Monthly Archives: July 2013

I’m running. And I’m not even being chased.

Exercise regimens are like the things people dream at night: I don’t want to hear about them because they are boring.

But sudden mental shifts and new habits that end up changing the whole texture and feelings of people’s lives? That’s okay. I can write and read and talk about that for at least, like, 15 minutes (unless it’s about how adding spinach or kale to your breakfast smoothie will “make you glow”, because that frankly is just crap – I’ve been adding green stuff to my smoothies a lot lately – including rocket, which I do not advise – and I have noticed exactly nothing different about myself as a result), which is an age in Internet-attention-span time.

So, here’s how moving to a new office has changed my life (in a quite unexpected way).

At my old job, every lunchtime was an event for me and my colleagues (who were also my actual friends). There was always a cute new eatery to try, or a new place to get sandwiches from – or an old but trusted place to get sandwiches from. There was shopping to do (mostly at factory shops and for baby clothing) and, on sunny days, lots of strolling around the city that just had to get done. And other than the few blocks of (very laid-back) strolling I’d do just about every day, and the odd day here and there that I walked the four flights of stairs to my desk, during the three years I worked there, I did absolutely no exercise.

Then, a month ago, I moved to an office where none of my actual friends work. Where all my colleagues smoke, and use up their lunch hour in four 15-minute smoke breaks (this is what I assume – they take long smoke breaks and then eat lunch at their desks – I’m not sure if there’s a proper system to it or not). So at lunchtime, because I can’t bear not to leave the office all day, I go to the gym four days out of five.

Yes. Me. I go to the gym. Four days a week. Me!

Three of the days, I warm up for 10 minutes on that pully-runny-eliptical machine and then run two to three kilometres on the treadmill (I’m trying to do between 8 and 10kms per week, a distance I chose because it seemed kind of achievable). On the fourth day, I do something resembling “cross-training” (which is apparently important but I don’t really care enough to look up why and how to do it properly) – I do some leg weight things and climb the stair machine and do the ergo-rowing thing that makes me feel like I look really stupid but it makes my arms stiff, so it must be doing something. I suppose.

Thirty minutes four times a week is a bit less than is recommended as a minimum time spent exercising – and it’s certainly not a lot for people who are “naturally” athletic, or proper runners. But for me, this is major, because my whole life I’ve hated exercising, especially running, and now suddenly I don’t.

I’ve hated exercising basically forever.

I don’t remember ever actually choosing to get my heart rate up (not by exercising, anyway). I had quite bad asthma as a kid and teenager, which made pretty much any amount of field sports really tiring and really unpleasant. And because I was (and am) such a co-ord, ball sports made me feel really bad about myself. We used to play rounders in primary school on a Wednesday afternoon as part of our academic timetable (which I still think of as being discriminatory to bookworms like myself who had to suffer through compulsory sport five afternoons a week as well – and yes, I know sports is hugely important for kids, but, I argue, so is self-esteem) and I was always the last person chosen to be on a team. Being forced to do something I was really bad at did not compel me to be any better at it, or to enjoy it, and the stigma against exercise stuck until I hit my early 20s and suddenly wasn’t skinny anymore.

So I tried running.

I ran the Two Oceans half marathon when I was 25 after far too little training, but made a decent time mostly because my future mother-in-law literally dragged me the whole way and fed me a lot of pills on the route that I’ve never had the nerve to ask about (Amphetamines? Schedule 1-million painkillers?). After bursting into tears at the finish line (aches all over my body making their presence known as soon as the mystery pills wore off), my stigma against exercise in general and running in particular returned with a vengeance.

Then I tried yoga.

About a year later, I started going to yoga three times a week, and I really loved it – finally, I thought, a form of exercise that’s perfect for me. It’s non-threatening, nobody really looks at anyone else, I don’t have a team to let down, there’s very little pain, no asthma, and it’s really relaxing, which exercise has never been for me. That continued for a year, until our class got a new instructor. The woman, whose face I’ll never forget, used a microphone (great way to kill the zen vibes, lady) and in her first class asked me if I had scoliosis while I was in the middle of a back bend. The whole class dropped out of posture to assess my apparently crooked-looking spine. Just for the record, I don’t have scoliosis. Nobody’s ever asked me that before or since. But yoga had been ruined for me – I was that girl again, the one who looks awkward doing things that other people do with ease, the one standing in the middle of the field all by myself while two groups of girls standing in front me snicker or look away because they feel sorry for me but are also really grateful that they’re not me. Maybe this sounds overdramatic. But if I hadn’t been so sports-averse as a kid, I’m sure I’d have been able to brush off the instructor’s comment.

A year or two later, I’ve been to other yoga classes, but I don’t feel it anymore. It’s intimidating. I imagine that I look crooked all the time, and that really obstructs my inner peace.

But now, because I have nothing better to do at lunchtime, I’m running again. This time, on a treadmill.

And I kind-of love it.

Not enough to make me enter another race ever again. And definitely not enough to make me want to do it on the weekend. But I’m finally not worrying about my weight anymore, I feel pretty darn good about myself, I’m full of energy in the afternoons, I’m satisfyingly bone-tired at night, and apparently I’m adding some years onto my life expectancy.

“It’s a good life” (as Augustus Waters said), so I’m pretty stoked about that.


Some very big decisions

I can’t believe I’m even writing this. I honestly never thought I’d see the day – well, not in the foreseeable future, anyway. There’s a very strong chance I’m going to regret this decision in no time at all – but it’s done. So I’ll just have to live with it.

Hub and I have made the very difficult decision to disconnect our DStv. The reasons make complete sense: saving over R700 a month, for one thing. Only spending a maximum of an hour per day watching TV for that price is totally not worth it, right?

But here are the cons:

  • MasterChef SA – currently being aired for the first time on DStv, and nowhere else. I had just started really loathing a few of the people, which is when the viewing gets properly exciting.
  • Running the risk of becoming one of those very smug people who tell others at every possible opportunity, “oh, no, I don’t own a TV”, which people take to mean, “I might have a TV, but it’s only got our four dubious PSB channels on it so we never watch it because actually we’re really intellectual and don’t want to rot our brains or the brain of our toddler daughter so instead of watching trashy reality TV for hours on end, we read books or do puzzles or actually just have a conversation.” When in fact, the truth is that we’re too cheap to fork out for the stuff that’s worth watching.

This renouncing of TV has come at the same time as my indefinite withdrawal from Facebook and Twitter, another tricky decision that I made for my own good but which has been quite difficult to stick to. At times I feel so free and unburdened of the habit of constantly scrolling down for ever more enthusiasm/vitriol/bitchiness/smugness/witticisms, and at others I have to get up from my desk to physically prevent myself from opening a new tab and falling off the wagon. It’s been two days. Hopefully it gets easier – and I have a feeling that my voluntary abdication from the ranks of Premium TV subscribers will be child’s play by comparison.

Vaccinations: the science and also the philosophy

I just had to share this. Two really good opinion pieces on childhood vaccinations, quackery and pseudoscience published online on the very same day (ie: today). Day: made.

I came across both of these pieces thanks to Dr Rousseau, who is out to thwart quackery and pseudoscience in her blog. Dr Rousseau trumps any of the other anti-quackery writers I follow because she’s local and she shares my view on dubious trends like the anti-vaccine movement and the Paleo diet – except that she actually knows the science-y reasons why they are poppycock, and can articulate that way better than I can. And I won’t lie, the fact that she’s a she makes her doubly interesting to me – I can probably count on one hand the number of women I encounter online who write about science.

So, here they are:

Post one

Post two

The first: the “surgeon/scientist” blogger known as Orac on the science blog Respectful Insolence goes into great detail about what a travesty it is that Jenny McCarthy, most outspoken celebrity voice behind the MMRs-lead-to-autism codswallop of 2008, has recently been named as a regular on the popular daytime chat show The View on ABC in the States. It’s a long piece, but it’s rich with links that provide plenty of context for the damage that McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement have done over the years.

An extract:

“Even though The View is fluffy infotainment, it’s fluffy infotainment with millions of viewers, many of whom are young mothers who might be wondering whether it’s safe to vaccinate or not. If Jenny McCarthy is allowed to let her antivaccine freak flag fly again in this venue, the damage could be severe, as questions of science are presented as manufactroversies in which pseudoscience is presented as science.”

I especially love the term “manufactroversies”. It is most excellent.

The second: a Daily Maverick opinion piece by Ivo Vegter, the columnist probably best known for his criticism of “environmental exaggeration” (especially related to fracking). I always read his stuff with interest – and love that he questions things that most people take as a given.

My favourite bit:

“Preventing reckless actions that cause clear harm to others does not contradict any principles of liberty, as far as I know. This, the scientific evidence that it works, and the unusual fact that it can only confer ‘herd immunity’ if as many people as possible are vaccinated, seem like perfectly sound reasons to support mandatory vaccination.

“I’m sure you’ll tell me why I’m wrong, but if you don’t vaccinate your kids, I’m going to judge you like you’re still wearing a Power Balance bracelet.”

All I can say is: yes.

And also: if you think your kid is special or different enough to not need to buy into herd immunity, then your kid is also too special and different to go to school/creche/hockey club/the mall/the movies/basically anywhere in public where they will come into contact with mine.

Does anyone reading this have any insight into how strict South African schools are in demanding Road to Health cards for children before they enrol? How can I make sure my kid doesn’t end up in the same school as a child who’s not vaccinated against, say, the frighteningly contagious pertussis, aka whooping cough? Because that un-vaccinated child could very easily contract pertussis (and because it lasts a very long time, chances are, they will not be kept in quarantine at home the entire time they’re sick), as so many children and adolescents in the United States have in the recent outbreak. And it’s not hard to imagine a circumstance in which that kid could pass it onto my kid’s (future but as yet non-existent) baby sibling who is too young to be vaccinated. And, as most deaths from whooping cough occur in infants under three months of age, that tiny baby of mine could die. And this is not an exaggerated example, by the way. This is what is happening in some of the most developed, educated states of America – so it’s not a stretch to imagine it happening in some privileged, middle-class enclaves of South Africa.

So, basically – vaccinate your kids. Thanks.

Side note: Here is a great resource on the anti-vaccination movement’s body count so far: www.jennymccarthybodycount.

Ag, I’m just jealous

[Disclaimer/Apology: This is a completely self-indulgent post – more than any of my others, even. Forgive me.]

I’m having one of those days when I’m jealous of everybody else’s life: people who have booked overseas trips, people expecting a baby, people with children who are old enough to hold a conversation, people with more than one kid, stay-at-home moms who swim with their toddlers in the gym pool at lunchtime, working-from-home parents who get to eat sit-down lunches with their kids on weekdays, people whose only dependents are their dogs, people who are so fancy-free that they don’t even have pets … basically, everybody else who is not a married, working mom of a one-year-old who found out last night that they might have to cancel a much-anticipated trip to New York City in favour of a deposit on a new (well, 2nd-hand) second car and new flooring for their house.

But here’s what I keep reminding myself:

  • Middle-class/first-world problems, you privileged, spoiled pillock (calling myself names is sometimes the only thing that works)
  • I’ve already been to New York, so no biggie (misguided attempt at nonchalance)
  • New York will always be there (*knocks on wood*)
  • It’s a great place to take kids, so it will be better to go when Lil A is big enough to enjoy it with us (I am less convinced of this point)
  • We really will need another car (I don’t like cars. I don’t like how much they cost all the damn time. It’s a grudge purchase. But the reality is that we can’t survive with only one – living in a pretty rural area means no public transport)
  • New flooring is something I’ll be able to appreciate every day, whereas a trip to New York will be over in a fit of jet lag and credit card purchases before I even know it

But this is is the only thing that’s making me feel any better:

  • At some point, I chose not to be like any of the people I’m jealous of. I chose to adopt pets and buy a house in a place that’s a bit wild and woolly (knowing that this would mean having to sacrifice other things to maintain it and keep it liveable) and have a baby and go back to work and I’ve chosen to wait another two or so years before doing it all over again, and on most days these choices sit very well with me. Except when they don’t, like today, when I think of how Lil A is learning to sing “This is the way we wash our hands” with corresponding actions, and how she hugs her cow puppet to her chest and moo’s at it, and how she clutches her little treasures (anything she finds on the floor or shelves within her reach – a button, a hair clip, the lid of a lotion bottle, and, once, a beer bottle top to which she became uncommonly attached) in her warm little hand and carries them around with her for hours. And then I think that by the time I’m ready to start freelancing, she’ll be in creche for most of the day in any case, and I think that maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake.

And in light of that thought, going or not going to New York for a week suddenly doesn’t matter anymore. But these are the things that do:

Husband (best friend, also, hot)

Husband (best friend, also, hot)

Daughter (happy, funny, favourite person)

Daughter (happy, funny, favourite person)

Husband who adores daughter, daughter who adores her dad

Husband who adores daughter, daughter who adores her dad

Having a pool in our (literal) backyard

Having a pool in our (literal) backyard

Having a beach in our (metaphorical) backyard

Having a beach in our (metaphorical) backyard

This cat (best pet I ever met)

This cat (best pet I ever met)


Dogs (barking, jumping, generally misbehaving, but gentle and slavish toward the baby)

Dogs (barking, jumping, generally misbehaving, but gentle and slavish toward the baby)

So. I buck myself up, remind myself that the grass isn’t greener on the other side: it’s greener where you water it (or, in the case of our front garden, where you pay to have new lawn “installed” with the money you’ve saved by not blowing all savings on an ill-advised and completely unnecessary trip to, oh, only the greatest city in the world).







Grown-up-friendly toddler food (and vice versa)

2013-06-28 18.01.42

It might look like she’s enjoying her basil pesto on toast, but she’s really not.

Since Lil A started eating real, whole food about three months ago instead of mashed meat-and-veg meals (which I used to buy her from Nutrikids, and which she LOVED), I’ve had to adjust the way hub and I eat. After only eating meat (by which I mean chicken, fish, ostrich or venison – I don’t really eat beef or pork at all, so we never cook it) maybe once a week, we’ve now started having fish at least once a week, and ostrich or free-range chicken once a week too.

We’ve cut right down on our vegan Asian meals and spicy vegetable curries because we can’t adjust them for Lil A. For one thing, they’re much too chilli-ful – and not being an actual Asian or Indian baby, she wasn’t exactly weaned on curry – and for another, ethically-sourced poultry and fish, and dishes containing dairy, are a much easier way for her to get all the vitamins (B12, specifically) and macronutrients (easily accessible protein) she needs. Of course it’s possible to raise a perfectly healthy vegan baby – I’m just not up for the challenge myself.

Here are Lil A’s favourite home-cooked meals so far (all cooked in bulk and frozen in portions for upcoming lunches and dinners – a surprisingly satisfying, Stepford-wife-esque endeavour):

  • Tuna, broccoli and courgette “crustless quiche” – basically a frittata made with cheddar cheese and wholewheat breadcrumbs. This was one of the first meals hub ever cooked for me at varsity (of course, instead of tuna, broccoli and courgette, it contained vienna sausages and that’s about it), and it’s still one of my favourite comforting, home-cooked 80s throwbacks.
  • Tagliatelle with small chunks of well-cooked butternut, spinach and ricotta (we use the vegetables and cheese as stuffing for cannelloni for ourselves, and mix it with chopped up long pasta for Lil A).
  • Ostrich cottage pie with mashed orange sweet potato topping – cooked with lots of fresh thyme and basil, and heavy on the tinned tomato.
  • Mushroom barley risotto made with fish stock, with flaked hake added for Lil A.
  • Macaroni and cheese (duh), with roast chicken (leftovers pulled off the bone from a roast lunch), grated courgettes and peas. For a Lil A-friendly version of mac-‘n-cheese, I don’t make a roux-based white sauce – I just melt grated cheddar in a saucepan of milk – she doesn’t need the added fat from the butter, or the flour (nor do we, probably). And I’m ashamed to say that I serve it to her with a dollop of tomato sauce.
  • Mild chicken or sweet potato curry made with coconut milk, chutney, peas and grated carrots, served with brown basmati rice.

[The boring/healthy disclaimer-y bit: We don’t add salt to any of these meals while we cook them, and the stock we use is low in sodium, so almost all the flavour in these dishes comes from the aromatics (onion, garlic, leeks) and herbs. We try to only use white cheddar, which doesn’t contain colourants, and we only ever buy free-range meat and eggs.]

The sad thing about all of this, of course, is that a boiled egg and toast, with a naartjie for pud, is probably Lil A’s favourite meal of all time, and she wouldn’t mind if we never cooked for her again. But, to be fair, as long as we don’t try to give her avocado, raw tomato, guava, or cheese by itself, she’ll eat pretty much anything.

If you’ve got a toddler or a little child, please share your foolproof family recipes in the comments. As you can see, our repertoire is a little limited, so I’d love whatever inspiration you’ve got to spare.



An interview with a scientist: how not to do it


“For over 40 years, biological anthropologist Robert Martin has studied sex,” is how this article in The Atlantic on fertility and reproduction starts. It continues, “He began by studying mating patterns in primates, completing his PhD on the mating behavior on tree shrews …”. Right. So we know immediately that we’re reading about a biological anthropologist. So when we read “Dr Martin” again and again, we’re reading the words of a guy with a PhD. Not a medical doctor. Not a paediatrician. Not an obstetrician.

The “doctor” is given free rein in this article to explain his controversial ideas about the evolution of sex and reproduction in humans. I tried to keep in mind that his staggering claims about modern medicine’s interventions in reproduction and birth should be taken from whence they come – the position of a scientist who has studied a lot of primates, but understands very little about the fear and desires and compulsions that dictate so much of our behaviour.

But it was very hard to keep this in perspective while scrolling through his startling opinions. For instance: he believes that the rhythm method leads to a higher risk of fetal deformity because sperm can live in a woman’s body for more than 10 days, double the amount of time I’ve seen quoted on any medical forum.

And don’t get me started on his thoughts on when and how we should conceive. Preferably, we should get pregnant before the age of 25 (“Now many women delay that because of careers”, he says, and even without hearing his voice, we can tell what he thinks about that), and without assisted reproduction – IVF removes the filter that the neck of the womb provides when things happen naturally, meaning that any “random” sperm ends up fertilising the egg. From an evolutionary perspective, I suppose, this is undesirable. But this kind of sweeping disregard for people’s desires and needs in the here and now in favour of “the bigger picture” of our evolution and how we fit in with other primates really riles me.

And the worst, the worst, moment in his whole Atlantic interview – which even gave me, a secular believer in natural selection, the chills – is when he says, “One effect of C-sections is removing the selective effect. If we get into a situation where 50 percent of women are having C-sections, are we going to remove the selection on overly large heads?”.

 In other words, the author of a book called How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction believes that babies with heads that are too big for them to be born naturally (and, by extension, one assumes, babies that are in the breach position, or have umbilical cords wrapped around their necks, or weigh more than 5kgs at birth) should be victims of natural selection. In other words, they should die, and injure their mothers while they’re doing it.

But maybe that’s OK. Maybe, as a biological anthropologist, it’s not within this guy’s remit to think about morality or human suffering. If this is true, then the Atlantic is squarely to blame for giving a non-medical doctor a platform to share his beliefs and dubious findings on the sensitive, controversial and undoubtedly medical issues of sex, reproduction and birth without challenge.

Things about blogging

All the rules and advice I’m flagrantly flouting on this site:

  • Pay for a premium theme, or hire someone to design your blog for you – free themes are generally kak, and you don’t want a whole lot of other people to  have blogs that look just like yours. Also, that way you will have a site that looks really cool right from the get-go – you won’t have to spend 6 days fiddling the background colour and header text colour.
  • Use only your own original photography (with your copyright) or pay for proper stock photos. Don’t even think about free stock pics or clipart.
  • Make sure that your blog has a specific theme – are you a mommy blogger? A food blogger? Just as reporters have beats, bloggers need to adhere to one specific theme.
  • Try to keep your posts short. Users won’t want to have to scroll down too many times within one post.

[I’m not contravening the conventions of blogging to be a rebel. I’m really just lazy. And employed full-time, and a mom, and a MasterChef addict.]