Making sure your deodorant isn’t stink for the environment!

AA9_4537 (2)
From left:  My Ethique Rustic deodorant bar (the remaining stub is sitting on the bottom right corner of the box), my current Aotea Road rose and vanilla deodorant and my husbands zesty bergamot and lime scented one. The much loved jar on the right is my empty Dirty Hippy brand deodorant. All of these are great choices and all of them make you “stink pretty” as my Dad would say.

Deodorant! It is an essential item in every bathroom, particularly with outdoorsy men and (so I hear) teenaged boys. Nobody is that keen to trial a new eco-deodorant product and find out the hard way that it doesn’t work. It’s pretty awful when you suddenly realise you can smell your own armpits on the bus! Lucky for you, I have been quietly trialing several different products for the last 3 years. When I began this ethical living journey four years ago, I hadn’t come across any plastic free choices for deodorant at all. The only alternatives I had heard of involved making your own with baking soda. Initially, I was concerned with reducing plastic packaging and during the hunt for plastic free shampoo I found Ethique and their solid deodorant bars. I trialed one and loved it. I was a total convert to solid deodorant and haven’t looked back. Since then I have trialed a number of different types. This blog is a brief review of the brands I have used. All of them work and all of them are plastic packaging and climate-wrecking propellent free. Just in case you didn’t know most spray deodorants use propane, an oil industry by-product to spray out their choking fog!

Ethique: This was my first trial of a solid deodorant of any type. Way back in 2017 I got hold of an Ethique sampler pack that contained a lavender and vanilla deodorant bar. I loved it, and it worked. The tiny heart shaped sampler lasted for ages and kept me smelling fresh all day. I was so surprised at how well it worked that I had to keep checking how fresh my armpits were! Initially the first bar seemed to sweat oil beads in humid weather, but subsequent deodorant bars haven’t had the same problem at all. I trialed the Rustic deodorant bar and loved it too. Another positive is that they last for ages! I still have I tiny stub of each of those bars left that I can stash in my handbag or take travelling when space in a premium. These bars don’t stop you sweating, instead they keep you smelling fresh.

Aotea Road: This is my current deodorant. It is amazing and smells incredible. It comes in a push up cardboard tube which makes it a bit easier to handle and to travel with. I am using the Rose and Vanilla scented one and my husband is using the Zesty Bergamot and Lime one. Both are equally good and no-one has any complaints. Even after the hottest days and lots of physical activity, this deodorant works as well or better than the roll on varieties we used to use. I am a convert and I love that I can just get them at the supermarket.

Dirty Hippy: I love the name and I love the product. This deodorant is different from the stuff we are all familiar with in that you apply it with your fingers from a little glass jar. Don’t let that put you off though, because it is utterly fantastic and it really works. I used this for a long time before starting to trial other brands. I would definitely go back to using it again. You can post the jars back to be refilled if you choose. You can get trial sized testers if you want to try it out before you make your final purchase. I know a number of people who use this and all of them love it.

Bee Fresh: We also trialed this brand a year or two back and had no complaints. The smell was citrus fresh and the result seemed to last well, even on hot days. Definitely worth a try.

Make your own: If you are really keen on the idea you could make your own deodorant. There are many different recipes online to try. One of my friends swears that her homemade deodorant is as good or better than the bought ones. Here is a link to a homemade deodorant recipe I found on line that looks promising. Alternatively you could have a look at this website and try the recipe in the online booklet. I have a very dear friend who recommends this and has been making and using it herself. I haven’t had time to try making my own yet but it is definitely on my to do list for when I get a bit of free time to myself. If you have any great recipes then feel free to share them in the comments.

So there you have it, five different sustainable options for your armpits. No plastic packaging in sight and no needless rubbish to send to landfill. Better for you and definitely not stink for the environment!

20 simple actions to reduce your footprint.

AA9_3716

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”.  Mother Theresa

As we begin 2021 – a new year (one that we hope will be far less eventful that the previous one) it’s the perfect time to consider how we can use this year to change the world. Don’t underestimate your individual power to effect positive change in our world. Our buying decisions, and both our individual and collective voices are some of the most important tools we have to make a meaningful difference to the environment.  Politics can often be difficult to influence as an individual, and political change is slow. Private companies are often far more responsive to changes in public opinion. Many of the options pushed at us these days as being fashionable, “on trend” or desirable are incredibly destructive for our environment and the opposite of sustainable. Day after day big companies market things to you hoping you won’t look deeper than the shiny advertising before you decide what to purchase. This blog contains a list of things you can do now to have an immediate positive impact on the environment and your carbon footprint. Making powerful choices doesn’t have to wait, you can begin today!

  1. Think about the running cost and environmental foot print of kitchen appliances before you buy them.  Gas hobs are terrible for the environment particularly if your electrical supply is renewable.  Remember, gas is a fossil fuel. It is a finite resource, and it contributes to your families greenhouse gas emissions! Consider opting for an induction hob if you want something akin to a gas experience or stick with an electric oven/cook top. Our electricity here in NZ is 80% renewable so you are better off sticking with electricity than gas,
  2. Don’t install instant gas hot water.  Using gas to rapidly heat hot water is extremely inefficient and results in large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions.  It is easy to waste hot water if you have gas hot water because it never ever runs out. We were stunned at how easy it was to use huge amounts of hot water when we lived in a rental with gas hot water. It was expensive. As I mentioned above, gas is a fossil fuel, and it is a finite resource contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Just stick with your electric hot water cylinder and consider adding a wetback and/or solar hot water. A future consideration that is important to bear in mind is that when the cost of carbon emissions are inevitably added to your gas bill in the future, the cost of heating your water will likely become prohibitively expensive.
  3. If you are building or renovating a house, choose locally sourced and produced materials. Try and avoid exotic materials that have to be shipped half way across the world. Be prepared to use demolition materials and recycled features eg, doors and windows. Reusing materials from within NZ saves on shipping and prevents things like timber, framing, plumbing fixtures and the like from ending up in the landfill.
  4. If you are building a house or significantly altering the rooflines as part of a renovation, make sure you consider the orientation and pitch of your roof so that you can put solar panels on. If you have a mono-pitch roof facing the wrong direction it will be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to put solar panels on your roof. Solar panels just make so much sense. I believe they are going to be a huge part of making NZ’s housing stock sustainable. We save a huge amount of electricity thanks to our solar panels, and they will have paid for themselves in a just a few years time.
  5. Make your appliances last.  Check reviews and warranties before you buy and opt for the most durable choices rather than the cheapest price.  Consider where it is manufactured and the labour conditions in the source country.  A handful of manufacturers offer much better parts service which allows you to repair and keep the appliance going for many years.  For example, Dualit offers a toaster with lifetime parts, and Magimix does something similar for their food processors (we have been able to replace parts very easily).
  6. Future proof your interior design.  Consider the likelihood that furniture will fit with future fashion changes, and make sure it is high quality construction and designed to last. Once you’ve make your choice don’t be tempted to change it just to keep up with fashion.
  7. Sort your rubbish.  When you make a dump trip don’t mix potentially repairable or surplus household items with green waste, and general rubbish.  If you sort things, you can always give away usable items to charity or advertise them via something like Neighbourly, Trademe, Ebay or similar.
  8. If you build a house, make it the minimum size you actually need.  Large houses have enormous carbon footprints and result in the production of far more manufacturing waste than small houses.  They are also more expensive to heat and they reduce space for nature.   The greenest house you can build is one you don’t build but renovate instead.  
  9. If you want a holiday property at the beach or by the river, consider camping on it instead of building another house. If you must have a bach, then make it small and easily moveable to prepare for future managed retreat of coastlines, ideally a tiny home that can be towed to new land.
  10. Choose your food carefully.  Animal products raised locally on pasture have a much lower environmental footprint than those which you can’t check how they are fed or cared for.  Many global food producers are responsible for horrendous destruction of rain forest for conversion to palm oil and soya, much of which is used for animal feed.  Grass fed local animals don’t have this impact. Likewise if you are vegan, make sure you are checking the origin of your food.  As noted above, palm oil hidden on the ingredients as vegetable oil and soya grown on cleared rainforest land are something to avoid.  Many reputable food suppliers have accreditations for their sourcing of these ingredients.
  11. Check you retirement investment portfolio.  I investigated many of the common NZ and Australian retirement funds which are available for Kiwisaver investments and found to my horror than many are investing in oil, mining, weapons and active deforestation of the Amazon.  My husband and I were deeply troubled and began to look into alternatives. One in particular which looks promising is Caresaver, and this is what we eventually chose, but you can also compare funds here. This simple action doesn’t take a lot of time and once you make the change to an ethical Kiwisaver option you are sending a powerful message to the banks and the government about what you think is acceptable. It is important that our investment actions match what we claim to be passionate about. The other thing is that this choice continues to support worthwhile causes indefinitely while you go on earning money and getting on with your life. Your choice of Kiwisaver fund is a powerful choice with far reaching consequences. I urge you to look into it and make the change to something ethical.
  12. Check on the environmental impact of your computing.  If you are creating a website check on the environmental implications of the hosting company here.  WordPress which I use for hosting doesn’t have a great record in this respect so I am investigating better options.  Remember that cloud storage, subscription online service and streaming (including online gaming) use huge amounts of electricity, most of which comes from fossil fuels.  Where possible choose a more efficient provider and where you can’t try contacting the company to lobby for change.
  13. Give feedback to companies about things you like or don’t like and ask questions.  Where is your soy sourced from?  Have you considered using recycled plastic instead of virgin plastic in your components?  Have you considered using compostable packaging? Would you consider stocking ethical choices in your shop?
  14. Don’t wait for the government to fix the planet.  Consider offsetting your carbon emissions by investing in carbon sequestration schemes directly.  That way you can make sure the scheme you choose is actually benefiting the environment and not just an accounting scheme.  Do your own carbon sequestration by joining up with a local community group to restore a river, beach or wetland.  How about growing or buying some trees for it? Some examples include Ekos and Carbonclick.
  15. Opt for eco-courier services where possible.  Some couriers make efforts to offset their carbon emissions and it is worth throwing your support behind companies that are prepared to make an effort. A couple of examples include Kiwi Express, and Urgent Couriers.
  16. When you are sending packages make an effort to use the new recyclable NZ Post paper bags. This is an exciting initiative that I am really pleased to see.  Packages coming from my family in Germany have been wrapped in brown paper for as long as I can remember, and other packages have come in tough padded paper bags.  I don’t know why it has taken so long to catch on here in NZ but now that it has let’s all support it.
  17. Buy a double skin drink bottle and an under-sink water filter and ditch single use plastic water bottles.  You’ll save money and cut your single use plastic consumption.
  18. Support companies which package their products in renewable packaging or none at all.  Here are a few suggestions. Health Post, Ethique, Thunderpants, Tumbleweed Tee’s, Proper Crisps.
  19. Sodastream vs bottles. This is something we have done as a way to reduce the amount of plastic bottles we have to deal with/recycle. We buy our syrups in glass bottles, or make our own from seasonal fruits.
  20. Have a compost heap and compost your food scraps rather than sending them to landfill where they will emit methane as they decompose. Home composting is a really big thing you can do to reduce needless food waste.  Instead of paying the wheelie bin company to cart away your household food scraps, you can make your own compost for the garden.  Anything that is not meat or fat can go in your compost heap.  You can even compost toilet rolls, cardboard boxes, newspaper, and (as home compostable packaging becomes more mainstream) you can even compost some bags and packages.  We have managed to do this quite successfully with Proper Crisps chippie packets.  Our compost heaps are functional but not perfect textbook examples of how to do compost.  Despite this our heaps have handled the compostable packaging we have thrown at them. There are some awesome rodent proof compost solutions available now if you are keen to get started.

So there you have it, a list of 20 things you can do now to have a positive impact on our planet and the environment you live in. We are completely dependent on our environment, without it we can’t survive. The damage we have been doing is often invisible to us as we struggle from one day to the next, but the impacts will be felt by our children and grandchildren and they will thank you for taking steps to make change. As a species we have created a built environment to live in and we forget that we are actually creatures of nature. We tend to think of nature as something to visit rather than something we depend on. We need to constantly remind ourselves of this and put the environment front and center in our lives. Every little thing you do has real power to promote positive change. As we head into a fresh year, take some time to consider how you can commit to reducing your impact on the environment and getting your voice heard.

How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment: we can start now, start slowly changing the world!” Anne Frank

Sustainable laundry – options to care for the environment while you wash the clothes!

AA9_4211
Freshly folded clothes straight off the clothesline with that sunny sweet smell. No electricity required, just the free sunshine and wind. My favorite Go Bamboo and Munch brand pegs. In the pink box is my Ethique laundry and stain remover bar.

Washing clothes is an endless task for many Mums and and it is never ever finished. No sooner have you dealt with one lot and there is another lot of dirty clothes building up in the dirty washing bin. The way we wash our clothes is also an area where we have made a few changes in the last year or so since we embarked on the journey to become more sustainable. The laundry is a place where we can all make small changes that will mount up and make a difference to the environment around us and contribute to the future we leave for our kids and grandkids.

Here are some ideas to inspire you to make some small but meaningful changes to your laundry in order to make it more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Most of them have an impact on our water, and so the laundry is an important place to start.

Soap nuts: I was very skeptical about these things, thinking that they were probably not very good. Then I got a bag of soap nuts given to me (for my birthday) and I was immediately fascinated and curious, after all I am slightly plant centric (being an avid gardener) and I am always interested in interesting plants. These things grow on trees and they wash your clothes, two of my boxes ticked straight away. My cousin told me she used them and was hooked. I tried washing our clothes with them and aside from some extremely filthy socks they did just as well as the conventional washing powders for almost every situation. I still use them when I can get them. You can use them multiple times and then you just throw the used shells into your compost! No plastic involved (just a cellophane bag).

Ecostore laundry liquids and powder: I find these products far better than those with artificial fragrance and enzymes. I have used Ecostore laundry products for years because I found them better for my sensitive skin and I prefer the scent of the natural fragrances to the artificial ones in other laundry products. They are safe for septic tanks and that means they are better for our environment. Additionally they are a NZ owned and operated business and they manufacture their products right here in NZ. This is really important for me when I choose products in the supermarket. I try to avoid imports to lessen the carbon footprint. There are now other eco-brands out there but Ecostore was one of the first and is an established quality brand

Ethique laundry bar: This little gem is a great little bar for taking tramping or travelling. It works very well as a spot stain remover and I use it all the time. I have taken it tramping and I would also take it traveling to use for hand washing items where there isn’t access to a washing machine.

Ethique Household concentrates: Spray cleaners often live in the laundry cupboard, and they usually come in plastic bottles. These are new products that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to trial, but a friend of mine has been using them and says they are brilliant. Spray cleaners are something that we all take for granted these days, but spray bottles are something that people usually dispose of and rebuy with the next shop each time they run out. It appears you simply break off a square, dissolve in water and pour into an old reused spray bottle. Spray bottles are a brilliant invention and they can last (if looked after) for many years. Why do we get a new one every time we replace the contents? Even the refills come in a plastic bottle. It seems like a terrible and un-necessary waste of plastic. The idea of a solid concentrate bars sounds brilliant. Until now, our solution had been to buy 4 litre bulk refills and reuse an old spray bottle. We might switch to these concentrates if they turn out to be as good as they sound.

Ecostore whitener: This stuff works just as well or better than the Napisan that is usually used to soak baby and toddler clothes. In fact years ago I switched to Ecostore whitener and never noticed any difference. I felt better about the ingredients in it and was happier to use the product for things that were in contact with the sensitive skin of my precious babies.

Wash cycle options: cold water over hot, eco-cycles to use less water, thus saving electricity to heat water. These options can appear as a bit of an obvious choice but many people overlook the value of something as simple as selecting a different wash cycle option.

Full loads only: In order to maximise the efficiency of your loads of washing, try (where possible) to do full loads of washing. The fewer loads of washing you do the better.

Avoid ironing if you can: Ironing uses electricity, it causes fabrics to deteriorate, and it shortens the life of your clothing. I very rarely use an iron because ironing is not a chore I have much time for in my busy family – although it is strangely satisfying to smooth creases out of clothes. Instead I chose clothing that is unlikely to require ironing. If you are a person who regularly uses an iron, here are a few tips to make ironing less necessary. Hang clothing on clothes hangers while still wet and let gravity and the weight of the water in the clothing pull the wrinkles out. Fold clothing (or sheets etc) straight off the line where you want the creases to be. Then put folded clothes in your drawers underneath other clothing which will help to further press them.

Wear it more than once: If you can reduce the amount you have to wash then you can reduce the number of washes that you do. Simple really!

Air dry your washing: Use a clothes line, or an airing rack on the veranda. This might appear obvious, but really it is an important action you can take to reduce your impact on the environment. The clothes drier uses a lot of electricity which costs you money. The sun and wind outside in the fresh air is absolutely free and uses no electricity. As an added bonus your washing gets that lovely fresh sunny smell. Line dried clothes last longer because there is less wear and tear which is an added bonus. In our house the cloths drier is always a last resort. We have a rotary clothesline, we have put a line up under our veranda and also have a hanging homemade clothes airer in our back porch. In some parts of the world there are restrictions placed on people to prevent them from using outdoor clothes lines. Here in New Zealand, caveats on some new developments are beginning to infringe on the rights of people to have a visible outdoor clothes line. If you are buying into a new development request a copy of the covenants from the real-estate agent. Take time to check that the caveats will not prevent you from line drying your clothes and instead lock you into an energy and carbon intensive requirement to use a clothes drier.

Sustainable clothes pegs: When replacing your plastic clothes pegs try stainless steel, bamboo or wooden pegs. I wrote a blog about this last year and after another year of use my old plastic pegs have almost completely disintegrated (after years of prolonged exposure to sunlight), but my eco pegs are still going strong. I am a convert to bamboo and stainless steel pegs, but if you really want plastic pegs then hunt out a brand of NZ made recycled plastic peg. Stainless steel and bamboo pegs work brilliantly though so don’t be afraid to try something more expensive. They really are worth it.

Choose natural fibres/fabrics: Consider the fabrics your clothes are made from and avoid synthetics that can break down to micro plastic particles and end up in streams and rivers. Microplastic contamination of the oceans is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns.  Microplastics are defined as small particles of plastic that are 100nm to 5mm in size.  Fibres from synthetic fabrics can get into the water from our washing machines.  These microplastic particles are small enough to be ingested by many organisms and as a result there are concerns about bioaccumulation. This is not just an environmental problem but also a health problem for us because these microplastics make their way into soils and waterways and from there into the ocean and ultimately into the food chain. In most parts of New Zealand, the councils will allow you to reuse your greywater for irrigation purposes, but it is likely that you will have to install a greywater filtration system. If you reuse your greywater in this way it is all the more reason to consider very carefully what you put down the drain!

Although not directly related to your laundry, do remember to think mindfully about the type of clothing you buy and how much clothing you really need. We are constantly having seasonal fashion pushed at us and the pressure of “fast fashion” is everywhere. This marketing is a dangerous myth. Buy quality natural clothing that is made to last, and then when you wash it you won’t be contributing to the micro-plastic particles in our waterways. Additionally, you will be slowing the consumerist fast fashion machine that hurts the environment and the garment factory workers who manufacture your clothes in substandard conditions.

Choose lifetime guarantees: When buying or replacing a washing machine consider paying for the model with the longest guarantee and reputation for reliability. The longer the machine lasts the better it is for the environment. Planned obsolescence has a huge (and unnecessary) environmental impact. Consider the availability of spare parts for the machine, repairing is better than replacing.

Cane or wicker clothes baskets: Replace plastic clothes baskets that crack or break and contribute to the plastic disposal problem, with wicker ones. In the past this is something we have done, but currently I am guilty of owning three plastic washing baskets. I was given two of them and purchased the other one when we were away camping and a cane washing basket couldn’t be located. I take care of them and I am determined to make them last as long as possible before they reach the end of their lives. It was easier with the cane washing basket when it bit the dust. We composted parts of it and used the rest for kindling.

So there you have it, lots of ideas to help you to make your laundry more sustainable and environmentally friendly. There are so many things you can do, I am sure there are other ideas I have missed. Don’t be afraid to make some changes and try some new products. The impact of our choices mounts up in a way that is largely invisible to us, but every little change we make has a positive impact downstream. I know it can often seem hopeless when we are faced with the magnitude of the problems facing our environment. Despite this we have to start making changes somewhere, and looking after our fresh water is a very powerful, yet meaningful change to make. The laundry is a great place to start!

A joyful toyless Christmas – gifts that keep giving!

Opoutere 08 102

As the end of the year charges up to meet us, the usual southern hemisphere heat, rush and chaos has descended.  Schools have finally finished, summer holidays have begun, kids are tired, the weather is scorching (but the water temperature is still cooler than we would like), and the end of year Christmas party season is upon us.  In our house this time of year includes a kids birthday just days before Christmas!  I am sure you will have noticed that 2020 has been an extraordinarily strange year, and now to make it even stranger as we approach Christmas, I am reading about Covid related shortages of toys!  This year has been full of tragedy for so many around the world.  Over a million people have died, essential workers are stretched, businesses have collapsed, people have lost their jobs, and doctors, nurses and epidemiologists are our heroes.   Here in New Zealand we have very little to complain about.  We have been blessed that other than a 6 week lockdown and a brief return to level 3 and 2, we have been blessed to be able to continue our lives largely as normal.  Reading the news brings us back to the covid19 reality of the rest of the world.  

In light of the global situation a few shortages seem pretty unimportant, and perhaps we need to get some perspective here.  Kids don’t really need gimmicks and toys if we are truly honest about it.  I think most of it comes from the adult idea about what makes us happy (and most of us have been sucked into consumerist ideas of happiness without even realising) and a desire to show affection in a visually tangible way (look how much I got you, look how big it is, and please notice how expensive it was…. That means I love you).  But if you stop and think about it, do you want piles of expensive toys that kids will grow tired of five minutes after it is assembled, or after every button has been pushed?  Adults have this funny idea about the “magic of Christmas” as if it has to be created.  But really there are many ways to experience joy and there are many ways to spread joy that you can achieve without resorting to Kmart, empty toy shelves and the immense pressure to purchase toys everywhere you go.

Here are some ideas you might not have considered to help you bring joy without toys and to create fun and experiences that will continue giving joy for years.

  • Sports equipment – good quality – listen to what your kids are interested in and buy things that will last for years.  That way if your kids move on from it you can pass it on to the Sallies (or any charity shop), sell it online or give it away to someone else.  Cheap stuff usually breaks and ends up in the landfill and that is something we all need to be trying to avoid.  Spend more on less and get quality.  Ideas include rugby balls, bike repair kits, cricket sets, tennis racket.
  • Cooking equipment – decent stuff you’d buy for yourself – cake decorating things, icing bags, books of ideas and techniques.  Choose stuff that will last, and encourage your kids to take care of it so it lasts a lifetime!  In the past we have given our kids measuring spoons, cups, and baking molds.  We even gave them small saucepans so they could use their own equipment.  Cookery books for kids are a great idea.  Even giving interesting ingredients will go down well.
  • Gardening things – Create a bit of garden for them to plant things in, or if you haven’t got space for a garden bed, try a wooden planter box. Perhaps buy the materials and help them to make it for themselves.  Give seeds, and seedling pots, plants, watering cans, garden trowels and hand forks.  Help your kids to discover the joy of gardening and learn together as a family.
  • Tool box and tools – again don’t be tempted to buy the cheapest stuff at the hardware store.  There is nothing fun about tools that don’t work properly or break when you are using them.  Seek advice and get something that will do the job well and will last if it is dropped!  I am thinking of builder’s pencils, tape measures, hammers and nails, a set of screwdrivers, a handsaw, little socket sets and the like.  If Mum or Dad or Grandpa like to tinker on the car or build things in the garage, then a toolbox with tools is a great Christmas or birthday idea.  I have seen simple pre-cut kitset bird tables, bookends, and planter boxes for sale and if you can’t find one or make up the pieces yourself, the chances are that you can find someone who can whip a kitset together for you in their garage (or try your local Menz Shed).
  • Books!  Do I need to say more? Books are a great gift for all ages and interests.  Books for information, how to guides, stories, facts, classics, books about sport, animals, monsters, technology, gardening, cooking, crafts, famous people, the list is endless.  Books are amazing.  Our kids all read, and they read ALL the time.  The secret to getting kids to read is to get them great books, to read to them and with them.  Read good stories out loud to the family after tea instead of turning on the TV.  Choose wisely, and look for literature rather than meaningless cutesy stories or that latest movie fad.  Go online and look for a list of great children’s authors and hunt out something really enduring.  Books by local authors often make more sense to kids because they feel familiar culturally. In our case, there are a vast array of amazing authors right here in NZ. Librarians are great at recommending books if you are stuck.
  • Craft supplies – Give gifts of fabric, elastic, soft toy patterns, eyes, buttons, needles, thread, sewing scissors, safety pins, knitting needles, and wool in exciting colours.  French knitting (you can make your own with a toilet roll and 4 popsicle sticks) or get a wooden one that will last and not disappoint. Crochet needles, knitting needles, felt, googly eyes, little beads.  Tee shirts and t-shirt paint! The list of possibilities goes on.  Don’t feel you have to buy kid themed things or pre-packaged boxed activities.  Adult things work better as a rule and are usually made to last. 
  • Art supplies – real art supplies. Go to a place that sells proper art things for adults and get them proper coloured pencils, sketch pencils, fine line pens (for outlining) gel pens, erasers, good quality metal pencil sharpeners, a paint box with a couple of good quality brushes, some sketch books, art pads, pencil boxes or oil pastels. Giving kids a creative outlet and something to experiment with is invaluable to developing creative minds and new skills.
  • Give adventures and experiences.  Take your kids tramping (if you’re outside of NZ you might know this as hiking, rambling or such like), buy them tramping gear of their own, go camping, take them to places like wildlife refuges (Pukaha Mt Bruce, Zealandia), museums (Te Papa), the zoo (Orana Park, Willowbank), a seal colony, etc.  Take them fishing. Go for a swim at the beach or the river and make a real expedition of it.  Make memories.
  • Games and puzzles for the family.  During lockdown board games and jigsaws were rediscovered by people everywhere.  A great game will bring hours of fun and entertainment.  They can be played by groups of friends, families, and all age groups.  Jigsaws are another family friendly activity that is worth considering.  We still get wet days in summer and often a puzzle is the perfect way to occupy kids.

All of these things make great presents for kids, and all of them will keep giving joy for many years.  If you buy quality you might end up with a little less under the tree, but what you give will last and can be passed on to others in the future instead of breaking and ending up in the landfill.

A couple of other ideas that might be fun to try out if you have a bit of time are gingerbread biscuits or if you are ambitious, what about a gingerbread house?  Try helping your kids to make the family Christmas Crackers.  A few funny jokes on bits of paper, small gifts, chocolates and Christmas decorations are all you need.  Write Christmas cards with the kids and post them to their friends.  Have you ever noticed how much kids LOVE getting a letter in the mailbox?  Make Christmas decorations one afternoon.  Get creative and see how many things you can find on a walk that you can decorate for the tree.  Help your kids to sew simple drawstring bags or hair scrunchies to give away as gifts.  Make lavender bags!  

Above all, take time out for yourselves to slow down and enjoy time together.  We are so often running around here, there and everywhere, or plugged into our devices, that we miss the simple joy of spending time together. 

These ideas have created joy in our family for years and I really hope and pray that they give you ideas for your families as well.  Sometimes less is more and I really do mean that.  Kids can actually create magic out of their imaginations, they don’t really need the latest Hollywood movie themed noisemaker or dress-up to have fun.  All they need is love at the end of the day.  And Love is what Christmas is all about.

Eating what we overlook

AA9_3955

I am really excited to have recently had a bit of an epiphany about what we class and edible and why.  I think, like many  people, I have become overly reliant on what is in the shops to guide my fresh food choices.  If it isn’t in the shop then (while I might be aware of it) I might not remember it or think of it when I am trying to choose fresh produce for my family.  If it isn’t there in the shop then I can’t buy it.  I think we are so blinded regarding what we can actually eat that we have can no longer see the possibilities.  For example I tend to forget that many flowers can be eaten and added to salads etc.  Take pineapple sage.  It is super pretty and attracts bees into the garden (and my 9 year old who likes to suck the nectar out of them), but I had never considered how they might be added to a salad to add flavour and a splash of brilliant red colour.

AA9_4127
Nasturtium capers!  I never realised that you could eat the leaves the flowers AND the seeds of these amazing plants.  All the more reason to plant some in your garden. 

I was looking for a relish recipe in one of my favorite recipe books and I noticed that you can pickle nasturtium seeds and use them like capers.  I was immediately curious and decided that a lockdown activity would be to pickle some.  I picked a jar of green nasturtium seeds and following a combination of several recipes I successfully pickled them. They have been maturing in the fridge since the lockdown and are now ready to open and try.   A friend told me they are crisp and crunchy and a bit spicy.  I can’t wait to crack them open the next time we make homemade pizza.

As New Zealand headed into the covid19 pandemic people suddenly started thinking about being more self sufficient as a way of making sure they could feed their families if things got really tough.  Seedlings and seeds were suddenly in demand.  One thing that didn’t occur to so many people is that the food we see and take for granted in the produce aisle is only a very small sample of the produce that is actually out there.  There are so many things that you can eat that you can’t buy in a supermarket or even at a green grocer (if you are lucky enough to have one local to you).  Perhaps an even bigger issue here is that the produce we see is often not the only part of the plant you can eat.

This latter point has come as a bit of a revelation to me as I considered during lockdown how I could provide for my family as we headed into winter AND tried to avoid unnecessary trips to the shop for produce that spoils quickly and can’t be stored in bulk.  This thought process has continued for me as we emerged from lockdown.  There are a lot of things that might be growing in your garden (flowers, herbs, fruits, vegetables and even “weeds”) unnoticed and unappreciated.  Just because you only buy a broccoli head doesn’t mean that is the only edible part of the plant.  When you buy a couple of beetroot tubers, shorn of their leaves and glad-wrapped onto a plastic tray it is easy to forget that the leaves are edible too.  A whole edible part of the plant has been removed and as a result we tend to forget about it and we are unable to make use of those parts in our cooking.  This has caused me to begin looking at the plants in my garden and the produce we eat differently.  I am surprised how much we waste because we forget that it can be eaten!  I hope to inspire you to look differently at your garden and the plants we consume.  So here is some food for thought.

  • People usually grow radishes for the root, but did you also know that you can also eat the green radish seed pods? Pick some to try with a salad.   That isn’t the end either because radish seeds can be used as a spicy sprouting seed, and as a micro-green.
  • Peas can be grown as a winter crop (although ours are off to a slow start) and everyone is familiar with peas in pods and shelling them into bowls.  But did you know that you know that you can also use peas shoots as a salad green, and you can eat the flowers?
  • Nasturtium flowers can be eaten, but so can leaves shoots and seeds (as caper pickles).  I have always loved nasturtiums.  I love the riot of flowers cascading out over paths and climbing over the top of boulders and tree stumps.  The flowers are so bright and vivid that I almost feel they hurt my eyes and are so bright they can’t be actually real.  I always find I am drawn the the intensity of the flowers, and so I always have them in my garden.  I have known for years that you can eat the flowers and I sometime dress up a salad by adding some.  But I didn’t know until this year that you can also eat the young leaves and the seeds as well.  We used the leaves in salad sandwiches during lockdown while we waited for our lettuce seedlings to get big enough to harvest from, and we loved them.
  • Beetroot is another plant that we often forget is about more than the root.  The young leaves can be used as a salad green as well and the leaves in general can be used like silverbeet. So often we think of beetroot as just coming in a tin but it is easy and rewarding to grow (providing you cover them to protect them from hungry birds).
  • When people pick celery they usually discard the leaves.  But celery leaves can be used to flavour soup stocks, and can be chopped into salads as well.  Personally I always use celery leaves when I am making soup stock.
  • Pumpkin is another versatile vegetable that has many more possibilities that the big ripe orange fruit we tend to think of.  For example pumpkin leaves are edible and can be used to wrap food for steaming.  The young shoots and leaves can apparently be steamed and eaten like silverbeet.  Small baby pumpkins can be used like courgettes.  The flowers can be added to salads and the seeds can be saved for next year.
  • Broccoli is an incredible plant with so many possibilities that you won’t see in the supermarket produce aisle.  Broccoli leaves can be used in both salads and stir fries, and they can be used like cabbage.  Broccoli is much more that just the delicious flower heads we usually consume.  If one of your plants goes to seed, you can sprout the seeds and eat them (and you can collect and save the seed for next year).  Even the flowers themselves can be used in salads.  So many more possibilities than you might think!
  • I only learned recently that the leafy green tops of carrots can also be eaten.  According to my investigations they are nutritious and taste of carrots with a parsley overtone.   I gather that they are rather coarse so might benefit from being finely chopped if you are adding them to salads raw.  I think they sound perfect for adding to soups and soup stocks.  The leaves are apparently a rich source of vitamin c (containing more than the root).  Who knew that?  All those years of discarding the tops!  I am going to try this the next time I make soup.
  • I have heard of growing mustard before (as micro-greens) but I hadn’t realised that the mature plant can be eaten as well.  You can eat them as sprouts, micro-greens, and as leafy greens for salads and sandwiches.  Apparently the stems (before they get woody) can be eaten and taste a bit like spicy asparagus.  You can eat the flowers, and finally the seeds can be made into your own whole grain mustard.  You can bet I am going to explore this vegetable further.  I have just planted some out into the garden .  I am watching and waiting impatiently for the seedlings to grow a bit bigger before I start plucking leaves off to taste.
  • Even some things we usually class as weeds can be eaten e.g. dandelion and plantain leaves.  I have to admit that this is an area that I am not very knowledgeable about yet.  I just hadn’t really stopped to think that I might have food plants growing all over the place but that I have been overlooking.

I think my grandparents knew a thing or two about growing produce and surviving through tough times.  They lived through the great depression and two world wars and they raised a family awhile living a more frugal and self sufficient lifestyle.  They always had a variety of well maintained fruit and nut trees, and a productive vegetable garden.  As the years have gone by it seems that many of the subsequent generations have lost a lot of the knowledge our grandparents took for granted.  Growing your own produce and preserving the surplus was normal for them.  They saved seed, bottled, dried, preserved, and pickled away happily while producing a lot of the produce they needed for their growing family.  The art of growing vegetables and fruit has been lost as consumerism has driven a change in how we shop and provide for our families.  Important knowledge (like how much of a plant is edible) has increasingly been lost as well, and the way we buy food in supermarkets limits what you can actually get.

Discovering that nasturtium seeds could be preserved and that the leaves taste amazing in salads and sandwiches was the beginning of a revelation.  I had been blind to how much edible green produce was sitting in my garden.  I didn’t need to worry about how we would provide fresh produce during lockdown, because we had an abundant supply of things we had never considered just sitting in our garden.   For me this feels like the start of an exciting new stage in my gardening journey.  I really hope I inspire you to look again at what you have in your garden.  It is easy to be blinded by what is laid out in the produce aisle, but what they don’t provide is even more exciting.  Don’t be afraid to try something new or to put in a vegetable patch.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Ideas for isolation – more recipes for scarcity

AA9_4107
Hearty homemade soup and overnight bread.  An easy way to stretch your resources and produce simple nourishing food your family will love.  A great way to avoid food wastage and make do with less.

Around the world people are grappling with a new world view.  After nearly 5 weeks in lockdown we in New Zealand are about to emerge slightly from the extreme rules of the level 4 restrictions.  We have learned (and I mean my family personally, but hopefully all of us collectively as well), that things look different from inside our “bubbles”.  Our bubbles have provided an odd sense of perspective that perhaps our busy lives have been lacking.  An enforced slowing of the normally frenetic pace of life.  Things that seemed important (getting to the shops after school, fitting in play dates, birthday parties, and sports practices, buying cloths, or take away coffee), don’t seem as pressing when you are looking at the world from the (hopefully) safe confines of your bubble.  A collective purpose to protect the vulnerable members of our families and communities is more than enough reason to sacrifice our freedom temporarily.   Perhaps you (like us) have had time to discover the joys of being with your kids, having time to play lego, enjoy board games and family jigsaws, have movie nights and snuggle longer  in the mornings.  

This new world of bubbles is definitely not easy, and homeschooling kids is mind bending.  I have taken to educating by stealth – hoping they won’t notice they are learning and studying until they look back later.  Add to that, working from home and it can feel exhausting.  That’s because momentous change is exhausting.  So I reckon its import that we go easy on ourselves and just do what we can.  There is no point in comparing yourself to anyone else.  Their  situation is not the same as yours.

Covid-19 has ushered in a desire in many people to be more self-sufficient and to rediscover the joy of cooking.   Going forward, the traditional ways to feed our families may not be as reliable or easy to access.  As the coronavirus spread, so too did the panic buying – toilet paper, pasta, flour, yeast and even seedlings and seeds.  Obviously people were suddenly visualising a future where greater self-sufficiency might give them greater security.

Because of the abundance of time on our hands, it seems many New Zealanders have suddenly turned to the idea of a home garden.  I think this is a hugely positive step for the population to be taking.  Every person who has pots or a tiny patch of garden can start producing nutritious fresh produce to supplement their families diet.  If you have enough space then you can actually grow pretty much everything you need to eat.  I encourage everybody to take the time to start growing food.  It is good for the soul and good for the body. 

I know that one of the things I have found hardest in lockdown is the need to cook mindfully.  By that I mean rationing butter and other ingredients to make sure they last as long as possible so that our trips to the supermarket are infrequent.   Also making things from scratch takes a bit more planning and time than I have often had in pre-corona times.  Everyone seems at least to be enjoying the meals coming from my kitchen so that is a blessing.

One of our go to dishes for the winter months is a good hearty soup.  I call it elbow soup because the amounts that I put in are estimated by the “feel in my elbow”.  No soup is ever the same twice because I very rarely have the same set of ingredients to hand.  My Grandma used to keep a pot of soup on the stove and throw all her leftovers into it.  She was a renowned soup maker.  She taught my Mum, and Mum taught me.  Now I am teaching my three kids.  This has turned out to be one of our easiest lockdown lunches.  It is flexible and works with whatever I have handy.  What I love about soup is that it gives us the opportunity to change our perception of useless or inedible by turning disparate scraps into a rich new creation.

Every soup I make starts with good stock.  I do buy dried stock powder, but wherever I possibly can, I always make my own.  Vegetable, or chicken stock is my go to soup starter, but you can also use beef stock.  Soup stock is something you can make yourself, it doesn’t need to come in individual plastic containers or in a plastic jar.  A simple way to make a healthy meal for your family also has the added benefit of using food scraps that would otherwise go to waste, and saving you a trip to the shop and potentially the environmental impact of plastic packaging.  I hope you find these recipes simple and useful during the strange times we are living through.

Homemade soup stock:

Next time you have a roast chicken (or any chicken actually), save the bones and boil them up.  Boiling the bones is where the flavour and goodness comes from.  We always boil up the remains of a roast and I will usually get two boilings off one chicken frame.  The first is more meaty than the second boiling and so I tend to add more veges and herbs to the second boiling to bulk it up a bit.  I create a bouquet garni, which consists of a sprig of rosemary, thyme, oregano, half a teaspoon of black pepper corns and maybe a bay leaf.  Sometimes I add parsley, but I am not traditional about this, I just add what I have to hand and what I think will add a nice flavour.  You are supposed to tie them into a muslin bag or tie them together in a bunch, but I just throw them in the pot with the bones (or vegetables) and strain the lot through a sieve when the stock is finished.  I also throw in a roughly chopped clove of garlic and and a slice or two of onion.  Sometimes I put in carrot peelings, celery leaves, and mushroom stalks.  All these things add to the flavour but you can just go with the basic herbs and pepper together with garlic and onion.  Cover the bones with water and bring to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering slowly until the liquid has reduced by about half (or until the flavour is good).  Sieve the stock into a clean container with a lid (discard the bones and bits or if you are going to boil them a second time start over adding fresh herbs and veges etc and repeat), allow to cool and then freeze it.  If you are using the stock immediately to make a soup, then decant it into a large pot and progress with the soup. 

I make vegetable stock by throwing into the pot everything as before (except the bones obviously).  I add more garlic, onion and celery (You can use celery leaves in stock).  Then I add anything that is a vegetable that I have to hand.  Odd bits of pumpkin, celery,  potato and carrot peelings and ends, mushroom stalks etc and boil up as for chicken stock.  

My “elbow”soup recipe:

Once you have your soup stock (instant stock powder or cubes is fine if you haven’t got a homemade stock) you are ready to begin your soup.  I always cast about the bottom of the vegetable bin for old mushrooms, slightly wizened looking carrots (with a bit of life), bits of limp looking cauliflower or broccoli.  In short anything that might be a little past its best that might otherwise be discarded. I put those in first, Chopping into 1cm chunks if I intend to end up with a chunky soup, and throwing in bigger chunks if I intend to mouli, sieve or blend it.  Then I cast around in the fridge for any leftovers and throw those in.  I use leftover rice, stir fry, pasta, pasta bake, spaghetti bolognaise, sausages or chicken.

AA9_4094

I usually put in some or all of the following:

  • tomatoes, (however many feels right to me – but usually between 2 and 8 depending on size and availability.  If I have a half used tin of tomatoes or pasata sauce I will put that in too.
  • a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic.  If I lack garlic I have sometimes used garlic salt.
  • one or two medium potatoes or left over mashed potato
  • bits of bacon (I am always sparing with the bacon and I use it for flavour rather than bulk).
  • a sausage or two.  I either cook them up especially for the soup or use any that are left over from previous meals.  Simply slice them and add.  Frankfurters are good too.
  • a carrot, grated or sliced
  • frozen corn if I have any
  • left over baked beans
  • pearl barley, red or brown lentils
  • left over porridge or a handful of porridge/rolled oats
  • sour cream
  • smoked paprika
  • a teaspoon of mixed herbs
  • some fresh ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • celery
  • spring onions,
  • pumpkin or kumara
  • pasta or rice (leftovers get used first to save wastage).
  • chives
  • parsley
  • mushrooms
  • a nice fresh courgette but I don’t use too much and always add near the end of cooking so they retain their colour and flavour.

Once I have finished adding the ingredients, I bring it to the boil stirring to make sure nothing sticks and then I reduce the heat and let it simmer on a low heat for as long as I can stirring every now and again.  I find the longer the better for flavour development. Add extra water if it is getting too thick.  If  the soup is to be moulied check things like lentils are soft and tender and that harder ingredients like carrot and potato are soft. Then I mouli the lot.  Sometimes we like to have noodles in our soup so I add cooked pasta after I have moulied it.  Sometimes I moulie the soup pasta and all.

Taste the soup and adjust the flavours to your taste.  My Mum always says soup tastes better if left overnight but soup isn’t safe in our house for long and so we very rarely have soup left to sample next day!

Overnight bread:

To go with your amazing soup you could try making your own bread.  During lock down, getting hold of flour and yeast has been more difficult that usual.  We have enough but are trying to make our supply stretch for as long as possible.  I was also concerned about friends and family trying to make their flour and yeast stretch the distance so I did some looking and found a recipe for overnight bread.  It is the simplest bread I have made yet.  No knead, no fuss, just simple and delicious.

AA9_4100

You need a casserole dish with a lid ( the deeper the better) or a dutch oven.  If you don’t have something with a lid use a deep oven dish and cover with tin foil instead.  You will also need baking paper.  I have found that I can reuse my baking paper several times before it reaches the end of its life.  

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of flour (standard white flour nothing fancy)
  • half a teaspoon of active yeast (granules) or one teaspoon of Surebake.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of water.   I have used both luke warm water and straight cold water from the tap.   I think the warm water is better if it is a really cold night but both work fine

Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl.  It makes a very sticky dough much wetter than my usual dough.  Sometimes when I am mixing it it seems a bit drier than usual so I add a little bit of extra water (say a tablespoon or two) in little dribbles until all the dry flour is mixed in.

Then cover with a plate and leave on your bench overnight.  I leave mine for between 8 to 12 hours, and on occasion even 24 hours.  It is very forgiving and so far I haven’t noticed any difference in the finished bread.  

Next day after 8 (or more) hours scrape the dough out onto some baking paper that you have sprinkled liberally with flour, and using floured fingers or a spatula shape it into a roughly circular shape.  This doesn’t have to be perfect, just rough. 

Leave for 30 mins to rest.  While the dough is resting, turn your oven on to 220°C and put your casserole or dutch oven or oven dish into the oven to pre-heat. 

When the rest period is over, use a serrated knife to cut a rough cross into the top of the dough, remove the preheated casserole from the oven (carefully because it is super hot) lift the bread dough on the baking paper and drop the whole lot into the casserole, cover with the lid, and place in the oven for 30 mins.

After thirty minutes carefully (it will be VERY hot) remove the lid and return the bread to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and lift out of the casserole using the baking paper and place on a wire rack to cool.

AA9_4098
Finished!  It just needs to be lifted out to cool on a wire rack.  It smells incredibly good.

It will make a very crusty and super yummy loaf to go with your soup, or to simply enjoy with stretched butterI have no idea how well it keeps because it never lasts our family of 5 for more than one meal!  I do note that it is easier to cut when it is cooled a bit. 

I hope these recipes are helpful and inspire you to try making your own soup and bread.  Let your kids try making their own bread and soup for the family.  This is a skill they will definitely be grateful to have when they are flatting in the future.  In the mean time, look after yourselves, stay safe, and be kind.

Kia kaha (stay strong), this too shall pass.

One more step on the plastic free journey – bamboo cotton buds.

AA9_3921
A sweet solution to one part of the single use plastic problem. Plastic free cotton buds. On the left, Go Bamboo brand and on the right, The humble co.

Plastic pollution in the ocean is largely invisible.  The water looks blue and the waves sparkle in the sunlight, but beneath the surface there are microplastics, and they are being ingested by the fish that end up on our plates.  There is also larger plastic rubbish washing up on beaches, and being ingested by our precious bird species, which leads to the starvation of chicks and adults.  Although it is usually invisible, every breaking wave on the shore is carrying a burden of plastic pollution!  We have to take steps to change our consumer choices and reduce our consumption of plastic.

Plastic pollution is a huge problem for our generation to grapple with.  Plastic can seem like the simple solution to so many problems.  For decades we have been seduced by how cheap it is, how light weight it is, how durable it is, how easy to replace, and now it is  found everywhere.  The problem of plastic pollution is now a problem so overwhelming that it is often very hard to find plastic free alternatives to anything.  Worse still we have become blind to single use plastics, seeing them as convenient and necessary.   Happily there are a growing number of companies that provide sustainable alternatives to plastic items we usually just take for granted (or at least I did until a few years ago).  I became concerned with the state of our climate, our environment, our water, and the future that we are leaving for our children to face.  Greta Thurnburg is right when she says that we should be ashamed of the future we are leaving for our children to clean up.  I have been bothered by that thought since before Greta began her school strike.  It is what motivated me to begin to make small changes as often as I can to look after this precious planet.

Cotton buds are common in many houses, they live in bathrooms and make-up bags everywhere.  They are intended to be discarded after use (who wants to reuse a cotton bud?)   Almost all of them are plastic these days, but when I was a kid the stems were made from rolled paper (like some lolly pop sticks still are).  Somewhere between my childhood and today, they switched to plastic.  Suddenly they couldn’t go in the kindling box, or the compost anymore.   I remember my Mum and I discussing it and being frustrated that we just had to throw them in the rubbish.  Three years ago, I began looking seriously into alternatives for plastic products and I came across bamboo cotton buds.  Our family switched as soon as we needed to buy new cotton buds, and we have never regretted it.  The switch was not hard at all.  The first ones we found were Go Bamboo cotton buds.  They are 100% biodegradable and the box is unbleached cardboard so that it can be composted.

Then in January this year I found that The Humble co. makes cotton buds too.  These are also 100% biodegradable, and the packaging is made from recycled cardboard.  These cotton buds are pink tipped if you prefer colourful cotton buds.  There is no good reason that I can think of not to make the switch to bamboo cotton buds.  If cost is a concern just consider the cost to the environment instead.  The image of a seahorse holding on to a cotton bud is not a pretty picture, and I am not about to let my cotton buds get into the ocean or contribute to the growing plastic pollution problem.  I want my kids to see that as a family we can make a positive impact rather than a negative one.  Every action (no matter how small) has real power to effect change.   Reduce, reuse, re-purpose, repair, recycle.  As soon as you find an alternative to plastic that is sustainable, switch to it.  Let your purchasing power speak for you.

Miss 9 is a member of her schools enviro group.  The school has been working towards its EnviroSchools Green-Gold award.  In a couple of weeks the judges are coming to see if the school as done enough to achieve this goal.  My daughter is passionate about the environment and I am stunned at her drive and determination.  If she can walk the walk at school with her friends, I am determined we will do the same at home.  She is refusing to use shampoo in plastic bottles because she knows how big the plastic problem is.  Instead she has been using my Ethique shampoo bars on the sly.  Even telling her that the Ecostore shampoo that we buy comes in sugar plastic bottles from a renewable source doesn’t dissuade her from her desire to avoid using products in plastic.  She finds this really hard at times when popular toys she is keen on turn out to be plastic, but most of the time she sticks to her guns and prefers to avoid it.  Honestly – if a nine year old girl can make tough decisions to avoid plastic, then so can the rest of us.  Start with choosing plastic free cotton buds next time you need some, a plastic free dish brush or plastic free clothes pegs.  We owe it to our children to do something now.

Eco-glitter update – more plastic free razzle dazzle.

AA9_3825
My two super cute, teeny tiny bottles of biodegradable eco-glitter from Three Mamas.

A few months ago, I posted what has become a very popular blog post on DIY alternatives to conventional plastic glitter.  The fact that conventional glitters are made from plastic is a fact that has escaped a lot of people.  I don’t think glitter has ever seemed anything other than innocuous, crafty, and fun.  It is rather sad then, that a microplastic menace is lurking in schools, kindergartens, and home craft cupboards everywhere.  Increasingly, the general public are getting the message that microplastics and plastic pollution is a huge problem.  Now we just need alternatives and sustainable options to chose instead.

Since I started making alternatives to glitter for my kids to use, I have talked to lots of people about it.  I have now had the thumbs up on my DIY glitters from the kids at our church sunday school (where we used them to construct a sign pointing the way to the kids corner), and from one of the teachers at school. My own kids love the homemade sustainable alternatives, and they really haven’t missed the sparkly kind very much.

I have now discovered fully biodegradable eco-glitter thanks to my dear husband, who noticed it and decided to surprise me.  Three Mamas eco-glitter looks like conventional glitter but instead of a plastic base, it’s made from non-GMO Eucalyptus cellulose, from a renewable source, and it is biodegradable.  Now we can have fun making our own, but still have a source of sparkly glitter for those special things that just need some extra pizzazz.  This glitter comes in both fine and chunky sizes and it comes in a large variety of colours.  Possibly the cutest part of this glitter is that you can get it in teeny tiny glass bottles with tiny corks.  I am a sucker for tiny things and and these push all the right buttons with me.  Miss 9 is pretty captivated with them as well, because they look like fairy wish jars.

Three Mamas eco-glitter is vegan, and safe for use in cosmetics. It takes about 6 months to break down in compost or marine water. Their website has a number of positive reviews.   So all in all a great discovery.

Microplastic contamination of the oceans is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns. Microplastics are defined as small particles of plastic that are 100nm to 5mm in size .    These microplastic particles are small enough to be ingested by many organisms and as a result there are concerns about bioaccumulation in our food chain.

The problem of microplastics is a huge one, and one that we are only now beginning to grapple with.  The impacts and consequences are far-reaching and long lasting, and the true effects of marine organisms and even ourselves won’t be known for decades.  I know that craft and cosmetic glitter can seem a bit insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but we all have to start somewhere, and ditching plastic glitter is as good a place as any to begin.  Little steps conquer big mountains.  Each person that starts questioning and thinking about issues such as plastic pollution is one part of the solution.   Why not show your children that there is a better way?  Help them to be part of the change.

Sustainable Clothes Pegs – SUST

AA9_3780
A few of my sustainable pegs.  Bamboo spring pegs from Go Bamboo, a single “dolly peg” left over from a craft activity, and my brand new Munch brand stainless steel pegs.

Have you ever considered clothes pegs? They are clever little things, so simple and so useful.  But how sustainable are they?  Clothes pegs are almost entirely made from plastic and are practically all manufactured in China.  I have picked up pegs in some pretty strange places; footpaths, roads, car parks, playgrounds.  But the most disturbing places I have picked them up is on beaches half buried in the sand. And I am talking about relatively isolated beaches.  We even found them on Mana Island during a beach clean-up.  This prompted me to start thinking about sustainable alternatives, and trying to find locally made pegs if I could.

I remember the day it occurred to me to wonder if my old broken plastic pegs could actually be recycled.   I looked at the gravel under my clothesline and noticed the fragments of ancient looking plastic pegs.  Some had simply been dropped and then stepped on.  Some had suffered plastic fatigue and had broken mid-use leaving my clothes hanging oddly, or in a sad heap on the ground below the line.  Others had served me well and probably date back to around 15 years ago, but had become pitted with age, faded, and brittle with extended exposure to the sun.  As I gathered the remnants of my expired pegs I found myself wondering if they should go in the rubbish or the recycling.  I turned to trusty Google and began researching, and then started firing off emails.

AA9_3784
Some of the broken remains of pegs that have reached the end of their lives…..all headed for landfill.

It turns out that while some plastic clothes pegs start out as technically recyclable plastic, extended exposure to UV damages them so that they are no longer recyclable.  I discovered this interesting fact when I tracked down the manufacturer of Sunshine Pegs.  I fired off my questions about how recyclable they are and they responded promptly to explain the effects of UV.

aa9_3782.jpg
Bright, colourful and practical. A few of my plastic pegs. On the far left are five NZ made Sunshine pegs.

Clothes pegs are a surprisingly recent invention.  The earliest references to clothes pegs date from around the early 19th century.  Prior to that date washing was apparently draped over a line or hung out over bushes to dry.  This might have been OK in England, but it wouldn’t work at all here in Wellington (the windiest city in the world) on what we would class as a slightly breezy day!  In my grandma’s day back in the 1940’s with a young family, pegs were wooden (and no doubt made right here in New Zealand too).  In fact my grandma managed to make do without plastic at all with three children during WW2 rationing.  Although times have changed and life is different today, I find her example inspirational.  The up-shot is that although plastic pegs are ubiquitous and convenient they are not sustainable and there are alternatives.   Here are just a few that I have found.

Sunshine pegs – NZ made, but not recyclable at end of life.

These bright, colourful, plastic spring pegs are made in New Zealand, so don’t require shipping to our shores with all the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Although technically recyclable when the product is new, this isn’t the case after prolonged exposure to UV.  Since pegs do most of their work outside on sunny hot days, they aren’t really a recyclable product. They are going to end up in landfill or washed down stormwater drains at the end of their lives.    I have a supply of them, and they are great, but only while they are not UV damaged and consequently brittle.  If you want to continue with plastic pegs, at least make sure that they are made locally. 

Go Bamboo pegs – Made in China, biodegradable

These bamboo pegs were my first exploration into the world of sustainable alternatives to plastic pegs.  Priced reasonably at $7 for 20 pegs and packaged in compostable boxes,  these pegs were made for Wellingtons famous winds!  They have an incredibly strong grip. I like them, and would happily have more of them.  They don’t stain or mark clothing.  However on the downside, their grip is so strong that they can be a bit fiddly to get on and off in a hurry (such as a sudden rain shower) and my Mum who has a bit of arthritis finds them nearly impossible to operate.

Go Bamboo make a lot of claims to be sustainable and to have good conditions for their factory workers, but they don’t back any of this up with accreditations such as fairtrade.  This bothers me, but so far I haven’t found an alternative brand with accreditations and so until I do I will continue to use them.  Basically they are asking me to trust that they are being 100% honest about what they are claiming, but an accreditation would make this a much easier decision.

Munch stainless steel pegs = Made in China

These are my newest acquisition.  My darling husband spotted them and got some for me to try.  Not a cheap option at $27 for a bag of 20 pegs, but I have to say so far they are worth it.  They are strong, easy to operate and don’t mark clothing.  They have handled some pretty mean winds and my washing has stayed firmly on the line.  I have no issues with these pegs.  I love them.

Although I haven’t tried them yet, I did stumble across some New Zealand made pegs made from recycled plastic.  They look good, and I am keen to sample them.  A google search turns up several pegs that are made in New Zealand from recycled plastic.  I think this would be a good option if you remain keen on plastic pegs.  Although exposure to UV means they will not be recyclable at the end of their “working life”.

I am unsure which is best actually, sustainable pegs that have to be shipped here contributing to GHG emissions, or plastic pegs made here in New Zealand but that can’t be recycled, thus contributing to landfill and the rising problem of micro-plastics and plastic pollution.  It is a tough one.  In the end I have opted for imported sustainable pegs so that I am no longer contributing old pegs to the plastic problem in our landfills and on our beaches.  I am hopeful that they will prove durable and will outlast the plastic pegs.  But as soon as someone starts making sustainable plastic free pegs right here in New Zealand, I will ditch the imports and buy New Zealand made again.

It may seem like an insignificant step to make towards a more sustainable future, but I think it is worth while.  Plastic pegs are not designed to last for long.  They are designed to be expendable and easily replaceable.  They must contribute a fair bit of plastic over the full life of an average family.  I don’t ever want one of my old pegs to end up inside an albatross chick instead of fish, and I don’t ever want my old pegs washing out to sea to end up polluting a beautiful beach somewhere.  New Zealand has so many native seabirds that this is a real concern for me.  If my pegs are made from wood or metal, that will never be a problem.  I challenge you to make a sustainable change in your laundry to remove another source of plastic, and wherever possible choose to buy local over imports if you can.  Together our consumer choices can make a difference, even if it seems insignificant.  Those discarded bits of plastic don’t seem very important to us, but it matters a huge amount to the albatross chick that gets a peg instead of fish.

Ethical Clothing – choices for a better future!

AA9_3770
Some of our ethical clothing choices, from left: hand knitted red top, pom pom hat knitted by my mum, a vest top (with pockets) knitted by my aunt, one of my amazing second hand merino cardigans, second hand red soccer shorts, a tee-shirt that supports the Genetic Rescue Foundation, my favourite  Tumbleweed Tee’s tee-shirt, and an awesome Etiko tee-shirt.

What if the person who made your shoes was a young boy who wants desperately to go to school?  How would you feel if that was your son? How would you feel if the person who made your tee-shirt was unable to afford to send their children to school? What if the manufacture of your clothing helped to destroy a habitat? These are questions that prey on my mind and are now shaping my purchasing decisions.  Our collective clothing choices have power.  Ethical clothing is not just good for the workers and the environment, it is good for your soul.

There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to ethical clothing.  I want to give you a taste of what is actually out there because a lot of people seem surprised that there are actually reasonable options to consider.  It matters a lot to me who made my clothes. I want them to have fulfilled and happy lives and I want them to be safe and healthy and educated.  In New Zealand we have labour laws designed to protect our workers as well as laws protecting our environment, which is why I think many of us take it for granted that other countries have similar laws. Because we don’t have clothing factories with horrific conditions here in New Zealand it is a largely invisible problem. Only a small proportion of clothing is actually made here.  Most of our apparel and clothing is made overseas and is shipped here (which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions because New Zealand is so geographically isolated).  Most of our clothing comes from places like Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico, Turkey, China and Indonesia – all of which have big problems with sweatshops, and poor environmental protection.  Given recent world events, it is also pertinent to consider how a country treats its migrants

Another closely related issue is that of “fast fashion”. Cheap clothing that is designed to be discarded seasonally as the fashions change.  Fast fashion is not made to last and the fabrics and manufacturing are often poor quality.  Fast fashion is hurting the factory workers and the environment, and most of it ends up in landfills.  This happens because we have collectively bought into the lie that we need to look fashionable, and that buying more and more clothes will somehow make us happy and fulfilled.

Every January when we pack up for 3 weeks away from home in a caravan,  I find I really don’t need most of my clothes.  If I can manage for three weeks in the summer with just one tiny drawer of clothing, then I have far more clothes than I actually need. To be honest I feel pressured to regularly vary what I wear. I feel pressure not to re-wear the same clothes every few days.  Now that I am aware of this I try to constantly consider what I have and why I need to buy something else.  I do find it hard and I’m far from perfect, but I am making an effort.  I am trying to buy new items of clothing only if I am replacing an item that is worn out. I have begun downsizing my wardrobe, but I do still find it hard to overcome the desire to have new things.  I am lucky that I have zero desire to shop in big malls. In fact I can’t think of anything worse. I dislike the pressure to impulse buy, and I really struggle not to see things I would like but don’t need.  It makes it much easier for me to stay away from malls and clothing shops.  I prefer to source my new clothing online from places like Tumbleweed Tees that don’t have shops in malls. I guess I am trying to become a mindful shopper.  

The good news is that there are options out there and not all of them are horrifically priced.  It is now easier than it used to be to research the ethical credentials of clothing brands, and there are useful guides out there to help you make informed decisions.  For example the Tearfund Ethical Clothing Guide is a great place to start.  It is updated annually so is always current.    Fair trade and organic clothing is something that I aspire to own and  I am determined to consider the origin of my clothing choices every time I purchase.  I buy to support causes.  I buy to last.  I also buy second hand.  I repair rather than discard.  Today I want to share some of the places you can find fair trade ethical clothing. I urge you to become part of the rising tide of people who consider where their clothing comes from, who made it and what its environmental impact is. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Kathmandu has good transparency, and now stocks fair trade items such as these mens and womens tee-shirts. I will be keeping my eyes open for these next time I am in a Kathmandu store.

The Paper Rain Project is a local New Zealand company producing high quality creative and sustainable products.  Their tee-shirts are 100% organic, fairly traded and locally printed using environmentally aware printing methods.  More recently they have partnered with other brands and now stock a range of sustainable, socially responsible products.  I love their tee-shirt designs and can’t wait to get one next time I need a tee-shirt. Well worth a look.

Humanity  is another New Zealand brand that is committed to sourcing and manufacturing long-lasting sustainable products as part of a circular economy.  I stumbled across their website recently and was pleased with the prices of its tee-shirts, which are not unreasonable. I share it here because I am impressed by what I see and the ethic behind the brand.  I look forward to shopping here in the future.

Freedom Kids  sells fun ethical, gender neutral clothing for kids in all colours and for everybody.  They operate out of the Wairarapa and offer ethical kids clothing. Perhaps not as affordable as I would like it to be, this company still offers options that are hard to come by elsewhere.

Tumbleweed Tees are a small New Zealand business that designs and screen prints its own tee-shirts and other items.  They donate $5 from every adult tee-shirt sold to a conservation group. Some of their designs are specifically linked with particular conservation groups/causes for example the Kea Conservation Trust.  I love the designs so much that although my shag tee-shirt (seen in the picture at the top of this blog) is now very old and worn out, I still can’t bring myself to throw it away, the design is too beautiful.  This is probably my favorite tee-shirt brand simply because they are New Zealand owned and completely unique.  I love that I am supporting conservation with every purchase, and the designs are fabulous. I urge you to check them out for yourself.

Thunderpants are a small, ethical, family owned and operated company, based in the Wairarapa. They make a range of underwear and other items that are made in New Zealand from certified fair trade organic cotton.  I have heard good things about them, and so I am thrilled to be able to trial some.  It’s early days yet, but so far they are super comfortable and seem very well made.  As a bonus they were posted out in a paper mail bag and their branded packaging is fully compostable.  

AA9_3772
Miss 16’s eye-catching Etiko tee-shirt.

Etiko, whose motto is wear no evil, sell a large range of mens and womens shoes, apparel and bags, all of which is certified Fairtrade, Organic, and B Corp.  My husband tried out some of their shoes with mixed results, but my 16 year old daughter has an awesome tee-shirt emblazoned with the words “This tee-shirt freed a slave”, that she grew out of before she wore it out.  They are well worth a look.

SaveMart is a large retailer of quality second hand clothing.  Our family recently visited and discovered some amazing bargains.   I paid $15 for a couple of cardigans in perfect condition.  I got new jeans ($4) and a merino thermal top ($5) for Miss 8, and new jeans ($4) and $3 soccer shorts for Mr 6.  Miss 16 got a brand new (high quality brand) raincoat for $15 and a MacPak puffer jacket for $30.  Shopping second hand is an affordable and environmentally responsible choice as it prevents clothing items from ending up in the landfill and it is easy on your wallet. Often you can find real gems like my daughter’s puffer jacket, or a pair of kids pajamas for $1.   Second hand clothing is awesome.  Try packaging up your old clothes if they are in good condition and hand them on to someone else.  This is a great option particularly when it comes to kids clothing, they grow out of it so fast!

 

Another option that is often overlooked are hand knitted clothes.  There was clothing before polar fleece people!  I know it is not so common these days to knit your own, many people don’t even know how to.  However you don’t have to look far to find someone who can knit.  An aunt, grandma, or one of the retired ladies at church or in a local craft group will often have incredible knitting skills.  There are quite a few knitters that have helped to clothe my children. My Awesome Auntie can unravel an old jersey, roll the unraveled wool into balls, and then re-knit it into an amazing kids jersey.  I am in awe of her skills, because she can knit at speed and watch TV at the same time! My Mum keeps my kids heads warm with a lovely succession of pompom hats and she makes jerseys for them too. The mother of one of my oldest school friends has also knitted lovely things for my kids.  We treasure these clothes because of the effort and love that goes into them. Perhaps there are knitters who would knit for you and your family. Maybe you could supply the wool.  If you are crafty like me try learning to knit and you might be surprised how much easier it is once you get started.  

Personally, I want my everyday comfy clothes to be as ethically sourced as possible.  But that doesn’t always have to mean finding a company or brand that is ethically certified. It can be as simple as visiting a few second hand shops or even organising a clothing swap between friends or family.  Why not be part of the change?

Look for ethical brands.

Source quality.

Buy less.

Repair.