It was torture! I was excused for awhile after that too.

I was pretty sure that  I’d done enough exercise back at school…especially after completing the cross-country asthma attack and all. Apparently, I was mistaken. You see, exercise isn’t like fat, which you just keep storing up. Exercise runs out. In fact, it runs out pretty quickly because you need to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes three times a week for the term of your natural life. On the other hand, when it comes to fat, that one chocolate bar you ate ten years ago is still hanging round your hips and waving at you every time you look sideways in the mirror. It’s not going anywhere.

I also have another more personal gripe with exercise these days. Quite frankly, you’d think having a muscle-wasting disease would let me off the hook? That I’d never have to do exercise ever, ever again!! That I could just curl up in my arm chair and go to sleep? Let someone else do all the exercise on my behalf?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But even as a “sick” person, I still have to exercise. That was what the lung specialist prescribed to help improve my lungs… rotten exercise. Of course, he didn’t prescribe some luscious chocolate pill to get me better. Oh no! He had to prescribe exercise!

I also have to admit that as much as I protest, my muscles work better with a bit of exercise…use it or quite literally in my case, lose it!

Moreover, I hate to admit it but what they say about exercising improving your mood is true…especially when it also involves conquering personal hurdles. I felt great afterwards, even if my legs were a bit sore and my ankles are a bit stiff and sorry tonight.

I am yet to find out if I sleep any better. For that, I actually have to go to bed!!

However, as much as I need to exercise for my health, that wasn’t why I went bike riding this afternoon.

It was a small, soft voice inviting me for a bike ride: “Mummy, I want to go bike riding with you!” Miss looked at me with those huge, grey-blue eyes which don’t always understand that I can’t do everything that other mothers can do. She is just a little seven year old girl who wants to go bike riding with her mum.  That’s all. So how could I resist?

I could do it!!

It’s been at least 8 years since I last rode my bike. I was a bit apprehensive but I couldn’t really see any reason why I couldn’t do it. I just wouldn’t be able to ride very far.

Mummy riding her bike.

Mummy riding her bike.

Mummy getting on her bike was a photo opportunity or at least it was for me. It was a gold medal moment.

The kids, on the other hand, just took my bike ride for granted. Of course, Mummy can ride a bike. That’s normal.  What they’d expect. I don’t remember hearing “well done,Mummy!” afterwards  but they did enjoy bike riding together. That was special. For us, doing things like bike riding together are special and not something we can take for granted.

Bike riding with the kids

Bike riding with the kids

Actually, going for a bike rise together was quite a big deal for us even though it was only in the cul-de-sac down the street. Miss only learned to ride her bike two weeks ago and Mister finally got there last weekend after quite a few stop starts. That was quite a relief. We have been trying to teach them to ride their bikes without training wheels. Miss finally had a proper go and picked it up pretty quickly whereas Mister was vowing never to get back on his bike ever again after he had a bit of a crash at my parents’ place. He had sounded pretty determined but there’s something about your little sister learning to do something before you  that can be pretty motivating…in a nice way of course. Miss loves riding her bike and has been riding almost every day and she has a kind of infectious enthusiasm that drags you along with her, even though she can also be a pretty shy kid at times.

It’s also been hard to teach them how to ride a bike when I haven’t been well and we’ve had hospital visits for my treatments every third Sunday. I was starting to think I was going to have to add teaching the kids to ride a bike to my bucket list…not that I have one. I’m going to be immortal. I’m never going to die. Well, not yet anyhow!!

I am quite stoked that the bike riding went well. As much as I joke about avoiding exercise, I’ve had some serious attempts because my life may literally depend on it and I’d be a fool not to do it.  I quite like walking but have had some serious falls due to cracked footpaths, weak ankles and no doubt the muscle disease. I am hoping that riding my bike might be a much safer option. I have been swimming for a few months but it’s starting to get cold now and I might have a break for a few months. So the bike riding has come at a good time. It got my lungs working and it’s a form of exercise I can do with the kids.

As much as part of me wouldn’t mind being a one-ride wonder, the bike riding isn’t going to end there. There are now plans to ride the bikes to school. Miss also thinks I should go bike riding to get fit.

“On yer bike, Mummy!”

In the meantime, I’ll be off to watch Mister and possibly the pair of them play Australian Rules Football in the morning. I had been hoping the game had been washed out but I’m out of luck. The exercise conspiracy continues.

xx Rowena

PS I was just uploading the photos for my post and I was struck by the ordinariness of these photos. We live metres away from a beautiful, stunning beach which would make such a stunning backdrop to our bike riding photos but we weren’t ready to venture that far afield today and so our photos celebrate the everyday, the ordinary without dressing it all up and turning it into some fancy moment. It was just great to just be!

Buying Time

This morning I finally took the plunge and bought myself some more time. Actually, I bought more thyme.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Very funny! While I know that pun is the very lowest form of wit, I’ll blame the rain. It’s been raining for days and days. My brain’s gone soggy and needs more sunlight to function properly.

But wouldn’t we all like more time? Isn’t that the Holy Grail we’re all madly trying to find? Some almost magical way of buying more time, even though we know there are only 24 hours in a day?

I know I’d certainly like more time!! Particularly now that I’ve had to accept that time is a limited resource. It doesn’t stretch. Like the sands through the hour glass, it just runs out. That’s it. Poof! It’s all gone!

This came as a bit of a rude shock to me. I don’t know about you but I’ve always treated time as a fairly flexible resource. Squeeze something in here. Jam something else in there. I’ve also had my watch set five minutes fast, so I could always squeeze in that one last thing before I bolted out the door. I can also run a little late, which is another way of buying just a little more time.

However, as the school bell rudely reminds me very morning, time is fixed.

Well, that might be what the so-called experts believe but I’ve finally found a loophole. I’ve proven them wrong. Not by buying myself some thyme. Rather, I’ve just done some very simple mathematics.

You see, if you want more hours in the day, you simply subtract them from the night.

Wake more…sleep less.

As I said, it’s a very simple equation…all very basic mathematics. An equation so delightfully simple that even the most mathematically challenged can get it.

I always knew I was clever…a veritable genius! I just needed to find my thing.

Ssh! This has to be our little secret. At around 9.30PM when my husband starts thinking of going to sleep, I conversely start to wake up. I make myself a cup of decaf tea, ostensibly to unwind before going to bed. Of course, it takes time to cool down. So instead of turning off my laptop and actually letting my brain slow down , unwind and  prepare for sleep, it actually fires up again. Inspiration hits and suddenly I’m typing at whirlwind speeds and the ideas are really flowing. Of course, it’s the very best writing that I’ve ever done and I don’t want to lose “the moment”. If you write, you’ll understand just how precious “the moment” can be. When inspiration hits, you’ve got to catch it. Get it down anyway you can before it gets up and leaves and goes somewhere else. (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gave a fabulous  TED Talk about creative inspiration: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html)

I write and write and write until all that inspiration has well and truly dried up. I only stop when the words are starting to merge and blur together and I can’t tell the difference between a verb and a noun. By this point in time, instead of capturing all those pearls of wisdom, I’ve actually deleted them and nothing makes much sense in the morning!! I’m just left with a pile of gobbledegook. This, of course, is the danger of stealing too much time. Unfortunately, it seems you can borrow a little bit of time but you need to pay it back. You can’t keep it indefinitely!

Sadly, like most good theories, there’s a catch…no  free lunch. You pay for it. In this particular scenario, it’s called sleep deprivation. There’s that magic balance between wake and sleep and when you deduct too much from one of side of the equation, the whole thing topples down taking you down with it. Did you know that seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%? That means that if you were driving a car, you could actually kill someone!! That’s rather scary. We push ourselves further and further beyond the brink of sleep deprivation and that’s where we can end up. It’s not pretty. Not pretty at all and contrary to my earlier boasts, it’s not smart. It’s not smart at all.

In the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwarz argues that “sleep is more important than food”. That we could survive a week without food but we couldn’t survive a week without sleep.  He quotes former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin who wrote about the experience of being deprived of sleep in a KGB prison in his memoir White Nights : “In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep … Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.” http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/03/sleep-is-more-important-than-f.html

The case for getting an early night was mounting but this was the real clincher. Schwarz goes on to quote Anders Ericcson’s famous study of violinists which found that top violinists also reported that except for practice itself, sleep was second most important factor in improving as violinists. The top performers slept an average of 8 ½ hours out of every 24, including a 20 to 30 minute mid-afternoon nap. That is some 2 hours a day more than the average American.

Humph!! Could sleep deprivation possibly explain some of the difficulties I’ve been having mastering my violin lately? For my husband, Geoff, it was a no-brainer: “Are you surprised? You are exhausted. You can’t keep the bow going straight!”

Alright! Alright! Maybe I’m starting to concede that things are having to change. The trouble is how? We all do things we know are bad for us, even when we know they are slowly killing us but how do we stop?

I could start by totally reprogramming my thinking. Tell myself how much I hate and even loathe that 30 minutes of total me time where I bask in absolute, beautiful blissful  silence each night. Tell myself I hate that final, lingering cup of tea and that I especially hate any Tim Tams or stray pieces of evil chocolate which might happen to stray across my path late at night.

But is it wrong to lie, even if it is for your own good?

Staying up late feels way too good to give it up even though it’s really bad for my health, relationships and mental state. It’s probably not even that good for my writing.

So if I know all of this why don’t I stop? Why can’t I change?

It’s like eating broccoli. You know it’s good for you. You know it prevents cancer and does all these other wonderful things but you just don’t like it. But then sometimes, something comes along and forces you to change. It’s like being pushed straight up the side of a mountain…a mountain you never, ever wanted to climb.

You see as much as I love those moments of very precious solitude, even I have to admit that I’m exceptionally tired. I sleep for at least an hour most days, no doubt catching up for what I’ve lost late at night. But I’m still not entirely convinced.  My auto-immune disease causes extreme fatigue.  I also blame my lungs which have been down to 50%. Not getting enough oxygen, can also make you tired and give you brain fog. But even taking all these possibilities into consideration, I should be going to bed earlier. Make the supreme sacrifice. After all, I’m supposed to seize the day, not the night!!

This has all become a bit tragic because I had no intention of going to bed earlier when I started this post. It’s just been a miserable, wet couple of days and I bought myself some thyme. Thought I’d photograph it for the blog as a bit of a joke because like most of us, I would really like to buy some more time. I have also had some scares with my health where I’ve wanted to buy some serious time. Sticking to the nitty gritty like going to bed and choosing the broccoli feels boring but if that’s what it takes to truly seize the day and possibly even save my life, perhaps it’s time for me to seriously play ball.

I’m getting myself a star chart and a serious reward. This time I mean business!

A keen gardener

A keen gardener?

Moving from time to thyme, the sag of my thyme plant continues. I used to be quite an avid gardener but we’ve had drought, water-restrictions and busyness. I don’t tend to buy many plants these days but every now and then I succumb. Despite my protestations, they generally end up thirsty and near death thanks to neglect. Every time I buy a new plant, I promise to do a better job but sadly history repeats itself. But…but…I am determined for this plant to live and to live life abundantly!!

Mister helping to plant the thyme.

Mister helping me plant the thyme.

To give it the very best chance of success, Mister and I headed out to the worm farm and filled the pot up with the best soil I’ve ever seen. It was so beautifully rich in nutrients. Our thyme plant surely has to flourish.

The last word on thyme goes to this folk song a friend sang to me after school this afternoon when I mentioned my post. I’ve just included a couple of verses but you can click through to read the whole song.

Let No Man Steal Your Thyme

For thyme it is a precious thing
And thyme brings all things tae your mind
Time wi’ its labours alang wi’ all its joys
Oh time brings a’ things tae an end

Come all ye maidens young and fine
All ye that are bloomin’ in your prime
It’s aye be aware and keep your gardens square
Let no man steal awa’ your bunch of thyme

http://mysongbook.de/msb/songs/l/letnoman.html

Any thoughts?

xx Rowena