Category Archives: Life at Home

The trouble with busy

I don’t believe in busy. I haven’t for a long time. I used to. I always liked the expression “If you want something done ask the busiest person.” That conveys what I consider to be “proper busy”, legitimately busy. Busy before busy got a bad rap. I always think of a select few people when I hear that phrase. They are active, productive, involved, interesting, interested people. And if you want them to do something for you, from reading over a job application or writing you a reference to meeting up for coffee or lunch, they make time in their busy lives and they do it with good grace. No moaning, no hassle, no sense that you’re putting them out, they cheerfully slot you in and are happy to tell you what they’ve been doing and ask a million questions about you and your life, because despite everything going on in their lives, they have plenty of mental space to consider and show interest in what’s going on in yours. And you know what, they would never moan about being “busy”.

But busy nowadays has become an excuse. An excuse for being disorganised, an excuse for being self absorbed, self important and self righteous. And worst of all, an excuse for laziness. Too lazy to get organised and prioritise and use your brain instead of flapping and blowing hot air.

A recent (text) conversation:

Me- Don’t suppose you are free for a coffee tomorrow?

B- Can’t do sorry. Busy for the next few weeks but maybe March we can catch up? Our weekends are so full!

Me- We are away for the whole of March

B- Ok- April?

It’s 7th February.

All this from someone who works Monday to Friday (sometimes). Has her late primary school aged children 50% of the time (the rest of the time they are with their father). Her current partner works 9-3 and has school holidays off. What is she so busy doing? She’s one person who gives “busy” a bad name.

Some time ago I read something that suggested the next time someone tells you they’re too busy to do something, swap their words for “That’s not a priority for me right now”. This works both ways. I use it to work for me as follows: Am I too “busy” to do this thing? Maybe. Is it a priority right now? No. Busy/priority/whatever label you want to use, it goes to the bottom of my list. But it also works in reverse. Someone’s too “busy” to fit you into their lives? You aren’t a priority to them. No hard feelings, it just helps put things in perspective.

That’s why I don’t believe in busy.

Eat Less

So here we are, 4 weeks into 2017 and I’m not entirely convinced that “Simplify” has been a very successful guiding principle so far! I increased my hours at work as of Jan 2nd and ran into problems with clashes between my two jobs in the first fortnight, meaning a bit of juggling and swapping things around and a couple of rather unpleasant stretches involving too much work and not enough sleep. But I survived.

I thought I’d try, partly inspired by The Happiness Project and partly by the Slow Home Experiment, a sort of sub-theme each month. For January I chose “sugar free”. After the calorie and sugar laden excess of Christmas, it seemed like an obvious choice. Until it didn’t. I have outlined some of my dieting views before and have previously identified that “Eat Less” is really the simplest, most effective underlying principle to lose weight. (It’s often accompanied by “Move More” which has merit but is not essential.) However, despite myself, I summoned (again) for Jan 1 great excitement and enthusiasm, all fired up about “No sugar.” I’ve also written about “No Sugar” approaches before, and although I am skeptical about the science behind them, I remain convinced that minimizing sugar is a good thing, for lots of reasons which have very little to do with Sarah Wilson.

But “No sugar” is not a simple as “Eat Less”. No sugar? Any sugar? Added sugar? Fruit sugar? What about dried fruit? What about a little bit of sugar? Well what about a little bit more (you’ve done well this week)? Well then why not a lot more, you may as well, now that you’ve had some today, but tomorrow you’re going back to no sugar…

And ok no sugar, so does that mean fat and protein are ok? They became my default indulgences… I can’t eat sugar but I feel like something, so I’ll eat half a jar of almonds….. not going to lose much weight or promote normal eating behaviours that way!!

Suddenly I found myself in that crazy diet mentality that I’ve been in so many times before. Eliminate something completely and it’s effective up to a point but when you slip up you write off the whole day/week etc and vastly overcompensate for what you’ve sacrificed up to that point. I spent my entire teenhood and twenties going round in circles like this, how can I be here again?

So. “Eat Less”. My diet mantra. Simplified.

(“Eat more vegetables” would be diet rule number two. We’ll leave “Move More” for another day.)

Traditions

The Christmas and New Year period, for many people, is a time when family and personal traditions are practiced and compared. There are traditions people relish, traditions people dread and others that are carried out each year “just because that’s what we always do”.

I’ve often wondered what happens when one person’s traditions need to merge with another’s. Mr L and I, although both from (non-practising) Christian backgrounds, still grew up with different traditions around this time of year but bringing those practices together to form new ones hasn’t really been a big deal so far. Until this year (well maybe last year), our children were too young to really “get” Christmas so we haven’t really needed to establish much in the way of expectations around all the Christmas goings-on (presents, food, activities, extended family etc). But this year Master and Miss L are very aware it’s Christmas and so I started to think about more about how I’d like us to remember our family Christmases.

Here are some traditions we started, kept, re-vamped or threw out this Christmas:

Advent Calendars

I LOVED the practice of opening an Advent calendar leading up to Christmas as a child. In the 1970s and early 80s, chocolate calendars weren’t around. Every year I’d have the old fashioned cardboard calendar, with a wintery nativity scene, a sprinkling of glitter, and a daily search for the relevant number. Behind each window was a picture of something very simple- a star, a robin, a spring of holly- yet each day’s window seemed absolutely magical to open. I had a chocolate calendar one year (once they became more popular), but found the chocolate disappointing and the ugly plastic mould that was left once you’d eaten it really unsightly and went back to the picture-style calendar the next year. Simple, cardboard Advent calendars with pictures are really hard to find in Australia, so this year I bought a wooden Christmas tree with a 24 small drawers in it- each drawer just big enough to fit a few smarties or other small lollies. We added one drawer each night so the kids got to see the calendar fill up each morning during the countdown to Christmas. They got the magic of a surprise, the sight of something beautiful, the sense of anticipation, all with chocolate thrown in!

Christmas Eve outing

I remember as a child Christmas Eve being the most agonising of days- the long wait, my parents “getting ready” for Christmas (usually a fairly boring affair with my Dad doing last minute shopping and wrapping- adding to the anticipation but not really entertaining on a practical level) and my Mum cleaning and baking (but “Don’t eat all the mince pies!”) Until now as an adult, Christmas Eve has often been a busy, stressful, exhausting day, fighting crowds at the shops and doing a mountain of food prep to try and feed guests the next day with maximum efficiency on the day. This year (helped by the fact that we weren’t hosting anyone other than ourselves on Christmas Day) we decided to do something completely non-Christmas related. We went to the zoo. It took the kids’ minds off how excited they were and was a lovely relaxing way to have fun as a family. Importantly it also didn’t involve eating, drinking or presents! This is a “tradition” (if you can call it that after one instance) I’d like to continue.

Turkey

I like to eat turkey at Christmas. For no other reason than it feels Christmassy (I do like the taste, too!) Mr L is never that fussed, he always protests “But turkey’s so dry!” But while living in NZ that changed. We found this Annabel Langbein recipe for brining turkey which, along with not overcooking it, makes it so much more appetising. I’m open to turkey alternatives, but one a year, I do enjoy turkey.

Christmas Tree

I’ve always been a “not until the weekend before Xmas” tree putter-upper. Partly so that Christmas doesn’t monopolise the whole month of December, but also because a real tree struggles to last more than a couple of weeks, especially in Australian summer. This year though, we got our tree a bit earlier and so enjoyed it for longer in the lead up to Christmas (which, thanks in part to preschool Christmas preparations, now seems to monopolise not just the whole of December, but also November!) My other tree tradition was to leave it up until Jan 6th, “Twelfth Night”- I have no idea why. I mean, I know it’s a common tradition but it has no practical relevance to my life… in fact it’s completely impractical. I’m usually back at work by Jan 6th so taking it down is a hassle and by then, Christmas seems sooooo far over that it’s crazy still having a tree up! This year I began to gradually put away the decorations starting Boxing Day, just a few at a time, and the tree was the last thing to go, on New Year’s Eve. It felt much more appropriate and manageable.

Which Christmas traditions have you embraced? Rejected? Reworked?

168 hours

Some weeks ago, I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 hours. Actually, I borrowed 3 of her books from the library but read 168 hours first because it was written first. Which was a good decision, because the other two I borrowed (I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast) are essentially the principles of 168 hours applied in subtly different contexts. I must confess I skipped the latter and returned it to the library unread.

I had mixed (but mostly positive) feelings about what she had to say. Essentially, the basic message of the book is that we aren’t as busy as we think we are and we have more time than we think we do (168 hours per week, to be precise). That’s a lot of time. Even if you work 50 hours a week and get 8 hours sleep a night, that’s still 62 hours a week to do other things. Which, regardless of how you look at it, is a lot of time. I guess many “busy” people will say “Oh but you still have to factor in your commute, cooking, cleaning, showering, down time (ie TV and internet in most cases), it’s amazing how it all fills up!” Yes, it is amazing, that’s part of Vanderkam’s point. We fritter away all this time and then complain that we have no time to do the things we “really want to” do.

She recommends keeping a time log for a week, recording every 15 or 30 minutes what you’re doing. I managed this for about 2 days. I found that, rather than make me to realise how much time I waste on Facebook (I don’t need a time log to tell me that!) it made me more productive as I was conscious of not wanting to write “checking FB” in my log. Which is one of Gretchen’s big things for habit change- the strategy of monitoring, whereby recording your actions has the effect of automatically improving your performance, even without any analysis or conscious attempt to change.

At first I started to think that what Vanderkam had to say was contradictory to the slow-living/mindfulness philosophy I’ve been working gradually into our lives lately. “Making the most” of an idle 5 or 15 minutes here or there seemed like a recipe for being overwrought. But much of her approach is very much in line with slow living. She says, in the introduction:

Like everything else, living intentionally becomes easier over time.

Another of the strategies the book advocates for creating time to do more enjoyable things and fewer chores is outsourcing. Vanderkam cites multiple examples of people (albeit mainly single men) who pay a cleaner, someone to do their laundry, their ironing and even their cooking. She suggests buying ready or partly-made meals. I have to admit she started to lose me here. We’ve had a cleaner before and while, in some respects, I do agree to paying someone to do the things I don’t want to do myself (she seems to assume money is no issue for most of us), I can’t pay someone to do all the things I don’t want to do all the time. For example, the most we would ever have a cleaner is once a week. Before they come I would tidy up and put things away, because I want them to clean the shower and mop the floors (jobs I hate), not tidy up (which I don’t have a huge problem doing). I think probably almost 50% of the benefit of having the cleaner comes from the tidying up you do before they come. Another 20% is the “Wow” factor when you walk into your spotless house. This lasts maybe half a day and then it’s all undone again. Chances are the vacuuming will need doing again before they come again next week. A maximally useful cleaner to me would probably come and clean for an hour every second day, then a bit longer once a fortnight or once a month. But what cleaner wants to do that? And who wants to be tidying up for a cleaner every other day?

Many of her other outsourcing suggestions conflict with our zero-waste/environmental aspirations. I don’t want to buy “partly made” (read processed) meals. I don’t really want to drive anywhere to drop off my washing and even if someone drives to me to pick it up, I still have to be home to give it to them. And they’ve used petrol to drive to my house. Taking Mr L’s shirts to the dry cleaners to be washed and ironed is nice from time to time, but they return then wrapped in plastic and then you have to remember to get him to take the hangers back…. So, I wasn’t sold on that.

What I did like was her suggestion that you make a “list of 100 dreams” (I got to about 20) of things you’d like to do. Then, instead of letting your week fill up with all the wishy washy, chore-like, non-specific busyness of life, you take a 2 or 3 of those dreams (she suggests one is physical exercise) and you schedule time for them.

She’s also a big advocate for working mothers getting on with it and I like that. Lately I’ve become a little bored of the constant whine of the mummy blogger- “I’m so busy, I do everything for my kids, I’m burnt out, I’m so stressed, I’m anxious, I have no time for myself, I’m having a nervous breakdown”… these women stressing about housework and cooking and getting their kids to 100 different activities, all while working from home, where “work” seems to consist of posting articles on immaculately designed blogs about how to make these activities more efficient, more rewarding or more beautiful. So it’s actually quite refreshing to hear someone say “You can work a full time job and have children, but you might have to decide what it is in your and your kids lives that really matter and be a bit innovative with your routine in order to fit it all in. Oh and you’ll probably need to organise some childcare.” While the mummy blogger cries into her kombucha because she chose to be a SAHM (which I sometimes think ought to be renamed BAHM- Blog at Home Mum) but she actually finds it a bit unfulfilling at the end of the day. I’m being a bit harsh, they’re not all like that, but there are definitely a lot of martyrish overtones out there that wear a little thin after a while.

She sums up perfectly how I’d like to describe my attitude to being a working mother:

…Motherhood did not ruin my career, and my work has not detracted from how much I love being a mom, particularly the small moments the universe grants in abundance when you choose to pay attention.

All in all, this was quite a motivating book which encouraged me to look at how much time I have, how much time I waste, and re-think how I go about deciding what to do with my time. I also realised it’s actually nice to have a bit of time to do nothing, but it’s much nicer doing nothing when you do it intentionally. The book was easy to read and satisfying to finish. Thank you Laura!

That Sugar Film

In spite of (or perhaps because of) my skepticism about “I Quit Sugar” and the whole anti-sugar movement, I was curious to watch That Sugar Film.

All in all, I found it to be a well put-together documentary presented by seemingly sensible and fairly intelligent (albeit lay) people.

Damon Gameau, a clean-eating (thanks to his girlfriend) hipster-cum-hippy decides to start consuming the sugar intake of the average Australian (apparently 40 tsp, or 160g per day). He undertakes to consume this sugar in the form of “non-junk” food- no fizzy drink, lollies, chocolate or ice-cream. In order to consume all this sugar he does eat a lot of food which I personally wouldn’t consider “healthy”, but your average Joe Blow probably would (low fat flavoured yoghurt, processed cereal, iced tea, muesli bars etc).

His “expert” panel, which he consults regularly, consists of David Gillespie, a lawyer who wrote “Sweet Poison” (hmmmm, conflict of interest maybe?), a nutritionist (fair enough), a pathologist (not entirely sure of his relevance except to recount Damon’s blood test results- he fizzles out toward the end anyway, as David Gillespie evidently earns himself a science, possibly even a medical degree over the course of the two month experiment) and an actual doctor whose exact role I was unsure of, I think they were too. Gary Taubes (author of “Why we get fat” and somewhat fanatical “investigative journalist”), is introduced early on and is consulted more and more frequently as the film goes on. Not an endocrinologist or a biochemist in sight.

Basically, the film does a good job of telling us sugar is bad for us and that it’s everywhere. Correction: it’s in just about every processed food you might buy. It’s added to a lot of foods many people don’t think of as unhealthy. It contributes to weight gain and diabetes and really has nothing good about it.

The film touches on the fructose debate with the argument about our livers converting it straight to fat. Happily, it doesn’t victimise poor old fruit or suggest we shouldn’t be eating that.

The film leaves the calorie issue until late. Damon claims to eat 2300 calories per day on his “normal” (low sugar diet). He then says he’s eating “pretty much” the same number on his high-sugar diet, although it’s pretty hard to count them, “obviously”. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to count calories when he’s counting grams of sugar without any problem. The nutritionist at the end, though, says he’s eating the same number. I’m slightly dubious about this, given his claims of being “unable” to count calories but anyway.

The film strays into an “us vs them” vein at one point, which started to annoy me. Damon questioned a “physician scientist” (whatever that is) who was the first to really talk about calories. The scientist very sensibly pointed out that if you obtained too many of your calories from any one source, such as French fries or white bread, not just sugar, you’d probably feel dreadful as well. Damon then asked him (apropros of nothing) if he received any funding from Coca Cola and he said “yes, they fund my research”. I just found this deliberately and annoyingly provocative. If they wanted an “unbiased” view why did they ask a Coca Cola beneficiary for their opinion, only to then pretend to “expose” them (as if it was some kind of conspiracy). Moreover, maybe the film makers should look at their own “experts’” unmade disclosures, rather than asking/paying two non-scientists who’ve made a career out of writing “anti-sugar” books to give an un-biased opinion in a film about sugar. David Gillespie, the lawyer, even takes it upon himself at the end of the film to diagnose Damon with “well established fatty liver, well on your way to full-blown cirrhosis” on the basis of a slight rise in Damon’s liver function tests. I think that’s a big call in the absence of an ultrasound- oh, and a doctor!!!

So it sort of ends with a “sugar is poison” feel to it. Earlier in the film, Damon takes 4 apples and juices them, and points out that most people would eat maybe one or two apples but that it’s easy to drink 4 juiced apples. Which is true. But I’m not sure that really says anything about sugar, it’s the processing which removes all the good stuff and leaves behind sugary water which we can “slam down fast”. (Speaking of which, I’d love a Solo right now…..)

So what can we/I/anyone take away from all this? At the end of the day, I think the film’s basic message is probably a good one. Eat less sugar by eating less processed food and more simple, natural, unprocessed food. Whether this makes us healthier by virtue of the sugar reduction, the calorie reduction or the increase in good fats and fibre, hardly matters. It’ll make me re-think my Saturday afternoon ice-cream, at any rate!!!!!

Podcasts 101

I’ve recently got into podcasts. Despite my relatively new-found simple living enthusiasm, (and therefore new-found guilt over anything that vaguely resembles multitasking,) I really love listening to them when I’m walking the dog, or preparing something long and slightly tedious in the kitchen. Actually at the moment, everything in the kitchen seems long and very tedious but never mind…. I find them far more rewarding to listen to than reading a blog post, which I only ever seem to skim through. I’ve also discovered I really enjoy listening to them when I run. I recently did the Coatesville Classic Half Marathon and my “training” runs (such was they were) were less painful with some interesting subject matter to listen to, rather than just a somewhat clichéd playlist.

I’ve found three that I regularly follow so thought I’d give them a plug…

  1. Happier with Gretchen Rubin

No surprises here, Gretchen groupie that I am. I loved this podcast from the first episode. She hosts it with her sister, who she talks about in her books. They seem genuinely quite close, although they live on opposite sides of the US and have very different lives, careers and, seemingly, personalities. Their discussions are very much based around the themes of Gretchen’s books about happiness (obviously) and habits, so a lot of the content is familiar to me. Despite this, and what I find quite impressive, it doesn’t get boring. Each episode is divided into well-defined segments and those segments appear each episode. This may not seem like such a bit deal but several of the podcasts I’ve tried and given up on really fall down for their lack of structure. They pretty much consist of two people wittering on for an hour about a subject they consider themselves qualified to talk about, but really, it’s just like eavesdropping on a conversation you’re not able to join in, and most of the time, don’t really want to anyway. So, “Happier”, I’m hooked!

  1. The Slow Home Podcast with Brooke McAlary

I wasn’t too sure about this one when I started but it’s grown on me. Australian slow living enthusiast Brooke McAlary (who I’d never heard of before I found her blog and then podcast) hosts a weekly discussion that usually consists of an interview with a guest. The guests vary in their degree of interest, relevance (to me anyway) and notoriety- they have been as mundane as a self-proclaimed “normal” person, who was simply a narcissistic podcast listener who put herself forward to be interviewed under the misapprehension that other people might be interested in her “story”- groan…. and as well-known as (can you guess?) Gretchen Rubin and Bea Johnson. When I first started listening I was a little irritated by the casual colloquialism of the podcast- I thought it made it sound a bit amateurish. The 5-10 minute intro she does with her husband, which generally includes a bit of giggling and silly couple’s jokes as well as occasional interruptions from their kids only exacerbates that. But as I’ve stuck with it I’ve got used to the (?over-) familiar introductory chit-chat and besides, the real meat of the podcast is in the people she talks to and most of the interviews (narcissistic listener aside) have been really interesting. She actually does a pretty good job (not that I’m exactly qualified to say!) as an interviewer, and I think (without wanting to sound patronising) she’s really improved since I started listening. So for now I’ll keep it on my playlist!

  1. Eliza Starting at 16

Ok so the ONLY reason I started following this one is because she’s (I’m really sorry) Gretchen Rubin’s daughter! Yep, and she’s 16, so I feel even more tragic. I didn’t sign up for this one straight away but I gave it a go and I’ve kind of been drawn in. Partly because it’s short but also because I’m actually quite impressed by how articulate and intelligent she appears to be, without sounding too precocious. Her venting over 16 year old “issues” in some ways reminds me of my own 16 year old angst (well to be perfectly honest, it resembles more the 16 year old I wish I had been). Occasionally she even hits the nail right on the head and articulates, very eloquently, grievances I still share. For instance, her vent about pop-music snobbery and how everyone’s too cool and too intellectual listening to alternative indie music to admit they find Top 40 cheese quite catchy. As soon as she said it I thought “Yes! That’s exactly how I felt all through uni and sometimes even now!!” Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s not for everyone (the podcast, not just Top 40 music), but I like it.

And that’s it, I’ve tried and tossed about 10 others but I can’t be bothered moaning about those!

I Quit I Quit Sugar (Before I even started)

Recently I became interested in the I Quit Sugar program, made famous (?) by Sarah Wilson. I’d looked at it before, partly motivated by a friend of mine who’d lost quite a bit of weight by following it. She actually reviewed the book on her blog. My parents also lost quite a bit of weight by “giving up” sugar, although they didn’t do Sarah Wilson’s program.

Sarah maintains that the real enemy in the Western diet is fructose. Apparently (she’s sketchy on the biochemical explanations) fructose “cannot be utilised by the liver” and is converted straight to fat. Hmmmm. She quotes (repeatedly) a paediatric endocrinologist who is credited with this metabolic pearl of wisdom.

I’m not an endocrinologist and I didn’t do brilliantly at university biochemisty. I cannot draw the Krebs cycle or whatever cycle it is that fructose features in. But even if fructose IS “converted directly to fat”, this theory of it making us fat, to me, still seems highly flawed.

This is my reasoning as to why this is rubbish:

Our bodies burn energy (calories) through a) intentional activity ie exercise and b) metabolic processes such as generating body heat and digesting our food, which add up to a figure known as our basal metabolic rate, or BMR. Our BMR is mainly determined by our gender, our age, our weight, our body composition, disease states and medications and is far more significant than voluntary activity when it comes to burning calories. In the short term, we have no voluntary control over our BMR (we can change it in the long term by altering our body mass or composition or by taking drugs, but we can’t decide to “ramp up our BMR” one day and slow it down the next.)

Our bodies obtain energy to fuel these processes through the food, or calories, we eat (and drink).

If we consume more calories than we expend, we store the surplus as excess body weight. If we consume less than we expend, we obtain the deficit by burning off body weight, and if the two are equal, we are in equilibrium and we stay the same.

Now, Sarah Wilson maintains that all the fructose we eat gets turned into fat because our bodies can’t “use” the calories in that fructose. Ok, let’s assume that she’s right. So, take a person who consumes the same number of calories as they expend. Assume none of it comes from fructose. Great. They burn what they eat, and stay the same weight. Now take someone who consumes, say, 30% of their calories in the form of fructose. Their livers can’t use those calories and covert it to fat. But then they are short that 30% of their caloric requirement. So what happens? Surely that person obtains the shortfall from their glycogen and then fat stores? So they may be “putting on” weight from the fructose calories, but they ought to be burning an equal amount of weight to obtain what they supposedly can’t get from the fructose. So it balances out.

Critics of the CICO (calories in calories out) model will say “Oh but not all calories are equal, some foods require more energy to digest so they actually don’t give your body all the calories they contain.” Yes that’s probably true, but I am very doubtful it makes a significant difference, especially in a balanced diet. The same would also potentially be an argument for this whole fructose theory- if fructose is effortlessly converted to fat while other substrates use up a lot more energy in that conversion then perhaps Sarah’s onto something. But I doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think sugar is way too prevalent in our diet and I am not for a minute suggesting a high sugar diet is good, or even “not bad” for us. But I don’t think there’s anything magical about fructose. I am extremely cynical about all those other “natural” sweeteners too- stevia, agave, rice bran syrup (like, HELLO!!! cane sugar grows naturally and abundantly in far north Queensland- I’m not sure why it’s considered “unnatural”)

But this is why I think we should minimise our sugar intake:

  • Sugar is high in calories
  • Sugar has no other nutritional value, ie it provides us with no good stuff apart from energy (sure if you were starving this wouldn’t matter so much but there are other more nutritious sources of energy for most of us)
  • You rarely eat sugar by itself. It’s usually combined with other calorie dense, nutritionally sketchy ingredients, like fat and white flour, to make tasty “treats” that are ok to eat from time to time, but most of us indulge in a bit too often, in quantities which are too large.

The final nail in the IQS coffin (for me) is Sarah banging on about other pseudo-scientific rubbish (actually there’s nothing pseudo about it, it’s just un-scientific). She advocates “activating” nuts and seeds, “sprouting” legumes, “fermenting” vegetables and drinking apple cider vinegar which allegedly helps “alkalinise” our bodies yet somehow also gives the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs a helping hand with digestion. (Never mind university biochemistry, it doesn’t sound to me like she did much high school chemistry either). All these processes are supposed to “help” our bodies digest and absorb the goodness from these foods. Seriously? How did the human race ever manage to evolve without the assistance of sprouts and kombucha?? It’s a miracle we’re alive at all, thank god for Sarah and other proponents of this twaddle.

In summary, all I’ve taken away from Sarah’s 2 books (borrowed from the library) is that:

  • I actually don’t eat much sugar when I think about it- no soft drink, no (well not many) lollies, no store-bought baked goods, no store-bought sauces (thanks zero waste!)
  • I should eat more fruit, not less, I don’t care which ones are high fructose
  • I should eat fewer cakes and pastries (which I do bake too many of), not because of the fructose but because I am a greedy guts who can’t seem to stop at just a tiny, calorie-controlled, nibble!!

I’m not sure I really needed her to figure any of that out!!

 

Zero Waste Fail- My Guilty Secret

On the whole, I feel fairly virtuous when it comes to my environmental footprint and zero-waste habits. But there is one habit I cannot let go of. My guilty secret is that every Wednesday night when I put out our rubbish bin, 90% of the contents are made up of DISPOSABLE NAPPIES.

I know they are terrible for the environment. I know they are made of plastic, manufactured in pollution-emitting, resource-consuming factories, I know that no one even knows how long they take to break down in landfill because it’s longer than we’ve been making them- 100 years? 500 years? 1000 years? Does it matter once we’re talking about those lengths of time?

When I was pregnant with Master L, who is now approaching 4 ½, I was attracted to cloth nappies. Initially it was the cost savings that motivated me. Bamboozled by the different systems available, I bought several different styles (not a complete set of each- cloth nappies are really expensive!) to try out before I committed to one particular style. None were perfect. Despite any claims to the contrary, they leak. Not as much if you change them often enough, but no one tells you that “often enough” is roughly every hour. Not practical, even with just one baby. They are also bulky (even the cool, all in one styles) so they stretch your baby’s onsies and you need extra big pants to fit over them. Not such a big deal, but annoying when you want to use the clothes again for the next child.

I also hadn’t bargained on just how cheap disposable nappies are (ie I didn’t do my sums). They are super cheap. And the cheaper brands work just as well as the expensive ones (generally).

But I persevered. The thought of those heavy balls of pooey wet plasticky evil going to landfill was enough to keep me using cloth nappies. Mostly. As was the theoretical advantage that cloth nappies supposedly result in earlier toilet training (my children have clearly not read that research). Master L outgrew his cloth nappies, however, well before he was ready for toilet training. His howl of agony the first time I pinched the skin of his fat thigh between the poppers on the nappy finally convinced me to put them away, guilt-free, for the next baby.

Cue Miss L. Her arrival (the hardest transition I think of all the kids) meant I had 2 kids in nappies and I didn’t even bother trying the cloth nappies with her.

However, since my newfound zero waste crusade, I have re-tried my cloth nappies with Baby L. And I have nicely demonstrated all the above points to still be true. I have toyed with selling them or giving them away, then last week I thought I’d just have one more go. Two cloth nappies and two hours later, I removed Baby L’s urine-soaked clothes and sodden nappy to find his bottom red, raw and angry. He cried when I put him in the bath that night and every time I cleaned his bottom for the next 2 days. What’s more, I used more disposable nappies in the following days trying to improve his nappy rash with frequent changing than I had saved in the two hours I had the cloth nappies on him.

My cloth nappies are now sitting in a box in the dining room, waiting to be photographed and advertised on Trade Me. Let’s just hope no prospective buyers are reading this post!!

Happier at Home

I’ve become quite fond of Gretchen. Since reading The Happiness Project and attempting my own (and therein gaining a newfound respect for her diligence to such a project) I’ve been listening to her podcast Happier and I’ve read (and really enjoyed) Better Than Before.

I was wandering around my local library the other day (not quite deliberately enough to call it browsing) when I came across her book Happier At Home. I’ve never really had a great urge to read this one- for a while I thought it was the same as The Happiness Project but with a different cover or title, as some books seem to have for various international versions. But after seeing it there in front of me and reading the back to make sure it wasn’t the same as The Happiness Project, I thought “Let’s give it a whirl!” so I borrowed it. (I love libraries, they satisfy my penchant for zero waste, frugal, clutter-free living.)

Although I’d had my reservations about The Happiness Project, I enjoyed Happier At Home from page 1. Gretchen’s writing voice is different to her podcast voice. When I first tuned into her podcasts, I remember being quite surprised to hear the way she spoke. I’m not sure why…. Reading another of her books then reminded me of that slightly awkward, nerdy, slightly neurotic type A persona that I found difficult to fully warm to in The Happiness Project. But this time, instead of finding it disconcerting, I actually found it quite comforting to hear it again.

And so, I read about what is, essentially, her second happiness project, this one on a slightly smaller scale, set in and around her home. And, just as with The Happiness Project, I was inspired to take away from it some “Try this at home”s (find out what this is on her podcast- although it’s pretty self-explanatory!)

Specifically,

  • Go shelf by shelf (declutter- a constant mission of mine)
  • Kiss in the morning, kiss at night (Give proofs of love)
  • Give gold stars (Acknowledge others’ good deeds verbally not just mentally)
  • Go on adventures (Big and small, with both Mr L and the little Ls)
  • Give warm greetings and farewells (a kiss at least, hello and goodbye)
  • Dig Deep (My personal commandments need revisiting I think)
  • Suffer for fifteen minutes (Get a potentially tedious and large scale chore done little by little each day- mine, as Gretchen’s was, is collating some family photo albums.)
  • Follow a threshold ritual (Literally, cross the threshold of your house with gratitude)
  • Eat like a yogi (I added this one myself- more on this later, it’s a work in progress)

I wonder if I’d have been better off reading Happier At Home before The Happiness Project. Despite coming first, The Happiness Project is on a much bigger scale and was a bit full on for me. Mine kind of fizzled. This one’s much less rigid. It’s just going to aim to incorporate these habits into my day, rather than ticking off resolution charts or writing time lines.

We’ll see how we go!

 

 

Zero Waste Update 4

Ok so I promise this is not turning into a Zero Waste blog. There are a lot of those around and while they can be very inspiring, I do find they tend to run out of new things to talk about after a while.

However, I read back over a couple of my previous Zero Waste posts last night and realised how much things have changed, especially my attitude!

I can’t believe I complained about recycled toilet paper being “ugly” and in this post said, about people who use cloth baby wipes:

There are people who use old rags as baby wipes and wash them. Good for them.

So, just a quick update on what’s new around here….

Baby wipes– While we’re on the subject: I couldn’t really find a definitive answer on the environmental impact of bamboo/viscose etc etc but I suspect it’s still significant. When in doubt, something reusable is almost always going to have less impact than something single use. Also, what really bothered me was the plastic packets they all come in, which is definitely single use and not recyclable/biodegradable etc. So I took the plunge. Mr L had a couple of old t shirts destined for the rag bag so I chopped them up and have been using them as babywipes. I just wet about 10 at a time in a sink of cold water with a squirt of baby shampoo in it (although this is probably unnecessary) and store them in a small reusable baby wipe container we had lying around. Once they’re dirty I chuck them in the laundry sink and put them in the next wash. Because they’re thick and fairly large (actually probably no bigger than a standard babywipe, but more substantial because of their thickness), one usually does the job, so a box of 10 lasts at least a day, usually two.

Miss L isn’t a big fan of them, but she’s practically toilet trained now. Baby L doesn’t care as long as his bottom’s clean. I must point out though, for those unaccustomed to the different grades of baby poo, that the newborn poos (when all they drink is milk) are liquid and relatively inoffensive. Once they start eating solids there is a steady progression in gross-ness as their poos become more voluminous and solid, and once they’ve smooshed around a nappy for anything more than a few minutes they are probably not something you want to use a reusable anything on. So for these ones of Miss L’s, I do the bulk of the job with toilet paper and then finish off with a reusable wipe.

Apologies to anyone for whom that was TMI.

Coffee cup– I broke my ceramic mug at the zoo when it was knocked out of the holder on the stroller (talk about first world problems). Apart from being slightly embarrassed about the big “smash” inside the (supposedly) quiet Kiwi enclosure and then having to scrabble around picking up broken bits of china (one of which cut me), I felt like a complete idiot that I had just created more waste in trying to avoid waste. I had visions of the pieces of ceramic lying, never to decompose, in a landfill somewhere, the shards cutting the feet of small animals or ripping the guts of sea birds open. Then I got a grip.

My new cup is plastic, so it shouldn’t meet the same fate. I actually like the spout better than my old one, it’s nicer to drink out of, and in the unlikely event that I one day have no use for it, it’s recyclable. (Yes, I know, internal lecture to self about the evils of plastic recycling)

I was faced with a real dilemma the other day though, stopping for a quick coffee on my way home without my cup!! What to do?!?! Easy, I decided to “have here”. Only it was 4.30 and they were clearing up and told me I could only have it in a takeaway cup!! Wracked with guilt (and desperate for a coffee) I wondered what I should do. As she made the coffee I stood there already feeling guilty for the waste that one coffee cup would produce. So I compromised, and took the cup but asked for no lid…. After all, I consoled myself, it’s not about being perfect. I think I need to start thinking “Less waste” rather than “Zero waste”.

Toilet paper– I’m now buying Safe from Huckleberry Farms. Recycled toilet paper, paper packaging, and no, it’s not that ugly. It’s certainly prettier than the job it’s designed for anyway!

Also at Huckleberry Farms I found they stock a few things which might be handy- they let you fill your own container with Ecostore washing up liquid, meaning I don’t have to go all the way to Binn Inn for it. They also sell Global Soap, so I bought a bar of their stain remover to see if we can do away with the plastic-packaged Vanish stain remover which comes in handy for baby poo explosions and the collars and cuffs of Mr L’s business shirts when they get grubby. So far, the trial on the shirts has been disappointing…. Might have to try harder.

Loving Earth Chocolate– also at Huckleberry Farms, this chocolate comes in a compostable wrapper. And costs a small fortune. But at least I only buy (and therefore eat) a tiny bit at a time.

Cooking– kiwifruit jam, more marmalade, tamarillo chutney…. All of these are easy to make, taste great, are zero waste and are great to give away as small impromptu gifts. They also invite oos and ahs of admiration as people say “OMG how you have the time to make your own jam with 3 children?” Well I have the time to update my Facebook and watch crap TV, so I figure I have the time to make jam. What’s that? You update your FB and watch crap TV too… precisely.

Other pleasing discoveries have been zero waste crackers (good with cheese) and “larabars”- also pseudo healthy- as a chocolatey treat. What’s also good about making these things yourself is that as making them is (arguably) harder work and more expensive than tossing a packet in the supermarket trolley when you walk past them, you feel less inclined to polish off a whole packet. This is probably also because they are quite rich- you just wouldn’t eat a whole tray of them.

Toiletries– I am now using Lush toothy tabs instead of toothpaste (most of the time). They took a bit of getting used to but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They don’t give you that big mint hit but they do leave your teeth feeling really clean and smooth and most mornings I wake up feeling fresher. They feel a bit odd- a bit like brushing your teeth with chalk, but they taste so much better than any bicarb concoction that I came up with. They are quite abrasive though (hence the smooth teeth!) so I hope they aren’t damaging the enamel on my teeth. The abrasiveness also means I have to keep my mouth open when I brush as my toothbrush rubbing against the corner of my mouth with the toothy tabs was really irritant. I’m using “Breath of God” at the moment, which I chose on the recommendation of the shop assistant as being the least radical change from conventional toothpaste. And if I’ve had something particularly garlicky or I just want to be “normal” again I do occasionally still use regular toothpaste, probably about once every 3 or 4 days.

Lotion bars- Lush also do massage bars so I bought one to use instead of body moisturiser. I’m not a big body moisturiser user anyway, but occasionally my legs or elbows get dry and I want to put something on. I’ve been really happy with these- they go on quite sparingly and smell subtle but nice (of lemons, despite being supposedly peach scented). Once the weather warms up I have a feeling they might melt a bit too easily and be a bit greasy, but we’ll see. You can keep them in the fridge but who wants to go to the kitchen after a shower to put on moisturizer before they get dressed??

Unfortunately both the toothy tabs and the lotion bars are slightly more expensive than the products they’re replacing.

I’ve now used up the J&J cornstarch so I’m just using regular cooking cornflour instead of deodorant. I looked around for a while for a metal shaker for it but gave up and bought a plastic one- hopefully it’ll last.

Books– I did a bit more reading- “Plastic Free” by Beth Terry, who attacks plastic not just due to the waste impact but all the other evils it supposedly delivers (endocrine disruptors, carcinogens etc etc). I take these things with a grain of (package free) salt, but it’s easy to see how planting the seeds of doubt and fertilisng them with supposed science to a naïve (or even merely) open mind can create obsession and paranoia. I can imagine how people get turned against things like vaccination and fluoride, two other 20th century innovations that have done a lot of good but can be portrayed as the harbingers of just about every modern day affliction you can imagine. That said, I’m still trying to avoid it as much as possible, without being too paranoid about the damage it might be doing me personally.

I also read “The Zero-Waste Lifestyle” by Amy Korst by but to be honest it didn’t contain much I hadn’t read before, so it was a skim read really. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be interesting to someone embarking on a zero/less waste change but it didn’t hold a huge amount for me.

Right so much for that quick update.

I promise to write about something different next time, really!!!