Our lovely rug is hard work, but worth it

I don’t blog to spruik products but sometimes I’ll make exceptions, and especially if the products are from a social enterprise.

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Our lovely hand-hooked cotton rug is the second biggest eco-purchase we have made for our house (the first being solar panels). It’s made from up-cycled materials (off cuts from t-shirt manufacturing and used hessian rice sacks) but with a professional finish, made to last. Considering that it was painstakingly made by hand and provided a reasonable income to a family, the price was very reasonable and comparable to rugs/carpets of a similar size. The main expense was the shipping, from Cambodia where it was made to here in Australia. This was also because I ordered a difficult custom rug. I think it was the largest rug they had ever made. Oh, ‘they’ are Carpets for Communities and you can learn all about their fair trade business here: http://carpetsforcommunities.org/about-us/our-story/

It makes sense that the rugs they sell are mostly smaller than the 2.3 sq metres that I ordered. The cotton pile of the rug is quite deep and therefore provides the lovely sink-into feeling that I knew would cheer up our winter days, and provide a little luxury. It does however, mean that cleaning is a little trickier. The small rugs (and now pet beds!) are machine washable but I would need an industrial washer to cope with our large rug. Instead, as with many eco-solutions, it’s back to basics. We intend on taking the rug outside every few months for a good beating. I say ‘we’ because it can’t be lifted by one person.

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getting his frustrations out

So lifting the thing is a pain, but beating out the dust is kind of fun.It was also nice to inspect the backing to appreciate all the hard work that went into it.

In conclusion, it’s not the cheapest rug but if it’s a choice between slave labour or bare floors I’d choose bare floors. And it’s not the easiest rug to clean, but I love the fact that it is made out of materials that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

Sometimes the sustainable choice involves some sacrifice and that’s ok. But it’s not always hard work! My next post will be about sustainable actions that involve little or even no effort at all 🙂

P.S. The bright colours are completely my choice, all part of the fun of ordering a custom rug.

 

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Appreciating what you have

My last blog post was about mood and wondering if/how much hormone fluctuations play into that. When I’m ‘down’ and also frustrated with my seeming lack of resilience it’s easy to get a little desperate and cling to notions with possible solutions, i.e. perhaps taking a hormone pill would ‘even me out’ and I’d be all the happier for it. However, I don’t think my wonky hormone levels have all that much to do with it. This week I’ve been bright and sunny compared to a gloomier week last week, and as a result nothing much has bothered me. I haven’t been irritable, or morose, impatient or any of the things I’d rather not be. And there are no signs of oestrogen production to account for this, I’m still in an extended interval between menstruation, just as I was last week. So what changed? My outlook. I improved the way I look at and react to the world with a little bit of self-talk, pondering and a large serving of help from my lovely husband.

The best part of my lifted mood is being able to enjoy all of the ‘little things’ in life more, and that’s something that I DO want to focus on. After all, taking note of all the little delightful things happening around you in turn leads to a lifted mood. It’s a good type of spiral rather than the vicious kind that can drag you down. And if you’re calm and happy you’re less likely to be irritated by tiny setbacks.

My morning routine at the moment is to take a lazy 15 min (to half hour…) to wake up with a cup of tea made for me by my husband (yes there are perks to not having kids!). This morning I had none of my usual black(ceylon) tea. If my emotional resilience was low something that minor might have annoyed me but when my husband pointed out that I had jasmine tea at the back of the cupboard I was happy to try that, to see if I would still get the pleasant start to the day that I was looking for. It turns out jasmine tea after a hot summer night is even more refreshing than black tea with milk, I’d just never considered it before.

After the tea, a short run and watering the garden it was time for breakfast and my initial thought again was ‘oh, we’re kind of out’. We didn’t have any bread for toast, we’d used up the last batch of homemade muesli/granola, we had some yoghurt but no fruit to make it interesting. After a quick look around the kitchen I came up with a satisfying, albeit unusual breakfast. I’d bought too many walnuts, so crumbled a handful of those into my yoghurt for texture/protein/flavour and then reached far into the fridge for a jar of jam that has literally been back there for more than a year. It’s gorgeous jam, from our favourite local producer, but a little strongly flavoured with cardamom and therefore doesn’t suit being slathered all over toast (what else do you do with jam?) so this last tablespoon or so has been languishing in the back of the fridge waiting for an alternative use. A modest amount swirled through the yoghurt and walnuts was lovely.

The tea and my breakfast concoction both reminded me that life is good, as long as you’re open to seeing it. It happens too often that we get stuck in old habits, that our houses become crammed with goods that we don’t even use and in my case, I purchase lovely, high-quality consumable goods to bring a little joy into my life but then forget to fully consume them! I guess what I’m trying to say is that this post is about gratitude. I’m grateful for my good mood that enables me to try new things, to appreciate the variety of experiences that are open to me, rather than dwell on anything that isn’t working/immediately available. I’m grateful for the good things that I have around me right now and grateful that I don’t feel the need to consume a whole heap more. I’ve had similar feelings when I’ve put a pile of clothes away due to underuse, then I forget I have them and I have a few temporary ‘I have nothing to wear!!’ frustrating moments before I find the pile again and usually surprise myself with “hey, this is good stuff!”.

Tea and jam and some old pants might not seem like much but it’s actually plenty. I can get in a funk about not having a baby of my own to coo over or not having a highly paid job (and therefore money to splash on luxuries whenever the whim takes me) but at those times I tend to forget that I love my excess time and all of the ways I can spend it. One of those ways is trying to live a little more sustainably each day. I’m going to enjoy the last spoonful of jam, then use the pretty jar to store something useful in, and eventually recycle it and I’ll be having a splendid time the whole while. Another aspect of my calm life (without children or an overly demanding job) that leads to happiness and enjoyment is that I can take a little time to ‘smell the roses’, in essence I can be a little more childlike myself. Yesterday I went into work a little earlier than usual so I was able to appreciate some of the rarer/shyer local birds in the tall trees of the car park before other people scared them away. I was able to spend a while standing and watching the birds, in pure enjoyment of them without any of life’s little annoyances weighing on me and something like that is quite precious.

My emotional life, and sharing menstruation data

This blog has been a little neglected this month. There haven’t been many posts. One of the contributing reasons is that my emotions have been out of kilter somewhat, perhaps for the last two weeks? What I mean is that I have been frustrated, irritable, weepy or unmotivated when I don’t want to be. Not that I have been out of control of my emotions constantly for the full two weeks (who could cope with that?). Generally, it has been when I get a little introspective, when I’m not preoccupied with a task, and when I have a chance to tune into ‘my inner self’ or whatever you’d like to call that complex mix of neurotransmitters and thought patterns, both conscious and subconscious.

It’s easy to blame ‘hormones’ for that kind of thing, and I certainly have in the past (pre-menstrual syndrome, anyone?). Arguably I now have even more reason to blame hormones for my emotional trouble. I now know that my body produces the ‘wrong amount’ of certain key hormones such as oestrogens and progestogens, hormones that are thought to directly affect mood. But the scientist side of me knows that I can’t always employ the hormonal scapegoat. For one thing, I don’t have the data. I’d love it if there was a personal medical device where I could frequently take a pin-prick of blood, quickly get an analysis of some key hormones and then alter my behaviour accordingly (just like diabetics currently do). Instead the closest thing I have is keeping an eye out for cervical mucus. For instance, your cervical mucus is the most helpful hint in terms of monitoring ovulation, as a surge of oestrogen around mid-cycle should lead to a surge of ‘egg-white (consistency)’ cervical mucus (EWCM).

My ever-shortening menstrual cycles led to some hope that my ovarian insufficiency might be going into remission. This can happen, and no-one knows why. That alone is enough to make me a little crazy; there is the grief associated with being barren, but then wanting to surmount that by focusing on other things that make my life great, but then thinking ‘maybe this month…’. That hope faded somewhat when I ‘didn’t feel like’ I ovulated this month (not very scientific, although probabilistically sound), and further with a lack of EWCM at the predicted time. Although I did see some EWCM a little later than the predicted time.

How did I even have a ‘predicted time of ovulation’? I wrote recently about coming to the end of my little paper calendar that I used to track my menstrual cycles. This year I have moved onto something a little more modern and am now using an app!

There are many menstruation tracking apps available, and quite a few of these are focused on trying to conceive, and many of them are annoyingly ‘girly’ (as noted here in one of my favourite blogs). But I chose ‘Clue’, because it was free and I liked the design, and then I was thrilled to see that they actually provide scientific references for the advice that they dole out. The app is extremely easy to use, and it does look good, but I have already noticed a few downsides to the app after using it for about 6 weeks*. The main reason that it has been less comforting than my pen and paper solution is actually the main purported benefit: it’s not just a tracking tool, but a prediction tool. For ‘normal’ women, it will point out your ‘fertile window’ and the best time to try and conceive (or not!), and then when your next period is due to arrive, based on your last three cycles.

But those predictions can be upsetting. They’re little reminders of the mind games mentioned above (will this month result in one of those rare spontaneous pregnancies?). There is mention of PCOS on the ‘helloclue’ website, but as far as I can tell, no recognition of ovarian insufficiency (or ovarian failure, or early menopause). What they do mention though is a new capability to turn off the predictions, although I can’t just yet as I’m on android. Therefore, I couldn’t help expecting some vague signs of ovulation a few weeks after my last period. I didn’t detect anything worth relying on, and then had the bad luck of attending a party that just happened to be seemingly all about pregnancy/babies**, right after the predicted ‘fertile window’ that didn’t eventuate.

So, being disappointed about not ovulating (probably not?) contributed to my less than sunny disposition. Then a few weeks later, the app tells me that my cycle is (over)due. Yes, there is a chance (1 in 1000 or so according to the doctors) that I am pregnant right now, but no, it probably just means that my cycles are irregular (still). So, I have broken my streak of ‘approaching normal menstrual cycle length’. Which brings me back full circle, as I wonder “perhaps I was overly moody this month because my ovaries are functioning even lower again?!”. The truth lies somewhere between ‘my issues’ and the way I handle them making me moody, or my hormonal state exacerbating my emotional responses, and it most certainly is some combination of the two.

And this is exactly why I’m happy to hand over my health data in return for this free app, even if it doesn’t perfectly fit my needs. Because behind the Clue app is the capability to aggregate data from millions and millions of women, and hopefully get at some of the truth behind our hormones and our health, emotional or otherwise.

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Mood: happy and calm, while chasing this little guy with my camera

The all-mighty fridge list

I used to waste a lot of food. I’d get carried away and buy too many ingredients. I’d buy my favourite vegetables, not having a firm plan of what I was going to do with them, but just so they were ‘there’. So that I would avoid eating chips, or toast, for dinner. I’d feel silly buying one carrot, so i’d buy 3 and then not store the spares properly. I actually only took notice of just how much I was wasting after I begun composting the waste. Back then we were living in an apartment and using a bokashi bin composting system, and I was filling it too often. The biggest tragedy was that I would be wasting good quality dairy products. For some reason I just had a mental block about tubs of yoghurt, I’d open them and enjoy the first serving but then they would be hidden at the back of the fridge and not noticed until I bought the next one and had to figure out which one was still edible. Even worse, I’d buy some nice cheese (bocconcini, or a good blue, or a nice ripe brie) and although i’d be tempted to gorge on it in one sitting (I love cheese!), I’d think I was being sensible by tucking some away, rationing myself. Sometimes I’d have to throw out quite a few dollars worth of spoilt cheese.

With two of us cooking it can get complicated too. An avocado might be cut open, even though there is half an avocado in the fridge from the day before.

Some people solve all this by having menu planners, but that doesn’t suit us. I still like to feel like I have some choice. Although now my choices are all ruled by the fridge list. I’m sure guests see the fridge list and think it’s a shopping list, and I think we’ve had that confusion with a houseguest or two also. For instance, broccoli might be on the list, and then I see that there is extra broccoli in the fridge, kindly donated by a guest. Now I know to explain, “Oh no, that list is the opposite of a shopping list! It’s a ‘use me first’ list”. Common things that appear on the list regularly are cut vegetables (half a tomato, or cucumber, or already peeled ginger etc.), and opened dairy goods (sour cream, yoghurt), but also featured are things that I bought too many of (zucchinis, or green beans), things that were meant for one meal idea but got waylaid (a leek, some cabbage), and of course leftovers of fully prepared meals.

Many of my lunches are now inspired by the fridge list, eg. just the other day I had too much cabbage but also a bit of Chinese sausage. That was a no-brainer, I just added a carrot and onion, a little garlic and ginger and a dash of kecap manis and had it all tossed through noodles. The fridge list actually makes experimental cooking fun. Would I bother putting fennel and grapefruit through my salad otherwise? Probably not.

The best thing is that it has reduced our food waste down to practically zero, and that’s good news for everyone 🙂

fridge list

P.S. Sadly, I didn’t get around to using the aqua faba, although one day I will make those meringues!

P.P.S. I did use the leftover oil from a jar of artichokes, by stirring it through some rice for another tasty lunch (with cherry tomatoes and some other toppings). The pickle liquid also had an extended life, using it to pickle some cucumbers from fresh.

 

Valuing your plastic

I recently came across an article with an odd title: ‘Throwing This Out Here: Plastic Bags Are Amazing and You Should Appreciate Them More’ (Sarah Zhang, Wired). That title certainly got my attention, and for all the right reasons. I’m glad that here in Canberra shops no longer give out plastic bags for free. If you need one (or many) to bring home your groceries then you have to pay for it. I prefer to avoid them instead, and nearly always have a durable re-usable shopping bag on me to use in their place. Before I got into the habit of that, I would sometimes balance half a dozen or so pantry items in/on my arms for the short walk home from the shops. So avoiding plastic bags isn’t really appreciating them, is it? But after reading the article I realised that I DO appreciate plastic bags more than I thought. If I come across a plastic bag, I don’t just use it once and then send it to landfill. Nearly all of the plastic bags that come into our house are used at least twice.

The most obvious way that we re-use bags is to use them as bin* liners. The previous owners of our house installed one of those nifty little bins under the kitchen sink that  perfectly fits supermarket plastic bags. Sometimes we can procure plastic bags from others, but seeing as we don’t bother paying the 5c for these bags ourselves, sometimes we don’t have a perfectly sized bag on hand.

No worries! We usually still have other plastic bags lying around:

IMG_20160129_135047 This bag was smaller than a supermarket bag, and didn’t have the flexible handles that make it easy to stretch over the edge of the bin, yet it was strong and devoid of any holes. So why not use it as a bin liner? Well, it’s kind of annoying. If you’re in a hurry, rubbish/trash that you’d like to clear away can instead miss the bag and stagnate at the bottom of the bin. Meaning that you have just created more work for yourself by having to clean the bin out.

I guess this is why it used to annoy my husband when I used unsuitable bags as bin liners (even bread bags, which have the narrowest openings). But in the end it comes down to what you value. Do you value the ease of use of a larger bag, even if it’s one you have to pay for, even if it’s one solely produced for this purpose and no other? Do you value using a larger bag or bin liner because it looks nicer? Or do you value using other plastic bags one more time before sending them to landfill? I know which I value more highly (your choices may differ for reasons that are unknown to me, I don’t mean to be preachy, I just get a buzz from re-purposing).

Other reasons that this works for us:

  • We don’t create much rubbish, and nearly all of our food scraps go to the compost. So the little bags actually take a few days to fill, and usually just hold plastic wrappers, foil chip packets etc that are easily shoved into an awkward little bag.
  • If the bag doesn’t have the long loopy handles that make for easy tying-off, I either leave enough room in the bag to knot the whole top section, or raid my rubber band** collection.

Even bags with a little hole in them are valued. I don’t use these for kitchen bin liners (just in case of something gross/liquidy), instead I put them in the bathroom bin (which is always just tissues and cotton buds, maybe a soap wrapper).

With all of this, and more (wrapping sandwiches in the bread bag you just emptied; re-using small plastic bags to keep vegies crisp in the fridge) we manage to avoid the dreaded overflowing bag storage area that many kitchens end up with. Although you can usually take a heap of bags to your local large chain supermarket for special recycling programs if it comes to that.

 

*In Australia (and other places with British influence) we say ‘bin’ rather than the American ‘trash can’. Sometimes it’s ‘rubbish bin’ or ‘garbage bin’ but simple ‘bin’ suffices.

**Also known as an elastic band

 

Very happy with my menstrual cup!

Last time I menstruated I bought myself a menstrual cup, so I’ve been meaning to write up a review. So here it is: menstrual cups are wonderful! I’d only heard about them last year (when I wasn’t menstruating much) but now I wish I’d known about them decades ago. Apparently they are not a new invention, it is just that the disposable options (pads, tampons etc.) have been advertised much more widely (and are more socially acceptable?).

Speaking of socially acceptable (or not), this post may be ‘TMI’ for some readers. You have been warned!

Every other review that I’ve read of the cups, including those on the brand websites, warn you that the cups take a little getting used to: Perhaps during the first period that you use one it might be a little awkward, uncomfortable or messy. I found this to be sort of true. The first time removing the cup was tricky. Partly this was because the first time inserting the cup was almost too easy, and it ended up in slightly the wrong position (too high up). Consequently, removing the cup took quite a few minutes as I figured out how to best get a hold of it, and then it was slightly uncomfortable on the way out. The good news is that for the second removal I was a lot less tentative. This was probably because although the first removal was uncomfortable, it was not messy at all (and that was on a high flow day!). The second time around I paid more attention to the instructions, and was able to pinch the bottom of the cup really easily, to ease it out with no discomfort at all, and in a much quicker, simpler move.

So it seems (in my experience at least!) that the vendors warning is overblown to err on the side of caution! It didn’t take me a full period to learn how to use, just one awkward practice and then all was good after that. I went out and bought mine on the first day of my period, but I guess if you’re at all concerned then you might want to buy it at another time and practice with a ‘dry run’ (pun intended, although I wouldn’t recommend it if you are actually experiencing vaginal dryness).

Another potential downside of the cup, as compared to tampons, is that you do need a little more room for the insertion/removal. Let’s just say tampon insertion can be a little more lady-like, whereas for the cup I found you do need to use a deep squat with knees wide, and ‘bearing down’ facilitates removal (I read this tip somewhere but now I forget where, sorry). So a cramped stall in a public toilet/restroom is not going to be ideal. This brings up another point: women find the idea of changing a menstrual cup in a public place horrifying. How do you carry a dirty cup to the sink to rinse it prior to re-insertion?? I’m not worried about this (performing contortions in a small space/being embarrassed about being seen with cup/being extra careful to keep public spaces clean) because I frankly don’t think it will come up.

No, I’m not going to hide away, out of public view, when menstruating. It’s that the cup has one huge benefit over tampons: you only need to change it every 12 hours! This is very freeing. Not only do you not have to think about what time you last put a tampon in, you don’t have to carry any ‘feminine hygiene products’ around with you, and you can do the change-over when it best suits you (as soon as you wake up, and then before bed works for me).

I keep comparing the cup to tampons, but I should point out that they both have an advantage over pads/liners. If used correctly, they don’t leak (my cup didn’t, even though I didn’t use it 100% correctly the first time). Also, both of them are not felt after you have them in (trust me, i was riding my bike to work like normal).

And of course, I’ll reiterate the main reason I wanted to use one and that is because it is more sustainable, creating less waste.

Oh, and for a normally cycling woman (one period about every month), it’s a lot cheaper! Disposable products can cost anywhere from $3-$5 (AUD, aussie dollars) per period. My one criticism of the cups is that they are overpriced, a small piece of medical grade silicone should not cost $50-$60 (retail price in Aus.)*, but that actually means that they are still cheaper than one or two years of disposable products (depending on your flow and duration), and the cup should last for up to 10 years.

What’s not to like? Anyway, hopefully this is helpful to anyone considering using a cup and saying goodbye to the disposables.

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Yes, this has been used, you can see how well they clean! (and easily)
coastal succulent
In case any of this post has been mentally disturbing, here is a calming photo of the sea.

*This has to be a supply and demand issue, I’m sure if more women started using the cups then the price would come down.