URBAN FORAGING


You’re walking down the street getting some fresh air and mileage in your pins and suddenly you come across a box full of lemons sitting on the top of someone’s mailbox. Do you assume it’s free for the taking and if so, how many do you take?

On our recent family walk, we came across two houses in our neighbourhood with boxes of free fruit. One box had ‘Please take’ clearly written on it and was filled with lemons while the other was blank and had several large chokos (type of squash). My 4-year-old son asked Mummy, can we take the whole box?’

Funnily enough, my brother asked me the same question when we told him what we discovered on our walk. Why didn’t you just take the whole thing? In retrospect, I should have asked my brother why he thought we should have done so because then I’d have a better understanding of the logic behind my 4-year-old’s thinking… kidding!

In answering my son’s question, I posed some of my own to him. Did we need all those lemons? What about other people? How would he feel if someone took everything and didn’t leave any for him? He agreed it would be a jerk move (his words, not mine!) and so he and his sister took one lemon and one choko each. It became a valuable exercise in teaching them restraint, thinking of others and only taking what was needed. 

My mother wasn’t too pleased to hear we had taken food ‘left on the street’. She was worried about contamination with germs/poison/needles/coronavirus and didn’t think we should risk it. I could understand why she was concerned.

A few years ago, there was a national recall on strawberries after consumers injured themselves by eating strawberries contaminated with sewing needles. Apparently, a former disgruntled strawberry farm employee intent on revenge had placed needles into strawberries before they were packed for distribution in supermarkets. What followed was a spate of copycat incidences and hoaxes that left people nervous to buy strawberries. Situations like these have made my mother even less trusting of humankind and so she refuses to take free food.

BUT,  fruit or vegetables hanging over a fence? That’s another story. My mother would have no qualms taking them then. Which leads to my next question, is it cool to pick fruit or vegetables if it’s hanging over a fence and on public walkways? It makes me think of hard rubbish days, where junk left on the front of nature strips is considered fair game to passerby, despite it technically being illegal to take. If the hard rubbish is destined to be binned, is it reasonable to take?

I’m conflicted on this. I would rather someone take my hard rubbish if they can get use out of it, as long as they don’t make a mess in their rummaging. As for the overhanging fruit, I think it’s better to seek permission from the owners first.

Why do I think that? Well, years ago, as my daughter and I went for a walk around our neighbourhood, we came across a big feijoa tree that was hanging half across the pavement. I got greedy and picked two hand fulls but was too embarrassed by my actions to carry them. So, I strongly encouraged my daughter hold the bottom of her jumper up to store the stolen goods and transport them home. She was mortified and to this day, still berates me for making her an accomplice to theft.

Then there was that one time I tried picking a lemon hanging over someone’s fence and a branch fell and bonked me on the head. The Ol’ Universe pulled out the big guns to teach me a lesson that day because I haven’t picked anyone’s trees since. 

Let’s take this discussion one step further. What about olive trees on the nature strips? In Australia, councils own nature strips and not the homeowner. As homeowners we pay tax to the council, so really, by default we have a tiny percentage ownership. Does that mean we can pick them? I mean, birds pay no tax and look at them picking fruit like it’s their given right. Should I tempt fate and pick some olives? I could start my own cold compress olive oil brand and sell it at the trash n’ treasure markets. What’s the bet good Ol’ Universe will have a thing or two to say about that?

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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS

For the past several weeks, my emotions have felt like water boiling in a kettle, escalating to a rolling boil with the increased pressures of life and threatening to erupt in a burst of hot scalding anger at anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. Have you ever felt like that? Like you’re spinning a lot of plates in the air and then life throws you another just for sh!ts and giggles? Or maybe you felt like your life has been one bad event after the other? Sometimes I feel like that and I can’t help but wallow in self-pity. Why me?!

Two weeks ago, we plunged into our fourth lockdown since this pandemic started. We were allowed to leave home for authorised work or study, food, medical care and care-giving, 2 hours of exercise per day and vaccinations. We were allowed travel within a 10 km radius from our house for food and exercise. Lockdown hadn’t really fazed me this time around as it was to be short-lived and kindergarten was still open. So in a way, I was less concerned about my 4-year-old son regressing in terms of socialisation, and I could balance helping my 8-year-old daughter with her remote school learning while doing my studies.

As fate would have it, my 4-year-old got the sniffles and couldn’t attend kinder with cold symptoms. So with the old adage of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” chanting in the background of my mind, I made the best of a bad situation.

During the day, I was a cheerleader and sub-teacher to the 8-year-old doing remote school learning while trying to keep the hyper 4-year-old occupied with board games, reading and arts. Every other second available was spent on micro-cleaning, attacking the laundry monster and cooking. At night, after the children had gone to bed, I stayed up to finish the 3000-word research proposal, 2 teaching plans and Powerpoint presentations and coursework that was due. I was optimistic that the following week, my 4-year-old son would be back at kinder and I’d have more time.

But seriously, how can anyone truly plan for anything in life. Life happens, and you just have to roll with it. The following week, my son did actually return to kinder but for unknown reasons, began to wake at 4 am instead of his usual 6 am needing reassurance. There were nights he’d run over two or three times needing a hug before returning to his bed. My sleep suffered. And then I fell out of bed and sprained my toes. You know those lemons? I started hating the idea of making lemonade. 

I hobbled about with a bung foot, sleep-deprived and stressed with the looming deadlines. Half-way through that week, I was still trying to keep a positive mind. It wasn’t until a zoom meeting with my university professor over my research paper and realising how much rework I needed to do that I decided lemonade was bloody overrated. 

I threw a tantrum and gave myself a pity party. My low-carb diet became a lets-order-takeaway-cos-lockdown diet. I went on a Flamin’ Cheetos binge. Other than helping the children, I put my studies and housework on the back burner. I reacquainted with my kindle and indulged in some romantic comedy reads. And you know what? It was exactly what I needed. A guilt-free break. A time-out to regroup and re-energise. 

The 4-year-old started sleeping through again. My 8-year-old needed less support and became more self-sufficient with remote learning. My bung foot gave me less grief. I ended up with a clearer mind and finished my research proposal. I completed the coursework and one of the two teaching plans and Powerpoint presentations. 

The mental load I set for myself is astronomical. The high expectation and pressure that I pile on myself to be “perfect”, to achieve success, and to do things the “right” way is unrealistic and unhealthy. Whether it be house work to parenting to my studies, I overwhelm myself with this invisible burden and will often forget to give myself grace to simply breathe. We can all cope to a point but when we go through tough times and everything in life seems to be going downhill, it can be easy to lose perspective and fall into a poor mindset. It’s often hard to ask for help or even acknowledge that you don’t have it all together like how you think you should. 

I’m waffling. What am I really trying to say with this post? That sometimes when life gives you a lot of damn lemons, you make yourself a nice big jug of lemonade margarita and sit down with a good book instead. 

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IN A JAM

Back in my day as a university student, some twenty odd years ago, everything was paper based. I read from textbooks that were heavy as bricks and thick as the tree trunks they were made from. I would read, highlight and put sticky notes on printed papers. I went to face-to-face classes where lecturers would drone on and lull me into deep sleep. The only technology I owned was a computer that composed of a microwave-sized monitor, a hard drive that took an age to wake from sleep mode and a bunch of floppy discs. Yeah, yeah… I’m old. 

These days everything is cloud this or zoom that. While I wouldn’t call myself a tech noob, I’m not tech savvy either. Learning as a mature-aged student on cloud campus is challenging. Not so much that I can’t use the technology but rather I’m not used to this form of learning. Reading off a screen for large amounts of time and using software programs to take notes seems foreign to me. It doesn’t seem right, like eating a carb-free burger (i.e. burger minus the bun). Push comes to shove I could do it, but do I really want to?

For one of my research units, I have to write a literature review. What’s that? Don’t ask me, I still haven’t quite figured it out yet and it’s due in just over a week. All I know is that it involves a lot of research of journal articles, reading said articles, note-taking and then writing something. I’m at the reading stage and I’ve found reading small print on a screen difficult for my already deteriorating eyes. So tonight, I decided to drive to the university to do some printing at the library. I think printed papers are the way to go for me. It’s a shame a few more trees will perish as a result, but if it means a pass…

You know what’s different about being a mature-aged student? You don’t have the same misplaced confidence and care-free attitude as the average twenty something year old student. But most importantly, you don’t have the same time pressures. As a mature-age student, you’re likely to have work, family or life commitments that takes priority. So by the time I got to the library, it was getting towards closing time.

It didn’t help that I have poor night vision or that I drove around in circles looking for the University multi-level car park. Eventually, I found my way to the library using their app. I still can’t believe how advanced things are these days – fancy app and everything!

I managed to find a computer, figured out how to print my articles and located the printer to collect the prints. The only problem was half way through its mammoth print job, the printer spasmed and died. Flashing red lights appeared and I thought I saw smoke billowing from the vents.

Now, most people can follow instructions and figure out simple troubleshooting problems by themselves without too much difficulty. I however, got nervous when I heard an announcement over the speakers saying they were closing in fifteen minutes. I started panicking and fumbling around trying to find the source of the printing problem. 

When I saw the side profile of a dude in a blue shirt with a tie and wearing a name badge walk past, I called out “Hello, do you know how to fix printers?”

Unfortunately, he replied with “Nuh” and walked off. You see, he couldn’t have helped me because he was a security guard and not a library administrator. I might have noticed the difference had I not been in such a flustered state but then again, being observant has never been my forte.

Slightly embarrassed, I went to the front desk in search of a librarian for help but they were closed. Beyond the desk were some admin rooms and I could see the silhouette of two men. With nothing to lose but my printing, I called out for help.

“I haven’t been at uni for a long time, and I didn’t want to break your printers so I thought I should ask for help.” You know how I ramble when I’m nervous? Well, you can bet that I did a massive word vomit. 

The young man who came to assist looked at the flashing words on the printing screen and said (quite condescendingly) “It has instructions so you just have to read and follow it.”

I bet if I could mindread, he would have thought “These bloody boomers and their moronic IT problems!”

And I would have vehemently protested with “I’m not a boomer, thank you very much!”

Was it a surprise when he couldn’t fix the “simple” problem? No. Did I feel slightly vindicated that he couldn’t “follow the instructions”? Yes.

He gave me a shrug of the shoulders, told me to reprint on another printer and get a credit from IT the next day, then he went home.

Annoyed and determined not to be beaten by a stupid printer, I attempted to give it another crack. Seriously, how hard could it really be? If I could put together an IKEA product (those things are brutal), I could fix a stupid printer. And did I fix it! I stuck my fingers into its body like a field surgeon removing shrapnel and pulled out the jammed paper. I might have done a fist pump and yelled out “Oh Yeah Baby!” too.

The point of this story is that if I had taken a calming breath and refused to allow my anxiety to consume me, I would have been able to use my problem solving and critical thinking skills to deal with the printing problem.

Imagine what I could do if I didn’t just cave to this beast at every whim and used higher level thinking instead? Most likely, I wouldn’t have asked a security guard to fix a printing jam.

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