Saturday, December 15, 2012

Alzheimer's and Me

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Alzheimer’s. It began with a letter I wrote for the Mental Health Research Institute’s annual appeal. This is the photograph of my parents that is at the top of that letter:

Mum was in the very early stages of dementia then, but still very beautiful and vivacious, and my parents were still head over heels in love with each other. The full letter is here. Here are a few extracts from it:

About 300,000 of my mother's fellow Australians are living with dementia right now. Every six minutes a new sufferer is diagnosed. But we felt alone.


With Alzheimer's there's no kidney you can donate, no body part that can be amputated, no chemo to try. No drug cure. Nothing. Just patience and anguish. And then more the next day. And then again. And again. For years. With only death at the end.


It's predicted that without any significant medical breakthrough there'll be one million sufferers by 2050

If you'd like to donate to the Institute here's the link for that.

Then at the beginning of December I participated in a Dementia in Hospitals forum, a joint project of Alzheimer's Australia Victoria, and the Victoria and Tasmania Dementia Training Study Centre.

It was an interesting forum. The bad news is that nobody talked of a cure or even of a known cause. If there is a cure, it's at least five years away, and inside the brains of many of us baby boomers those pesky amyloid plaques and tau tangles are forming already. Tick, tick, tick...The statistics are terrifying and getting worse. It's strange how complacent people are about this. Denial, I guess. Ignore it and it'll go away...

The good news is that many dedicated and talented researchers are investing a lot of time working out how best to look after sufferers in acute care hospitals, which must be the worst, most frightening, places for them.

My speech was about my family's experience with Alzheimer's and in particular about how confusing and frightening hospitals were for my mother, and how hard we had to work to make the situation tolerable for her.

After all this I turned to a book called, The Alzheimer's Prevention Program, by Gary Small and Gigi Morgan

I didn't really expect a miracle. I suppose I was seeking a glimmer of hope.

The book is easy to read and well set out. It contains results from lots of studies and provides a recipe for healthy living. Remember that line, maybe from Laugh-In, 'Healthy mind, healthy body - take your pick'? Well, this book provides a template for both.

There are sections on nutrition, physical and mental exercise and reducing stress.

No miracles though, and no guarantees either. What the authors suggest is that by following these recommendations you can possibly postpone Alzheimer's by years. And if you can delay the disease long enough then maybe there'll be a cure, or you'll die of something else before it even manifests at all, or to any great extent.

Better than nothing.

For me the most encouraging thing I've read recently is that if the members of your family who have developed dementia have done so after age 65 then you are at no more risk than the general population. I felt a weight lift off me when I read that. I had assumed because my mother developed Alzheimer's in her 70s, then the disease was sitting at the end of my bed waiting for me. It still may be, I guess. I'll just have to get up earlier than it does and follow as many of the book's prescriptions as I can: eat a healthy diet, exercise my body and exercise my brain.

And then time will tell.

People who knew my mother always said I looked just like her. I was so proud of that. Now it makes me nervous that our similarity will be my downfall. Whereas before I used to seek ways in which we were alike, now I find myself looking for the differences between us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Sad Tale of Wombat Bindi (with Happy Ending)

 Wombat Bindi was sentenced to death. Not just once, but twice.

The first time was when a car ran her mother down and left the baby wombat for dead in her mother's pouch. That time Bindi was rescued by the people who found her and brought her to Iris and James at Albion Wombat Rescue.

Then Bindi developed severe and debilitating colic. She was sickly and in pain all the time. Nothing helped. 

The vet delivered the second death sentence. Bindi wasn't thriving. She couldn't go on as she was and there was no treatment he could recommend that would help. The most humane solution would be to end her short unhappy life before she suffered any more.

That's when Bindi was rescued a second time. Iris and James have lost animals before and they didn't think they could face the pain again. Besides, they'd fallen under the spell of this small creature and weren't going to lose her without one helluva fight. 

Iris trained as a nurse, and she knows a thing or two about animals too from long years of caring for them. Off she went to the chemist with a recipe for a colic mixture that she thought was worth a try. The pharmacist followed her directions and poured the mixture into a bottle labelled with the wombat's name.


It took a lot of patience on James and Iris's part, but contrary to all expectations, Bindi's health gradually improved. She began to put on weight slowly. She was still quite fragile and needed a lot of attention, but she was off the death list.

Bindi is now about a year old, thanks to her wonderful and devoted carers. She's not as independent as they'd like - still a bit of a Mummy's girl - and, though she spends her days outside, she still sleeps indoors in a cot. But she's healthy, with a glossy coat.

She's a good eater, still having one bottle a day and relishing her Weetbix. When she's indoors and she needs to wee, she signals to be picked up and held over the laundry trough.

She enjoys a cuddle.

She loves to throw all the cushions off the couch

 and burrow in.

And she loves the only mum and dad she's ever known.

I want to pay tribute to all wildlife carers, but to Iris and James in particular for their selfless care for the wild inhabitants of our planet, and also for their loving care of me when, like Bindi, I was losing my mother and in need of nurture.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Best Crumpets Ever (Really)

One of the joys of cooking with a wood stove is being able to cook directly on the hob.

We do this whenever we can. Toast of course. Pikelets and pancakes (not crepes, though I suppose you could) and any kind of fritter. And vegieburgers. Maybe not hamburgers in case the mince is a bit fatty (though we mince our own meat and cut as much fat off as we can, so we probably could).

One of my persistent failures, however, was crumpets. I tried several recipes, asked Chef Google for help, but to no avail. They just didn't taste right. Farmdoc ate them of course and swore they were the best things he'd ever tasted, but they weren't. I knew. He was just utilising one of the tools that has brought us to our 45th wedding anniversary later this month, a kind of husbandly chivalry.

So on to the best crumpet recipe ever. Seriously foolproof and delicious.

About 15 years ago, when Farmdoc first became interested in bread making, he attended a series of cooking classes run by Simply No Knead in Melbourne. I found this recipe amongst his pages from those classes and it really is the best.

First you will need:

450 gms of bread flour
3 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
285 mls of warm water
285 mls of warm milk

Later you will need:

1/2 teaspoon bicarb
150 mls of water

Mix all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and then stir in the liquids.

Beat with an electric beater at first on low (or it will splash like crazy) and then on high for 3 minutes until a batter forms.

Cover the bowl tightly and place in a warm place for about an hour and a half until the batter doubles in size and then begins to collapse.

Dissolve the bicarb in the extra water and whisk into the batter until it is well blended.

Place greased crumpet rings onto a medium to hot preheated pan - or of course on the hob of a wood stove. If you do cook directly on the hob, you'll need to make sure it's not too hot, otherwise the bottoms will burn before the crumpets are ready. Pour batter into the rings until they are half full. Don't overfill or the mixture will overflow. They take around a third of a cup.

Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until the surface bubbles and the top is firm. Remove the rings and turn the crumpets over. Cook for a minute or two. Repeat until all the remaining batter is used up. If it thickens while it stands you can thin it by adding a couple of teaspoons of warm water and mixing well.

Cool on a wire rack and toast to reheat. They freeze well.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Story of Rumble and Tumble

The current residents of the Wombat Hilton arrived as a pair about two and a half months ago.

Rumble and Tumble are not brother and sister but they have been reared together since they were rescued in similar situations. Both their mothers were killed by cars.

Apparently wombats raised together like this don't mate with each other but it's apparent that Rumble and Tumble find each other's presence reassuring.

We thought that being together these two would support each other through the move and that's turned out to be true. (In the picture above that's porridge oats on the wombat's nose.) 

Normally we don't take wombats until they are almost ready for release. At that point they're usually big enough and old enough to be self sufficient. We then provide a home for them for about six weeks until they are weaned of their habits of human dependency and appear capable of looking after themselves.

Rumble and Tumble's carer had taken on a lot of animals so we agreed to take these two off her hands early to give her a break.

At first the wombats were timid and watchful. They raced to their burrow as soon as they heard (or smelt) us coming. Over time they acclimatised and they are now brave and curious.

Every day when Farmdoc delivers food he collects their droppings. This really puzzles Rumble and Tumble. All our previous wombats have poohed around the perimeter of the enclosure. This pair always use the kennel. Perhaps they like the privacy.

My guess is that Rumble and Tumble will be released around the end of the year. Then they'll have the run of the property and be able to meet up with the wild population. I wonder what they'll think of the big world out there.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


 I was thrilled when I heard that the lovely people at Readers Digest wanted to condense Alzheimer's: A Love Story for their Encounters series. I'd heard of Readers Digest, of course, and of their condensed books, but I'd never heard of the Encounters series. The first thing I did was head across to wise old Mrs Google.

This is what she told me:
Encounters are series of condensed books published by Reader's Digest. Each Encounters volume contains four of today's most up-to-date non-fiction stories about real life people and events. The stories have been skilfully edited, illustrated with colour photographs and bound into one striking hardcover book to bring the secrets, wisdom and amazing truths about other people's lives into your home.

The editors at Reader's Digest hand-select the most fascinating of today's unforgettable true stories from Australia, New Zealand and overseas, with memoirs, adventure, true crime, behind-the-headlines, touching stories about nature—and human nature—that will surprise and move you.
Did you read that? 'the most fascinating of today's unforgettable true stories?' That's me! How great is that!

It's an honour that the editors of Readers Digest chose my memoir; the company has a long history and an enormous readership. And I could see how my story would fit their series. But I must admit I was nervous about what condensing would do to my book. What would they leave out? Would what they left make sense?

My copies arrived and I ripped open the box. There was my book pictured at the bottom right of the cover. It was very exciting. But every time I tried to read it I felt sick. Crazy, I know, but it was how I felt. It's often difficult for me to read my own work but this felt worse than usual.

Finally I decided to plunge in by reading the other books in the volume in order, as though I were an ordinary reader. That was easy to do and rewarding because they're fascinating stories about remarkable and brave people. I was proud that my parents' story would be read alongside these others.

It was easy then to read my own work in this new context. Somehow seeing it here set amongst other stories of understated heroism, highlights my father's quiet courage and determination. It made me remember his motto: The difference between the possible and the impossible is the measure of man's will.

None of the people in this volume of Encounters would see themselves as heros. Accidental heros at most. But not everyone reacts the way they did when confronted with difficult realities.

The truth is that heroism is rare. I'm proud of my father and proud of my book and proud to be included in this volume. Thanks, Reader's Digest for selecting me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Autumn at Onemilebridge

 Stig Cooper, a Mole Creek-based landscape and nature photographer, has always loved Onemilebridge in autumn. One day last May he came by to take some photos of her in all her golden glory.

I've been meaning to post some of the pictures here ever since but I haven't managed to get around to it.

Until now.

We've put a bigger selection of them up on onemilebridge's own blog.

You can see more Stig Cooper photography at

I love how he sees the natural world, imbuing scenes with  an almost fairytale quality.

So that even the everyday becomes quite magical.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Best Yoghurt Ever

We've got a thing about yoghurt in this family. It's delicious, it's healthy, and it's versatile because it can be served sweet or savoury. Plus it's a useful replacement for ice cream in a household that's trying to cut down on sugar but still enjoys desserts.

Farmdoc is our yoghurt chef and he's made several batches so far. They've all been pretty good - except perhaps for the one that ended up being fed to the dog. 

Then he looked up yoghurt making in Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz, who's a bit of a guru in these matters, and everything changed. The book was a gift from Daughter Number Two (Thanks, Meg).

The recipe is pretty simple and you don't need any special equipment. 

We began with some bought yoghurt that was organic and biodynamic because then we could assume it contained live cultures. This is known in yogurt making circles as the starter.

Then we:

1. preheated the jar we planned to use
2. heated one litre of milk gently until bubbles began to form

3. cooled the milk until it was hot but a (clean) finger could be kept in it without undue pain
4. mixed the starter (the bought yoghurt) thoroughly into the milk. Here Katz was particularly useful. Until now we'd thought the more starter the better but he insists on only a tablespoon per litre so the culture has room to move
5. put the lid on the jar and placed the jar in a warm place. 

We put a tea cosy on ours and set it on the rack on top of the wood stove, which we kept alight all day.

And that's it.

After 8 to 12 hours it should have a tangy flavour and some thickness. If it hasn't thickened, add more starter and keep it warm for another 4 to 8 hours.

Store in the fridge and remember to save some for a starter for your next batch.

Are you a yoghurt eater? You can adjust the tanginess by leaving it longer for more of that characteristically yoghurty flavour if you want. 

I LOVE yoghurt, the creamier the better and this one is super creamy. And it's good for me!! What's not to like about that?! Thanks, Farmdoc. Thanks Sandor.