Monday, January 26, 2015

Garden notes, January 2015

I firmly believe that gardens take at least 10 years to mature. Sure you can put in some xerophylic moonscape of succulents, yuccas and hard surfaces in a matter of days (far too many of those sorts of gardens for my liking) or you can spend the time and effort to create microclimates within your garden through careful design and planting. The latter, of course, can take years to develop into the type of environment you envisaged, usually with quite a few mistakes along the way.

Thinks I've learnt from my garden here in Geraldton:

Windbreaks are a necessity. Both from the fan forced oven summer easterlies that will bake a plant in mere hours, and from salt laden summer southerlies whose mere strength will knock over susceptible plants. And lets not forget those north westerly winter storms too. Staking your plants, pretty essential. Local natives, adapted to our harsh conditions, are the best choice for windbreaks. I buy them cheap as tube stock from Julie's Permaculture Nursery and watch them grow like weeds and outperform anything I've bought from Bunnings. They acclimate and grow much quicker than more established larger plants and cost a lot less. I've planted a hedge of coastal myrtles and honey myrtles right along the southern boundary, which flower profusely in spring with gorgeous perfume and provide lots of nectar for the birds and bees. There's also a few eucalypts and grevillea olivacea. The trees filter the wind rather than stop it, meaning you don't get the turbulence and wind tunnelling that you get with hard barriers like fences. They also stop most of the salt from getting into the vege patch, after all I'm only about 150m from the beach.

Design for shade in the vege patch. All you cold climate people have no idea how the heat here saps the living daylight out of everything, including people. The sun is so intense that vegetables just won't survive long if left out in the sun without protection, so trees and shade cloth (not green, it stops too much UV light coming through) over the patch from about November to April ensures at least a reasonable survival. Surviving February, however, is Russian roulette.

I'm really happy with how the papayas have created a much cooler microclimate under the canopy for veggies to grow. I've planted some zucchini and tomato seeds and will be interested to see how they go. The frangipani shades one tub, the natives along the front boundary provide shade from midday to the nearby tubs. The shade sails do the rest.

Hand watering the garden daily means healthier plants. This weekend I completely removed the defunct reticulation system from the vegetable garden. I've tried sprayers, drip irrigation, and sprinklers. I've tried deep watering. All have failed. Wandering the garden every day, giving everything a good dousing, pulling weeds and dealing with pests and infestations before they get out of control, staking tomato plants and training the grape and passionfruit vines, leads to much better plant survival. Plus it's daily meditation of sorts. It means that new flowers on the pawpaw get noticed, and so I can quickly hand pollinate with a flower or two from the male plant growing nearby. I can notice new leaves on the citrus and get the white oil spraying going before the curly leaf miners have their way. I only recently learnt that I can spray in hot weather, as long as I spray before the heat sets in, i.e. first thing in the morning.

Plant seeds directly in the garden. I've tried the old seed raising mix and I've had so much more success just planting straight into the patch and then thinning out the seedlings. The shallow seed trays just seem to dry out too quickly. I've had quite a lot of self seeded plants from either open pollination and fallen seed or from the compost, so it's always a treat to see what new seedlings will be. Currently, I've got some more cucumber and okra seedlings sprouting, as well as zucchini and butternut pumpkin, not to mention a few thousand rocket and lettuce, again!! I've also got two very nice eggplant, one a seedling I raised from seed myself last year, and another I got from Freddie. They are different varieties (Freddie's has larger leaves) and I'm running a little competition to see which one flowers and fruits first. Currently they are neck and neck.

Create garden rooms for different occasions. My front yard is both quirky with its recycled objects and a practical food producing area, whereas the northern garden is my tropical oasis, providing cooling green and a pond with water feature for relaxation. My yoga room looks out onto this. The back yard, now that it is retained, is still a work in progress, but will one day be an entertainment area, have a pond with waterfall and fish, and have numerous fruit trees, along with the chook pen up the back. At the moment it's both a construction zone and an adventure playground for kids.

Ah yes, the chooks. This weekend I at last did the heavy work required to fox proof the upper pen. The tin is buried 400mm deep, but soil had bowed it outwards and made the whole thing insecure, so I dug out the soil, carted it down the steps to level out the first level of the Great Wall of Drummonds, and refixed the tin to the poles with some extra long screws. Then I put more wire and netting up along the back fence to make it much higher, and hopefully impenetrable to Mr and Mrs Fox. Then I let the girls out. They are loving it!!

Today, I am so sore I can hardly move.

The dragon fruit have surprised me by taking only a little over a month for the fruit to form and ripen. Since I'm off away for a month on Saturday I'm glad I get to savour some before I go. The plant is still shooting out flower spikes, so likely there'll be more ripe fruit on my return. My other dragon fruit plants in the northern garden don't show any sign of flowering yet, and the pawpaws haven't ripened yet either.

Nom Nom....

Next week I'll be in Japan, and the garden will be in the hands of a friend who is house sitting for me. Hopefully, the horse manure I've laid down last weekend as mulch will mean he won't be witness to the all too frequent mass plant genocide that occurs each February. I will warn him so he doesn't feel too bad if it happens, but I'm optimistically hopeful as the seedlings have tolerated the heat really well so far with little evidence of stress, so they will at least be starting February in good shape. I, meanwhile, will be experiencing temperatures a good 40 degrees cooler!!

I'm also looking forward to checking out some of those yen gardens in Kyoto once the ski goddess has had her fix...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm not going there again

It is with mounting resignation that I accept that my little black dog is back upon me. No I don't mean my gorgeous chocolate dog, Hazel, but the type of depression I was experiencing back in 2007/2008 when I took a year off work and went travelling. This was also when I started the blog, and I wrote a little about it then.

The last few months have been a huge struggle for me, just finding the energy and motivation to go to work, though I am not at the point of experiencing panic attacks or bouts of nausea like I used to. I hoped that the Christmas break would help, but it hasn't, and with the extra responsibility of training a new registrar because the person I had handed over to is on holidays all of January, it hasn't been easy. Luckily, the new registrar is a breeze.

For the last few weeks getting out of bed has become increasingly difficult, and if not for my commitment to going cycling with Erin twice a week it's questionable whether I would be doing any exercise at all. Yes I have a ski trip coming up in less than 2 weeks, yes I am scared shitless I am not going to be physically up to it, but I am also resigned to not giving myself a hard time if I can only manage half days. My fitness isn't actually that bad now anyway, it just could be a lot better if I'd had the motivation to do more exercise. Obviously part of my depression....

When I burnt out back in 2008 I remember having a talk with a friend who asked me how I could identify when I was getting that way again, and I remember saying that I didn't know if it was possible to predict. But now I know that yes, it's totally possible to see the signs and do something about it.

The signs for me are: fatigue, difficulty getting up in the morning, panicky feelings about going to work, even to the point of full blown anxiety and nausea, moodiness and grumpiness, social withdrawal, loss of productivity and lack of motivation. Interrupted sleep.

I know I don't want to work any more, but for my own financial sake I have committed to continuing until June, and also for the purposes of handing over my knowledge to others. Mostly, this is corporate knowledge, as there are very few of us working in the organisation who have been there as long as me, meaning I have ended up with a lot of responsibility for day to day stuff as people leave. Unfortunately, the chaos of working at an AMS is that many people get given senior positions but they don't have the skills or aptitude to perform well in, so the rest of us prop them up. This is exhausting, and very frustrating, as you are continuously dealing with the same issues that no-one has learnt how to manage despite explaining in the minutest detail, writing it down and showing someone how its done. Thankfully, we have now employed a competent person into the practice manager position and I am in the process of documenting and handing over my knowledge to others. In fact I'm doing the organisation a huge favour, not just walking out that door like everyone else does and leaving it to others to pick up the pieces and reinvent the wheel.

This isn't really a lightbulb moment for me, I've been very aware of my deteriorating mental health for a wee while, and upping the exercise and cycling did help. I'm sure that my holiday away will also lift my mood appreciably, but I'm pretty sure that it will be all too temporary and I can see myself falling back into the abyss (no it's not that bad) within a month of being back. See, there's the negative thought patterns of my depression speaking....

It's not acceptable to hate one's job, or at least hate going to one's job. I understand that some people say they have no choice, but I think that's not totally true. With enough motivation and drive, anyone can re-skill and find something that they can enjoy doing, that turns a buck. Of course that takes more energy than staying in a job, or situation, you hate, which is why so many people are unhappy. I'm just not one of those people. If I'm unhappy, find the cause and do something about it.

This time around I'm not going to let myself fall into that really horrible place I went to in 2008. That was a terrible terrible place, and it took me months to recover from my own self loathing and learn to accept myself as a flawed human being like the rest of us (the problem with being a perfectionist). I realise that if I just grin and bear it for the next five months, knowing that that's all I've got left to get through, I may actually come out of this in June quite damaged, because that's what happened last time when I hung on too long in order to "not let anyone down". But I let myself down, big time! So this time around I'm going to take advantage of my sick leave and use it. Because I am not going to let my health suffer at the convenience of my employer.

One good thing about this time around is that I am eating really well and have not resorted to drinking alcohol, something I did in excess back then. In fact I'm pretty sure my almost complete abstinence from alcohol over the last couple of months has been a subconscious effort on my part to avoid where that takes me. I have a kind little psyche don't I? Nice to think I don't resort to self destructive behaviours when I'm down, but protective ones. I wish some of my patients could do the same kindness to themselves....

So at the moment I'm trying to be kind to myself, taking time off work when I can, doing some meditation and pottering in the garden, and trying to do more exercise. Temperatures in the 40s don't exactly make the latter very easy though!! OMG Japan is going to be lovely and cold after this week of high temperatures.

Let's see what March brings....

Friday, January 16, 2015

Time to dance

Only recently I was thinking about my life and the decisions I had made to get to where I am now. Last year I turned 50 and this year I retire from my medical career, so it's not surprising I may be doing a little reflecting. Which got me thinking about what each decade of my life had meant for me, and where this decade will take me.

Obviously the first 2 decades were for growing up. I left home at 17 to go to university and never looked back.

In my 20s I finished my university degree and began working, but I was still trying to decide exactly where my career path would take me. I travelled overseas for 2 years (one day these adventures will all wind up on the blog) and on a beach in Dahab Egypt, whilst teaching a young bedouin girl with only one eye how to make friendship bracelets, I decided that a career in public health/3rd world medicine was what I'd like to do. Since most people working in this field back then were obstetricians or paediatricians, when I returned to Australia I began that path - in my case paediatrics.
So my 20s were about working out who I was and who I wanted to be.

At some point I turned 30, and had the sudden realisation that here I was, single, with no financial security. It was time to let go of the fairy tale dream of meet a man, settle down, buy a house, have children, live happily ever after. Sure that might still happen, but tying my financial security to a relationship suddenly seemed a bit foolhardy. Pragmatism rearing its head, within 2 weeks of my 30th birthday I'd bought a house!!

My 30s was the decade of career, although there were many dips in that journey. I did a Masters in Public Health, which got my thinking all muddled up and made passing an individualistic Paediatric Fellowship exam rather difficult. I got through the theory exams fine, and then barely failed my clinicals, but by then I was seeing a new path emerging so I gave the Paediatrics away and began my new career in Aboriginal Health. This turned out to be the right choice: just the right mixture of interesting medicine and public health, and "third world" at times too. Even better, it was paid well. It still irks me that so few Australian doctors care enough to work in Aboriginal Health, somehow thinking it's "too hard" for them. It's not hard, and it's incredibly rewarding, and I don't regret one moment of my time working with and for the first peoples of Australia.

My 30s also saw me working further on setting up my financial future, through investments and tax minimisation, and accumulating wealth. Sadly, no man in shining armour turned up either!

By the time I hit 40 I had moved to Geraldton WA and settled in to my job working for an Aboriginal Medical Service. I had also bought a beach house and I think I would characterise my 40s as a decade of nesting. Settling in to a place, renovating, caringly nurturing a garden. Building both my spiritual and material wealth, finding a balance between work and leisure, enjoying great friendships, eating healthy food and exercising regularly, and beginning to travel more extensively. Also finding my inner ski goddess!!

My 50s will be about dancing. I have borrowed this idea from a book by Michael Katakis: A Thousand Shards of Glass, which is a book of essays on the decline of America and American people into an uncaring plutocracy with little compassion for anyone but the self interest of the mega wealthy. It is a deeply critical look at the failure of Americans to protest against the rising interests of big corporations, the war mongering, and complete lack of moral ethics. I see huge similarities with our current government in Australia, but am hopeful that we will rise up as decent Australians and do something about it. Or else we are doomed.

Katakis writes:

".... our obsession with our devices now allows us to make even more lists, and these devices are with us at all times, and they do not, as many insist, connect us to the world as much as distance us from it. We move from screen to screen, rarely seeing life take place in the spaces between. Escalating convenience has been a very profitable lie but with a very high cost. Increasingly, we are leaving little room in our lives for chance itself to sweep us off our feet. Step by step we are stripping away the small, beautiful things, replacing them not with each other but with illusions of control and efficiency, while in actuality we are simply becoming more frazzled, with a constant and nagging feeling that something has been left undone. Something has. We have forgotten to dance…..

….. The dance, of course, is a metaphor for letting life in. For being more thoughtful and kind, more generous and, finally, free of implacable ideologies that close the mind and harden the heart. it is so much more fun to be engaged in the world rather than to constantly be afraid of it. Are there dangers? Of course there are, but the greatest danger is sitting out the dance and coming to the end of one's life only to discover that the finite and precious time has been spent in denial and fear. "

This obsession with wealth creation and consumerism is such a con. Having time to stop and appreciate the poetry in life, the small things like a perfectly formed flower or a child's open smile, an act of kindness by a stranger, is what keeps my faith in the good of mankind. Refusing to watch TV and it's relentless tide of violence, mayhem and negative propaganda helps as well. And not believing that I have to tie myself to some employment wagon that sees me working until I'm 70 is another.

I think I've always rebelled from the social norms of our society, particularly those that judge a woman who isn't in a relationship, or who doesn't have children, as somehow lacking fulfilment. I'm single because I never met a man who was willing to question those norms too, who didn't want to control me, or set me up as a mother figure. It's meant that at 50 my early financial preparation, and no kids to financially drain me, has set me up with enough money that I no longer have to be tied to regular employment and can begin to pursue my dreams and flirt with serendipity. Yes, I have always had an above average income as well, and I am not apologetic for that as I worked my arse off to get that degree, but I have also assiduously saved and reduced debt, I drive a car that is 20 years old, and I don't go on mindlessly extravagant holidays. My extravagant holidays are always mindful!!

It's an incredibly empowering feeling, to know that I am about to opt out of the 9 to 5 employment circus and start playing by chance. Yes dance with what opportunities are out there. Give up that "doctor" nametag and explore other possibilities. It's probably one of the most exciting things I've ever done.

I am often gobsmacked by the kickback I get from many friends and acquaintances about my plan to retire early. Remember my choices have never been conventional anyway, so why would this choice be any less so. But those who have slavishly followed the social norms and find themselves (oh don't look so surprised!) enslaved for the next 20 years in a financial catchup to support their retirement from 67 or 70, have no right to be angry with me. They've had society's approval for their life decisions all those years, I never have. And exactly how am I letting society down? And do I care?

Thankfully I have many friends, and all my family, who have been incredibly supportive of my decisions, right through my life, and I am grateful for that.

I may still have over five months till I fully retire but I've been dancing, in my own quiet way, for a long time. Only I'm ready now to dance with the lights on, bright red lipstick and a devil may care attitude. No one's gonna stop me now...

Friday, January 9, 2015

Getting ready for Japan

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2015, the year I at last give up the day job and get to follow my dreams. Only 6 more months to go peeps!

But first, a trip to Japan, to ski legendary powder and experience the unique culture. Can't wait!

The fitness campaign has been very hit and miss, but with Christmas overindulgences ended, and less than a month to go I'm pulling out the last stops and actually being consistent. Even whilst over in Canberra for 5 days I managed to go out for a jog on 2 days. My brother's dog was eternally grateful!!

Since returning home I've been back on the bike racking up the kms and working the heart rate monitor to make sure I don't slack off. Between a cycling computer and a HR monitor, my OCD tendencies get all the feedback they need to keep me on track and my cadence up where it's burning those kilojoules. There may be no hills to speak of, but a strong headwind does just as good a job...

Over in Canberra I picked up my new skis, which I'd purchased a few months ago online and which my brother had picked up for me when the retailer offered to bring them to Canberra when he attended a trade show. Just so no-one accuses me of ulterior motives, I had already purchased my ticket to Canberra for Christmas months before I bought skis or even booked a trip to Japan, it was all just a happy coincidence.

I also purchased a new ski bag, as the trip I'm going on insists on wheeled ski bags and I hate my old wheeled bag as it's too bulky and heavy and floppy in the middle. In contrast, the Douchebag (yes shame about the name) is light, much more streamlined, and remains rigid due to its ribbed construction allowing you to roll it up to exactly the same length as your skis. I also like how it has lots of rugged handles on it, meaning baggage handlers will use them rather than mishandle it. It was so easy walking around with it trailing behind me like in the video. Worth the expensive price tag.

My new skis are Rossignol Soul 7s. These are big wide powder skis, and because I can't actually see myself scooting over to Japan every year (though who knows?), I purchased them with Atomic Tracker 13 bindings. These are touring bindings, which means that the heel can be released for skinning, then easily re-engaged for downhill skiing. No new boots required either. Now all I need to purchase is a set of skins before heading to NZ and backcountry touring is doable.

I've also got basic avalanche gear (beacon, shovel, probe) and in the next few months I'll be researching some backcountry/avalanche awareness courses for my trip to NZ this year. Most likely I'll go on a 2-3 day back country trip but otherwise just ski the resort. And hopefully head back to Mt Olympus again, that place is the bomb!

Then I had a go at packing my new bag and discovered that I seem to have misplaced my ski gloves. I'm not sure if they were due for replacement and I offloaded them in NZ 18 months ago, but at any rate, it looks like I'm going to Japan sporting a pair of leather Kincos gloves. Very downmarket in the fashion stakes but they are actually great gloves, and a definite sign of an NZ clubby nutcracker aficionado ( I am actually a nutcracker novice, feel free to go watch that Olympus video).

As for the latest gadgets, I recently bought a very frivolous thing: a Bluetooth enabled beanie. Keeping my head warm whilst listening to tunes from my phone or iPod. This is seriously the coolest bit of gear, and perfect for a cold environment when I'll be wearing a beanie almost continuously. Just gotta not lose it!!

First go at packing the bag and there's heaps of spare space. As we're travelling quite a lot (read schlepping heavy gear through train stations etc) I'm taking a real minimum of gear, with no extra clothes for my week of sightseeing. Aside from the trousers I travel in, I'll just have my ski pants. It's winter after all, I remember wearing the same trousers and clothes for 3 weeks straight in China in 2008 because it was all I had and it was too cold to wash them. As long as they don't smell, all's good!!

So what's in the bag?
Skis, boots, poles, helmet, avalanche beacon, batteries, probe, shovel. Small backpack.
Ski pants, ski jacket, down vest, 2 thermal tops, one pair merino leggings, one pair compression leggings, 4 ski tops, 3 pairs knickers, 1 bra, 5 pairs socks, neck warmer, gloves and woollen liners. Pyjama pants. Sorel boots for when I'm not skiing. Fleece slippers for inside use. Go Pro with attachments. Knee brace.

As I'll be transiting through Kuala Lumpur (yes, I am flying Air Asia, one of the best airlines I've flown with in recent years) and it's the height of summer here, I won't need anything warm to wear until I get to Japan. So a t-shirt and trousers and light shoes will be my travel gear. The t-shirt will then double as my pyjama top in Japan, and the trousers won't see much action again until Kyoto.

This will be the lightest I've ever travelled on a ski trip, but with the constant moving around and ski focus of the trip, there's little need for apres ski clothing. The Sorel boots are quite heavy, but almost certainly a necessary for the conditions there. Some light gym shoes for travel to and from home, and for use in Kyoto, give me options in footwear.

So, bag is packed! All I have to do is throw in the laptop and camera into my carryon bag, and I'm good to go.

Just need to keep working on the fitness and put those abs into overtime.

The things we do for fun....

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Feature plant: Papaya

I'm continuously surprised to discover so many people have never eaten papaya, or pawpaw. Some people don't like it, thinking it tastes a bit like sweet soap. And I'd have to agree that it's not an immediately pleasing taste, but it's one of my favourite fruits.

The papaya originates from Central and South America and there are a few different varieties. Most of the commercially available papayas are long and cylindrical, but there are rounder shorter ones, as well as a really interesting variety I recently found growing on Dieng Plateau in Java Indonesia. It's a local specialty there.

Papaya can be eaten unripe - the most famous recipe being Som Tam, or green papaya salad, which is a favourite of mine. Nice and spicy! You can also add green papaya to a roast or stew and it will tenderise the meat due to the papain in it (an enzyme which breaks down protein).

Mostly papaya is eaten when it's ripe and golden yellow, usually with a splash of lime juice over it to bring out the sweetness.

It also makes a pretty yummy fruit smoothy!

The papaya plant is really easy to grow and easily germinated from seed collected from a store bought fruit. It's a tall single stemmed plant, which produces leaves which can be lightly steamed and eaten. They can be quite bitter, so only use very young leaves. They produce fruit straight off the main trunk, but only if they aren't males!

The papaya plant can be male, female or bisexual. Usually the ones sold in garden centres are bisexual, meaning the fertilisation happens within each flower, but I frequently save my papaya seeds from bought fruit and sow them, meaning I sometimes end up with papayas of either sex.

You only need one male to fertilise about 7 females, but they are quite pretty in their own right. Lots of clusters of white flowers, with a gentle perfume.

The females flower and then produce fruit at the flower's base if fertilised. The bisexuals self mate so they tend to start fruiting quicker.

So grab the seeds out of your next papaya and sow them and see what you get.

They like a bit of water and nutrients, but they don't like wet feet or they'll rot. They're a lovely addition to a garden that doesn't get frosts (though those Dieng papayas are at high altitude so there may be hope for you cold climate gardeners after all)