What’s The Alternative?

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There are so many products on the market for making people feel clean and smell nice. Most of them are overcomplicated, overpriced and kind of superfluous. But making the switch to more natural and simpler bath and body products can be a bit of a minefield.

Even for those of us who don’t get into perfumes and cosmetics, or who know better than to use a shower gel or antibacterial soap, it can be hard to know where to start or which alternatives actually work. Luckily for you I have tried a few. So here are my experiences, the products I use or buy and why, and a few examples of things that didn’t work for me.

In the Laundry

For years I found that regular washing powder made me itch. Growing up we had whatever was cheapest to wash our clothes in, which was usually some kind of concentrated powder. We never had fabric softener, and to this day the smell of fabric softener is so foreign to me that I can recognise it on a person from metres away.

After becoming the mother of a child with sensitive skin, I started looking for alternatives. We tried Lux soap flakes, which helped but were a pain to use because they had to be dissolved in hot water before use and can create a build-up of soap in your washing machine. I eventually settled on ionic laundry balls, which change the pH of the water in a similar way to which soap does. I have now been using laundry balls for something like ten years.

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You don’t get whiter whites and brighter colours, but you get clean clothes. I use a stain remover for grease stains that don’t shift on the first wash. For extra dirty things I dissolve home-made soap shavings in water and let it sit for a couple of days until it forms a sort of gel, then add this to the wash.

Between this sort of washing and hanging wet clothes out to dry in the sun you get clothes that remain fresh for years even if worn very often.

In the Shower

As you will already know, I make my own soap and use this in place of shampoo as well. It is not uncommon for us to have up to ten different soaps in use around the house, between all the hand-washing stations and the showers.

Recent studies have shown that antibacterial detergents and hand-washing products (I won’t call them soap because they are far from it) can cause skin problems and leave us susceptible to infection as they kill the microbes in our skin. The skin microbiome is a relatively new discovery, and is considered to be as important to our health as the gut microbiome. Antibacterial products kill protective microbes and there is currently a push to discourage people from using them on their skin.

Real soap, made using the natural process of saponification rather than slapping together some sudsy chemical by-products, does not kill off your beneficial skin microbes. Real soap is slippery by nature of its alkalinity, and this causes germs and bacteria to be rinsed off or rubbed off when you dry your skin after using soap. Alkaline substances will cause your skin to become dry, which is why soap is made with a lelve of what is called a ‘superfat’. Superfatting soap ensures that even after the sodium hydroxide used to create the chemical reaction with the oils is all consumed, there is enough oil left in the soap to moisturise the skin. This is where skin-loving oils like olive oil, avocado oil and cocoa butter produce a soap that moisturises as it cleans. Natural ingredients like honey, tea, milk and oatmeal, as well as clays, botanicals and essential oils, can be added to real soap for extra healing, soothing and nourishing of the skin while you wash.

I’ve had people complain to me that they use body washes and hand washing detergents because they don’t like the slippery feeling that soap leaves. But this slippery feeling is what lets you know that you are getting clean without losing all your natural skin flora and moisture.

So now that you know a bit about real soap, you can understand why we use it so extensively. For hand washing, body washing and hair washing, even sometimes laundry use. You can use pretty much any soap to wash your hair, but things like avocado oil might leave it a bit greasy. We mostly use plain soap for hair washing, but the varieties with Rhassoul clay are a nice alternative.

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Here is the shelf in my shower. It generally contains a hair soap as well as whatever varieties Matt and myself have in use at the time. Also note the apple cider vinegar. Those of us with longer hair use this to reduce tangles. It removes some of the fat from your hair and neutralises the alkalinity of the soap. And once it is dry I guarantee that you don’t smell like old apples.

I have tried bicarb and vinegar for hair washing, as well as just rinsing, but using soap works for me. And the rest of the family have adopted it as well. I have a few people who buy my soap specifically for washing hair, including one woman who says that it is the best thing she has ever used for washing her dreadlocks.

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We are still using regular toothpaste, but for antiperspirant we have settled on alum stones. I tried a natural paste deodorant, which while not preventing perspiration at all did completely eliminate the subsequent odour. Unfortunately I developed a reaction to it after a couple of weeks so had to try something else.

I had been uncomfortable using commercial antiperspirants for a while. Roll-ons only really work for bare armpits, and the spray options caused an alarming stinging sensation that made me feel like my pores were shrinking away in terror. I believe that antiperspirants cause your pores to pucker up so that you don’t actually sweat, which can’t be good for you. Also, despite all the claims of offering ’48 hour protection’, not one antiperspirant I tried was able to keep me dry for much more than a few hours. Add to that my increasing distaste for the marketing around these products – I once found myself having to choose between two varieties named ‘Sexy’ and ‘Invisible’ and the irony struck a little too close to the bone.

We tried naturally formed alum stones, but these tended to erode, break and leave sharp edges. More recently I bought a stone from eBay, which you can see in the picture. It is dense and carved to a useful shape and it has been really great to use, as well as durable.

When I am at home working around the farm and garden I don’t use any form of antiperspirant or deodorant, I just sweat freely and rinse it off later. Often I can go a whole day without applying anything to my armpits and as long as I wear something well-ventilated, like a singlet, I don’t even smell at the end of the day. I think having actual armpit hair might work in my favour in this regard. Let the body do what the body does.

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Some other products I use are made by friends with goats. Both the Glenafton Goat Milk and Alpine Goatsmilk moisturisers are beautifully light and last for ages. Which one I buy basically comes down to who I see at a show when I need to stock up. I leave lotions to the experts and stick to basic soapmaking, because these producers make great quality and excellent value products. I also have arnica salves from Glenafton and Alpine that I use on my frequent bruises.

You will see also in this photo that I use a body spray. I have a bit of a paranoia about people finding me smelly, so I still use a body spray in social and work situations. Many body sprays have dodgy names and creepy themes (like ‘Temptation’, ‘Tease’ and ‘Instant Crush’…), but I found one called ‘So…?’ which sounds like an awkward silence or an expression of ambivalence, and decided that was the one for me.

Due to the way I live and present myself there are a lot of things other people buy and use that I just don’t. Things like disposable razors or make-up removal products or protection for heat-treated hair. I don’t have a complicated personal maintenance routine, I just wash with soap, condition my hair with cider vinegar, apply some goat milk moisturiser and run a comb through my hair. It’s pretty minimalist, but it saves me heaps of time and money, and I’m not unnecessarily applying chemicals to my body.

 

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The Only Way Is Forward

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Tomatoes are late this year. But it’s still Autumn.

So it’s March. March. How did this happen?

Anyway, I am pleased to report that my resolve to not spend another year treading water and being miserable has held and I am Getting Shit Done and Making Progress as fast as our dodgy wireless NBN will let me.

Although I have been slowed down by scheduling clashes with pay day, I have begun taking art classes every second Wednesday. This has been great fun, and rewarding. I have bought some paints and I’ll soon be receiving my grandfather’s pastels (he is going back to focusing on oils), so I’ll be able to do some art at home, but in the classes I have been learning all sorts of tricks and techniques, so I’ll stick with them for a while.

I’ve stuck to my bike riding so far, going out at least four times a week and now doing a 9km circuit. Winter is going to be hard, and fitting in around all the after school stuff is already a challenge, but I hope to keep going and keep improving my fitness. I’ve recently added a weekly yoga class back into the mix, which takes away a bike riding night but definitely has its own benefits that make it worthwhile.

I’m almost half way through the Permaculture Design Course, and so far this has been a real emotional rollercoaster and massive learning experience. Permaculture is a way of life, a sound theory of all things, that aims to create efficient, sustainable ways to satisfy the needs of people, animals and the Earth. Not only have I encountered a hundred tips and ideas for things to do in my home and garden, I have also learned philosophies for a more constructive and authentic inner life and better relationships with others. As a process it has been devastating and enlightening. A restructuring of my priorities and the way I see things. Not to mention an amazing connection with people on a similar journey with similar goals. It has pushed me beyond my comfort zone and along a path that will hopefully take me to a more prominent place with my activism and allow me to do more good both at home and in the world at large.

A course like this was the logical next step in Getting Out Of The House. I have also been doing a few social things and actually looking forward to them and enjoying them. I am generally feeling more grounded, more stable, more supported and better able to cope with the swings and roundabouts of life. I’ve been eating better, sleeping better, drinking more water. As a family we are better organised, sharing the load, and somewhat more relaxed. I might go weeks on end without half an unscheduled day, but I pace myself and take care of the details and it is mostly going pretty well.

So from here I intend to make more regular posts, not random stuff like this but posts with a topic. About the garden and the goats, about the things I learn and try, and how it all fits into the permaculture principles. I have many ideas of things to experiment with, ways to make the garden more productive, ways to make more of an impact on the world around me, and ways to enrich my life and further broaden my horizons.

I’m even actually setting goals. I’ve written down a few goals for the garden and farm for the next six months and I’m in the early stages of planning a particular challenge for the rest of this year and into 2018, which I should be able to announce in a few weeks. In the meantime I am gently ramping up my social media communication and profile in the hope that I can get all of you on board in some small way to support my efforts.

I’ve had a few moments where everything looks scary and like an awful lot of work and I wonder if I really have what it takes to push through that fear and face the experience head-on. Sometimes all that keeps me going is the thought that I would never forgive myself for giving up. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed where everything is safe and familiar and there are no risks. But I know that the only way is forward. So that is where I am going.

 

Easter 2016… and an Update on my Resolutions.

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Easter is always a big weekend on the farm and in the kitchen, and this year was no exception.

It began on Thursday evening, when I retrieved the frame of the Christmas turkey from the freezer and set it to boil down into stock. I also got the first cheese of the weekend, an 8lt Gouda, made and in the press.

Friday was a whirlwind of pumpkin soup, halloumi, zucchini muffins, iced tea, chocolate ice cream and a chicken pie for dinner. The halloumi was kind of a flop, I’m pretty sure it didn’t turn out how it was supposed to,  but it tasted pretty good. The soup, made with a home-grown pumpkin that had split and needed to be used up and stock made from the frame from the Christmas turkey, was really tasty. The rest of the family kindly did the afternoon milking and feeding, allowing me to have the pie made by about 8.30pm. It was a long day.

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This was after three runs of the dishwasher…

Saturday had been earmarked as the day to butcher the excess ducklings. After two weeks in small pens for fattening, the eight birds were left for 12 hours with only fresh water. We went out to buy a machete with which to do the beheading, and after visiting about four different stores we finally got one from Ray’s Outdoors.

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Muscovy drakes in their fattening pen.

The longer blade made for a more accurate cut, and each bird was neatly dispatched with one hit. We did the first two, plucked them, then the second two, starting with the big Muscovy drakes. Then the Pekin drake. Then two excess Muscovy hens.

This left two Pekin hens. By this stage I had hit my limit, and I opted to let the last two Pekin hens run free. I’m sure I’ll be cursing that decision come July when I’m drowning in duck eggs, but six birds in one day was more than enough killing for me.

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Ducks hung on the washing line for plucking.

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I can only handle so much blood on my boots in one day.

Due to the age of the birds, most had lots of pin feathers, making it impossible for me to pluck them cleanly. We ended up with two nice clean roasting birds and I decided to skin and fillet the other four. I took as much skin as I could and rendered the fat from it.

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I wish that I had duck feet…

I had been told that Muscovy hens are not worth killing because they are too small. The birds I was able to keep whole for roasting were a Muscovy drake and a Muscovy hen. They dressed out at 1550g and 1300g, with the female being smaller but still a decent size. From the other four birds I got over 2kg total in breast and thigh fillets. It took ages, I was on my feet for hours, but now I have a freezer loaded with duck meat.

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All cleaned and ready for the freezer.

Sunday was another big day, with a trip to Tatura to visit family. I drove one half of the six-hour round trip while my sister drove the other. It was a very nice afternoon with good food and wine and lots of dog stories.

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Off the visit the cousins, equipped with the three most important food groups – cider, goat cheese and sweet chilli sauce.

Sunday night I made the sourdough, which meant no cheesemaking as the sourdough can contaminate the cheese and ruin it. The milk was piling up. I baked the sourdough on Monday morning then lounged around for a bit. I took a gamble and made chevre on Monday night, which worked out pretty well and used up four litres.

So that was Easter. A bit less dramatic than previous years, but it got the fridge and freezer filled with bread and meat and cheese.

As for my goals for the new year… it is now April and I have exercised about five times. I have managed to get back into yoga over the past couple of weeks after avoiding it for six months, so that is something. I know I need to exercise more, and I will. When I find something that is not uncomfortable and doesn’t injure me.

Reducing food packaging has been a challenge too, but somehow I have managed to stay fairly dedicated to it. I have had to give up some things, like corn chips, that are simply unavailable in recyclable or biodegradable packaging. I have discovered Mountain Bread, which I can cut and bake into crunchy thin crackers, perfect for serving with cheese. This comes in a recyclable packet. I have found a brand of oats that is not only Australian grown, but comes in cardboard with no plastic inner.

Recyclable plastic food containers have become one of my favourite things. They can be washed in the dishwasher, frozen, re-used and when they start to crack and break down they go in the recycling. I use them for everything. I’ve been taking my own bags to to supermarket and fruit shop. I buy meat wrapped in a thin bag and paper, rather than on a plastic tray. Everything we buy is compared and considered and where a recyclable or degradable packet is available we take that option. Otherwise we replace that product with something else that will do the job, or go without. We haven’t been able to eliminate packaging waste, but we have certainly reduced it.

What I found particularly interesting is that when I bought my new laptop it came in 100% recyclable packaging. I thought, if they can package a laptop in recyclable packaging, why can’t they package corn chips in something similar? Or frozen berries? It is as though food companies just don’t care.

One friend pointed out that it is hardly fair that consumers have to make sacrifices, buy more expensive options and put in a conscious effort to reduce packaging waste while big food companies and supermarkets go gaily about their production and sale of packets that can only end up in landfill. The amount of fresh food that now comes pre-packaged in plastic is criminal. Things like bananas – organic bananas no less – presented for sale wrapped and on a tray. Grapes pre-portioned into throwaway bags. All sorts of fruits and vegetables on trays and in packets.

Where previously I was determined to buy Australian made or grown products, I found myself having to weigh up between food miles and throwaway packaging. I found bulk rice in a cloth bag, but it had come all the way from Sri Lanka. I opted for Australian-grown rice in a large plastic bag instead, choosing one large packet over several smaller ones as the lesser of the evils. And considering the popularity of bacon, I discovered that there is no way of purchasing Australian grown free-range bacon from Woolworths that didn’t boil down to a big fat throwaway packet wrapped around a relatively small amount of meat.

Growing food at home, buying in bulk and getting as much else as you can from small local outlets seem to be the best ways to keep packaging waste down. We bake a lot, store food in re-usable containers at home and rely heavily on home-made food. It is healthier all-round. And I will continue to work to reduce our reliance on plastic and the amount of rubbish we produce.

 

Resolution

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Things haven’t been easy for me over the years, and it feels strange to say that. In a lot of ways I have been very lucky, but in other ways not so much.

So as I step forward out of 2015 and into 2016 feeling like I have finally stepped up off the bottom rung of the great long ladder that is Getting My Shit Together, I am well aware that things are as good for me now as they have ever been. It has been a year of struggling to make sense of things, coming to terms with my past, and discovering myself. Of trying on ideas and questioning my beliefs. Of finding my niche and gathering the crumbs of my confidence.

I’m still a cynic deep down, and pessimism is the scar left by too many unpleasant surprises. I believe that if you don’t set your own challenges, life will come up with challenges for you and you might not like them. With that in mind, I decided not to choose between a self-improvement goal and a social awareness project in 2016, but to do both.

For various reasons, exercise is a trial for many of us. Some find it hard to make time. Some find it difficult or unpleasant on a physical level. But deep down I think we all wish we did a bit more of it. I know that exercise is a big part of the healthy mind, healthy body equation, but actually doing it has been a bit of a stumbling block.

The way I see it, I find time to do all sorts of things other people don’t do that I don’t consider to be ‘optional’. Getting up and milking every morning takes an hour and is not optional. Doing the bread at least every week and a half, even though I could just buy bread, is not optional – the sourdough starter dies if you leave it too long. Making cheese when the milk jar fills up is not optional, and that can take hours. Feeding the family is not optional and takes planning and time. So what I need to do is make exercise essential, rather than optional.

Just 15 minutes a day, even if it is a brisk walk to the end of the road and back. But it has to be every day, unless I am sick or injured. And it is no longer optional. If I can find time for everything else, I can find time to exercise.

I’ve set exercise goals before, many times. I hope that this time I have found a mind trick to head off the old ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ attitude that turns into not doing it for four months because it’s cold outside and I can’t be bothered. It will take some discipline, but hopefully it will also be good for me. I guess we will find out.

My other goal is to reduce the amount of rubbish our household produces, specifically food packaging. I cringe every time I put a meat tray or muesli packet in the bin. I see all the bits of plastic that come off an average dinner, and I know it needs to change. Recycling and composting can only go so far.

Members of the local permaculture group have put me onto some great resources for buying in bulk and making re-usable produce bags, but the main thing is going to be getting organised. Relying as much as possible on home-grown food with no packaging and no food miles will be part of the challenge, but a big factor will be not falling into the trap of one-stop shopping at the supermarket. It’s kind of a nuisance that my preferred butcher is closed for making smallgoods on my day off, but I can still drop in there any other afternoon on my way home from work. There are a few local food co-ops and outlets that sell in bulk, as well as farmers markets and food swaps.

Being organised, planning ahead and knowing that I can’t just duck out and pick up the thing I forgot for tonight’s quick dinner will be the key. Along with reducing waste, the whole project should lead to the family eating more locally produced and unprocessed foods. There will be some things we might need to give up, but these are things we don’t really need.

We don’t know what the future holds, and every year brings its own surprises and challenges. What we can do is set our intention and focus on something positive. This may end up being the thing that centres us through difficult times, or it may be what guides us to something amazing we hadn’t thought of.

Step boldly into 2016, my dear readers, and whatever you plan to do, believe in your goal, set yourself up to succeed and make it count.