Monthly Archives: March 2015

Lions & Lambs

Growing up in England, there was much preoccupation with the weather, as there seems to be in general, but more so, apparently, in countries whose weather is either predictably bad or predictably unpredictable. There was always a saying “March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” meaning that it was supposed to be some kind of critical weather month which magically transitioned from winter to spring. True, early March in England is generally pretty grim weather-wise, but I certainly have memories of many an April, May and June wondering when exactly the nice weather would arrive.

Today is the penultimate day of March and, whilst the weather in Auckland has gradually become a little cooler but still remained generally very pleasant, I’d say in terms of Happiness and Vitality, March is definitely ending on a more leonine note than it started. [Actually all the lions I’ve ever seen have been very cool, calm and collected, mostly asleep but even the awake ones have been sedately pacing or meticulously stalking prey- but never mind, let’s not wreck the analogy.]

Quite what I was thinking making “Vitality” the theme for March, at 7 months pregnant with a fairly hectic work schedule for both myself and Mr L, I have no idea. Today I find myself completely exhausted and emotionally overwrought as I gear up for my last rostered shift at work this evening (still leaving a few loose ends to tidy up before no 3 arrives) and at home I find myself increasingly disorganised and at the end of my tether with Miss L, who seems to have firmly embraced the terrible twos at the age of only 21 months. Carrying an extra 20kg, sleeping poorly (thanks to big tummy, pregnancy-induced snoring, crying children), I don’t think I’ve ever felt less full of vitality in my life. I keep saying “when I’m on maternity leave…” but in fact work accounts for less than 20 hours of my week so I’m not entirely sure how much difference stopping will make. At least there won’t be any more super-late (3am) nights. At least, not work-related ones.

Anyway here’s a summary of March Happiness:

Go to sleep earlier– I did ok with this one for a couple of weeks, but it required a surprising amount of discipline. I looked around for a clock to use as a time-keeping substitute for my phone (not a prolonged search, I admit) and then kind of forgot about it, and as my sleep became more frequently interrupted by other the other factors mentioned above, I found myself turning to my phone and its cyber-entertainment during bouts of insomnia. I have found showering before bed fairly relaxing however, and have got into a bit of a habit of doing this. Plus showering at night means I can do it at leisure without fear of a child killing themselves/their sibling while I’m at it.

Exercise– did badly on this one, coming nowhere close to 3 times a week (although I didn’t keep my resolution chart either- another fail- so I couldn’t say how many times I did manage it). It did reiterate to me, though, how much better I feel after some fresh air, even if it’s just a 20 minute stroll through the park with the dog.

Act energetic– this was perhaps the most ridiculous of my ideas so far. For someone who finds it hard to fake “energetic” at the best of times, this was never going to happen given my current size, my sleep-debt and everything else at the moment. Might have to re-try this one at a later date.

Toss, restore, organise was moderately successful. We managed to get the spare room sorted out, the cot in the baby’s room up, a few more pictures on the walls and a couple of other odd jobs done. I haven’t done a lot of tossing, but I’ve made the bed a bit more often than usual and been a bit more diligent about putting the laundry away. The evening tidy up happens properly about 50% of the time, and in a modified format most nights.

Similarly for the nagging tasks– when I reviewed my to-do list last night I was pleasantly surprised to see how short it was. True to my word, I have crossed off an item without doing it once a week and managed to get through a couple of other items a week from it and amazingly have managed not to add too many other things to it.  To be honest I didn’t give a lot of thought to doing smaller than 1 minute jobs right away, maybe I already do them without thinking, I don’t know, there just didn’t seem to be that many….

Eat better, however was also a complete fail…. But I have mapped out a rough outline of my post-baby diet which (perversely) I am planning to start after Easter- yes, before the baby is born!! Really keen to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight in time for our ski trip in August, 3 months post baby, so I thought I’d get started early as 3 months isn’t a lot of time to shift all the kgs I’ve gained.

All in all, I’m kind of wondering how Gretchen fit all this in on top of real life. I suppose the idea is that it’s supposed to enhance and improve your real life. It probably helped that she was writing a book about it but she must have had a job and a life going on while it was in progress, it’s not like a book pays the bills before it’s written (well, not many bills). Anyway she seems to be quite popular these days, with another book, a podcast series and also speaking at some Happiness convention in Sydney we saw an ad for….

I, meanwhile, feel like I just have to survive this evening/this week/this pregnancy/who knows how long… I’m hanging out for the day I don’t go to bed dreading being woken up and to waking up most mornings feeling reliably relaxed and refreshed. Maybe in another 10 years!

Zero Waste Home

So I came across a blog called “Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson a few weeks ago while reading an article on reducing plastic consumption in your life.

Bea is a French woman living in the US, married to an American guy with 2 children. Essentially, she describes how she lived a fairly “traditional” French childhood in suburban Provence (it never occurred to me that they had suburbs in Provence as I’ve always assumed it was all quaint medieval villages and lavender fields but evidently there are suburbs too!) then when she moved to the US she found herself embroiled in the “American Dream”- big house, big garden, 2 gas guzzling vehicles and a disposable lifestyle.

Motivated by wanting to live in a slightly more atmospheric, inner suburb of whichever US city she’s in, but unable to afford the same scale of house, they embraced minimalism to allow them to downsize and move closer into town.

Eventually she transitioned to and embraced not just having less stuff but creating less waste.

I found the book really quite interesting as it generally seemed to support the feelings I already had about being green and recycling (ie that recycling surely can’t be the “chuck stuff out totally guilt-free” card everyone seems to regard it as). She doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail about the process of recycling, its byproducts and the like, but she does touch on a few processes and suggests that the real problem is plastic. According to Bea, plastics are rarely recycled into equally sustainable products, they are often “downcycled” into products that can’t then be recycled a second time and go to land/ocean fill.

Her philosophy, as I had kind of already embraced myself, is to minimise the amount of stuff that comes into your house, that’s the only way to really minimise the stuff that goes out again. Her 5 Rs are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Fairly self- explanatory, but to spell it out,

  • Refuse as much stuff as possible
  • Reduce the amount of stuff you do let into your house
  • Reuse it (as opposed to recycling it)
  • Recycle and Rot (composting) are then last resorts before throwing it in the bin

Some of her tips go a bit far for my liking (each to their own, but she advocates dusting cocoa powder on your cheeks instead of foundation and I don’t fancy a load of flies swarming around me or smelling like a hot chocolate) but she has motivated me to try and reduce as much as possible the amount of stuff we chuck out and to focus, first and foremost, on cutting down our plastic waste.

Some things I’d already been doing for a while, like:

  • Avoiding cling wrap as much as possible- for about a year I’ve been using reusable sandwich wraps. There are several available on the market and many of them are quite expensive, cashing in on a combination of the food-safety paranoia and the environmental concerns surrounding plastics. I must say I found some very reasonably priced ones at Howards Storage World in Australia and I have no idea what their environmental or food safety profile is, but having bought only two and used them all year, surely that’s better than the roll of cling wrap I would otherwise have gone through?
  • Re-using paper in the printer. I used to get a lot of it from work- for some reason my old workplace in Sydney was so wasteful with paper and you’d find reams (literally) of paper printed on one side only that people had left in the printer, I’m not sure why- printed in error I guess, so I’d swipe it and take it home to use. The main problems were I’d actually acquire more than I could use (I don’t print much stuff out at home) and a couple of times I had to be careful about ending up with printouts which had sensitive information on the reverse side.
  • Composting- in Sydney this was a no-brainer as we had a garden we could use the compost in and also chickens, whose poo really needs mixing with compost as it’s too harsh to put straight on the soil (apparently). This had fallen by the wayside since moving to Auckland, mainly because we didn’t have any sort of garden beds (or chickens) to benefit from compost, also because we had nowhere convenient to put a compost bin and finally because every house in NZ (our new one included) seems to have a waste disposal system, which I have always considered an American thing. Anyway we have resurrected our composting habit- it’s amazing how much goes into it and how satisfying it is!
  • Reducing electricity & gas consumption- this was always easy to comply with as it reduces your bills. Happily our new house has instant gas hot water with a thermostat, meaning I have been able to turn down the temperature our hot water is heated to. I could never see the logic of paying to heat water to hotter than your skin can stand, only to cool it down by mixing it with cold water for a shower. It’s not quite as hot as it could be for washing dishes, but it’s fine.
  • Resuable water bottle- I HATE paying to buy water when I’m out, so this is easy.
  • Resuable coffee cup- Mr L and I both have these, however our main motivation was again financial, we’d use them to take coffee from home rather than taking them to cafes to get them filled. But I’ve done it a couple of times now and they haven’t thought I’m a complete weirdo! It’s not that hard. I had also been taking mine to work, to make cups of tea in rather than using the Styrofoam rubbish they have there.

Since reading Zero Waste Home, some of the new things I’ve looked into have included:

  • Buying bread in paper bags as much as possible. I always reused the plastic bags our bread came in, usually for cleaning up after the dog (see below) but felt bad. It’s been pretty easy and hasn’t confined us to expensive Bakers Delight bread (although we do go there quite a bit anyway), turns out our local budget supermarket has very nice loaves of bread which you self-serve in paper bags. Of course, Bea would suggest getting your own cloth bread bag (she uses a pillow case) and doing without the bag altogether, but then what do you store it in when you get home?
  • Packaging- with other products, too, I’ve been much more aware of packaging and trying to stick to a hierarchy of none-paper-glass-plastic. I realised (with horror) that the bars of soap I’ve been buying to use in the shower come in non-recyclable plasticky paper wrapping. I bought some in simple cardboard boxes and have now found some without wrappers at all. They are a little more expensive, but are still less than $3 per bar. I also agonized over my choice of honey in the supermarket, feeling ashamed of my convenient plastic flip-top squeezey bottle- I mean how hard is it to take the top off and use a knife??* But there was no honey in a glass jar, I couldn’t believe it!! So I got a screw top plastic jar which looked like it could be used again, instead of the flimsy, throwaway soft plastic things that most of the honey seems to come in here.   [*I might add that I have previously been down the “which honey container to buy” decision tree, and what led me to the squeezy bottle (when the jars are way cheaper and would ordinarily have won) is the fact that I HATE it when people leave crumbs in the honey/marmalade/jam/butter and even more when there are traces of butter in the non-butter spreads, it grosses me out. I even go so far as to use a clean knife (not the buttery one) after buttering the toast to apply the spread, in order to avoid contaminating it. I realise not everyone shares my OCD tendencies and so to avoid irritation I resorted to buying the squeezer. Anyway, I digress.]
  • And on the subject of soap, for years I have been a liquid soap user, again, not being able to stand the soggy mess on the sink that collects with bars. But I figured it’s a lot of plastic, so when we finish the liquid stuff we’ve got, I’m going to try bars for handwashing once again. (I never got into shower gel for the simple reason it’s so expensive compared to bars of soap, so I’m sure I can cope with bars at the sinks).
  • New shops- I ventured to Ecostore, which I had always dismissed as a complete rip-off in the past, but actually some of their stuff is ok. I came away with a toilet brush (our cheap metal and –gasp- plastic one had fallen apart after about 5 uses, so I bought a wooden handled, natural bristled one, with a wooden & ceramic stand. The brush is compostable so when it gets grotty you chuck in on the compost heap. Then you just buy a replacement brush to put in the old stand. I also bought some organic cotton string bags, which I put fruit and veg in at the supermarket (the things that are too much hassle to have loose) and some all-natural, compostable sanitary pads which were also cheaper than I expected. NB I will NOT be composting these as I think it’s kind of gross for the other household members, but I figured they’ll decompose quicker in the rubbish tip than the normal sort. Some shampoo & conditioner in refillable bottles completed my purchase, and I was rewarded with a free bar of (package free) soap and a lip balm! I was prepared to buy a large tub of laundry detergent, as I quite like the Ecostore stuff, but was disappointed to find they only have a very limited range of products that they’ll refill and their powder detergent isn’t one of them. You can take your containers back but I was told by the woman serving me they recycle them, they don’t refill them. Not like at…..
  • Bin Inn– a chain of sort of health-food shops I suppose is how they describe themselves, but most of their products are in bins sold by weight- you take your own containers which they weigh empty, then weigh again when you’ve put your loot into them! What a fabulous idea. So far I’ve bought rolled oats, sultanas, sunflower seeds, buckwheat, laundry detergent, dry dog food and dog treats. The stuff is reasonably priced- some of it’s more expensive than in the supermarket but some of it is a lot cheaper so I think it breaks even. There’s one about 20 mins drive from us, so it’s probably an awful waste of petrol to go there all the time, but once I get my system going it might work quite well!
  • Dog- I always put her mess into plastic bags then in the bin, but our new house backs onto a big overgrown field whose only users are cows, so I have started chucking her poo over the fence into the long grass. I’m sure the cows won’t mind, given how much mess they themselves make. And when it’s exposed to sun, rain and flies, dog poo doesn’t hang around that long anyway, certainly not compared to sitting in a plastic bag being preserved on a rubbish heap.
  • And finally, I have also tried making my own deodorant!! Using 1/4 cup bicarb soda, 1/4 cup cornflour and 4 tsp coconut oil. It’s ok, it’s like a stick deodorant only not in a very convenient dispenser (you rub it on with your fingers). I’m not a super sweaty, smelly person, luckily, or I don’t think I’d get away with it. I have been a bit sweatier than usual, but I have about 4 bottles of perfume that take me aaages to get through so I figured I’d start using them daily and they can supplement the deodorant. I generally buy fragrance-free deodorant anyway, and have always balked at the cost of the aerosol stuff. As luck would have it, I didn’t make it to Aldi during our recent trip to Sydney to buy any more of their cheap, perfectly acceptable, mildly-fragranced stuff anyway, and I was already resenting paying $7 a can for branded stuff here.

It’d be nice to get to the point where we don’t have to put up with meat, cheese, fish & deli products in their inevitable plastic wrapping but to do this I think I’m going to have to start shopping at small local shops who’ll take a BYO container and put the stuff into it. An idea I like in theory, but the convenience of a supermarket instead of 5 different outlets, particularly with 2 kids in tow, just wins out most of the time.

Will we ever do away with plastic altogether? No. And I don’t think we’ll achieve completely zero plastic waste either. Plastic has its uses. I have a lot of plastic tubs already and I can’t see the point of chucking them out to buy other substitutes- I’ll use them until they fall apart (ideally forever)- surely that’s better than them going to landfill now? Plus, plastic is really useful for keeping things fresh! I keep my vegetables in plastic bags in the fridge so they don’t go soft. And plastic is better than paper for keeping bread from going stale. What I am trying to do is have designated sturdy plastic bags which I can reuse many times over before they need to be thrown out.

 Anyway, we’ll see, It’s a start, at least!

March Happiness Project- Vitality

It’s autumn! I love a change of season and I especially love the first day of autumn. So my plan for March: Vitality.

Gretchen does this one first up. I guess she figured it’d stand her in good stead for the rest of the year. Which is partly why I chose to do it early as well (and also because, getting late in my pregnancy, I figured I might need it the most about now!)

I think I’ve pretty much lifted my resolutions directly from her. They are:

1. Go to sleep earlier– I really need to do this! Since giving birth to Master L, when everyone seemed to be full of the advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!!” I’ve resisted having a nap when the kids have theirs, or going to bed as soon as they do. It helped that as tiny babies, both my kids were good sleepers so I seemed to have less of that new-baby sleep deprivation than other mums do, I think. Apart from the fact that, even at my most tired, 7pm is generally too early to go to bed (and I need to have dinner), I’ve always valued my child-free/child-asleep time so much, that to sleep it away myself seems like a waste. I welcome the opportunity to do my own thing, whether it’s getting dinner ready, tidying up, watching TV or surfing the net. However, now that I have 2 kids and am 30 weeks pregnant, I’ve come to realize that staying up being an adult is all well and good, but if you’re so tired the next day that you act like a child (and a tired one at that), it’s better for everyone that you sleep. For me, I need to not just go to sleep earlier, but go to sleep “cleaner”. Sleep hygiene is something I’ve never been great at, and now that we have mobiles and laptops and i pads to keep our minds buzzing right up (and even after) we turn off the light, I’m even worse. So I’m going to try the following to sleep longer and better:

  • Start the bedtime routine at 9.30- laptop off, last cup of tea, start getting kids’ milk ready, make sure kitchen either tidied to my liking or make conscious decision to leave it till the next morning (and be happy with that decision!)
  •  Upstairs at 10- no more checking phone for emails or FB updates
  • Read for up to half an hour before lights out at 10.30
  • Get a bedside clock ASAP so I can leave my phone charging downstairs and am not tempted to check it at 4am!

2. Exercise- I’m limited by what I can do at the moment (yes, I know, excuses, but really, I have horrible varicose veins that start in my groin and ache when I try and do too much on my feet) but I’d really like to swim or walk (well, stroll/waddle) 3 times a week. The dog will be happy about that too (not me swimming, but the strolling part). I’m conscious of being VERY unfit in this pregnancy, which I’m sure I’ll regret in labour, if not before

3. Act energetic– ok so being the size of a baby whale is not really conducive to this but the theme of this month is “Vitality”, after all! I came across a man called Richard Wiseman last night, a psychologist and author of 59 seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (I have asked the library to reserve me a copy). One of his basic theories about behavioural change is that if you pretend to be what you want to be, you will be. So pretend to be more energetic, and you will be! Same goes for happy, powerful, calm blah blah… (Maybe I could save myself this whole Happiness project series here!)

4. Toss, restore, organise– This is generally something I find fairly easy although we have still not got on top of things 100% since moving house. This weekend’s task is to get 2 more of our remaining rooms sorted out. I’ve also become a bit slack with tidying the kids’ toys in the evening- “Do an evening tidy up” is actually one of Gretchen’s daily resolutions for her vitality month. It needs to be reintroduced in our house! I’ve also been intrigued lately by a blog called Zero Waste Home– but more on that later.

5. Tackle that nagging task– oh my perpetual to do list!!! Gretchen’s rule- if you can do it in less than a minute, do it now (actually she got that from someone else, I’m not sure who though). To whittle my To-Do list away I’m going to try:

  • Once a week, cross an item off without doing it (ie just get rid of one non-essential task)
  • Schedule 2 items per week
  • Anything less than a minute- do it now!

6. Eat better– I debated about including this as it probably falls more in the domain of “Health and Fitness”, which I have planned for July. However I can’t help but feeling that my terrible diet (too much food and of the wrong type) probably also plays a part in my lack of vitality, not just through excessive pregnancy pounds gained, but in the general malaise and sluggishness that comes from feeling constantly full and never hungry. So although I think the motivation to really lose my baby weight won’t kick in until after the baby’s born, I’m going to try making some small changes now so that a) I feel better and b) I don’t have as much weight to lose come May. Starting with 3 meals & 2 snacks a day, instead of the constant grazing and mindless eating I’ve been allowing myself to do.

 That seems like a lot of resolutions for one chart. Let’s see how I go….

 Commandments

  1. Let it go
  2. Act the way I want to feel
  3. Do it now
  4. Enjoy the process