Saturday, 22 December 2012

Travelling in Australia, Part 2

Glimpses of Melbourne metropolitan area

Melbourne, often called the Garden City and "cultural capital of Australia", is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2011, the greater geographical area had a population of 4.1 million.

The metropolis is located on the large natural bay known as Port Phillip, with the city centre positioned on the estuary of the Yarra River (at the northernmost point of the bay). The metropolitan area then extends south from the city centre, along the eastern and western shorelines of Port Phillip, and expands into the hinterland. The city centre is situated in the municipality known as the City of Melbourne. The metropolitan area consists of a further 30 municipalities.
Melbourne was founded in 1835 (47 years after the European settlement of Australia). It was named by Governor of New South Wales Sir Richard Bourke in 1837, in honour of the British Prime Minister of the day, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. Melbourne was officially declared a city by Queen Victoria in 1847. In 1851, it became the capital city of the newly created colony of Victoria. During the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, it was transformed into one of the world's largest and wealthiest cities.

Melbourne was ranked as the world's most liveable city in ratings published by the Economist Group's Intelligence Unit in August 2011 and again in 2012. The metropolis is also home to the world's largest tram network. Melbourne Airport, the main passenger airport, is the second busiest in Australia and the Port of Melbourne is Australia's busiest seaport for containerized and general cargo.
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Melbourne has a moderate oceanic climate and is well known for its changeable weather conditions. This is mainly due to Melbourne's location situated on the boundary of the very hot inland areas and the cold southern ocean. This temperature differential is most pronounced in the spring and summer months and can cause very strong cold fronts to form. These cold fronts can be responsible for all sorts of severe weather from gales to severe thunderstorms and hail, large temperature drops, and heavy rain. During our stay we witnessed very heavy rain with thunder, cloudy and chilly mornings with temperatures ranging from 12˚C to 16˚C and then a sudden heat wave in the afternoon with 36˚C. One afternoon the prevailing temperature of 35˚C dropped to 20˚C in half an hour! We had never experienced anything like it before, but there again, we had never been to Melbourne before.

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Yarra River

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Driving in Melbourne can be challenging. Roads can be confusing, there are trams everywhere, and there is a rule about turning right from the left lane at major intersections in the downtown centre (which leaves the left-hand lane free for trams and through traffic). Here, you must wait for the lights to turn amber before turning. Also, you must always stop behind a tram if it stops, because passengers usually step directly into the road. Add to this the general lack of parking and you'll know why it's better to get on a tram instead. Melbourne has the oldest tram network in the world. Trams are an essential part of the city, and a major cultural icon. Several hundred trams run over 325km (202 miles) of track or so one our guidebooks told us.

A new automated ticketing system on all train, tram, and bus services has been introduced in the Metropolitan area public transport: a reusable smartcard called MYKI.  Here is the information you get online:
Interstate and overseas visitors can now purchase the myki Visitor Pack, for travel on Melbourne's train, tram and buses throughout their stay.
The myki Visitor Pack includes:
·        A myki smartcard pre-loaded with enough value for one day's Zone 1 travel
·         Instructions on how to use myki
·         An inner Melbourne tram map
·         A myki protective wallet designed by renowned cartoonist Mark Knight
·         Discounts at 15 attractions worth more than $130 in savings
The myki Visitor Pack is available for full fare, concession, child and senior visitors.
·         A full fare myki Visitor Pack costs $14.00 including $8.00 myki money
·         A concession, child or seniors myki Visitor Pack costs $7.00, including $4.00 myki money
The myki Visitor Pack is now available from the PTV Hub at Southern Cross Station (near entrance at Collins and Spencer streets), the Melbourne Visitor Centre at Federation Square and SkyBus terminals at Melbourne Airport and Southern Cross Station.

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Although MYKI was just what we needed, it proved very difficult to obtain. Since we had our rental car, we never bothered to find out where at the airport they would have sold the card. Thus when we actually found ourselves being in need of the card, we were nowhere near the places where we could have bought it. With the help of our hosts we managed to get to the centre and to the Melbourne Visitor Centre. Since our means of getting there were not totally legit, I will say no more. The curious thing was that you could not buy any tickets at the station where we boarded the train. If they were saving money by not employing staff to sell tickets, they could well have used one of the guys who kept showing people how to get their MYKI card touched on and off to do the job. Although I must say that they had done a good job of hiding the electronic card readers on the side of the exit gates, thy-high (thus the guys pointing the screen to people). Even the locals seemed to struggle to find the touch-off pad. When you entered, it was pretty obvious where to touch on because the pad was where one expected to find it, on top of the automatic gate box.

And the three Ts are: top up to put money on the card, touch on to have a valid ticket, touch off to pay the lowest fee.

The City Circle Tram is the best way to get around the centre of Melbourne — and it's free. The burgundy-and-cream trams travel a circular route between all the major central attractions, and past shopping malls and arcades. The trams run, in both directions, every 10 minutes. The trams run along all the major thoroughfares including Flinders and Spencer streets. Burgundy signs mark City Circle Tram stops. Normal trams stop at numbered green-and-gold tram-stop signs. The free tram has recorded announcements of the most important places and tourist attractions in the vicinity of the next stop. The problem is that with all the clattering and general noise around you they are reduced to practically incomprehensive mumble. If you want to know where you are, it is best to carry the route map with you – not that there is any danger of getting lost.

The centre of Melbourne has so much to offer sight wise. Since we chose to spend only ONE day in the CBD, we had to limit our visits to the places we most wanted to see. We decided to skip Royal Botanic Gardens because we wanted to see Australian flora and were taken for a personal guided tour by our hostess to Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, which is an absolute must for all garden enthusiasts and a feast for the eyes for anybody. For the same reason we gave Melbourne Zoo a miss and went to Healesville Sanctuary, which specializes in Australian animals, instead. More about both these places later.
Old Melbourne Gaol would have offered plenty to see and a special thrill in the form of a night tour by candlelight. This is the place where bushranger Ned Kelly was held a prisoner and where he eventually died.
Melbourne Aquarium offers a chance to see penguins being hand fed by the divers and an enormous walk-through tank with sharks and rays, among other things. But we were told that it more often than not has a very long queue to enter so we ticked it off too, since we had already  been to Minnesota Sealife Aquarium, which is the world´s largest aquarium with 10 000+ creatures.
We decided to see Melbourne Museum and it was worth the choice. It took us better part of the day but it was very interesting.

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The real thing: dissected from people who donated their bodies to medical education and research (on loan from The Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, The University of Melbourne)

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State Library of Victoria is a nice place with its exhibitions, bookshop, and café.

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Myer, Australian´s largest department store chain, has a store in Bourke Street. That was our next stop. Because it was November, their Christmas Windows had just been launched (9 November, 2012). Every year the new theme of the Christmas Windows remains a well-guarded secret while the artists, animators, and craftspeople are creating their magic for over six months to bring this Christmas tradition to Myer´s visitors. And attract people the windows did. There was a continuous line of people, old and young, but mainly parents with their children, waiting to view the windows up close. This year the theme was a tribute to a much-loved children´s book, Russell´s Christmas Magic.
Once we got past the queuing crowd we decided to have lunch at their café. The food was good, the service was swift, and the sparrows were ready to share your meal. Their presence is well explained by the fact that the café on the ground floor had partially open walls to the nearby street.
Prices in the store were sky-high but we managed to buy a little something for our kitchen at home.

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For every tennis enthusiast the place to visit is the Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park on Batman Avenue. Too bad we could not be in Melbourne in January, when the Australian Open is played. There are guided tours but we left it too late and missed them. But we will be watching the tournament in January. And we will definitely be back for some AO tennis!

St Kilda is the melting pot of arts and culture. From fish ´n` chips to fine dining, cafés, laid back sunsets on the boardwalk, to live music and community celebrations, and St Kilda Botanical Garden. And people jogging and even more people cycling. If you want to sit down and enjoy a great latte with a view, the pier café is just the place for you.

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Brighton beach, Bayside
This place puts you in a very good Aussie mood. People enjoying their Sunday afternoon out on the beach, even though the water was freezing, children and adults alike seemed to be loving it. A truly unique place.
The Brighton Bathing Box Association Inc. provides this information on its website:
For many years in the late nineteenth century, Brighton was Melbourne's favourite seaside destination. Brighton is located in the City of Bayside, which has 17 km of foreshore to Port Phillip Bay. Nestled on Dendy Street Beach, the Brighton bathing boxes are a popular Bayside icon and cultural asset.
Bathing boxes and boatsheds are intrinsic to Port Phillip Bay and Western Port. Much has been written about Victorian morality and its impact on how people went about bathing and enjoying the seashore. As a result of this morality bathing boxes had their origins not only in Australia but concurrently on the beaches of England, France and Italy. European bathing boxes exist to this day.
The 82 Brighton bathing boxes are unique because of their uniform scale and proportion, building materials, sentry order alignment and a Planning Scheme Heritage Overlay on a beach owned by Bayside City Council. As simple structures, all retain classic Victorian architectural features with timber framing, weatherboards and corrugated iron roofs. They remain as they did over one hundred years ago, as licensed bathing boxes. No service amenities such as electricity or water are connected.
Although approximately 1,860 bathing boxes, boatsheds and similar structures are located around Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, the Brighton bathing boxes are the only remaining structures of their kind close to the Melbourne central business district. As a functional remnant of a bygone era, they provide a cultural and historical resource that is constantly being photographed, painted or drawn.
Licensees choose to differentiate their bathing boxes with minor structural, artistic and colour variations. When viewed together they turn the beachscape into a collective work of art that can change by the hour according to season, light and colours.

If the thought of owning one of these bathing boxes crossed your mind, you might want to rethink it, unless, of course, you happen to be loaded. We were told that their prices are sky-high and that they are hard to come by but I wanted to find some evidence. Here it is. See below.

An article published in Sunday Herald Sun, May 29, 2011
THE auction of two Brighton bathing boxes is expected to raise $400,000.
Bayside council is building and selling two bathing boxes - numbers 58A and 58B - on Dendy St Beach.
The sale is part of a plan to build six new boxes, potentially netting the council about $1.2 million.
The first of the new boxes was auctioned in December and raised a record $215,000.
"What you are buying is an iconic space at the famous Dendy St Beach," Hodges Brighton director Sam Paynter said.
"It's an opportunity that doesn't come up very often."
The unpowered huts have soared in price over the past 10 years.
Locals were stunned when a box sold at auction for $46,000 in 1999.
Bayside council owns the land for each box and charges an annual fee of about $500.
The auction will be held on June 18.

Chadstone and Westfield were our designated places of shopping. Not that we actually bought anything much but it is nice to see what´s on offer. I especially like to see what the supermarkets stock and I also look to buy something special for the kitchen and bathroom. At least the selection of shops and stores made a nice change. There were very few shops that we had even heard of. We soon came to know what the most affordable places were, though. Big W and the Reject shop seemed to be where people did their Christmas shopping. We always look for new board games, too. This time we were not lucky. Also the shopping centres provide a good escape from the Melbourne 39 degree heat. For people like us who are used to the high prices of sushis, the sushi restaurants proved to be a paradise. Also the Chinese bakeries caught our eyes, or should I say mouths. One has to be careful with the parking though. The sings indicating the parking time are very inconspicuous, at least to a European eye.

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Williamstown was our last day target. Nice little town with some interesting shops. And the best ever park for dog walkers!

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Very dangerous :-)

There is so much to see and plenty to do in the Melbourne Metropolitan area that we feel that we hardly even scratched the surface.

This is my Christmas post and while I hope you enjoy reading it and sharing our experiences for a passing moment, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish each and every one a very Happy Christmas.

I hope to be able to post again in the first week of January of 2013, towards the end of the week. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

About travelling to Australia, Part 1

Australia is the world's sixth largest country and its largest island. It is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country. It was the first continent conquered from the sea, and the last. It is the only nation that began as a prison.

It is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the most famous and striking monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures - the funnel-web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick and stonefish - are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. Pick up an innocuous coneshell from a Queensland beach, as innocent tourists are all too wont to do, and you will discover that the little fellow inside is not just astoundingly swift and testy, but exceedingly venomous. If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or let to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It's a tough place.

And it is old. For 60 million years, since the formation of the Great Dividing Range, Australia has been all but silent geologically, which has allowed it to preserve many of the oldest things ever found on earth - the most ancient rocks and fossils, the earliest animal tracks and riverbeds, the first faint signs of life itself. At some undetermined point in the great immensity of its past -perhaps 45,000 years ago, perhaps 60,000, but certainly before there were modern humans in the Americas or Europe - it was quietly invaded by a deeply inscrutable people, the Aborigines, who have no clearly evident racial or linguistic kinship to their neighbours in the region, and whose presence in Australia can be explained only by positing that they invented and mastered oceangoing craft at least 30,000 years in advance of anyone else in order to undertake an exodus, then forgot or abandoned nearly all that they had learned and scarcely ever bothered with the open sea again.

It is an accomplishment so singular and extraordinary, so uncomfortable with scrutiny, that most histories breeze over it in a paragraph or two, then move on to the second, more explicable invasion - the one that begins with the arrival of Captain James Cook and his doughty little ship HMS Endeavour in Botany Bay in 1770. Never mind that Captain Cook didn't discover Australia and that he wasn't even a captain at the time of his visit. For most people, including most Australians, this is where the story begins.

The world those first Englishmen found was famously inverted - its seasons back to front, its constellations upside down - and unlike anything any of them had seen before, even in the near latitudes of the Pacific. Its creatures seemed to have evolved as if they had misread the manual. The most characteristic of them didn't run or lope or canter, but bounced across the landscape, like dropped balls. The continent teemed with unlikely life. It contained a fish that could climb trees; a fox that flew (it was actually a very large bat); crustaceans so big that a grown man could climb inside their shells.

In short, there was no place in the world like it. There still isn't. Eighty per cent of all that lives in Australia, plant and animal, exists nowhere else. More than this, it exists in an abundance that seems incompatible with the harshness of the environment. Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents. (Only Antarctica is more hostile to life.) This is a place so inert that even the soil is, technically speaking, a fossil. And yet it teems with life in numbers uncounted. For insects alone, scientists haven't the faintest idea whether the total number of species is 100,000 or more than twice that. As many as a third of those species remain entirely unknown to science. For spiders, the proportion rises to 80 per cent.

The above extract from
Bill Bryson, Down Under

And this is the country where we boldly went. We actually knew that people who had gone there had also come back, so we did not think it would be too bad. And it wasn't, it was great! It was amazingly great! It was marvellous! It was bloody marvellous!

The flight, we knew, would take us 22 hours plus all the waiting times. That is why we decided to fly business. A good decision it was, too. You can get two suitcases each making the grand total of your luggage 92 kg in addition to cabin luggage, of course. Between the two of us we did not come even close. Flying business is great. Everything is made real easy for you. No queuing. The only minor problem we had was where to find our designated lounge. At Changi in Singapore we found the Qantas business lounge only to be told that we should go to the Qantas first class and premium lounge. Ok, that makes sense! The lounges are great places where you can take a shower, if you so wish, or drink yourself senseless or stuff yourself with food, watch TV, read newspapers etc. Since we are very poor drinkers we decided to try all the vegetarian options they had on offer. Only the Finnair lounge in Helsinki wasn't very good for vegetarian options, but since we had to spend a long time there we noticed that it was getting better and dinner seemed to be OK.

The meal options in Singapore lounge were a bore. They seemed to have the same options all the time, at least they did when we went there going down and coming back. Their special feature was the fast cleaning after the clients. You could hardly put down a plate when it was taken away!

Another thing that got to us were the public announcements, which all began with "Hello everybody!" or rather "Hello evelybody!" After a while it began to sound really funny, like the computer in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy which always went "Hi there".

Our flight from Singapore to Melbourne was a Qantas flight. Airbus A380. Their flagship. They even had a customer service manager (!) on board. One of the reasons why boarding the plane was real slow was because he addressed every passenger by their name. My name was something that he greatly and timeconsumingly struggled with.

The plane was great. Not only did the seats recline to a completely flat position but in addition there was still room for people to walk from one aisle to another between the seats. The service was great but awfully slow. The champagne was great, if you like that sort of thing. Served in a champagne flute. The plates were real plates and the cutlery was not plastic. You had a real menu to choose from. Our meals were specials but they made no bones about changing them into whatever we wanted, which was great.

Most of the time they seemed to be serving us something or other. But when we got a break from eating, the selection of films, games etc was great. So we did not even take out our iPads. Of course, most of the time we found that the best way to pass the time was to go to sleep wearing the pyjamas that they were distributing for people to change into.
So after a good breakfast we were ready to take on Melbourne almost refreshed.

It took us ages to get through the passport control although we had our express lane card. There were heaps of (like Aussies seem to say) people, since our flight was a bit late and a flight from China had just got in before us. It was hot and the clothes we wore were completely unsuitable for queuing in that heat, but in the end we got through and were welcomed to Melbourne.

At the airport we had to find what they called the 1-minute pickup zone. It was easy since we had downloaded the Apple app of Tullamarine Airport. We phoned our car rental people to come and pick us up. We had rented a car at home just to make sure we got what we wanted. Rental cars are also cheaper online. We used, which had very good references and actually ended up calling them before completing the actual transaction of renting a car.

They are based in Slovenia and said that should we have any problems at any time with the rentals they would be online 24/7 to help us. The only snag was that we did not know what company would be responsible for the actual business. You could only see the name of the company, which was actually renting you the car, after you had paid for it. We decided to have a good and roomy car since we would be driving quite lot (i.e. over 2000 km) with our three large suitcases and two smaller bags. The car on special offer was a Mitsubishi Outlander, which turned out to be a good choice. When we knew the name of the company renting us the car, we noticed that it was not at the airport, but that they had a shuttle bus service to come and pick you up at the airport when you phoned them. We arrived very early on Saturday morning and so did a lot of other people. So it took them quite a while to come and get us. At the office the girl at the desk convinced us that the only sensible thing to do was to have an insurance, which would cover nearly everything.

Had we not chosen to get thus insured they would have made a reservation of 3000 Australians dollars on our credit card, which would have considerably limited the amount of money we would have been able to use while in Oz. Not that we expected to use that kind of money anyway, but we did not like the idea of them being in charge of our money and chose to pay $300 extra for the insurance. She also said that the Aussies were bad drivers and took unnecessary risks on the roads. This, we found out later, was not true at all.

So we finally got our car and thanked our lucky stars that we had gone for a roomy car.

We set the SatNav or the GPS, as it seemed to be called in Oz, to take us to our hosts in Melbourne. We got to the second set of traffic lights when the screen went totally black.
Nothing we could do would make any difference, it stayed black. Emerge plan B. iPhone Maps. Just as we had been reading how bad they are. But the app seemed to work and we just hoped that we would not find ourselves in Uluru or Sydney...  It wasn't great but we managed to avoid the toll road, which seemed like an awfully expensive $12-fee to pay to gain 5 minutes in time since on a Saturday morning the traffic wasn't very busy. We took the Western Ring Road and headed to St Kilda.

To be continued...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Laughing is not a Laughing Matter

I recently read in a study that pre-school children laugh about 400 times a day. 400 times!! And how often do I laugh? I actually started to count after reading this and the result varied between a meagre zero to five. According to the same study adults laugh 17 times a day. So I am either not an adult or I just lead an amazingly dull life. But here´s the thing: I do not think I do. I am happy, I am content, I do not think there is anything significant missing in my life. And why should I laugh? There are many Finnish proverbs ready to point out how futile laughter is, and how laughing will get you in the trouble sooner or later. Maybe we Finns are not meant to be laughing… at least not an awful lot.

The study got me worried nevertheless. Am I missing out on something when I do not laugh? Why should I? Does laughter, in some mysterious way, help me to be a better person?

I set out to find out what laughing does to us. I decided to look for facts.

Laughing 100 times roughly equals 15 minutes on an exercise bike. If you laugh vigorously your heart rate increases, your breathing rate deepens, and the muscles in the face, stomach, and diaphragm get used.

Laughter also helps reduce stress, fight infection and reduce pain. Not to speak about how it improves your mood. The levels of cortisol and epinephrine, both stress hormones, will drop leaving your body´s immune system to do its work better. These hormone levels are also effectively lowered by planning enjoyable activities for the future. Is that why we so enjoy planning a trip or a party? The brain chemistry is also altered by laughter. Endorphins, the body´s natural feel-good chemicals, are being released and thus more oxygen brought into the body with deeper inhalations.

Laughing heartily seems to get rid of negative feelings; anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, and tension. You can´t feel anxious, angry or sad when you are laughing. Laughter helps you relax. Laughter helps you recharge. After a good, hearty laugh your muscles will stay relaxed for up to 45 minutes.

When you laugh, it is much easier for you to concentrate on “right” attitudes rather than “wrong”. Humour shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. When we laugh with one another a positive bond is created.

Here is something I had never heard of before. Higher levels of an antibody (salivary immunoglobulin A) which fights infectious organisms entering the respiratory tract were found in the saliva of people who watched humorous videos or were having a good time and laughing. So is not laughing enough responsible for my having frequent respiratory infections? Maybe not totally, but I sure need all the help I can get to fight them. Researchers also found that after an hour of slapstick comedy our “natural killer cells”, the ones that seek out and destroy malignant cells, were more active in attacking tumour cells in test tubes. These effects lasted up to 12 hours.

Books have been written and films made where patients in grim hospital atmosphere were helped to better at least their quality of life, if not provide a cure for their illnesses, through laughter, fun, and watching comedies.

So, laughing is a serious matter. It can make all the difference.

Right, where are our Monty Python DVDs? Faulty Towers? Good old Spede (very Finnish) movies?


Friday, 9 November 2012

About the sun, winter, and everything SAD

Autumn has a very strong presence in Finland at the moment. It is raining, sleeting and snowing but it is not winter yet. The sun makes a rare appearance and the winds are bitingly chilly. Not even the beautiful white blanket of snow has arrived yet.

If you look at the people in their regular meeting places, you don't see very many happy faces. Even less smiles and laughter. I am starting to think that Montesquieu was right with his meteorological climate theory, which holds that climate may substantially influence the nature of man and his society. His theory presented the people in the north "icy" and "stiff". Walking down the streets in a rainy, chilly November afternoon it is easy to agree with him.

But what can we do, if this is where we were born? Is it really the climate or is it the lack of sunlight, which leaves us feeling miserable and joyless? If the latter is to blame, the culprit is causing us to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder appear in the autumn/winter months and leave with the return of longer days of sunlight, in the spring. They include body aches and pains, changes in energy level, sleep/wake patterns, and appetite, avoidance of social situations, reduction in the quality of sleep, drop in energy level, weight gain, irritability, inability to complete tasks, decreased creativity, and even suicidal thoughts.

Some studies say that 14 % of the population suffer from SAD. What about the rest of the population? Many of us suffer from some of the symptoms mentioned above occasionally but somehow seem to be able to get over it. Or the symptoms are mild enough not to cause a major disturbance or turmoil in our everyday life. I do not think there are very many people who are great fans of short, grey autumn/winter days. They may feel a bit down but they get on with their business as usual. But I am pretty sure that everyone of us could do with some cheering up. Music, books, art, films, and parties are good for the body and soul. And then there is Christmas with colourful fairy lights and all things red and green and family and friends and holiday. At best it provides us a welcome break.

It is true that we spend less and less time outdoors when the weather is bad. It is also true that we work indoors without natural light, even windows in some case. And even if we do go out, the sun will not be there to greet us.

Thus our exposure to sunlight is limited. Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, is produced by the body in response to sunlight. It is also occurs naturally in a few foods -- including some fish, fish liver oils, and egg yolks -- and in fortified dairy and grain products.

I include here part of an article I found online:

What Do You Lack? Probably Vitamin D

Vitamin D promises to be the most talked-about and written-about supplement of the decade. While studies continue to refine optimal blood levels and recommended dietary amounts, the fact remains that a huge part of the population — from robust newborns to the frail elderly, and many others in between — are deficient in this essential nutrient.

If the findings of existing clinical trials hold up in future research, the potential consequences of this deficiency are likely to go far beyond inadequate bone development and excessive bone loss that can result in falls and fractures. Every tissue in the body, including the brain, heart, muscles and immune system, has receptors for vitamin D, meaning that this nutrient is needed at proper levels for these tissues to function well.

Studies indicate that the effects of a vitamin D deficiency include an elevated risk of developing (and dying from) cancers of the colon, breast and prostate; high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; osteoarthritis; and immune-system abnormalities that can result in infections and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Most people in the modern world have lifestyles that prevent them from acquiring the levels of vitamin D that evolution intended us to have. The sun's ultraviolet-B rays absorbed through the skin are the body's main source of this nutrient. Early humans evolved near the equator, where sun exposure is intense year round, and minimally clothed people spent most of the day outdoors.
"As a species, we do not get as much sun exposure as we used to, and dietary sources of vitamin D are minimal," Dr. Edward Giovannucci, nutrition researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote in The Archives of Internal Medicine. Previtamin D forms in sun-exposed skin, and 10 to 15 percent of the previtamin is immediately converted to vitamin D, the form found in supplements. Vitamin D, in turn, is changed in the liver to 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the main circulating form. Finally, the kidneys convert 25-hydroxyvitamin D into the nutrient's biologically active form, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, also known as vitamin D hormone.

A person's vitamin D level is measured in the blood as 25-hydroxyvitamin D, considered the best indicator of sufficiency. A recent study showed that maximum bone density is achieved when the blood serum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D reaches 40 nanograms per milliliter or more.

"Throughout most of human evolution," Dr. Giovannucci wrote, "when the vitamin D system was developing, the 'natural' level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D was probably around 50 nanograms per milliliter or higher. In modern societies, few people attain such high levels."

What really dawned on me quite recently is that vitamin D could actually help to reduce some of the aches and pains we all have from time to time. After that I have not missed my daily dietary supplement of vitamin D.

Another form of SAD treatment that makes sense, is exposure to artificial light, which imitates sun light, the so-called light therapy. It can come from varied light sources (including incandescent light). This involves daily exposure to light through the use of a 10,000 lux light box or a light visor, both of which provide cool-white fluorescent light. The latest invention being the light earplugs. I do not know enough of them to say whether they are just a good placebo or a real relief to SAD sufferers or people who just want an uplifting experience.

Also the drugs which are used to treat normal depression have been known to be helpful in treating SAD. Not my first choice, though, but better than the worst alternative, surely.

A week or more in the sun would certainly do the trick, but if you, for some reason, cannot travel, what else is there. I wish I could offer a simple, straightforward answer to the question. And if I could, I would probably be famous. But I do have an idea I will be wanting to try this winter.

It is clear that you can fool your mind. You can fool it into thinking that you are exercising. Under hypnosis images of running or playing basketball are known to cause your heart and respiratory rates to go up and your muscles to tense and activate. So if you imagine yourself being in the sun and enjoying its warmth on your skin, would it not have similar physiological and chemical changes as well as benefits? Would it not treat you to your necessary daily dosage of natural sunlight?
No studies exist. It also sounds improbable that the level of vitamin D would be raised by mental images, but stranger things have happened. There is no danger in trying it out and at best you get the benefit of relaxed body and mind. Also, I do not think we have as yet discovered everything there is to the mind-over-body - link.

So here's how I am going to do it.

Form an image of yourself on a beach where you would love to spend your holidays if you could. Make the image and the place where you want to be as authentic as you can: include as many of your senses as you can. It will help you if you use a place where you have already been. Take you time to find the right place. There is no rush. Also make sure that you are physically in a place where nobody will disturb you and that your position is comfortable and you are warm enough.

Feel the warmth of the sun, slight warm breeze on your skin and hair... Smell the sea.... Feel the salty taste of sea in your mouth..... Listen to the waves.... Hear the seagulls.... Feel the sand slip through your fingers and bury your toes in the warm sand..... If you like water, you can even feel yourself swimming or floating weightlessly in the warm water.... Look up to the blue sky and experience the carefree feeling of the first day of your holiday.... Let everything else go and just enjoy being there.

This will be your own private place and you can make what ever you want with it. It can change from day to day. You can change it. You can use it to get rid of the thoughts that are bothering you just by releasing them for the wind to carry away or by building a fire on the beach and burning them there. You can picture yourself there in perfect health and as happy as you ever wanted to be. This is your moment and it is as perfect as you want it to be.

And now I am off for a long run. (Physical exercise is good for keeping your spirits up.)

Note to reader.

1. Not all of you suffer from the lack of sun light, so just do this exercise to enjoy relaxation after a hard day at the office and get rid of your high cortisol (the stress hormone) levels.

2. I try to post once a week so normally you should have something new to read by the next weekend.

3. Number 2 failing, I will post when I can. :-)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Scratching the surface. About worrying

I have been wanting to start a blog for the longest of times but always something else has come up. Also the threshold of starting has not come any lower, so I just decided to take the plunge.

Life has so much to offer and such interesting things to discover and such endless source of topics to display that portraying my thoughts about all that will probably take me a lifetime, even if I live to be 100+. But it is nice to start scratching the surface.

Of late, I have been trying to learn to live without worrying. It is such an easy thing to write and say but when something unexpected turns up in life the dark ominous clouds start to gather in your mental sky and very soon everything is dark. More clouds gather and light is hard to find at the end of the tunnel.

Through my profession (counselling) I have over the years given others many good advice on how to stop worrying. I have advised people to write down their worries on a paper the way they spring into their minds. No judging, just writing them down. I have also done it myself. With some things you write, you notice as the pen draws the first line that this really is not worth worrying. Like how will the long drive to see a friend go? What if I get a flat tyre. Will something bad happen at home when I am not at home to deal with it? It is almost as if we must have a set of worries to dwell on to feel "safe". As if "a familiar worry a day keeps other far worse worries away"- way of thinking would really help to ward off serious worries and, indeed, keep bad things from happening. We are creatures of habit.

And OK, if that's what it takes to make a person tick, OK, but if it has the opposite effect and it stops you on your tracks something should be done to release the worry. If worrying about how well you will do in the exam you are going to take, will make you work extra hard for it, it will have served its purpose. It will have contributed towards enhancing your performance.

But back to the list. When you have it, start going through it with a pencil and serious thought. Is there something there that you could address immediately or maybe first thing tomorrow? If so, write a date next to it. Your subconscious mind will then see it as being under control. What remains are the issues that should get more attention.

Ask yourself: how likely is it that this thing will happen? How likely is it that you can avoid it by doing something about it? If you are worried about dying one day soon and are a healthy person at the moment, the likelihood is not very high. If you are worried about dying one day, the likelihood is high. We all die. But in the meanwhile we have plenty of time to live and enjoy it. In other words, treat your worries with healthy critisism. Can you stop something from happening just by worrying about it? No sir, you cannot. But you can ruin your present moment by worrying about it. You sure can. Now the question remains: why should you spoil the present with future worries that you cannot do anything about in the first place. And what if things don't go from bad to worse and you will have worried for nothing, wasting your time in dark thoughts instead of enjoying life and its small endearing everyday things? Isn't that a waste of a good NOW? Also living in the future and in the present at the same time is not possible. You must choose.

Worrying about the future also creates patterns that you either knowingly or not tend to follow up with your actions. Why would we want to send ourselves a bad present for our future birthday, so to speak, in the form of negative thoughts, which is what worries are.

The present. That is where we are right now. If we constantly worry about things of the past and feel sorry for ourselves for something that happened ten or more years ago, which we cannot change no matter what, we are spending most of our time in the past and will thus be conspiciously missing from this moment. Other people will probably have already commented on your absence, if you think about it.

Most of the time, if not always, worrying is a waste of time, money and energy. It also distracts us from the good things that are happening in front of our very eyes. Worry about your child getting some awful disease, which might not ever happen, and you miss her/his smile and laughter in this moment.

Worrying is associated with negative thoughts. You don't worry about winning the lottery, do you?
So what I do to get rid of these thoughts, is that I build myself a mental image of all my negative thoughts and worries - and oh boy, is it ever a frighteningly large image! When it is there in front of my mind's eyes, I destroy it with any means that seem fit at the moment. Burning the image works for me. Fire seems to be a cleansing concept in my mind. Then I remind myself that I am in control of my thoughts, not vice versa. Thus I can redirect my thoughts onto a happier track and build myself a postive image of everything past, present or future.

It sounds so easy. I know. But at least for me a lot of "burning" is needed but I know I am better off going to the right direction. So you see, just knowing how things should be dealt with does not necessarily mean that it is all plain sailing. Only maybe a bit easir because the set of trusted tools is there, but it still is an effort.

Worried about how you look - worried people are never good looking or beautiful.
Worried about losing - take the time enjoy what you have, otherwise it will truly be lost.
Worried about your children - notice them laughing, smiling, enjoy them now the way they are.
Worried about the future - do you know of somebody who can totally control it. I don't.
Worried about the past - what ever you do, it will always be out of your reach. All you can do
is change your own attitude towards it. Leave it be. It made you the
person you are.
Worried about illness - enjoy your health and take care of it. Nobody knows what is going to
happen. We are all in it together. Strength in numbers?
Worried about dying - we all will when the time comes. Worrying won't change it.
Worried about money - nobody has ever made a buck by worrying, so make better use of you
time and that could actually make you some money.