Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Sleep, Love and Gratitude

Since we had Turtle, about 20 months ago, there has been an ongoing battle with our cat. Normally she wins the battle. It is over sleep.

When I was pregnant I joked about Rogue, our cat, and Turtle having the same sleep patterns. While Turtle was wriggling and flipping in my belly in the middle of the night Rogue would also be up. At this time Rogue always slept at the bottom of our bed.

Then Turtle came home. Her bassinet was next to our bed. Rogue came in as usual, settled on our bed and saw the baby in the bassinet. She went into hunting mode, which was quite disconcerting for me as a new mum. She stared. She stretched her neck as long as I have ever seen it. She hunched into pounce mode. She jumped down and stood up on her back legs to sniff Turtle through the bars of the bassinet. She jumped back onto our bed and settled facing the bassinet, on the edge of the bed. I struggled to relax since I was paranoid she would jump on Turtle. Then Rogue settled things for me.

Turtle at 5 days old in her bassinet

After that one night Rogue would not sleep in our room anymore. She meowed to go out when we brought her in at night. She wouldn't settle in our room. She took at least half an hour to settle on the couch. She would then be up and meowing to go out within a couple of hours. All of this on top of a newborn. It didn't take long for us to crack. We started letting her out in the middle of the night.

We would be up feeding Turtle in the wee hours and would hear the low rumble of a cat fight outside. The cat fights meant we had to stop letting her out again. In our sleep deprived state I remember glasses of water smashing onto the floor and much angst and swearing being directed at the cat.

After Turtle moved to her own room Rogue still refused to sleep with us. Things have remained stressful with her often waking at least once through the night before starting her regular "let me out" drill every half an hour or so from as early as 4am.

This has continued, at varying levels of sleeplessness, until about 2 months ago when a friend asked us to look after their Cocker Spaniel. Out of sheer terror Rogue was forced back into our room where she has (thankfully!!) been sleeping on our bed. Although this has significantly shortened how long it takes to settle her at time nighttime we have still been woken early in the morning, and sometimes during the night, to resettle her.

What does this have to do with love and gratitude??

Mr Fix It was recently away on a trip and I was at home with all of our fur babies and Turtle. Rogue happened to be in a cat fight the same morning that he left at about 4am. After a trip to the vet I was determined to confine Rogue and finally shake this night waking!

The first night I was settling her in our room I realised that I haven't really had the time, or energy, to completely focus on Rogue since Turtle came along. I realised that it only takes 10 minutes out of my day to play with her and pat her as I settle her at the end of the day. She loves the attention and has become more playful each night since I have started to do this.

Playful cat

The same can be said for many of the other important things in our lives. Spending time each day to focus completely and entirely on the important things in your life is such a small investment for the wonderful results.

I was lucky to be able to go along and see the Dalai Llama speak when he was in Perth recently. I also saw him last time he was in Perth in 2011. It was one of the most uplifting and inspiring experiences of my life. This time was not quite as inspiring for me because the sound wasn't great at Perth Arena and we struggled to hear most of what he said for around 30 minutes, until they fixed the problem. I still managed to take home some valuable thoughts that I have been pondering since.

One of the questions that the Dalai Llama answered was from a middle aged woman who wanted to know "why do I feel an emptyness inside of me when I have beautiful children and a wonderful husband?"

In his charming way The Dalai Llama joked about her having a void in her chest but went on to say that he was sure she also has many beautiful possessions and a nice house but yet she is not happy. He spoke a lot about how surrounding ourselves with material things does not create a happy person.

One thing he said that resonated with me was (I am paraphrasing), "sometimes family commitments can be viewed as a burden but they are not. It is a privilege to give and love your family like you care for yourself".

I know that is something that I struggle with at times when doing daily chores or trying to put Turtle down for a nap. The pets are often another job that needs to be done. It is horrible to admit it but it is true.

The Dalai Llama recommends meditating each day about love. Just sit and think about the loved ones in your life and the things that you are grateful for. Studies have shown that this helps to make people happier with their lives. I have been trying to remember to do this each day. I'm not sure if it has made me happier as such but I think it might have helped to shift my attitude a little.

When I'm doing a job that I might have viewed as a burden I think to myself, "just get this done". I don't seem to have that negative narration about how tired I am or about how I generally don't feel like doing it. Sometimes I am actually finding that I am enjoying myself because I am focusing on a sense of achievement by doing the task and leaving it behind me.

Hopefully poor Rogue will be lulled into a loved up state of mind and sleep herself into a stupor from all of the positive energy in the house! She slept so well for the first couple of nights after the cat fight. Since then she is usually sleeping through but then playing a waking game from 4:30am or so. I have been trying to keep her in until 7am...  Game on cat!

How are you travelling with your sleep, love and gratitude? Do you think there is room for improvement in your take on life?

Once again joining team IBOT with Essentially Jess

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Organic Fertiliser, Seaweed or Fish for the Garden?

I decided to write this post after visiting my local hardware and garden shop to buy some products to feed our vegetable garden and citrus trees. I think that our veggie garden needs more regular feeding since we often have yellowing or slow growing crops despite putting a lot of effort into building up an organic rich soil. I figured the only way to work out if it would help is to give it a go and see if it improves. Please note that I bought these products a couple of months ago but it has taken me some time to get around to researching and writing about it.

Clearly the need to feed plants is post worthy in itself. I am cautious about over feeding plants since I am aware that excess runs off (although our soil structure is good in the vegetable beds so it should retain quite a bit) and drains quickly through the sandy soils in Perth, straight into the waterways. The motivation for this post, however, came more from the terrible information that I was given when buying the products.

Our conversation went a little like this.

LL: "I think I need to feed my plants more regularly. I definitely want seaweed extract and I want to try a fish emulsion. Is this a fish emulsion? (holding product I was looking at out to show him). Can you recommend a fertiliser that would work well with them?"

The salesman pointed to an organic fertiliser product: "This is good to use and yes, that is a fish emulsion."

LL: "What are each of these products doing?"

The salesman sized me up holding my baby in my arms: "The seaweed and fish emulsion are like having a... (he paused to find the right word)... cup of tea. You could use them everyday and it would be fine. The directions say to use fortnightly but you can use them as often as you like. The fertiliser is stronger and you wouldn't want to use that more than fortnightly or it will be too much for the plants."

LL: "Really? But what is the difference?"

Salesman (clearly assuming I have no brain cells left since I was a mother): "You can use the fish emulsion and seaweed as much as you like and it will help the plants but don't use the fertiliser too often".

End of conversation. Hmm... I'm not sure that really gave me any new information. Like drinking tea for the plants? Are you kidding me? Why did I get the impression that if I was a guy he would have said it was like having a beer at the end of the day? (Note: I quite enjoy a beer at the end of a busy day but I am also a huge fan of tea too.)

Anyway, I decided I wanted to find out what these products actually do and thought that I might not be alone. After I started looking into it I realised I know so little about this topic. Here is a bit of basic information about liquid fertilisers to get into the right headspace:

What are the benefits of using organic liquid fertilisers?

Liquid fertilisers have dissolved nutrients in a solution (liquid!) that can be applied to a plant through spraying on their leaves or applying to the soil. Since the nutrients are already dissolved the plant can absorb them immediately. Here is a link to a great article I found on Organic Gardener that discusses liquid fertilisers in a lot more detail. Organic liquid fertilisers also improve the soil life and cycling of nutrients for plants.

The flip side of this is that if you use too much liquid fertiliser the plant will not absorb the nutrients and they are likely to flow out of the soil into the surrounding environment. The trick is to know when your plant needs to be fed. Unfortunately this varies depending on your soil type, soil structure, plant type, the time of year and other factors. Here is a helpful article I found on Sustainable Gardening Australia that talks about when to feed your plants. I'm sorry to say that there are no simple answers on this. All we can do is to try and learn what the plant is likely to need and then experiment to see what works in our own gardens.

As I said above, all of our productive plants were showing signs that they need some extra food, mainly due to yellowing leaves. They were also getting infested with aphids and other pests all of the time and I was aware that regular seaweed treatments could help them to become more resilient. Hence the trip to the shop to buy these products and see if I could improve our crops from their use.

Seaweed treatments

The research I have done on using seaweed extract in the garden suggests that it is beneficial for plants.  Seaweed concentrate has very low or no nitrogen and phosphorous in it so it is not a fertiliser. Benefits are believed to come from growth regulating hormones as well as other compounds that stimulate healthy soil and a positive immune response in plants. This helps them to stay healthy and withstand problems, such as extreme temperatures or pests.

Since seaweed isn't supplying nitrogen or phosphorous but it is helping the plant to remain healthy it is commonly referred to as a "plant tonic". I think Mr Salesman might have been comparing the plant tonic concept to having a cup of tea. I guess I can begrudgingly score him a point for that comment. I will just as quickly remove his point, however, for stating that the product can be applied as often as I want to without harm. Although the plant might not show negative effects from liberal and frequent application (with no regard for instructions) I frown upon it for these reasons:

1) It is waste of resources and money
2) It is unnecessary (see point 1)
3) What is not used will surely run off into waterways where it is not going to necessarily be beneficial

Fish Emulsion and Fish Fertiliser Treatments

Fish emulsion or fertiliser seems to be a highly variable product. Fish emulsion has natural ratios of nitrogen(N): phosphorous(P): potassium(K) of approximately 4:1:1. These ratios reflect a natural breakdown of fish materials which can be used as an organic fertiliser in the garden. There are other products marketed as fish emulsions or fertilisers but they have higher ratios of nutrients (e.g. 10: 2: 6), which suggests they have been chemically altered and hence are manmade or inorganic. As discussed in the Sustainable Gardening Australia article the nutrients provided through both processes are the same but the quantities and benefits to the soil vary between products. Manmade products are likely to have chemicals that could inhibit microbes in the soil and thus make it less healthy.

Fish emulsion has been described as both a fertiliser and a plant tonic. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are all essential nutrients that plants need in large amounts to remain healthy and grow. Since fish emulsion contains these ingredients it is (as stated above) an organic fertiliser. The "plant tonic" relates to the organic nature of the product improving soil health and stimulating microbe activity. It is providing a service similar to the seaweed extract but with different minerals and compounds since it has originated from fish.

For fish emulsion Mr Salesman has a further three points subtracted. One because he called fish emulsion a plant tonic, which is only half right. It is also a fertiliser. Secondly he also loses a point because he advised to use it as often as I like (see the three points above as to why I frown upon this advice). Most importantly, however, he didn't let me know that the type of fish emulsion I was planning to buy (I specifically asked him if it was fish emulsion since the information wasn't clear from the labelling) had inorganic nutrients added, with a fertiliser ratio of 10: 2: 6. I have only found that out through doing my research. Had I bought the "organic" version of the product it would have had ratios similar to those listed above. Salesman is currently on minus 3.

As a side note, I came across an experiment comparing the benefits of seaweed and fish treatments on lettuces, conducted by Tino from Gardening Australia. Tino found fish emulsion to be the best choice for lettuces since it is high in nitrogen, which promotes leaf growth. Lettuces that received seaweed treatments were very healthy and pest free, however, so Tino concluded that he would like to try a combination of both fish emulsion and seaweed. To read about Tino's experiment follow this link.

Organic Fertilisers

The organic fertiliser that Mr Salesman recommended has a nutrient ratio of 3: 0.1: 3 for N: P: K. It is  made from a fish fertiliser and soil conditioner. Now that I have done my research I realise that this product is basically the same as what I should have expected from the fish emulsion that I bought. I think the elevated potassium is from the soil conditioner in the solution.  Here is a bit of information about organic sources of potassium in case you are interested.

It is good to know that this is a good product but annoying to find out that I didn't need the "fish fertiliser" that I bought as well. I guess I can once again begrudgingly appoint one point to Mr Salesman for recommending this product, putting him on a generous minus 2.


The main points that I am taking from this are:

1) Seaweed extract is really good for encouraging healthy soil and plants
2) Look at the nutrient ratio in any fertiliser that you are buying and remember if it is above approximately 4: 1: 1 then it is likely to have inorganic products in it
3) Don't expect to get good information from the salesman at my local hardware and garden shop

I am going to throw out the fish fertiliser since it has elevated levels of nutrients that are likely to be promoting lush growth that is more easily attacked by pests. It might also be damaging my soil health due to the artificial chemicals in it.

I am going to continue using a combination of the seaweed extract and organic fertiliser at below recommended dosage (about 20 ml instead of 30 ml) as close to fortnightly as I can manage.

Mr Salesman clearly did a hopeless job of addressing my concerns, most likely because he has no idea about all of the points that I have made above. I will do my best to research these things before going and buying products in future.

Have I helped you to decide whether you want to use organic fertiliser, seaweed or fish for the garden? Please share your experiences and thoughts

I have managed to just finish this in time to join IBOT with EssentiallyJess

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Toy Library Bliss

Yesterday afternoon was one of those blissful afternoons when I felt relaxed and unburdened by chores. I spent the whole afternoon playing with Turtle apart from hanging out a couple of loads of washing. That was a good excuse to move our play outdoors for awhile anyway so it didn't feel like work. We have recently been on a trip to Bali and I'm pretty sure the glow of the holiday is still with me. It's possible that the acupuncture treatments I recently started are also responsible for my relaxed state of mind.

As I basked in the joy of sitting still and really concentrating on Turtle I appreciated one of the main reasons that she was having such a good time playing. As mentioned in striving for a minimalist birthday, we are members of a toy library. We had been to exchange library toys in the morning and had returned with the obligatory car for outdoors (that I had decided we wouldn't get but then succumbed when Turtle brought it out as soon as we arrived), a puzzle, a stove, some puppets to play with while singing nursery rhymes and a Vtech school bus with rotating letters that plays music and calls out words starting with the letter touched. Not bad for a half hour outing!

Cooking up a storm

From experience I have started to leave the toys in the car after our visit (except the bus this time since Turtle was playing with it on the way home). Then it is nap time (all going well!). Then it is play time. It is so much fun watching Turtle use her library toys. Last fortnight we had a tea set and she played with it for at least half an hour as soon as it was out. Played with it BY HERSELF! This has never happened before. I didn't know she even knew what to do with a tea set. I have no idea where she learnt it but she was setting up cups on saucers and pouring out tea from the pot with absolutely no input from Mr Fix It or I. After a few days the game became more about feeding everyone with the teaspoons from cups or saucers. The poor dogs were being harassed in their beds and chased around the house as she tried to generously "feed" them.

Surrounded by toy library toys: shopping trolley, farmyard, singing mirror toy

Of course it is always difficult to predict what toys will be a hit. Sometimes you pick something up that you think looks great and when you get it out at home and play with it for a minute you realise it's actually quite boring. Other times you pick something out without really looking too hard and it is a winner. The tea set was a surprise for me. Another great toy has been a car that has a handle at just the right height for Mr Fix It and I to push it around (saving our backs!). We have even driven Turtle to the park in it.

The favourite (for both toddler and adults!) push car

That is the beauty of the toy library. You can't predict what toy is going to be engaging or fun. If you buy it then you are stuck with it. Babies change so much over such a short period of time. What is challenging and fun for a 12 month old could be obsolete for an 18 month old. Fleeting attention spans make toy choices challenging too.

We borrow library toys for a 2 week period. Usually that is long enough for Turtle to have figured out how to do a puzzle or how to operate the toy herself depending on the level of difficulty. It is long enough for her to have something around and begin to ignore it. Basically it is long enough for her to become bored with a toy. 

I think toy libraries are a great way to keep children stimulated, learning and involved with play. We get so much out of ours. I am so glad we decided to join one.

Are you, or have you ever been, a member of a toy library? Do you find your children get a lot out of it?

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Trying acupuncture for neck and shoulder pain

Image source

I've taken the plunge and tried acupuncture. This is quite significant since the thought of having needles stuck into me used to freak me out a lot. When I was heavily pregnant quite a few people suggested I try acupuncture to help bring on a quick and successful natural birth. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Try something that freaked me out when I was already in such a vulnerable state.

On my journey to find relief for chronic headaches, neck and shoulder pain, however, I decided to have dry needling done as part of a physiotherapy treatment. It was quite effective. After jumping that mental barrier by trying dry needling I became interested in acupuncture. It is meant to help with a range of problems, including migraines (which I have suffered from since I was a child), neck pain and stress. Since acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine I was concerned about having dry needling done by the physio without an understanding of the philosophies behind it. The needling relieved the muscle pain but within a few weeks the same problems had returned, which is what happened when I saw a chiropractor too.

I must add that I saw a different physio after the one who did the needling. She has helped me to better understand the posture and muscle weaknesses that I have which are causing the pain in my upper back and neck and associated headaches. This has been done without any needling, just exercises and posture awareness, along with me attending yoga regularly. I have noticed improvements from working with her but I wanted to try and explore the problem further (with a hope that I could resolve it) and thought acupuncture could be the way to do that.

A friend recommended a place to try that isn't far from me and so I went along for my first visit. I was quite optimistic about the treatment and found the therapist to be approachable, easy going and very switched on. She was happy to explain the way she practices acupuncture through using the five elements, yin and yang and herbal medicines.

After providing general information about my menstrual cycle, digestive system, migraines, and neck and shoulder pain I was surprised to find out that my symptoms all pointed towards an overactive liver that is associated with problems in my gall bladder and kidney (since they are all connected). This is all caused by an undernourished or depleted yin energy.

It was gratifying that she could provide a diagnoses of my "issues" so quickly. Frankly I was surprised to hear her diagnoses. Headaches and neck pain don't make me think of my liver. I trusted her, however, and I felt comfortable with her assessment. I was also quite excited to have some out of the box thinking about the chronic neck pain and headaches that I've been struggling to manage for about 4 years now.

The next step was to have the treatment. I admit that I was a little scared when I had to lie down on the table (which was, by the way, the most comfortable massage/treatment table that I have every laid on!). I felt underprepared somehow. It was a little chilly too so that didn't help either.

Having acupuncture is quite different from dry needling because I had needles all over my body, from my shoulders to my ankles, not just in the neck area. That doesn't mean I had hundreds of them - I think I probably had about 20 needles. The first treatment was a localised treatment to help relieve my neck and shoulder pain and headaches. I had to lie face down (a yang treatment) for 25 minutes with the needles in, which was much longer than the dry needling. The needling by the physio, comparatively, only took a few minutes. The acupuncturist left a bell right next to my right hand so that I could knock it over and get her attention if I felt freaked out at any time. She checked on me after 10 minutes to make sure I was ok too.

After I had focused on breathing deeply and relaxing I found the experience to be quite calming. I could feel some of my muscles responding to the treatment quickly. Apart from some localised stinging in a few places (which disappeared after a little while) I couldn't feel the needles. In fact it was a bit of a novelty to know that if I stood up and moved around I would have needles in me since they are so tiny it was easy to forget that they were there.

I felt a bit dehydrated after the treatment (like I do after a massage) and a lot more present in my thoughts. Rather than getting swept away with worrying about all of the things I had to do I was more focused on what I was doing and accepted that I might not get through my long list of jobs. I'm pretty sure that is a result of the treatment and I am very pleased with that.

My neck and shoulders felt relaxed too and the next day I felt my neck lengthen out and stretch in a way that it hasn't for a really long time. This happened while I was lying in bed so I didn't do anything to encourage it.

So far I am feeling quite positive about my acupuncture experience. Fingers crossed that the therapist can come through on her commitment to solve my neck pain and headaches, rather than manage it.

Have you tried acupuncture before? Did you find it effective?

It's a bit late but joining EssentiallyJess for the first time on IBOT