Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sex in your garden - hybrids and hand pollinating

I love scallop squash, so I planted lots in my garden. These seedlings were also the strongest contenders of this year's attempt at a crop.

Timing is everything

Unlike strawberries, you don't get fruit from every squash blossom. Squash blossoms have sex. I mean, there are male flowers and female flowers, and unless a bee loves all your flowers very very much, the tiny yellow squash at the base of the female flowers will stay tiny, and then turn into rotten brown squashies.

And we have some bees, but not enough anymore. I've had this happen so often that I've taken over the fertility process. Because I love scallop squash. A tiny weed leaf can transfer pollen where it will do the most good, or you can take off the whole flower and get really intimate with the bits.

You also need male and female flowers open at the same time. Gardeners worldwide complain about the ten female squashes on their plant waiting for just one man, watch them shrivel up, and then despair when the male flowers show up for the party, alas, too late. This can happen even when you have multiple plants. I came back from my holiday to a few giant gourds plus many ladies-in-waiting.

All in the Family

Tips for this problem range from visiting garden shops to beg for pollen donors from their plants to freezing  the male flowers (tried this, totally didn't work for me).

But I also have a pumpkin plant with a lot of love to share. And they're related. So, in desperation for my poor lonely lady flowers, I tried my hand at low-tech hybridisation. And a few of them worked. It was pretty cool how the little yellow squashes suddenly grew patches of green.

This was the best one.
They didn't all work. Some turned green, then just withered and died anyway. I picked this one this morning - it had clearly been pollinated but wasn't growing right. Better a couple of bites than no veg at all.

And, just for a giggle, here's the resident garden alien.

"Take me to your steamer!"
Seriously folks...

If anyone knows how to alter the soil to produce a balanced population of squash blossoms, write in right away.

Also, the pumpkin plant, although highly virile, is plagued by those tiny brown bouncy moths and their innumerable babies. So I have no pumpkins growing. How do I discourage these otherwise harmless moths?

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fat Vegans 101 - from the inside out

Fat vegans - we know who we are. Dr Mcdougall has a whole chapter in his latest book, The Starch Solution, called simply, Fat Vegans. Ouch - not popular. I didn't like it either. I could debate his points, but that wouldn't win my anything in my constant struggle with being one.

So apologies in advance if this post offends. This is my truth about being a fat vegan with an eating disorder, and maybe some of it is yours, and sometimes, the truth hurts.  

It's never easy being fat

So what's the big deal? Anyone who's fat has their share of problems. But it can be hard to be fat and vegan because: 

Vegans are supposed to be thin

Everyone knows that vegans are skinny and weak! And the truth is that vegans and vegetarians are thinner than average. Vegans and nonvegans will make generalisations about veganism and weight loss. What is wrong with me, the vegan who is not skinny?

Vegan advocacy

I feel like a poor role model for the vegan lifestyle. It can be uncomfortable to spread the word when I am spreading over my seat, even knowing that I have lost weight successfully and kept most of it off. I dream of a professional role in food advocacy, but I know my advice could be ridiculed and dismissed at my current weight.

Vegan food porn

Vegans are on a mission to show everybody how amazing vegan food is (and it is). We want to dispel the annoying but persistent myth that food is boring if you're vegan.

Vegans constantly share pictures and recipes of their latest amazing creation...far more often than omnivores. And it's usually the gorgeous chocolate cake, "cheesy" lasagna, and tofu burgers.

Vegan gatherings

Vegan solidarity naturally gravitates toward food. We all have to battle in the nonvegan world to find suitable food, so when we get together, we celebrate our shared delicious all-vegan food (see above).

Yes, veganism is about much more than food...but we don't throw vegan shoe parties.

Food addiction

Vegans love food, and so do I. But for my health and happiness, I need to think less about food. I especially need to think less about chocolate cake, "cheesy" lasagna, and tofu burgers.

An alcoholic or cigarette addict can just not have alcohol or a smoke ever again. I can't just not eat. Well, I could and some do: people in treatment for severe eating disorders often report themselves as vegetarian (1/3 to 1/2) But that's not the answer.

So what can I do?

Get plant-strong

Vegans are not all about your health - in fact a vocal and popular expert camp argues that human health is a lesser issue, or even a barrier to the vegan cause.

I don't go a week without hearing some variation: how selfish and shallow it is compared to animal rights, or how it's not really vegan, to care about your own health. (Not surprisingly, I also have an opinion.) 

So look to plant-strong nutrition and health gurus rather than vegans. Their recommendations are 99 to 100% vegan anyway, so vegans hardly have to flex our well-developed modification muscles.

Plant-strong experts:

Dr McDougall, Dr Esselstyn and Rip, Dr Greger, Dr Campbell, Dr Barnard, Dr Klaper, Dr Popper, Jeff Novick...

They have published so much free information that you can become an expert too.

Get expert help

There are vegan advocates who have never struggled against gaining weight. They may not get it - some will be casual or even cruel about the power of the vegan diet to cause easy weight loss. But there are experts out there who have fought our battles.
Get a life

Food is a basic fulfilment. But when I start using it to fulfill all my needs because my inner child thinks that food is the only way to feel good, something needs to change.

Find a happy healthy habit away from food: exercise, declutter and donate, volunteer, play with the kids... When that habit is no longer exciting, find another exciting fulfilment. Repeat and enjoy.

Get a support group

Find (or start) a group who will help keep you on track. This can be in person or online. Stay connected, so you don't become isolated in a world full of trigger foods.

Limit food-related vegan activities

This is a tough one, because I love getting together with vegan friends. But I'm fighting for my life here. Or maybe I'm fighting because my daughter recently found a box full of my pretty dresses under the bed, and I had to tell her why I couldn't wear them.

In the same way an alcoholic shouldn't visit bars, I need to stay out of rich food environments. My friends will understand.

And the rest...

Standard dieting tips can also help. Mindfulness, brushing my teeth to signal I'm done eating, drinking plenty of water, drinking green tea, writing a food journal, etc.

Be aware that all these methods have a honeymoon period. Be ready with another plan for when you start cheating.

There is no one solution to this complicated problem. This story is not done. I welcome your contributions.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Decluttering toys for a brand new year

After Christmas is the perfect time to make the New Year's Resolution of decluttering the toys. In our house, we have birthdays early in the New Year - even more motivation to make room for the new favourites.

Since I do regular toy audits, I don't have large dump piles. But my my youngest is now school-age, so there are quite a few toys that will not be missed much.

What's gone

Mr Potato Head and a puzzle or two went to a friend (always my first choice). My favourite charity shop also benefited from my constant search and seizure of tiny unloved treasures. It never stops. I try to remember my own advice on toy decluttering and the Top 10 Toys List.

A small building set went on Trademe - it's a quality set but we got lots more Lego and Brainbox for Christmas, and those are what we'll build on.

A shallow storage tray, reclaimed from wooden puzzles, became the Lego tray - much more accessible and stored under the couch.

Other bulky items on their way to another home...

The biggest win for the big picture was selling the kids' art tables.

My sister had these made and they are great. But kids grow.

It wasn't a large cash payout, but it was like the right move in those sliding number puzzles.

The student desks came downstairs into the office space with us...

The dollhouse moved into the toyroom.
Now the lounge looks one grade clearer and two grades more grownup.
Who am I kidding? I've just cleared space for bigger Lego projects!

What are your New Year decluttering goals?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Life Hack - don't read the comments

You can find anything on the internet these days. You don't have enough time to read all the expertly researched articles in your favourite hot and controversial topic. You probably go short of sleep and family time in the attempt.

But once you've finished that great article, my tip to you is to move on to the next great article on your search list. Quickly. Before you glance at the first comment. (Sorry, fellow bloggers.)

Resist the temptation to find out what other people think, to see if it matches what you think.

Articles are usually written by someone with some qualification on the topic, but if nothing else, a reputation to protect. Commenters only need a knee to jerk and a keyboard.

Typical Comments (edited for grammar and spelling)
  1. Loved this article - so true! I wish everyone knew this.
  2. Really interesting topic - I talk more about this on MY blog at
  3. That's crazy! I would never want to do this, and the government better not make me. 
  4. Me neither, this is just wrong. Where will it end?
  5. To commenters: you should do some research. Did you actually read the whole article? Also read this and this..
  6. Screw your research; it's all biased from weirdos like you. How dare you imply I can't read?
  7. Whoa, I don't mean to start a fight. That isn't what I said.
  8. Weirdo. If you don't like it here, why don't you live somewhere else?
  9. Hey, I bought some great shoes really cheap - check it out at!
Really cool stuff, if you like reality shows. But all you get is rising blood pressure, or worse, your own time-wasting argument. (You can probably guess that I know this firsthand.)

The Good Comments

They're not all bad. You might be lucky, and a super expert has cast some pearls before swine.

But such an expert will have published those pearls somewhere else, in their own carefully-written article. You'll get much better value using your search engine than searching through comments.

Any other comment addicts out there? What do you think about writing comments?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gun nut goes nuts...

So here's the video everyone loves to hate today... Piers Morgan interviews gun advocate and radio host Alex Jones.

OK, so the guy lacks personal skills. (I mean the gun nut, not specifically Piers Morgan.) And I do not agree with his life choices. However...

There is a genuine risk in a society where public citizens have powerful weapons. There is also a genuine risk to the public good when you have a corrupt government plus the military armed far more heavily than the public.

The Second Amendment

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution is meant to allow individuals to protect themselves from random baddies AND to give them power when the bosses try to push them around. When the Constitution was written, this was a very sensitive point.

Obviously, the US has turned its evil genius to making far more destructive weapons than existed when the 2nd amendment was created. It's an established culture of violence, and glorified violence.

Yes, it is crazy to allow the public to have auto and semiauto weapons. It's also crazy to let the military have them, unless you value violence and destruction over peace. Piers asks, "Why do people need them?" Follow that thought. Consider the US gun death statistics inside the US.  Now consider deaths by US guns outside the US.

For defense? Yeah, right.

(And Piers is behind the times when he exposes Alex's opinion on 9/11. It's not just nutcases questioning the official story in the 9/11 demolitions.)

Shooting the 99%

Our local hero Alex is afraid of giving up his power - he has good reason.

How would we feel if the automatics were banned from US citizens, then we watched the Occupy movement gain real strength? Imagine 10,000 marching on the capital demanding that the illegal mortgage foreclosures be reversed, only to be mown down by the military for the government in the name of stability? Would we wish there were some well-armed freedom fighters?

I do not know the answer. I hate guns. But I know we need to go deeper and higher than ridiculing the angry scared gun nuts.

The Shifting Definition of the Second Amendment
Second Amendment Debate