26 Feb

Dear Me

I know right now you feel hopeless and lost, and the mere act of getting up and facing the world seems too much, but I want to tell you, you are going to be OK.

Right now even the concept of being happy again feels impossible, and as you so often say, you almost don’t want to feel joy, as you feel that minimises your babies’ lives. BUT let me tell you one day soon you will feel happier than you have ever felt in your whole life, and this will in no way make the world think your babies’ lives didn’t matter, it will do the exact opposite. By you being happy and celebrating joy, it will show everyone how important your precious children’s lives were… because they gave you the gift of embracing the now, of never taking anything for granted, and they made you a mother.

So what advice can I offer you? I want to tell you everything, but I know some things you will need to discover on the journey… so for now just know this…

1. The brokenness you feel right now is opening up such a deep ravine within you and one day that hole will be filled with joy. You may never be grateful for walking this path but I assure you, you will be grateful for the happiness and lessons loss taught you… So don’t be scared of this pain and don’t try to run from it.
2. People won’t always say the right things… forgive them and educate them in the hope that they say better things next time.

3. Don’t be scared to share your story… Yes, I know you feel exposed talking about your experiences but it will help so many people if you feel brave enough to be open and I promise you, you won’t regret it. Hold nothing back as being transparent will be the catalyst for helping others.

4. Try not to let fear rob you of life. After you have experienced so much pain and loss, it is easy to become a worrier and to hold back from embracing life and experiences, ‘just in case’ the bottom falls from your world again; but by holding back you are robbing yourself. Live in hope and faith that things will be OK, as this means you will delight in it all… You can’t rewind life, so don’t let any bliss filled moment pass you by.

5. Don’t panic about the jaundice… both of your children will not stay yellow for long, even when the nurse freaks you out.

6. Never count the amount of sleep you have had. Yes, you like ten hours, but you will quickly see you can survive on one or two… the less you focus on sleep deprivation the better.

7. When people tell you children grow up fast, believe them! Before you know it, you will have a nine year old and six-year-old who seem like mini-adults.

8. Make as many family traditions as possible as it makes life magical for your children and those little things aren’t so little.
9. Don’t listen to people who tell you you take too many photos… you can never take too many – you will always revel in looking back at them.

10. Don’t be afraid of not doing what everyone else is doing. Do what is right for your family and you will all flourish.

Zoe, you have got this, hold on and never give up on hope, soon the sun will rise.

Zoe x

If you need support following loss, you may like to read the Saying Goodbye book. It includes our personal story of baby loss and 90 days of vital supportSaying Goodbye Book

19 Feb

The Amazing Things Your Body Does When You Feel Afraid Embrace the power of fight or flight By Shihab S Joi

When you feel scared, you feel alone, helpless. But the best bodyguard in the world is already inside you, working round the clock to protect you from all manner of harm. And all the sensory organs that protect your vital organs take their orders from one source: the amygdala.

The amygdala doesn’t mess around. Its primary function is to keep constant look out from the brain’s threat centre to see if anyone’s up to no good, much like a nosey neighbour with the emergency services on speed dial. That’s what makes your heart beat fast, breaks you out in a sweat, makes it difficult for you to breathe and grips you with panic. Not exactly the life and soul of the party.

Now, you might think getting rid of the amygdala – this thing that keeps telling you to be fearful and jumpy – will make you stronger. On the contrary, it is what keeps you alive. If our primitive ancestors saw a sabre-tooth cat and didn’t get the signal to run for cover, we’d have become extinct a long time ago. Similarly, it was the amygdala that assessed the threat level from a gazelle to be low, thus assuring our ancestors they could take it on in a fight and eat it to survive. Fight or flight in a nutshell.

The amygdala, however, only watches and warns. It’s the other parts of your brain that can make things problematic, even though they’re only trying to help. The part that stores memories of previous bad experiences, for instance, does so with the intention of helping you learn from it, but is also the reason why being scared of a spider as a two-year-old translates in the adult brain for so many as something to feel terror at. Good news is, the mind can apply logic to deal with it when that happens.

It’s not all in your head, of course. The instant fear grips you, your heart starts pumping faster to get more oxygen, with the respiratory system, lungs and circulatory system all doing their bit to get it to your muscles, in case you need to run. Your pupils also dilate, causing tunnel vision, the message sent being: focus!

Fear also makes the hairs on out arms stand straight, and most annoyingly, leaves us with clammy hands. If you look at a cat – puffing itself out to look bigger – you see how body hair can scare off a potential threat. Goose bumps are basically the result of your body tensing up and gearing it for action. As for sweating, much as it may seem like the hallmark of anxiety, it actually exists to keep your body cool during this time of increased heart rate and blood flow.

14 Feb

Which countries love and hate Valentine’s Day?

For the cynics among us, Valentine’s Day is an annual nightmare: everything turns pink and heart-shaped, restaurants slap a premium price on a sub-par “special menu”, and Hallmark shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank.

But beyond the cuddly toys and red roses, the tradition draws mixed reactions around the world.

From the hardline to the downright bizarre, here are just some of the ways Valentine’s Day is embraced – or spurned like an unwanted lover…

Indonesia’s condom raids
Authorities in some parts of Indonesia have banned students from celebrating Valentine’s Day, saying it encourages casual sex. In the city of Makassar, police raided shops and dismantled condom displays.

The mayor told the BBC that condoms were removed from sight after customers complained, but would still be sold discreetly.

Valentine’s Day has its roots in a Roman fertility celebration, but later evolved into a Christian feast day – a fact that worries conservatives in some Muslim-majority countries.

In Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, pupils were told to reject the festival as it runs against cultural norms.

Muslim students shout slogans during a protest against Valentine’s Day celebrations in Surabaya, Indonesia, on 13 February, 2017Image copyrightREUTERS
Image caption
Muslim students protest against Valentine’s Day in Surabaya, Indonesia
No emoticons for Malaysia 🙁
Next door to Indonesia, Malaysia has also seen a Valentine’s backlash.

A group called the National Muslim Youth Association has urged women and girls to avoid using emoticons or overdoing the perfume, in a pre-Valentine’s Day message.

The group’s guidance included advice on how to combat the celebration of romance by making anti-Valentine posters and shunning Valentine-themed outfits.

The National Muslim Youth Association made its anti-Cupid views clear through its Facebook pictureImage copyrightFACEBOOK/PERSATUAN BELIA ISLAM NASIONAL
Image caption
The group made its anti-Cupid views clear through its Facebook picture
Weddings on Robben Island
Robben Island will forever be associated with the infamous prison that held Nelson Mandela – but since 2000, it has hosted a mass celebration of love on 14 February.

The tradition was started by South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs and the Robben Island Museum, and now attracts couples from across the globe.

This year, 20 pairs are planning to say “I do” in the island’s little white chapel.

The service is offered for a small fee, and includes a tour of the island.

Organisers say 2017’s couples were “chosen by the department based on their diversity and interesting romantic stories”.

A couple laugh before their wedding on Valentine’s day on Robben Island, near Cape Town, on 14 February, 2015.Image copyrightAFP
Image caption
A bride and groom laugh during their Robben Island ceremony
Thailand’s ‘very magical vitamins’
Thailand’s civil servants are handing out free pre-natal pills on the streets of Bangkok on Valentine’s Day, hoping to boost the country’s falling birth rate.

Around 1 million baht ($28,600; £22,900) has been spent on the pills, for prospective mothers aged 20 to 34.

The “very magical vitamins” (to use the government’s words) contain folic acid and iron.

In 1970, Thai couples had an average of six children, but the figure now stands at 1.6.

A man prepares an arrangement of roses on Valentine’s Day at a flower market in Bangkok, Thailand, on 14 February 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image caption
A Bangkok flower market on Valentine’s Day
Pakistan’s court crackdown
The High Court in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, has banned public celebrations of Valentine’s Day, saying it is not part of Muslim culture.

The festival has gained a foothold in recent years, but local critics say it is a decadent Western invention.

The court order bans the media from covering Valentine’s events, and bans festivities in public places and government offices.

Court in Pakistan banned public celebrations of Valentine’s Day in the capital Islamabad
Exit player
Media captionA court in Pakistan has banned public celebrations of Valentine’s Day in Islamabad
What is Valentine’s Day and how did it start?
Reunited after 65 years, and more remarkable love letters
The town with the world’s most romantic postmark
Saudi’s black market in roses
Saudi Arabia’s religious police are on alert at this time of year for love-themed merchandise, including flowers, cards and suspicious “red items”.

Florists have been known to deliver bouquets in the middle of the night to avoid detection, as determined lovers flout the countrywide ban.

A black market in roses and wrapping paper helps some broadcast their feelings.

But for others, it’s the perfect time of year for a romantic break – to nearby Bahrain or the UAE, where celebrations are more tolerated.

Customers buy flowers and valentine’s gifts at a florist in Dubai on 13 February, 2008.Image copyrightAFP
Image caption
Holidays to Dubai are one way for Saudi couples to dodge the crackdown
Japan’s anti-love protesters
As Japan geared up for the 14th, a group of Marxist protesters unfurled a giant “Smash Valentine’s Day” banner in Tokyo.

The “Kakuhido”, or Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women find Unattractive, want an end to public displays of love that “hurt their feelings”.

Members have been known to chant slogans including “public smooching is terrorism”.

“Our aim is to crush this love capitalism,” said Takayuki Akimoto, the group’s PR chief.

“People like us who don’t seek value in love are being oppressed by society,” he added.

“It’s a conspiracy by people who think unattractive guys are inferior, or losers – like cuddling in public, it makes us feel bad. It’s unforgivable!”

The protests came as Japan’s family planning association revealed that “sexless marriages” in the country are at a record high.

Nearly 50% of married Japanese couples had not had sex for more than a month and did not expect that to change in the near future, it said.

12 Feb

I Tried Avoiding Plastic For A Week – It Was Difficult From lunch to loo roll, alternatives to products using plastic were often hard to find and much more expensive. By Sophie Gallagher

By 2042, Theresa May has promised a United Kingdom that creates zero ‘avoidable’ plastic waste, or those single-use items, that are used once and then sent straight to landfill.

In her speech this week, the Prime Minister also promised shoppers that their choice to shun plastic in their basket will be rewarded with benefits, such as express checkout queues that make their supermarket experience quicker.

For the last week, I’ve been investigating how easy it would be to avoid single-use plastic in my daily life. And after a week without, I am left wondering who would be able to use these time-saving tills, or whether they would quickly become a premium choice for those who can afford the hugely limited, and often more expensive, non-plastic items currently stocked on Britain’s shelves.
My ground rules for living without single-use plastic included avoiding takeaway coffee cups, not using plastic straws, and not buying food and snacks in plastic wrappers. I was permitted products like toothpaste and moisturiser already in my (I would soon discover) extensive inventory of plastic products at home. Although if they ran out during this week experiment, I could not replace them with plastic items.
My week was by no means easy – and I found that as someone who doesn’t have children to look after, has no specific dietary requirements beyond not eating meat, can easily prepare food from scratch, and lives in a major city with access to lots of shops and weekend markets. It could have been much more difficult.

I found a plastic-free option – but it was a 25 minute drive away …”
The first hitch came when, less than three hours after getting started, I realised we had almost run out of toilet roll at home and unless I planned on sleeping in the office for the week, it would need replacing.

An initial sweep of my local supermarket revealed that all of the standard options come packaged in plastic, so were off the cards. Crowdsourcing some suggestions from friends, I found some loo roll wrapped in paper, rather than plastic. The problem: it was a 25 minute drive away. Not exactly an environmentally friendly option.

After a flirtation with the idea that my employers wouldn’t notice one less toilet roll in their stash, a moment of clarity reminded me that stealing my way to a plastic-free life wasn’t exactly sustainable either.
If I want to keep my job, stealing isn’t an option either.
In the end I resorted to the internet, where the first option came in at £2.79 for four rolls, reasonable enough until you add a fiver for postage. On Amazon other products that promise to be 100% compostable are, according to angry reviews, bundled together with plastic to send in large orders. A third option from ‘Who Gives A Crap’ (by now, not me) looked appealing but could only be bought in bulk – and my bank balance wasn’t up to a £40 investment.

In the end I ordered some bamboo-wrapped paper on Amazon Prime that cost three times the price of my normal plastic-wrapped rolls, and made my peace with the environmental issues in having it shipped to my front door.

Determined not to be derailed by toilet-roll-gate, I decided to use my weekend to venture out to a local farmer’s market, confident that it would be a plastic-free zone, allowing me to stock up on food purchases for the week.

Even at the market, however, a large proportion of the fresh fruits and vegetables were bundled in plastic bags. Asking the stall holders if I could give the plastic back, rather than take it away with me, it became apparent that it would end up in the bin – whether I put it in there, or they did.

So I bought a handful of vegetables, for about 20% more than the supermarket rate (a recent investigation found shops sell loose fruit and veg for between 10 and 54% more than their plastic counterparts), and a block of cheddar. For those committing longer-term, signing up to a vegetable box scheme might be a smarter approach than this.
The flask that saved a thousand takeaway cups.
My fridge might have been feeling bare by Monday morning, but the working week also allowed me to overcome a problem that was genuinely easy to navigate and wasn’t a massive inconvenience to my daily routine – essential if we are to see consumers shift away from the convenience of plastics.

Having already slowed down my consumption of takeaway coffee just before Christmas (presents are not cheap) and having acquired a thermal flask, I was able to take my tea with me on my commute and (surprise surprise) massively preferred the experience to spending £3 on a coffee near the office.

That’s one fewer disposable coffee cup in landfill – the UK throws away nearly 2.5 billion every year, more than 99% of which are not recycled – and I also pocketed a few pounds to offset higher costs elsewhere.

While the morning caffeine run might have been a resounding success, lunchtime proved a different story. Even securing a simple sandwich was going to be tricky – and my farmer’s market haul wasn’t providing any sustenance to bring in from home – so I decided to try out a few options.

First stop: Pret a Manger, where I couldn’t buy any of the sandwiches, salads, crisps, popcorn, or fruit pots. The toasted sandwiches and soup pots initially looked promising, with cardboard exteriors, but turned out to have a plastic lining to stop them leaking. Essential, but frustrating.
Pret is low on plastic-free options.
After a long chat with the manager of the store (and four other members of staff), we established that Pret’s takeaway pastry bags are made out of waxed paper so I could have bought a croissant or cinnamon swirl for lunch. Oh, and a banana.

Next I tried Greggs, where all of the sandwiches in store came in plastic boxes, and I had the same pastry options for the waxed paper bag solution, along with the option of a steak or vegetable bake (the only pastries on offer in the Greggs I popped into). I don’t eat meat, so that made the vegetable bake my strongest lunch option.

I had more luck at Leon, which sells most of its lunchtime meals (for example, meatballs and rice or black bean stew) in cardboard boxes lined with a wax seal. A good start, but with most hot lunches ranging from around a fiver to £7, this is another example of how shunning plastic is tough on the budget. It’s also not much of a nationwide solution: Leon only has 52 UK branches, with 42 of those in London.

Sainsbury’s did little to help: every lunch item in the store I visited, including the DIY salad buffet, was served in plastic packaging. Even the cookies had a tiny plastic window in their otherwise perfect paper bags.
Why cookies, why?
Lunch negotiated, in a manner of speaking, it was now time to tackle socialising. The next evening I went to the pub, where I was pleasantly surprised to find them providing paper straws with their drinks. “Doing our bit for the environment,” the bartender nodded.

Had only been plastic options available, it would of course have been an easy choice to just ditch the straw. But after a disappointing week of negotiating some surprisingly tricky purchases, not having to do so was a much appreciated small win.

The overall cost is something, which remains a huge barrier for many people, even if your conscience feels uneasy about the waste…”
Looking back, the most obvious thing I’ve learned is that having to search for non-plastic alternatives is currently more demanding, both on your time – although this will inevitably lessen when you know where to look – and your wallet. Even if you do skip the takeaway coffee, or provide your own cup.

Those small changes like taking my own flask, or declining a straw in the pub are more easily done – and quite frankly I have no excuse for reverting to either of those habits – but the overall cost of my week feels like something which could remain a barrier for many people looking to lead a plastic-free life.
And this cost is without having to replace many other items such as shampoo, which I already had at home. There are options for shampoo – a quick look suggests brands like Lush sell ‘zero waste’ shampoo bars without plastic packaging (£6.50 for 55g) – but they may work out to be more expensive than many bottled options on the market.

If you can commit to buying in bulk or signing up to a vegetable box scheme, that might reduce costs. But that’s not suitable for everyone. My experience of giving up single-use plastic is that it’s only easy if you are able to spend more. Until cheaper options are made more widely affordable, Theresa May’s plastic-free checkout will cost you.

08 Feb

This Contact Lens Can Tell You Your Blood Sugar Level Would you wear it? By Sophie Gallagher

For people living with type 1 diabetes, taking blood sugar readings throughout the day, and using a finger prick technique to draw blood, is not only time consuming but also requires you to remember (easier said than done).

But now scientists have designed a piece of wearable technology that could potentially passively check in on your condition over the course of 24 hours, without you even having to bat an eyelid.

The smart contact lens, designed by a team of Korean researchers and reported in Science Advances, doubles up as a blood sugar monitor.
This isn’t the first contact lens designed to perform such a function (Verily had a go before) but all previous attempts ended up failing up the first hurdle because they couldn’t be used again and again.

The older designs required rigid electronic software to be embedded in the lens, making them brittle and subject to degrading over a short period of time.

But in this prototype rigid electronic components are isolated into ‘islands’ by interconnected stretchable conductors.
From a user point of view, this design difference is important because it made from a soft, stretchable, transparent material, like normal contact lenses, so it doesn’t distort your vision.

Fundamentally, people might actually be willing to wear it.

“This gets close to a solution that you can imagine a patient using,” Gregory Herman a chemical engineer at Oregon State University, who is working on similar technology, told Spectrum.
The lens is able to wirelessly receive power and generate an LED display.

Then in order to check in on your blood glucose levels, it is not invasive, and simply needs to collect your tears (or excess water on the surface of your eye) for testing.

When the user’s glucose levels are normal the LED light stays on, and when the levels move out of the normal range the light turns off.

The flexible nature of the lens also means it is protected from being damaged when you are handling it and getting it into your eye.

Park says he and his team would like to apply the smart contact lens design to other medical applications, such as drug delivery. For the glucose monitoring application, he says he hopes for commercialization in the next five years.

Smart Learning Srls - Sede: Via Santa Giacinta Marescotti 53 - 01100 Viterbo (VT)
Iscrizione REA Viterbo n. 131984 - P.IVA 02235330566 - Telefono: (+39) 331.2156307 - Email: info@thenewenglandschool.com