Hello, my name is Sandy.

The psychological toll of book club

Come July, I have a book club thing with a handful of mates. I'm super excited for it, even though I generally don't do book clubs. Or movie clubs. I don't do monthly get-togethers either; seasonal kibbutzes, other regular things like that.

There's something about monthly whatever clubs that starts to feel old very quickly. At least for me. Even in that first month, with the excitement of doing something new, I still get the sense of staring down a long sentence without parole.

Of course, in reality, parole happens. People take breaks, wane in enthusiasm, fade into the background. You're never truly locked into a book club.

But I don't like dithering on commitments. It doesn't feel good. If I accept an invitation to book club, I want to be sincere about the implicit promise to be there for someone in that bookish way. And I can't. I'm picky about the media I consume, I don't want to be told what book to read next.

It's not just that, though. I get the same feeling with monthly, or weekly, dinners or lunches or movies or picnics or catchups or so-and-sos. Most of the time, I want play-dates, not play-marriages. So as soon as I hear there's a time-based ball to chain myself to, I'm out.

Perhaps it's an underlying fear of commitment fuelling my aversion. Or what if I've cultivated a pattern of avoidance through type-A perfectionistic tendencies bordering on delusions of grandeur? That's getting heavy for a blog post on book clubs, isn't it.

To date, the only thing I've given myself to with regularity is indoor football. Christians have church, geeks have conventions, I have weekend team sport. I adore the psychological toll here. But then, maybe deep down it's because I know I'm on a time limit. That there's three decades at best left in my footballing body, barring some superb science or fitness secret that could make me match-fit until I die. I stare down this sentence of week after week, and wish it were several lifetimes long.

Well then. I'm trying something different with this book club by removing the regularity. None of us are trying to read more, just have a bit of fun. If anything, this affair is a big ask because we're all avid readers taking precious time out of our regular schedule to do this together. So, as the organiser, I want to respect that by eliminating the routine, the locked-in feeling.

Just one 398-page dalliance in July because we want to. No strings attached. They don't have to call the next day or month. We're ships, passing bookishly in the night.

Garden things in June 2016

Confession time - I've had almost no motivation for gardening since the summer. For some reason, the fact that we're renting has weighed heavy on my mind, despite every assurance when we moved in that we could treat the place like our own.

But you know how it is. When something isn't yours, it's hard to pretend it is. I don't want to leave a legacy the owner or next tenant might not want. I don't want to add all these adornments we'll end up having to shift when we eventually get our own home.

Yet, maybe it's none of these things. Maybe this comes from being in my mid-30s and feeling the urge to nest my way. Whatever the reason for this horticultural malaise, my garden has become unkempt.

Not totally forgotten, though. Let me show you things.

nasturtiums spilling over the garden bed

The nasturtiums are going nuts, as they did this time last year. I thought they'd all died over the summer, but they seem to be a permanent seasonal fixture in this garden. Same with those arum lilies you see peeking over the top.

I see now why people say to observe your garden over a year before making drastic changes. I had intended on adding mediterranean plants over the warmer months, but now I realise they would simply be overshadowed by winter growth. To ensure our garden stays beautiful without severely upping the effort factor, I'll need to account for its natural ebbs and flows.

What I have done is expanded our no-dig bed (to the left) with kitchen waste, twigs, prunings and lawn clippings. But instead of using the space as a food producer, I've decided to make it a flowerbed. Something pretty and relatively low-touch for however long we remain in this house.

geranium in a broken pot

So far there's a Geranium Calliope (Pelargonium) in the back, decorated with a piece of broken pot we found by the side of the road. It currently looks like crap, but over time, the setup should look nice and quaint enough that it won't bother whoever lives here next.

Not sure what to plant there next, though. Maybe some flowering ground cover or pretty weeds.

rocket weeds

Speaking of pretty weeds, our rocket plants went mental and have made babies all over the yard. We now have them growing like weeds pretty much everywhere. I'm OK with this. It's been nice going outside and sitting around snacking on fresh leaves. They're super peppery and very satisfying.

radish overgrown with rocket

This (above) was my attempt to convert the rocket bed into a radish bed. Well played, nature.

white alyssums

flowers and herbs in a no-dig bed

In another part of the garden, we piled on more clippings and prunings, and planted herbs and flowers. Initially, the pile was as high as the grey brick, but eventually sank to a more reasonable level. As these plants grow and spread, this bed should become a pretty little sight in place of what was once a barren patch.

Grass and weeds are having their wicked way right now, so it'll take more attention to make beautiful, but we'll get there. Bit by bit.

wild veggie patch

Finally, my veggie bed. What can I say? It's a mess. Nasturtiums are poking through and will have to go. The basil is going nuts and we haven't the time to harvest and make pesto. It's a race against the flowers, because the plant will die back after going into full bloom.

The tomatoes are... I can't tell at this point whether they're succeeding or failing. Two tomato fruits started to grow on one of the plants, but they look like they're withering on the vine. The foliage in the back bed is looking healthy, but that end doesn't get enough sunshine to really take off.

At least we know planting basil and tomato in autumn is not a dumb idea in WA. :)

Outside the beds, grass has been growing beautifully. I think it's a type of buffalo grass, but I'm not sure. Last winter, this whole bed was a pile of thorny prunings we dumped deliberately with this exact situation in mind. It is now looking mighty lush.

So, there's a lot of green in this post. If I'm lucky (and not lazy), the next garden update should include other colours too.

Cleaning indoor air with science

My doctor tells me I have a condition called atopy. Wiki makes the symptoms sound severe, but I think in terms of suffering, I probably don't get it as bad as the average afflicted. I'm sensitive to sudden changes in weather and too much of certain foods, but most of the time, I get reactions when the air isn't right.

Maybe there are lit cigarettes nearby, or someone walks ahead of me with musky perfume, or if there's been a bushfire or a stuffy room full of dust - it all goes the same way. Niggly sinuses, sometimes a headache, itchy eyes, difficulty breathing, and once in a while, a skin rash (yay, TMI!).

Anyway, all this fuels my curiosity about air and how to keep it clean. Wanna see some interesting things I found on the net?

These plants that clean indoor air

In the 80s, NASA did a study on plants that clean indoor air (lovely infographic). Strictly speaking, it wasn't the plants themselves that did the job, but microorganisms present on the leaves and in the potting soil - either way, you pop some of these plants in your home, and it should help reduce the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air.

Notable, hardy and easy-to-care-for varieties include certain species of palm, dracaena, philodendron and ficus. I wrote a piece on them here: 4 indoor plants that purify the air in your home. Of all those plants, we have just a young Benjamin fig in a pot. :)

More details in the paper on the NASA site.

a formaldehyde-cleaning ficus

This air filter that disintegrates pollutants

Molekule. This gadget is neat for two reasons.

One - it pulls in air, traps larger particles like dust and dander, and uses photoelectrochemical oxidation to break down airborne VOCs, mold and bacteria into constituent compounds. Clean air comes out and the greb stays in the internal filter.

Two - IoT integrations. You can monitor the Molekule from your smart phone, so you know when to replace the filter... OR you can set it all up so new filters are sent to you automatically when the old ones are about to get full.

Plus their site is neat too.

Molekule air filter Pic via inhabitat

A purifier that turns bad gases into solids

Dust is far easier to get rid of than bad smells and noxious fumes. So this GPAO contraption turns those stinky, toxic gases into dust by exposing them to ozone and fluorescent light. Inside the GPAO is also an electrostatically charged surface, which dust particles readily cling to, so they stay out of the air.

The process mimics nature's way of cleaning itself, only this machine does it faster in a contained space. It's already in use at industrial sites, and I'm so picturing a future where we can recycle/upcycle some of the nasty shit our civilisation produces.

Video via University of Copenhagen

This humidifier, filter and circulator in a pretty planter box

No mad science here, just everyday science combined in a nice way. The EcoQube Air is a pretty desktop greenhouse with mechanical and charcoal filters to trap dust, pollen and unwanted gases.

The full-spectrum LED bulbs mean you can grow lovely plants inside, which reoxygenate the air that gets pumped through the box. The lights also double as a light therapy system, which you can adjust according to your sleep/wake cycle.

The Kickstarter comments say they will ship to Australia, but it's currently looking like US$40-60. Maybe when their commercial stock is ready, some bright spark will do a bulk import? (someone, pls!)

EcoQube Air by Aqua Design Innovations

Pic via Kickstarter

One week is a journey home

According to New York Magazine's Science of Us, clearing your mind makes you more creative. I'm thinking this explains why sometimes going on holiday makes you dream up all these amazing things to do when you get home.

Being on holiday is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I love the novelty of being away and seeing new things - but on the other, I feel like that time could be spent working towards my goals. I guess I'm not very good at living in the moment.

This blogging challenge feels like a 'trip' of sorts. I'm still pondering how different things look when you're in the thick of it; how perspective changes when you're in a different context. I mean, I understand my reasoning - I felt flat in my craft so it seemed like good practice. But immersed in this blasted month, I'm wondering what the hell. All this hobby time I've sacrificed for this blog-holiday could have been spent writing fiction or playing with circuits.

I wonder, is focus the key to a quieter mind? After being busy with just one primary project for three weeks, I now have all these new ideas for things to do when I get home from blogland.

I wonder if feeling stretched and scattered, uninspired and unmotivated, might come from having multiple current projects. Like the problem with multitasking but less in the immediate moment. Could it be time to try a one thing a month creative schedule again?

Seven posts to go. Well, 8 for me because I'm behind.

My favourite shameless, mindless movies

Having spent the last week beset by sickness, I've had more than the lion's share of tv and movies. And after a conversation yesterday about dumb, cheesy movies you can't help but love, I started thinking about the films in my personal hall of fame that people have given me sour faces for liking.

I have a lot of favourite movies, but it's getting late and I'm two posts behind on my #blogjune, so here - let me share a couple of my favourite utterly shameless ones:

Pacific Rim movie poster excerpt

Pacific Rim. There is some cheese here and I felt guilty liking it as much as I did after seeing it in the cinema. But hey, if this were a mecha anime, no one would bat an eyelid. I love it. I love movies that make me feel like I'm 14 again, free of cynicism and full of wonder.

The Expendables movie poster excerpt

The Expendables. All three of them, thank you. I understand why people cringe when I bring this up. The stories are not believable, the acting isn't what would make you go see them/stream them/download them; they're not pieces that make you think. At all. In fact, you want to shut your brain off entirely to avoid feeling pain. It looks like a bunch of old dudes just decided to have fun and make an action movie. That's good enough for me.

Battleship movie poster excerpt

Battleship. More cheesy tropey trope. This gets a whopping 34% on Tomatoes, with the consensus that it's too loud, predictable and formulaic. But whatever. There is a tongue-in-cheek quality to this film, though I haven't worked out yet whether it's intentional or just something I'm projecting because there's no way they can be serious. Either way, it doesn't matter. I liked and would watch it again. And again.

The Fast and the Furious cropped still

The Fast and the Furious. The cheese is undeniable, but if you just roll with it, you'll be rewarded with six more movies that build on the characters you come to love. These movies are dumb and unbrainy, but I still got mega feels when The Rock and Vin Diesel did the bro arm thing in Fast Five, and when Paul Walker drove off in Furious 7.

John Wick cropped still

John Wick. It's hard not to feel a twinge of "wat" about the premise. Keanu plays an ex-hitman who comes out of retirement after some jerks kill his dog, the last gift his girlfriend gave him before she died. If that happened to you, you'd flip out and go fight a ton of people too, right? Well, whatever you make of it, what happens next is #spoileralert 90 minutes of brilliantly choreographed cinematic violence.

In hindsight, I probably should have called this post "a list of action movies that are actually pretty rad". :)

A day in lists

What I did this morning before getting out of bed:

  1. Coughed, a lot
  2. Mentally prepared for needing braces (again) :(
  3. Sat up to clear my nose
  4. Rolled up in a blanket
  5. Slept next to a cat

Some things I have eaten:

  1. A pie
  2. Some salad
  3. A mandarin
  4. Radishes
  5. Flecks of tea leaves

Stuff that went poorly:

  1. Getting cut off by a car at a junction
  2. Getting served takeaway when we were dining in
  3. 5-minute coughing fit
  4. Car swinging out at us without looking (lots of bad driving in our part of town)
  5. Not being well enough to exercise

Stuff that went awesomely:

  1. Only one 5-minute coughing fit today!
  2. The pie shop had my favourite, steak & kidney!
  3. Lots of cat cuddles. <3
  4. Feeling better than yesterday.
  5. Finding a weekend court booking for sport!

Things I have wondered:

  1. Do people actually realise when they're driving badly, but don't care because of some pressing reason?
  2. Does having cold feet actually make you cough more? (Asian thing)
  3. Does eating mandarins and oranges actually make you cough more? (another Asian thing)
  4. Is the lady at the pie shop actually a grumpy person, or did we just catch her on a bad day?
  5. Will going for a run make my cold go away faster?