The value of possessions

One of the things I have pondered over recently, is the actual value of possessions. I am aware that some people live very minimalistic, almost foresaking ownership of everything. Even though this is way too extreme for me, I did notice two very important things:

  1. Products require material and energy to make – both of which are NOT endlessly supplied on Earth
  2. Products require energy to keep and use them

The Earth is in danger, and we all know it. We are using more and more resources and pollute the environment whilst transporting and using these resources. Even though we, as consumers, are only the final users of such products, we need to be aware of what these products do to the environment. And to ourselves! We currently have more toxins in our bodies than ever before, coming from plastic products we use, car emissions and the food we eat. Yes, I am painting this very black and white, but that just makes clear what this is all about 😉 I could tell you much more about this, but I know people who can do that so much better than I.

Annie Leonard is the spokesperson for the Story of Stuff. This is a community and a movement that sees what is wrong with current consumerism and tries to make people aware. And of course take action, because that is the only way to change things.

In June, one of our local TV stations aired the documentary Bag It. In this documentary, Jef Barrier tries to discover what plastic does to us and eventually (yes, spoiler, but I think it’s predictable) decides to cut down on plastic use in his house. It’s just a bit over an hour long, so no excuse to skipping it!

My second point is also something I am discovering now that I am trying to go paperless (one baby step at the time). I already threw away some paper manuals because I downloaded the pdf version. And with throwing them out… came relief. Then I realized that when you own stuff, you get attached to it, you make room for it. Physically, in your house, taking up space. But also mentally, because you have to keep track of everything you own. I read about Green Evelien, a Dutch blogger living in Belgium who has experienced exactly the same. She tries to live a happy life, as ecologically as possible. After tackling both evergy and water consumption (they already eat vegan and biological), she is now tackling the stuff she has. Throwing away stuff that you barely use is actually a liberation, because it clears up space!

This is very hard for me, though. Yes, I do try to purge my clothes twice a year (though that might be getting less now that I know how to dress myself :)). But I keep amassing books… I love books 😀 Just the feeling of paper in your hands and the worlds to explore. I do own an e-reader that I am using increasingly, but I still have quite some books and keep buying more. But: that stops now. I will use my e-reader for classics and start buying and borrowing e-books more (as soon as it’s back from repair). And no, I will not throw out all my books. My favourites can remain 🙂 That means I will only have books I am certain I will want to read again and again. The other books I currently own will go on my to-read shelf and once I’ve read them, I will decide whether I want to keep it or purge it. So I’ll probably end up donating many of my books and selling some of the prettier ones.

My basic rule about posessions: keep only those items that you regularly use and try to replace these with eco-friendly alternatives when you can. But hey, you might have a completely different take on this! I’m interested to hear 🙂

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Natural homeopathic medicine?

With the holidays, there are all sorts of things to win on Facebook and Twitter. And I love competing, especially if I have to write poems for it! Last week, I competed to win a small box of VSM stuff. Let me explain: VSM is a brand of homeopathic medicine very popular in the Netherlands. Ever since I was a little girl, sore muscles in our family were treated with Spiroflor jelly, their homeopathic solution. It smells awful, as it should, but is oddly comforting and always appears to help.

So, after waiting for a week, I got the message that, yay (!), I won the gift box. I received it yesterday afternoon, together with a load of holiday candy (which was all gone by 6 am, you can surely understand). In it was a new type of Spiroflor that becomes warm when you put it on your skin, and a Nisyleen throat-spray for when you have a sore throat. Two conditions I suffer quite frequently. So I was very happy!

I’ve always liked Spiroflor, and in my opinion, the VSM products are fine, but when I visited the website today, I discovered that it is all advertised as natural homeopathic medicine. Which is when I decided to take a look at the ingredients. Per 100 grams of jelly, Spiroflor contains 6 grams of Bellis perennis extract (also known as daisy), 2 grams of Spiraea ulmaria extract (meadowsweet) and 10 grams of Arnica montana extract… that’s 18/100 grams of actual working extracts! Some of the other ingredients are naturally necessary for a jelly, such as paraffin and water, but what on earth do these extra ingredients do?
perfume (seriously, why perfume),
methyl nicotinate (which will probably reduce pain, but does not sound very natural),
ascorbic acid and methylparaben (conservatives),
eugenol (something with scent, again),
limonene (fragrant oil from lemon rind, so scent again… but you might also know it from cleaning products),
disodium EDTA (…no clue),
and, finally, linalool (you’d never guess, smell again).

You can see that I am researching as I am writing: perhaps it is all the additives that give Spiroflor such a strange scent. But seriously, how much of this is really natural? I know I’m not allergic to any of the ingredients and that I like the effect, so I’ll continue to use it, but can they really advertise it as natural? Perhaps, considering their working ingredients are from nature.

I would like some alternative, though. A couple of years ago I watched a series with James Wong, an ethnobotanist, who also knew of the compounds in all types of plants and trees, and used that knowledge to make medicine and cosmetics. Loved the series, and it seems so incredibly simple! So perhaps, when I’ve run out of Spiroflor, I’ll try to make my own muscle balm. Daisies and meadowsweet shouldn’t be that hard to find, should they? 😉

Dieting vs healthy food choice

Many people who want to lose weight try to stick to a diet. This involves restricting your intake, sometimes quite rigorously such as with shake-based diets. Many of these people start out with good intentions, obviously, but find that once they start eating normal again, they put on the weight they have lost and sometimes even more! This jojo effect is because your body metabolism is effectively altered when you restrict your intake. Especially when you limit your calorie intake rigorously, your body gets used to that and starts to save energy. That means it wants to store the energy you take in, because apparently there are difficult times where you have hunger, but you need power for your daily activities. If you go into this saving mode, eating regularly will cause you to put on weight faster, simply because your body wants to store that energy in case there are times of hunger coming again.

In my opinion, restricting diets make no sense as you deprive your body not only of energy but also of nutrients you need to stay healthy. What works better is to simply choose to eat healthier, not less per se. It is not about restricting your intake, but about changing your intake. Yes, it will take longer, because it involves a change in lifestyle, permanently, and permanent change is difficult. You will not see results right away, but what you lose will stay off, so don’t be discouraged! Mrs Healthy Ever After has taken up this challenge when she got married, and it’s paying off, so check out what she thinks 😉

There are so many things you can change! What my husband and I really need to do is limit our intake of chocolate, changing it to healthier snacks of fruit (which I can do, but my husband is more reluctant and, admittedly, I LOVE chocolate, so it’s not that easy for me either). When you get the munchies, often you are not really hungry, you don’t need food technically speaking. It is just that you like the taste or that, as some have argued more recently, that you are addicted to sugar as you can get addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Some things advocated by most dietitians:
Eat lots of veggies! In the Netherlands, it is advised to eat 200-250 grams of veggies per day and really, it fills more per calorie you take in than meats. Because it is quite a lot to eat during one meal, you could spread it and eat some veggies at lunch too (lettuce and bell pepper on your sandwich, a salad with veggies etc.) or snack with carrots, cucumber or tomatoes.
Vary what you eat! Different foods contain different nutrients, and your body needs all. Healthy choices are low in saturated fats and salt (which you can find on the label with nutritional information). And a very simple rule for vegetables: different colour vegetables contain different nutrients, so you can easily vary with differently coloured veggies.

Apart from this, I really prefer home cooking. Making meals from scratch doesn’t have to take that much longer than preparing pre-packaged food, and it’s often healthier. And tastes better! You can make lovely dinners and lunch at home, and feel better eating it, perhaps also because you put in more effort to make it. Remember how everyone says ‘made with love’ and how you can taste that? Well, it’s true! So do try it out. You can expand that and make things for your store cupboard as well. Jams, pesto, hazelnut spread and snacks are easily made. I always watch Mind over Munch (fighting the munchies when I see that delicious food prepared), which demonstrated how you can prepare guilt-free food that tastes great.

So in my opinion it’s way better to make healthy choices related to food, based on you personally, rather that following restricting diets. But don’t toss away the books: there are often very nice recipes in them. Just that (IMO) you shouldn’t follow diets doesn’t mean they are completely useless. Perhaps combining recipes from all the different diets out there also constitutes a healthy food pattern.

Low on energy – 7 ways to recharge

We all have it sometimes. Days where you just can’t get anything done, because you’re low on energy. Today was such a day. After my full moon ritual two days ago, in which I burned a candle to rid me of the laziness concerning schoolwork specifically, I felt like transcribing my interviews. The sooner I get it done, the better, because it is extremely boring and mind numbing. But low energy makes it hard to concentrate, and I was having trouble with it despite my good intentions. Today I got up to actually do something, and I didn’t have enough energy! That needs fixing.

There can be several reasons why you have a low energy level, and concurrently, several ways to reload. Here are some tips to recharge and get your energy level up again!

  1. Get enough sleep – An adult needs approximately 7-9 hours of sleep (it varies per person), so if you have to get up early, make sure to go to bed early as well.
  2. Take your breakfast – Some people can’t stand the smell of food in the morning, but breakfast is very important to get your body started again. Try eating a cracker or perhaps some porridge, but eat something.
  3. Check what you eat – After a few days of fast food or take away, my body is craving for vitamins and healthy food. Take strawberries, yogurt or some nuts (I love a berry smoothie!) instead of the chocolate bar and cook a nice pasta with fresh tomatoes and other veggies or something else that’s fresh. Your body needs nutrients (you can check nutrient content online and there are several apps available as well).
  4. Stretch – When you stretch in the morning, you signal your body to wake up. Try stretching everything, from toes to neck, or perhaps try some morning yoga.
  5. Exercise – After a good workout, I feel much more energetic than before. Even a short 10 minute workout can be enough! If you don’t know what to do, there are literally tons of workouts on YouTube, from yoga to aerobics to strength training.
  6. Check the temperature – Especially when it’s too warm, you might have less energy just because. Adapt your clothing to the weather, if possible, or try to keep it cooler.
  7. Use bright colours- Yellow and orange make me very happy, and when I’m happy, I have more energy. When I was 8, my bedroom used to be bright yellow and green… I was very energetic then 😉 Dull or dark colours often only bring your energy down. You can do something with the colour of walls or ornaments, or you can wear some bright clothing.

These are just seven ways to reboost, but there are definitely many more. How do you recharge?

A healthy BBQ

blogalong buttonFirst of all: I have committed myself to posting every day in August. This is more than I have accomplished in the past year, but I want to start again, and the blogalong with Effy might just provide me with a new start and a way to find out what I really want to write about.

Healthy living is a big issue nowadays, with obesity rates increasing in both adults and children. With the temperature approaching 37 degrees centigrade and not a cloud in the sky, many people in the Netherlands have chosen today or the weekend for an easy outdoor barbecue. My uncle, who is a butcher, and my cousin recently went to visit family in Canada and rejoiced in a typical Canadian barbecue with half a cow on the roster. Meat, meat, and some more meat. In the past, most barbecues were hosted for carnivores such as my uncle. Meat lovers, and since men traditionally tend to the barbecue, meat was all we got.

Luckily this is changing. I like my piece of meat with every meal, but one piece is quite enough as I enjoy my veggies as well. Though not everyone realizes it yet, a barbecue is also perfect for all sorts of vegetables and even fruits, making it much healthier compared to a traditional BBQ. Read on for a few suggestions for a real, healthier summer barbecue.

  • Instead of stuffing yourself with baguette and garlic butter while you wait for the meat, try  a lighter bread with tzatziki or even better, make a salad to start off with.
  • Do you always have big chunks of meat over the fire? If you put smaller pieces on skewers it’s easier to cook and you can add vegetables between the meat. I particularly like a beef skewer with paprika in different colours.
  • Courgette, eggplant, corn, paprika, just a few of the veggies you can easily grill on the barbecue. If you want smaller veggies, wrap it up in some tin foil with a few herbs and spices and put it on the barbecue indirectly for 10-15 minutes.
  • You can use the BBQ for lovely fruity deserts. Make fruit kebabs with mango or strawberries to put on the grill, have slices of pineapple you heat a bit to bring out the sweetness even more or put half a peach on the grill and drizzle with honey once it’s on your plate. Possibilities are endless!
  • Finally: pay attention to the sauces you serve. Peanut sauce and mayonnaise pack a lot of calories (even though they taste very good). Go with red sauces such as ketchup and sweet chili sauce or try yogurt-based sauces. These can add a lot of flavour as well. Though you might need less if you marinate the meat to add taste 😉

Though I hope it will cool down a bit, the weather will stay good for a BBQ for quite some time. Enjoy!

New Year’s Resolutions

2013 has started! I wish you all a very happy new year!

Traditionally, January 1st is the time of the year for people to write resolutions. The beginning of the new year is also the beginning of new habits or the end of the first. Dieting, stopping with nailbiting, quitting smoking, putting more effort in school work… all examples of things people would like to change.I have to admit I’m one of these people: from this day on I will try to eat healthier again and to plan my schoolwork better. My goal: to be finished with school by June 27th – my wedding day! – and to weigh  less than 60 kg by then. Nothing too difficult. In addition, I want to read some more. I’ve set my Goodreads challenge for 2013 on 52 books, so one book a week on average. I still have many books on my shelves I want to read, including classic English and Dutch literature and pagan or mythology related books. Part of my challenge will be to read these books, instead of rereading favourite books.

New year’s resolutions are perfectly OK, and for many people it is easy because it already denotes new beginnings. But for most of the habits people try to lose, any moment is OK to start. Especially with dieting, many people convince themselves they can eat all they want during the holidays, because they will start dieting on January 1st. What nonsense!

If you have things in your life you would like to change, habits to get rid of or weight to lose, start RIGHT NOW. If February starts with you realizing you’ve not done anything, or you have gained weight, don’t give up. Just start again. Habits take time to change, and though the New Year is a good time to start, it is not the only time you can begin to change.

I hope you will all reach your goals for 2013. Good luck and once again: Happy New Year!

Another story of cancer

This night, my grandfather died. Of cancer. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer some month ago and decided not to undergo any treatment. He was 83 years old, the treatment would have left him without a stomach, depending on liquid food for the remainder of his life and with heavy chemotherapy. That is if he would have survived surgery. So he decided not to do anything about it.

My grandfather was a very active man, though that became less when he moved from the house where he had lived with his wife to a new room in nursing home. The emotional value of the house and everything in it was huge, and it cost him so much to work through it and decide which things to keep and which things to throw or give away. One cousin has some paintings, I have his old bed and his books were either donated to the church or given to his (remaining) children.

His collection of Bibles was donated to the church, for example, though he still had plans to start a new Bible study. And he wanted to follow another course at the University of Leiden, as he has done before with all different kind of subjects. He enjoyed it so very much in his new home, drinking coffee in the morning with all the other people, delicious warm lunches, friendly nurses and a very nice room. He still had his friends and family coming over and he was happy as can be almost a year ago when we were all there celebrating his birthday. With all the grandchildren we gave him a nice enlarged photo of the five of us. He enjoyed that so much! I think it still hangs in his room, though I can’t be sure as I didn’t visit very often.

I did visit him past Tuesday, after my aunt adviced me to go. She believed it might go very fast, which it did. When I went there with my cousin, he was lying in bed and hadn’t come out in a few days, except to go to the toilet or get washed. He didn’t enjoy lunches with his friends from the nursing home anymore, nor could he read. He was awake when we came and though he claimed not to have much pain, he was not even close to the grandfather I had known in liveliness. When only tired he would normally sit in his chair and simply sleep there, but his staying in bed gave away much.

I’m so glad I went to see him. I don’t think my younger brother did, and he is having a very hard time now, I know so much. We celebrated the birthdays of two cousins yesterday, and one of them stayed with my brother, because he couldn’t be alone. A good thing, I know now, because he would have cracked if there wasn’t anyone with him this morning when he heard the news. For my cousin it must be very difficult as well… He turned 16 today…

My grandfather is the third in the family to die of cancer, though again it was a different kind of cancer. As you will have understood, he was a devout Christian, probably convinced to go to heaven (though I can’t know for sure because we never spoke of it).  It must have been a comfort for him to know he would see his wife again, who died 21 years ago (my mother used to tell me I was her gift on mother’s day, just being born, and she died 2 months after). And he would also see my mother and her sister again, who he has had to bury 4 and 8 years ago. Though he has left us, he has done so peacefully in his sleep, at peace with the situation. 

Though neither he nor my mother will be around when my cousins finish secondary aducation or when I graduate at university or, most important to me, at my wedding day in June, I take comfort in the idea that they are probably together. And they will be there in spirit, as we will never forget them.

A story of cancer

Cancer is one of the greatest killer diseases in the western world. It seems as though everybody knows someone who has or has had cancer. Perhaps even more remarkable, it appears as though you hear it more and more. It is a terrible disease that comes in so many different shapes and sizes that it is hard to fight. It spreads. It destroys your body. And the only thing you can do is fight it with all possible means, even though these destroy your body as well.

When I was 14, my aunt died of cancer and a year later, my mother was diagnosed with a different form of cancer. At first they thought it was benign, but obviously it wasn’t. It was however packed tightly together in a big lump, so it was easily removed. Mom had chemotherapy, which helped to destroy the cancer, but it was hard on her body. I can remember her hair falling out. She stubbornly refused to wear a wig, so she wore a cap or something else to cover her bald head. Most of the times she was OK, she’d still go to the korfball field to watch me play. One of the best memories I have is of her coming to see me play on a very hot day. She was teasing the son of a good friend of hers, who was also in my team. All of a sudden she had this sparkle in her eyes. She took a cup of water and threw it over my teammate. He was dumbfounded, but that didn’t take too long. He took a cup of lemonade and started to chase her. Mom was running over the field, laughing all the time, the cloth that covered her hair waving in the wind. Of course my teammate got to her, but it took him some time.

In the same way it took time for the cancer to chase her. She had been clean for over a year when she called me and told me not to come over to the camp-site, because they were going home. Her stomach was swelling again, and she already felt they wouldn’t be able to fight it this time. So when I came home from work, we all sat together and cried. And then my mother decided to make the most of it. That helped so much! She couldn’t work anymore, but she was always asking about the things my brother and I did. Slowly she got weaker. We had to put a bed downstairs because she wasn’t strong enough to climb the stairs. She wanted to anyway, and went upstairs to her own bed once when I couldn’t stop her. She was so much worse after that, it had cost her so much energy.

The end wasn’t far away. On a Saturday evening, when I was playing my game, my dad called me to come home (my phone was with the coach). So directly after the game, my coach told me and I went home (which, apparently, was a problem to the referee we had, because I was the captain and had to deal with the formalities… my team and I couldn’t care less). My entire family was there, they were all contacted to come as quickly as possible because it was likely to be over soon. Mom was already in a coma, and everybody was sitting around her quietly. I came in and sat next to my mother and I cried. Then I made a comment about how I hate the drips that go to the tip of your nose, because it tickles so much, and we all started laughing. We had known this moment would come ever since the holidays, so we had had plenty of time to say our goodbyes. Even so, it’s never easy.

That evening she was starting to have trouble breathing, and she would probably not make it through the night. My brother and I went to sleep, Dad watched over her. We had decided that he would ring one of these automatic doorbells if she was gone. Amazingly enough, we managed to get some sleep and woke up around 9.30. We stayed in bed, we didn’t want to go downstairs. An hour later, the bell rang…

It was very hard on us. We have had so much support from the neighbourhood and our club. My classmates didn’t understand how I could go to school the next day (though I only came in at 11) and laugh. But that’s just how I was. We had had plenty of time to say goodbye, we knew this was going to happen, and we were at peace with it, because now she wasn’t in pain any more.

Both my brother and I wanted to put something in her coffin. I can’t remember what my brother put it, but I know what I put in. Like my mom, I am very fond of reading, and we both used to read a series from her childhood, of which she didn’t have the first two books. The camping I worked at when she called me did… so then we had the first two books. I had taken them for her, and so I decided she had better take them with her. It was good to see that there were so many people at her funeral.

My mother died almost 4 years ago, when I was 17, and we have gone through with our lives, as she would have wanted. She has missed so much, though, there have been so many occasions on which I have missed her. She wasn’t there on my 18th birthday. She couldn’t congratulate and hug me when I graduated later that year. She never saw my brother’s girlfriend. I was already with my boyfriend when she got sick again, and I am so glad she hasn’t missed that. It was tough when we got engaged last Christmas, because we called everybody to tell them the news and I couldn’t tell my mother. She won’t be there in the summer when we get married either, which is perhaps even more difficult.

This is my story, of my experiences with cancer. My grandfather would probably tell the story differently after losing two of his daughters to this terrible disease. My brother will have experienced it differently as well, mother’s boy as he was. For my father it has been extremely tough, but he is growing over it now. Unfortunately, there are so many more cases of cancer, even just within my korfball club. A father was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died just 2 weeks later, his kids barely had any time to say goodbye. A mother also had cancer and couldn’t fight it, leaving her husband and 2 young children behind. A cousin, so very young, struggling with leukaemia, but unable to win. He would have turned 7 this year…

The stories of cancer are numerous, but there is hope. A healthy lifestyle can lower your chances of getting cancer. Quit smoking and lower the chances of lung cancer, watch out for the radiation of the Sun and the skin cancer it can cause. And look out to the vaccines and medicines under development to treat cancer and make sure fewer people will die of this terrible disease.