Why I haven’t written a blogpost for six months.

Several times in the last few months I’ve sat down to write a blogpost.

About the age old practice of storytelling.

About growing food.

About permaculture.

About developing this beautiful place at Peka Peka.

About finally, FINALLY, launching ElementAll.

About figuring out what balance means and how to effectively – and joyfully – integrate my ‘work’ with the rest of my life.

But each time I’ve sat down to write, I’ve got no further than a few paragraphs before a little voice says ‘Why aren’t writing you about the miscarriages?’

Why aren’t I writing about the miscarriages I’ve had?… Good question. Because even though I’ve been fairly open with close friends and family about being pregnant and then losing the baby, there is still a part of me that says ‘Ssssh, you’re not supposed to talk about it’. The cultural norm being not to tell people you’re pregnant until twelve weeks. Although personally, I’ve found that impossible… Simply because I haven’t had the energy to make up a believable story when I order decaf or turn down a glass of wine or go home for a lie down mid afternoon because I just. Can’t. Stay. Awake. For me, it has simply been easier to tell people. Then after the first miscarriage, when the simple joy of discovering I’m going to have a baby came with an edge of potential loss, it seemed better to tell people so there was a support group already waiting in the wings if something happened.

Why haven’t I written about the miscarriages? Because to be perfectly honest apart from not being sure as to whether I ‘should’ say something, I don’t know what to say. They were hard? Yes, they were hard. My mind and body has been on a rollercoaster of hormones I’m only just recovering from. I could — should — have bought shares in Earthcare tissues. I’ve experienced disliking dark chocolate for the first time in my life… I knew I was pregnant before I took the test because one day I woke up and the smell of dark chocolate made me faintly nauseous. I’ve been admitted to hospital for the first time in my life and found that remarkably disempowering. I’ve had more blood tests in the last six months than the rest of my life — I’ve heard the same jokes from the technician at Aotea Pathology almost enough to recite them.

My Traditional Chinese Doctor told me that in Traditional Chinese Medicine a miscarriage is called a little birth. I’ve had three little births in six months. To be honest, everything else I’ve experienced kind of pales in comparison. Apart from maybe Adam, the father of these little-lost-babies, who has been amazing. AMAZING.

I’m not sure I can, or want to say more. To family and friends who’ve been here in support, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. To those of you who’ve sent me emails and waited weeks for answer, I’m sorry and thank you for being patient. And to my long suffering dogs, thank you for many many snuggles and understanding when some days there is no beach.

Why haven’t I written about the miscarriages? Because in spite of writing about a number of very personal things here previously somehow this felt too close. Too personal. But I’ve finally decided to write about this for two reasons. The first is because I need to if I’m going to write anything else. There is an elephant in this writing room and I can’t write about other things until I share this story. Secondly, I – and this is my own very personal opinion – feel strongly that we need to create a culture where people do feel more comfortable talking about pregnancy early and miscarriage. Life is precious and sometimes precarious. The reality of women in their late 30s and 40s having babies is loss is more likely. This is hard, I kind of think we don’t need to make it any harder by feeling as if we have to cloak the experience in secrecy.

So. I think that’s it. I’ve had three miscarriages. It’s been tough. I’m getting my energy back. I have more stories to share.

The Story of Frank, Part 1. I wish we’d talked about it.

Let me be frank.

Hello Frank.

Once upon a time there was a little blond girl called Frank. Her father was a doctor, he spent a lot of time away from home making people better. Her mother was beautiful and very funny but worried a lot about a lot of things. So much so that the little girl ended up being more of a Mum to her Mummy. But she didn’t realise that until much, much later.

Frank and her Mummy and Daddy lived a good life. Often Frank and her mum would while away the school holidays at the golf club pool where lots of other mummies whiled away the school holidays. With wine. And then gin. But there was nothing unusual about that. Then Frank’s daddy bought a beautiful little farm with another doctor and there were many happy idyllic years of horses and BBQs beside the stream. And more wine and more gin. And more worry. But no-one talked about that.

Frank grew up and went to boarding school. Her mother didn’t like it at all. So there was more wine and little white pills to take the edge of the worry which was growing into something bigger and scarier. And still no-one talked about it.

Frank grew up some more and went further afield. Her father became very sick. Her mother couldn’t cope and the wine began to make an appearance earlier in the day. The dosage of the little white pills was increased,  the ‘do not take with alcohol’ label ignored and people began to talk about it. The wine, that is, not the worry.

Frank’s beautiful but by now not nearly so funny mother spent a week in the drug & alcohol unit at Kenepuru Hospital. It stopped the drinking but traumatised her. Not the best way of dealing with chronic anxiety. Another time she was prescribed a medication to stop her drinking, one that intentionally made her as sick as a dog when she drank (in fact even sicker than any of Frank’s family’s dogs). But Frank’s dying father while dying was still  very much a doctor, he couldn’t stand seeing her so violently sick and had her taken off it.  

Frank’s father died. And her mother spiralled, disconcertingly elegantly, out of control.

Frank tried to talk about it. Although often she wanted more than anything not to talk about it. But she felt that someone had to. Except that most people didn’t want to hear. 

And they still don’t really want to.

Particularly now that my mother has alcohol induced dementia.

At this point let me say, I’ve thought long and very, very hard about whether I could, and should, publicly write about my mother’s journey and my part of her story. Not just thought, I’ve searched my soul. But there are two things which lead me to hit the ‘publish’ button. The first is that I am now at peace with where we both are, in relationship to each other and her history. That’s not to say I don’t feel profound sadness, sometimes acutely so, for her condition. However the frustration, anger, grief and confusion have passed and replacing these feelings, for the most part, is deep compassion.

The second reason I choose now, not only to write about this but do so publicly, is that it would have helped me enormously to read similar stories and understand that I was not alone. One of the consequences of people not being willing to talk about it, particularly for an only child, was that I felt hugely alone. Often the unwillingness to talk was prefaced by a few brief comments about my mother’s condition not being my responsibility. And while I understood the reasons for such comments, this in fact only amplified the feeling of isolation.

I don’t believe in regrets. But I do wish we’d talked about it. I’ve no doubt that the reason for not doing so was to protect me, but I was a smart kid. I may not have realised there was anything odd about the level of wine consumption – it was normalised – but I did on some level, unconsciously and energetically, register the anxiety and the extraordinary lack of communication in my family. And instead of ripping of the bandaid and confronting the dysfunction in the family and allowing the wound to heal, under the bandaid of middle class civility, it was left to fester and become something much more diseased.

I could go on. It is said that you should write about what you know. And heavens knows, I know something about having a relative suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. I suspect I will go on, there is a great deal more I would like to share, hoping it may be of help to people in similar situations. And I suspect there are many… This morning in fact, I came across an article stating that eight million prescriptions for pills to treat anxiety and depression were dispensed in New Zealand 2011-12 (current population 4.4 million). I would say it’s a fairly safe bet that for a significant number of people taking this medication, alcohol is part of the mix.

I began this post by attempting to summarise forty years of experience, forty years of this story, my story as part of my mother’s. Somehow, telling it in the same way I would tell a children’s story intuitively felt like the most simple way of beginning.

Of course this is not a simple story, but my message in this post is simple. I wish we’d talked. It took me a very long time to do so, with family or close friends. Because we didn’t talk about it as a family, I didn’t even realise it was a problem for ages. Talking with family might have caused something to crack, but as Rumi (and Leonard Cohen) have said, it’s the crack that lets the light in. Reaching out to friends, having friends brave enough to talk about it with me and listen, helped let light in for me and consequently allow some of my own, long suppressed light, to get out.

For those of you in similar situations, of course I don’t know how it is for you and your family. Clearly  I’m not a health practitioner, but I do have decades of life experience in health. I grew up in a medical family, within the last ten years, my father, grandfather, grandmother and two uncles have died. My father had Lewy Body dementia, my grandmother Alzheimer’s, both Uncles died far too young of cancer. I have a profound interest in health and take a holistic approach. I work in communications. With stories. I believe in the healing power of storytelling.

So, my message in this first post, part 1 of the Story of Frank, is ultimately simple. Please talk. If there’s even the tiniest window try, if not, see if you can make one. It might be, probably will be, scary, it may well be uncomfortable, you could well feel as if you’re not getting anywhere, but if I were you – and in many respects I have been – I would try. It’s never too late.

To be continued…








Postscript & Polyurethane.

In the last few weeks of 2011, I wrote a post entitled a tale of a pretty green dress in which I describe my experience of buying a dress from the  Wellington clothing store Goodness. I’d bought the dress primarily to wear to a wedding and everything went according to plan (i.e. I enjoyed wearing it) until while searching for the washing instructions, I discovered a little white label which simply said ‘Made in China’. Unable to find any further information, I promised myself – and any of you who read the original post – that I’d go back and speak with the gals at Goodness. I did. However Christmas, time away from the computer and the beginning of a busy year have intervened and it’s taken me a while to provide you with a postscript.

The owners of Goodness, Justine and Chris, were helpful and generous with information. The green dress was apparently made in a very small factory in China and both women have visited the factory several times. In Chris’ words “all of our clothes are manufactured in very short runs by a small family business, owned and run by two of the loveliest women you could hope to meet.  They are sisters”.

In response to my query as to where the fabric came from, the response was “We buy our fabrics from a couple of  local markets in Shezhen China.  The store owners are all small family businesses also.  I’m sorry I’m not able to tell you exactly (because we dont know) where the materials are manufactured or whether they are certified only that we are very careful to support the local people and their families“.

Knowing more about of the dress does undoubtedly alters my experience of wearing it. My perception of the little white label simply saying ‘Made in China’ shifts with awareness that ‘two of the loveliest women you could hope to meet’ own and run the factory in which it was made. I still have questions (yes, concerns) about where the factory was made and how, the process and the people. But it certainly makes a difference knowing that the designers choose their suppliers with care.


Still on the subject of ‘looking at the label’, last week I walked into work in my gym gear forgetting to take the appropriate bra for the dress I had to change into. The sports bra wasn’t an option and so I had to make a quick bra purchase. I wore the Berlei bra happily for the rest of the day but  – and you may have some sense of where this is going if you’ve read the original post on the pretty green dress that night I looked at the label on the inside of the garment and the first thing I read was ‘nylon polyester elastene with polyurethane padding’.


A quick google search confirmed my initial thoughts on polyurethane, ‘a synthetic resin in which the polymer units are linked by urethane groups, used chiefly in paints and varnishes’. Not something, I have to say, which would leap to mind if asked to list the materials used to make a bra.

However, it turns out that polyurethane, in a number of forms, including foam, is used in a very large number of consumer products. And a couple of hours of online research turned up the following information on the website of O Ecotextiles, a Seattle based company created by two women who wanted to ‘to change the way textiles are made by proving that it’s possible to produce luxurious, sensuous fabrics in ways that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable’. This is from their page addressing foam for upholstery cushions:

“Polyurethane foam is a by-product of the same process used to make petroleum from crude oil. It involves two main ingredients: polyols and diisocyanates:

  • A polyol is a substance created through a chemical reaction using methyloxirane(also called propylene oxide).
  • Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is the most common isocyanate employed in polyurethane manufacturing, and is considered the ‘workhorse’ of flexible foam production.
    • Both methyloxirane and TDI have been formally identified as carcinogens by the State of California
    • Both are on the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
    • Propylene oxide and TDI are also among 216 chemicals that have been proven to cause mammary tumors. However, none of these chemicals have ever been regulated for their potential to induce breast cancer.


Let me be very clear, I’m not a scientist, let alone a chemist. I have, as I’ve said, simply spent a few hours researching online but frankly I’ve read enough to lead me to say that I’d prefer not to wear a product made from polyurethane next to sensitive tissue.

Where to from here?

Three things. Firstly, I’ll keep abreast of the issue. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But I will. A class action was launched a couple of years ago in the U.S. against Victoria’s Secrets with respect to their use of polyurethane padding in bras and I’ll be interested to see where that goes. Secondly, because of my two recent experiences of being surprised by the label I will endeavour to consider my consumer decisions a little more carefully and even when moving at speed, pause and check the ‘ingredients’. Finally, I’d really like to hear about any enlightening consumer experiences you’ve had!

A lost cat & A beside note.

The witching hour. 6pm. The high risk period when Mum would need a drink. When she couldn’t get alcohol, she would work her way through a block of cheese. Something, anything, to alleviate the high anxiety. These days she can’t get wine, so she obsesses about her cats. One in particular. Piddle.

Poor Piddle, an extremely elegant little Occicat, who went through a phase of piddling as a kitten and the name stuck. However Piddle is now wonderfully self-sufficient. She usually disappears for a day or so on the full moon, spends time roaming across the nearby golf course. She always comes back. But these days, every day, at 6pm, Mum goes outside and calls and calls and calls. Then she comes back inside and tells her caregiver that she is worried because ‘Piddle is hungry, lost and alone‘.

But Piddle is not the one who is hungry, lost and alone.

There’s no ‘medical proof’ of this of course, but my theory (and while I don’t have a psychology degree or a medical one, I have a lifetime of experience) is that as Mum becomes more childlike, she is becoming more open with her feelings. And while she can’t, has never been able to, will not ever say ‘I am hungry, lost, alone’, I know that this has how she feels. And this has how she has felt for a very long time.

The hunger, of course, is not a hunger for food, but a hunger for a very different type of nourishment. A sense of fulfillment. While she is not physically lost, she lost her way many years ago. And while she has constant company, my lovely mother feels that she is alone.

The anxiety, an almost constant presence of worry, preceded the alcohol dependence and the dementia. I have no doubt it started before I arrived on the scene. According to New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation, New Zealand has a high prevalence of anxiety, mood and substance abuse disorders, exceeded only by the US for anxiety by the US, Ukraine and France for mood and only by the Ukraine and US for substance abuse disorders.

Recently, I read a fascinating article by a Rick Hanson PhD, a neuropsychologist on Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A 21st-Century View of Meditation. Addressing the field of contemplative neuroscience, Dr Hanson concludes by taking the reader through a simple 5 step meditation. Becoming attuned to the breath, conscious relaxation, a feeling of safety, wellbeing and connection. What fascinates me, is that for each stage, he provides an explanation of what happens to the brain. The element of safety, struck a particular chord.

“The third suggestion focuses on feeling safe. This is a very important one, although it’s often hard for people because we have what I call “paper-tiger paranoia.” Essentially, we evolved to overestimate threats and to underestimate opportunities and resources for dealing with threats. Although that may have been a great way to pass on gene copies in Africa two million years ago, it’s a lousy way to experience quality of life in the twenty-first century. Most of us can feel safer than we normally do. I prompt people to feel as safe as they reasonably can because there is no perfect safety in life. None of us is safe from old age, disease, or death, for example, but most of us can afford to feel less guarded, less braced, and more confident in our capacities to meet life.

It sounds so very simple, but at the end of the day – and at the beginning, middle and every moment in between – isn’t that what we all want?Nourishment, mind, body and soul. A sense of purpose. To be attuned to our self, to feel relaxed, safe, well, connected.

I cannot undo a lifetime of feeling hungry, lost and alone for my mother. It took me a long time to realise that’s not my responsibility.

But she is my mother and I love her and I it makes my heart ache to think that she feels hungry, lost, alone. So next time I visit, I think I might just put a little note beside her bed which says ‘Your life has purpose. You are loved. You are safe. You are home‘…If I could, I’d sprinkle a little fairy dust and put one beside your bed too.

A lesson from Countess Zofia, lying in state.

My car, a grand old navy blue Volvo, is currently lying ‘in state’. The head gasket has gone and my compassionate mechanic (otherwise known as Jason at Brendon Motors) told me that it would cost the best part of $2500 to get her going again. The answer was no. However I’m irrationally fond of the old girl and in spite of the fact that she ‘died’ a month ago, she is still in the garage. Calling the wreckers to have her taken away, somehow feels like calling the knackers yard to have an old horse carted off.

In the days since she ground to a halt, I’ve learned quite a lesson from Countess Zofia ZF 1860 (named by my lovely friend Stephanie who is of Polish descent). She has taught me about the benefits of not having a car.

While Zofia has sat quietly in the garage, I haven’t looked for a replacement. Partly due to lack of time – well, of course I’ve had the time, it’s simply that I’d rather spend a spare two hours connecting with friends – but mostly because I’ve been enjoying walking. And not having to pay for petrol. Or accrue parking fines.

Not having a car has also required me to schedule less into my day. Because I divide my time between a number of enterprises, I’ve tended to schedule as many things into my day as possible, racing from one appointment to the next.

Being car-less has meant more space. Fewer meetings sitting down. More movement.

Not having a car has coincided with a whole-hearted realisation, born out of a recently embedded daily yoga practice and learning about stress and our physiological response, that as humans we are designed to move.

The combination of not having a car and consequently walking for an hour a day, becoming more attuned to how my body responds to movement and food and yoga has meant that I’m leaner and fitter. I have more energy. I’ve dropped a dress size without trying.

I do realise that it’s easy to say this when the weather is unseasonably beautiful. Perhaps it won’t be so easy to extoll the virtues of being car-less when a whopping southerly strikes. Although I have, it has to be said, made myself get out and walk in the rain. I quite like walking in the rain. Perhaps I’ll get a corgi. And call her Zofia.

Enough of that.

I’m still not quite ready to stand on the pavement and wave at Zofia as she is spirited away.

Perhaps I’ll wait until I know I’ve formed a new habit of walking whenever and wherever I can. According to a paper published in 2009 in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes on average 66 days for a new habit to form. Zofia died just over a month ago, on the day of the Royal Wedding (speaking of corgis and walking in the rain). Which means another 35 days of being without a car.

I’ll let you know how it goes. The walking and the waving goodbye.




A little turmeric each day keeps the doctor away

Let me preface this by saying I not a medical professional. Or a health practitioner of any sort. Or, for that matter, an old wife. However, I do follow the health and living pages on the New York Times, the Guardian and The Huffington Post websites, amongst others. And due to a family history of Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons, I keep a particular eye out for articles relating to brain health.

Recently, I came across one entitled Neurogenesis: How to Change Your Brain by neurologist David Permutter, M.D. Obviously, you can read the full article yourself, but let me summarise it.

Up until fairly recently (the late 90s) it was believed that once we’re past early childhood, our brains don’t regenerate. But apparently they do. Not surprisingly, this process of neurogenesis is controlled by our DNA and a specific gene codes the production of a protein (BNDF), which plays a key role in creating new neurons.

Recent studies have revealed that patients with Alzheimer’s (and a number of other neurological conditions) have decreased levels of BNDF. Fortunately, as Permutter goes on to say “many of the factors that influence our DNA to produce BDNF factors are under our direct control.” That’s excellent news, but it begs the obvious question: how?

Back to you Dr Perlmutter. He continues, “The gene that turns on BDNF is activated by a variety of factors including physical exercise, caloric restriction, curcumin and the omega-3 fat, DHA.”

I can’t say I’m hugely surprised by physical exercise, calorie restriction (note to self, must eat only 2/3 of that block of Green & Black chocolate) and omega-3. But what’s the deal with curcumin? Well,  it turns out that curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. Apparently Alzheimer’s is not nearly as common in Indian villages.

So what’s all of this got to do with the photograph of a bowl of pumpkin soup below? Basically this is post is an introduction to a series of recipes which will follow. 101 (or possibly closer to 11) recipes with turmeric. They’ll be easy, I promise. I love cooking, but this is not about making curry from scratch.

Recipe with Turmeric No. 1

Particularly useful when you have a lurgy and don’t really feel up to cooking.


1 packet of ready made organic pumpkin soup, 1/2 an onion, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, a pinch of chilli powder and half a lemon.


Finely (or roughly – whatever works for you) chop half an onion. Sauté gently in a saucepan, along with the half teaspoon of turmeric and a pinch of chilli powder. Cook the onion as long as your like, until soft if that’s the way you like it, or a little longer if you like it crispy. Add the soup. Bring to the boil. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

If you care about presentation, feel free to swirl some yoghurt or cream through the soup and sprinkle some finely chopped flat leaf parsley or coriander. Otherwise, you’re done.

I hope you enjoy it and that maybe it helps create a neuron or two…