Friday, 10 May 2019

Who are my tribe?

Who are my tribe?

That's a heavy question. I think I've always been searching for my tribe, that is, those who are like minded. I've never really fitted 'the mould' that I thought I was given. I've always felt on the outside, never quite belonging.

I see this trait in my daughter too. It can be hard to relive those feelings through her, especially as I still don't really have the answers. I want to make it easier for her. It's a parent thing. Then again, these struggles might well be what shape her future and who am I to say that it's a bad thing.

I have found that as I get older, I still don't fit neatly into societal norms but also I don't really care any more. I might look like I fit in, big house, new car, typical suburban lifestyle but underneath it I don't think I have the same mindset. I don't feel like I'm really showing who I am beneath it all. I'm not even sure how I got here half the time!

I've gone through life trying to fit in. I was quiet in school and really wanted to be quietly creative and learn. I've got an intrinsic need to be constantly learning. I was called Swot or Beethoven (as a musician) in school. They were actually right. I wish I had embraced it instead of feeling ashamed of being different. I tried so hard to be what I thought was normal but made myself miserable.

When I left school and went to university things carried on in pretty much the same way. I wanted to be there to learn and expand, as well as to become independent. Most students just wanted to go off the rails with drinking and partying all night long. A hangover and missed lectures were a badge of honour. It never made sense to me. Nevertheless, I joined in to feel normal and make friends.

I met my first husband at uni. Looking back I thought that he was my tribe. He was also an introvert and didn't seem to want to fit into what looked normal. In fact, he deliberately went against the grain at every opportunity. I thought I'd met someone who didn't fit in just like me. We clicked.

Slowly, over time I found that I was now trying to fit into another mould that didn't fit, the rebel. I didn't want to deliberately upset people just for the hell of it. I went back to being the swot from before and hiding a big part of who I was. This was a huge mistake. I wasn't being true to myself or anyone else really.

Searching for my tribe
After uni, I started to work in medical research and it was here that I started to meet some of my tribe. We all had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to improve the world. I worked in academia where the pay was a lot lower than in big Pharma. We referred to working for Pharma as 'selling your soul'. In other words, you only worked for Pharma and their capitalist business for the money. You sold your soul (and often principles) for money.

In academia, I was happy. I was surrounded by like-minded people who had a real appetite for learning and research. We shared the joy in each other's discoveries and commiserated together when things went wrong (as they often do in lab work). My whole world revolved around my work and colleagues. I finally found where I belonged.

Behind the scenes, I didn't realise that I was stuck in a loveless marriage. He wasn't part of my tribe afterall and we have very different ways of looking at the world. I was too young to see it at the time. He had sold his soul to big business chasing money to keep up with the Jones (actually to show off to his critical family). He was pursuing every bonus and pay rise to buy the next car or gadget. But it never made him happy or his family proud.

I was doing well in work and no one had any complaints. I loved my work and it was the passion that kept me feeling alive. The money was useful, but I would have done it for far less. In fact, I went back briefly on a voluntary basis.

During these years, my ex-husband and I drifted in separate directions. He pursued pay rises and possessions. I pursued knowledge. The two directions meant that we drifted and our goals didn't align any more. Although I'm not sure they ever did. We never talked about life goals. We were young.

I did find that the more we ended up stuck in the rat race, the more unhappy I became. We were buying bigger and bigger houses, he changed his car at least every two years, gadgets more so. I went along with it as everyone around us seemed to be doing the same thing. I didn't question it...

... at least not until I became too sick to work and we lost an income.
Not looking so hot. I was
told I had a nice shaped head though!

Just months after I lost my job (and income) my ex-husband told me he didn't love me and left me and our daughter. In one year, I lost my health, my job (and passion) and my marriage.

During our divorce, I also discovered that we had zero assets and only debts. How on earth had I, a natural saver, ended up with nothing but debts after a decade of a successful career?

It was a shock. But it was also a blessing. Sadly, he was not part of my tribe and we didn't share any core values. It freed me to start again and really find out who I was. I was done with trying to fit into what was expected of me by society, and my husband.

I started on a new path. Financially, I started with less than zero. About £320,000 less than zero!! It was a long slog back and has taken many years.

The hardest part was actually emotionally finding my way back. Money is just a number. Yes, an important one, to a point, but still just a number.

I mourned the lost of my career and passion. I mourned my daughter's loss of her father. But tellingly, I didn't mourn the loss of my marriage as I quickly realised that there was nothing there to have lost.

It was now just me and Missy. I'd lost my tribe as well as I was no longer in research. Over time I stopped seeing and talking to old colleagues. We all moved on. Life does that.

When I met Matt (now Hubby), we were two lost souls wandering without our tribes. We clicked immediately, although it wasn't obvious why at first. We had both been stung and were going through our own divorces. I thought that we were good moral support for each other and if that was all that there was, then that was fine. We needed each other then but might not have later on. Either way, it was good for us both and it was amazing to both understand what the other was going through.
Missy loved him from the start

Years after we realised that we were members of the same tribe. We didn't call it that but we were. We both have the same core values and similar mindsets. Importantly, we have the same mindset with money so that was never a problem for us. Heck! We were both less than penniless when we met! We obviously were NOT in it for the money! We often joke about that but it is a real comfort to know that it's never been a reason to be together. I don't think it was a coincidence that my separation/divorce was a mere 3 months after my last pay cheque.

Hubby had an accident back in 2013 where he cut his finger off while tinkering with a boat engine. He was off work for 10 weeks after surgery and during rehab. At the time he was homeless and living with his parents again. He stayed with me and Missy for those 10 weeks so I could help to look after him. It was actually nice to be able to take care of him for a change after all the times he'd helped me.

During those 10 weeks we lived in each others pockets for the first time, and loved it. We talked for many hours, helped each other with personal things (as you have to after surgery) and became a unit along with Missy, who was about 5 years old at time.
Being Non-mainstream together

We had found another member of our tribes. We have similar beliefs and values, as well as a similar mindset. Yes, we disagree on some things but are happy to discuss and look at things from other points of view. For the first time I didn't have to pretend to be 'normal'. Whatever the heck that is? I was old enough and confident enough to be me and if Hubby didn't like it, then he didn't have to stick around. I wasn't going to try to be something I wasn't again for someone else. Turns out that he loves me for my non-mainstream self.
Our wedding day

Hubby and I got married in 2014, after he proposed on his boat the year before (not long after his 10 weeks post-surgery). We never thought we'd do it again but couldn't deny that we fit together really well. Importantly, we *get* each other. It was the first time I felt that anyone had ever *got* me. The exhausting having-to-fit-in wasn't needed any more.

In recent years I've found that Missy and I are both the extreme INFJ introvert types. It's why I didn't ever feel at home and why Missy struggles now. We are happiest surrounded by books in a quiet space, preferably in the woods on a sunny day where we can sit and learn something new. Missy also wants to be an author and her happy place is with her netbook in the woods writing fiction.

Hubby is also a quiet introvert but not so far along the spectrum as us. It works well. He enjoys his hobbies, including sailing with others, and understands our needs for lots of down time and quiet. We all crave a peaceful existence. We are both clawing our way back from near bankruptcy 9 years ago and designing a life and future for us.

Our goal is for Hubby to be able to retire when Missy leaves school. He will be 55 then and I will be 48. We've got to find a way to be financially free in just 7 years but I think we can do it. I love spreadsheets and have geeked out over the numbers! We are not frivolous and are very intentional with what we spend. We always have been. What we were lacking before was a goal to aim for. A purpose.
The natural habitat of an introvert
(said in the voice of David Attenborough)

We have written bucket lists a few times and have talked extensively about what we want to do in retirement. I was getting annoyed though as conventional retirement  is a long way off (when Hubby is 67!). My illness is progressive and I feel that time is ticking. We want to do these things before it's too late.

This new year we put together a plan for Hubby to retire in 7 years. In the meantime, we are trying to incorporate as many things that we want to do later on into our lives now. I'm learning to grow my own veggies, now. I'm making wine at home, now. I cook all our meals from scratch, now. We spend quality time as a family, now. No more putting things off. We are doing things NOW!

In the meantime, we are cutting our expenses back more so we can save something to live on for the gap years between Hubby stopping work and drawing his pension. I'm learning a lot about investment and passive income. We have stepped off the consumerism train with an aim to leave behind the rat race too. I crave a more simple life that is more in touch with our natural world. I've always been drawn towards it but tried to fit into the wrong mould for years. I guess I'm part hippy? Are hippies my natural tribe? I'm starting to think that they are. Was I born in the wrong decade? Maybe.
Getting the tribe together

The only other person I know who is in my tribe (other than Hubby and Missy) is a friend, Trac, who lives in rural France and blogs at We met online at first. Finally, we met in person 3 years ago on our annual trip to France. It was like saying hello to an old friend. It was so easy and natural. That's what being with your tribe feels like. Our core beliefs are so similar. She has been a true inspiration to me and encourages me to find my true self. I feel like she's my big sister who has lots of good advice to give me. I'll really miss seeing her this year after my health (and Brexit) meant that we cancelled this year's trip to France. Thank goodness for video messaging and wifi!

I've had many friends come and go over the years but not many have made it to the inner circle of fellow tribe members. They are a much rarer breed it seems. Maybe they are all hiding in libraries somewhere? At least that's what Missy tells me!

Most people think we're mad for not wanting to be in the rat race and think that early retirement is only a dream. It's a puzzle to them why we don't want all the new gadgets. We would rather more time together down the line. I think back to those 10 weeks of discovery.

 I suspect that we are living in the wrong area. It's a wealthy area where you have to be in the rat race to live here usually. I'm only here because it's where my ex-husband wanted to live. Somehow I've stayed, partly due to the recession devaluing the house for years but mainly for Missy who is settled. I look forward to leaving it all behind. There's not much community here as everyone is out to work all day. The children aren't even around in school holidays as their parents both work. Missy is usually on her own through the holidays. I still wonder if we should move sooner but that would mean moving twice as I'm not staying when Missy leaves school.

We plan to move somewhere more rural but within an hour of the coast for sailing. Currently we are thinking about West Wales as Brexit is going to make moving to West France difficult. It might end up being France though. Options are always good.

For now, we are working towards our goal of a more simple life and still on the lookout for fellow tribe members. I suspect that they are in more village areas rather than the cities and suburbs. Or maybe they are all at the library! Missy might be on to something!

Where's my library card?
Missy, in her natural habitat!

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Veggie garden

This is my third year of trying to grow veggies in my garden. Each year I feel that I'm getting a little bit better. It's been a steep learning curve as I've always had more of a black rather than green thumb!

I started my seeds about 2 months ago. I was collecting the trays that our mushrooms come in for months ready to start my seeds in. They are the ideal size, and best of all, they are free! I've even given surplus ones to a neighbour to use.

My seeds were started early this year as I planted them in the trays indoors instead of straight into the ground. I'm hoping that they will have a longer growing season this way as I find weather in the UK to be so unpredictable these days that the seasons have become blurred. Thanks global warming. NOT!
My seeds were started in mushroom trays I'd saved. The milk bottle in the
background has been turned into a min-watering can
by piercing holes in the lid. Ideal for seed starts and totally free.

My seeds were started in my conservatory. I figured that we don't really use the conservatory much as it's too cold in winter and too hot in the summer. So why not use it as a greenhouse? It's also become the general dumping ground for everything as we've been sorting and slowly decluttering since the new year. Not to mention it's become a parking area for my various mobility aids, wheelchair, scooter, walker etc. It's not really a place to relax this year so why not give it a use as a greenhouse instead.

Hubby brought in our garden table for me to lay the trays out onto. I can't get bend down to do things on the floor so this was ideal. We are not using the table just yet as the weather isn't warm enough for eating outdoors right now. It can go back out once the seeds are more established.

I planted a variety of veggies that we eat. I have spinach, that did very well last year. I also have salad leaves and kale this year to hopefully bulk out the spinach in our salads. Hubby and Missy like to take a salad to work/school each day. With these plants I can harvest leaves and the plants keep on growing. I also throw in a small amount of leaves from my various herb pots for some added zing.
One of my two tree sprites who watch over my garden.

I've planted tomatoes this year to try again. I've got both the normal toms and cherry toms this time as Hubby likes the normal ones to slice for sandwiches but Missy and I prefer the sweetness of the cherry toms. I didn't plant them last year as I found the outside mini-polytunnel a pain to use. Frankly, it's easier for me to look after plants indoors. The tomatoes will stay in the conservatory this time and I'm not bothering with the polytunnel. It was too small for tomatoes, at least it was for the monsters I grew two years ago. That was, the plants were monsters but there were very few tomatoes as I couldn't easily look after the plants and prune them properly. When I realised, they were already too big to get out of the polytunnel without damaging the plants. This time they are staying in the conservatory! I have enough as well for my mum to have a few plants. Not to mention the conservatory smells gorgeous with the tomato plants in it.

I have my usual carrots. They seem to do well for me and are really sweet carrots, ideal raw for salads as well as cooked after being frozen. I intend to keep the leaves this time as well and use them in soups and stews for extra nutrition. I might give some to next door's guinea pigs too.
The beetroot have just been planted outside along with the two
cheeky potatoes from last year. I'm hoping the eggshell barrier
will keep snails out. 

This time I'm trying beetroot and courgettes for the first time. We love both veggies. I seem to do well with root veg and a friend does really well with courgettes and squash in our climate too. So why not?

Both my beetroot and courgettes have now been transplanted outside into pots. The first night snails got at my courgettes and they killed one plant by eating through it at the soil level. I was not impressed! We get a LOT of snails here. I did put some slug pellets around the plants at first but this isn't ideal as I want to avoid chemicals etc. if at all possible. I then started collecting our egg shells. I washed them and crunched them up. I sprinkled the egg shells around the plants as a deterrent to bugs that slither. I don't yet know if it will work. Fingers crossed.
My courgettes went outside about 3 weeks ago and are thriving,
except the one eaten by snails!

Two years ago I tried using copper tape around my pots to keep the snails out of my carrots (another fave of snails it seems) but the little devils ignored it completely and left slime trails over the tape, then stayed inside the tape where food was plentiful! This year it's egg shells. Otherwise the pellets will be back out again. Snails, you have been warned!

What else do I have? Oh yes, exactly two runner bean plants! These were old seeds and most refused to germinate. I'd even given up on these but after about 5 weeks they popped up to say hello. Interestingly, I accidentally planted some with my carrots (I got confused with pots that all looked the same!) One that came up is with carrots and the other isn't. I added coffee grounds to my carrot seeds as I'd read that they like coffee. Who doesn't? It seems that runner beans also LOVE coffee. The bean with coffee came up last but is now about 20 times bigger than its friend. I think the other bean is sulking because I didn't give it coffee for the first 6 weeks. It's had some now so hopefully I'll have another caffeinated runner bean. Seriously, it's like it was given steroids!! I just hope it flowers before it reaches the ceiling.

For the first time I'm trying to grow radishes. I really like the peppery flavour they add to a salad and they are so expensive to buy then have a short shelf life. It will be far better to be able to harvest just what I want to use. They are looking healthy and will be planted outside when I get a favourable day to potter.
My chives are flowering. Sadly, I found I'm
allergic to everything onion family.

I did have to chuckle when I was planting out the beetroot seedlings. I had cleared a raised bed ready for them and forgotten about it. When I went back to plant it I found two potato plants! I must have missed two potatoes from last years crop and they have now started to grow. Why not? I've left them there to see what I get.

Other self seeded plants I've found are two parsnips. One must have blown down the side of the house and germinated in the gravel. There's no soil there, just building rubble as this entire estate was built up a metre before being built on for flood protection. We have awful soil, which is why I have to have raised beds. Anyway, this parsnip didn't seem to mind. I pulled it up before I realised what it was and it was the funniest parsnip ever. It had split into three main roots to work around the lumps of gravel. I wish now that I'd photographed it to show you. The other parsnip is seeded in our lawn. This time I recognised the leaves and have left it there. Again, I expect the same odd shaped root as our lawn is turf on top of building rubble! We'll see. I didn't actually plant parsnips this year as I don't have any more places I can put pots. They do well in our garden though. I simply choose to try something else as we can get cheap parsnips at the market.
Baby berry bushes destined for wine production.
Can you see the sneaky parsnip hiding in the
forget-me-nots in the lawn?

Last year, I planted four berry bushes. They are still very small but are flowering and looking healthy. I planted blackberries, blueberries, logan berries and raspberries. My hope is that we can produce enough fruit to collect and freeze (before the birds get there) to be able to make wine from them in the autumn. Again, we'll see. I have big ideas that sometimes don't quite work. I might only get enough berries to eat with some pancakes but I'll still enjoy them.

In February I pruned my potted plum tree. It's doubled in size since but didn't have much blossom. I don't know if we'll get any plums this year. I know some fruit trees don't particularly produce fruit every year so it might be one of those varieties. If I get a few fruits I'll add them to the berries for wine.
My tiny plum tree has put all its effort into growing this
year instead of producing blossom

My pear tree, on the other hand, had loads of blossom. It was really pretty. The wind has since blown it all away. I'm waiting now to see if any of the stalks (stamens? stigmata? I can never remember which it is) will swell indicating fruit. The pears on this tree are so, so sweet that I only ever eat them straight from the tree. They are simply too good to do anything with except eat them.

Looking at this list I can see that I've really scaled up my production this year. I do have a few flowers in the garden too but I prioritise plants that we can eat. My climbing rose was moved last autumn to a sunnier spot as it didn't produce any flowers at all last year. I have already found two buds this year and it's only just turned to May.

My hydrangea didn't fully flower either despite the hot sunny summer we had last year. The flowers stayed green instead of going purple like before. I think that the tree next to it is now blocking too much sun and we don't get much sun down here in the valley anyway. I have to look for plants that don't mind the shade and water logged soil we have being never the river. Ferns usually do well!

I'm really looking forward to warmer weather when I can potter a bit more in the garden. I'm a complete novice but having fun learning. I find it relaxing, even if it doesn't always work out. Our next house (when we retire) must have a good garden for me. I don't go far any more so I really want to create a piece of paradise at home. I see these years in between as a chance for learning about gardening. I really aspire to the garden I remember my Grancha growing when I was a child. It was beautiful and full of food. And my ultimate dream is to have a big enough garden to have fruit trees. My very own mini-orchard, topped off with a hammock swing underneath for me to curl up in and read my books. Bliss! I'd better keep on learning!

Sunday, 5 May 2019


Recently, there has been a lot in the news about climate change, largely thanks to a plucky teenager named Greta Thunberg. Greta started the school strike for the climate last year and it has gone global. Well done Greta for proving that one person can make a difference. Her bravery is exceptionally humbling. There are not many adults who could give a speech to the EU but Greta nailed it. Go girl!
Extinction Rebellion
The symbol for the Extinction Rebellion.
The circle is the Earth and the
hourglass is tie running out.

The other group in the headlines has been the Extinction Rebellion. Although, I have noticed a difference in the reporting with this group. The exposure has been less and also the emphasis on the reporting has been about Londoners being inconvenienced by them rather than actually reporting what the protest was about. Shame.

I believe that the difference in the reporting is primarily because the school strikes were by children, whereas the Extinction Rebellion is organised by adults. That said, even the children striking was criticised by many as irresponsible in the UK. Oh, the irony of that statement!

As an individual household, we have been making small changes for years towards reducing our carbon footprint. Missy was taught in infant school about climate change and was active in the school's Eco group for a while (until she realised that the other kids weren't particularly serious about it). Since, Missy has carried on her research independently at home and regularly discussed it with us around the dinner table.

Missy has also been regularly going around our neighbourhood picking up litter for the last 2 or more years. It breaks her heart when the following week she can see that there's even more litter everywhere. I'm very proud that she's sticking at it after so long. If only there were more people who thought about it. Several of Missy's friends will often join her for an organised litter pick up, so I do have hope that her generation will be better than ours.

That said, what school age children can do is limited as they don't have control over household decisions. They can't even vote yet so they can't influence officials easily. Greta did the only thing she thought that she could. She striked from school with the message that if we (the older generations) don't care about her future (on this planet), then why should she care? She has a really good point.

As the parents of these plucky kids, what can we do to help? 

The obvious thing is to vote for the party that best aligns with your values. The children can't vote, but we can. Take a look at each party's manifesto to determine if they are right for you. Interestingly, after our recent elections, the two major parties (Labour and Conservative) lost seats. The Independents and the Green Party picked up most of these seats. It looks like change might be around the corner in the UK and about time.

I've been tactically voting for years to keep out the worst party rather than voting for my first choice (Green), until recently. I couldn't see how they would ever get in when all my life (in my 40s now) it's been a two party race. I'm hoping that the two party race is now over and others with (hopefully) more progressive views have a chance to influence more.

As parents, we can also help our children to write to manufacturers and organisations expressing what we would like to see change. For example, supermarkets are slowly moving towards less plastic use thanks to public pressure. We can also write (or email) companies that we are impressed by and encourage them to lead the way for change. As a nation we are quick to complain but not so fast to tell someone that they are doing well. Letters of praise can help businesses to keep up momentum.

On the subject of consumption, adults have the power to vote with their money too. We don't have to buy products from companies that don't align with our values. We are trying to cut down on plastic packaging on foods for instance. Therefore, we choose to buy loose fruit and veg using our own reusable cloth veggie bags. (Affiliate link) We cook everything (just about) from scratch so we don't buy any processed and heavily packaged foods. Our weekly rubbish has halved with this one small change alone! We have the power to boycott businesses that need to do better and it doesn't always cost more money. We have reduced our food bill by about a third by cutting out processed foods as I discussed before.

Even better, reduce consumption all together.

Everything that we buy has some cost to the planet. All the resources to make consumer products start in a humble form, like metals mined from the ground, plastics made from crude oil, cotton grown in fields, and so on. Everything costs the Earth something. So why not be more intentional about what we buy (and already have) and make them last as long as possible? Reuse items before they are (hopefully) recycled. Recycling isn't the answer alone as the recycling process itself costs us energy resources. I believe it's better to fully use up what we have before buying again, preferably second hand. If we all reduced our consumption of goods by 10% imagine the difference we could make!

This is a journey that we, as a household, started about 9 years ago. It started because of lack of money but we quickly realised that many of these efforts were also helping to reduce our impact on the Earth by reducing our carbon footprint. Shortly after, Missy became passionate about Eco issues and we've carried on refining our habits each year since. Saving money and looking after the planet mostly seem to go hand in hand for us. It's a great incentive. I'll have to write a few posts about the changes that we've made as many were so easy that I kick myself for not doing it sooner.

The journey continues...

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Media break

I've felt quite chilled this last week. That's actually quite an achievement for me. I'm usually a highly strung person who is always shaking her head at the idiocy she sees all around. But not today.

Today, I woke early and didn't dread the shower (as it wears me out with fibro). I was up and dressed without procrastinating. Downstairs is vacuumed, the laundry is on and coffee is brewing. I'm planning dinner, at least in my head for now. I've got things to get on with today but no timetable for them, which is how I like it.
Going with the flow and watching time pass

We had a wonderful afternoon yesterday around a neighbours place for lunch and drinks, which hubby and our neighbour greatly enjoyed! They both need a drinking partner as neither his wife or I drink. Hubby even got away with only a minor headache this morning, which is impressive given the shots that were going down! Hey, we only live once and it's not a habit for either of them.

Having a highly sensitive nervous system and fibro, I'm more than happy to have a chilled day at home today. I love to socialise but it does take a lot out of me. So pottering about today without a schedule suits me fine.

One of the problems with being what is termed a highly sensitive person or HSP is that I feel everything in a heightened way and don't seem to have filters. I take on the moods and feelings of those around me, even those who I am reading about. I feel their emotions and troubles as if they are my own. It can make socialising very exhausting.

It doesn't stop with face to face contact though. I stopped routinely watching the news about 10 years ago as all it did was make me feel bad. Every piece of news is negative and about suffering. I feel it all and it brings me down. I seem to take on the world's troubles as my own and get overwhelmed.

Social media has become just as bad since it first came about. It used to be a place where I kept in touch with distant friends and family, and shared photos of adventures when I lived abroad and when Missy was new born. It was a relatively friendly place.

Now I see more of the bad side of social media. It's all clickbait and scam articles that circulate repeatedly by those who don't check if they are real before sharing. It's full of things like animal abuse photos, aggressive political views (especially with Brexit going on), religious views being forced onto you, all the ads seem to be trying to sell me a scam cure for whatever illness they think they can profit from. My illnesses all have no cure so seeing this every. single. time I log on is insulting at best, upsetting at worst. There are trolls everywhere and there's a lack of censorship with all the sheep sharing things that enrage them without verifying any of what is said. It's a hostile place, the badlands of the internet.

In short, social media should come with a health warning like cigarettes do. Using social media is bad for your mental health and can cause feelings of despair. How does that sound?
Soo, not the Jones!! Just goofy!

Social media has become the home of the Jones and everyone trying to keep up with the Jones. It's a place for showing off to the world just how good your life is, even if it's not. No one puts the really bad stuff on there. Most don't even put the run of the mill downside to life on there. You see an extremely one-sided view of everyone else's lives. Then you fall into the trap of wondering why your life isn't as perfect as everyone else's.

This is a big worry for the vulnerable in society and our teenagers who are still learning about the world. I'm thankful that so far Missy doesn't want to have anything to do with social media, but I know it will happen at some point. She is also an HSP, so I worry about the effects it will have on her. I also don't know how to parent effectively in this matter. Kids are more savvy with tech than their parents these days. We didn't grow up with it but they did and it's as natural a part of life to them as having a tv is to my generation.

It's not just kids that are vulnerable. I've noticed that over the years I tend to use facebook more during times of stress. It then fuels my stress and makes me feel worse. I'm not even sure why I do this to myself. In the middle of the night when I can't sleep because of pain and everything is quiet I know that somewhere someone will be on facebook. Before I've even thought about it, I'm downstairs with a drink, the intention being not to wake hubby, and facebook is on. It's the only distraction during those long quiet hours.

So I scroll through a few pages. It re-enforces to me that everyone else is leading a happy, healthier life than I am. Then I definitely can't sleep with the pain as I've now added an emotional layer on top of the physical pain that stopped me sleeping in the first place. Yet, I fall victim to this trap time and time again while desperately searching for a distraction.

I like to think that I'm an intelligent person yet I still allow this trap to get me. I wonder if I have an addiction problem. Yet, I don't use social media much when life is on an up so I doubt this. So what is it about this technology and how can we avoid it's negative side? If I keep getting caught in it, how can I help Missy when she starts to use it? What a mess!

Last year, I stopped using all social media for 3 months. I didn't ban myself from it for a set amount of time. I just thought I needed a break so I stopped using it. And you know what? I felt better in myself and more confident. I stopped feeling like I needed to justify my existence all the time. I was able to say no to people without needing to offer an explanation. It was liberating and totally unexpected.

After about 3 months I went back onto facebook as it's a convenient way to keep in touch with friends who live abroad. It's the reason I joined in the first place. Then it slowly went downhill again.

There are some *friends* who do nothing but complain. I know everyone needs a shoulder at times and I'm usually the first to offer (it's an HSP trait). But after a while (nearly 10 years in one case) it becomes obvious that some of these people are not willing to help themselves and simply must enjoy being miserable.

Those who I didn't know very well were unfriended and my newsfeed became a bit more friendly. I went though all my friends list and reduced it dramatically. I have culled most of the pages that I follow (or others have followed for me!) and I have blocked aggressive pages and groups.

For a while all was good. Then facebook started targeting poor-ole-me-with-too-few-friends with loads of suggestions and clickbait adverts. Facepalm! I wanted a small group of quality connections. I'm not interested in a large number of *friends* who would never make the cut in real life. Yet this seems to be forced on us now in a bid to further attract paid (unvetted) ads. The more connections we all have, the more effectively ads can be spread around. It's all about money and greed. Very little about friendship now. What started out as a friendly place had become corrupted.

A couple of weeks ago I was going to deactivate and delete my account to prevent further temptation. I debated this for months beforehand and sadly decided against it. I use Messenger on my phone to keep in touch my friends overseas and we use video calls on wifi as the cost to phone is high. I don't know if I can still use messenger without having a facebook account and I don't want to switch to another app that is covered in adverts.

I did the next best thing I could think of. I've deleted the app from all my devices. I don't have such quick access to facebook now. If I want to use it I have to go and turn on the laptop (in another room) and load it through chrome. It's still quite easy to do but I don't have the habit of using social media on my laptop so it's easier to forget about.

It's been about 3 weeks since I've deleted the apps and I have only logged in once (as I couldn't see a link I was sent in messenger). I was very good and didn't scroll down the page. I did feel uncomfortable though with it there. Honestly, I have more will power avoiding gluten containing foods that I absolutely will not eat knowingly. I'm not weak willed, yet facebook is devious.

This week has been the Easter holidays so Missy has been off school and Hubby has been around more too. Usually, this stresses me if I don't get enough quiet time but this week it hasn't bothered me. In fact, I've wanted to socialise more than usual.
I'm going with the flow! What?

I've felt lighter and more my own person. I haven't justified my existence or given reasons for shortcomings. I've gone with the flow a lot more. I've also found a lot more time for reading and writing without these worries and doubts floating around. I feel happier. I am more accepting of myself. I have limitations that others don't have and am no longer feeling the need to punish myself for things beyond my control. I've stopped comparing myself to these rose tinted versions of everyone else's lives. Even though the logical part of me knows that they all have crap in their lives as well that they don't share, the subconscious part of me doesn't seem to recognise it. The subliminal messages are still there telling me that I'm not good enough. So I've cut them off at the source.

Maybe, I don't actually need to live as a hermit, but simply live in real life and leave the digital well alone. Additionally, I don't watch much news on tv as there's little I can do about any of it. In fact, I watch very little live tv at all so I don't see many adverts either that tell me I'm inadequate.

I know that there have been many studies done on the effect of all these things in our lives, especially on children. It is down to the government to put in place better laws to improve these things but that's unlikely to happen. We live in a world of greed where anyone is a target for advertising in order to make money.

The only control I have is in my own life and household. We talk openly about these dangers and I have discussed adverts with Missy since she was young so that she can see that they are preying on people to sell you things you mostly don't need.

It's a work in progress. Life always is. For example, this second I've received an email from BUPA trying to sell me medical insurance that they actually can't give me anyway! Oh the timing!!

I know everyone looks back on simpler times through rose tinted glasses but I firmly believe that life was simpler before the digital age. Communities were actual people down the road instead of in the digital fog. We talked to each other then. It was far more healthy.

I do love lots about the internet. The access to knowledge that I only dreamed of as a child, in particular. eBooks are my favourite invention! I realise now that we need to be very selective in what we allow into our lives. For now I'm back on a social media blackout. I don't know if it will stick this time but I'm happy to have a break from it.
Every community needs a goat!

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Homemade yoghurt for better gut health

I've been doing a lot of research over the years about gut health as I have leaky gut that lead to me developing numerous autoimmune diseases. Sadly, Missy also has gut issues and is reactive to gluten containing grains and all pulses. We have FODMAP issues.

Western medicine has really let me down in my lifetime in this regard and I really don't want Missy to suffer the way I have. This is why we eat a clean diet with minimal processed foods.

Recently, I read a fantastic book by Dr Michael Moseley called The Clever Gut Diet: How to revolutionise your body from the inside out. (Affiliate link)

This book explains what your gut flora/ microbiome is and the different strains of good (and bad) gut bacteria. I'm amazed at how these little guys can have such a massive effect on our health. This book talks a lot about the relationship of the gut to type 2 diabetes and obesity, but also touches on autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel conditions (as well as a few others).

I don't think it really matters what condition you are trying to treat in the context of this book. It focuses more on what a healthy gut microflora should be and how our diet can either enhance this or destroy it. In my case, years of undiagnosed food intolerances and allergies have pretty much destroyed mine so I'm really focused now on doing what I can to restore my gut health as much as possible.

If you have poor health, particularly any gut issues I can strongly recommend this book. It is an easy read backed up by science (the references are in the back if you want them) and doesn't focus on any fad diets. Dr Moseley explains that he uses the word diet in its true sense, that is, what you feed your body (and gut bacteria). It is about lifestyle, not dieting. Moreover, I feel that I now have some control back and can move forward with trying to improve my health without the Western medicine approach of treating the symptoms. I'm now trying to get to the cause to stop the symptoms at the source rather than cover them up with a prescription.

I've struggled with getting the right gut bacteria for decades as sadly I am unable to eat most foods that are associated with good gut bacteria; onion family, pulses and beans, fermented foods and so on. What I have stumbled upon is making my own yoghurt as I've never had any issues eating dairy products.

You knew yoghurt was in this post somewhere from the title. Well done for getting this far to find it!

Dr Moseley confirmed in his book what I've thought for many years, that commercial yoghurts with added good bacteria just aren't good enough. In trials, most commercial products, such as Actimel and Yakoult that we get in the UK, simply don't give the benefits that are promised. It might be that the bacteria are not in a high enough concentration, they might not adequately survive the acid in the stomach or by the time they reach the shelves they are not as active. Whatever the reason, I've failed to get any benefit from them over the years that I've intermittently tried them. The other problem with commercial products is that the bacteria cultures simply are not diverse enough. Often there is only one culture, at best two, in these products, whereas gut health is all about diversity.

The only option I can see is to make my own yoghurt with a more diverse culture. I can also control the time of incubation to allow enough bacteria to form so that some survive my stomach acid. Additionally, there is no time delay between making the yoghurt and being available to eat. That is, no shipping or time wasted in warehouses.

Making your own yoghurt only requires two ingredients. You need milk and a starter culture.
Kefir, a fermented milk product with live cultures

I used full fat cows milk as I was aiming for a creamy textured yoghurt. I have read plenty of recipes where other milk can be used too, such as goats milk or coconut milk. Pinterest is a great source of information for finding recipes. There is also advice and recipe details in Dr Moseley's book.

There are various starter cultures you can use. The easiest is probably by using a store bought natural live yoghurt. I checked out the cultures in these yoghurts in my store and found that the most I could find were the two stains of bacteria most commonly used. I really wanted a more diverse culture as I'm trying to get back to good health rather than maintain it.

I looked a bit further around the aisles and found Kefir, a fermented milk product, that contained several strains of bacterial cultures (including Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus rhamnosus). I decided to try this as a starter culture.

An alternative I've read about is using kefir grains to make your own fermented milk (or sugar water if you can't drink cows milk) but I haven't yet tried this. I opted for the kefir milk as it stated on the bottle that it is gluten free and seemed the easier option. You can also buy dried starter cultures from health food shops, but again, I haven't used these so can't comment any further.

A 2 pint thermos bowl, used as an incubator.

So now we have our 2 required ingredients. All we need now is a large pan to heat the milk in, a thermometer and a vessel to keep the culture warm for 8-12 hours. I used a thermos bowl, this one but in white as I already had it in the house and it has a 2 pint capacity. (That's an affiliate link)

I made 2 pints of yoghurt but you can scale up or down depending on how much you need.

Add 2 pints of milk to a pan and heat to above 85 degrees centigrade. This kills off any potential bad bacteria that might be in the milk. I find a thermometer is useful here.

Take the milk off the heat and allow it to cool to 42 degrees centigrade. This is the ideal temperature for most bacteria to grow. Note that it's just above our body temperature of 37 degrees centigrade.

When the milk is cooled, add 1 tablespoon of your chosen starter culture for every pint of milk you heated. 2 tbsp in this case.

Stir to mix thoroughly. Then pour the milk/culture into your thermos bowl. Pop on the lid and leave for 8-12 hours to turn into yoghurt. Try not to move the thermos once settled to allow the yoghurt to set.
My first batch of homemade yoghurt! 

If you don't have a thermos, don't worry. Years ago, the milk culture would have been poured into clean glass jars and wrapped in tea towels and left in a warm place. If you are worried about not having a warm place you could try popping it into an oven that was preheated to the lowest setting and then turned off. The closed oven door should insulate the jars for long enough. Again, I haven't tried this as I had a thermos but it's how it used to be made so give it a go.

After leaving my culture overnight (and then some as I forgot I made it!) it had turned into a slightly set creamy yoghurt. I did the taste test with Missy and we agreed that it is super yummy. That's our technical word for it!
Gluten free pancakes with homemade yoghurt, banana
and a drizzle of maple syrup. Yum!

The yoghurt tastes like unsweetened Greek yoghurt. It's creamy with a slight tang. It suits both sweet treats as well as for use in salad dressings. I've even seen recipes for cakes using natural yoghurt in place of milk. Hubby also uses yoghurt in our homemade gluten free flat breads and pizza doughs. That's food for thought! See what I did there!

I have to say that I'm slightly impressed with myself. It definitely got the scientist in me excited. It's been a long time since I've purposely grown bacterial cultures!

I should point out that it's a good idea to keep back some yoghurt to use as the starter culture for next time (so long as its in about 3 weeks, as this is the shelf life in the fridge). It saves having to buy starter culture every time you make it, and I'm all about finding cheaper ways to do things! ;-)

As for any health benefits. I really don't know. This is a long journey that I'm on and if I do improve I won't be able to say if it was because of the yoghurt as I'm changing lots of things. Also, a sample size of one (uncontrolled) study would not make for good science! I do however, feel more confident about using a more diverse starter culture and eating the yoghurt fresh. Either way, it tastes great!