Meat-free Monday

Paul McCartney recently gave meat-free days a boost, using his fame to encourage people to forfeit the flesh for one day per week, as part of his Meat Free Monday campaign. Taking the concept a step further, March 23 sees the arrival of Meat Free Week – originally an Australian initiative – here in the UK.

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I’m a fan of the McCartney dynasty. I adore Linda and subsequently Mary’s photography, The Beatles are one of my all time favourite bands (Wings – not so much) and Stella does lovely clothing for kids (there’s no way in hell I would pay £4895.00 for a dress for myself, love – no matter how great it looks). So I was intrigued by this campaign and further investigation reveals that there is merit in it too.

Chatham House published a report in late 2014 drawing attention to how little public awareness there is regarding the links between livestock production and climate change. Currently, 14.5% of all harmful gases produced comes from livestock production alone. Diary and Meat consumption in the UK is rising constantly and by 2050 it is expected that there will be a 76% rise in consumption based in the increasing patterns emerging now. Meat Free Mondays seeks to lessen our consumption of meat and therefore, lessen our impact on the environment.

Start with making a commitment to reduce your meat consumption. If you’re currently eating a lot of meat, why not begin by taking meat out of your diet at least one day a week. Meat Free Monday’s is the perfect place to start, with lots of great ideas on how to make the leap.

Compassion in World Farming has produced a 24-page Compassionate Food Guide to help make higher-welfare shopping easier. The guide covers Beef, Pork (sausages, bacon etc), Poultry, Salmon and dairy. It really will assist with helping you make better and more informed choices.

When buying meat think about where you’re really buying it from. Whenever possible, shop at local farmers markets or free-range and organic butchers. Always ask questions. Getting answers about how an animal has lived before it was slaughtered will go a long way to helping you make the most informed, ethical decisions. It’s easy to make better decisions when armed with a few simple facts.

One day meat free a week could save you money, improve your health and of course, help lessen emissions.

Now I decided to write this post while the kids played wrestling (that should read wrestled until one of them started crying) so my Meat Free Monday recipe is rather dull. Nevertheless its real comfort food dish in this house and one that we don’t even think about as missing meat.

Broccoli, Chilli and Sundried Tomato Pasta

Serves: 4-6
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Ingredients
  • 1 lbs any short pasta
  • salt
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes (I always add extra fresh chilli, do so if you have it, otherwise just use dried from your store cupboard)
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Set a large pot of water on high heat and bring it to a boil, add salt, pasta, and broccoli separated into florets.
  2. Cook according to package directions, don’t overcook, your pasta should be al dente and broccoli tender but still firm. It should take between 7-9 mins.
  3. While pasta and broccoli are cooking slice garlic and cook it gently over low heat in a large pan coated with olive oil with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and chilli flakes for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Set aside.
  4. Drain pasta and broccoli, reserving ½ cup of water from the pasta.
  5. Add both pasta and broccoli to the pan with sun-dried tomatoes and gently toss together with freshly grated parmesan, add ½ reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  6. Serve with additional parmesan cheese.

An open letter to my father on his 60th birthday.

Dear Dad,

Today on your birthday, I’m taking this opportunity to write a letter to you to express how much I truly love you although I may not be able to put all of my emotions into words.

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Being a father is no easy task. A father makes a huge impact on his daughter’s life. He is the first man she says “I love you” to, and the first man to really show her what love is which you have demonstrated through your relationship and marriage to Mum.

As a young child I was very inquisitive and the majority of my memories of us together consists of me asking you questions constantly. To me as a child you knew everything. On our movie nights, a privilege afforded to the eldest child and the one with the latest bedtime, I would constantly harangue you to reveal plot details even though you’d probably never seen the film before, “what’s going to happen next Dad? Why is that man shooting that man, Dad?” On our adventure days around various museums and monuments I would ask what everything was and you would supply an answer. I say an answer because later in life I would realise that you made most of it up or guessed the answer, a tactic that I would then go on to use with both of my children and their relentless questioning. Thank you for always answering my questions and fostering my inquisitive nature.

You were always talking about music, your favourite artists, your memories associated with music. At family events we’d dance and you would execute your signature moves in the style of Mick Jagger and would sing your heart out to every Stones tune as if you were the embodiment of Jagger. I know it’s your birthday and I’m only supposed to say nice things but we both know that with moves and a voice like yours the Stones wouldn’t still be touring! You were and are always fun and our kids now know this too.

I know we’ve never been the touchy-feely types but I need you to know that you have deeply and significantly impacted my life. Most people in your life only get to call you friend, but my sister and I get the incredible privilege of having your genes and calling you ‘Dad’ and the grand kids, ‘Papa’. You are always there for us in your own unique way whether it was popping in on your way home from work when my son was little when we all knew you had to make a massive detour from your work in West Calder to ‘pop in’ or taking my son out for dinner to make sure he gets home from his drama class in Leith each week.

Happy birthday Dad!

I love you x

Like a Rolling (and extra couple of) Stone

d9cfc37367a35604f1e8a9c4b6284bb4 One of the many reasons I’m on a diet…

WARNING: diet bore! As I was finishing up work before the Christmas holidays I was becoming more and more aware of my burgeoning girth. A combination of bad habits, weather-induced laziness meant that things had gotten a bit out of control. I’m not going to be posting fatty selfies on here but to give you context I’m 5ft 2 and a 1/2 inches short, medium build and was rocking over three stone above my ideal BMI according to my beloved NHS. Being the food afficiendo that I am, I relish (often figuratively with copious amounts of cheese) the festive excess. The two week school holiday sees me cooking and sharing our table with a whole host of family and friends. I was dreading limiting myself it to be honest but I decided to try and watch what I consumed over this period with a view to getting my head ready for a proper official diet in the new year.

Two and a half weeks passed, I paid my subscription to a well known dieting company and hardened myself for what would be a tough and challenging time. Despite my Xmas excess I was pleasantly surprised to find that over the holiday I had actually managed to lose weight! Eating three meals a day must have made a huge difference. This gave me the boost I needed to start and stick to a plan. Obviously I am writing this from a position of smugness as in the last 45 days I have lost my first stone and a couple of pounds (I still work in old money).

A bad chest infection and two courses of steroids later, I have potentially plateaued. This week’s weigh in will be telling as I gained last week for the first time. I may have to subject myself to ritual humiliation and attend a local meeting of fellow fatties in order to strive to keep losing. I’m not even sure what my end goal is at the moment and don’t want to revert to my old eating habits after my goal has been reached. I guess I’ll figure it out and change the way that I eat, eventually. At the moment I’m still in the mindset where I’m constantly denying myself food and having to put my hands in both of my pockets, walk away and distract myself. Eating tinned fruit like a Cold War bunker dweller really makes a poor substitute for a chunk of fine cheese with a slathering of relish.

I’m also finding the hunger pangs pretty hard going. I thought they’d ease off after a while but they’re still as strong as ever and I’m really missing my extra portions of carbs. I sometimes dream of selling one of my children for some artisanal bread. I suppose the fact that all of my social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) is full of food isn’t really helping to keep my focus off food. Food suppliers, food producers, food blogs, photos of strangers’ lunches, even my favourite tv programmes all feature food!

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I’ll get there I suppose.

Small Reminders for the New Year

New Year’s resolutions are doomed to fail but I do think we should reflect on the previous year and think deeply about what we want for and from the coming year.

Resolutions that fail make us feel inadequate so my reflection comes in the form of reminders, things I’ve already known and already forgotten. Things I should remember when too much negativity enters my life and I get bogged down with routine and responsibilities. Some are borrowed from a website I found when looking for resolutions (of which I forgotten the name and didn’t save the link!) and I jotted these down in my christmas present from my younger sister, a notebook for my famous lists.

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1. Choose a narrow path. The sooner you pinpoint exactly what you want to achieve in your life, what you want your legacy to be, the sooner it will happen for you. Don’t choose the well beaten path; create your own. Dare to be different and aim for the moon (in order to reach the stars).

2. Embrace change. If life were consistent and without ups and downs, it would be boring, bleak and monotone. We’re here to dodge bullets, get back up when we’re kicked down and make decisions for ourselves. It’s all about building your character. Never fear change, it could be exactly what you need.

3. Its okay to eat cereal for dinner. You only live once…

4. Own your mistakes. The only way to learn is to make mistakes. The only way to learn from mistakes is to own them. You’ll be surprised how much people will value you for owning your mistakes, no matter how small your role in them.

5. Appreciate what you have before you ask for more. Because there is always someone worse off than you.

6. Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live. But never forget you don’t have a body, you have a soul. Your exterior will never define your interior.

7. Who you are is not what you have; its what you do with what you have. Ever noticed how some of the happiest people in the world have the least? It isn’t about what you have (material things or achievements), but what you decide to do with that. Your life is your legacy. How do you want to be remembered?

8. Be Loyal. In love, friendships, and most importantly with your family. Stay true to your word.

9. Laugh more.

10. Words are powerful. It takes just two to commit your life to another. Words are powerful – choose them wisely.

11. You can never be over educated. Want to learn another language? Its better late than never. Thinking about taking art classes? You never know what it will lead to. You are only limited by your choices.

12. Be gracious. Be humble. Be kind.

13. Live in a new place. You will be surprised as to just how much our surrounds shape us.

14. Live within your means. Life isn’t about keeping up with the Jones’s.

15. Have an opinion. Voice it, engage in healthy debate, but never be rigid and close-minded.

16. Be proud. Credit where credit is due. Learn to welcome compliments and accept them – by doing so you will provide value to them and soak them up like a sponge. It will lead to better work in the future.

17. Accept criticism. But know when to distinguish between constructive criticism and a genuine insult. If someone insults you, it says more about them than it could ever say about you.

18. Get outdoors more.

19. Spend time with anyone older than you. Age = experience. Experience = wisdom. Spend time with your grandparents and ask questions. No one stays on this earth forever – make the most of the time you have.

20. Be honest. People will value your opinion if it is raw, honest and made with consideration.

21. Don’t give money, give your time. There is no greater gift than your time.

22. Take a day off. Do something you have always wanted to do. By yourself.

23. Track your finances better. 

24. Work hard(er). Set your goals higher and higher… your limits are only those you believe to be true.

25. Smile at strangers.

26. Keep a journal. Sometimes the best way to clear your mind and keep a clear vision is to jot down your thoughts at the end of the day or week. Consider what you did, who you met, how you felt, what was on your mind. Think outside the box and sort through your thoughts rather than offloading your troubles onto someone else.

27. Escape into a film. Bad day? Don’t dwell on it. Escape to someone else’s reality or jump inside a fiction. Two hours later you’ll have forgotten the trivialities.

28. You are the company you keep. If your friends aren’t bringing joy into your life, maybe you’ve outgrown them. Don’t be afraid to make new friends that understand you (and where you’re at in life right now). Adapt. Change. Learn. Grow. Evolve.

29. You’ll never be as young as you are right now.

World Autism Awareness Day 2014

Hello. It’s been a while. 12 months to be exact.

I’m reviving my blog for WAAD 2014. What I’ve got to say about this day and the message I want people to hear is longer than a Facebook post so I’m putting my thoughts here.

“World Autism Awareness Day is about more than generating understanding; it is a call to action. I urge all concerned to take part in fostering progress by supporting education programmes, employment opportunities and other measures that help realize our shared vision of a more inclusive world.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Message for the World Autism Awareness Day 2014


Every day is autism awareness day for us. If you are not aware of the existence of autism or what it is and have been living in a cave then check out the What is Autism section on my blog.

So if you want to take up this call to action on WAAD 2014 then here’s what can you do for us to really make a difference:

1. Ignore headlines in the press regarding autism or at the very least take them with a generous pinch of salt. It is mainly sensationalism designed to promote and sell papers and rarely discusses autism in a positive way and if it does, it’s all about the savants.

2. Realise and understand that autism is a hidden disability. You cannot tell if a person is autistic by appearance alone. Do not judge a person unless you know the whole story (a mantra for life anyway).

3. Educate your children about autism. We have a hard enough time trying to educate our autistic children about their autism without educating yours as well.

4. Autism is not a childhood condition, you do not grow out of it. Look to educate yourself about autistic adults and try to find out how your business, university, your social groups can engage and include people on the spectrum.

5. Do not Light it up Blue for us.

Bad Press?




Over the last decade or so, headlines from the world’s press has often induced a major eye rolling fit in this household when reporting about autism. The reports are either raising an alarm of sorts over a new cause or reason for individuals being autistic or it’s a heartwarming tale of person X who cannot tie his shoelaces but can play Rachmaninov at age 8. While it is always fantastic to hear of stories where an individual has learned to overcome difficulties, but this is usually after lots of hard work from them, their parents and their support team. to develop strategies to cope with their difficulty. This special talent always has a price. The latest pseudo-scientific report to come out is the claim that children may ‘grow out of’ autism. Thanks BBC. Of course, this is nonsense and advances in educators and specialists knowledge means that children can, to varying degrees learn to cope with the world around them. That is not to say that the difficulty they face has disappeared but that they have learnt to use certain tools and methods, and have developed strategies to help cope with the problems this difficulty will cause. Autism can create a wide range of barriers in everyday life and these can impact upon an individual to varying degrees. Whilst some people are able to live relatively independent lives, others will require more intensive support throughout their lifetime.

What does autism look like?

I’m always being told “but he looks so normal!”. The ways in which autism manifests itself can vary from person to person but it’s never glaringly obvious from a person’s physical appearance. One person with autism may be very verbal, bright and engaged, while another may be non-verbal, and entirely introverted. People with autism tend to have a wide range of skill sets including different strengths and difficulties in the same way that a neurotypical person has, however autism is characterised by a triad of impairments and people typically find challenges with: social interaction, social imagination and communication. People with autism also tend to share common traits such as sensory sensitivity, repetitive and stereotyped behaviours and special interests. Autism can also be associated with physical difficulties and it is recognised that there can be a vulnerability to mental health and wellbeing. Some people with autism may also have learning difficulties like dyslexia and other conditions like dyspraxia  or epilepsy, some don’t.

As autism is a lifelong condition, impact will be likely to change throughout the person’s lifetime, and usually in relation to the support they are accessing. It is important to remember that the autism spectrum is not a linear condition with ‘high functioning’ and ‘low functioning’ ends, but rather a condition in which there are also impacts from the environment and sometimes from the stresses of daily life that affects their functioning.

Coming out?

A recent article in the Huffington Post reminded me about the experience we had when we first told A about his autism. I learned from our experience that it isn’t a big talk that’s needed but a constant stream of information. When you go through something like this with a person who processes information differently to you, it’s hard to control the outcome.  It’s a difficult subject to grasp and sometimes he sees it in a positive light but mostly in the negative. He is 14, in mainstream school and doesn’t want others to see him as different. I long for the day where he is no longer embarrassed and is proud of who he is and we’ll work towards that. It’s hard watching all of this going on and to see him struggle. Luckily, a new generation of self-advocates and autistic adolescents are finding their voices online and hopefully he will come to find them empowering such as this wonderful piece written by an autistic teenager on articulating a meltdown.

At the moment he’s so influenced by his peers that when they call him a weirdo, a freak, retard and autistic boy, he internalises how this makes him feel and carries it around with him. He feels ashamed because his peers do not understand why he does some of the things he does. He cannot articulate his autism well enough to make them understand. That’s a big responsibility for a 14 year old, one that society puts on his shoulders because we are too polite or embarrassed to do. So I implore you to ask questions of the parents and even ask the child, they may surprise you. Don’t try to empathise, it’s patronising. Often I am told “We’re all on the spectrum somewhere” which I find really frustrating. This comment implies that everyone has these kinds of difficulties, and that my son just needs to get his act together. That, it’s a case of won’t, not can’t and that’s a horrible supposition. 

What will the future hold?

Where we are is that our son is going to be sitting his high school exams next year. His peers are being quizzed about their futures and career prospects while they are drilled at school about how it’s a priority to choose the right subjects to set the right pathway for their future. Most of us with actual real life experience know this is not always true but as parents we are being given the same information as his peer group and so trying to plan accordingly. While trying to plan for his future I find it hard to get past reports and statistics published on future pathways for autistic adolescents is.  The future often looks bleak for children on the spectrum and those similar to my son who are not just socially impaired but also have accompanying learning and physical disabilities.

Currently, between 76 and 90 percent of adults with autism are unemployed*. Adults with autism need access to post-school education, training and employment initiatives to enable them to join the workforce. Education and employment can also enable them to overcome the social exclusion they often face, taking more active roles in their communities, rather than being dependent on family and social support.  1 in 100 people are estimated to have Autism Spectrum Condition, which means there are over 600,000 people in the UK with the condition; only 12% have full-time jobs as opposed to 49% of people with general disabilities. A report from the London School of Economics recently stated that autism costs UK society £27bn annually with a large amount of that cost being derived from lack of employment.

I know it’s a few years off yet but I need to be prepared. So far my own personal experience is this. I sought advice about what help A could access post school. I looked at routes for study, possible places of study, I asked about whether or not he would be able access university, if he would be able to study elsewhere, what support would be available to him if he wanted to study in another city and needs to live on campus. Slowly I am discovering what possibilities could be achievable but through my own work. The services in the Lothians that I have been using firstly pointed towards benefits for him to access on leaving school. Then it was access to mental health services. One even mentioned alternative therapies, discounted cranial osteopathy and the likes. It makes me wonder if their first point of reference is state benefits to a lot of parents who have the same questions as myself. I was staggered by the amount of blank faces and pregnant pauses regarding employment support, independent living during university and the like. I’m lucky that I’m young and I am able to physically and mentally able to support him if he decides this pathway. Many aren’t so lucky and I’m been at this for long enough to know that eventually I will compile a folder of informations and specialists and organisations to seek out but it will take time and hard work. While I don’t intend to throw him out the door on his 18th birthday, I am trying to investigate possibilities for him to live (with some external assistance) alongside his peer group. The reality is though that having independence from me, may not be a possibility unless I can find adequate support for him in further or higher education and in employment. 

Don’t light it up blue for my boy.

Autism Speaks, the brains behind colouring autism blue is an awful charity. An organisation that promotes fear, hatred, anti-vaccine propaganda and in the past have claimed to offer a ‘cure’. The majority of people do not know that there is such controversy with Autism Speaks because most people assume that any organisation dealing with autism must be doing good things. Bob and Suzanne Wright are very wealthy people with many connections, which is certainly one of the reasons that Autism Speaks has grown to be so influential and powerful in the States and why now their influence is so far reaching. Most people who support Autism Speaks are unaware of how offensive and demeaning their practices and language are to actual Autistic people until recently where a whole stream of autistic adults and adolescents have voiced their outrage against the organisation. I cannot and never will be able to condone the support of any campaign launched by Autism Speaks.

The organisation offends and angers many, many autistic adults and adolescents, those who luckily have the ability to articulate and self-advocate. The Autistic Hoya in her blog, puts it like this: “Light it up blue” does nothing to help Autistic people or bring attention to the most important issues facing our community. The color blue in relation to autism can only be seen in Autism Speaks’s logo — a blue puzzle piece — and has nothing to do with us. We prefer to be thought of as people, not puzzles. This campaign is offensive and alienating to us rather than supportive of us. I strongly encourage you to consider alternative means of supporting the autism and Autistic communities, such as hosting roundtable discussions with Autistic self-advocates and our allies, sponsoring talks by leaders in the autism rights movement, showing documentaries such as Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic or Wretches and Jabberers, or adding material about autism rights and neurodiversity into any disability studies coursework on campus.

One example of the Autism Speaks message is this videohttp://youtu.be/O0vCz2KWMM0

Autism Speaks funded this video to raise awareness of the horror of living with autism and to raise money for their organisation. Naturally, this incenses the entire autism community. In the video which features a mother talking about her desire to kill herself and her autistic daughter in front of her daughter.

Again, The Autistic Hoya addresses the problems with this: ‘The interviews in Autism Every Day address—both directly and accidentally—very real and pressing institutional issues like the segregation of “special needs” children within schools, the lack of affordable and accessible support, a general lack of understanding and compassion within communities, and the pervasive construction of an “ideal” mother-child relationship as “joyful” and “easy.” The video also neatly encapsulates everything that is damaging about Autism Speaks’ rhetoric and agenda. Rather than addressing the aforementioned institutional problems, the organization centers the individual experiences of parents and care-givers, and silences autists by constructing us as pitiable and burdensome. It constructs autism as a tragic scourge that warrants panic and despair, and dedicates its efforts to eradicating autistic people via prevention or a “cure.”‘ So why would I want anyone to light anything up blue in my son’s honour? I wouldn’t.

Anyway, thanks for reading this.



* SourcesUN Enable and The National Autistic Society (NAS) via the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services.