Rainy Day

I can’t remember when we last had a proper rainy day. When all we have to do is be at home and cosy, with soft rain falling outside all day long. It’s really lovely.
It’s especially appreciated because the weather has been drier than usual, so the garden really needs the water. We’ve also been working fairly hard (my husband in particular!), so it’s a great excuse to slow right down.

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The view outside right now, the Japanese maple got a little burnt over summer but still managed to put on some stunning autumn colour

I get a lot of pleasure from growing my own edibles but at the same time, I remember that my main motivation for growing them is attempts at a more sustainable life. Therefore, the garden hasn’t been very productive over summer, when it has been very dry (and I try to only use tank water). It’s also been warmer than normal, hence why the chilli plant and even some basil is still limping on in the otherwise bare veggie patch. I threw down some lettuce seeds and poked in some broad beans yesterday, so here’s hoping the rain will lead to speedy germination and lots of leafy greens in the near future.

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It’s also great to see that my new planting of Rubus parvifolius (native raspberry!) is taking off, with new leaves emerging. I didn’t even know that Australian native raspberries were a thing. The best thing about this little bush with tasty fruit is that it can grow in the shady position in my garden where not much else would thrive. That should also make it a little more water-efficient (unlike the metal edged raised bed, which gets very hot and quickly dry). I’ve been trying to grow a few things in the shady garden bed underneath the larger trees, for a more visually appealing garden but also because undergrowth plants should help attract and protect the smaller native birds and lizards.

While the plants outside are enjoying a long drink, hubby has put on Indiana Jones for background noise and nostalgia while we potter around the house. I guess it may not seem like an exciting life to some, but these slow days really do contribute well to our sustainable life. I’ll cook up a lovely meal soon, using locally grown vegetables, dried chickpeas bought in bulk and always with an eye towards minimal packaging and waste.

I know that I’ve blogged about this before, but I also really love days like this to add to my ongoing art project that is my patched jeans. The current count is 7 patches. A friend asked me yesterday if I do it for fashion or to save money. I’m not sure that anyone would really see them as fashionable! And I do like the fact that they are saving me some money. This pair I bought for $7 second hand, and I’m certainly extending their life, but I also have my ‘good jeans‘, which I was happy to pay $200 for because they came from an ethical supplier. No, my reasons for patching up this old pair begun with sustainability, continue with comfort and the knowledge that the sewing calms my mind, and also the intriguing thought that perhaps one day they will consist entirely of patches. And I don’t think anyone else will have a pair quite the same!

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Loving my bike more and more

I’ve been bike commuting  (7.7 km each way) at least a few times a week for about the past year. I’d still say I’m pretty unfit, and can only manage small hills but I DO see a slight improvement. I got proper bike gloves for Christmas so that I can keep riding through the winter. Winter mornings here are often 0°C or lower even up until 9 or 10 am. This is very cold for Australia!! I have free parking at my workplace but I’m determined to stay on the bike for my own health and that of the environment and also my wallet.

Riding this week was extra enjoyable because someone had written inspirational mottos on the bike path with chalk! Stopping to take a photo of this was also a good excuse to sit at the nearby pond and eat my walnut and date muffin. A nice halfway break!

Other short interruptions to riding involved roadworks but that’s ok as these particular ones are to install better road crossings  for where the bike path goes over local streets*. I’m glad I live in bike friendly Canberra! I’m also glad that I’m a little more fit these days. It means that I am inspired to take a longer ride on the weekend, and enjoy some of the deciduous trees that are showing glorious autumn leaves here right now.

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*http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/act-budget-to-boost-bike-paths-and-cycle-infrastructure-20150527-ghata4.html

 

Camping trip

Over a week ago I did some more research into the whole infertility thing, because although i’d like to forget about it I can’t help thinking about my non-functioning ovaries. The research helped bring together some thoughts about it all, and I’d like to blog about those issues soon.

In the meantime, we went camping last weekend as planned. We only camped one night, but preceded that with a very enjoyable 4hr hike. Afterwards, it was lovely sitting around a camp fire, relaxing after all of that walking (including down into the steep ravine-like valley to check out a cave entrance, and then back up the very steep hillside). Also, this week a close family member of mine had a narrow escape with a serious health condition. It’s very unfortunate, of course, and it’s hard to know that someone you love is in pain, but it also serves as a reminder that life is short and you have to make the best of things.

To that end, I’m heading outside now for a shorter bush walk in my local suburb (I’m so grateful that I can do that so close to home!). So instead of properly blogging, I’ll just quickly put up these photos from our weekend trip:

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I took my new macro lens on the walk, which wasn’t great for capturing the landscape but at least the locals were willing to do a little modelling for me 🙂

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The ‘bush’
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Heading down into the valley to explore the caves
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There was a whole separate climate and ecosystem down in the damp caves
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Crossing the river near dusk, looking forward to a campfire and some red wine. The water is up to my knees while I take this shot

 

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.

 

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

Tomatoes!

Have I mentioned that I like growing my own food?

I tried raising a bunch of vegies from seed this summer, but the possums took too many of the tender young seedlings (even the new rhubarb shoots!). At least the tomatoes reached maturity quickly enough to escape grazing. Right now the plants are laden with green tomatoes. I grabbed these two beauties (the first ripe ones) before the possums could find them.

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I’m looking forward to plenty more, we could never have a glut of tomatoes because there is always tomato salsa to make and share with friends.

Grown with rainwater, home-made compost, a little seaweed fertilizer and plenty of sunshine, pretty resource efficient!

Women’s health eco tips

There was an interesting article in the latest New Scientist magazine about women being able to incubate their own IVF embryos. The procedure is called Intravaginal Culture and uses a special device to carry out fertilisation (bringing the sperm and oocytes together) that is then inserted into the woman’s vagina for maturation of embryos. The new scientist article was reporting on this trial which showed that this technique works just as well as traditional IVF. There are a few advantages of using the patient’s own body to grow these embryos but one that struck me instantly, and not mentioned explicitly by the authors, is that this method is more eco-friendly! Labs are expensive to run, and use a lot of electricity in addition to other materials (often quite a lot of disposable plastics). Incubators are used to create the right growing conditions for cells, and it’s often a tricky process to carefully maintain these conditions. Thankfully someone had the bright idea that those conditions were under our noses the whole time (literally).

My other eco tip is more widely relevant and personally relevant to me this week! In December I noted that my menstruation seemed to be coming more regularly and the good news is that that trend has continued : ) Yesterday I got my period again and after only 34 days!! I was really excited about that, and I’m happy to take it as a sign that my ovaries are up to something (hopefully trying to incubate their own follicles). So to celebrate, today I got myself a ‘treat’, I purchased my very first menstrual cup. I’d heard about these a while ago, as an alternative to disposable feminine hygiene products, but they are somewhat pricey, and I didn’t have much need for one last year.

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This is just a pic of the packaging, I was too excited and tried it out straight away

I can’t give a full review of the cup yet, as it’s my first day using it but I’m expecting it to be easier than tampons (you remove it less often), more hygienic (menstrual blood is flushed down the toilet instead of going into the rubbish/trash) and best of all creating less waste (not disposable and easily washed, hooray!).

I know some people are still going to be ‘grossed out’ over the whole thing and that is unfortunate, although not something that I’m concerned with really. I might have mentioned this before but it struck me as odd that where I was living in the states (just a few years ago), it was almost impossible to buy tampons without applicators. I know I tried using an applicator when I was a teenager but found that rather than making the process easier it just got in the way. So the applicator just ends up being an irrelevant piece of trash. Anyway, if you’re like me and not shy about touching your genitals (even if they have a little shed endometrium on them) and if you like the idea of creating less waste then these cups are a good idea. There are quite a few brands available and this Australian site has some tips on choosing one.

I’ll let you know how mine goes. So far I can report that they insert easier than you think! Mostly though, I’m happy to think that I’ll get a lot of use out of mine this year (fingers crossed for regular menstruation*) or not… (will regular menstruation lead to ovulation, which could lead to … pregnancy? yikes!).

*The last doctor I got advice from cautioned me against using the word ‘menstruation’ as he preferred to think of my vaginal bleeds as something a little more mysterious. I’m not assuming that I’m ovulating, but I’ll happily call this menstruation if they continue to appear every month. After all, language is fluid and biology is confusing.

Cooked lettuce, and New Year goals

I like New Years, and using this time to think about goals for the year to come. It’s mid-January so i’m a little late, I guess! But that’s because my goals haven’t changed all that much from last year. Although one word that can sum up my different attitude this year is: ‘more’.

Last year I was unemployed and I took that as an opportunity to take things slow, and carefully. It was what I needed. I was so stressed back then that it was hard for me to get excited about anything. The difference between last January and the current one is huge. I’m now looking forward to more learning, more opportunities, more enjoyment in all facets of my life. And a whole lot less worry.

One thing I’m not going to be worried about is the state of my ovaries. I want to keep up this blog, although I wouldn’t be surprised if this year there are more posts on eco-tips rather than ovarian insufficiency. There’s just not that much to write about when it (ovarian insufficiency) is a disorder of unknown aetiology, doesn’t really affect my life apart from the childless thing, and there is no hint of a treatment.

Whereas running a household in the most resource efficient way? That’s something that I actually find really interesting 🙂 And fun too, I realise I have unknowingly game-ified the whole thing. Plenty of people might find little actions to ‘save the environment’ dull because they are a chore but these days when I think of something that facilitates recycling or less consumption or better use of an item then it feels like a tiny personal win. Maybe I should apply the same attitude to physical fitness, haha.

In the spirit of things (reducing waste), I had a delicious lunch today and used up some lettuce that was looking dangerously limp. We had a cos/romaine* lettuce in the fridge from a few days ago, bought to use a few leaves in veggie burgers. But what to do with the rest? Sure, we’ve had a few salads (last night: lettuce, fennel, and loads of parmesan with balsamic), but we can never seem to use the whole lettuce. Luckily, today I remembered that I had a packet of instant noodles (decent ones, from the asian grocer). Noodles and cos lettuce work really really well. I dunno what it is, but the tougher leaves of the cos lettuce thrown in at the last minute, cook through to be translucent and soak up the flavour really well. You could cook your own noodles and broth from scratch of course, but I love the transformation of unhealthy snack (instant noodles) to somewhat more redeeming mini-meal. Proper credit: I did not think of this innovation by myself, it was a favourite mini-meal of my ex-housemate, and I was amazed at the genius of it at the time (about ten years ago). I had never thought of cooking lettuce before (of course these days people are grilling it).

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I used up some coriander/cilantro* too, although it wasn’t needed at all. An egg would be good for protein.

This super quick lunch gave me more time for something else that i’m endlessly tackling: downsizing the pantry to only stuff we’re actually using. I don’t know what I bought treacle for, but it was a long time ago and it’s certainly not something we need on a regular basis. So rather than waste it, I was forced to bake these cookies.

Happy new Year everyone, I hope you’re looking forward to something good in 2016, even if it’s the same good stuff that came your way in 2015.

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there are macadamias inside 🙂

*It took me a while to realise that when American’s refer to ‘romaine’ lettuce, it’s the ‘cos’  lettuce us Aussies know and love. Aussies also refer to both the seeds and leaves (and roots) as coriander, whereas the leaves in American = cilantro.