Monday, March 22, 2010

Going Green in the Kitchen - Bokashi Bucket

Since we don't have the space for a compost bin and I don't have the time (or the inclination, if I am totally honest) to maintain a worm farm, I wanted to find an alternative to dispose of our food scraps and vegetable peelings rather than just throwing them into the rubbish bin. I was so happy when I found the Bokashi Bucket.

The Bokashi Bucket, like other forms of composting, turn your food waste from rubbish into a rich soil conditioner. Unlike other forms of composting that rely on the waste decaying, the Bokashi Bucket uses a fermentation process, which means that there is no smell (a big concern when you are having the bucket inside the kitchen) and that you can add in food scraps like meat (raw and cooked) that you couldn't with regular methods.

The system is really easily to use. All you need is a specially designed bucket (there are instructions to DIY on the net if you don't want to buy one) and Bokashi mix, a special mix of rice bran and microorganisms. Add your waste to the bucket, top with some of the mix, and cover. Repeat. That is it. When the bucket is full, (which takes ages, by the way, since the process "shrinks" the waste) you bury it in your garden or pot where it will finish decomposing and add valuable nutrients to your plants. If you also have a regular compost heap, you can add it that as well. The Bucket also produces a liquid which you drain off from the tap, dilute and use as a fertiliser on your garden in the same way as compost tea or worm tea. If you have too much juice, it is great to pour down the drain, as it is apparently very good for our water ways.

This system is so easy to use, inexpensive to buy (or make), and takes up hardly any room, so I recommend it for everyone.

I bought mine from www.todae.com.au

In the UK, look here

In the US, look here

Make sure you check out Bokashi Man. His blog is devoted to Bokashi, and includes instructions on making your own Bokashi mix and buckets.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Transitioning your wardrobe part 2

In my last post, we looked at how we can sort through our wardrobe from our previous corporate life, and ended up with a pile of clothes that fit, flatter and were in style. The final question is

  • Can these pieces by integrated into your SAHM wardrobe?

As a SAHM with young toddlers, I am not going to start wearing suits on a daily basis. However, many of the pieces can be incorporated into my more casual lifestyle. My first step was to split up all of my suits except for one dark coloured suit and hang my suit jackets will all my other jackets, suit pants with other pants, and skirts with other skirts, etc. Why did I keep one dark suit separate?

  • it's always handy to have a suit in your closet
  • you may need an interview suit when the perfect job presents itself or when necessity requires a reentry to the workforce
  • you may need it for a funeral or other church event
The reason I keep it as a suit is that suits really need all of their pieces to be dry cleaned together to that the colour will fade at the same rate. Since I will not be treating the rest of my suits as suits any longer, I don't need to keep them together or dry clean them together anymore.

Now that you have split them up, look at how you can mix them into outfits with the more casual elements of your SAHM wardrobe. Since these new outfits will have a more formal piece in them, the look will obviously be on the dressier side of casual, which can take some getting used to if you spent the first few months (or years!) in a baby fog of sweats and tees. They are all still perfectly appropriate for almost anything your SAHM lifestyle can throw at you.


Here is a perfect example of pairing a black suit blazer (which was the backbone of most corporate wardrobes) with jeans. Add in a tee or a knit and some fun accessories and you have an outfit than can take you from kindy drop off in the morning to a night out with your hubby at a fancy restaurant sans kids. The patterned silk shell was a real feature in my corporate wardrobe as I relied on them to add colour and polish to my simple lined suits. Now I rely on them to add colour and polish to my casual pants. Paired with cotton, machine washable chinos, and a co-ordinating cardigan and you have a pretty outfit that is just as easy to put on as chinos and a tee. "But silk?!" I hear you say. Here is my secret - I throw it in the washing machine on a gentle/hand wash cycle and hang to dry. As long as the item isn't lined, most silk items can be hand washed or machine washed on a gentle cycle. Test a small spot for colour fastness first!

The twinset - was it just me, but were these in every workplace during the late nineties/early noughties? I used to wear a twinset with a pencil skirt all the time to work. Again, I loved them for the pop of colour they gave to my outfit, and I still love them for the same reason. Paired with jeans, chinos, or a casual printed cotton skirt, it is the perfect solution for those in between days when it is hot in the sun and cool in the shade! I love the periwinkle blue in the above outfit, but please, either the scarf OR the necklace, not both!

The white shirt - again, I honestly think that every corporate wardrobe has at least one of these. The white shirt can go so many places, but for three ideas, check out this previous post.

So, there you have 3 (+3 more) ideas of how you can integrate your corporate wardrobe into your new lifestyle. And if you honestly can't see yourself integrating them (and have no short-term plans to return to work), then keep one or two suits just in case, and get rid of the rest. Donate them, sell them or give them to friends, but free up that space in your wardrobe for the lifestyle you lead now, not the one you led in the past.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Transitioning your wardrobe part 1

I was recently reading an old magazine article about updating your style as your life changes. The article was mainly focusing on people that moved from city to country, or small city to large metropolis etc, but it made me think about how much my style has changed since having kids. Before having children, my wardrobe was made up of tailored suits, dresses, shirts, dressier knits and fashionable heels. I didn't even own a pair of flats and most of the clothes were dry clean only. Now, it couldn't be more different! Almost everything (except for tailored trousers) can be thrown in the washing machine. Instead of one pair of jeans, I own five. And flats have finally made an appearance. If you were in the corporate arena before kids, then you probably have exactly the same scenario at play in your wardrobe. But what to do with all of the corporate clothes that you used to wear and are still taking up very valuable closet space? Rather than getting rid of them (you spent a lot of money on them, after all!), it makes so much more sense to integrate them into your new life style.

Well, the first thing to do is find some time where you can attack your wardrobe in relative peace (hard to do, I know!!). Next, get three bags or boxes and label them toss, donate, and mend. Finally, take all of your work clothes out of the closet, and piece by piece, go through them. Try everything on. Look at yourself and the piece of clothing objectively in the mirror and then decide whether it can go back into the closet, or does it belong in one of the piles?As you try on the items, first, ask yourself these questions.

  • Is it in good condition? This means no stains or tears that cannot be repaired.

  • Does it still fit in with current fashion? It doesn't have to be the height of fashion, but if it obviously belongs to another era, it needs to go. Some items are truly timeless; a knee length pencil skirt in a neutral colour will all always be in style (even if not the "in" silhouette). Other items can be more problematic; pant shapes do change from era to era as evidenced by the at the waist, pleated, tapered leg pant being clearly out of date.
If you have answered no to either of these questions for a particular item, then that item needs to be removed from your wardrobe. Either throw them into the donate pile if they are still in good condition, but out-of-style (they may be old fashioned, but most charities will be able to make good use of them), or into the toss pile if they are not in good condition. A friend of mine who works for a charity told me a good rule of thumb is, "is it in good enough condition to give to a family member or close friend?" If it isn't, then put in the trash. While charities used to be able to recycle damaged and stained clothes into rags that were sold to industry, it is now to expensive to do that. Donating items like this will COST the charity to dispose of, which is not what we want.

Next, be brutally honest, and ask yourself:
  • Does it fit? Is it too big? Is it too small? Is it unflattering?

  • If it doesn't, can it be easily altered to fit?
I have some lovely suits sitting in my wardrobe that are at least three sizes too small. Realistically, I will not fit into these anytime soon! If the piece of clothing is too big, can it be easily and affordably altered to fit? If so, into the mend pile. Put the items that are too small or cannot be taken in into the donate pile. If these items are still in fashion, donate them to a place like Dress for Success. They help unemployed women dress appropriately for job interviews (as well providing other great employment services).

Now, you should have (hopefully) a pile of clothes that fit, are reasonably current, and flatter you. Stay tuned for part 2, how to integrate these clothes into your SAHM wardrobe.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Risks of Baby Slings?


Yesterday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the US released a warning on the use of baby slings due to the risk of suffocation, mentioning the deaths of 14 babies in the last 2 decades, three of which were last year. What concerns me is that the mainstream media is now reporting only part of the story, and making out that all baby slings are dangerous and possibly deadly. In my opinion, when used properly according to instructions, nothing could be further from the truth.

The CPSC specifically mentions that

"Many of the babies who died in slings were either a low birth weight twin, were born prematurely, or had breathing issues such as a cold. Therefore, CPSC urges parents of preemies, twins, babies in fragile health and those with low weight to use extra care and consult their pediatricians about using slings."

and yet in three separate news reports and 3 websites reporting on this issue, this has not been mentioned. CBS news went so far as to quote Don Mays from Consumer Reports saying "Don't use slings at all" while a number of websites used the headline "CPSC warns of deadly baby sling danger." As you may know, I loosely follow an attachment parenting philosophy raising my children and I used slings with both of my babies. I found it incredibly nurturing to have them snuggled up close to me, and very practical (especially with my second baby) as it meant I could have Irini with me while still having two hands free.

I think it is important for the media to report the warning, but correctly and in full. I agree with the CPSC that

"parents and caregivers make sure the infant’s face is not covered and is visible at all times to the sling’s wearer. If nursing the baby in a sling, change the baby’s position after feeding so the baby’s head is facing up and is clear of the sling and the mother’s body. Parents and caregivers should be vigilant about frequently checking their baby in a sling."

This is an important warning that bears repeating. I just wish the media would report correctly rather than taking the sensationalist approach labelling slings deadly.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Going Green in the Kitchen - tips and hints

As promised, here is the latest installment of Going Green in the Kitchen.

  • Use the dishwasher - this surprises most people, but a fully loaded (but not overloaded) dishwasher uses less water and energy than washing and rinsing by hand. For even more eco benefits, use the eco-cycle (sometimes called the energy saver cycle), and turn off the dryer. As soon as the cycle is finished, crack open the door a bit to allow the steam to evaporate.
  • Use an ecofriendly dishwasher detergent and use the correct amount, not too much. I like Ecover and Seventh Generation as I find them just as effective as regular detergents.
  • Twice a year, clean behind your fridge. Getting rid of the dust on the coils will make the fridge work much more efficiently.
  • Since we are talking about the fridge, check that the seals are tight. To check, slip a piece of paper behind the seals and close the door. Try to pull out the paper; if it comes out easily (or worse, falls down straight away!), the seals need to be fixed.

  • Don't toss left-over oil or grease down the sink - it can cause clogs and is bad for the waterways. Instead, start a grease jar with a recycled glass jar. When it is full, seal it and put it out with the garbage.
  • Flush your sink regularly with a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of vinegar. Allow to fizz and then follow with a kettle of boiling water. This fizzy combination helps clean the pipes and prevents clogging that may need stronger chemicals to fix.

  • When using your oven, try and bake more than one dish at once. A lot of energy is used to preheat the oven, so using the hot oven to start a new dish, or even better, cooking them both at once, can save lots of energy. If you often only have something small to bake, a small toaster oven is a great investment as it uses much less energy than a full oven.
  • Make sure you use the right sized burners for your pans when cooking, especially if you have an electric cooktop. Using a larger burner than necessary wastes a large amount of energy.

  • Start composting your food waste. If you don't have the space for a full compost bin or a worm farm, there are lots of other methods. We use a Bokashi Bucket which is odourless, and composts all food waste including meat and dinner scraps. Stay tuned for a whole post on this wonderful system.
  • Minimise food waste. Only buy what you need and try and "shop" your fridge and pantry to make sure you are using up the things you have bought. The developed world throws away an incredible amount of food each year, so help to reverse this trend.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Going Green in the Kitchen - food

As promised, here is the second installment of Going Green in the Kitchen. Today, I will talk about food - the food we eat, how we prepare it and how we buy it.

The food we eat

We all know to eat to do the best thing for our bodies and most often, doing the best for our bodies will also do the best for the planet. Sometimes, though, it can get confusing. Is it better to eat an imported organic product, or a locally grown but conventionally farmed product? There is really no simple answer. While purchasing organic obviously has huge benefits for the ecosystem, the transportation of the product creates a huge amount of carbon emissions which is bad for the planet as a whole. Here are my tips for going green with the food we eat:

  • My first priority is to buy local (and therefore in season). Buying local not only encourages local communities, but will also minimise fuel consuming transportation.
  • Buy in-season where possible - produce like apples and pears are often kept in cold storage so they can be available all year round. Unfortunately, the refrigeration of this produce has a huge negative impact on the environment.
  • Support your local farmers' markets - these are usually smaller producers who often use more eco-friendly methods. Also, many use organic methods, but aren't officially certified.
  • Where I can't buy local, I will try and buy organic. Organic products are becoming more and more available here in Australia, and as the demand for the products increases, prices are starting to drop. I can now buy organic whole wheat cous cous and cereals for only slightly more than the regular products.
  • Eat less meat - producing meat is incredibly resource intensive as well as being the cause of much deforestation in South America. I personally believe that we need to eat some meat, but I think that we eat way too much. I try and have two vegetarian meals a week, and two fish meals a week.
  • Focus on whole foods, rather than processed foods. Commercially processed foods use a lot more energy and water to make, and from a health perspective you will be avoiding all of the artificial additives that are often added.
  • Make your own mixes - there is no doubt that prepackaged box mixes makes life more convenient. So again, avoid all the nasty additives and make your own mixes from bulk ingredients. You will also be minimising a huge amount of packaging. Here is a great bisquik mix that makes wonderful biscuits (scones) and pancakes. It takes just minutes to make.
  • If you eat eggs, chicken and pork, buy free range. It is much more humane and free range produce often needs less antibiotics. In Australia, all meat is hormone-free, but if other countries, try and buy hormone-free products.
The way we cook

Now that we have improved what food we buy, let's look at how we cook it.

  • When buying new appliances, look for energy efficient models such as gas stovetops rather than electric.
  • Use the right sized appliance for the job - it is much more efficient to use a small benchtop grill/sandwich press to grill a couple of chicken breasts than to switch on the oven's broiler. Similarly, use the right sized hob for the pan.
  • Thaw frozen items in the fridge over night rather than using the microwave the next day.
  • Use the minimum amount of water necessary when boiling pasta or vegetables so you are not wasting energy heating up excess water. Even better, steam your veggies - more nutrients stay in the food.
  • Use a pressure cooker - these are perfectly safe (unlike the old models our mothers' used!) and use up to 70% less energy than cooking on the stove. Even better for rushed mums, it cooks meals in a fraction of the time.
The way we buy it

Just as important as the type of food we buy is how we buy it. It is all very well to buy local, organic products, but if we are buying it in single serve packets, then all that good intention has really gone to waste. It is really important to minimise packaging waste where ever possible

  • The easiest way to minimise packaging is to buy in bulk. This is not only cheaper, but saves on packaging and transportation costs.
  • Try and buy goods in recyclable packaging, and recycle it. Where possible, buy food in glass, steel tins, or paper as these are all recyclable. Many types of plastic aren't.
  • Try and reuse the packaging instead of disposing of it. For example, save plastic icecream tubs for storing craft materials, and use old pasta sauce jars as cute vases. Also, lots of items often come in reusable packaging such as cookies in cookie tins.
  • Avoid single serve packaging. Instead of buying little pots of yoghurt, buy a large tub and serve into reusable small containers. Package up your own 100 calorie packs in little ziplock bags that you can reuse afterwards.
Implement just some of these ideas, and you can make a real difference to the environment. Stay tuned for how you can make a difference in how you package your food and how you dispose of it.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Going Green In the Kitchen - waste free lunches

I've already spoken about going paperless in the kitchen so today I want to talk about making our children's lunches waste-free. Stephen started kindy this year and while it is only 2 half days a week, we still have to provide a packed lunch. Thinking back to my own childhood, and looking at my niece's and nephews' lunches, a packed lunch can be an environmental disaster, what with cling wrapped sandwiches, juice boxes and excess packaging. The answer is to use reusable packaging. The Japanese and the Indians have been serving packed lunches like this for hundreds of years with their bento boxes (Japanese) and Tiffins (Indian), and now there are wonderful and easy ways to incorporate these ideas into your own children's lunches.

Laptop Lunches

These are western-style bento boxes created by two mums who wanted a way to pack nutritious and eco-friendly lunches for their children. The lunch box includes a number of inner containers (lidded and non-lidded) that can be arranged in numerous combinations depending on what you want to include. The pic above is yesterday's lunch for Stephen. In there I put some homemade rice salad, homemade mango pudding, apple slices and blueberries. Everything is dishwasher safe, so cleaning is a breeze. Some people have said they have problems losing the little lids, but after three weeks at kindy, we haven't had that problem yet. $40 (also includes drink bottle and insulated carry case)

Laptop lunches currently has a promotion for the first 100 people who spend over $85 that includes sample, coupons and products. Go to http://www.laptoplunches.com/Spring2010Promotion.html for more info.

Mr Bento

These sets are great for older children and are especially perfect for the winter months since the set contains a watertight container for soup, a sealed container for rice or pasta and two other containers for salad or snacks. The outer case in insulated and will keep the two containers of hot things warm, and the other two containers cool. I have one of these and used it all the time when I used to take lunch to work, and this will definitely be making a comeback when Stephen is older. Also check out this wonderful flickr group for some amazing ideas. $45 from Amazon.

Apart from these wonderful sets, there are lots of other ways to make your children's lunches waste free. A quick google search will reveal dozens of free tutorials for reusable lunch totes, sandwich wraps and snack bags. If you don't have the time (or inclination!) to make your own, etsy also has a huge selection of handmade ones. Also look at what containers you can repurpose into lunch packaging - Tupperware and Rubbermaid containers make wonderful reusable lunch packaging.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chic Sighting

I was at the supermarket the other night and saw a wonderful chic sighting that really inspired me. It was a very simple outfit, but it was the colour combination and the accessories that really made it pop. While it was a woman of a certain age (as they say!) that was wearing it, this outfit would be perfect for SAHMs as well. It is perfectly practical with its grey cotton trousers and grey tank but the bright yellow of the boyfriend cardigan and the trainers gave it real panache. The tan slouchy bag was a surprise element but I think it was the perfect choice.

What I think we can all learn from this outfit is that you can take simple basics (because, really, all the items in this outfit are pretty plain on their own) and really elevate your look by including a surprising touch, in this case the vibrant yellow colour.

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