{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

March 22, 2015

Centre Of The Universe

A funny joke about self-centred people. Do you know anyone who fits the description?



Post by Begin with Yes.

{Image credit: By Enfwm (http://planets.homedns.org/ --- own work) [GPL or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

March 17, 2015

Just Read || Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs

Déjà-Dead-kathy-reichs
I'm an enormous fan of the television series 'Bones' but have never ventured into reading the novels upon which the series is based. Having found the first in the series hidden away on a top shelf in one of my favourite second-hand book stores, I decided there was no time like the present.

In 'Déjà Dead' we meet forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan for the first time as she becomes more seriously involved in solving a murder case. She is the only person to connect several violent crimes against women to one perpetrator but she is frustrated in a police world dominated by men who disregard her hunches and at times completely write off her ideas and insight. In the end the battle to discover the serial murderer becomes intensely personal for her, and she shows how valuable she is to the detectives on the case, even if they won't admit it.

Having seen the character on television, I found this Temperance Brennan much more likeable right from the bat. In the series, she seems cold and emotionless and it is only later that we become acquainted to the reasoning for her coldness. However, in this novel she is much more easy to relate to.

I don't recall if Brennan in the television series had to deal with the same amount of sexism in her job and so found the novel more interesting with its inclusion. Brennan is looked down upon not because of what she does but because of what she is. She is called names by detectives behind her back and her hunches are constantly ridiculed. It is even implied that she is being the typical overreacting, hysterical woman.

This misogynistic undertone is perhaps necessary to emphasise the tone of the violence towards and hatred of the women who are killed in the novel. I would even go so far as to suggest that the novel points out how thin the line can be between simply denigrating women through words and actions and actually making that hatred a physical, violent sport.

Although I found the relentless detail in the novel annoying at times - expect an outline of every move Temperance makes - that same detail helps to construct the rich sensual world Brennan finds herself in, while the medical details are informative and give flavour to Brennan's trade. Reichs' red herrings throughout the novel are also excellent at making this a read I found difficult to put down, echoing Minette Walters' testimonial on the front cover of my edition.

I thorougly enjoyed this novel and you will too if you're a stickler for attention to detail, love to read a character who is real and intelligent to boot, want your sleuth-self to be sincerely challenged, and would like some insight into the world of a forensic anthropologist - it's people like this who are solving crimes and saving lives every day.

March 14, 2015

Just Read || Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

milkweed-jerry-spinelli
This novel is one of those that will haunt you, not only because of what happens in the novel but because of your own personal knowledge of what happened during the Holocaust.

'Milkweed' follows the exploits of Stopthief, one of several boys orphaned in the city of Warsaw, Poland during the second World War. His only experience of the world before he is found by fellow orphan Uri is of theft and survival. He has hardly any memory of his parents and does not even have a name, and so 'Milkweed' immerses the reader in the world of a boy with no identity and thus an innocence that keeps him from understanding the truth of what is happening around him.

I think the innocence of how he sees what is happening is the scariest thing about this book. The marching German troops make him excited - a parade, he thinks. He thinks it might be fun to be painted yellow, to become a Jackboot. When the Jewish families are kicked out of the city, he also believes it's a parade.

Seeing the horrors of what people went through through the eyes of a child is certainly a disturbing aspect - there is no explanation for what we see, because he doesn't have one. There is no softening of the blow, because it's what he sees.

Misha's innocence is also what helps him to survive. He helps with what he can understand, so when it comes to helping others survive, he is in the front ranks. He shares his food and finds with his group of orphans before he shares them with orphans in a home before he shares them with the Milgroms, who become his adoptive family.

Misha's identity is at the crux of the novel. Because he doesn't know who he is, he adopts the practices of everyone. It is only when he is older that he comes to realise the horror of what he has experienced.

The problem with identity is that it consists of so many aspects, including what your parents teach you, what religion teaches you, and what society teaches you. Stopthief does not care about these things until Uri gives him an identity and tries to tell him where he belongs and what is wrong or right. It is these things that people teach their children that result in love and tolerance, or hate and prejudice. And unfortunately this still happens today. As a child you have no reason to hate anyone but it is what the adults around you, those you look up to, say and do that help you to form impressions and opinions based on experiences that are not your own. Misha Pisuldski was like this: a blank canvas that absorbed what was going on around him. I found it disturbing that Misha's fellow orphans insult each other as Jews, using the derogatory notions of those prejudiced against them. This in some way reflects how easily we are influenced by others when it comes to forming our identities.

The novel's main theme of identity is complemented by that of hope, signified by such things as the Milkweed plant, which grows in the ghetto no matter what and, Misha's angels. Caring for others is also a theme, since Misha spends much of his life helping others to survive and thereafter grieving for those whom he lost.

'Milkweed' is a stunning rendition of innocence lost and an excellent introduction to some of the occurrences during the Holocaust. It is deepened by what you personally know of the Holocaust, and so you can be certain that it will have a different effect on everyone who reads it.

March 10, 2015

New Floors: In Progress

floors-progress
We've been staying in our home now for over five years, and have been living with the same carpets since then - carpets that were here when we moved in and who knows how long before that. We've been deliberating over doing the floors for ages, and finally decided to take the plunge.

If we can survive the mess that came with our bathroom fix-up, we can survive this!

So we've hired Rob's Flooring to do the job, and they started on Monday, pulling up the carpets and the underfelt. We had a large patch of water damage as a result of repeat-leaking of Shaun's marine tank - one of the reasons he sold it was to make it easier for us to do the floors.

The damage, however, was not as bad as I had expected, with only a small patch of mini mosaic having to be replaced. The water did loosen the blocks though, so it's been pretty time-consuming for the workers sticking everything back together and finding replacement blocks that fit.

Floor-sanding-before-after
Sanded on the left, not sanded on the right
They started sanding today, and it really looks amazing! We've chosen to go with a water-based, eco-friendly sealer, which, while not being as dark as the solvent-based sealer, will be easier on our brains (i.e. very little odour) and patience (quick-drying). Besides, I quite like the look of the wood's differing colours. My dad would, too.

We expected them to finish tomorrow, but that may have to be extended until Thursday because of the time it's taken them to replace blocks.

We've moved most of our stuff out of the house, and I'm looking forward to using this opportunity to do some proper spring cleaning.

Wait a minute! Wasn't I also working on our bathroom? What's happened with that?

Well, here are some sneak peeks. I'm very nearly finished!

mirror-mosaic scales

Can you guess what the above may be? Three guesses!

March 6, 2015

#CapeFire: Firemen are heroes everywhere

cape-town-wildfires-2015
Twitter/NicolaTheron
The fires destroying swathes of lands and lives in Cape Town is the biggest news in South Africa this week, and the media has applauded the local community for everything it has been doing for those affected in the fire. But the coverage rings hollow to me.

Certainly the media's focus on the fire is because of its longevity and also because of the size of the land the fire has affected (here's a link to a map of how much of Johannesburg would have been burnt, and here to a map of Paris) - more than 5,000 hectares. The fire has destroyed large areas of Table Mountain National Park. The fire itself started above Muizenberg's Boyes Drive, presumably as a result of a passer-by's stray cigarette butt, proof once again that humans are their own and nature's worst enemy. It spread fast across Chapman's Peak, Hout Bay, and Tokai. Parts of Noordhoek were also affected. Thirteen families whose homes were sheltered from the Cape's windy days amongst the trees and bush of the mountain now don't even have a home to go back to. Pensioners Fran and Jeffrey Collings' home in Constantia burnt down to the ground, as did this lady's below.


One of the things most praised in this blaze is how the community has come together to aid those affected by the fire and the efforts of the emergency services. Apart from community relief efforts at Noordhoek's Dutch Reformed Hall and other places, masses of volunteers decided to help fight the flames and so many food donations were made that the City of Cape Town allegedly had to ask people to stop donating. People made so many donations to the firemen who faught heroically that the firefighters "[could not] see the firehouse". Primedia Broadcasting's KFM and Cape Talk alone managed to garner pledges worth more than R700,000 to aid firefighters and Wild Fire Services in battling the inferno.

All this love from the Mother City is great!

But...

Why don't I hear about Cape Town's heart when thousands are displaced in shack fires and other disasters? Just two months ago, a seven-year-old boy died in a shack fire in Kraaifontein, which destroyed several shacks and left 10 people homeless. In August last year, 2,000 people were affected by a storm that flooded around 1,500 shacks just in Khayelitsha. Five thousand people had been affected around the city. In March 2013, 2,500 people were homeless after 600 shacks were gutted in Kayamandi. Two people also died. In December last year, 118 people were displaced after a fire swept through 30 shacks in an informal settlement in Hout Bay. The same night, four other fires broke out, leaving a family homeless in Ravensmead, two people homeless in Khayelitsha, six shacks and 18 people displaced in Fizantekraal, and 15 people homeless in Kraaifontein. Sure, these fires did not last nearly as long as the one sweeping through the southern peninsula now.
The very same firemen and rescue services who help rescue the people living in the worst conditions in the country are those rescuing the people who live in the very best. But now they are drowning in donations and receiving tonnes of praise. I am not saying they don't deserve the praise - these are people who put their lives on the line for the good of their community every day. But that's just it. They do it every day. They deserve praise every day.
But why does it seem as though they only get it when they use their heroics in certain areas? Why do they get help when homes with foundations are affected? I don't wish to detract at all from the help that has been given by everyone so far, nor from the help that others offer throughout the year. But there is an obvious discrepancy in the help offered.

What do you think?

March 4, 2015

The Devil in Your Deodorant

By Veronidae (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I've been doing a lot of reading in the last few years about the substances that our bodies are absorbing through our beauty products, many of which have been discovered to be harmful and some of which are thought to cause early puberty in girls as young as seven. This should be a concern for those of us with children.

Following a post on Facebook by a woman complaining of mould on her lip balm, I realised that many of us aren't even aware of what's in the products we're slathering on our faces and bodies.



Unfortunately the preservatives that we've been putting in our food and beauty products has trained us to believe that mould is equal to rot, and that anything that looks mildly old should go straight to the refuse bin. South Africa alone generates more than 9 million tonnes of wasted food every year, while millions of people still go hungry every night.

The balm mentioned in the post is an all-natural and 95% organic product, and it is likely that the mould is the result of the user's own skin cells and probably the remainder of food on their lips. Someone mentions that their natural bee balm product does not grow mould, but bee propolis is also a natural antibacterial agent, so mould won't grow on that. It saddens me that people don't know that!

The balm in question above is also pabove araben-free, petrolatum-free, and phthalate-free. Why should these three ingredients be removed from a beauty product? Because they're (possibly) quite harmful in fact.

Paraben molecular representation
Firstly, parabens, esters of an acid, are the chemical that preserve your beauty product and this is why the balm has grown mould. Parabens have been used in cosmetics and beauty products since the 1950s and can currently be found in around 85% of cosmetics. Usually more than one form of the chemical can be found in your cosmetics, including butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. Concerns were raised in the 1990s after parabens were found to have gathered in cancerous tumours and were thus believed to imitate the function of estrogen in the body. Parabens have been found to have a weak effect on estrogen levels and many doctors say people should not be paranoically concerned.

By Kiyok (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Secondly, petrolatum, also known as mineral oil jelly, soft paraffin,  or petroleum jelly, is the queen of beauty products. It's in everything from lip balm to hair conditioner. It works really well to lock moisture into the skin and hair. But the European Union has restricted its use in cosmetics as it considers it a carcinogenic. It is a by-product of oil production and may be contamination with stuff called polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons and studies have linked these with cancer.

Potassium Hydrogen Phthalate
Thirdly, phthalates, also esters of an acid, that are used to make plastics more flexible, although they cannot become chemically bonded to the plastics they're added to. This means they're released into the air around us, our water, and into the product (food, liquid, cosmetic) the plastic is retaining. This release of phthalate is why plastic becomes hard and brittle over time, by the way. In cosmetics, they are also used to help fragrances last longer, increase a product's spreadability, and help lotions to penetrate the skin. The are also found in fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meat and this is apparently where we receive most of our phthalates from. Because of their widespread use, it is very simple for them to be absorbed into our bodies. Babies are particularly at risk: plastic toys + baby's mouth = oral absorption of phthalates.

Although the danger phthalates represent to humans have not been studied, as all studies have been undertaken on animals, the studies do suggest that phthalates can affect gestational age and birth weight, lower sperm reproduction, and abnormalities of male genitals. Other studies are looking at how phthalates might have a relationship with asthma, early puberty, and childhood obesity. The Breast Cancer Fund says phthalates disrupt the body's hormones as well and a high exposure to the ester may result in cancer.

Checking for phthalates is difficult: manufacturers apparently do not have to list them separately on the ingredients list, and sometimes they'll only be referred to as 'fragrance'. And finding phthalate-free plastics can also be a nightmare.

The problem for me is the fact that we're consuming more than just one low-dose paraben-, petroleum- or phthalate-including product a day and surely it all adds up. I don't use many beauty products - I'm abnormal - and I already have six products I use daily that include one or all of the above chemicals. All six have 'Fragrance', all sit in phthalate-leaking plastic all day, and at least two had a form of paraben in them. I happen to use petroleum jelly for my feet. So I'm too wicked to preach. :)

So what are we to do? Use more glassware, metalware, avoid plastic items, buy children's toys that are made from special plastic... and all of this at a higher cost of course. A cost that sadly the majority of the population cannot afford.

{Image credits in order of appearance:
By Veronidae (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}
By Kiyok (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

March 3, 2015

Bathroom Fix-Up: Inspiration

not-now
In the absence of any completion of the bathroom - yes, it is because I am totally procrastinating and unmotivated - I've decided to show you some of my plans for it with regards to decor.

I have done some of the grouting of the mirror mosaic around the bath, but, to my dad's scolding tone echoing in my ear, I managed to slice my fingers open. Haven't been very motivated since. It's been a tough week for me emotionally, I suppose.

Anyway, I intend to maintain the reflective quality of the bath across the entire room. We had to replace the bathroom cabinet and the rail because they smashed them when they took them out, so I've purchased a plain silver rail. There'll be a silver hook for the guest towel, and much of the decor will also be shiny, while I'm adding colour with turquoise accessories and decor, too (and a surprise piece that you'll see when everything is done!)

Mr Price Home has been my port of call for much of the decor I've chosen. I know it's all mass-produced, but some of it really is lovely.

My favourite mirrors:












I was going to put this chandelier in...



...but I'm doing something completely different with the current bowl we have based on this design.

I wanted the mats to be soft under our feet as we stood at the basin and climbed out of the bath, so I bought these, obviously both in the light blue colour:






Mr Price Home is filled with some of the most gorgeous items. Here are some of my favourites for the bathroom. Which ones should I use?


























Check out more of my favourites on my Pinterest Bathroom board.

{GIF Credit: Tumblr/Ralapack}