Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The wicky wacky wonderful world of receipts

I like my newsagent. He is one of the few people who only gives you a receipt if you ask for it. Same with my local bookseller, who knows me well enough to know that a) I never return books and b) in the odd event that I will ever have to, he trusts me and knows what he has sold me.

Otherwise we live in a world of receiptitis. Buy anything, and you'll get a receipt, another bit of paper to clog your wallet and, when you sort through the thing because it no longer closes due to receipts, you get a handful of useless paper to add to the recycling.

There are things for which I like to get receipts: items I can offset against my business such as petrol and postage and parking. Gifts, particularly clothing, in case they need to be returned for wrong fit or faulty construction.Valuable stuff where I may need the receipt for insurance (oh, THAT's rare!).

However, if I nip into the fruit shop to buy two grapefruit and a bunch of broccoli, I don't need a receipt. I have chosen my fruit carefully, checked it is fresh, and don't intend to return it.

The checkout girl at the fruit shop was bemused the first time I said, "I don't need a receipt."

Her hand poised over the button, her face contorted and confused. She was very young; obviously for her it was an after-school job. "But we have to give receipts," she stated finally with a relieved expression, pushing the button that churned out a receipt.

And that's the way of it. You have to receive receipts in this computerised age. I've been to other newsagents where I am solemnly presented with a receipt if I buy only a newspaper. How I miss the days of grabbing a paper, dropping the money on the counter with a 'Thanks!' and bolting to catch a train or whatever, queue jumping as every other person with the correct change for a paper did. Going further back, until the 1980s our local paper shop had an honesty box for weekend newspaper sales when the shop wasn't open - you took your paper and dropped the correct change through a slot in the door. I don't believe it was abused very often.

Today I cleaned out my wallet and chucked out eight receipts from the fruit shop as well as a few sundry other receipts for stuff I can't claim or don't intend returning. Then there was the petrol and postage stuff... Gosh - it closes without a problem now!

I have found one good use for useless receipts, though. My girl cat loves playing with them when I roll them into a ball and throw them on the floor. She bats them about for ages. Finally someone, including the dog, will tread on them and render them useless for play. But just think. I have a cat toy my cat loves. And I didn't have to buy it. Or get a receipt for it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's a strange time when the child starts looking after the parent - a role reversal I'm increasingly taking on.

My Mum turns 87 next week. She lives on her own, is fiercely independent, mentally lightning-fast, but physically running out of steam. It's the last thing that scares the hell out of me.

Mum has always been active and the last three or so years she's slowed down a lot. She doesn't get out much, doesn't have the energy. I do the shopping for her these days, although she's about to renew her driver's licence as she wants to be able to drive to the shops herself when she has the energy.

She's had a strange virus this year which has affected her middle ear and given her some giddy spells, but that's just about over.

Or we thought it was.

Last weekend G and I went to Adelaide, and Mum minded our two cats and one dog. She adores having them to stay, it's good company for her and they love her to bits. She doesn't want a full time cat herself any more but enjoys looking after ours from time to time.

Cutting a long story short, Mum bent down to pick up Charley, our boy cat, who weighs the best part of nine kilos. She lifted him up, then overbalanced. Went down on her knees and elbow face first onto her patio. She's bloody lucky she didn't break anything.  (Charley, horrified, scarpered into the house and didn't reappear until I arrived later.)

I was in a plane coming back to Sydney. It probably took Mum the best part of that plane journey's time to pull herself back into the house and finally drag herself into a chair. She's fallen before but usually takes a deep breath and hauls herself up on whatever furniture is to hand. She told me it took her an hour and half this time, and oh shite, that scares me.

I feel so guilty every time G suggests we go away somewhere these days. Not just saddling Mum with the animals, as she does love them and they behave for her and give her no trouble. It's the worry that if she falls I'm not in the same city. I can't just drop everything and rush to her place, which is half an hour from mine.

I got to hers yesterday to find her sitting in a kitchen chair with a bruise under one eye, not knowing she'd taken a tumble, and got the whole story out of her. I wanted to stay the night but she said she'd be fine and sent me home to check my house was OK. We live in a far less salubrious part of town and Mum worries that our place will get burgled when we go away. With misgivings I went, and found the house was fine, just bloody cold. Mum and I chatted on the phone when I got home and she sounded much more like herself; her voice had lost that quavery timbre it had earlier in the day when I was at her house.

Anyway she phoned me this morning at breakfast time, as I'd asked her to, and said she found when she undressed the night before that she'd scraped a few inches of skin off her elbow when she fell. It bled like mad when she undressed as her blouse must have been clinging to it when it stopped bleeding initially. She hadn't felt it at the time and didn't feel it later, it wasn't even stiff. It's not even painful today, it just apparently looks awful.

I'm taking her to the doctor tomorrow anyway for a regular checkup; I did suggest I'd drop around this morning and we'd try and get a slot at the doc's but she says it's not that bad and she's not too stiff.

I feel a bad daughter for not staying over, or not simply turning up this morning and dragging her to the doc's. She's stubborn, as I am. She's also honest. If she felt bad enough, she'd ask me to take her or she'd ring up the doc and ask for a house call, both of which she's done in the past.

Now I'm worried because G has booked us a holiday in the UK for almost all of July. He has to go for work and he wants me to join him and we'll wander around for three weeks. It's a present for my 50th. I feel guilty as hell leaving Mum, even though when I'm away - or at home come to that - I phone her every day to check she's OK.

I suggested to her this morning that she talk to the doc about having a carer look in every day while I'm away, or one of the neighbours. It's not something I'd like if I were in Mum's shoes, a stranger checking up on me, and God only knows she didn't like the idea either! But I need to have some sort of plan in place so I'll know she has someone nearby to help her if she gets sick or has another fall. Fat lot of good I'll be 24 hours away.

While I'm excited at the opportunity to get back to the UK again I'm also dreading leaving Mum for so long. I hope I can persuade her to let the doc organise someone for her, just to check she's OK while we're gone. I don't normally have holidays any more; part of it is my workload and the fact my clients don't leave me be, part of it is lack of funds, and most of it is worrying whether Mum will be OK.

Any time she doesn't answer the phone when I call I worry she's lying on the floor with something broken, or dead in her bed. Thankfully she's usually just in the loo. But I still worry. I always will.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Miso happy it's soup season

Me so happy - geddit? I've rediscovered an old friend: Miso soup.

I first tasted miso soup in Kings Cross in about 1990 when a then boyfriend and I used to go to a hole in the wall Japanese cafe late at night and each tuck into a bowl of miso soup and a bowl of Oyakodon. Oyakodon is a love story in itself and not readily available in many Japanese restaurants; they tend to serve Katsudon, which is fried chicken in the same soup base, but Oyakodon rules for me.

But I digress.

Our local Woolies has recently shifted things around, got rid of some of my favourite products (Orange Power upholstery cleaner, Nairns Oatcakes are two that spring to mind) and added a wider range in other departments. To my happiness, I found instant miso soup there last week. Oh glory.

I hadn't had miso soup for a couple of years, and that first cup was a real delight. I've been having miso soup for lunch every day since.

In fact I've been enjoying my miso so much that I ramped up the quest for real miso paste rather than soup sachets and found it (with no preservatives or MSG, hurrah!) and soup seaweed at the Chinese supermarket in Top Ryde City shopping centre earlier this week, so now I make it with tons of seaweed, and throw in some tofu or tempeh, and also baby spinach leaves for a really filling lunch that literally takes only five minutes to make. (You can also use miso paste in general marinades and salad dressings.)

I did a bit of research on the health benefits of miso soup, and found some interesting results on my trolling around the interweb:

  • Miso soup and miso paste is very high in sodium - most packaged soups are. Luckily I don't have a blood pressure problem.
  • Miso paste is made from fermented soy, as is tempeh (but not tofu). It's actually very healthy for you (unlike, apparently, unfermented soy products). If you think you're doing your body a favour by hoeing into tofu, soy milk and other soy products or products containing processed soy, you're not. You need to hunt out fermented soy such as soy sauce, miso, tempeh and natto. I've used up the last of my tofu today and will be stocking up on Tempeh instead.
  • Miso soup is good for weight loss (but I'm still waiting to see the results of that, my weight hasn't shifted at all this week).
  • Miso paste can also help reduce hot flushes and other signs of menopause - apparently 2 to 3 servings a day are what it takes. See this excerpt below from It's one of several sites that say very similar things
"Recently in the news, a fermented soy bean paste called miso was linked to a substantial decrease in the risk of breast cancer among Japanese women. This epidemiological study was conducted by researchers at Japan’s National Cancer Center . The researchers monitored the eating habits of 21,852 women ages 40-59 for a period of 10 years starting in 1990, by carefully assessing their diets and lifestyle habits. The research found that women who had three or more bowls of miso soup daily reduced their risk of breast cancer by 40% compared to those who only ate one bowl. Those who had two bowls of miso soup reduced their risk by 26%. The conclusion was that the more miso soup and isoflavones taken daily, the less risk of breast cancer. However, researchers were only able to identify this trend with miso soup consumption and not other soy foods or supplements. Soy foods contain isoflavones, but could not be linked, by themselves, with breast cancer risk reduction.

Miso soup consumption has been the subject of many studies, and has been associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, and radiation poisoning. While no single dietary factor can be responsible for one’s health, it’s hard to refute that miso soup has been a large contributing factor to Japanese health. The main difference between miso soup and other soy foods consumed by the Japanese is the fermentation process. This fermentation transforms the isoflavones in soy into their active aglycone form which can be used by the body for a host of health concerns, including menopause. In addition, this fermentation process also turns soy into a powerful antioxidant.

Several studies have shown that women who consume large amounts of soy-based phytoestrogens have fewer menopausal complaints. Asian diets typically contain 40 to 80 milligrams of soy isoflavones per day, compared to 3 milligrams per day for American diets. A scientific study of 104 postmenopausal women examined the consumption of 60 grams of isolated soy protein with 60 grams of the common milk protein (casein) per day for 12 weeks. Women receiving the soy experienced a 45% reduction in hot flashes, which was significantly different from the milk protein group. This difference was noted by the fourth week of treatment. Nagata performed a study evaluating soy and hot flashes among Japanese women. They found soy to have a protective effect against hot flashes. 101 women who developed moderate to severe hot flashes over 6 years were studied and found to have less hot flashes with higher soy intake."

I'm inclined to take this with a little grain or two of salt as Japanese people could and probably do have different genetic balances to westerners; they may be less prone to certain cancers or menopausal symptoms per se.

Whatever the case, I love miso soup. I'm happy to discover that it's also apparently good for me. I'll also be interested to see if the hot flushes take a back seat as time goes on.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why I kicked the hairdresser habit

I have a love/hate relationship with hairdressers.

This is partly because of my hair. I don't have good hair. It's thin and fine and since I've headed down the rocky road towards menopause it's become thinner and finer, like baby's hair. I suspect that should I make old bones I'll be one of those poor old ducks with too much pink scalp showing through my hair.

For me going to the hairdresser's isn't a pampering experience. I heartily dislike the obvious being stated: "Ooh, you've got very fine hair, haven't you?" while a stranger washes same for me. I'm not keen on other people washing my hair. I feel embarrassed and ugly, even moreso with male hairdressers so I only go to women.

I also don't need to be told by hairdressers in loud voices so that everyone can hear that I have two lumps on my head. I know them very well. They are sebaceous cysts. They are harmless and the only discomfort they cause is mental in a salon situation.

Then there's the cut. This is an uncomfortable process for me as I am requested to take my glasses off and, being blind as a bat, can't quite see what's being done to me.  I guess young hairdressers are trained to layer hair whenever possible, and with hair as fine as mine too much layering can be disastrous. I hate putting my glasses back on and finding my hair so heavily layered that you can see through the ends of it when the light is behind me. If I'd have wanted to look like a scrawny freak I would have told the hairdresser so.

The last time I visited a hairdresser was about four or five months ago. I took a photo with me of a short inverted bob, the style my hair was already cut in anyway, but took the photo along as insurance so she'd know what I meant. I was visiting a different hairdresser as my old one had got too expensive. I always take photos with me and typically wear one of two styles: a Meg Ryan-type bedhead with not too much layering, or a 1920s angled bob. Trial and error has shown I can wear either of these styles and my hair can look reasonably full.

So... the back was fine, the sides were looking good and she had followed my 'no layering the sides!' instructions, then for some daft reason instead of leaving the bits at the front sharp and pointed, so the bob came down in a straight line from the back to just under my chin, looking rather 1920s, she rounded the bits at the front - instantly turning me from interesting and creative into middle-aged and conservative. I may be middle-aged but I don't feel it and I'm certainly not conservative.

Rather than complain, as the only solution would be to cut it shorter and there's at point at which a bob on me is too short, I simply thanked her, coughed up $50 and spent the next six weeks with my hair tucked behind my ears so I didn't have to see the rounded bits at the front.

Today's cut and colour job.
Probably not quite as good as a pro job but at least it's the style I want
Since then I've been cutting my own hair; I got it back into the sharp bob shape at the front pretty quickly. Doing the back can be a trial as I have to work by feel more than by sight, and it's not a case of simply chopping it off level with the hairline, I have to cut the back so the bob comes out as a bit of a wedge shape under the occipital bone with the back layered short under that. I've cut it twice since my last visit to a hairdresser including today, and nobody has given me a look that says my hair looks home cut. Phew!

The other reason I have quit hairdressers for the time being is cost. For a couple of years there I'd gone blonde, with foils. It looked good and hid the grey regrowth reasonably well but the cost was horrendous, even at a local salon rather than a big brand name chain like Toni & Guy. Think $150 a go with cut and blow dry as well. Eek!

These days I colour my own hair at home. I haven't attempted to do streaks, even though you can buy two-tone hair kits for home. Unless you have someone to help you - and I don't and I'm too embarrassed to ask anyone else to help 'cos I'm shy and self-conscious - they can look disastrous.

So I've dyed my hair dark red, and with the use of a dye brush and plastic bowl get as good a coverage as a hairdresser would for under $20. Given my recent tax bills and current lousy salary it's an obvious cost-saving measure. :-)

We're planning an overseas holiday in July, so I'll probably have to visit a hairdresser before we go and get a professional cut just in case I stuff up the DIY job :-), but I'll be paying close attention and taking photos with me that show the style from every angle.

Anyway, here are some tips for hairdressers who may stumble upon this blog post:

  • Don't comment loudly on anything you think the client may be embarrassed about: fine hair, grey hair, lumps, scars. Whisper in the client's ear if you have to let them know about something they undoubtedly already know about
  • Don't talk about the client as if she isn't there. (Ah, the time I was having foils done by two young women fresh out of their apprenticeship. One to the other: "She wants this style in the photo but the woman in the photo has three times more hair than her." I have ears, thanks. Talk to me not over me.)
  • If you insist on layering your client's hair, take the texture into account and don't layer the hell out of fine hair. Layering might give it more body but scrawny ends look revolting. There's a point of no return. Don't go near it.
  • Listen when they client says what style they want. Take a good look at the photos they may supply. If you think it won't suit them, say so, and work out a compromise together before you start cutting. 
  • Inverted and A-line bobs don't have rounded fronts. Seriously.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Like a log - in a sawmill

One of the best things about my husband's new job is that it involves travel. He's usually interstate for a couple of days or nights most weeks. Now, it's not that I don't love him, but it means I get a good night's sleep when he's away.

Because he snores.

I'm writing this in the shattered state of having had four hours' sleep last night. I don't function well on four hours' sleep. In an ideal world I'll enjoy seven or eight.

When I was young and silly I desperately craved a relationship, sharing a bed with someone, waking up with them, cuddling up to them. Those who are desperate usually end up with something less than perfect or nothing at all, as I found out. I went out with several men who cared far less for me than I did for them, and they exploited that. Read that bit about young and silly again; I didn't get out of those relationships as early as I should. In fact I clung, and clinginess is even more awful than desperation. I just didn't want to feel a failure, a girl who couldn't get and hold a man.

What all this lead to is that before I met G, my husband, I had been single for several years, and content to be so. I'd had it with men. I'd had it with sex - in fact the sour relationships told me one important thing about me: my libido is so low that I can identify for most of the time as asexual. Interestingly the older I get the more I find women attractive and the less I find men. I suspect I'm a bisexual asexual (yes there is such a thing).

I didn't really want a relationship. Relationships meant sex, and having somebody invading my body on a regular basis was something I could happily live without;  with men, any display of simple affection - a desire to be held, a caress - is seen by them as an invitation to sex and I was sick of that. When G started sniffing around, ringing every night, emailing, and making it clear he wanted to see me as more than a friend, I was frank with him about my sexuality, or lack of it. He reckoned he could cope with that, and bless him, he has. We get around it. He's a lovely person and makes me laugh, and it's a revelation to be in a relationship where I'm so loved and adored.

Now I have learned another thing about myself: I really don't enjoy sharing my sleeping space longterm with another human. I quite like having the cats on the bed - I have always had cats and they have always slept on my bed. They don't heat up the sleeping environment as much as another human body does.

Being someone who is coming up to a milestone birthday this year, I am a woman of 'a certain age', that age which encompasses hot flushes and broken sleep. The fewer interruptions to my slumbers the better, I need every zzzzz I can get. Because I don't wish to fill my body with chemicals sleeping pills aren't an option for me although I've tried several herbal and natural remedies.

But gee, it tries my patience sometimes.

G goes to sleep more quickly than I. Sometimes he'll do the 'pre snore': this involves breathing in through the nose and blowing out through the mouth, something akin to a whale expelling air. It's seriously annoying if we're facing each other so that means I roll over and get as close to the edge of the bed as I can to get away. I hate copping stale breath driven into my face.

If that gets to snoring level before I can doze off I prod him and get him to roll over, so at least the noise is pointing in the opposite direction.

At that point I usually look desperately at the clock and think, oh shite, only six and a half hours until the alarm goes off. I then rip up some Kleenex and shove them in my ears and try to imagine myself floating on a pontoon on a lagoon, with warm sun caressing me and tiny waves gently rocking me. A few drops of Rescue Remedy Sleep and I can usually manage to drift off.

But lo! come two in the morning I'm often awoken by a snore in full force. More prodding. I bounce up and down on the bed, which sometimes works and brings G to a semi-awake state.

In the early hours of the morning I can become quite annoyed by the noise and it's not uncommon for me to be stuck there, wide awake and cross, going through other issues that are troubling me to a soundtrack of pre-snore and slowly increasing snoring. (Cue more prodding and bouncing.) Rescue Remedy or not, I can sometimes take two hours to get back to sleep depending on the soundtrack. Like this morning. I think I dropped off around four am.

In summer I solve the problem by heading to the second bedroom where we have a sofa bed. I don't bother setting the bed up, just curl up on the sofa because I'm short enough to do that. But now it's getting chilly and buggered if I know where we put the second duvet, so the sofa bed isn't an option.

When the alarm woke me at 6.30 today I felt bitter and disoriented. G, on the other hand, was cheerful.

"I slept like a log," he declared.

"Yeah," I croaked sourly. "Like a log in a sawmill."

He apologised and suggested I prodded him next time he snored. I said he'd had six prods between two and four am. We got to talking about snoring remedies one can buy at the chemist. He's always been unwilling to try them but is realising that it's time he did something.

"I'm just thinking about some old-fashioned snoring remedies you can buy in the shops," I said, more awake.


"Cast iron frying pan, mallet and meat cleaver."

At least he laughed. He didn't realise I had a vision in my head of an exhausted Victorian or Edwardian woman walloping her husband one with the frypan in the wee hours.

G isn't off on a trip until next week - I'll clearly have to hunt out that second duvet. Or lock up the frypan.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Write said Fred. Or whatever my muse is called

Yesterday I took the morning off and wrote a short story.

I felt a bit guilty, but then told myself: you want to be a writer, don't you? If writing is work, don't feel bad about doing it in work time. That's what work time is for.

I have trouble writing in the evenings; morning is my most creative time. Some of my most creative fiction has been written at the workplace on the boss' time (but then I'm such a fast worker nobody ever noticed).

What a relief to actually write a story again. I've been bereft of plots for ages. It's as if my imagination has dwindled, and my sense of fun has hibernated.

Perhaps it's because I've taken two whole weekends off in a row, and given myself mental space. I've done different things: I've gone to the local show, I've been out and about on a Sunday drive around Kurrajong and Ebenezer and the countryside around Sydney's north west. I haven't spent at least half the weekend chained to the desk. Next weekend I'm going to the races at Hawkesbury. I'm starting to feel a bit more like a normal human being.

Anyway my muse - who I believe is female and may be called Fred as she's a bit quirky at times - paid me a visit and I went into a writing fugue. I came up for air sometime around 1pm feeling a bit peckish and very satisfied with an entire draft of my story written.

Re-reading it today and making some relatively minor edits, it's as good as I thought it was yesterday when I'd completed it.

Happy happy happy.