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Showing posts from 2016

Bethlehemian Rapsody

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This is brilliant!  The Christmas story, done absolutely fantastically to the tune of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, complete with muppet-like puppets!


I have fond memories of singing along to the original with friends when I was at university, and this version is just so well done.  It was written by Mark Bradford and directed by Darla Robinson, both of Puppetunes.

Review: Ecosa memory foam mattress for someone with limited mobility

To my regular readers: this probably isn't of much interest to you.  I'm putting it up in the hope people with health issues similar to mine will find it whilst investigating if a memory foam mattress is suitable for them.
About me I have severe CFS/ME, meaning that I am very weak.  I spend a lot of time in bed (20-21 hours per day), so a comfortable bed that minimises back pain is very important to me.  I use a bed pan (on my own) a few times a week and occasionally am too weak to roll over in bed and need my husband to help turn me.  I try to do lying-down exercises on my bed three times per week.  I'm very sensitive to stimuli of all kinds (including touch) when I'm tired.  My ability to control my temperature is compromised so I can easily get too hot or too cold.  I weigh around 110kg, my husband weighs around 85kg and we sleep in a Queen sized bed.

Three great sashiko aids

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My sister-in-law recently introduced me to sashiko: a Japanese embroidery style based on running stitch.  I'm really enjoying it: I love the geometric patterns, plus it doesn't take too long to make something lovely :-)

Over the months I've been doing it, I've come across three things that have really helped me to get good results without too much stress: leather thimbles, a 'frixion' pen and liquid starch.

Pork buns!!

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One thing we've never come across in Auckland is pork buns made from free range pork.  We both love pork buns, so yesterday Martin had a go at making them himself.  They were really yummy, and not that hard.  We'll definitely be making them again!


Ideas that guide how we live

Over the years we've come up with a bunch of key concepts that we refer to whenever we make decisions.  We've found it really helpful to have worked these through, as that means we can often easily see what the right thing to do is in a given situation.  I'd like to share them here :-)

In the Biblical book of Matthew, we read of this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees (religious teachers):
one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40
We often refer to these two commandments and our 'key ideas' flow from them.

We also refer frequently to another idea: the Kingdom of God.  This is so…

Ecotricity: an electricity company building the world we want :-)

We've recently changed our electricity supplier to Ecotricity: New Zealand's first (and thus-far only) independently certified carbon neutral electricity company.

We were excited to find them.  New Zealand has other electricity companies that supply predominantly renewable energy (the whole grid is around 75% renewable, after all), but Ecotricity goes well beyond that.  They're also trying to reduce fossil fuel usage by:
actively promoting electric vehicles (transport makes up 20% of New Zealand's domestic greenhouse gas emissions - electric vehicles powered by renewable electricity are one way to bring this down);they're encouraging people to switch away from gas in the home and office (something we still have in our kitchen, to be honest.  It accounts for well under 1% of our total greenhouse gas emissions: we think that's worth it for the rapid temperature control gas gives us);supporting customers to generate their own solar energy at home and work.

Gorgeous splashes of colour

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I'm not feeling too well at the moment and am struggling a bit.  One thing that's helping is all the beautiful flowers around our house right now.  I thought you might enjoy them, too.

Eat Delicious - a great cookbook for cooking on a tight budget

The other day I came across a fantastic free cookbook!  Born out of a concern for the large number of people living in poverty in the UK, it gives recipes to help people eat well on very little.  They acknowledge that people need more than good recipes to get out of poverty, but hope that this well help while they're there.

I think it's great!  The recipes aren't just cheap and fairly easy, they also look mouth-watering.  In particular, I'm keen to try their:
banana pancakeslucky chicken bakemighty omelettecabbage and white bean stewEnglish breakfast (made in a yorkshire pudding!)melt in the mouth bean burgerone pot pastaperfect parmagiana (although it uses mozarella which is quite expensive here - it would be a lovely treat)extra crispy roast potatoes

Reflections on the book of Job

Recently, I've really enjoyed the Thomas Burns Memorial Lectures 2016 from Otago University School of Theology.  This year they were given by Professor Choon-Leong Seow, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East with a delightful Singaporean accent.  He's been lecturing on the Old Testament Biblical book of Job (pronounced to rhyme with 'robe'), through which he's introduced me to a number of ideas that have furthered my thinking on what the Bible is.

I found lectures one, two and four particularly helpful: if you can spare four hours or so, I highly recommend them.  And if you don't, here's what I've taken from the series :-)

My favourite number

I've realised I never posted a link here to my most recent piece of CFS writing.  Back in May I wrote My Favourite Number for the ANZMES annual writing competition.  The theme was 'Things that give us hope'.  I decided to wait until ANZMES published it before posting the link, then clean forgot :-)  It didn't get anywhere in the competition, but I hope you enjoy it all the same.

Rubbish and recycling in Auckland

I was recently browsing Auckland Council's excellent recycling page, and came across a few things that surprised me.
They can't recycle most receipts.  Practically all the receipts we get are on heat-sensitive paper.  Turns out that they have a coating that makes them unsuitable for recycling.  Since I learned that, I've followed their advice and started putting them in the compost.They can't recycle really small things.  In the 'paper and cardboard' category, they note that they can only recycle jigsaw puzzle pieces if they're in an envelope.  Similarly, under 'plastic' they say that any bottle caps that go into the recycling need to be attached to their respective bottles, presumably for the same reason.  I don't find myself recycling jigsaw puzzle pieces very often, but I do frequently throw tiny paper offcuts from my card making into the recycling, and I throw unattached milk bottle lids into the recycling all the time.  No more!Baking paper…

Update to Ethical Kiwisaver post

I've just updated my Ethical Kiwisaver post to include Koinonia.  It wasn't in the original post as it's a restricted scheme.  However, since that was written, it's become a lot less restricted, moving from being open only to clergy to being open to anyone who self-identifies as Christian.  Read the new version here.

Reducing our climate impact by eating less dairy

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Some years ago we became concerned about our dairy consumption level.  When we did our first carbon audit, food was the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint (responsible for about 30% of our carbon emissions or 1.4T CO2e per year each).  The planet can only cope with 1.2T CO2e per person per year, so obviously that number needed to come down a lot if we wanted to do right by our vulnerable neighbours in places like Bangladesh.

Dairy was the biggest contributor within that, coming in at around 0.45T CO2e.  The obvious question was, how could we reduce this?

The Valley of Vision

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In recent years it has become my custom to pray through a list of people and situations most mornings.  For some months, however, I've been very tired and haven't had the concentration to do that.  That's OK in itself, but it's also meant that I've drifted into a pattern of not talking to God very much at all.  Talking about God yes, but precious little talking to God :-(

Once I realised that I was keen to change it, and one thing that's made a difference is a book I came across called The Valley of Vision.


Edible weeds in my Auckland garden

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The other day a friend saw I had a bowl of nasturtium leaves on the bench, along with other salad ingredients.  "Are those a vegetable?", she asked.  She was very excited when I said they were - she has lots of them growing in her garden and thought they were 'only a weed'.  Inspired, I enthusiastically showed her the oxalis that was going into the same salad.  She was positively ecstatic about that one: apparently it tastes very similar to a herb from her Thai homeland that she hasn't been able to find in New Zealand!

I love edible weeds like these: delicious herbs that show up of their own accord and thrive without care in our garden.  Here are some of my favourites.

Nasturtium

Making a table of contents in a blogger blogpost

This won't interest any of my regular readers. I hope some people who will benefit from it will find it, but mostly I hope it will save me having to figure this out again every time I need it!
On some of my longer blog posts (such as my recent one on seeing the world) I like to include a table of contents to make it easier to navigate.  Unfortunately, blogger does not make this easy and, as someone with no background in computer programming, I found the online guides on how to do it hard to follow.  So, for other programming-novices out there, here's how to do it.

Seeing the world

I think it's fantastic that many Kiwis want to better understand how life is lived in places far away.  Most of those people will do this by traveling; however, in the spirit of not encouraging flying, I'd like to introduce you to some resources that have helped me to do this from the comfort of my own bed.

Bon Voyage!

LiteratureCentral AfricaWest AfricaSouth AsiaEast AsiaMiddle EastEuropeUSAThe CaribbeanLatin AmericaThe PacificAntarcticaHistorical PerspectivesBlogsRadio and podcastsSocial media

Spring is so early this year!

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I've been very surprised by how early spring is this year.

Last year in autumn after it lost all its leaves I cut back my bleeding heart vine till it was just a few sticks poking above the soil.  It then sat dormant for a few months before putting up its first shoot.  This year, before all the leaves were even dead, I was startled to see new shoots appear!  I thought the plant was just confused and cut them back along with the rest of the plant.  New ones replaced them immediately.  I figured that meant the plant knew what it was doing, so I left them be and watered them.  Now, with theoretically another whole month of winter still to go, it looks like this.


The next thing I noticed was our local grey warbler singing its heart out.  My bird book tells me that they sing occasionally year round, but mostly in September and October.  It's only July, but it's been singing solidly for at least a week!

And then there's my hyacinths.  These sit in a pot tucked away in a corne…

A ring-side seat at a salmon run

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In recent weeks, I've spent hours watching leaping salmon and the bears that stalk them.  It's been fantastic - a rare privilege, with likely a better view than I'd get from being there in person!

I had no idea that a salmon run could be so abundant.  The camera's been running continuously for nearly six weeks now, with salmon leaping all the time, day and night.  I had no idea how high they had to leap, either - it's absolutely astonishing.


Mum and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary and other happenings

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Life's been crazy-busy recently!  Since early June we haven't had a week without visitors staying, and for the last month we've had people staying most nights.  It's been great, but also exhausting!

Martin's sister and her family have been visiting from Thailand.  We've enjoyed lots of good food and general hanging out with them, and it's been good to see a bit more of Martin's parents than usual while they've been here.


I'm not a fan of a sugar tax

Someone we know recently posted on Facebook in support of a tax on sugary soft drinks.  On the face of it, it seems like a no-brainer: they're fuelling our 'obesity epidemic' and are generally bad for you.  But he also mentioned that obesity is largely a problem of people who don't earn much money.  That got me thinking: why is that?  I suspect it's because soft drinks are an accessible pleasure for people who don't have much money.

So, instead of (or alongside) the 'stick' of a sugar tax, I propose a 'carrot'.  Introduce other pleasurable options for people with very little disposable income.

This has been done before. Most of the British chocolate companies were started by Quakers dealing with a very similar situation to our obesity epidemic. They were faced with a drunkenness and domestic violence epidemic, fuelled by working class men indulging in one of the few pleasures accessible to them: beer. Their response was to start chocolate …

On not lightly encouraging flying

I've been thinking a lot recently about big political changes that I'd like to see happen.  Different policies on immigration, on climate change, on the structure of our social welfare system and more.  I've come to believe that, for change to happen, the general public has to believe that they will still have good lives after the change is made.  No matter how much they are lobbied, the politicians are unlikely to change their stance without that.  The people who elect them simply wouldn't stand for it.

And so, every time I see someone who wants change encouraging others to enjoy the opportunities of the status quo, my heart sinks a little.

It happens so much with climate change.  So many people I know who are firm believers in climate change - people who lobby politicians, campaign for fossil fuel divestment, join marches and sign petitions - frequently and enthusiastically encourage others to fly.  People who live outside their home country encourage others to go se…

The wonders of bean water!

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A friend recently drew my attention to 'aquafaba' (literally 'bean water') - the water you've cooked chickpeas or beans in.  It's kind of gelatinous, and someone figured out that you can use it just like egg white: it can even be beaten to stiff peaks!

When I heard that, I had to try it!  After all, we cook beans or chickpeas at least once every week and just throw the water away...

First up, I had a go at making vegan meringues.I used the Edmonds pavlova recipe, substituting 30mL 'aquafaba' for each egg white*, spooned it onto lined baking trays and baked it for about an hour and half at 120C.

* We cook chickpeas from dry, rather than using canned canned ones.  The water we get from doing that is quite thick - a lot like egg white.  Apparently the water from canned beans is thinner, so you either need to use twice as much or cook it down till it's as thick as egg white.

Fairly traded cocoa products in New Zealand

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This post has been moved to the Just Kai website.  Further updates will be posted there.



This post contains a list of all the fairly traded cocoa products I am aware of for sale in New Zealand.  To jump straight through to the list, click here.
Some years ago Martin and I were horrified to learn that, every time we bought chocolate or other cocoa products, we were paying people to enslave children.  Children who had been trafficked to work on cocoa farms in West Africa, denied schooling, denied wages and 'encouraged' to work by being beaten with bicycle chains.  In addition, low cocoa prices seem to drive many families to send their kids out to work, meaning those kids never get an education.  Instead, they commonly work 12 hour days and are frequently beaten.  It's hard to get accurate figures of how wide-spread these practises are, but the 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates:
around 29,700 people (16,000 of them children) are enslaved on on cocoa farms in Ghana and the Iv…

How has CFS changed my identity?

Martin's niece recently interviewed me on how my identity has changed since developing CFS.  It was a good question, and one I've found interesting to reflect on.

Before I got CFS in 2003, I strongly identified (and was seen) as a successful person, although I wasn't very sure of myself.  I also thought of myself as a good critical/analytical thinker and as someone who was somewhat intrepid/bold.  I identified as a Christian, an environmentalist, a caring person and a good listener.

All of that was severely challenged when I suddenly became very sick and lost most of the abilities that identity was built on.  I felt like a 'thing', rather than a person.  A kind friend made me a badge with the words "I am a person": to remind me (and the world) that I was still human.  I wore it a lot.

Soft plastics recycling bag

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Since late last year, it's been possible to recycle soft plastics in Auckland.  As well as actual plastic bags, you can recycle all sorts of things - small things like muesli bar and sweet wrappers and bulky things like bubble wrap.

The recycling is collected at supermarkets*, rather than with the other kerbside recycling, so we needed a separate container to accumulate it in.  Initially we used a plastic bag sock, but that wasn't very suitable: small things fell out, and transferring the contents into a plastic bag to put into the recycling container was a pain.  I realised I wanted a way to accumulate the recycling in a container that could itself be recycled (to eliminate the double-handling we'd been doing), was quite capacious (to accommodate bulky things like bubble wrap) but that had a firm base and a tight top (so little things didn't fall out).

*find your local collection site here - they're in Auckland, the North Shore and Hamilton, with hopes to expand th…

On not paying the Living Wage

As I've mentioned here before, I'm generally a big fan of paying people a Living Wage: i.e. enough to provide for the basics of food and accommodation, alongside participation in the community.  However, two things have recently given me pause.

Firstly, this documentary on RNZ National, about a company in Southland who hire staff with intellectual disabilities to sort rubbish for recycling.  The company has a minimum wage exemption, enabling them to hire about 30 people to do work that could just as well be done by three people and a fancy machine.  If they had to pay them the minimum wage, the business wouldn't be economic, and they'd buy the machine instead.  But, by getting a minimum wage exemption, they've been able to greatly improve the quality of life of 30 people (all of whom waxed lyrical about the joys of having a job), whilst still getting the job done.  So, by allowing this employer not to pay the minimum wage (which is significantly less than the Livin…

Feijoa paste

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Having seen feijoa paste for sale in a fancy deli last year,  I decided to have a go at making my own.  This recipe was all over the internet, but it looked awfully fiddly, so I decided (encouraged by this site) to simply use the guava paste recipe I invented a few years back.  It worked well!  It was pretty easy to do, and has a great feijoa flavour :-)



Professor Sir David MacKay

I was saddened to learn of the death 10 days ago of David MacKay.  He's the creator of two quite different resources that have been hugely helpful to me:
Dasher - the computer program that is enabling me to 'type' this blog post using tiny movements of my mouse (I wrote about it some years ago here);Without Hot Air - the book (and associated blog) that taught me to always ask if the numbers stack up when it comes to climate and energy policy. Both the resources I mention are available for free download at the above links.

When I realised the same David MacKay was behind them both, I emailed him my thanks and received a very kind reply :-)  I was sorry to hear of his death (particularly at the young age of 48) and to learn that he leaves behind him two very young children.  He seems to have been a kind and humble man, and he certainly made my world a better place.  I'm sorry that he doesn't seem to have known Jesus.

His Telegraph obituary is here, and you can follow …

A momentous day

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This afternoon a friend who was visiting noticed a pretty special visitor feasting on our guavas!


A pair of gorgeous Kereru had come to visit!  It's been a couple of years since that's happened, but we do have a bumper crop this year.


And then, it was time to say goodbye to Sarah.  She's headed overseas for five months - to Thailand, then Canada and lastly the US.  You can follow her travels on her blog.

It'll take a while to get used to the bare shelves in the pantry and freezer...

How should we, as a church, spend "our" money?

Our church is currently considering a couple of big financial decisions.  This has got me thinking about the philosophy Martin and I apply to our personal finances, and whether or not the church's finances should be run along similar lines. I'd like to share here some of the considerations Martin and I make when setting our household budget, and the questions those are raising for me about the church's budget.  I'd be interested in your thoughts!

We try to take as our starting point that the money we have isn't really ours - it's God's.  He, after all, owns everything!  So we want to distribute the money He's entrusted us with in a way that honours Him: in a way that reflects both that we serve a God of abundance who desires good things for us and that our primary calling is to love both God and our neighbours with all that we have.

In terms of loving our neighbours as ourselves, it might be logical to try to keep no more money for ourse…

A short visit to Serbia!

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Ages ago, I noticed that the Pt. Chevalier Serbian Orthodox Church has a monthly bake sale.  Today, for the first time, we were able to go along.


The food all looked yummy, but I was really taken by the main sanctuary of the church.  I asked if I could take some photos.  They not only said 'yes', but two women generously took turns explaining it all to me.



Home-made creme eggs

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On Wednesday, my friend Anna came over for our annual Easter egg day, where we make Easter eggs together.  You can't buy fair trade Easter eggs in New Zealand (except for expensive artisanal ones - even the boring hollow Cadbury eggs don't seem to be on sale this year).  We want Easter eggs to eat and give away, but not at the expense of people being enslaved and abused to make the chocolate, so, for some years now, we've made our own :-)
We've been doing great marshmallow Easter eggs for some years now, but this year I think we've finally nailed how to make creme eggs!




If you'd like to make some yourself, here is our recipe.  There are photos of various parts of the process after the written recipe.  It's a bit time-consuming, but none of it is hard.  You'll need chocolate egg molds, a candy/meat thermometer and a good beater for best results, but none of those are strictly necessary.

Dinosaur cake

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A friend of mine has a wee boy who turns three today.  It's the first birthday he's had where he's really been aware of what it's all about, so his mum wanted to have a proper party for him.  I volunteered to make the cake :-)

I had a blast doing it!  He's really into dinosaurs, and I was delighted to find these very straightforward instructions for making a dinosaur cake.  You make two round cakes, then cut one into an 'n' shape for the legs and body and the other into two hooks to make the head and tail [pdf].


I'm really pleased with it!

UTZ certification

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I've long been a supporter of fair trade*: I want the people who produce the goods I use to:
have been paid a decent wage;be working without coercion;not be children**;not be being exposed to poisons without suitable protection.* I refer in this post to both fair trade and FairTrade™ - the first is the concept, the second is a certification system.  Confusing, but there you are.
**the International Labour Organisation makes a distinction between 'child labour' and 'child work'.  'Child work' is work that doesn't interfere with their education or affect their health - like the paper run I did as a kid.  'Child labour' is work that goes beyond that.  I'm OK with 'child work', but not 'child labour'.

I know that if I buy goods with the FairTrade™ logo or buy my goods from TradeAid, then they will meet those conditions.

However, a new fair trade certification has now come to my notice: "UTZ certified".  It's used mos…

Life's pretty good :-)

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Today's afternoon tea (on a 'work-from-home' day for Martin): apple dappy from our neighbours' apples that fall on our driveway.

Yum!

Working with people

I don't work much with people these days.  I'm mostly alone and, when I do interact with people, it's more commonly in the modes of helping them, being listened to or hanging out than in a situation of working together to achieve common goals.

However, I'm now on one of our church committees and have recently had a slight 'baptism of fire' in this regard.  One of the members of the committee said something to me in an email last week that really stung.  He did this only a couple of days before we were due to meet again, so I knew I needed to process my hurt fast if I were to be able to face him again with good grace!

That drove me to prayer and Bible reading with more urgency than I've experienced in a while.

A week of polo

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Martin's had a blast at the world championships for bike polo in Timaru this past week!  For a glimpse of the action, check out the video below:


Preethi motor coupler compatible with Sumeet mixie

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The motor coupler on our Sumeet mixie recently melted and needed replacing.  We were unable to find a Sumeet part or a part that said it was compatible with the Sumeet.  However, we noticed that one of the Preethi motor couplers looked identical, so bought one in hope.

It fits perfectly!  We've been using the Sumeet pretty heavily in recent days and it's running like a charm :-)


How to make a solar box cooker

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A few years back, I made Martin a solar box cooker for his birthday.  It still seems 'magic' to me: who would have thought you could make a real oven that really gets hot using only the sun and a bunch of 'rubbish'?!
Recently I was asked for some guidance by someone else wanting to make one.  My reply is below.
Note that there are three main kinds of solar cookers (box, panel and parabolic) - these notes are for a box cooker.

2015 Christmas gifts

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Knowing it was going to be a busy Christmas this year, I had to keep my gifts pretty simple so I'd have time to rest-up well before all the visitors arrived.  That meant that many more people than usual got simple things like preserves or got bought presents.  Still, I did manage to make a few things: here are some of my favourites.








Christmas/New Year activites

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I haven't been blogging much recently: as all my energy's gone to spending time with some very special visitors then recovering from their visits!

Firstly, my brother and his family came over from Scotland.  I hadn't seen Keith for three years, and I hadn't seen Carolyn or their children for 6 1/2 years!


Assisted dying in New Zealand

The Health Select Committee of the New Zealand parliament is currently considering a petition on assisted dying (i.e. voluntary euthanasia).  The petition asks:
That the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable. I am strongly against such legislation so have written my first ever submission to a select committee outlining my opposition to it.  If you'd like to do the same (whether or not you oppose it), you can do so here.  Submissions need to be in by February 1st (i.e. Monday week).  The process is very simple: you click on the 'make on online submission' at the bottom of the page (having first clicked on a picture to indicate you're a human) then either type your submission into a box or upload it as a file.  You are also given the option of asking to appear before the com…