Some Recommended Reading

Yesterday afternoon I dropped my parents off at Perth Airport for their flight back to the UK. They visited for just over four weeks, and it has been insanely busy. Partly because they have been staying in our flat, and my boyfriend and I stayed at his parents’ house, which means I have been making the hour-long commute (one way) between houses each day, and then taking them out to see the sights, before trekking back. This was compounded by us sleeping in a bed that was far too small for us (well mostly my boyfriend, whose ankles stick through the railings meaning it is impossible to move without waking us both up), meaning we have been running on minimal sleep. I had a lovely time, and it was great to be able to spend so much time with them, but now they’ve gone I’ve been hit by a tsunami of exhaustion. I’m tired, emotional and mentally frazzled… which wouldn’t matter so much if everything else in my life wasn’t still going full steam ahead.

This isn’t a blog post about woe is me, though. All I need is sleep, time to unwind, the chance to relax and to eat some nourishing meals and I’ll be ready to go again. I’ve had an awesome month; I’m blessed that my parents were able to come to visit, and for such a substantial amount of time. No complaints here : )

In order to get these things though, I need to prioritize my workload. I was really hoping that I’d be able to keep blogging whilst they visited, but unfortunately I didn’t have the time. Now that they’ve gone, I have a number of looming deadlines to address, and that doesn’t include blogging. I really want to write but I don’t have the time to do justice to the millions of thoughts that are whirring away in my mind. I have still had time to read the posts that others are writing, so I thought that rather than write a rushed, garbled post of my own, I’d share some posts I’ve read over the past month that I have enjoyed. I get so much enjoyment/knowledge/motivation/inspiration/etc from the bloggers that I follow and so I wanted to share in the hope that you might enjoy them too. Far better to share inspiration than write a blog post about not writing a blog post – who wants to read that?!

My recommended reading list

  • EcoGrrl wrote a great post about how conventional beauty and advertising sell women the message that they aren’t good enough in order to shift their chemical-containing products. She’s taken so much time to research this and all women should read it:  Tuesday Go Ponder: Redbook’s Bevy of False Claims, Misleading Ads, and Shaming Women. [NB This link has been removed as it now points to a wrinkle-busting scam, and I can’t find the updated link. If you find it let me know!]
  • Journey to Ithaca shared a great post entitled Thoughts on “Rants”. I probably don’t need to explain what this is about. It begins with the line “I used to be a ranter”, and is thoughtful, well written and definitely has a lesson or two in there!
  • Westywrites is starting preparation for Plastic Free July next year early – 8 months early! She has so much energy and passion for the subject – check out Plastic-Free Me: An Introduction if you’re interested in trying to be more plastic-free (or any of her subsequent posts). Her enthusiasm is infectious!
  • I’ve also been following blog posts by A Girl Called Jack, who blogs about feeding a family for less than £10 but is also a campaigner for Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group. That description doesn’t actually do her any credit – she’s opened my eyes to all kinds of issues, like foodbanks, benefits, poverty in the UK, how completely immoral the Daily Mail is (and I thought I knew this, but no, turns out they are worse than I could ever have imagined). She’s made me question my own feelings and actions regarding food, poverty and sustainability – in a good way – and I’m still processing all my thoughts.
  • Lastly I wanted to share with you Make it Your Job, a blog post considering why we get resentful and angry. It is the most recent post by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, a minimalist who embraces simple living. I think every post he writes is super inspiring.

Of course there’s many more amazing blog posts and writers out there who I love, but I don’t want to overload you all! I hope you enjoy some (or all) of these posts. I’m off to get on with my to-do list!

An accidental break from blogging…and some holiday snaps

As my parents are visiting, I’ve been making the most of the opportunity to have a holiday and I’ve taken them to some beautiful places in Western Australia over the last two weeks. Firstly we went to Rottnest Island for two nights, and then came back for a day before heading off on a week-long road trip to Denmark, Pemberton and Margaret River. My intention whilst I was away was to do some blogging, and I hauled the laptop away with me, but none of the places we stayed had internet reception and so I’ve been disconnected.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice not to have choices and to have the decision made for you. I would have loved to connect with the blogosphere, to read what people have been up to, and to share the thousands of thoughts I’ve been having whilst I’ve been away, but it was actually great to disconnect with the virtual world and connect with the real one instead. I’ve had a fantastic time and feel recharged, re-energised and re-motivated.

Want to see some holiday snaps?

Here is Rottnest…

rott1 rott2 rott3 quokka rott4 rott6 rott5Next we went to Denmark and Albany…

den1 den2 den4 den5 den6 den7 den8 den9 den10 den11 den12 den13 den19 den20 den15 den21 den18 den17den16

Here is the Gloucester Tree near Pemberton. If you look closely you can see metal pegs – the tree is a fire lookout and you can climb up it! I am not game for that kind of thing so stayed at the bottom and appreciated it from there.

pemb1 pemb2I have to say though, whilst the holiday was fantastic, being back feels good too.

Being a tourist in my home city

On Monday afternoon, I picked my parents up from Perth airport. They’ve come all the way from England to stay with us for four weeks, their first visit since I moved here 2 years ago. I say ‘stay with us’, but due to the tiny nature of the flat (with one bedroom and only an en-suite bathroom) we decided to donate our home to them for the ensuing weeks, and we are staying at my boyfriend’s parents house with them.

As my boyfriend pointed out, whilst our flat might be quite small, if they were staying in a hotel such a size would be considered a large suite. And they get to stay there without paying hotel suite prices! Oh, the luxury! Read more

Tahini, pursuing a waste-free home…and when things don’t go to plan

I am currently addicted to tahini. What started as distrust for its strong and distinctive flavour has gradually grown into full-on love, and now I can’t get enough of the stuff. I use it in hummous, in baking, as a salad dressing, to make potato salad, as a replacement for mayonnaise and butter. Mmm, it is delicious.

But it comes in a glass jar. In my quest for a zero-waste home I’m trying to cut out all unnecessary packaging, and the quicker I go through tahini, the more jars I end up with. (I re-use my glass jars rather than recycle them as they end up being used as road base here in Perth, which seems a waste to me. But there’s only so many jars that I need.)

The label on the jar proudly states “just natural hulled sesame seeds”. No added oil, salt or sugar. So, I figured, I can just blend some sesame seeds in a food processor and make my own.

Turns out, it isn’t that easy. The resulting mass was nothing like the glossy, runny, beautiful tahini I can buy in a glass jar. It was a grey, lifeless lump. Looks aren’t everything, I know. Sadly, the taste was pretty terrible too. Really bitter and quite unpleasant.

tahini

This is what I wanted…

tahinifail

…and this is what I got.

I’m wondering whether I should have roasted the sesame seeds. The jar doesn’t tell me that the seeds are roasted, but experience has taught me that roasted nut butters are infinitely better than raw ones. I think I’ll give it another go sometime, and toast the sesame seeds first.

In the meantime, I’ve been to the shop and bought myself a new jar of tahini. I’m going to try using the lump of ‘tahini fail’ in a tahini biscuit recipe that I make sometimes. I hope that the baking removes the bitter nasty taste. If not, the sugar and other ingredients should mask it.

Anyways, I thought I’d share with you, in case you’re feeling tempted to try to make your own tahini without consulting a recipe first. Which you’re probably not.

Ah well, we all have bad days!

My public holiday nightmare… and some advice needed

This Monday was a public holiday here in Perth, and we had plans to take in Kings Park and the wildflowers and go for a leisurely walk around Lake Claremont, relaxing and generally enjoying the extra free time.

Until, on Sunday night, my boyfriend pulled a bag out of the wardrobe. “Do you think this is mould?”, he asked, showing me some white marks. Hmm, it did look like mould. We pulled a few more things out. More mould. The further we looked, the more we found. Arghh.

And so it was, we were able to make the most of the glorious weather that is so long overdue… Read more

Play again? (7 Ideas for Reducing Screen Time)

Last Friday my boyfriend and I went to an Ecoburbia community movie screening to see the documentary “Play Again?” The tagline of the movie is “what are the consequences of a childhood removed from nature?” It follows 6 teenagers who usually spend 5-15 hours a day behind screens, and takes them on their first wilderness adventure. It also features the commentaries and observations of a number of experts including journalist Richard Louv, sociologist Juliet Schor, environmental writer Bill McKibben, educators Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, neuroscientist Gary Small, parks advocate Charles Jordan, and geneticist David Suzuki. This is how the offical Play Again website describes the film:

“One generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. New media technologies have improved our lives in countless ways. Information now appears with a click. Overseas friends are part of our daily lives. And even grandma loves Wii.

But what are we missing when we are behind screens? And how will this impact our children, our society, and eventually, our planet? At a time when children play more behind screens than outside, PLAY AGAIN explores the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds. Is our connection to nature disappearing down the digital rabbit hole?”

It was an interesting movie and it was great to see six kids getting back to nature for the first time. There were some interesting observations from the teenagers – like the younger boy who observed that “outdoors was more realistic”, and the older teen who noted when playing team games that in the virtual world he was the commander and could manage and control teams successfully, whereas in real life it wasn’t so easy.

Another comment that stuck with me was when the teenagers were making bows and arrows, and the younger boy told the camera that on computer games it was really easy to shoot and hit a target, whereas in real life it was actually quite hard. That’s the thing about real life, isn’t it? There’s a lot of loss and struggle and disappointment that go between the successes and triumphs and wins.

Although the movie dealt with the issue of screen time in regards to children, these issues actually affect all of us, and it’s interesting to reflect on how much screen time we use as adults. Especially since the dawn of smartphones, I think most people would agree “too much”. Even if they don’t, I’m pretty sure those health experts would have a different opinion!

It made me think about how we use screen time in our household. We don’t have a television, we share a single laptop and we both have smartphones. Through our phones we have access to screens all day every day, and we use them for significant amounts of time. I’ve been feeling like we use them too much and should cut down but hadn’t really done much about it. This movie was a reminder that there’s a real world surrounding the virtual one, and we should re-connect with it more. So here are some ideas I’ve come up with for using screens less.

Ideas for reducing screen time:

1. Get a watch (or a clock)

I don’t wear a watch and we don’t actually have a clock in the house, so I use my phone to tell the time. But once I pick it up, it’s so easy to ‘quickly’ check Facebook/the news/my email, and before I know it I’m engrossed in the virtual world. I got some inspiration from another blog post I read, and I’ve decided that we will get a clock so we know what the time is without the need for screen time.

2. Remove phones from the bedroom

This is one thing we actually changed before watching the movie. My boyfriend used to use his phone as an alarm, but would also end up straight on social media within two seconds of waking up every morning. It’s also a temptation for those nights when it’s difficult to get to sleep and can be a luring distraction –  but it’s not going to help with sleep! For that reason, plus the fact that sleeping with our mobiles next to our heads is probably not that good for our health, we got a new alarm and have removed the phones from the bedroom.

3. No screens at mealtimes

This may seem obvious, and if my boyfriend and I are eating together at the table we never have our phones there. It’s just plain rude. How much nicer to actually talk to each other?! However, if I’m alone it’s super easy to grab lunch and head straight back to the computer and eat in front of it. How many people have lunch in front of their computer screen at work? So now I have a new rule – no mealtimes in front of screens. It means I give my eyes and mind a rest, have a proper break and also appreciate exactly what I’m eating. How easy is it to polish off a bowl of food without even noticing when you’re engrossed in something else?

4. Resist the urge for instant answers

The thing about the internet, it can answer all of our burning questions almost instantly. Which means whenever we want to know ANYTHING we can simply look it up online and the answer’s there. No need to wait. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Isn’t patience a virtue?! Is it possible to write those burning questions we want to know down, and check them all together at a later time? I don’t know. I’m as guilty as the next person of needing to know answers immediately whenever burning questions present themselves. But once I’ve connected, I’ll look at other things too, and before I know it time has slipped away. So I’m planning to try it out.

5. Limit the number of check-ins

Have you ever checked your e-mail, Facebook, twitter and whatever other social media you use to find that you have not had one single new message/update since the last time you checked? Do you ever check them just for the sake of it, even if you suspect nothing has been updated? On a typical day I check everything in the morning, at lunchtime, and again in the afternoon. (Most people who commute by public transport seem to use their time in this way.) I might also check last thing at night. I think it makes replying and responding manageable. I wonder though, whether it would make any difference if I just checked twice a day? What if I took a book to read instead? I always say I don’t have enough time to read and I always have a pile of library books that invariably get returned half-finished or untouched. If I cut down my screen time, I’d have plenty of time for other things I think I can’t squeeze in.

6. Allocate screen-free time

I’ve suggested this to my boyfriend in the past and he thinks it is a good idea – yet we’ve never put it into practise. Does that mean we find it too hard? Surely we can commit to something? Not being able to makes me feel like some kind of addict! It also seems pretty ridiculous. It’s not like we spend all our time in front of screens, either. The movie inspired me to finally come up with a screen-free time at home when neither of us are allowed to go near any sort of screen. I’ll let you know how it goes!

7. Start a diary

The other thing that I realised when writing this was I have no idea how much screen time I actually use. I’m pretty sure it’s too much. I want to cut down, but to what? What is realistic? Am I more hooked than I think? I’m pondering keeping a screen diary for a week to find out how much I actually use. It will probably be a revelation – but am I too scared to find out?!

So there’s my ideas… now I’d love to hear yours! Feel free to share any thoughts you have in the comments below.

Moving into fifth gear…

For a few months now, my life’s been ticking along nicely. Projects and other things that keep me busy have come, and gone, and the various plans and schemes that I’ve dreamed up have been swirling around in my mind, and on paper, but haven’t grown more than that.

Then in the last couple of weeks, everything seems to have picked up speed. Potential plans have firmed up, new opportunities have presented themselves, and projects that only seemed like distant dreams have come together all at once.

Suddenly everything seems to be going very fast. Read more

Observations of an Australian election

In case you are unawares, Australia had its general election last Saturday. As a non-citizen, I am ineligible to vote. However, for the citizens of Australia, voting is compulsory – one of only ten countries in the world that enforce it.

If you’d have asked me before I moved to Australia what I thought of compulsory voting, I would have said it was a good thing. I believe people should vote for those that form government; they should be elected by the majority. However, having now lived through an election where voting is compulsory, I have a different opinion. Read more

Goal setting – three months on

I decided a while back to make goal setting one of my routines. I figured it would help guide my thoughts and be a stepping-stone to making all the dreams I have become realities. The technique I decided to try is called 3 1 5, with goals set for 3 months time, 1 years time and 5 years time, under four categories: emotional/spiritual, financial/vocational, heath/education/recreation, and friends & family.

Goal-setting isn’t something that comes naturally to me. It did take a while to gain the momentum and shift from thinking about it, and wanting to do it, to actually begin the goal setting. I wrote about my struggle with goal-setting on a previous post, three months ago, when I finally filled in all the boxes in the matrix.

Three months ago. Which means my goals are up for review.

I was a little nervous about this. Whilst I knew most of the goals I’d written, I hadn’t actually consulted my matrix during the three months. I decided to take myself out of the house and to one of my favourite cafes so I was in a neutral, but pleasant, environment.

I unfolded the matrix.

My first thoughts, when I looked at all the ‘3 month’ boxes, were “Oh no! I haven’t achieved any of it!” But when I looked more closely, I realised that I was actively working towards a lot of the goals, I just hadn’t achieved them yet. Others I had changed direction slightly, so the timescale was no longer valid. Rather than 3-month goals, these had become more like 6-month or 1-year goals.

The 1-year and 5-year goals were much easier to review because they are still goals for the future and I wasn’t expecting to have achieved them. It was super reassuring to see that they all still fitted with my general plans, though, and I did feel that I was working towards most of them.

Next came writing the new matrix. This was so much easier than the first time as I now had a framework to follow. It allowed me to address the way I’d phrased things the first time round to make them more appropriate. For some of the goals, rather than saying “I have…” I wrote “I’m working towards…”. It was satisfying to move one of my 1-year goals into the 3-month box, and one of my 5-year goals into the 1-year box because that now seemed like a reasonable timescale.

It was also obvious when I reviewed the matrix that I’d left some gaping holes with major aspects of my life not even considered, so now I need to think about how to address these.

One of my goals is to do this exercise four times over the space of a year. Whether it’ll be something I stick with long-term I’m still not sure about, but at the moment I’m finding it quite motivating. My favourite bit about it is that it’s so empowering – recognizing what I want and committing to working towards it. Taking control of my destiny, if you like!

If you’re not someone who regularly sets goals, why not give this a go? It’s a great way of thinking about what you want to get out of your life, and being pro-active, rather than lamenting the things you don’t have and can’t do. In three months time it will be New Year’s Eve, so rather than trying to make New Year’s resolutions whilst laying on your sofa nursing a hangover and eating comfort food, start thinking about what you want now. That way when it comes to New Year’s Day you can look over the last three months and congratulate yourself on what you have achieved…whilst nursing a hangover and eating comfort food. A much better start to the New Year!

New Year’s Day is not the time to start planning the rest of your life. That time is right now!

Beware, the Diderot Effect

Have you ever bought something brand new, taken it home and positioned it pride of place amongst your other things, marveled at its shiny-ness… and then realised that your other things look slightly more drab than they did before? Slightly less satisfying, slightly more tired?

Have you ever felt that now your new shiny thing is making all your other stuff look bad, maybe it’s worth upgrading all of that too?

Before you act on you impulses and head straight back to the shops, be warned. It will only bring tragedy.

At least, that’s what happened to Denis Diderot.

Denis Diderot was an 18th Century French writer who was given the gift of a beautiful scarlet dressing gown. Initially he was very pleased with it. However, he felt his other possessions looked shabby in comparison, and slowly began replacing them with more luxurious ones that matched the splendour of the dressing-gown. His straw chair was replaced with a leather one, a wooden plank bookshelf was replaced with an amour, some unframed prints were replaced with more expensive artwork. Not only that, but new items were added: a writing desk, more art, a bronze clock with gold edging and a large mirror over the fireplace. He wanted his home to be as luxurious as he felt whilst wearing the gown.

These new purchases spiralled Diderot into debt, and led him to write the essay “Regrets on parting with my old dressing-gown, or a warning for those who have more taste than fortune”. He came to regret his new purchases, all the result of the scarlet dressing gown, and wished he had kept his familiar old dressing gown.

“I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one.”

Diderot was the first one to write about it, but the experience he writes about are actually a recognised social phenomenon – the process of spiralling consumption resulting from dissatisfaction brought about by a new possession. It’s called the Diderot Effect.

Next time you buy something new, you’ll probably feel some dissatisfaction with your old things. That’s understandable; no doubt the new thing is bright and polished and shiny and packaged splendidly. However, you can be mindful of these feelings without acting on them. Remember Diderot’s lesson. Let the feelings pass. There’s no need to rush out to the shops to replace everything else too. Shiny new things fade with time. Unpaid credit card bills don’t.