Having completed puppy school last month, we enrolled Cassie in the beginners obedience classes at the Southern River Dog Club for the next step. The class is quite large (about 30 dogs), so it’s demonstration/instruction-based for the most part and there’s not a lot of individual attention. But that’s okay, since the class is as much about exposing Cassie to lots of dogs and people as anything else – and our young lady is already up to speed with a few commands (sit, wait, leave, come) and walks happily (albeit a little too enthusiastically!) on lead. So class one was mostly about Himself and Cassie familiarising themselves with clicker training.

The only gotcha of the evening was that the trainers had requested that we bring along a training-specific toy. They suggested something along the lines of a simple tug-toy that was to be used at dog school – not at home. Since we hadn’t bought one – and pet stores were closed by the time we realised this – we had to come up with a last minute cunning plan.

Himself described what he was after: a woven or plaited fabric rope, soft enough to not hurt Cassie’s mouth but sturdy enough to withstand her piranha-teeth. So, with precious little time to spare, I hunted through my fabric scraps and found a narrow strip of fleece that looked like it might work. Step one was to cut it into strips… but then we were faced with the problem of how to turn those into some semblance of a tug-toy. This is about when I had a Eureka! moment…

I remembered a knotting craft that was all the rage when my own kids were at primary school:  Scoubidou (Scooby-do). It’s a cheap, colourful, useful and, above all, quick and easy way of creating a woven item. To minimise craft-talk confusion, I hunted down a simple instructional video and Himself got to weaving. Since the fabric scraps I’d scrounged up weren’t very long, the toy turned out a little shorter than we’d hoped – but it was well and truly ready in time for school. A recycling win – both the fabric and the weaving method 🙂

Yesterday I took it one step further. I scrounged through the bargain bin at our local fabric store and, for the princely sum of $8, acquired a couple of pieces of fleece fabric offcuts. Next was a quick interwebs search to see if anyone else had ever made such scoubidou-style fleece tug-toy.

I was astonished to find that not only have (many) others made similar toys, many of those crafty-folk have shared their techniques on blogs and in videos. I perused a couple and then, Scoubi-muscle-memory refreshed, I knocked up two slightly longer, snazzy-looking tug-toys whilst watching TV last night.

DIY tug toy

If you’d like to try one yourself, this is what I’d suggest:

  • Scrounge down some fleece offcuts – ideally these should be at least one metre long or your toy will end up more of a cat toy than a puppy toy.
  • I’d suggest you check the bargain bin at your local fabric store unless you’re feeling super precious about colours/designs.
  • Tip: the weaving will be a lot simpler if you have two different colours to weave with.
  • Cut four strips of fleece (two of each colour), about 5cm wide and as long as the fabric.
  • Tip: You don’t need to be too precise about the width – it’s not super important.
  • Line up one end of the strips and knot them together really firmly.
  • Now start your fleece-scoubidou tug-toy. It’s done in square (box) stitch, the building block of most scoubis.
  • Essentially, the trick is to isolate the individual strands (strips of fleece). Do this by pushing one to the back (1), one to the front (2), and one to each side (3,4) – and then keeping track of them.

DIY tug toy showing strands

  • Tip: make sure you pull the strands tight after every weave row – this keeps the tug-toy firm.

DIY tug toy showing weave

  • When you get to the length you’re happy with, tie the strands off in a tight knot and trim them.
  • Tip: leave a reasonable amount at the end to tie your knot – it takes more fabric than you’d think.

Of course, if you don’t want to make one you could just ask me to knock one up for you… especially if you already have some suitable fabric. Although, since I only used a very small amount of the fleece I bought, I’d be happy to use that up 🙂

I always thought French food must be singularly unhealthy. After all, it seems to use an awful lot of butter and cream – and to be rather heavy-handed on the weird ingredient front (frogs legs, duck fat, blue cheeses and suchlike).

But then I watched a video countdown of the best diets in the world. Screened on SBS last week, the rather perky presenters (Kate Quilton & Jimmy Doherty) showcased typical weekly food shopping and family meals in 50 countries around the globe.

Iceland came out on top overall. They have a really clean environment, eat loads of fish and a dairy product called skyr – which sounds rather like yoghurt, but is exceptionally low in fat and high in calcium and protein. Italy, with its Mediterranean diet (my favourite), came in at second place; the Marshall Islands (in the South Pacific), with its high levels of type 2 diabetes, came in last.

My understanding of French food as inherently unhealthy led me to anticipate that France would be somewhere down the bottom of the list too. Not so. In fact the French seem to have a significantly healthier lifestyle than we do here in Australia. Not what I’d have expected, given our abundance of sunshine, fresh produce, sunshine and enthusiasm for outdoor living. But there you go: we ranked 38/50, whereas France came up as very commendable 8/50!

Since I’m generally pretty suspicious of information presented on TV, I hunted around for some more data on the pros and cons of French food. I found some commentary on high levels of saturated fat and possible under-reporting of coronary heart disease related deaths, but the bulk of what I found supported the notion that the French lifestyle is a positive one.

A recent good food study conducted by Oxfam concluded the same thing. It ranked 125 countries according to the quality of their food, its affordability and availability – and on the prevalence of diet-related health issues. On this food index, Australia was ranked eighth – with the race to the bottom won by Chad. France came in at second place.
oxfam comparisonWhilst this was interesting, it didn’t tell me what the French are doing that we’re not. As author Mireille Guiliano asks: “…they eat as they like and they don’t get fat. Porquoi?”

Why is it so, indeed? Considering that key ingredients of French food include butter, speck, duck fat and cheese, it sounds implausible. What is it about the French diet and lifestyle that has resulted in France being relatively high on the preferred diet list and low on the international overweight index?

Well, firstly, it’s very flavoursome food. It’s also very filling – which makes it easier to be mindful of what you eat and to not overindulge. They also tend not to snack between meals and to include walking as part of their lifestyle. Add to this that the French have traditionally made an art out of food preparation and eating. It’s something they take seriously, finding pleasure in relaxing over their meals rather than rushing through them or eating them on autopilot whilst busy with other things – in the car, at work, or in front of the TV/computer.

The past couple of decades has, however, seen this lifestyle starting to fall foul of la restauration rapide épidémie (the fast food epidemic). According to some research, this shift is resulting in a reduction in the number of people maintaining the tradition of two or three sit down meals a day. Even so, it seems the French are still getting things more right than not, with the average body mass index remaining pretty much the same over the past 40 years.

So where to from here for our household? My take-home message from all this was to try to make our lifestyle a little more French, whilst retaining key elements of my favourite eating style (the Mediterranean diet). My new plan is to get retro: go back to taking time to plan the meals for the week, increase our fish and blue cheese (!) intake, use lots of veggies every day and exile fast food / ready meals / snacks (for the most part).

With this in mind, I conducted a mini-audit of our fridge/freezer and pantry yesterday and found a preponderance of fresh food (yoghurt, cheese, eggs, fruit and veg), as well as tinned/dry staples (tuna, lentils, rice, pasta). It looks like my plan won’t really result in much extra shopping – or in that much of a lifestyle change – although cutting back on red meat and eating more fish probably won’t sit too well with the meatosaurus of the family. Perhaps he won’t notice if I wear a beret when I’m cooking… he’ll be too busy laughing 🙂

How about you? What’s your favourite food style?

Early this year I attended my first plastic-novelties party (as my family so charmingly calls them) in over a decade. At the time I was very interested to see how popular Tupperware still is – or is again. Whilst it certainly is both a reliable and attractive product, does that warrant the cost? Does Tupperware work hard enough to keep their market share?

Despite some ambivalence on these questions, I recently found myself inviting 20 or so friends over for a demonstration of the new summer range. We watched the young demonstrator prepare and bake a (delicious!) one-cup coconut and sultana slice, which cleverly showcased the new baking range and promoted it rather effectively. However, since I’d hosted the demo as a favour-for-a-friend, there was no pressure to purchase anything – and this may have added to the relaxed ambience. It turned into a pretty rowdy afternoon of chit-chit, tasty treats and amused reminiscing over past Tupper-experiences.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA few people had taken the opportunity to bring along damaged items for replacement, but found out that this is now all done independently by customers online. The process sounded pretty straight forward so, bright and early on Monday morning, I duly went online to arrange replacements lids for a couple of my storage containers. Both are fairly venerable and the lids have developed small cracks in the corners, an eventuality covered by the “famous lifetime guarantee”.

What actually transpired was an enormous amount of dissatisfaction, time-wasting and heightened levels of irritation. I ended up sufficiently irked to compose a letter about the new “improved” replacement policy on the lifetime guaranteed goods and to email it off – still in high dudgeon.

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After four days of no response, I did indeed turn to social media. I tried commenting on Facebook and also adding comments where other people, similarly irritated and dissatisfied, have voiced their opinions. Still no response.

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If anything, the company seems to be doing a great job of devaluing a brand that’s worked effectively for decades (despite increasing competition in the market place) and alienating long-term customers. This is, at best, shortsighted.

If you’re of a similar mind on this topic, you could trying adding your voice to those already out there by putting a message up on the visitor comments section Facebook page – and by scrolling down and LIKING the relevant comments from others.

It’s time for Tupperware to earn their market share, rather than assume it’s secure.

I’ve noticed that many adults appear to believe that being an adult means giving up things they enjoy and determinedly getting on with the business of being an adult. Somewhere along the line, the ability to enjoy child-like fun seems to be left behind. University, courting, working, family and bills happen – and the not-very-merry-go-round takes over, often with little fun in sight. How very sad – and how very boring!

There’s actually no compelling reason not to have fun or, indeed, not to do at least some of the fun things one did as a child. Admittedly bills do have to be paid, families call for attention, meals require planning and preparation – but surely this need not preclude enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood. Building sand castles, playing on the swings in the play park, jumping in puddles on rainy days, drawing and colouring-in, wandering around barefoot – these are just some examples of things we seem to forget to enjoy.

Last week was Adult Learners Week and our local library organised a morning of colouring-in for adults. The event booked out so quickly that they had to arrange a second session – also booked out – and have gone on to add colouring-in for adults to their ongoing programme of events. It turns out that colouring-in is now widely considered to be a beneficial pastime for adults. It stimulates areas of the brain related to motor skills, the senses 47802-5-beaglesand creativity and this in turn reduces stress and improves general health and wellbeing.

22 people turned up to the first event at the library – and, yes, I was one of them. Colleen, the branch librarian, told us that this pastime apparently emerged in France, where so many adults have taken it up that sales of colouring-in books now outrank those of cookbooks. Indeed, five of the 20 best selling titles on Amazon are currently adult colouring-in books! This information resonated with several people in the group who had purchased books for themselves, although most hadn’t been game to actually put colour on any of the pages as yet. The fear of making mistakes or colouring outside the lines, combined with the long-held stigma attached to writing in books, had made them too anxious to try.

Luckily the library staff had provided printouts of a number of open-source pictures found on the internet, along with a wide selection of brand new pencil crayons. In no time at all everyone was colouring away happily, chatting and laughing, reminiscing about the last time they had used coloured pencils and about life in general. By the end of the session, anxiety – about colouring-in at least – appeared to have fled completely. All the participants left for home relaxed andfun with colour_3sept15 smiling. Those who had had their own colouring-in books said that they felt much more comfortable about putting pencil crayon to paper; others took the librarian’s advice to heart and said that they’d print free designs off the internet and use those. Most people said they’d be back the following week, both for the colouring-in and for the company.

I fell into all three categories – and am delighted that colouring-in for adults is a trend that’s here to stay, for now at least. I’m feeling pretty chilled, my colouring book is on my desk (instead of in a drawer), I’ve unearthed my watercolour pencils and I’m eyeing off some gel pens at the local newsagent… If you’d like to reclaim a little of the fun you had as a kid, why not print off a picture (from one of numerous free sites) and try colouring it in? Don’t judge – just use whatever pencils, felt pens or whatever you have to hand and enjoy the process. Feel the serenity 🙂

 

raleigh bike.pgI was given my first bike when I was eight years old. It was shiny and black and a source of endless delight – not to mention unrivaled freedom.  It had no gears or hand brakes, but as I didn’t know any better, neither of these were an issue. What it did have was rather nifty mudguards (soon removed for convenience and speed) and simple back-pedal (or coaster) brakes that were dead easy to use. That little Raleigh bike was my most beloved possession from the very first day, despite crashing headfirst into a hedge down the road on my initial solo attempt at riding it!

From thereon out I had any number of adventures, big and small, wherever my wheels could take me. One of the more dramatic of these adventures started out very low key. My friend Felicity and I were about 10 years old at the time and, unlike many of the youth of today, we were assumed to be both capable and independent. Parents weren’t informed of our movements, we just trotted off on our merry way. As long as we were back by dinnertime and there was no obvious damage to explain, we were left to our own devices. In this instance we had planned a trip to the local shopping centre to hunt for Christmas gifts. It was a distance of about 2.5km and we knew from experience that this took about 30 minutes on foot, about 10 minutes by trolley bus, or about 12 minutes by bicycle. Ever the staunch Scot, I opted to save the bus fare and rode my bike up the (very steep!) hill to meet Felicity as she hopped off the bus.

Some time later, after purchasing what knickknacks our pocket money could afford and enjoying an iced confection in the park, we headed for home – Felicity hanging out the back of the trolley bus and me in hot pursuit on my trusty bike. I’d grown quite a bit in the couple of years I’d had the bike and it had become a little worn in that time. My brothers had taught me to fix punctures and how to put the chain back on when it inevitably came off, but they still did the tricky things like adjusting the seat height since this involved enough physical strength to tighten the nuts and bolts. Or so I’d always assumed…

As I careered down the hill in hot pursuit of the trolley bus, laughing like crazy and taking the sorts of risks that ten year olds do, it never occurred to me that anything could go wrong. Not until the trolley bus stopped a little sooner than I expected and, when I tried to slam the brakes on by back pedaling desperately, my feet came off the pedals!  The seat had tilted back rather dramatically as I applied emergency pressure on the brakes and it was pretty obvious that the saddle was, in fact, not properly secured. I was left clutching the handlebars, my behind only centimetres from the back wheel, my legs akimbo to avoid the chain and the wheels.

coasterbrakeNow, the thing you need to know about back-pedal brakes is that pushing back on the pedals forces a set of brake pads to expand inside the hub on the back wheel. Friction then slows the wheel down very efficiently. The downside is that your feet actually have to be on the pedals for this to work – and there’s no backup plan if they’re not. My feet were nowhere near the pedals at this point, having slipped off when the saddle tipped backwards and tried to deposit me on the rapidly rotating back wheel. All I had was precarious balance and a grip of death on the handlebars.

Felicity’s face told me that she fully expected me to slam into the back of the bus at any moment and, considering the rate at which I was bearing down on it, this seemed extremely likely. Immediate evasive action was called for and instinct took over. I swerved out from behind the bus – narrowly missing both it and the on coming station wagon, then swerved back onto my side of the road just as the bus started off again. All this time I was trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to haul myself back onto or over the saddle so that I could get my feet back on the pedals.

I whizzed down the steepest part of the hill and into the long sweeping curve towards the intersection, hoping with every part of me that the traffic lights would be in my favour and that there would be no oncoming traffic. My luck held, the road started to level out, and my speed dropped enough for me to risk the rapid dismount. I leapt clear of my bike whilst keeping hold of the handlebars and running alongside it. It was, after all, my treasure!

We careered to a halt, narrowly missing being clipped by the bus as it trundled past, and fell into an inelegant and only slightly grazed pile right near the bus stop. Felicity made a flying exit from back  of the still-moving bus and rushed to my assistance. Between us we managed to drag my bike to the verge, and then collapsed in a heap, laughing and whooping with the joy of being alive and being 10 years old and invulnerable. There being no actual damage, the parents were never the wiser – but I closely supervised any maintenance of my bike done by others after that!

Bicycles have been part of my landscape since that very first machine. I’ve had racing bikes, mountain bikes, a BMX bike, static exercise bikes and a hybrid bike. They’ve varied in colour from black to pink; silver to blue – but all (except the static bikes) have provided me with unsurpassed levels of independence, adventure and enjoyment. I still ride whenever I can – and every time I see someone else on a bike – whatever their age or gender, whether they’re wearing cutoffs or lycra, barefoot or in expensive cycle shoes – I smile. Rock on, riders, be free!

1975_nik

On a borrowed racing bike, 1975