Archive for the ‘November 2014’ Category

The gift of a baby boy

In November 2014 on November 18, 2014 at 8:08 am

running River

Sarah: Yesterday my 11-year old son learnt that sometimes apparently healthy babies go to bed….and never wake up.

Karl Waddell’s baby boy River died on the 7th of November 2011 at the age of 128 days. We met Karl at the Henley Classic running event, where he was manning the River’s Gift (Stamp Out SIDS) stall to raise funds for research aimed at Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

It was only the freakishly cold winds that lead us to chat. To avoid enduring the 5km jog with bare arms, my son pointed out that Karl was selling lightweight tops with those cool hook-your-thumb-in-option long sleeves. We had a look, Karl told us about River and it seemed a very good idea to buy the shirt.

Apart from the fact that Karl was a lovely bloke, and in addition to the notion that he was making something positive from his loss, I was impressed to read of the way that funds were being directed through the charity. Taken from their marketing material:

Rivers Gift’s primary objective is to fund world leading SIDS Research and make a formidable contribution to the discovery of a cure for this heartbreaking loss of life.

With the help of our sponsors, our primary goal is to raise a minimum of $250,000 per year and in April 2014 we launched River’s International SIDS collaboration between Harvard University – Boston, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health – Melbourne and The University of Adelaide.

The existence of a direct relationship between this kind of fundraising and specific research institutions is a good thing in my opinion. You can read more details of the goals of the fundraising program here.

Thanks for telling us about your baby boy, Karl.


Rediscovering gymnastics

In November 2014 on November 14, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Kirsti Gymnast

Kirsti: Recently I competed in a veterans gymnastics competition (and secured a gold medal, might I add! – Sarah).

I’m 39, and I was the oldest in my age category (31-40 years). With moral support provided by a 42-year old fellow competitor and friend, I was amazed to arrive and then meet the oldest competitor, a man of 71 years! This fellow was still doing some impressive tumbling and vaulting, a result of his training in his garage in the Flinders Ranges (far from any organised gymnastics venue).

It was a fascinating weekend. For one thing, I discovered that at least six of us 30 competitors were scientists! I also learnt that the origin of the word for gymnastics is the same as that of gymnosperms (conifers and pines that have naked seeds). ‘Gymnos’ in ancient Greek means ‘naked’. The men of those times trained and competed in gymnastic exercise completely naked. They believed that coordination of the mind and body was enhanced by physical development. Gymnastics was as important in their education as music and art.

At this point I might add that whilst my friend and I did not take the ultimate step in clothing removal for our competition, we did strip down to bare bones (see a sample of our outfits by clicking here).

Most people these days regard gymnastics as something only young people do. This is partly with good reason – sports scientists agree that gymnastics is hard! In fact, it has recently been listed as the hardest sport in the world! It demands skill and agility, but also physical strength, flexibility, power, coordination, grace, balance and control of your body. It requires and develops good vestibular and proprioception sensing, two senses that are frequently forgotten beyond the early years of life.

This Sports Science video analysing the balance, spatial awareness and speed of gymnasts at a recent competition gives you an idea of the complexities involved in high level gymnastics. The accuracy and precision displayed by these women in the execution of their routines is astounding. Enviable!

I didn’t quite get this fancy when I competed. But whilst training it became clear that I had retained a substantial amount of technique and muscle memory from my childhood and early adult gymnastics and dancing careers. The neural pathways were still there! I realised that to start from scratch in gymnastics as an adult must be daunting and very intimidating.

I’m grateful to gymnastics for giving me an awareness of my body – of the biomechanics of my core and limbs – that will hopefully persist into old age.

I know that as I get on in years my muscle fibres will decrease in number and size, and new muscle fibres will be generated at a slower rate than when I was a teen. But I fully intend to reap the physical and cognitive benefits of gymnastics. With persistence and continuous exercise, I plan to continue gymnastics into my 60’s. It’ll be fun, a challenge and might even have an impact on my life expectancy.

More gym, for longer. Sounds good to me.

[image thanks to uwoshkosh on flickr]

Feelings. And the F-bomb.

In November 2014 on November 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm

F bomb

Sarah: How does hearing reports on climate change make you feel?

Preparing school lunches this morning, I listened to a radio interview with conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy. Speaking to journalist Fran Kelly, Lovejoy was careful to present an urgent and yet optimistic view that attendees as the G20 Leaders’ Summit should be strongly considering a global biodiversity agenda as a way to support economies and mitigate climate change.

I agree with him. But the report made me anxious.

Not because I think he’s wrong. I know many details of the science of climate change. There is undeniable evidence that our Earth is warming, that atmospheric gases like carbon dioxide are trapping heat and that human activities are driving this process.

The problem is I don’t feel like I’m doing anything about this which will make a difference.

I look at my ceiling lights and admonish myself for still not finding time to change them to lower wattage versions. I know we should be walking to school more, and minimising the use of our car (which would ideally be smaller).

In separate but related worries, I agonise over the tins of tuna I buy and whether the label ‘line-caught’ actually means anything.

As a consumer, is it within my control to have an impact on climate change? On rainforest destruction? On reducing fish stocks?

I feel like it’s not. It’s not a good feeling.

And it’s not just me. Scientists working directly in the field have been reported to experience negative emotions associated with their expertise. Madeleine Thomas reported recently,

From depression to substance abuse to suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, growing bodies of research in the relatively new field of psychology of global warming suggest that climate change will take a pretty heavy toll on the human psyche as storms become more destructive and droughts more prolonged. For your everyday environmentalist, the emotional stress suffered by a rapidly changing Earth can result in some pretty substantial anxieties.

In discussing possible solutions to this problem for scientists, Thomas wrote of meditation, therapy and the creation of proper boundaries between work and personal life.

And the F-word.

Quoting fellow writer Brentin Mock, Thomas said:

[Mock] argues that scientists should start dropping F bombs.

“Forgive my language here, but if scientists are looking for a clearer language to express the urgency of climate change, there’s no clearer word that expresses that urgency than FUCK,” Mock writes. “We need scientists to speak more of these non-hard science truths, no matter how inconvenient or how dirty.”

If Lovejoy had dropped the F-bomb on my radio this morning would it have made a difference? It certainly would have attracted attention. I may have spat my coffee everywhere, for a start. I think the ABC would have received complaints, other media outlets may have reported on the interview and it might have received global attention.

Is it time for scientists to pull back a bit on presenting evidence, and start presenting their feelings?

[image thanks to Nathan Rupert on flickr]


In November 2014 on November 5, 2014 at 9:37 am

say no

Sarah: Saying ‘no’ on a daily — if not an hourly — basis is one of my challenges of being a parent. It doesn’t feel good to be the constant bearer of bad news.

But kids aren’t the only ones who have to get used to ‘no’. There’s an awful lot of self-imposed ‘no’ in most of our lives every day.

It’s something that struck me in the Post Office just this week. As we lined up with my parcel — an item of online-bought clothing to be returned — my son and I were confronted with an aisle of temptations. New drink bottles, books, fancy pen holders…the list went on. At the desk, miscellaneous bags of chocolates and lollies were everywhere we looked. The kid asked me in a half-hearted, I-already-know-the-answer-kinda-way, ‘Can we have one, Mum?‘ Answering in the negative, I had a sudden craving for sugar and had to make a conscious effort to stand my ground.

It got me thinking.

The first world in which I live is full of excess and choices.

The service station, the stationary shop, the swimming pool, the school tuck shop, the netball courts, the tennis club and more; all offer lollies, ice-blocks, chips and sweet drinks. I say no in all of these places many, many times each week. To my kids, and to myself.

I’m online working every day, and to take a break will browse around on Facebook and clothing websites. The temptations continue — T shirts for less than $20. Bargain summer dresses. Cheap ‘n’ cheerful scarves. Just say no, Sarah! Usually I do. But sometimes I don’t (and sometimes it bites me on the bum; refer above to item of clothing to be returned via the Post Office and at my cost).

–> Electronic devices – don’t use them too much!

–> Quick and easy take-away dinner options – not a good idea!

–> Staying up late and watching TV — ’cause there’s always something on — you’ll regret that tomorrow!

Saying no, staying in control, knowing when to switch stuff off. It’s hard. But I think it’s important.

What I do wonder is whether there is a psychological cost to telling yourself ‘no’ on a constant basis.

[image thanks to abhi on flickr]