Monday, December 21, 2009

The little horrors of shop

Much as I enjoy the Christmas season and love giving people presents - the process of acquiring said presents leaves much to be desired! What is it about shopping for Christmas - a season supposedly about human kindness and goodwill - that brings out the feral in people? From mithered monotonous shop assistants to grim sourpuss co-shoppers the process can be an ordeal. I am, however, happy to say that despite having to bend the rules of my pledge a bit, I think I've struck a fairly happy compromise between appeasing my conscience and actually being able to give people things they will appreciate (hopefully). The wrapping of said gifts within my self imposed constraints has been a little interesting - I found myself constructing a sort of old Christmas paper patchwork in most cases. Despite looking a little rustic I think the effect is actually kind of cool (see pic).
And onto another kind of shopping... Since vowing in this public forum to attempt to stick to locally produced, seasonal, free range, fairtrade, minimally packaged food, supermarket shopping has started to bring a bit of a sweat to my brow! So, to touch on the realities of sticking to each most food categories its possible to find a 'within-state' produced option - it just takes a lot of close label reading. The exception seems to be tinned tomatoes - most brands seem to contain at least some imported ingredients. Sticking to the seasonal hasn't been too hard - this usually just means avoiding whatever is ridiculously overpriced. Finding free range eggs and chicken is also fairly easy - luckily I think they're pretty mainstream these days. Fairtrade is a little tricker and a bit of a bone of contention between myself and the B.H. - being a Pom, he likes his tea, and fairtrade tea is vastly more expensive than unfairtrade tea. We have got back into the habit of buying tea leaves rather than bags (to reduce packaging) and this reduces the cost somewhat. Likewise, fairtrade chocolate tastes fantastic but comes at a much higher premium than unfairtrade chocolate. I've taken to opting for the 70% cocoa solids variety, which I'm inclined to eat less of, so I figure it evens out in the end. And packaging? Its been quite valuable to be more mindful of this more polystyrene trays of avocado wrapped in plastic (or the like). Buying things in bulk (eg a giant bottle of canola oil) has also helped reduce overall packaging consumption, and is cheaper too.
On the topic of canola, an extra factor has been brought into the ethical supermarket shopping of 2009 genetically modified canola has been used to make oil in Australia - and canola is used in a wide range of processed products including margarine, bread etc. Anyone else interested in boycotting genetically modified foods should check out the 'truefood guide' which identifies which products on our supermarket shelves may, or do not, contain genetically modified ingredients. See link below.
And on a final note, has anyone else found it hard to know what to do with those annoying thin little handle-less plastic bags provided for fruit and veg at the supermarket once you get them home? I try to just take my fruit and veg to the checkout loose when I can, but this can be impractical and result in (understandable) sour looks from the checkout person. A friend just gave me the best gift which provides a perfect solution to this problem - 'Fregie Sacks'. These are like the canvas shopping bag equivalent for your fruit and vegies - little mesh bags you take along to the supermarket with you for packaging your fruit and veg. Check out the link below.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Come on Copenhagen, what about Charlie?

I have to confess to being overcome by despair when I heard the latest reports from the summit in Copenhagen on the radio this morning. Now I'm no political expert and I can't claim to be abreast of all of the details, but I get the distinct impression that things are not going well. And there are only two days left. So I was in real need of a lift when I was granted the gift of this sweet little encounter...

I often take The Booba down to one of the local parks - he loves being outside and ferkling the equipment, but most of all he loves getting to see other kids. And other kids seem to love seeing him! True to form this morning, he'd been at his favourite station spinning the giant naughts and crosses beads for a few seconds when three little kids appeared, drawn like moths to the flame. "Hello baby!" they all cried. The Booba offered up an excited squeal and the 'proto wave' that he's been fervently practicing at random intervals for the last week or so.

The eldest little boy introduced himself and proudly declared his age of 4 (as 4 year olds always seem to do!). He proceeded to tell me all about 'his' baby (his little sister)- who can apparently say "dada" and clap her hands but doesn't crawl yet because she is "a bit lazy". Then we got onto the inevitable topic of Christmas presents. 4-year-old enthusiastically declared his desire for "some leggo and a Starwars light saver". "A Starwars light sabre?" I clarified. "Yes, a Starwars light saver!" he responded.

Then 4-year-old needed to know "what is [The Booba] going to call his little babies when he is a Daddy?". A little surprised, I said I didn't know and that it would probably be up to him. Curious, I asked 4-year-old what he planned to call his babies when he is a Daddy. "Charlie, Joch and Ta" he quickly told me . Charlie, I'm told, will be a little girl. "I think Charlie is usually short for Charlotte when its a little girl" I suggest. 4-year-old looks at me for a minute, thinking hard, and then decides "no, there won't be any Charlottes in my house, only Charlies".

I thought this was really cute, and it made my day, but it also got me thinking. Poor Charlie. I worry that her life might not be very pleasant due to the state of the planet we might be bequeathing her. And as for all those Charlies in the developing world? doesn't really bear thinking about. Its easy to start to feel a bit hopeless about the whole thing. Well, as I often do, I'm going to borrow the words of a very wise lady named Eleanor Roosevelt, and remind myself that "it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness". I also find solace in the words of Colin Beavan (a.k.a. 'No Impact Man'*) - "The not whether I can make a difference, but whether I want to be the type of person who tries". So true.

* See the link to No Impact Man's site below

Monday, December 14, 2009

Did you know that.....

....if everyone in the US declined a receipt each time they made an ATM transaction, the paper saved would be enough to circle the equator 15 times?

No, niether did I. I picked up this statistic from 'The Green Book - The Everyday Guide To Saving the Planet One Simple Step At A Time' written by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen and published in 2007 by Three Rivers Press. My local library has a good range of 'green' books, so I thought I might start doing some little reviews. This one in particular was apparently a New York Times Bestseller, so I guess that tells you that a lot of people liked it! - but here's what I think anyway.

What I liked about this book:
* It is one of the most user friendly sustainable living guides I've come across. I'd say it was written with the kind of person in mind who cares about the environment but doesn't have a great deal of spare time and just wants to be told in very simple terms what to do! It is broken down into 12 chapters which cover most areas of life: Entertainment; Travel; Communication/Technology; School; Work; Shopping; Health and Beauty; Sport; Money and Finance; Building; and finally Going Carbon Neutral. Each chapter gives 3 'Simple Steps' that a reader can undertake to live more sustainably. For example, in the 'Work' chapter 'The Simple Steps' are "1. Double-side your copies 2. Carpool 3. Use a ceramic mug for you coffee".
* It explains in concrete terms to the reader exactly what effects their behaviour has upon the environment. For example, in buying a conventional antiperspirant you are also consuming the immense amount of energy required to mine the aluminium contained in this product. Apparently the energy saved by buying an aluminium free deoderant is enough to power a laptop for 30 minutes.
* Its short and sweet and not expensive - I've found it on Amazon for around $10 US.
* Its printed on 100% postconsumer recycled paper and production energy was carbon offset.

What I liked less about this book:
* I guess I can't blame the authors for seeking to target their local audience, but from an Australian reader's perspective (mine) it is very US focussed.
* They've tried to 'sex it up' by including little snippets from Hollywood celebrities. Did you know that Jennifer Aniston only takes 3 minute showers? Do you care?...A particular low point is the rather fatuous Forward co-written by Cameron Diaz.
* Surely some of the suggestions they make are just so incredibly obvious so as to be obsolete? I really hope so, otherwise its very scary! For example, readers are encouraged, when buying bread, to "find loaves that are packaged in only a single wrapper" - ?!
All in all though, I think this book is well worth a read. In fact, it'd make a great Christmas gift.........

The grass may be greener but it doesn't taste so good....

I've just come back from an evening walk around the neighbourhood. I love stickybeaking at everyone's gardens. The highlight of this evening's garden review was coming across a newish frontyard vegie patch. This particular house is very large and, if I remember correctly, used to be fronted by a large sweeping lawn. This has now been replaced by a big (waterless) fountain from which fans out a number of small paths, like the spokes of a wheel. Between the paths numerous edible plants are obviously lovingly tended - tomatos, corn, pumpkin, onions, rosemary, sunflowers, coriander...those are just the ones I could identify without actually scaling the fence. I would have loved to take a photo for you all but that probably would have been construed as being a bit rude (and illegal?). Needless to say this sight brought a real smile to my face. There were a lot of cars in the driveway (which in and of itself did not bring a smile to my face) but I had romantic visions of a large family all tending this garden together and then enjoying their delicious homegrown produce together all sitting around a big table..ok maybe I'm getting a bit carried away!

The point of all this is - how much better is that big vegie patch than a stupid big lawn?! It struck me that so many people in my neck of the woods have enormous front lawns that, other than guzzling a lot of water and requiring regular mowing, do what exactly? Noone seems to let their kids play in the front yard these days for fear of stranger danger. I've never seen someone having a picnic on their front lawn. In fact I hardly ever see anyone in their frontyard full stop. Yes, I guess lawns are kind of pleasing to the eye - I think some kind of inherent European-ness has ingrained this into me - but really a well loved vegie patch looks so much better. And it has a point! I figure that if you're pouring water onto the space anyway, you may as well get it to feed you in return.

This has got me to thinking....we don't have a lawn ourselves, we rent a place with rather a lot of paving instead (and of course I would NEVER dream of lifting a couple of bricks occasionally to surreptitiously expand our meagre garden beds - who me?!). My parents, on the otherhand, do have a lawn. A really big one. And they live 5 minutes walk away. Hmmm....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The joy of giving stuff away

In November I put up a post raving about Freecycle (see 'One man's 'trash' is another's treasure'). I have now donated five items to other Freecyclers which were otherwise clogging up precious storage space in our 'shed'(read outdoor cupboard) or gathering dust in our none too spacious home. I've also aquired two items we really needed that were doing likewise in other Freecyclers' homes. So we've saved some cash, saved the Earth's resources by not buying new things, saved useful things from ending up in landfill, cleared up some space at home.....its win-win-win-win! And its really really easy - believe me, I'm really a bit of a lazy wench at heart, so I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't.

There's another side to this stuff away feels really good! In fact once you start it can be a bit hard to stop. I think at one point The B.H. was getting a bit nervous that he'd come home one day to find all the furniture gone! But I really only Freecycle things that we have no use for. I've always been a bit of a hoarder so this is long overdue.

And an update on the water saving front.....just from collecting the water that we used to run down the drain whilst waiting for it to get hot/cold, we're saving about 20L a day. Not bad. And that leaking outside tap has finally been fixed - too bad for that greedy mint!

P.S. Thanks for the comments! :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The penny drops and the sap rises

I'm feeling a bit silly. After whining to The B.H. (in manner of spoilt teenager) about the new CDs out that I'm "not allowed" to have - as discussed in a recent post - he tactfully pointed out the bleeding obvious. I-tunes! Seems I was the only person in the universe not to know that you can actually purchase albums this way, and a lot cheaper than buying them in CD format too. Apparently even my DAD does this! Ahem.

On an entirely unrelated note our little garden is just going bananas at the moment. The sunflowers and tomato plants in particular seem to be stretching themselves up toward the sun before the very eye. Lots of flowers on my tomato plants too, which is promising...perhaps all that sulphate of potash does actually work (as Peter Cundall promised it would - I should have had faith!).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My two cents worth on Christmas gifts

Well I know I'm probably not the only one who has just realised that Christmas is really rather soon and that it would probably be wise to start thinking about gifts!
When I took up my pledge to not buy any new things, I knew that Christmas time was going to pose a challenge. I love giving people presents - its fun, and, if the gift is well thought out and meaningful to the recipient, its a great way of showing someone that you care about them. However Christmas shopping doesn't usually equal fun and warm fuzzies, it equals stress! - and a vague feeling of disquiet about the Christmas consumer frenzy all just having got a bit out of hand. And the thing is that while it may seem oh-so-very-moral-highground to not give people anything for Christmas other than a breezy comment that you've donated to a charity in their name...most people want something to open! So I've given a bit of thought to ways in which we can give the people we love gifts at Christmas time, without generating yet more unwanted junk that costs the planet, clutters the house, and will probably be destined for landfill in the not too distant future....

Mumarandom's thoughts on gifts:
* My favourite way to buy a gift is from a not-for-profit organisation such as Unicef, Amnesty International or Oxfam. If you check out their online catalogues you'll usually find a really interesting range of stuff, often including environmentally friendly/recycled products. And the added bonus is that you get that warm glow from knowing that your cash has gone to good cause - the gift that gives twice, so to speak. Oxfam and Unicef in particular have great stuff for kids.
* Someone very wise once said that everything in the home should be either beautiful or functional, preferably both. I think this is a good rule of thumb for gifts too. Nothing worse than being given an ugly knick knack!
* Why not pool your funds with other family members so that you can get someone one bigger and better gift between all of you? For a friend's 21st birthday I once invited all of the party guests to contribute to buying the party boy a set of golf clubs. Who knows if he still uses them, but it sure beat 50 cocktail shakers!
* Why not make your own? Even if you're not a creative genius, at the end of the day, its the thought that counts, right?? - well, I guess that depends on the recipient! I've been knitting a scarf for a particular relative for about 6 months now - no, I'm not crazily organised with my Christmas presents, it was meant to be for her birthday last June! Due to the fact I got a little overly enthusiastic at the beginning with the width of the scarf, and the recipient is quite tall (and therefore the scarf needs to be very long) its still not finished. I guess it seems a bit odd to give someone a woollen scarf in the middle of summer, so perhaps it'll have to keep til her next birthday. Hmmmm.
* I think houseplants make great presents. I've received a few potted cyclamens over the last couple of years which are really pretty, and just keep going on and on producing gorgeous blooms. These probably weren't that much more expensive than a bunch of cut flowers, but they've lasted a whole heap longer.
* A nice box of fairtrade chocolates usually goes down a treat. Oxfam stock a nice range of these.

By the way, I've had a few emails over the last week or so from people telling me that they're reading my blog and enjoying it. Thank you all, this means a lot - feels a bit bare and lonely sending messages off into the electronic ether without any feedback - or even knowing if anyone is reading it at all! What would REALLY float my boat is if you left a comment, and hey, if you like my blog, why not become a follower?

P.S. is anyone else just a bit excited that we've just launched our very own first Australian made hybrid car?? see link below to see the full ABC news story

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More new old loot and new challenges

Thought I'd show you the best of the latest haul from my favourite charity shop. I've discovered something - they hide all the trendy stuff on the 'teen rack'. Perhaps I'm totally self deluded and just a complete "mutton dressed as lamb" but most of the clothes on this rack seem pretty adult-appropriate to me (and in adult sizes too) - ?! If the op-shop ladies think that these clothes are only appropriately worn by those less than 20 years of age they must think I'm a complete tramp! Oh well.

Have to confess to having my resolve not to buy new things a bit tested of late. I've just found out that two of my favourite female musicians - Norah Jones and Angie Hart - are bringing out new albums. Oh the pain! Its made me think more about my friend M's comment about how art should be exempt from my pledge.....I do want to support these artists, but there's still no denying there's a heck of a lot of embodied energy in a compact disc. Hmmm. Perhaps a good compromise would be to forego the CD (for now) but promise to try to make the show when they tour? (if either of them come to Perth that is - ha ha). I've heard that musicians make most of their money from the touring anyway (not from CDs - apparently most of this money goes to the record company).

If anyone else is also needing a bit of encouragement to stay on the sustainability bandwagon, I thought I might share a bit of this with you....Earlier this week the ABC Radio National's Book Show broadcast a recording of the esteemed Sir Nicholas Stern giving a presentation at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. I'd urge you to download the full audio yourself (see link below), but the main message that I took away from the presentation was this:
There is a 50% chance that, by the end of this century, there will be a 5 degree celsius rise in global temperatures (in comparison to pre-Industrial times).
The effect of this temperature rise on the world's water will be the main problem, resulting in the displacement of 100s of millions of people. For example, Bangladesh will be underwater. In Sir Stern's words, these shifts will bring about "a severe, prolonged global conflict" which will be "catastrophic" and that "the idea that we will adjust to whatever comes along is...fatuous". Scary, huh? And how do we avoid this? According to Sir Stern, in order to hold global temperature rises below 2 degrees celsius (the threshold for big risks of catastrophe), the developed world needs to cut their carbon emissions by 80% per capita - 80%!
Fingers crossed for Copenhagen, huh?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No-Mile-Salad....."Smug Mode"*

I can't help showing off what The B.H. has just christened "No-Mile-Salad", otherwise referred to in our household as "Smug Salad". All of the ingredients were either grown by ourselves or our nextdoor neighbours - silverbeet, lettuce, basil, spring onions, green beans, tomatoes (yes, not very many! - these are my first of the season), sometimes strawberries. An innovation we've just come across is adding mint. Ironically, this is probably our most successful crop yet we completely ignore it. We didn't even plant it. We have a chronically leaking outdoor tap (I know thats bad....I'm waiting for the landlords to fix it) - the silver lining of this situation is that the mint that grows itself beneath the tap is going absolutely beserk with all the water (as mint will do).

To be honest we don't garden with enough skill or on a large enough scale to produce much more than a nightly salad for ourselves, but this cannot be said for our neighbours, who are an elderly Italian couple with the most amazing fruit and vegie garden I have ever seen. The man of the house is out in his garden without fail for most of the time between dawn and dusk - even when its raining. He looks fighting fit. They grow a huge array of produce including papaya, the most incredible tomatoes I've ever tasted (which last summer hung copiously over our side of the fence he he he...we picked them with permission and didn't need to buy any for months), green beans, cucumbers, strawberries, lemons, oranges, name it. I suspect that they are entirely self sufficient in fruit and veg with plenty of excess - which they give away. What strikes me is that it has recently become quite trendy for people like me to try growing our own food, but people like my neighbours have been just quietly getting on with it for generations - it seems to be a part of their culture, a way of life.

The lady of the house and I have regular rather limited but enthusiastic conversations over the fence - she doesn't speak a lot of English, but it certainly beats my Italian, which can just about stretch to the occasional tentative (and probably very poorly pronounced) "Buon giorno". For the year or so we've lived here The B.H. and I have been optimistically looking forward to the time when we might commence (likely rather lopsided) food 'swapsies' - and this has just begun, hurray! The green beans that crossed the fence the other day made those you'd find in the supermarket seem like a cardboard imitation - these tasted like the ultimate essence of green bean. Yum.

* Anyone not familiar with the derivation of the term "Smug Mode" really needs to do themselves a favour and familiarise themselves with the hilarious BBC series "Red Dwarf".

Monday, December 7, 2009

Numpty-head Day

I'm having one of those days where I just feel like a bit of a numpty-head. Think we all do sometimes (well, I hope its not just me, anyway!). Just discovered there is a whole heap about household water recycling that I did not know. This was through the fabulous Sustainable Gardeners Alliance website. Basically the message I get from their excellent greywater summary is that the only untreated household waste water you should really be using on your plants is that collected from taps/shower while you're waiting for them to get hot and that used to rinse fruit and veg. But please don't take my word as gospel (ha ha - never trust a woman who can practically count on her fingers and toes the number of times she's slept a full uninterrupted night in the past 9 months - most of the time I barely know what day of the week it is!) - check it out yourself by following the links at the sga link below.
What led me to this discovery in the first place is some blogs that have just come onto my radar (see links below). Just when I was beginning to think that the Beloved Husband and I were the only adults in the known universe not to own our own home, I've happened across a site devoted to renters who want to live green entitled, logically, greenrenters - yay! And then there is the incredibly impressive and inspiring No Impact Man. I've been feeling a bit glum over the last few days in response to all of the media discussion around the summit in Copenhagen. Given the grim forecasts being thrown around about our collective environmental future, its been making me wonder if my efforts to live a bit more sustainably are just a little bit futile. I suppose I've been feeling a bit pessimistic. Having a look at No Impact Man's blog was just what I needed to lift me out of my nihilistic funk.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

So much more fun than washing up....

I really should be doing the dishes. But I really can't be bothered. I am too engrossed in the most marvellous book that I've come across for ages. And no, I remain consumer-chaste, I didn't buy it! - it comes courtesy of the generosity and thoughtfulness of a complete stranger. My Dad is a therapist. On learning that I was interested in going to Italy (a lifelong dream....not yet fulfilled), and that I have a baby, one of his clients thought that I would be interested in reading Four Seasons In Rome by Anthony Doerr - a memoir of a year that the author spent in Rome with his wife and infant twin sons. The loan of this book, via my Dad, has turned out to be one of the best gifts anyone has given me in a long time. It doesn't really have anything to do with environmental sustainability per se, but it has a lot to do with developing a certain appreciation of the experience of life that has absolutely nothing to do with 'buying more stuff'. And the writing is sublime - Anthony Doerr, I am sure, would never ever begin a sentence with the word 'and'. If there is actually anyone out there reading this (hello?), do yourself a favour and track down this book!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking stuff stock

Well its been nearly one month since I made my pledge to buy no new stuff for one year. One twelfth of the way there! Its probably time to take stock of my progress...
Well, remember how I mentioned that my purse had died and was pooing coins everywhere? I did make an honest effort to track down a replacement made from 100%recycled materials, I promise. I did a bit of research and traipsed into town with The Booba in tow (who, might I add, was decidedly grumpy that day) to the only shop in Perth that I could ascertain sold such a thing. I had optimistic expectations of the purses made from 100% recycled plastic bags and 100% recycled tyre inner tubes that had been advertised. Sadly, said articles did not live up to my expectations. They just would not have been functional (eg. only 2 slots for cards???). So I went for the second best option of purchasing a "new-materials" purse made by some sort of women's cooperative in India, from a shop run by a not-for-profit charitable organisation. Must admit I still feel a tiny bit like I've broken the rules every time I take my wallet out. And I must also confess that a very quick google search has just revealed countless alternative options for purses made from recycled rubber for sale online (see link below to vulcana bags as an example) - I'm sure I would have found a suitable purse pretty easily. Oh well. Lesson learned. I won't be so hasty next time.
I'm happy to say, however, that that has been the only infingement that I can think of. Not bad, huh? Thats not to say I haven't been tempted! Which leads me to....
1. Baby stuff
Every week I catch up with a group of other Mums in my local area for cups of tea and commiseration. This is held in a room at the back of a local baby things shop, so every week I'm exposed to a sea of uber-cute but environmentally pretty naughty baby stuff - for which I am entitled to a sizeable discount. Very tempting!
2. Plant pots
As I think I've mentioned before, we rent a place with a largely paved outdoor area, so we're forced to mainly grow things in pots, and a short while ago I ran out! I persevered with using the bottom of 2L milk bottles and yoghurt containers (with holes poked in the bottom) which work ok, but they're not really that big, and to be frank don't look all that great. Then one day last week I was taking out the rubbish to the bins we share with our neighbours, and found our neighbouring household had chucked out a whopping stack of at least thirty plastic plant pots. Score! Problem solved.
All in all I think I have found this endeavour a little easier than I had expected as I've just tried to avoid putting myself in temptation's way - what is the point in going shopping when you know you are "not allowed to buy anything"? Perhaps the relentless acquisition of and desire for new things was merely a habit that needed to be broken? Or is it human nature to want new things all the time? - I'm hardly immune to it, I still love going to secondhand shops, and it would be difficult to argue that I actually need the things I buy there - its just fun, and I permit myself because I see that it doesn't come at such an enviromental or ethical cost. Some might argue that those in developing countries who are seemingly happy living with very little material goods refute the theory that its human nature to seek to acquire things that may not be absolutely intrinsic to our survival or basic comfort. But I in turn would argue that this probably just reflects a lack of opportunity and exposure to the big wide world of 'shopping'. What is it about us as human beings that makes us want 'things' so much?
Human nature or not, I have felt a bit of a shift in my attitudes over the past month. I heard a really beautiful piece of classical music I had never heard before on the television the other night, and then, by complete coincidence, the exact same piece of music on the radio the next morning. I honestly felt that this was one of the most gorgeous things I had ever heard, and made a mental note to inform the Beloved Husband that I would like it to be played at my funeral (morbid I know, but everyone thinks about their funeral music - don't they?). My usual impulse, in the 'new stuff era', would have been to seek out a recording of this music, to possess it. But having already made a commitment to myself not to do things like this, I actually found that I was content to just have the experience of hearing this piece of music those two times, and to hope that perhaps I would happen to hear it again some other time. I think this made me more fully appreciate the experience of listening to the song while it was playing, rather than anxiously planning how I would acquire it, planning some future time when I would enjoy it. I guess in self-help speak this is called 'being in the moment'.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Secondhand clothes rule, OK?!

Okay, here is a bit of unabashed proselytising for the purchase and wearing of secondhand clothes. I have intuited from the looks people often give me when it comes up that I buy a lot of my own and The Booba's clothes secondhand (ie like I am growing a second head) that many are dubious as to their merits. Here are some of the reasons I've gathered regarding why people don't buy wear secondhand clothes, and my responses to them:
1. "They are dirty"
True, some charity shops seem not to wash garments before offering them for sale, and yes, this is a bit yuck, but I think by and large most reasonable people wash clothes before giving them away anyhow. I think most reasonable people would also wash any clothes they've bought secondhand before wearing them too (I do). And by and large I have to say that 99.9% of the clothes I come across in secondhand shops are clean. So I call that myth busted.
2. "They look 'raggy'"
People might think this because we all tend to chuck own raggy clothes in charity bins. However charity shops don't offer raggy clothes for sale (because, lets face it, NOONE wants to wear your threadbare old T-shirt covered in paint splatters or those clapped out old pyjama pants with no elastic left in the waist - even the destitute still have some pride). What I've learnt is that some of these sort of donations will get sold to industry as rags, some will get thrown out.
3. They are out of fashion and 'nanna-ish'
Well, I have to concede this point, a lot of the clothes in secondhand shops are not exactly at the cutting edge of fashion. Whether or not you want to wear 'the latest' is, I guess, up to you (and this is an issue I've touched on in previous entries). Some people actually like to wear 'vintage' clothing - and this has become fashionable in and of itself. It also has to be said that if you sort through the nasty polyester skirts and 100% acrylic cardigans in the average secondhand clothing shop you are also likely to find a fair representation of clothes that are no more than one or two seasons old - probably thanks to the uber-fashionable who will not rewear styles beyond this point. You'll even find a fair amount of clothing with the original tags still in place.
4. They are stigmatised
When I was in highschool I had a good friend who was a big fan of op-shopping. Her mother despaired. "We don't need to dress like paupers!" she said. It seemed that she considered the wearing of secondhand clothing when one didn't 'have to' to be an affront to one's pride or dignity. Well, as long as the clothing is clean and not falling apart I don't see the reason to be ashamed for wearing secondhand clothes, I really don't. Its all a matter of perspective. Without wanting to sermonise overmuch, when one considers the conditions under which a lot of new clothing is made and what the people who make it are actually paid for their labour, I think we all need to think twice about what is shameful....
This leads me on to my next list, in no particular order)...
Reasons to wear secondhand clothes:
1. You know that you are not supporting sweatshop labour.
2. It is recycling. (Cotton for one is considered by some to be the 'dirtiest' crop in the world due to the heavy use of synthetic insecticides and water. For more info check out the OTA link below).
3. When you buy from a charity shop, you are supporting that charity.
4. You will often find more interesting clothes that will no longer be available 'new'. For those of us not heavily invested in looking exactly like everyone else, this is a definate plus.
5. Op-shopping is fun. Its like a treasure hunt.
6. Its SO much less expensive than buying new clothes! I think this is particularly pertinent when it comes to buying secondhand baby clothes. Most of The Booba's secondhand clothing has cost me $1-$2 per piece (that which hasn't been generously hand-me-downed, that is). When you consider that new baby clothes seem to cost almost as much as new adult clothing, this is a significant saving. Then when you also take into account the fact that babies grow out of their clothes at a rate of knots, and that as long as its comfortable they really don't give two hoots what they're wearing - you have to ask yourself why would you NOT buy baby clothes secondhand? I guess for older kids it might be a bit more problematic - image is everything, right? For the record, though, I clearly remember being taken op-shopping a lot when I was growing up, and alot of my clothes were secondhand. It never once occurred to me that this should be something to be embarassed of, or that at times we may have been doing it out of financial necessity. Conversely, I remember being encouraged to see looking for secondhand treasures as something fun and exciting - so to me it was, and still is.
And my last list for the day...Mumarandom's Tips For Secondhand Clothes Shopping:
1. Charity shops in more affluent areas tend to have better clothes (and are less 'pickied-over'). However, for some reason, the ultimate creme de la creme of charity shops will always be those in country towns. Trust me, these are always well worth a look if you happen to be there.
2. Take the time to sort through the junk. Its usually worth it.
3. Go for charity shops rather than "Recycled Clothing Boutiques". Sure, the latter will have a higher concentration of trendy, nice clothes, but they will also be a lot more expensive, and you won't be supporting a charity. These are a good option, however, if you are time poor.
4. Don't be put off an otherwise desirable item of clothing by a missing button or loose seam. These can be easily fixed.
5. Beware stains. Chances are the previous owner has already tried to shift them.
6. Take cash. Most charity shops don't have EFTPOS or credit card facilities. Don't worry, you won't need much!
7. Its probably best to take the approach of regular checks in your favourite haunts to see if anything interesting has cropped up, rather than going on a hunt for a particular item that you need (that you most likely won't find).
And lastly, for all my newfound holier-than-thouness given secondhand things, there are still certain categories, despite my pledge, where even I draw the line - shoes, bathers, underwear, sleepwear. I've also never found a good pair of secondhand jeans (although my unusual proportions may have something to do with this...I have a hard enough time finding them new!). Guess I'm just going to have to make do with what I've got in these categories for the next little while!

By the way, I've noticed that from the times attached to my blog posts it looks like I am a super keen middle-of-the-night blogger. I'm not! These days, being a bit old and boring, I wouldn't dream of being anywhere other than in bed asleep at 3am - (if I'm not on duty leaning over The Booba's cot trying to shoosh him back to sleep that is!). Not sure where these random times are coming from - ??

Stinky cutting boards

I am beginning to rue my rash decision to throw out all but one of our cutting boards - this was shortly before committing to buy nothing new. To be honest it really had to be done as they smelt strongly like feet - I didn't want them anywhere near me, let alone to cut up food on them! And no, no amount of hot water and bicarb would shift that stink. But now the Beloved Husband and I are left fighting over one measly little (non-smelly) cutting board whenever we cook together (which is often) - think this is reflective of the fact we both constantly vie for position of king of the kitchen! Anyway, I did a little internet search to see if there was a such a thing as a cutting board made out of recycled materials (which would be allowed) with little optimism - and was pleasantly surprised. (For the record, I have no idea if secondhand cutting boards are available - probably - but don't think that even I want to go there). There are two sites which offer cutting boards made out of 100% recycled PVC, and one of them also offers cutting boards made out of a product called 'Paperstone' which apparently is formed from 100% recycled paper and makes a great cutting surface. Unfortunately I think that both of these sights are US based but, oh well, you can't have it all. Am going to investigate these options and will keep you posted as to the results. See links to Greenhome and Preserve Products below.

Monday, November 23, 2009

One man's 'trash' is another's treasure

I've made a very exciting new discovery - Freecycle! This is an amazing online network devoted to the exchange of unwanted stuff within your local community. What a fantastic way to keep usable things out of landfill, and save a bit of money too. This has been a lifesaver for me with respect to my managing to blow up our stick blender for the SECOND time in a matter of weeks. This leaves me without the means to provide The Booba with pureed goodies, but according to the terms of my pledge a new one would be verboten. Thanks to Freecycle I've already located a replacement that was otherwise sitting unwanted in someone else's kitchen cupboard. Yay! Check out the link below.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Homemade toys

On the excellent programme 'Life Matters' on Radio National this morning they had a talk back segment where people phoned up and talked about their favourite childhood toys. Many people named toys that had been handmade for them by their parents. One woman in particular who had grown up during the Depression with several siblings had had toys whittled out of soap by her Dad! (hopefully this was after she was over the sucking everything phase that The Booba is in at the moment....). This spurred me on to finish a project I've been working on for The Booba for several weeks now. I've been driving The Beloved Husband nuts with all my sewing detritus spread everywhere, so I'm sure he'll be happy! In the lower piccie you'll see a play mat made from scraps from my fabric box - true to my pledge, no new fabric has been purchased for this project. Its backed with two old cot blankets I picked up for next to nothing at a charity shop and then sewed together (after being thoroughly washed, of course). Using scraps has made it hardwork, needing to construct a patchwork of sorts, but I like the effect. I guess that was the origin of patchwork in the first place, wasn't it? - constructing things from existing scraps (not buying specially bundled squares of fabric from haberdashery shops like people do these days). Larger patches have been made mostly from some of my clapped out old flannel pyjamas - by the way this kind of fabric is actually great for making bibs too (very absorbent). I've sewn in little loops so that I can attach The Booba's various little rattly objects for ferkling*. I'm hoping that maybe when he is too old for playmats and in a big boy bed this might double as a bedspread. In the upper piccie I've shown a couple of samples of the other toys I have made for The Booba. Please let it be known that I am in no way attempting to show off my creative prowess here - if you could take a closer look at these pieces you'd see just how slapdash my sewing is! I just want to share some ideas - I'd love to hear or see some other people's too.

* "ferkling" - to engage in that distinctive combination of fondling, very intensely examining and chewing an object that babies seem to spend most of their time doing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Food waste woes

Nothing makes my blood boil as much as wasted food. Yes, brace yourselves, I'm going to have a little rant - sorry. Did you know that approximately one in every five bags of groceries the average Australian household takes home will end up getting thrown in the bin? That surveys have found that up to 50% of the average Australian household's wheelie bin will be filled with food? When you consider these statistics in relation to the fact that every year roughly 15 million children die of hunger, its enough to turn me off my lunch.
We used to waste a fair bit of food, particularly when we were going to a fruit and vegie market and would tend to get a little overexcited buying more than we could ever use (because it was so cheap!). Now I try to plan meals around what needs using. I would like to say that I have a carefully constructed shopping list based on a weekly meal plan before even going to the supermarket in the first place, but I'm really just not that person!
I think its helped us to waste less vegies now that we are growing some of our own. For example, we used to be in the habit of buying a lettuce and then letting is moulder away in the crisper. Now that we grow our own lettuce, we just pick what we need for each meal.
I've also picked up a few tips for what to do with bits of leftovers that seem too good to throw away. I think these all originally came from Nigella Lawson (my culinary guru) - they work well for us.
* Freeze the rind of used up lumps of parmesan and then add them whole to a pot of soup during cooking (and remove before serving!) - it adds a great flavour
* If you don't fancy the last couple of mouthfuls of your glass of red wine, freeze it in an icecube tray. These small portions of wine come in handy for cooking and for marinating meat.
* If a recipe calls for egg yolk only freeze the egg white. It'll always come in handy at some point.
We've also recently developed some constructive ways of dealing with our food scraps. I used to think that sending food scraps to landfill didn't really matter because it would break down, but what I didn't realise is that this sort of organic waste will actually release a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. I am now a proud worm mama. The Beloved Husband thinks I'm a bit strange, but I think my earthworms are cute, and I enjoy feeding my worm farm scraps from the kitchen. The added bonus of this is, of course, that worm poo is great for the garden. Whatever the worms won't have (they're a bit fussy) goes to my parents' chooks in return for the occasional egg.
The trouble with having such a bee in my bonnet about food wastage is that when you're trying to feed a Booba you can end up throwing a LOT of it straight into the bin! I once heard someone say that you cannot force a baby to do two things - eat or sleep. So true! So it can feel very frustrating seeing so much waste when it is to a large extent out of your control. However the following are a few useful little pieces of wisdom I've gleaned regarding trying to minimise the amount of baby food that ends up in the bin:
* It seems fairly obvious, but its probably worth stating anyway - don't prepare too much! Err on the side of preparing less than you think they'll eat, and then you can always whip a bit more of something else if they're still peckish. I think that huge mountains of babyfood will probably exacerbate your own feelings of frustration if they won't eat it all, and overwhelm the tacker.
* If you wouldn't eat it, a baby probably won't either! Sometimes I think when we get so wrapped up in concocting nutritious little somethings for our darlings we forget about the taste factor. Occasionally when I have been getting frustrated at The Booba for not yumming down whatever feast I have prepared for him I have eaten a spoonful of his food myself to demonstrate how 'delicious' it is - and then struggled not to gag! So I'm trying to make it my new rule of thumb that I will not serve The Booba food that I would not countenance eating myself, and I always taste it first. The added benefit of this is that, if he won't eat it anyway, at least I can finish it off myself.
* Don't even bother trying to feed solids to an overtired baby. You'll just end up scraping it all off the cieling. When The Booba is a bit tired or grizzly I err on the side of offering him his favourite familiar flavours in minimally challenging textures (ie puree) because I know he will be much more likely to eat it.
* Prepare your own baby food. There are numerous reasons, both nutritional and environmental, for not feeding a baby processed food. For the sake of this argument though the main point would be that it can be a lot more difficult to control portion sizes when dealing with food that comes in packets. The Booba only has homemade food but its really not as much trouble as it may sound. I tend to make large batches and freeze them in ice cube trays (often this will just be a set aside portion of our own meal, prior to seasoning, which has been blended). A 1 kg tub of natural yoghurt in the fridge means I can serve him just as much as I think he'll eat. When it comes to fresh fruit I grate or mash his portion and usually finish the piece of fruit myself (I think my diet has actually been improved this way! - I never used to eat fruit).
* Be patient. Babies take ages to eat, especially if its food they have to chew and they don't have many teeth!

New Old Loot

Well, my tomato seedlings survived the night, phew! In fact, they're looking rather pleased with themselves, as if they've stretched their little legs and breathed a sigh of relief (I was instructed by the guru, Peter Cundall, to get them root bound - and they certainly were!).
The Booba and I headed down to one of my favourite local charity shops this arvie. Its in one of the less savoury necks of these woods, with lots of unusual people wearing bizarre ensembles walking strangely etc, but its worth it because the shop isn't totally picked over (perhaps because the locals are not quite with it?.........). Had a particularly good haul today - check out our new loot in the photo. We got all of this for well under $20, and its all in really good nick. The little toy car in particular I'm pretty certain has never come into contact with a child before (or if so an extremely clean and gentle one!). We're going to give this to The Booba as part of his Christmas present, I think he'll love it.
Must own up to being freshly in possession of a new new book (as opposed to a new secondhand book). It was a gift from the Beloved Husband who was interstate over the weekend - a collection of poems by my favourite poet, E.E. Cummings. Hey I think I deserved it because The Booba kicked up a major non-sleep flavoured stink in his absence! Its mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful and I promise to cherish it forever (I'm referring to the book, but I guess that applies to The Booba too, despite his curent penchant for nocturnal histrionics).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tomato Boobas

This evening I planted out ten of the tomato seedlings that I have lovingly reared from seed (see photo). My instructions as per Peter Cundall's advice (in the wonderful Organic Gardener Magazine) were to stress out the seedlings prior to planting them out in order to encourage early flowering and therefore more fruit. Well, may have overdone the stressing out and am now a bit concerned they might just all cark it! Hmm, fingers crossed.
Have had it pointed out by my good friend M, herself a published author, that the pledge not to buy new things is a little unfair to local artists, authors etc who would otherwise benefit from my purchase of their work. Point taken. Let it be known that if I am in the mood to buy a painting or such, I will not be stopped by pledge (but probably will be by lack of funds!).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Nitty Gritty

You'll have to forgive me for being a bit hazy and rambling today - The Booba has rediscovered an enthusiasm for 2am, 3am or 4am snacks (its a booby smorgasbord around here!). Well, at least there was an 'or' there - was a time when it would have been an 'and' (2am the apperetif, 3 am mains, 4am dessert, perhaps a little after dinner mint at 5am....all a warm up for the main event of breakfast at 6.30!). Ok, in all fairness its only very rarely been THAT bad, but all in all I think I can say that sleeping seems to have become a bit passe for babies around here lately.
I digress. Its time to think about some of the practicalities of my pledge not to buy any new stuff for a year. There is a part of me that is quite optimistic (naive? deluded?) in predicting this may even be a bit too easy. We are hardly shopaholics as it is, and we do already make a bit of an effort to minimise our carbon footprint where we can. But then we're certainly no paragons of ecological virtue either, and there is probably a large element of living in an environmentally responsible way until it gets a bit inconvenient, or we really want something...having a Booba certainly comes in handy as a readymade excuse in this regard (and I don't think we're the only ones!). So here's a brief rundown of where I think we're going ok, and the areas where theres probably room for improvement:
* Most of mine and The Booba's clothes come from secondhand shops, are hand-me-downs or are homemade (by a very devoted Grandma - I'm not quite that talented). I actually find op-shopping a lot more fun than buying things in mainstream shops - perhaps its the thrill of the hunt. Contrary to popular belief, there is actually a bounty of good quality clothes in secondhand shops if you know where to look and don't mind doing a bit of sifting. Most of the clothes I have sourced in these places actually look new, but at a fraction of the financial and environmental cost(with the added bonus of giving money to the needy if the Op-Shop is run by a charitable institution).
* Most of The Booba's toys are sourced like his clothes. Of course it goes without saying that preloved toys are washed very thoroughly and checked for safety hazards, but as with the clothes, there is a surprising bounty of good quality secondhand stuff available out there. As for making toys at home, this has actually become a new hobby of mine. Some examples of things I have recently made for The Booba include a rattly cube made from scraps of fabric; a plastic bottle filled with the plastic tabs from packets of bread (well secured with electrical tape); and a small takeaway container filled with hundreds and thousands. He seems to be equally entertained by these (or an empty paper bag) as by his shinier new toys.
* We are fortunate enough to have a fantastic local library within walking distance where we source most of our books, CDs and DVDs. They have a particularly good selection of baby books (just as well because I get bored reading the same ones over and over again!). Must confess to having bought the new Adrian Mole book (by Sue Townsend) when I saw it in a bookshop last week though - how could I resist?
* We pay a little bit extra for 100% Green energy
* We use mostly biodegradable, phosphate free and grey water safe cleaning products.
* We use mostly organic and non-petrochemical based lotions and potions on ourselves and The Booba. In fact I've discovered a great line of Australian made, mainly organic and carbon neutral products which don't cost anymore than their mainstream counterparts - see the link the Sukin below.
* I don't drive so The Booba and I do a lot of walking and catching Public Transport. This has the added benefit of giving me enough incidental exercise (particularly when I'm lugging an extra 8kg of baby around) so that I don't have to worry about gym memberships and such (must confess to being a bit allergic to walking on treadmills etc....).
* We're trying to grow some of our own food. We're a bit limited by the fact that we rent and therefore are mainly limited to growing things in pots. That and the fact that I for one seem to have a black rather than green thumb so the degree of effort put in doesn't quite seem to be matched by my degree of success. But we're learning.
* Most of the time we remember to take canvas bags to the supermarket
* We use mostly recycled paper products.
Well, if you think that all sounded a little bit smug, here are some aspects of our lifestyle which I'm less proud of:
* Number One most deadly sin with big flashing lights around it would be the fact that we use disposable nappies. Yes, ahem, mea culpa.
* We tend to leave lights on that we don't need.
* We leave lots of appliances with flashing lights on all the time.
* We leave mobile phone chargers and laptop chargers plugged in even when charged item has been detached - apparently this accounts for a lot of wasted power in most households.
* I have a bit of a shiny women's magazines habit (and, lets face it, these are basically just glorified advertising catalogues....thus giving more impetus to the desire to buy STUFF). I do actually think its a bit important for things to be aesthetically pleasing (not VERY important in the scheme of things, but a bit). However I find it quite irresponsible how the Fashion industry seems to promote a throw-away culture. Its equally regrettable how we are encouraged to equate surface appearance with fundamental worth. Again, I digress. I'll get off my electronic soap-box and back to the point!
* When we go to the supermarket we tend not to give much thought to how items are packaged or where they have come from. When we went shopping yesterday we found that with not too much anally retentive label reading required we managed to get about 50% of our shop from within W.A. and nearly all of it from Australia. Not great, but its an improvement. We've also just recommenced getting our dry goods in bulk (less packaging) - but then most of them do seem to be imported.....
* We eat meat. I fell off the vegetarian bandwagon when I was pregnant and became severely iron deficient (and iron tablets make me sick) - so I don't apologise for that. However some meats have less ethical and environmental repercussions than others. I've only just plucked up the courage to try kangaroo (pathetic, I know), and discovered that as far as meat goes, I quite like it. So we've pledged to not eat any other red meat. For those unfamiliar with the environmental, health and ethical benefits of eating kangaroo relative to other red meats, please see link to macro meats below. We also stick to free-range chicken.
* We use tissues and paper napkins when people come over to eat. I've just bought some fabric to make some cloth napkins, but can't get over the fact that I find the whole concept of hankies quite repellant...
* We tend to waste a fair bit of water. Our shower has an annoying habit of taking ages to get hot - we've just starting using a bucket to catch the waste (which we put on the garden).
* I don't look after stuff. The Beloved Husband is excellent at this, and in fact there are several items in his wardrobe he has been wearing for over a decade. So he despairs at my propensity to wreck things, and he's right, although its not deliberate it is a form of wastefulness. I think I need to take a leaf out of his book - and if i'm not buying anything new for 12 months, I'll have to. Ironically, in order to consume less things, I'm going to have to start showing more care for them.
* I love buying things on the internet! In particular quirky T-shirts and kitsch items printed with photographs of The Booba. Theres nothing quite like the thrill of finding that package waiting on the door step....This is going to require a lot of self discipline (especially when producers of said items email me every other day with special offers and new lines - hats off to them for clever marketing!).

Of course its all very well to beat myself up and promise to henceforth be perfect, but this wouldn't be very realistic. Although I have pledged not to buy anything new for 12 months, there will have to be a few exceptions. I will do my level best to limit these to the following:
* Toiletries - where possible to be organic, biodegradable, in recyclable packaging. The nappies are a big issue here - hmmm....I have no desire to enter into the very well worn 'Cloth vs Disposables' debate, and am well aware of the facts and the options out there, just experiencing a little bit of wanting to stick my head in the sand on this point right now!
* Household cleaning agents - as above
* Food. Although it would be lovely, we are never going to be self sufficient living in our current circumstances! We will however do our best to:
- boycott items that are excessively packaged
- choose locally produced and seasonal items
- purchase only organic and fair trade tea, coffee and chocolate (I can highly recommend Green & Black's)
Of course some of the above items will be more costly than usual, but hopefully this extra expense will be offset by not buying other things.
* Essential gardening items such as seeds, manure, etc
* To a certain extent, gifts. The fact remains that not everyone is as enthusiastic about pre-loved or homemade goods as I am.

The first test of my pledge is that my purse has just fallen apart and keeps pooing coins etc. all over the place. Hmmm...this may be related to my aforementioned tendency not to look after my stuff. I haven't cleared it out in a year or too, and its been so bulging with ancient receipts and random never-looked-at-again business cards I haven't actually been able to clip it shut forever.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Beginning

Well, here is the very first entry on my very first blog. Yes, I must confess to being a complete blog-virgin, so please bear in mind that I really have completely no idea what I am doing and to a large extent will be making it up as I go along! But there is a purpose to all this....
First of all:
Roughly eight months ago I was catapulted from the life of a busy, full-time working 'Professional' to that of full time at home mother to a beautiful baby boy, hereafter The Booba. Whilst I adore The Booba beyond words and continue to feel very committed to caring for him myself full time right now rather than paying someone else to do it, to say that this whole lifestyle shift has been a bit of an adjustment would be quite a remarkable understatement! I guess to say that having a child has changed your life a lot is hardly an earthshatteringly original revelation....but when you're living it, its pretty profound. One of the aspects of being at home full time with a baby that I have struggled with in particular is feeling a bit like, as far as the 'outside world' is concerned, I have kind of ceased to exist...Perhaps I am just missing the ego massage of my old job and this is all just a bit self indulgent (and indeed the Beloved Husband has suggested that blogging is a form of "vanity publication"...ouch) but I see this blog as my little 'yoo-hoo' to the big wide world when my immediate world is feeling a little shrinkwrapped.
Second of all:
One of the many positive aspects of being at home with The Booba is that I've had the opportunity to pay much closer attention to the impact of our lifestyle on the environment. There is nothing like having to look a member of the next generation in the face all day to make you think twice about taking the slack, naughty option in matters of making your Carbon Footprint. To a certain degree this has been a case of making a virtue out of necessity - in most cases it seems to be a lot less expensive to live in a more environmentally sound manner, and I don't have an income anymore. The upshot of all this is that I have decided to make a Pledge: I will not buy anything new for the next year. .
As The Beloved Husband has pointed out, I've made commitments like these before and they've fizzled pretty quickly (yes, I can be a little impetuous).....thus the blog. This time, you're all going to keep me honest .... and hopefully even give me a few tips along the way. And I know that this notion is not really all that original or 'out there' in the scheme of things (its no "Little Brown Dress" every day for a year, thats for sure! - check the link below)...but thats not really the point for me. The point is to try and tread a little more lightly on the Earth, and hopefully learn some new things along the way.