Astrology resources

Well, I was convinced I’d already written this!  But apparently not…

When I started learning about astrology I was overwhelmed by the number of books out of there that claim to be a complete guide.  Obviously I didn’t expect any of them to be the entire encyclopedia of the subject but I also didn’t know if they would be right for me.

There are different types of astrology out there and people who practice in different ways and as a beginner it’s hard to know where to start.  Thankfully the internet does make this easier as you can generally get a feel for an author before you invest in their book.  In my case, my main resources have been:

  • In The Stars, Hali Karla’s year long astrology course which will soon be available as a self guided programme.  I chose this course because I loved Hali’s approach to astrology and because it was art based as well.  I had followed her for a year of monthly reflections before and knew that she would provide a lot of space for reflection and drawing your own conclusions.  It isn’t prescriptive and it isn’t about learning signs and positions by rote.  She is a guide and a steering hand.  Her way with words and images really helped me to understand things in a way I know but can’t always put to words.
    • She is also doing courses which focus on signs and planets so you can just learn about your sun and rising sign and also see how you get on with her teaching style.
  • Astro.com is great for pulling up birth charts and is also full of articles and stuff but it is a bit overwhelming if you are completely new to astrology.
  • Cafe Astrology has a lot of pages on specific placements and I used it to ‘check’ my thinking about my chart.
  • Chani Nicholas has a great newsletter filled with beautifully written horoscopes and whatever your feeling about astrology, she’ll give you some food for thought!  She also has courses but I’ve not yet done one although I would think they’d be of a high standard.
  • Alyssa Trahan (previously Sharpe) has a website and youtube channel which is fully of fantastic, biting sarcasm and accurate, informed information.

But I started this post talking about books.  I love holding information in my hands.  I love being able to flick and return and underline and pick up again.  And so I did want astrology books and I didn’t feel that the complete ultimate wonderfully jam packed guide to astrology would be for me.  Instead I was patient and started out with just one, recommended by Hali Karla.  She had a few recommendations but this one stood out because of a quote she included on the course:

“This, then, is the real purpose of astrology: to hold a mirror before the evolving self, to tell us what we already know deep within ourselves.”
– Steven Forrest

The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest is the closest I have come to a bible for astrology.  He breaks things down into signs, planets and houses but never oversimplifies.  He talks about the archetypes of the planets, what potential they have and what pits they could fall into.  He takes some very complicated information and, without dumbing it down, makes it readable, and enjoyable.

The Chart Interpretation Handbook by Stephen Arroyo is a bit more prescriptive and a lot less detailed than The Inner Sky but is a good introductory text.  I’ve also found the section about aspects useful.

Dynamics of the Unconscious is a series of seminars in psychological astrology by Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas.  It isn’t for beginners and in places it’s quite dense as it’s packing in a lot, but if you want to explore your Mars and Pluto in more depth, or get a more myth based feel for the outer planets then this is the book for you.

Liz Greene also unpicks some of the related mythology around the zodiac signs in The Astrology of Fate.  I’ve not read it all yet but knowing more about the symbols and the myth behind the signs is an enlightening way to feel into their meanings.

 

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My feeding tube; almost a year on

It’s been almost a year since I had my PEG tube (a type of feeding tube) fitted and as it’s also Feeding Tube Awareness Week, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my journey.

Before getting my PEG, I had suffered almost 6 months of starvation.  I could barely swallow anything and the longer it went on, the worse it got.  By the end of it, I couldn’t even keep water down because my stomach was so angry with me.  I eventually managed to see the good gastro dr who immediately told me he was going to admit me to the ward to get a PEG.  Brilliant!

I know it’s an unusual reaction but by this point I’d already come to terms with the idea and just a few weeks before I had been begging, through tears, for an NG tube (a temporary feeding tube).  The way I was treated in that appointment still makes me angry today.  Instead of acknowledging that I was starving and incredibly ill, I was waved off with a prescription for acid reflux tablets that a) I’d already tried and they’d made things worse, b) contained lactose that I can’t have c) I couldn’t swallow them and d) I only had acid because I wasn’t eating.  I was also told she’d refer me to the eating disorder service despite me being very self aware and knowing that this wasn’t my anorexia returned.  She also said she’d send out some supplement drinks that contained meat despite me being vegetarian and also saying that I’d tried a similar type a few months before and couldn’t swallow them.  I had tried to explain that EDS is strange and just because the one test they did told them nothing, it didn’t mean there wasn’t a problem.

Anyway, back to the PEG.  Despite the good doctor saying I needed a PEG, and despite him outranking most people in his team, his colleagues continued to act as if I wasn’t going to get one.  Nurses tried to get an NG tube into me but failed for various reasons, one key one being that by this point I was the most nauseous I’ve ever been in my entire life.  If I moved, I was sick.  That isn’t especially compatible with having something shoved down your throat.  They told me repeatedly that I was being obstinate because I didn’t want to have food and they ordered an emergency mental health assessment, with the primary goal of diagnosing an eating disorder.  It failed.  I did not have an eating disorder.  I had a swallowing disorder.  Thankfully the mental health team saw that and told the doctors that I was in an expected amount of distress given my physical symptoms.

Eventually I got my PEG.

It was a long, torturous and dangerous journey.  I remain incredibly grateful to the doctor who continued to fight for me to have a PEG, without him on my side I don’t know what would have happened.  I imagine it would have involved seeing the eating disorder team, some severe issues with my internal organs, or death.

Anyway.

I got there.  Eventually.  And, as I knew it would be, having my PEG has revolutionised my life.

For six long months, I could barely get out of bed, let alone leave the house.  I lay in bed, with something playing on my laptop.  I would force myself to stay awake until 4pm when my carers came.  I went without medication because I couldn’t swallow it.  I was, thankfully, on pain patches and still able to swallow a small amount of liquid pain relief.  But I couldn’t take my antihistamines, my antidepressants, or the various other tablets I’m on.  I lost six months of my life because doctors refused to accept that there was anything wrong with me.  I was told to just eat.  I was told that the tests were fine and expected to just magically be able to swallow.

It took a good few months after my PEG was fitted before I had any semblance of a life.  My body had a lot of food to catch up on, a lot of internal healing it needed to do and a lot of weight to gain back.  But bodies are amazing and it got there.  I got my brain back, I got strength back and I got my life back.

My feeding tube has allowed me to go to the cinema, to go to the theatre, to go to the beach, to see friends, to go to uni courses and museums, art galleries and to do art myself!  I have been able to read and write and pay attention to documentaries.  I have been able to spend time in the park and pass time in cafes with cups of tea and books.

Some people see feeding tubes as a sentence.  I see mine as a liberator.

EDS: What to do with a dislocation

I’ve been meaning to write this for ages but a friend asking me advice about her not-quite-in-the-right-place joint reminded me.

Please note, none of the following should replace medical advice and certainly isn’t relevant if you don’t have EDS.  If you don’t have EDS and think you may have dislocated a joint, go to A&E.

If you have EDS and are prone to full or partial dislocations then the following information may be helpful.  It came from a physio who works with people with EDS.

If you lose feeling in the limb or it gets cold or starts turning blue, then seek emergency help.

If not, then a good rule of thumb is that if it came out, it will probably go back in again.  But first the muscles must relax and this is what you can work on.  If you go to A&E, then they are likely to anaesthetise your muscles, then force the joint back.  Once the anaesthetic wears off, your muscles will then freak out and it’s likely they’ll pull your joint out again.  This can get you trapped in a vicious cycle which can result in long term deterioration.

Instead of force, try a gentler approach.  Everything I’m suggesting is with the aim of relaxing those muscles.

  • If you have pain medication, take it as prescribed, no need to be a martyr.
  • Take a few deep breaths; panic will make things worse.  If you panic, you increase your body’s stress which can lead to spasms which can make things worse.
  • If you have relaxation techniques, use them.  If not, maybe make a note to look into them when this is over.
  • Support the joint with pillows or a sling as this will take the pressure off the muscles.
  • Heat can help to relax the muscles, as can gentle massage – but only if you can tolerate it.  Remember we are trying to relax here, anything that adds to your pain or stress levels is unhelpful.
  • Use distraction.  This aims to reduce any panic or stress you might have about the joint.

But all of this will take time, that might be hours, it might be a few days.  And at some point you may still need to seek medical help.

Afterwards, try and see a physio to get advice on exercises that might be able to help strengthen or at least maintain the muscle tone around the joint.  You want to try and prevent it from happening again, so looking at what you were doing at the time may also be useful.  Can you do things differently in the future?  Can you get some equipment that might take some of the strain?  It might not have been the physical action itself either, it could be that you were particularly stressed or tired and that made you more susceptible to an injury.

Love is in the air!

Spring is coming and soon love will be in the air!  Whether it’s the pheromones of animals or the pollen of plants, the air around us is positively brimming with the scent of reproduction.

Winged creatures like butterflies often engage in courtship flights, dancing around each other as part of a pre-copulation ritual.  The courtship ritual of the bald eagle involves locking talons and tumbling toward earth…  And then there are insects which engage in aerobatic sex, mid air, such as flies and dragonflies.

When it comes to humans (and other animals) we all have a unique smell, a chemical signature that we refer to as pheromones.  They play a role in who we are attracted to which I think is fairly well known, but also, probably lesser known, is that they also help us to identify people we are related to – useful if you want to avoid sleeping with your secret cousin that no one knew about… Having different genetic make up means healthier children and less inbreeding which is why we’ve evolved to detect this.  Couples which are more genetically similar have fewer orgasms which sounds pretty rubbish but things go one step further and couples who are more genetically alike also have a higher rate of cheating…  Basically, evolution is doing everything it can to reduce the chance of inbreeding.

Pheromones are also used to help a guy to detect where in her menstrual cycle a woman is and his body releases testosterone according to ovulation status.

However, the use of hormonal contraception appears to be changing how humans react to these chemical signatures.  When taking birth control pills, the natural ability to distinguish between males who are genetically alike and genetically different is disrupted and instead, women are attracted to the males who are most similar.  Verdolin gives a great example:

“I was discussing this with my friend Stacey, who exclaimed, “That must be why I couldn’t stand the smell of my ex-husband!”  She went on to explain that when she met her first husband she had been taking birth control pills.  Several years into their marriage, after she discontinued the pill, not only was she unable to get pregnant, but she no longer cared for the smell of her husband.”

Aside: pheromones are found in underarm hair and public hair so maybe go au naturale if you’re seeking a partner?

Animals use pheromones to communicate with each other, to mark their territory and to induce aggression.  They are also used in parental bonding, to keep group behaviour in check and of course to attract mates – some creatures can even smell out virgins.  They are also used to mark your mate in order to keep away other potential mates.  Squirrels secrete pheromones onto their partners onto their partner to tell other males that she’s taken.  Queen bees use pheromones to control hive behaviour and stop workers from reproducing.  Plants use pheromones to attract pollinators, for example a kind of orchid can mimic bee pheromones to pollinate them.

Male lemmings can not only sniff out a female who’s ready to mate, but they can also distinguish between those who have mated already and those who have not.

“From beetles to bees and lizards, females do give off a different scent if they have already mated or if they are ready to mate.”
– Verdolin

A large number of male creatures will include anti-aphrodisiac pheromones in their bodily secretions so that the female they are mating will have less interest in sex.  The pheromones can also make her less attractive to other males.

What of other ways that love is in the air?  Well, plants can reproduce in a couple of ways, both involving the air; insect pollination and wind pollination.  The latter means that large amounts of pollen are released to the breeze in the hope that they find another plant to fertilise.  Whilst this does mean hayfever for many of us, it’s nice to think that it’s all in the aid of making baby trees and flowers!

Suggested reading:

Feeding tube tips

It’s been almost a year since I had my PEG tube fitted to administer medication through and to feed me through.  In that time I have inevitably picked up tips and tricks which make things a bit easier for me and I figured someone out there might find them helpful, so voila!

General

  • You can get tube tidies to reduce the risk of tripping over or getting tied up in the extension tube
  • Some people use tube pads for comfort
  • I use, and carry with me, sterile wipes to clean my peg site each day.  It just means we know that they’re clean and that my site is being kept as clean as possible
  • Try and get a spare set of all the things you use, especially the repair kit
  • Make sure to charge the pump!  We do it daily just to be sure…
  • Keep some soda water in the house to use to try and unblock a blocked peg
  • We use a bottle drainer to rest the syringes etc on to dry as they are impossible to get dry with a towel

Leaks

  • Sleep with a towel to hand in case of overnight leaks
  • Pop a towel on your lap when you are doing meds or attaching/detaching feed, again in case of any accidents
  • Take a towel out with you – I use a tea towel as they fold up nice and small
  • Sanitary towels are very absorbent, I have used them to soak up leaks and such

Medication

  • If available, take liquid medication
  • Instead of carrying around a bottle of paracetamol in your bag, just in case, try calpol pouches
  • If a liquid medication is sticky or thick, add a little bit of warm (sterile) water to thin it and make it a) easier to administer and b) less likely to block the tube
  • If you have tablets that you’ve confirmed you can crush (not all can, for example slow release tablets are no longer slow release if you crush them) then:
    • instead of a pill crusher, use a pestle and mortar
    • if the tablet has a coating then that can block the tube so you want to remove it to reduce the risk.  I use a tea strainer to sieve out the coating and get the medication in a 60ml medication cup as its a good size for the tea strainer
  • Use coffee stirrers (yep, the wooden ones you get at Costa) to mix water with the medication
  • Use a soup cup with a lid to keep your sterile water in.  They are (mostly) leakproof so you can take water with you and when at home, we rest them on the radiator so that the water isn’t too cold
  • If you are going out and need to take medication, precrush it if you are allowed (some are affected by this) and pop it in a little salad dressing tub

In public

  • If you are feeding or having medication in public, wearing a skirt or trousers is much easier and dignified than a dress… I have a lot of lovely dresses but they mean that when it comes to doing meds, I have to go into the toilets whereas with a skirt we can just carry on
  • Get a rucksack so that you can take your feed out with you should you need to
  • If I’m wearing a skirt, I tend to just have my (unattached) tube out and don’t really think about it but I know some people are more aware of theirs and you can tape it to your tummy to keep it out the way

I’m sure there are more things we do that make it easier but I’d love to hear from other people with tubes.  What tips and tricks have you picked up?

“Mum, who do you love best?” – Parental favouritism in the animal kingdom

Whilst this is a question we tend to think of as being asked by a child with siblings, it turns out, animal parents have favourites too…

For example, there’s a species of budgie that regurgitates food for its young and males will feed in response to chicks begging whereas females will seek out the smallest offspring and prioritise them.  In bearded vultures, it really does pay to be the favourite; it’s common for parents to only feed the first born chick…  But it’s not just size and birth order that parents prioritise.  Sticking with the bird world, let’s have a look at a few more examples.

Eastern bluebird dads favour their sons, protecting them from danger whilst exposing their daughters.  But sons aren’t equal either, the baby which is brightest in colour will garner dads protection more so than his duller brother.  Mums on the other hand didn’t discriminate.  If we turn to coots, we find much the same, with parents preferentially feeding nestlings which have ornamental plumes over their duller nestmates.  But it isn’t always about how attractive the offspring are:

“In birds, female blue tits, for instance, are better parents to the offspring they had with sexy males.  Not only that, but if the male they have mated with has his colouring dulled, the equivalent of being made less attractive, the female will actively reduce her efforts to feed their offspring.”
– Verdolin

So, what’s going on with parents?  Why do they play favourites with their children?

Well, what resources are available is an essential part of understanding this.  If you have five chicks and food is scarce, you could split it all equally and end up with five slightly less healthy chicks, or you could allocate them in an unequal way and thus play favourites with your children.

With chinstrap penguins who have more than one chick, they will make their kids chase them for food.  The chick that wins the race gets the food and the one that lags behind will ultimately die.  It sounds incredibly harsh but if you only have enough food for one chick, you need to make sure it goes to the one who has the highest chance of surviving to adulthood and having their own chicks.  This explains why parents tend to favour the fastest and strongest of their young, but what about those eastern bluebird dads and the female blue tits?

This type of favouritism, based on appearances, is again about trying to ensure that your lineage will continue.  With the blue tits, sexy males mean sexy children who in turn will have more sex and hence more chicks themselves.  By putting more resources into caring for the chicks from the sexy male, the mummy blue tit is worker harder to ensure her young will become healthy, sexy and successful breeders themselves.  For bluebirds, the females prefer to mate with brighter males and thus in the example above, where dad is trying to protect his brightest son, he is attempting to protect the son who has the best chance of mating when he grows up.

You might be wondering though, why are daddy bluebirds so concerned with their sons and not their daughters.  It’s not just that bluebirds want to have daddy son time, it happens in other species as well.  For example, wandering albatrosses feed their sons more than their daughters and I’m sure there are many more examples out there of dads putting their effort into ensuring their sons grow up to be big, strong, sexy adults.  Essentially it comes down to wanting to continue the family line and sexy males (in species where an individual male has more sex than an individual female) will achieve that.

But it’s not even just after birth that parents play favourites, in some species there can be a disproportionate ratio of males and females born, taking the idea of parental preference to an extreme.  One example of this is the red deer which has more sons if mum is in good condition and more daughters is she is afflicted by parasites, ill health, in a lower rank etc.  This means that more dominant females have more sons than their non dominant counterparts, something that we see with macaques as well.

The Trivers-Willard hypothesis suggests an explanation for this favouritism.  The hypothesis is that with conditions are great, females should give birth to and invest in raising sons over daughters.  When conditions are poorer, the reverse should occur.  As with the other types of favouritism we’ve looked at, this is about ensuring that your children have lots of children and your line continues.  To understand why the Trivers-Willard hypothesis might hold, we need to note a few things:

  • If a mother is in great condition, she is more likely to have a child who is in great condition.
  • If a child is in great condition, they have a better chance of surviving to adulthood.
  • If the species is such that males have the potential to produce more offspring than females, then being sexy is important. If you aren’t a sexy male, then you might not attract any females, thus you won’t have any children and essentially the resources that your mother chose to give you are wasted.  Basically, mum would have been better having a daughter.

Essentially, a male in great condition will have significantly more offspring than a female in the same condition and thus is a better investment.  A male in poorer condition will potentially have less offspring than a female in the same condition and so is a bad choice to invest in.

Whilst it may not be of comfort to you if you aren’t the favourite child, at least you know you’re not alone… And just in case you were wondering, its thought that two thirds to three quarters of human parents favour one child over another…

Suggested reading:

The Virgin Marys of the Animal Kingdom; they don’t need no man!

Let’s start with a couple of basic definitions!  There are lots of more specific and technical terms that I could go into but I won’t.  Suffice to say, if you are interested in the biological processes at work, there is information out there on that.  For my purposes, I think there are probably just two definitions we need to be familiar with:

Parthenogenesis is a type of asexual reproduction in which a female gamete or egg cell develops into an individual without fertilisation.

In asexual reproduction, one individual produces offspring that are genetically identical to itself.

Thought Co

It all gets very complicated at a cellular level and not being a biologist I wouldn’t want to even attempt to explain it but I wanted to make sure that it was clear that parthenogenesis and asexual reproduction are not always interchangeable.

The word parthenogenesis means virgin creation and these virgin births are known to occur in a range of species including many insects, snakes, lizards, Komodo dragons and even, rarely, in turkeys.  In lab conditions, mammals have had virgin births but only when artificially helped by researchers.

To help us understand the realities of being a virgin mother, I wanted to look at a few examples, starting with a population of Bynoes gecko in Australia gave up entirely on sexual reproduction and are now an all-female species.  This type of reproduction tends to occur in harsh climates – arid deserts and arctic areas – and are almost exclusively hybrids.  The thinking is that the population of one species got split and evolved separately before coming back together.  The two groups then reproduced sexually, creating sterile hybrids who over time evolved to reproduce without sex.

On a spectrum of reproduction, it’s possible that whiptail lizards would come next.  There are as many as 50 types of whiptail lizard that reproduce without sex, but despite this, the exclusively female New Mexico whiptail still engage in ‘fake sex’ to be stimulated in order to reproduce.  Whilst not essential, the lizards that are stimulated lay more eggs.

Then there are the animals that engage in both types of reproduction.  Queen bees produce male drones by parthenogenesis but workers are made by sexually reproducing with drones.  Boa constrictors normally reproduce sexually, but not always and komodo dragons, sharks, turkeys and swordfish also primarily reproduce sexually but parthenogenesis can account for up to 5% of babies.  Note that it some species, females are able to store sperm for a considerable length of time after encountering a male and so genetic testing is required to confirm parthenogenesis.

The advantage of asexual reproduction is that a female can restart a population in the absence of a male – think about a female which has found itself on an island with no other creatures of the same species.  It’s also easier for an initially small population to take over an area.  Other benefits include not having to expend energy finding, attracting and keeping a mate and when babies are born, they are made up solely from mums genes.

Whilst an all female population sounds enticing, there are downsides…  clones are unable to evolve and adapt genetically to change, there is an increase risk of being affected by parasites and disease.  As the entire population are all vulnerable to the same external factors, one small factor can result in them all dying.  As I noted above, mammals don’t naturally engage in parthenogenesis – we can’t reproduce without male and female dna… even just one missing gene can result in conditions such as angelmans syndrome and prada willi syndrome.

On the whole, species that reproduce without sex, don’t last that long:

“from time to time organisms evolve to give up sex, reproducing asexually instead.  When this happens, any genetic differences between a parent and a child are, by definition, due to mutation only.  At first asexual organisms often flourish.  But their glory is fleeting.  For reasons that remain mysterious, the loss of sex is almost always followed by swift extinction,  apparently, without sex you are doomed.”
– Olivia Judson

Of course, there are always exceptions, and in this case, one of the exceptions is the bdelloid rotifer which is an all female species that has been cloning itself for about 85 million years (Judson).  To overcome the problem of identical genetics, they get new genes by picking up DNA from the environment.  This protects them from the main dilemmas facing most parthenegenic species.

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