Medibank & Ramsey

If you rely on private hospital cover to access psychiatric services, be aware that policy changes can impact you and you may not find out about them until you are in a crisis and go to claim. ūüė¶ Medibank Private is no longer partnering with Ramsay Health Care. For those of you who use this insurer and access Ramsay hospitals (such as The Adelaide Clinic) or other services, this will mean a significant out of pocket cost for you after August 31st.

This doesn’t impact me as I don’t have hospital cover but it has come as a surprise to a few friends of mine. They’ve told me that Bupa (formerly Mutual Community here in SA) is one possible alternative for people who need access to TAC from time to time. Go and do some digging if you might be in the same boat.

Actually while we’re on the subject of unpleasant surprises, can I also say that it’s worth asking a LOT of questions about travel insurance when it comes to psychiatric problems? I was once travelling overseas with someone who suffered a breakdown and needed inpatient care – which is when we discovered that no psychiatric issues of any kind, pre existing or new, were covered by their insurance. This was not in the fine print or mentioned anywhere in the paperwork and we didn’t discover it until after we needed a hospital for them.

On that note, if you ever need to transport someone home from overseas who’s in a bad place psychologically, you could be in a hell of a lot of trouble. Regular airlines will not be happy about taking them, and medivac, an air ambulance, is hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the person I spoke with at the Red Cross when this happened to me, this is a devastating problem faced by more travelers than we realise. Be careful and plan well!

 

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Baking Adventures

Back before I decided to personally host half of the infectious diseases known to man, I baked. Time to share photos! One of my close friends, who’s been a part of Bridges since the very first group meeting nearly two years ago, recently celebrated their birthday and I was invited to make the cake. It was a surprise cake and wonderfully fun! I created a secret board on pinterest and pinned loads of ideas and recipes to share with my co-conspirators. We narrowed the brief down to some specific ideas:
1. Chocolate cake, but not too sweet or rich
2. Pink!
3. Butterflies
4. Glitter
I started by making the butterflies. These were mild chocolate, with purple coloured white chocolate wings, and edible holographic silver glitter. The chocolate was flavoured with kahlua essence. The first lot I made didn’t work because I’d stored my chocolate for too long but a trip to the service station fixed that. It’s good to be near local stores that are open weird hours when you’re prone to nocturnal baking!
You can make them with the wings upright like this by first making just the wings and letting them set, then peeling them off the baking paper, putting folded baking paper in a folded cardboard v, and piping in a little butterfly chocolate body. Then rest each wing gently until it touches the body and allow the butterfly to set.
I made these a week in advance as they keep really well.¬†The cake was a plain simple chocolate cake recipe from one of my decorating books. I baked three flat cakes in three identical tins. I was really not impressed with this recipe, the mix was really stodgy and the end result wasn’t inspiring. Not inedible, but not great. Nevertheless, it did the job.

For a filling I settled on a recipe for creme parisienne, which is a chocolate ganache, cooled and whipped. Wow, did that work well! It became basically invisible once sandwiched between layers of chocolate cake, which was a shame as part of the fun of a layer cake is the stripes, but the taste… Mmmmm.

I carefully chose a buttercream recipe that incorporated cream cheese for better flavour, and added wilton pink gel food colouring for the outer icing. I’ve been working more with fondant lately, which is fun, but the flavour – ugh. And definitely not suitable for someone who wants a less rich, sticky cake.

I iced the whole cake and decided to pipe some basic shells with the extra icing. I’ve not yet much used my exciting set of icing tips so this was new and great fun!

Next, add the glittery butterflies on the side and the chocolate words on the top – they read “Happy Birthday dear friend!”

Then the really fun bit – my first attempts at piping buttercream roses! They were far from professional but they did look like flowers so I was really happy with that. I made large dark pink ones and smaller violet ones.

Then added leaves, dots, and candles. These were cool rainbow candles where the flame was supposed to be the same colour as the candle… it was kinda hard to tell truth be told.

Last step – add all those chocolate butterflies. Viola!

Here it is on my very sweet new white cake stand – purchased as EVERY store I went to looking for a simple cake board that weekend had sold out. Still, it’s gorgeous and I’m sure I’ll use it again. Icing around the little sparrow was a little tricky but… Mmmm lovely.

There you have it. Things I get up to when I’m well. ūüôā

Wrapping Up At Aceda

It’s been very quiet around here lately, because it’s been mad in my life. I’m very tuckered out at the moment. I’ve been working hard at Aceda, caring for my very unwell girlfriend (who’s currently in hospital) and trying to keep my own head above water. I’ve not had a lot of sleep this week!

I’m frustrated to not be getting time to write this blog, it’s an important part of my own reflection on the day and my life and especially my work in mental health. I’m hoping to put some time into more articles next year, particularly thoughts and ideas about eating disorders as I’ve been working so much in that area lately.

This week we got the very sad news that Aceda was unsuccessful in applying for a grant for next year. It’s been frantic at the office as we’ve all scrambled to refer clients to other services. For me especially it’s been busy, Christmas is often a particularly tough time for people with issues around food and I’ve been utterly swamped by people desperate for support and referrals. It’s heartbreaking to be closing our doors at this time and I’ve put in some extra hours to try and make sure people are left with a comprehensive set of referrals, links, and other support options. (if you would like these please email me at sarah@di.org.au) This role has been challenging but I’m very glad to have taken it up. I’m proud of the service and resources I’ve been involved in here. I’ve spent time with some truly amazing and courageous clients for whom I have deep respect. I’ve learned a tremendous amount alongside them and my colleagues. I’m fired with passion about this terribly neglected area of mental health, and furiously angry at the appalling lack of resources and options for people here in SA! It’s been a fantastic opportunity and I’m looking forward to a good break and then using these experiences to inform my peer work in 2013. Mental health can be exhausting and at times infuriating, or distressing, but it is also deeply rewarding, something that moves and fires me. People deserve better and I’m thrilled to be part of a huge movement towards respect, recovery, community, and equality in mental health services. You’re not getting rid of me yet. ūüėČ

Hot Chocolate Recipes

I made three, super indulgent hot chocolate drinks for The Party this week, and I’ve had a few requests for recipes. You can substitute your preferred type and brand of chocolate in any of these, the recipes are very¬†accommodating. All these recipes will keep for several days in the fridge and can be gently reheated. If you leave in the spices until ready to serve, the flavour will continue to develop.Hot chocolate
Persian Style:
Mild and sweet. 

250g White Cadbury Melts
1 cup full cream milk
8 cardamom pods
2 Tablespoons of rose water OR 1teaspoon of rose extract

  1. Pour the milk, cardamom pods, and rose into a saucepan and heat gently. Do not allow to boil. Steep the flavours in the hot milk for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate and stir until combined.
  3. Taste test. Add ground cardamom or extra rose water if desired.
  4. Remove the pods and serve hot in shot glasses or over desserts as a hot sauce.

Warming:
Perfect on cold nights.

250g Milk Cadbury Melts
1 cup full cream milk
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (to taste)

  1. Pour the milk into a saucepan and gently heat until hot but not boiling.
  2. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate melts and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine.
  3. Taste test and add more cayenne if needed. I like a gentle tingle at the back of the throat in the aftertaste, but no actual peppery taste to the chocolate.
  4. Serve hot.



Spiced 
Chocolate:
Complex and delicious.

250g Dark Cadbury Melts
1 cup full cream milk
3 strips of fresh orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tablespoon of honey (I used Blue Gum, very strong flavour)
1 teaspoon of quality vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder
pinch of chili powder

  1. Pour the milk into a saucepan with the spices, essence, and honey. Gently heat until hot but not boiling. Allow to steep for at least 1/2 hour.
  2. Turn off the heat, add in the chocolate and stir to combine.
  3. Taste test. Adjust flavours to your preference.
  4. Serve hot.

If you prefer a big mug to a little shot glass for your hot chocolate, you can increase the quantity of milk in these recipes. Up to 1 litre of milk to 250g of chocolate is still very rich and delicious. Alternatively, make up the original recipe, then stir a healthy dollop into a mug of hot milk for those guests who prefer mugs.

Vote for my blog!

People's Choice Award 
A friend has kindly submitted my blog 
into the Sidney Writer’s Centre Blog Competition!
To vote for my blog in the ‘People’s Choice’ category, please click on the button above. ūüôā¬†
There are 940 entrants in the competition, 
which is being judged primarily on the quality of the writing in the blogs.

Christmas on a budget

When you’re very short of money, Christmas can feel impossible. I’ve had quite a few broke Christmas’ over my life, and have learned a lot of ways to get into the spirit of things without spending very much. Especially if you’ve got young kids, there are ways of making things special without spending what you don’t have. When I was young my family were pretty hard up and my Mum did an amazing job of using creativity to give us a lovely Christmas.

I’ve already talked a bit about gift ideas, but one more is worth mentioning. It’s a gift from when I was very young. Mum bought a bracelet with paua shell hearts and¬†de constructed¬†it, breaking it apart to form a number of necklaces for gifts. I still have the necklace because it was it was such a clever lovely gift. It reminds me of the strength of love in adversity.

Food is another expense that can be difficult to get around over Christmas. If you’re really struggling, see if someone local is offering hampers. That can really help to put some special food on the table on Christmas day. ¬†Hampers that you pay off over the year in small amounts can make sure there’s money being put aside for food. Some shops offer a Christmas fund where you add in perhaps $5 every time you grocery shop, then spend the money just before Christmas. Anything you can cook yourself will almost certainly be cheaper than buying it. Nibbles like gingerbread smell festive and wonderful and don’t cost much to make. Decorating them is the sort of thing many kids love. You can buy some items in bulk and break them down into smaller portions. There are also many places who hold free lunches on Christmas day – if you’re lonely and broke this can be a really nice community way to spend the day.

Don’t feel you have to follow any food traditions. There’s no point paying for a plum pudding if no one in your family likes it. If a lovely big roast chicken and a little handful of prawns would be more special than a serve of dry turkey, then do it. If you’re not a great cook and tend to ruin unfamiliar recipes, stick to what you know and add festive trimmings like cranberry sauce.¬†Have something small special and make the rest affordable, and don’t waste money on things you don’t like. I’m a foodie, so in previous years I’ve started baking Christmas cakes and puddings in about August. This helps to spread out the costs and gives the flavour time to develop. I also often put away one or two special bottles of drink just for the Christmas season. Part of what makes the food special is that it’s different to what we eat during the rest of the year. So, if you can, identify a couple of your favourites, and don’t have them at any other time. They become something to look forward to, something that marks the festive season and helps to herald the¬†Christmas¬†spirit. These kind of small family rituals can be very soothing during difficult years.

Decorating is another area that’s difficult to pull off without any money. I spent one Christmas recently in a caravan park, with very little money. I ignored the idea of a tree, as I had no room, but bought a couple of lengths of tinsel from a cheap store. I hand made paper decorations, cutting doves and stars and bells out of cheap sketching paper and hanging them around the van. I ran an oil burner with a festive smelling blend for most of December. In other years I’ve cut a branch of any tree – gum tree works just fine, and decorated that as our cheap Christmas tree. I’ve heard of people reusing Christmas cards for their tree decorations. Cookies can also be wrapped in¬†cellophane¬†and hung on the tree, and popcorn garlands can be used instead of tinsel. If you can afford a fake tree and have somewhere to store it they can last for many years.

Activities – here’s an area our culture isn’t all that good at. In many families the only way you can have fun is with money and/or alcohol. When you’re broke it can seem that you’re missing out on everything. There are many community events free at this time of year, and religious services open to everyone. Community centres often hold festive days, local schools and aftercare programs likewise. Keep an eye on your local paper to see what’s happening you might like to be part of. Depending on your interests, you can start to develop a¬†repertoire¬†of cheap activities that you and your family can enjoy. I love trips to the beach, especially in stormy weather. Some days I pack up a hamper for dinner and head out to the ocean – it’s still cheap because I’m not buying food down there, all I have to come up with is fuel money or bus tickets. Another of my favourites is games nights. I love card games and board games, many of those can be bought second hand very inexpensively. With a group of friends there’s a lot of fun to be had, and if everyone brings a plate or drink to share the cost is very small. Film nights can set you back just the cost of the dvd rental, or time them for when something good is on tv. Camps can be great, backyard cricket days, poetry nights, baking nights, beading nights… depends on what you and your mates are into. Take the kids to the park, the dog for a walk, get some books from the library, run around spraying each other with water pistols… once you starting thinking cheap and fun the possibilities are endless. It can take a little while to get into the mindset and stop feeling like you’re missing out, but with some time you do get there. Even in years when money has been better, I’ve so looked forward to our Christmas Eve traditional games night, and every year I’m asked to make my batch of coconut rum truffles.

Sometimes having a lot of money to throw around can make you forget about these kinds of things. There are special moments in watching the kids bake with Grandma, or taking hand made cards around to the neighbours. Being broke can help you bypass the grasping consumerism of a commercial Christmas and focus instead on taking a break, having some fun, catching up with friends, kindness, generosity, sharing… If you’re not broke, take a moment to remember those who are, especially those who are sick and families with young kids. You may be able to give them a small hamper, or help out with babysitting. It’s hard to be creative and festive when you’re exhausted, and most broke parents are pretty tuckered out by the end of the year. Someone turning up to clean the kitchen could be the best Christmas present ever.

Take care and be kind. 

Gift ideas for Chistmas

Gifts can be a stressful part of Christmas, especially for those of us on tight budgets! I thought I’d share a few of the ways I approach this in case any of them are useful for someone else. You can op out of gifts entirely if this is something that you hate. You don’t have to follow cultural and/or religious celebrations to the letter. It’s okay to tell your mates that you don’t want to do this. I would suggest being sensitive to what they want and like too – telling your best mate they’re not allowed to get you a gift because you don’t want to get them one might go down really well or like a bag of bricks. All friendships require finding compromises between different needs, you might need to use a bit of tact here.

Hand made and painted polymer clay jewellery

Some years I use organisation to break up the costs so that the end of the year doesn’t come with large bills I can’t manage. I’ve shopped for my Christmas gifts in the January and End of Financial Year sales, and had everything ready to go by August. This is a great approach if you’re the kind of person who finds putting aside money for Christmas impossible, but tucking gifts away in a cupboard manageable. I carry around with me a master list of people I’m buying gifts for (this can be a bit of paper in your wallet or a document on your phone) and every time I spot something that would make a great gift for someone I know I check my list. If I haven’t already bought theirs and I can afford it that week, I get it, write in my list or cross their name off, and tuck the gift away somewhere safe.

Be warned though, without a list you can get mixed up and end up with four gifts for one person and nothing for someone else! It’s also important not to forget the safe place you’re keeping them! I’ve done that before and it does rather undo your hard work!

Consider where you get gifts from. Second hand shops and charity shops can be great places to look. Technology also gets cheaper every year so small electronic items such as little key-chain digital photo displays can make great gifts. Cheap shops can be a great source of gifts, one year I bought mugs and then filled them with nuts and wrapped them in cellophane. Coffee lovers may appreciate a bag of quality coffee, chocolate lovers may love sachets of hot chocolate. Cheese lovers love getting cheeses! One year most of my female friends were given lovely blends of essential oils. Small personal gifts can be more meaningful than expensive ones.

There are some great online stores, which for those of us with a physical limitation or stress around crowds can take a lot of the stress out of Christmas shopping! I’ve had years where I’ve done all my shopping online because my health was too poor to cope with the shops. EBay has a huge range of items for sale, and you can limit searches to your local area (for quicker/cheaper postage) or by price so you only see items under $10 for example. Be aware that if you’re not very savvy online you can get into trouble with new or rotten sellers, so don’t get too enthused and put in money on bigger items until you’ve learned the ropes and got the hang of feedback ratings and how to tell a good reliable seller. Etsy is a similar online store, but this time for only handmade items. This can be a fantastic place to buy beautiful handcrafted gifts of very high quality. You can limit searches to specific areas and by price on this too. Etsy also has an area to buy supplies for making things, so you can use it to shop for unusual beautiful art and craft supplies, and make your own gifts, or use the supplies as gifts for crafty friends. The same caution as being new to eBay applies to Etsy. Book depository is another great online resource I use, you can choose a category – for example, Children’s Fiction, and then set the price from low to high so you can choose some lovely books for your nieces and nephews and pay perhaps $3 each. Book depository has no postage costs so it’s easy to work out your budget. I’m not affiliated with any of the resources or shops I’m mentioning and don’t get any money from any of them. ūüôā

Too many gifts to buy? Try to limit this in some way – try buying a gift for the whole family eg a box of shortbread, instead of something for each person. Consider only buying gifts for kids. See if your people will go for a Kris Kringle idea where people all put their names in a hat, and you only have to buy a gift for the person who’s name you draw out of it. Another great idea I’ve used before that takes less organising, is to ask everyone attending a party to bring only one gift, and set a price limit such as $10. Every person who attends on the day brings their wrapped gift and puts it on a table. When it comes to gift time, everyone there selects a gift from the table that wasn’t theirs. Viola! Anyone bringing extra guests and plus ones just brings and extra gift from them too. Very little organisation required and everyone goes home with a present.

Too few gifts to buy? I’ve had some miserable Christmases where my social world had shrunk to almost nothing. It was painful to not have people to fuss over. Those years I gave gifts to charity – not just giving money but actually choosing a gift, whether it was something for a charity collection like the Kmart wishing tree or a donation to a third world country – used bicycles or sewing machines for example, or from a catalogue such as money towards meals for people who are homeless, or buying chickens for a family in Africa. I also bought a gift for myself as a way of telling myself that I mattered. If you have a pet you love, try buying them a gift – I’ve been informed that tasty dog treats can be wrapped up and you can spend an amusing morning on Christmas watching your furry friend tear it open.

If you’re a crafty kind of person like me, you may like to make your gifts. I’ve always been able to find some great books in the library about making your own presents. If you like to cook that’s always a winner. I’ve given boxes of brownies, home made shortbread, chocolate truffles, small cakes, puddings, tarts, and cookies as gifts.

Coconut rum truffles
Truffles and other goodies packed in noodle boxes
Honey and nutmeg biscuits
Pear and rhubarb tarts

I’ve also given pre-made but uncooked gifts that other people can make up when they want them, such as Brownies in a Jar. This can be great to avoid giving more rich sweet foods that need quick eating to people already overloaded at Christmas. Having said that, sweets and chocolates that will keep for a few months are also fun and usually well received. Handmade cosmetics such as nourishing hand cream for gardeners can be lovely gifts and I’ve enjoyed making them before. I’ve also had fun with crafty gifts such as painting plain journals from a newsagent as gifts.

Journal painted with picture from a magazine
and binding from Spotlight
Journal painted with pressed leaves
and decorative brass panel
Journal stamped and painted with fabric paint,
frog cut from a magazine
Journal stamped and painted
with foam and hand made stamps

Of course, small artworks can make lovely gifts such as small framed paintings or photographs. I find craftster a fantastic online community full of crafty ideas very inspiring. Be careful about giving someone something huge, they might not have anywhere they want to put it! I’ve also made¬†beaded jewellery, cross stitch bookmarks,¬†decorated photo frames, and handmade Christmas tree ornaments.¬†If you like making things, this can be a huge amount of fun, setting yourself small projects throughout the year, or perhaps setting aside a few weeks to bake or sew to your heart’s content.

Cross stitch bookmark
Handmade beaded jewellery
Photo frame decorated with beads, shells and paint
Handmade jewellery – left is a duck pendant made in the WEA
kiln fused glass class, right is a hand carved wooden pendant
Home done hair dye gift

Don’t forget gifts of service such as offering to wash a car, take someone to the movies, babysit, refresh their computer, drive them to the beach, cook them a meal, or colour their hair.¬†Sometimes these are the perfect gifts for broke friends where spending money on something would only embarrass them.

Plants or seeds make lovely gifts for gardeners, and if you have a garden of your own, produce, flowers, cuttings, or seeds from it are also beautiful gifts. If the person you’re giving them to isn’t a confident gardener, consider rooting the cuttings or striking the seeds yourself to get them started. Easy seeds are big ones like pumpkins, sweet peas and sunflowers. Geraniums are very easy to grow from cuttings. You don’t have to be a great cook to give gifts of food. A bag of plums from your tree is magic! One year I dehydrated a lot of fruit from the market and boxed them up in little gift boxes lined with waxed paper.

Plums ripening on my tree
Potted flowers are easy and cheerful
Raising seeds in my hot box

I hope there’s some useful suggestions in here for your gift dilemmas. Have good fun whatever you choose to do. ūüôā