The power of saying ‘I don’t know’

There is much we don’t know about.  While we may know about our own lives and that of close family and friends, our area of work or what is happening near where we live, there is much going on that we don’t know about.  It is good to be curious, good to listen to others and good to learn about new things.  Recently I have become a convert to saying, ‘I don’t know’ after years of saying, ‘I know’.

The reason comes from a childhood incident when a teacher told me I was stupid because I confessed that I did not know the words to a Christmas carol by heart.  I was being truthful but was upset when this woman declared that I was stupid in front of all my classmates.  So I started saying ‘I know’ to everything and saying ‘Yes’ to everything.  Both are stupid reactions but how is a child to know?  I carried this shame and reaction in my heart for many decades although I had long left that school and teacher.  It is only now that I realise that saying ‘I know’ is actually stupid.  There is very little we know and most of what we know is of little importance. It is better to be humble and look at the world with new eyes of learning and gratitude.  It is also such a release. When you say, ‘I know’, you are also waiting to be found out that you actually don’t know. So less stressful!

It is also so powerful to say this because you open your heart to new experiences, to be able to listen and to gain knowledge.  Even if you find out later that you knew something, it still adds to your skill and knowledge to hear it from someone else.  Most people are keen to talk and tell you something.  So the ‘I don’t know, please tell me’ has actually increased my knowledge and I have made more friends by being able to listen.  It doesn’t sound unprofessional at all- in fact it makes you look more professional by wanting to listen and understand colleagues.  Social media wants you to look like an all-knowing clever (and barbed) quip-a-dozen personality.  But opting out of that restriction is always an improvement to one’s life!  Be simple, be ignorant- or to follow the quote beloved of Steve Jobs, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’.

anxiety in children

I have children who always seem to be anxious about something or the other.  My older son used to have many anxieties and had counselling.  My younger son is now doing his school exams and constantly studying or revising. His only method of relaxing is texting and seeing his friends from time to time. In his anxiety about the exams, he started revising during his school lunch breaks and forgoing eating and meeting his friends in the break or after school. I tried to get him to relax through conversations over dinner and asking him about things other than exams.  But he seemed very averse to the whole thing and told me that I didn’t understand ‘modern exams’.  I also enrolled him into a service that offers telephone counselling on anxiety issues but he refused to speak to them. I told him he should join some local sports which would help him with anxiety issues.

512px-Edvard_Munch_-_Anxiety_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Anxiety by Edvard Munch

Talking about this situation with a friend over lunch, it struck me that I was asking my son to do things I didn’t do myself. I was constantly talking about work or working all the time without breaks, I didn’t meet up with friends regularly enough and never did any sports myself.  I spent many sleepless nights due to anxiety over various things (last night I slept for about three hours!).  My two children were only reflecting the anxiety I felt myself and were modelling themselves over me.  But what a terrible role model I was. Social media has made our lives difficult when we see people being successful and earning money, having millions of followers and having public profiles. Although I don’t think anyone tries to become like these lucky people (and they are lucky); we also want to achieve smaller victories in our lives.  But what if we just tried to be happy and not ambitious?

I have just started re-reading the ‘One straw revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka.  Fukuoka was a scientist turned farmer who started a farming revolution by doing nothing.  He was laughed at and ignored for over 25 years until people noticed that he was growing far more crops that way using no insecticide, no fertilisers, tillage and no ‘wasteful effort’.  This morning as it turned 5-00am and the skies became light, I started reading the book after having failed to sleep. In the book, Fukuoka says bluntly, ‘There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is futile, meaningless effort.’  I realised that we overdo everything- work, thoughts, worries, money, relationships- when we could just relax and be happy.  In trying to overdo everything, we get anxious.  Realising this at dawn today after a night of no sleep was rather ironic but enlightening.  Fukuoka’s terse words reminded me of the movie ‘The fault in our stars’ in which the lead character, Hazel Grace, says that in reality as we die, everything we do dies with us.  Though again quite a sobering thought, it really means that we are not that important in the scheme of the universe. If we just let go of our own importance, relaxed and became happy without trying to accomplish and over achieve, we would be happier beings.

IMG_1651.jpg

So this morning, I tried some ‘no or little work’ gardening following the advice of Fukuoka and my son joined in.  He then went to a see a friend for lunch and as he left, I joked, ‘I hope you don’t talk about exams!’ He laughed and waved goodbye.  In his writing, the Buddhist monk Nichiren advises his follower, a typically hot headed alpha male samurai warrior, Shijo Kingo, ‘Though worldly troubles may arise, never let them disturb you. No one can avoid problems, not even sages or worthies.  Drink sake only at home with your wife….Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life.’ I had smile as I realise that often I enjoy what is there to suffer and suffer what is there to enjoy! But it is actual so much simpler just to enjoy life.

Small matters

While the UK and Europe are battling over the Brexit process, it is easy to find yourself drawn into this like a moth to the bulb, spending hours thinking about pros and cons, and who said what.  Then there is a perpetual source of amusement coming from the USA, which generates reams of journalistic coverage and hours of entertainment.  It is easy to lose yourself in these things everyday.  But one day I took a look at my terrarium- and realised that there were small events happening daily in my own room that I ignored. Things that gave me joy and courage. And hope and happiness.

IMG_1185.JPG

A life was emerging and there were more signs of life to be found in my living room that I hadn’t acknowledged, like this Peace Lily from a pot that hasn’t bloomed for years.

IMG_1184.JPG

Then I realised there were big things also happening that could affect our life on the planet at the time when politicians appear to have taken centre stage.  Climate change threatens our entire existence and no one really seems to be paying any attention, despite the student protests on Fridays.  In December 2018, a meteorite came close to causing catastrophic damage to all forms of life when a force close to ten Hiroshima bombs was unleashed.  Except, thankfully this meteorite exploded over a water body and no one was hurt.  So I realise that when the immediate seems to capture and hold your attention, then try looking up into the heavens or inside your home.  There are things happening there which are far more meaning to your life and others.

 

 

 

How to get ‘new’ shoes

Before the Black Friday deals, I had been toying with the idea of buying new shoes.  I justified the purchases by thinking that I hadn’t bought shoes for a few years!  I did try a pair of shoes at the store, and then realised that I had a similar pair at home, albeit in a different colour. I think this is what commonly happens- you end up buying the most comfortable type of shoe in several colours.  As I have a flat foot with an injury sustained as a baby, it is very important for me to have a comfortable pair of shoes.  I also have very small feet so it is difficult to find shoes that fit me, so I tend to hold on to ones I have.  I hardly ever wear heels- after having children, I found that my feet had changed.  So this is what I did. I changed the colour of the shoes I already had. One was a florescent yellow, still fine but a bit worn and going grey inside and outside. These shoes are seven years old.

IMG_0345

I dyed it blue and left the inside yellow as before. I think it looks good, perhaps even more expensive with the yellow lining inside.IMG_0347

I cleaned it first as best as I could and used Dylon blue dye for shoes.  Why blue? Because most of my clothes are blue so this works very well.

IMG_0348

Next with my tan brogues which were looking a bit tired (they are six years old), I tried a different technique using what I already had at home instead of buying.  I had seen this technique used in a Youtube video but I added my own twist to it.  This is the ‘Doc Marten’ technique where black shoe polish is used to make lighter shoes look more expensive.  Step one involved cleaning the shoe thoroughly.

IMG_0494

Next I covered them in black cream polish- I used Ecco cream polish.

IMG_0497

The next step was about removing the black polish after giving it a good ‘soak’ for 10 minutes.

 

IMG_0499

Buffing and buffing until I got this!

IMG_0502

I think both efforts look good! And so much better than either throwing them away or buying new shoes.  I know you can donate shoes but because these are so old and my feet are tiny (size 2.5 UK), they would have been more likely not used by others.

 

Salutation of the dawn

 

IMG_0356

I took this photo couple of days ago on my iPhone- no filters or photoshop was used. It is a photo of an amazing sunrise but what is most amazing is that until a few months ago, I would have really been depressed and angry to get up so early. I thought by doing so I was depriving my body of sleep and that I would be tired and irritable. And of course, I would be angry and irritable the more I thought about it, thereby fulfilling my own prophesy!  Anyway, now I get up when I wake up and go outside and enjoy the spectacle that the skies provide from my balcony.  This is the gift of the universe. In fact it is our daily gift to wake up and see the skies- sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy, sometimes raining, sometimes stormy but always beautiful and inspiring.  It always leads us to be inspired and invigorated.  I kick myself for my stupidity all these years, when I hadn’t woken up to enjoy the morning skies.  For the incredible power that dawn gives us.

This poem by the 13th Century Indian poet, Kalidasa, encapsulates all the power and determination of the dawn.

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

 

Making a good gift for your child leaving for university

The main premise of this blog post is about creating value using beauty, goodness and benefit.  So I was wondering how to make a suitable gift for my son who is leaving home for University.  In the UK, this is the time of departures for Universities, of leaving the nest and so emotionally this will be a sea change for us and him.  I wanted him to have something that was homemade and practical.  It was his birthday as well this month.  So I made him a cook book and a ‘cooking tool kit’.  It was in the form of two things- a cookbook (the software as I call it) and the toolkit (the hardware!)- plates, utensils, tools, etc.  It took me almost a year of planning and making, so here are the steps-

  1. The cookbook– This is actually a photo album that I found in a charity shop.  In it are my cooking, healthy living, and money saving tips, his favourite recipes and photos of him cooking as a baby and child.  I did a cull of photographs which was something I had to do anyway and found a treasure trove of photos that reminded me of the recipes that he has always loved. Of course, coming from mum, the tips and recipes have corny titles! So the making the recipe book also served many other purposes.
  2. The toolkit– Over the year, I ‘retired’ several items from the kitchen and cooked without them, just to get used to not having them.  These included cooking and serving spoons, bowls, pans, etc.  I rang up my son’s University and asked them what facilities he was going to have in his kitchen and based on what he liked to cook, I added some new items- either from charity shops or bought at sales.  Some items had even been picked up from the street!  Some items were repurposed from ready meals such as the china bowls from an environmentally responsible brand that makes chilled food and glass shot glasses from a French yoghurt brand.  These ready made food items were also reduced so this made for a double reduction!  Some items are also ones that came from my University days thirty years ago.  Most items can be used in at least two different ways, for example the wooden tray can be used as a serving tray, a rolling board and a chopping board.  Obviously this took a lot of planning and thought.

IMG_9679These items were then packed into his dad’s old rock n’roll box.  The final toolkit looked like this when packed.  All neatly tidied up into boxes and bags, using tissue and paper and strong bags I had saved up.

IMG_9683.JPG

I know that some items might not come back and I am happy with that. Life is about loss.  There are items I haven’t put in, deliberately- I need him to make some effort too which I I know he will.  At least I know I have set him up, food wise!

Let me know if you’ve done similar things for your child when they headed off to University.

Drawing this summer

This summer my boys and I went on a cruise.  Usually cruise ships are the domain of the elderly people and we were in minority. Most of this 600 room ship which sails around Norway was full of elderly people, some with drips and taking medications.  But cruising can be a slow and gentle way of travelling that allows you to relax, take in the views and do something that is healthy for your body and mind.  So it was lovely to see my teenagers who love their smartphones pick up paintbrushes and jigsaw puzzles!  We played games and looked at the amazing scenery that Norway offers.  Here are some snippets of our travel along with my sketches.IMG_8764

IMG_8790.JPGIMG_8780.jpg

Of course, we met some rude people on that journey but mostly our art also became a way of connecting with the passengers and staff.

What did you do this summer?

Why I don’t need apps to reduce food waste

Recently many apps have been in the news for reducing food waste- it seems in the digital age, we need our smartphones to tell not not waste food and share food.  But food waste is a relatively new phenomenon.  In the past, nothing really went to waste, despite not having fridges or freezers.  In my village, food was cooked fresh and as there were no fridges, it was stored for a few hours. Usually most of it got eaten, if not by us, it was distributed to the rest of the village.  Anything leftover after that was given to the cows, dogs, chickens, ducks and compost heap. I never saw any rotting mounds of food anywhere and generally everyone looked happy and healthy.  Even when we went there for our summer holidays of two months, we put on weight as we were generally malnourished in the city. I have also lived in communes and villages in the UK and have not seen wasted food.

So it seems food waste is an urban problem, which is where these apps come in. I also see many homeless and hungry people in the cities all over the world.  So there are people wasting food while there are people wanting food, similar to how I see there are people with second homes while some have none.  It isn’t an equitable world.

IMG_5190.JPG
We’ve had people sleeping here and foraging food from these rubbish bins

I’ve given to food banks and donated to charities which distribute food to the poor, and helped at soup kitchens which I think is a better way to do things.  Apps don’t really solve the problem of poor people going hungry, they are for the rich. So I think for those of us who have more than enough, there could be ways of reducing our waste.  This could not only help our bank balances but also the environment.  Here are some ways that I have done so-

  1. Using up all bits, i.e. roots to shoots cooking-  Some of my recipes use the broccoli stems, carrot leaves, beetroot leaves, potato skins and stems of greens such as summer greens, cabbage, etc.
  2. Using water left over from boiling pasta and vegetables- these make useful and healthy soup stocks and the pasta water is also very useful for mixing flours for bread and chapati making.
  3. Many preserves and pickles come in olive oil or salted water and these can be re-used.  The sardine or anchovy olive oil can be used with pasta or bread- it makes lovely base for bruschetta.  The salted water or brine can be used in the preparation. I’ve also used up the lemony mixture in the preserved lemons bottle in a chicken bake that had a Moroccan twist.  The vinegar that comes with olives has been used for ‘washing’ lamb that makes the strong smell disappear.
  4. I’ve saved up the fat from cooking bacon and burgers and used those for further cooking.  Sometimes I’ve added the pasta water to the hot pan with the lovely bacon fat and then put that away for freezing. The beauty of this is that the starch in the water soaks the fat away and it makes it quicker to clean.
  5. I use bits of bread to make croutons for soups and spicy mixes to sprinkle over baked potato, cabbage and spinach.  Birds can also have leftover stale bread
  6. Seeds and lentils can be used to make bird feed if you don’t want those.
  7. IMG_2892.jpg
    Spicy Indian preparation with carrot and beetroot leaves, along with bits of broccoli stems and carrots

    IMG_4358.JPG
    Even the stems of the lettuce can be used to grow more!
IMG_4876.JPG
Pasta and vegetable water are always in my fridge and freezer to make soups and bread

Sometimes I’ve used a tiered cooking arrangement that soaks away the fat and cooks food with it.  You see, my way is the lazy way to cook and clean!

IMG_4513.JPG
The fat from the sausage cooks the green below and saves them from being scorched.

I also carry ‘doggy bags’ for uneaten foods at restaurants and events- I’ve been told that much of the food at events gets thrown away after four hours because apparently that is when the food goes off.

Remember the best way to stop food waste is not to have food waste in the first place.

 

 

 

How to drink less tea and coffee

I don’t drink much tea or coffee to confess outright.  It used to be one cup of either in the morning and one cup in the afternoon for a long time.  Then I started to feel dissatisfied and started to have more tea but it was never enough.  As I buy the best quality organic tea and coffee- loose tea and coffee beans- it was also quite an expensive habit. Again, I had to go and get these products from specific shops, so there was the additional time/cost element to it.  I was suffering from poor sleep as well- perhaps even that little bit more caffeine was bad for me?  So I thought- is a there a way of cutting down on these?  Again, going back to the three basic points of sustainability- could I save money, save the environment and save my own health? I also wanted to do this in a pain free way because I know if you are deprived of something, you crave it.

I had read about the Konmari method sometime back when her books came out.  Something seemed to resonate in that and I thought of trying to drink out of cups that I really loved. I got rid of cups I didn’t like and got out two that I really liked.  One was a charity shop find while the other was found on the street- perhaps someone else did not like it!

IMG_5169 2

I had stored both cups away- always for a good time, for another time.  Yet, time was passing me by while I was drinking out of cups that I didn’t like and not enjoying the drinks either.  I had in the past, tried drinking out of other smaller cups but didn’t like them.   To my surprise I found that by drinking out of these cups, not only was I drinking less but also enjoying drinking the tea and coffee, so much that I didn’t need another cuppa.  It is the same tea and coffee but tastes so much nicer- I wonder of the spark of joy that Konmari often talks about can be had in drinks as well.  I have also changed to eating out of plates that I love and I have found that I eat less as a result and enjoy my food more!  Imagine if people who wanted to lose weight tried to eat out of plates they loved- they’d eat less simply by eating with joy out of a plate they loved. Or if someone wanted to reduce alcohol consumption, and they drank out of a well loved glass (I don’t know- might work!)  Also, I reduced my waste as I made less tea and coffee, and drank all of it.

Visiting a tea estate brought upon me the hardship that the women who pick tea leaves for us go through- they work from 7-30 in the morning to 5-30 in the evening in the baking sun or rain.  Sipping tea now makes me really grateful for this work that these women do and makes tea drinking time very precious.  I drink less of it naturally as I enjoy it more.  Also, as a side benefit, my teeth which had become stained are now shining again like pearls!

29791383_1954910461206600_7771306761563913574_n

If you should try this method, please do let me know in the comments below if this worked for you- many thanks!

Making sense of yoghurt

My mother never bought yoghurt in India while I had always been buying yoghurt in the UK.  I was sort of okay with that until I realised how much waste I was creating and as we eat a lot of organic yoghurt at home, it was also costing us. So I looked at how I could make yoghurt at home.  Googling the topic I came across yoghurt makers, yoghurt cultures, thermometers and many other things that I need to buy in order to make yoghurt.  But I wondered how I could make yoghurt without buying any gadgets, like my mother did?  So I did some research and here is what I do.  I use my senses- eyes, touch and nose rather than gadgets to create this yoghurt.

The most important thing is the temperature of the yoghurt while setting- the starter culture of live bacteria need a incubation range of 110°F to 115°F or 43° to 46°C.  Most yoghurt makers say that you should check this temperature with a thermometer.  But what if you did not want to buy that either?  I read that skin starts to form on the milk at 113° to 122° F(45° to 50° C) when it is heated.  So what I do is heat the milk and wait until the skin forms.  Then I remove the skin and wait again for about 5-10 minutes. (I can test the milk temperature by putting a drop on my palm. If it is just bearably hot, then it is above my body temperature of 98° F or 37° C).  But I find that removing the skin thrice in about 5-10 minutes does the trick.

IMG_4256.JPG

IMG_4216.JPG

I mix about 60 grams of organic yoghurt (I use Yeo valley yoghurt but there must be equivalent in other countries) with half litre of the warmed milk.  I then place the container in a wooden box and cover with blankets and towels. I also use an insulated glass panel found on the street, to cover the top.  About four hours later, the yoghurt is ready.  Make sure your container is clean and freshly washed, otherwise the milk will curdle when heated.  People who have had my home made yoghurt say it is delicious and my children do not want to eat shop bought yoghurt again! You can keep aside a bit of the yoghurt to make a starter culture for the next batch of yoghurt but after awhile you will need to purchase a small amount of shop bought yoghurt again as the culture starts to get ‘diluted’ with use.

IMG_4278.JPG

Cost of buying 1 kg organic yoghurt= £2.75

Cost of making 1 kg organic yoghurt by my method= about £1.28 (assuming 1 litre=1kg and taking into account some heating and the price of the bought yoghurt). Plus no waste. If not using bought yoghurt, then the cost would similar to the price of 1L milk from Tesco, i.e. around £0.97/ L

IMG_4280.JPG

The yoghurt is ready!