Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Green clean

Now that I'm back to cleaning the house myself again (no more cleaning lady - sniff) I've been experimenting with some homemade cleaning remedies. We had previously been using 'eco friendly' citrus based sprays from the supermarket, but I figure even these come in plastic bottles and still tend to contain a long list of unidentifiable ingredients. I tend to think more now about what I'm wiping on the floor with The Booba spends crawling round on it (and then sucking on his hands...). So I've been having a crack with the old white vinegar and bicarb - and I'm happy (and a bit surprised) to announce that they actually work! Apparently vinegar even has strong antibacterial and antiviral properties, so those hooked on 'sterilising' their homes can feel comfortable with this alternative too. Here are some 'recipes' that have been working well for me:

* add a cup of vinegar to a bucket of hot water to mop the floor
* use vinegar neat to clean the toilet
* use vinegar neat to wipe shower tiles (apparently it has mould inhibiting properties)
* to clean the microwave add 1/2 cup vinegar to 2 cups of water and cook on high for 3 minutes. Then wipe out the inside of the microwave.
* to deodorise and disinfect a stinky cutting board soak in vinegar for 5-10 minutes.
* to clean a smelly drain tip down 1/2 - 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda then slowly poor down 1 cup of vinegar. Follow with water.
* for an all purpose cleaner that is particularly good for cleaning the bathroom sink add 2 tablespoons of bicarb to 1 tablespoon of vinegar and use it to scrub with. I've found this is much better at getting rid of that black gunge around the base of the taps than standard spray cleaners.
* put vinegar in an old spray bottle and use to wipe down the highchair and the mat that lives under the high chair.
* wet a newspaper with vinegar and use to clean the mirror (yes I used to think this sounded stupid too - but its fantastic at getting rid of those little white toothpaste spots).

Some of these ideas have come courtesy of a booked called 'Clean Sweep' by Alison Haynes (2008, Murdoch Books Australia), and the rest from

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toy shopping

I know I've been getting a bit "off topic" lately what with being so busy on my soapbox (hey, I did call this thing "MamaRANDOM" for a reason!). How is the no buying new stuff thing going?..........well, I'm happy to report its actually feeling pretty easy right now. The trick seems to be not to expose yourself to temptation! - and now I'm just out of the habit of shopping in 'new stuff' places. When I do, I'm a lot more conscious in my purchases.

No, I can't claim to be pure - especially in the case of things for The Booba. He 'needed' a ride along toy recently (at a friend's kid's birthday party he wouldn't leave hers alone - and then when we got home he kept trying to 'ride' all his little toy trucks. It was too pitiful). I did find one at Salvo's but it was a little bit suspect in the safety stakes. So off we went to the toy department of a certain large department store, not my favourite destination.

Most of the kids I could see around seemed to be pretty whiny and miserable, and I don't think it was just a case of wanting all the toys they saw. That place made me feel pretty miserable too! - a sea of technicolour plastic bleating various hollow electronic ditties and leaching an artificial malodour. Hugely overstimulating yet at the same time completely devoid of warmth and soul. Feeling hugely optimistic I sought out the 'wooden toys' section. There wasn't one - other than a mealsy assortment of attractive but massively overpriced pull-along wooden dogs from Europe. When I finally escaped the department - flashing and singing ride along fire engine in tow - I felt exhausted and a bit hypocritical. But The Booba and his engine are inseparable.

I had a much more pleasant toy shopping experience recently when looking for a gift for my nephew in our local Oxfam shop. No plastic. Interesting colours and textures and a story behind each piece. And of course, not a whiff of a sweatshop. Nephew liked his little handpainted Peruvian tambourine and the Indian bells for tying around his ankles when he dances.

I've been making a few toys from upcycled materials lately for various babies' birthdays. I'm not much of a sewing afficionado so they don't bear terribly close scrutiny but I had a ball making them and the babies seem to have liked them. Just got a bunch more wicked fabric from the local opshop, so working on a few new designs at the moment...When I can find the camera I'll post some pictures!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Carrots come in purple?!

Yep, it would appear so! I know these guys are a bit paltry, but I'm still at the point where I'm pretty pleased to be able to produce anything at all! Current culinary stylings at our house are along the lines of '100 ways with carrot'. Can recommend grating a carrot up to make a salad with lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper (this recipe comes courtesy of a Swiss friend).

And now for something entirely different....Its been ages since my last post. This is probably a bit to do with the fact that The Booba has been going through a little bit of a 'challenging phase'(read: he's being a little toerag) so when he's not been needing immediate attention (when he's asleep) I've pretty much just been collapsing in a heap and zoning out infront of Masterchef. Excuses aside, despite the maternal angst I have had some pretty major bees in my bonnet lately that I've really been wanting to share with you all.....

Uranium mining in W.A.! I was aghast to discover relatively recently that since our illustrious State Government lifted the moratorium on uranium mining in this state at the end of 2008 several major mining companies have basically been champing at the bit to get started. There are several projects due to start operations in the next few years. Why is this so scary?..

* Uranium mining produces large quantities of radioactive waste. There is at present no satisfactory system for disposing of it safely. The government regulations for how this should be managed are depressingly scant.
* The statistics for rates of cancer in workers in uranium mines are frightening. And there is currently no national register keeping track of how much radiation these workers have been exposed to.
* Despite popular belief many people do actually live in the outback of W.A. Why should they and their kids be getting irradiated?
* Uranium mining consumes vast quantities of water
* The products of uranium mining get used to make nuclear weapons. Not cool.

While no uranium mine is yet operational in W.A. theres still time to do something about it. For more information and to get involved check out

Monday, July 5, 2010

'Boat People' are human beings too!

Next time you hear someone crapping on about how 'boat people' should just 'join the queue' and stop trying to 'illegally immigrate' to Australia, perhaps you'd like to share the following facts with them . These come courtesy of Amnesty International.

* There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum. It is a human right that is officially protected under Australian law.

* Anyone reading the papers or listening to talkback radio lately could be forgiven for thinking we are suffering a veritable hoard of asylum seekers arriving by boat everyday. No, we're actually not. Asylum seekers arriving by boat only make up 1% of our annual immigration intake. The vast majority (96%) of refugees seeking asylum in Australia do not arrive by boat.

* More than 90% of asylum seekers arriving by boat are subsequently round to be genuine refugees.

* A 'refugee' is someone who is forced to flee their own country as a result of severe persecution perhaps on the basis of their ethnicity, their religion, or their political affiliation. These people fear for their lives. I think I'd probably be jumping in a boat with my baby too if I honestly thought we'd be tortured or killed otherwise. Is it really fair for us to be casting these people as criminals?

Lets all just approach this issue with a bit more compassion.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More supermarket trolley politics...

Further to my previous post about the paucity of available sustainably fished tuna in Australia, I found around $8.00 for a tiny tin! Think I'll stick with going without for the time being, but if you love your tuna so much its worth the premium, check it out at I came across this at the local organic farmer's market we've been going to each Saturday morning. Contrary to my previous assumptions, the fruit and veg here is actually not all that much more expensive than that available at the local supermarket. And they taste so much better! They also have stalls selling 'upcycled' goods and the obligatory rock crystal deoderants and, newly, a cafe selling excellent coffee (organic fairtrade of course) in compostable cups. Eco-geek heaven.

As if things at the supermarket weren't ethically fraught enough, I've just become aware of another issue to bear in mind - palm oil! Apparently the vast majority of our palm oil is sourced from plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. Unfortunately the clearing of native rainforest for palm oil plantations is apparently the main cause of loss of Orangutan habitat. For more details check out the Perth Zoo campaign website at

Palm oil is used in up to 50% of processed consumer products - from chocolate to shampoo. I went to buy some supposedly 'green' dishwashing liquid the other day - until I saw that it had palm oil in it. Unfortunately in Australia we're generally currently kept none the wiser as to what contains palm oil and what doesn't - usually it will just be labelled as 'vegetable oil' (which could be pretty much anything). A 'Truth In Labelling Palm Oil Bill' will be brought before our Australian Parliament in August of this year. If successful, all products containing palm oil will have to be labelled as such. This will give the consumer the opportunity to put pressure on manufacters to use only Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). Worth a letter to the local MP, I think. In the meanttime, a 'Scorecard' has been produced by WWF rating different companies according to the sustainability of their palm oil use - check it out at

Thursday, June 17, 2010

We're just monkeys living in a plastic world

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how it is we've all ended up living in a way that seems to be so bad for our bodies and our planet - and why we're so resistant to change. Having evolved to survive times of scarcity, our instincts tell us to accumulate resources. Our monkey nature tells us to eat lots of high calorie food when its there, to acquire things when they are available, to insure ourselves against time of need. And for those people on our planet who continue to go hungry, these instincts are probably appropriate. However, for those of us who live in the world of Happy Meals, living like monkeys is backfiring. Consumption has spun out of control because we're not living the life we were designed to live. This is no revelation - I'm far from the first to say this! But I think if we're ever going to work our way out of this mess, it bears repeating. Obeying our instinctive avarice and greed is no longer adaptive. Sustainably navigating our plastic world with our monkey brains is going to require instinct override - conscious consumption.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Raj Rocks

I've finally got my hands on a copy of Raj Patel's 'The Value of Nothing' (from the library, of course - sorry Raj). I wouldn't exactly call it light reading - especially for me as I don't really know all that much about Economics - but so far it certainly provides a piercing examination of the basic assumptions upon which our free market world has been built. In an analysis of the relationship between material wealth and happiness, Patel makes the observation (based on the results of research) that "after a certain point, more money doesn't make us happier. Instead, we find ourselves on a hedonic treadmill, in which happiness is about matching our level of consumption with our peers". This rings true to me. How sad.

To have and to hoard

I am so messy. Something that has struck me lately is that messiness leads to needless consumption, and waste. Because when I'm messy, I can't find things, and/or I forget that I had them in the first place. So then I end up needing to buy more things - that I wouldn't have had to, if I'd been more neat! This goes for the dismal state of our pantry, to our woeful bathroom cabinet, to the 'stationary drawer' which has somehow turned into a 'stationary room' - in manner of opening door, closing our eyes, and tossing things in that we can't be bothered putting away (now exacerbated by the fact that the state of said room has deteriorated to such a state that we're embarassed to look at it, and wouldn't be able to find the drawer to put things away in it even if we wanted to).
I've come across some really interesting blogs pertaining to sustainability and 'simple living' lately. Some strike a tone of 'thou-shalt-not'-ness which jars a little for me (and I agree with them - imagine the response of those who don't! Hardly receptive, I would think). Anyway, the point is one particular blog I've come across is written by an Australian woman who has vowed not to buy ANY clothes for one year - a 'fashion fast' (see link below). She has also recently committed to not purchase any more pantry items until her cupboards are bare. I like this idea. I think I'll try applying it to my bathroom cabinet, which bears an embarassing excess of various duplicate lotions and potions (I didn't like the smell of this one, that one made my hair frizzy....etc). Its self indulgent really, isn't it? And a waste of money to boot.
I might even clean out that stationary room one of these days too.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A fishy business

I've never really been a big fan of seafood, but I do enjoy canned tuna. Whoever knew the consumption of a good old tuna sandwich should really be a guilty pleasure? Apparently, we've tuna-sandwiched ocean stocks of all but one species of tuna (the Skipjack) to critically low levels. Oops - sorry, guys. As if that weren't bad enough, the indiscriminate method used for catching most commercial tuna - dirty great big nets -results in the death of devastatingly large quantities of innocent marine bystanders such as turtles, dolphins and whales. Hmmm....might rethink that next tuna mornay. Luckily Greenpeace have generated a scale of the least to most offending canned tuna providores (and I found my favourite brand - Sirena - ranked as the naughtiest! oh no!). Check out the link below. Thanks to said Greenpeace website for the sad photo too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"The opposite of consumption isn't thrift.....

....Its generosity" - Raj Patel. This esteemed Economist was interviewed on the radio yesterday, discussing his new book 'The Value of Nothing'. He estimates that if the standard $5 hamburger were to be priced according to its true social and environmental cost, it should cost in excess of $200. Borrowing the words of that wise social commentator, Oscar Wilde, he observed that “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Imagine if all that 'cheap' plastic 'Made In China' tat you see in the shops actually cost our wallets what it cost the planet in resources, what it cost the human spirit of the sweatshop workers who made it....Something to think about. Here's hoping the library is going to get a copy of that book in! Please find a link to Raj Patel's website (its well worth a look) below.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Madame Blackthumb is in luck

I'm managing to do pretty well in the growing things stakes at the moment. Probably something to do with that blistering Perth summer sun finally having abated. Radishes, anyone? These have to be the best 'vegetable growing for dummies' plants around. Since sowing the seeds I've basically just thrown a bit of water at them occasionally and otherwise ignored them. Its a bit of a pity that I don't actually like the taste that much, but the BH enjoys them. At the moment I'm growing the 'French Breakfast' variety (shaped like a miniature sweet potato), but I also have some seeds for a black skinned radish which will be novel.

On the 'I'm only buying secondhand clothes' front, I'm struggling a little at the moment because its getting a bit cold! I've found that its hard to get long sleeved T-shirts (my usual cold weather staple) in secondhand shops - I guess because they probably don't stand the test of time too well. So I'm still living in a couple of long sleeved tops I wore when I was pregnant - needless to say they're rather stretched and have generally seen better days. I'm sorely tempted to go and get some new ones but I'll stand firm and go on an op-shop mission this afternoon with my fingers crossed.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The woes of consumption in a world of ice doughnuts

In the Weekend Australian Review Magazine this weekend (May 15-16, 2010) there is an article - 'The Hungry Mile' by Christopher Allen - discussing an exhibition of photographs taken during the Great Depression. It diverges from a general discussion of life during the Depression (as related by the photographs) to a general diatribe regarding the ills of consumerism - the relevance of which is a little questionable - but nonetheless it seems to express many of my own feelings on the topic much more elegantly than I ever could. I'm sure Christopher Allen won't mind if I share some of his words with you.

" The lesson drawn [from the exhibition] how little we need to survive and even to be happy; the contrast makes the bulimic consumerism all around us look absurd as well as indecent. The trouble is that it is not only individuals but whole societies that end up addicted to this voracious appetite for the superfluous....Advertisements urge us to borrow the money we are told we need to enjoy ourselves; freedom and spontaneity are the promise, but the reality is the servitude of isn't a conspiracy, just something that is the logical consequence of the way a consumer economy works......the explicit axiom of this ideology is that our level of consumption is an index of our level of wealth, success and happiness. It is a version of the almost instinctive drive to eat as much as we can, with the dim sense that if we eat more we are more, an instinct that may promote survival in the age of cavemen but leads to self-destruction in a world of ice doughnuts....Consumerism, in the same way, gives the illusion of wealth....In reality it destroys wealth"
Here here!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The shopping diet

In response to a previous post where I had confessed to seeking comfort in shopping during a rough time, a follower helpfully pointed out that shopping triggers a release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. This is our pleasure response - whether it be caused by sex, smoking, alcohol, chocolate, or, as we now know, buying something - when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of whats going on with your neurons, apparently its all pretty much the same. So it makes sense that Psychiatrists are now starting to discuss shopping addiction in the same way as we already think about gambling addiction, compulsive eating, and so on. So this is why we shop! It triggers the release of our natural happy brain juice.
Interesting, isn't it, how the other things we do that trigger our pleasure response - taking drugs, having sex, eating chocolate - have been cast in various ways as 'naughty' or morally reprehensible(to varying degrees), yet shopping hasn't. Its not to say that smoking and eating high fat foods don't come with their attendant risks and draw backs, and I'm not advocating these, but if you think about it, shopping for and buying things you don't technically need isn't really all that good for us either - in terms of the effect it has on your bank balance, your home (who else has a paucity of storage?), your planet, those Chinese sweatshop workers......Thing is that buying things makes the world go round, huh, so noone really wants us to think that maybe its not quite ok.
Think of the multibillion dollar dieting industry. What if we were to funnel some of that focus and effort to control our impulses into buying less stuff? Maybe we should all let ourselves eat a bit more chocolate and try to go on a bit of a shopping diet instead.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is it wrong to be in love with a pair of jeans?.....

In an earlier post where I shamelessly proselytised about the merits of secondhand clothes shopping (who, me??) , I confessed to being dubious about finding good secondhand jeans. Well, I stand corrected! I visited one of my favourite local opshops a few weeks ago, and was surprised to find they were having a 50% off sale. It was almost embarassing, everything was so ridiculously cheap. Anyway, along with a heap of other great stuff, I stumbled across the jeans of my dreams - for the princely sum of $4. They fit like a dream, are evidently hardly worn (if ever at all), and have the unusual distinguising feature of being embellished with little white paintings of birds and other doodlings. Sounds wierd, I know - and the BH reckons they just look paint splattered (thanks, hon) - but I'm in love. These jeans were made for me. A quick internet search just revealed they're actually from some fancy surfwear company which I'm way too uncool to have ever heard of, and wouldn't have come cheap to the original owner. Score, huh?

On a totally different note, heres the latest development in my gripping garlic saga. I couldn't order any snazzy heirloom varieties bulbs to grow online afterall due to some pesky quarantine issue. I was a bit bummed about this, but then figured it shouldn't make any difference if I just planted some garlic sold for eating in an organic food shop (ie minus potentially growth retarding sprays etc). So the bulbs have been sown, and even lovingly administered sheep and poo and blood and bone, as my sources instructed. Five have now far, so good.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A garlic gathering expedition gone sour

One of the triumphs of my so far rather dramatic and varied motherhood experience is that The Booba loves garlic. I mean he LOVES garlic. The other day when we went out for some Indian food I found myself fighting him for my seriously potent garlic naan bread. This is convenient as its a staple ingredient around here. So we go through a fair bit of it. I didn't really used to think too much about where the garlic we bought was coming from until I got into this local eating lark and started reading labels - did you realise that most of the garlic in the local supermarket is imported from China? And - scarier - that all imported garlic is routinely sprayed with methyl bromide? This is a nasty little number that has the temerity not only to be toxic to the ozone layer but also to the human body - trust me, Google it if you feel like a bit a fright. This is definately not something that you want anywhere near you, let alone in your food.

So for these reasons I usually buy Australian grown garlic, even though its about a gazillion times more expensive than its cousins from far flung shores. The other day I was thrown into a bit of a panic when I found the household garlic holding receptacle empty. So I trundled The Booba in his chariot down to the local supermarket where I was a little taken aback to find I had the choice of Chinese or Spanish garlic and nothing Australian grown. I took the ill advised step of asking the vegetable shelf stockist man about it, only to be treated to a long winded rant which started off with some fairly reasonable commiseration but ended with some borderline racist and kind of bonkers comments about Chinese market gardeners that had me backing away and nodding with a nervous smile on my face. But he could offer me some useful insight into the Australian garlic situation - the reason why there is a paucity of it and why its so crazily expensive is that apparently its so labour intensive to grow that not many around here can be bothered. So I'm going to be bothered. I'm ordering my own garlic heads from the Diggers Club tonight with the intention of trying to grow my own in pots. I'll keep you posted.

The prodigal return of a very mediocre gardener

I have recently been subjected to the torture that is prolonged lack of internet access - ah, the trials of modern living, what hard lives we do live in this country! Anyway, I wrote this on the 6th of April...

My garden has been even more neglected lately than my blog – if that was possible. Seriously, if my garden – or blog - was a child, I would have lost custody loooong ago. In my defence, I've had other things on my mind. Not wanting to divulge too much personal information here – I'm an old fashioned girl at heart – lets just say that February and March were not good months. Hey, lets be frank - they were really, really shit. And when I'm going through a hard time, my creative juices just dry up. I guess its an energy conservation thing. Anyway, so realising I didn't have much time left to get my spring 'crop' in (ha ha) I've just turned my attention to my garden for the first time since January, and what a sorry sight it was. A chaos of dead tomato plants and lettuces seriously gone to seed, and, as always, a really vibrant and healthy crop of weeds (I've mastered the art of growing those!). I've cleared the summer garden graveyard and sown lots of seeds – dwarf snow pea (a hit last year), Warrigal greens, radish, carrots and a couple of exciting newies – BLACK Tuscan kale, PURPLE cauliflower. Yes, I got suckered in by heirlooms in exciting colours this season! I tell myself its to trick The Booba into consuming more vegetables, but really its for my own entertainment ( I want to see what purple cauliflower cheese will look like!). Being a self confessed crap gardener, I'll be easily pleased by the results because going on past experience my expectations are loooow. Fingers crossed.

And how is the pledge not to buy new things coming along? Well......something else I've really come to realise from coming through this difficult period, is that shopping is COMFORTING! Its weird, I can't quite figure out why that should be, but its definitely so. The Booba has had some new toys and some other bits and pieces that make life easier. Some glossy magazines have been purchased but then donated for the enjoyment of others, so I figure that way it doesn't count. I've indulged in some new knickers and pyjamas – but hey, I needed them, and who wants to wear preworn ones, so I forgive myself that. All in all I don't think I've done too badly. Still no new clothes, and I continue to do very well on the secondhand front there. We needed more coathangers and I managed to pick up a whole swag for pretty much nothing from my favourite opshop. However my all time favourite opshop find for the last couple of months would have to be a set of dessert dishes – which we needed (very bad for the waistline eating icecream out of noodle bowls!). The BH is a bit dubious but I think they're sweet in a retro shabby chic kind of a way. I'd love to post a pretty picture but our long suffering camera is on the blink - again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Junk Mail Funk Continues

OK, so this is getting ridiculous - in my letterbox today there were not one, not two, nay not three or four, but....EIGHT advertising catalogues! And because I was in a rush to get inside and therefore couldn't automatically deposit them in the recycling bin (conveniently just next to the letterbox) like I usually do, I had to bring them inside, and then I found myself READING THEM. I couldn't help it - hats off to the designers of those things, they draw you in. Its interesting how when the temptation is there, right in front of me, how much I suddenly 'need'. Just goes to show - if you don't want to buy things, don't go shopping. I really must go and get another No Junk Mail sticker!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

In A Junk Mail Funk

According to The Weekend Australian Magazine today, the average Australian adult receives 16 junk mail items per week. Eeek - what a waste of paper! And I'd like to take a bit of a straw poll - do ANY of us actually read those endless supermarket catalogues? I have had a long term battle of wills with my local junk mail letter box filler people - an endless stream of stickers applied to my letterbox expressing my desire not to receive junk mail in varying degrees of fawning politeness seem to be steadily ignored and then, mysteriously, removed. When the unwanted advertising catalogues do inevitably end up in my letterbox, they don't even make it through the front door, let alone get read. If anyone has more success than me getting their "No Junk Mail" sticker to be noticed - whats your secret?!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Batteries and evil eggs

I had to go to the local supermarket the other day to buy a new battery for the smoke alarm. I know, necessary evil. Unfortunately I've never seen a rechargable in the ginormous size required required for this purpose. I did however recycle the old one for the first time in the carton thats been set up in local library. Apparently 18 million household batteries are thrown away each year in my state alone. When batteries end up in landfill there is a risk of the potentially dangerous elements they contain - such as arsenic, mercury and lead - eventually toxifying the environment. Not good. Luckily Australia's first household battery recycling initiative was recently set up in W.A.. Apparently regular alkaline batteries are composed of about 20% zinc which can be recovered and reused to make things like street lights and automobile parts. Cool, huh?

While I was in the supermarket buying the battery I overheard a father talking to his two young children as they selected a carton of eggs. He was explaining to them why he chose to buy a carton of freerange eggs rather than a carton of battery farmed eggs.
"See, these guys are horrible to the chickens, so we buy these others ones and make 'em go out of business"
"Why don't we just tell them to stop it?" the little boy asked his Dad.
"No, that won't work!" Dad said vehemently, "we gotta make 'em go out of business!".
"Yeah!" agreed the little boy with relish "thats eviller!".
Enough said, don't you think?

See link below for more info on household battery recycling in W.A.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making a gorilla's day...

My mobile phone was recently liberated by a quick fingered opportunist. While I was a bit shocked and stressed out at the time (more so by the contemporaneous liberation of my wallet and keys) now I'm not so sure that I miss it that much. I was notorious for never having it charged, or, if I did, never hearing it ring anyway. However, The B.H. points out, fairly, that I probably should have a mobile phone in case of emergency. Its true that when I went out and came across someone in need of an ambulance the other week, it probably would have been best if I hadn't had to leave them and run to a fish and chip shop to make the call.

We have a 'spare' phone at home available for use but, I must confess, its just not as appealing as any of the multitude of shiny new upgrades available. Whats the point of a mobile phone if it can't also provide me with internet access, MP3s and blowdry my hair while its at it, right? And it looks like I'm not the only one tempted. According to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association most people buy a new phone every 12-24 months, and there are an estimated 14.3 million unused mobile phone handsets being stored in people's homes or at work. Assuming people aren't storing useless handsets, this suggests to me that many are replacing perfectly functional phones.

So, these are some reasons I've collected to reinforce my resolve not to break my pledge not to buy new things by needlessly upgrading my mobile phone:
* think of all that metal and plastic embodied in a mobile and the energy it takes to make and import them.
* a vital ingredient in electronic capacitors is coltan - the industrial name for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore. The majority of the world's coltan is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, apparently mining of coltan in the DRC has resulted in deforestation and loss of eastern lowland gorilla habitat - unsurprisingly, between this and the poaching, their numbers are dwindling. Furthermore it has been postulated that the mining, smuggling and trade of coltan in the DRC has helped finance ongoing civil conflict which millions of people have already been killed.
* mobile phones contain potentially hazardous chemicals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and brominated best not in landfill!
* call me old fashioned, but if I need to check my email....I've got a laptop! If I need to listen to music....I've got an i-Pod!

To address some of these problems the AMTA has set up a mobile recycling campaign - "Mobile Muster". I think that I've seen collection boxes in my local Post Office. According to the AMTA over 90% of the metals and plastics contained in a recycled mobile phone can be recovered and reused to make things like plastic fence posts and batteries. In 2008 famous gorilla conservationist Jane Gooddall also launched a mobile phone recycling program at Melbourne Zoo.

So I guess I'll be putting up with the boring old household 'standby' phone for now.....and when it dies and goes to silicone heaven* it'll be reincarnated as a fence somewhere.

See link to Mobile Muster campaign below.

Tanya Ha, ABC The Science Show, Nov 2009
Stephen Cauchi, The Age, March 22 2009
Mobile Telecommunications Industry Statement Of Commitment to Mobile Phone Recycling, found at

* for anyone to whom this reference is foreign....check out the BBC series Red Dwarf

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On the love of the preloved and the sanctity of stuff

I was in a "getting things done" mood on the weekend. We capitalised on this rather rare occurrence by finally relieving ourselves of the boxes of unwanted books that have been mooching about in our spare room. Some were freecycled. Others we took to a secondhand bookshop - a rather bizarre establishment. There was barely standing room for all 72 000 (at last inventory, apparently) books stacked precariously upon eachother in vast teetering towers. I was a bit worried about triggering a book avalanche.

I felt a bit bad leading the rather eccentric owner into temptation with more potential stock that he clearly did not need - he was obviously suffering from a serious book habit! But I could relate to this, I love secondhand books too. They have a special smell, the pages are thick and soft from repeated handling, there may be intriguing personal inscriptions made by strangers....Needless to say a couple of special specimens insisted on coming home with us.

We then took the remainder of our unwanted books to the local charity warehouse. This particular place has a good collection of old chinaware - which I'm also a fan of. I discovered a beauty - an old English cup and saucer patterned in a white and navy oriental design. Maybe its because I used to have a casual job in a department store selling new homewares (which I came to despise) but the used variety have so much more appeal for me. They have a bit of character, or soul if you like. A story to tell.

I used to pride myself on not caring about 'things' - I equated this with being 'anti-materialist'. I think thats why, as I've said before, I'm notorious for trashing and losing my possessions. But the realisation I've come to is that while we shouldn't lust after what isn't ours or let our things define us, we should care about them. Material goods are made up of the Earth's precious resources, and should therefore be treasured. As Colin Beavan writes in his book No Impact Man, "Our problem is that we see the material - and the associated planetary resources - as base and trash it, treating it as though it has no divine value". Food for thought.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Confessions of a Chocaholic

I have pretty a serious chocolate habit. I need a fix everyday. And its a pretty simple equation for me to get my hit - go and buy some, consume it, happy belly! Right? Well, lately its not so simple for me. Even less so since I just did a bit of research about the implications of non-fairtrade chocolate. I already had an idea that, as The European Fair Trade Association has reported, the average cocoa producer in a developing country receives only 5 cents out of every dollar spent on chocolate. This might leave them with barely enough money to feed their kids or to buy their family medicine if someone gets sick. What I wasn't so aware of is that apparently the West African cocoa industry is guilty of widespread use of child workers who may be victims of child trafficking and slavery and working in unsafe conditions. Suddenly that chocolate doesn't taste so good, huh?

Something I've been thinking about lately is that in this strange capitalist world we live in the most powerful political statement we can make is what we do or don't spend our money on. We vote with our wallet. So is it a bit over the top to make such a song and dance about what chocolate or coffee or tea I consume (the latter two industries having equally dubious track records)? I think not. Whether I choose the fairtrade chocolate which guarantees fair labour conditions and a fair price paid to producers or the chocolate made by the unscrupulous multinational corporation ....well, that choice does actually affect other people's lives somewhere down the line, whether its convenient for me to think about it or not.

See links below more more info on fairtrade and the cocoa industry.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Of Pest and Post

Well, in my last post I was celebrating the fact that The Booba's sleep habits were permitting me some time in my 'garden' in the evenings. Ha! If there's one thing I've learnt over the last 11 months in baby-world (the parallel universe we enter when we become parents), the only constant is flux! Negotiations with The Booba over when he will go to sleep in the evening have recently deteriorated to the point where the B.H. and I are eating our dinner in shifts. Thus, unfortunately, not much time left for blogging (or, in fact, much else). As I often say..its just as well he is so cute!

Its probably time once again to take stock of how my 'no new stuff' excursion is faring as a whole. Well, so far I have to say its a positive experience for me - honestly, at the moment I don't feel deprived at all. This sounds corny but if anything I feel like its probably enriched my life. Having a 'no new stuff embargo' has forced me to be more creative, and its certainly freed up some time (not to mention cash). We have never been diehard shoppers, but still quite often precious weekend days seemed to be consumed by seeking out one thing or another that we 'needed'. When we recently went to Melbourne - shopping mecca - we had a more relaxing time than we otherwise would have done, I suspect, because we didn't feel pressured by that special opportunity to go and acquire things.

Other than Christmas gifts my only misdemeanour in the last month took place yesterday - and I think you'll agree it was justifiable. We're currently under siege by wasps - I've had to kill three that I've found in The Booba's bedroom over the last two days (not a nice feeling). I did try to lure the wasps with a D.I.Y. trap constructed from a cut up soda bottle and some apple juice laced with dishdrops (manna from heaven for a wasp, supposedly) that I put outside. However this was met with upturned little waspy noses - our cats' outdoor water dish clearly offers a much more highly rated wasp beverage. So off I went to the local hardware shop in search of heavyduty wasp-murdering equipment which the B.H. put to good use yesterday evening. I'm disappointed to report however that the new fandangly 'irresistable to wasps' plastic traps that I purchased are, at this point, rather lacking in the dead wasp department.

In between anti-wasp missions yesterday I went to the Post Office to send off a birthday package, regretting the fact that I didn't have any old parcels to send it in. I used to think that reusing old parcels wasn't 'allowed' or something, but, emboldened by receiving one from someone else, I sent off my Christmas gifts in old packages I had luckily been saving for no apparent reason (as is my wont). Anyway, yesterday I was pleased to find that you can now purchase parcels at the Post Office made from 100% recycled paper. Unfortunately the lady working behind the counter considered it her duty to inform me that "they're heavy you know" and that it would therefore be costing me, I don't know, a whole extra 50 cents in postage. When she then went on to tell me that my not-at-all-urgent parcel would be taking a whole extra day to arrive than if I was using the 'Express' post option I started to feel a bit ratty and said as lightly as I could "oh well, it doesn't matter, its worth it". I was annoyed by the assumption that the extra 50 cents and the day's delay in parcel arrival would deter me from choosing the more environmentally friendly option - and a little saddened by the suggestion that for this lady at least, it would. Lets face it, unless you're on the street, 50 cents isn't going to break the bank, and maybe its ok if sometimes things don't happen as instaneously as they possibly could. Ok, rant over.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I got the guts to plant a garden....

Remember those straggly little 'Tomato Boobas'? Look at them now!

The last few nights The Booba has gone down to sleep with minimal protest (only to awake at midnight and howl for an hour or two, but that another story!). Anyway, this has left me with a little window of daylight to myself that I've been spending in the garden. Its turned into my favourite time of the day.

We live in a little complex of 'villas' (this word brings to mind visions of something whitewashed and far from the truth!). There is a strip of garden bed that runs along the driveway - kind of communal but really the bit opposite each property is the responsibility of that house. Our landlords are meant to look after our bit but ever since we've been here its been a fairly uninspiring, largely vacant patch of sand. A couple of weeks ago a tomato plant sprung up there - thanks to our Italian neighbour's tomatoes which last summer hung over the fence at this spot. This inspired me to try and grow other things there. Being a bit of a goody-two-shoes I was a bit nervous about it, but buoyed on by The B.H. who insists that noone will care, I've embarked on a bit of psuedo guerilla gardening. After working in some manure and other bits and pieces to try and make the sand a bit more palatable to plants, I've installed some capsicum and chilli seedlings alongside the tomato. Now I just have to remember to water them!

I'm still awaiting my parents' verdict about converting their front lawn into a vegie patch. I came across another fantastic frontyard edible garden the other day which renewed my enthusiasm. Couldn't see a lot without actually scaling the front fence (as it was I was probably pushing the bounds of etiquette!) but I made out a great swathe of silverbeet, beans and what looked like a persimmon tree.

The latest new old loot haul...

I went op-shopping with my mum and my sister last week. It really is such a fun social activity. Got a particularly great swag of really nice clothes for me and The Booba this time, along with some toys and cute antique plates (all for next to nothing, of course).

I've had a yen for sewing lately but haven't had appropriate fabric for the projects I've had in mind. Since shunning haberdashery shops my stash has been running a bit low! So I went to my favourite secondhand haunt yesterday to investigate my options. Going through the section of tablecloths, doona covers and pillow slips I discovered what amounted to vast lengths of fabric which was in great nick and often in cool retro patterns. Even came across some cloth napkins (unused, I suspect) - which helps me with my mission to break the paper napkin and tissue habit. Hurrah for secondhand!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Concerning 'Convenience'

I've raved in a previous post about the book No Impact Man (Colin Beavan) and the blog of the same name. When I enthuse to friends and family about same I tend to be met with a bit of a dubious response. I think people get the impression that by attempting to live with no impact, Colin Beavan was trying to spread the message we should all be living that way. This isn't the message I got. I think the point was to strip back the nonessential aspects of life - the trimmings, if you will - in order to actually examine what is necessary, and whether it makes us happy, and then to put things back in a mindful fashion, and not just because its 'the way we do things'.

This brings me round to today's musing....It seems to me that we often defend some environmentally unconscionable practices by saying "its convenient", when in fact it probably isn't actually all that more convenient than a more sustainable alternative - its just habit. Maybe it just takes a little bit of mindfulness to break that habit and then the new, more sustainable practice will become the new 'default mode'.

Take, for example, taking canvas bags to the supermarket. I think (hope) most of us try to do this these days at least most of the time, but there was a day when it was a bit unusual, and many people defended their use of plastic bags as more 'convenient'. But is it really that hard to stick a handful of canvas bags in the car before going to the shops? Probably not. I think the real problem was that we just used to forget all the time. Now we don't, because its a habit.

I often come across this issue when people question my use of public transport. It seems to be assumed that its such a burden to me, especially with a baby in tow. Its really not, because I'm used to it. Plus I don't have to worry about parking, petrol, traffic....and The Booba loves it (so many new faces to stickybeak at!). I was on the bus last week when I saw a heavily pregnant woman with not two, not three, not four, but FIVE other kids. Travelling in this way would be my idea of a nightmare, but from the look of the woman and children, who were all being remarkably well behaved by the way, it was clearly an everyday occurrence and really nothing to make a fuss about. Probably just as well as they'd need to own some sort of bus otherwise!

So what 'convenient' habits am I going to try to be more mindful of? Well, I'm going to start with paper napkins and tissues. For a household that carefully saves every potential bit of scrap paper, we tend to think nothing of mindlessly accepting the great wad of paper napkins provided everytime we get takeaway, for instance. Is it really that much less convenient to just use a cloth napkin at home? Well, no...especially now that I've started to sew some more. So the other night when I went to pick up our kebabs, for the first time I knocked back the napkins. Hopefully this'll soon be a habit for us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A little review for you....'Who Killed Dave' by Linda Cockburn

I credit my first spark of real interest in living a bit more sustainably to a book called 'Living The Good Life - Tried and Tested Strategies for Sustainable Living' (Hardie Grant, 2006), which documents efforts made by Linda Cockburn and her family to live self sufficiently. This inspirational and at times very funny story was written with great skill, humility and warmth. So its been with great interest that I've followed Linda Cockburn's ongoing work as regular contributor to the ABC Organic Gardener Magazine, and her blog, which documents the ongoing 'good life' from a block in Tasmania where the family are building a strawbale house.

Needless to say, I was very excited to learn that Linda Cockburn had published a novel, 'Who Killed Dave?' (tOgether Press, 2009). The tOgether Press is committed to producing books with a minimal carbon footprint, by planting trees to offset emissions created by production as well as using 100% recycled paper and vegetable inks. Linda kindly offered free copies of this book to followers of her blog who were willing to review it.

So for all of the above reasons, I really wanted to love 'Who Killed Dave?'......and I did! Despite its virtuous origins, it is not, as one might expect, used as a vehicle for disseminating environmental propaganda, its just a really funny, well-written read. The main character, Robyn, is a feisty, Stephanie Plum-esque tarot card reader who gets entangled in a mess of mystery and intrigue involving the colourful characters in her street after one of them is killed in bizarre circumstances. Yes, the figures who populate this novel have clearly been crafted with a nod to inclusivity - the blind phone sex worker for one, or her African refugee friends - but not self consciously so. And with a dark and brooding cop in the picture, this book is sexy too (maybe not one for Grandma). I for one was very entertained by 'Who Killed Dave?' and I would certainly recommend it to you all. Anyone interested in chasing up their own copy should head to the tOgether Press site (see link below).

'Who Killed Dave?' cover art appears courtesy of the 'Living The Good Life' blog.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Regarding re-carding

Call me old fashioned, but I've always found the whole concept of regifting a bit, well...rude. Re-carding, however, is another matter entirely...A relative of mine has a birthday coming up so I wanted to send them a card today. Usually I would make a card myself...but as this particular relative is a professional artist I feel a bit self conscious sending them my own crap pseudo-artwork! Given my commitment to not purchase things like new cards, this posed a bit of a dilemma, until I rummaged around and came across a 'merrygoround' card given to me by a friend recently. These really are such a great concept - the area of the card where you write your message is fitted with a replacable slip of (recycled) paper, so that the card can be reused by removing the slip with the original message and replacing with a fresh slip of (provided) paper for your own message. Neat, huh? Some quick cutting and pasting enabled me to reuse the envelope, too. See the link to merrygoround cards below.

On a different note, in a previous post I lamented that my pledge restricted me from going out and purchasing my newly discovered 'funeral music' (ie some music I heard that I liked so much I wanted it played at my funeral). For the record, this was 'Solveig's Song' - from Peer Gynt (Grieg). Well today at the local library I was browsing through some old stock they were selling off and what did I find? A recording of Peer Gynt - for $1! (And only marginally scratched too).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I had a cool Yule

Well I have been a rather remiss blog-mama of late, haven't I? Too busy eating! Yep, thats Christmas for you. I really did have a very nice time (and don't you all love my highly original pun?). A highlight for me was that it seems that people have been taking more notice of this blog than I had thought. Some friends and family obviously went to great lengths to source recycled gifts for us for Christmas - such as a large carry bag made from recycled billboard, shown above (see link to haul below). I was really touched. And when someone recognised the paper I'd used to wrap her present as the very same paper she had used to wrap mine last year (whoops), she took it with very good grace!

One of the best things about the holiday period was that, with others around to help with the wrangling of The Booba, I got a chance to catch up on my favourite of all pasttimes - reading. My favourite holiday read was No Impact Man by Colin Beavan, published in 2009 by Piatkus. I loved this book! This writer spent one year attempting to live with minimal environmental impact in the New York City apartment he shares with his wife and baby daughter. No rubbish, no non-local food, no power, no mechanised transport....Yes, interesting! And if you expect there would be a lot of sermonising holier-than-thouness'd be wrong. Just a very frank and humble examination of modern life, and a question - does it really make us so happy that its worth the Earth? The blog of the same name is also well worth a look (see link below).

Finally, my sunflowers, when I thought they'd never stop growing (surely these plants inspired the story Jack And The Beanstalk??), have finally flowered. Pretty, huh?