Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Living Better With... Soap and Deodorant

Oh dear, I have put off this post for nearly exactly a month now. Tomorrow is our next meeting for our Living Better With Less group, and here I am, still dithering about how to report the last month's meeting.

So last month we watched Leah make soap. It was amazing - did you know that soap looks exactly like custard while it is cooking? I am quite excited about the idea of learning to make soap - but it is quite complicated because you need the exact amount of water and lye in ratio to the fats you are using. There are on-line calculators to help with this process, but Leah used a manual method which involved actual maths. I know. We had pencil and paper maths whizzes competing with phone calculators to get the final total finally correct.

My dilemma is this. Soap making is dangerous and you have to get it right or you can get burnt. The only written instructions I had, which one of our members uses every time for excellent soap, had the instructions around the wrong way. In soap making you have to add the lye to the water (I had to check that three times just then, so I know I'm getting it right) to avoid a volcanic-type reaction of exploding burning soap mixture. We don't want that. The instructions I have from Kay on a pdf file tell you to add water to lye. Kay does it like this, and hasn't had a problem, BUT I don't want to risk it, so won't link to those instructions. Just in case, you know. Also, the on-line lye-calculator she used doesn't exist any more. Plus, I forgot to take any photos. So probably I am going to get fired from my job as recorder-of-Living-Better meetings. Sigh.

BUT, I have been researching all afternoon and found some useful help for hopeful soap makers.

Learn How To Make Soap this is the process.

Lye Calculators this tells you how much lye to add if you are making up your recipe, but do not fear, for here are:

Basic Soap Recipes which tell you exactly how much of each ingredient to use, no maths required:)

Obviously this is all from one website, which is the most comprehensive and clear that I have found.

To buy soap supplies in Australia, try Aussie Soap Supplies which will also sell you everything you need for lotions, lip balms and other health and beauty products.

Lye (sodium hydroxide) you can generally find at the hardware store. It can't be sent through the post in Australia.

One last note: apparently winter is not a good time to make soap, because it needs to stay warm for twenty four hours after you make it. So if you live in Tasmania, no soap making until next summer, which will give you (and me) plenty of time to brave up and find a soap buddy (truly, soap making feels like something to do in company, for courage).

Now, on to deodorant. Kay showed us how to make her fabulous home-made deodorant which contains no nasty heavy metals.

Home-Made Deodorant

1/2 cup bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
1/2 cup arrowroot flour, or tapioca flour (cheaper - this is Living Better With Less, after all)
5tbs unrefined coconut oil
20 drops grapefruit or lime oil (or other citrus oil)

Mix bi-carb soda and arrowroot together, add oils, mix well. Coconut oil needs to be room temperature to mix easily. You know, warm room temperature, not an unheated studio in Tasmanian winter room temperature. Poor Kay had to mix for quite a while..

Pour into clean jar. Kay used an old Gillette speed-stick container (solid deodorant stick).

This makes a firm deodorant which melts on contact with body heat.

It smells lovely, and conforms to the only-put-stuff-on-your-skin-that-you-can-eat school of cosmetics.

Thanks so much to Leah and Kaye for sharing the art of home made cleanliness with us. Next month - oops, tomorrow.. soil health with David, who has been doing vegie growing trials with Steve Solomon's Complete Organic Fertiliser and biochar at the trial gardens at his Inspirations Garden Centre at Exeter.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ethical Undies

Okay, so the children have started to wear through their undies, and I'm sure mine are not too far behind..(ha, completely unintentional pun there). Now, as dedicated as I am to second hand, we are not going to do second hand undies. Or socks, or tights, although we do give and receive those among friends:).. mostly outgrown children's ones.

So I have been researching sources of ethical undies.

Our lovely Blueday friend and commenter Loretta recommended Tuffys, for all you Australians. Tuffys are actually made in Australia. From Australian cotton. From Australian farms. Yes, it's a miracle, but true. Their prices are reasonable, especially when on sale, and delivery is free.

Pants to Poverty is a UK brand, available in lots of actual shops around the UK which is great for all of you who like to support your local shops. I love their ethos  - organic, fair trade, responsible manufacturing and business practices. Based on the Make Poverty History campaign inspired by Nelson Mandela. Pants to Poverty undies are also available to us Aussies online via Etiko, in the US, and a bunch of other countries.

Now for socks - another lovely friend of Blueday, Lucinda, kindly recommended these socks from Humphrey Law for us. She accidently shrank hers on a hot wash, so don't do that! But don't they look lovely? Mmm, baby alpaca-wool socks? Oh, yes please. Australian wool and cotton and alpaca. Wonderful. Now apparently there are some local stockists for me to go and visit. That is on my errand list for this week. Otherwise, my fellow Australians, you can find them on-line or at any number of local stockists near you. There is free delivery for three or more pairs of socks..

All these underwear options are more expensive than the three-packs at Target which have been my undies mainstays for years... but the options above - this is the real price of clothes which are providing a fair wage to the farmers and processors. And, actually, because I have been buying very little in the way of clothes this year, there is a little wiggle room in the budget for more expensive undies..

I would love to know if you shop ethically and/or locally for your undies, or, even, do you make them? My friend Katherine wears fabulous socks knitted by her Mum. I really want to learn how to do that. And the other day when I was folding the washing I was critically examining the knickers thinking, 'Hmm, it's only three pieces of fabric. I wonder if I could make that?' I thought of all the t-shirts we have to turn into cleaning rags on a regular basis due to the plethora of small holes or the steadfast stain. I could turn t-shirts into undies!! (I say this as someone who is afraid of the sewing machine..). Still, wombling undies; it's tempting:)

I will update this post if I find new and useful suppliers of ethical undies, and give those I do use a review. If you buy ethical undies in Australia or another country, please share your sources, and/or favourite you-tube tutorial for sewing knickers (there are at least a hundred..).

Here's a US site I found while hunting for tights. Has anyone used this?:

US organic fairtrade underwear

Edited to add: Have some great links to add.

First is a post from Blueday friend Mimi who makes lingerie from old sheets because she is amazing:)

Judy recommends socks from Rapanui, an ethical UK company with a fair trade partnership in India with organic products which can be returned to the company for re-use or recycling.

I was reminded that Libi  recommended the company Who Made Your Pants? When they arrived she indulged her readers with a knicker unboxing post:) I love the ethos of this company too - knickers are made with left over end-of-line fabric from large underwear companies which would otherwise go to waste.

We also think that it's not really on for anyone to be made to work in bad conditions just for a cheap pair of pants. Who could feel lovely in something made in a bad place? So we make our pants in a great place. We've a little factory in Southampton where we create jobs for women who've had a hard time.
from the website

So try them for all your posh knicker needs, UK ladies:)

Further edited to add: Popped in to our local fabulous outdoors and camping and farm wear shop, Allgoods. Name says it all. They have a great selection of Australian-made socks. Who knew? Target has become totally obsolete now. I found:

Wilderness bamboo socks and sporty/hiker clothes

Rizzi socks

Mentor Ranger socks Explorer style

I also found a range of the most beautiful socks I have ever seen and lusted after - this Lothlorien range from New Zealand. Glorious! But a very annoying website that plays music and provides very little information. Stockists? You will have to find them yourself..

And of course, the Humphrey Law range that I went for was there as well. I ordered some sport socks for the girls. Imagine, sport socks that are mostly wool. Delicious! I might need to keep a pair.

As per usual, hunting for alternative and better suppliers of 'stuff' has turned up some real treasures and products that are immensely superior, plus a shopping experience that is exponentially better than the Target one. While I was in Allgoods scoping out socks, an old farmer was in the women's clothing section consulting with the sales lady (who I swear has worked there for all the eighteen years I have lived in Launceston) on a gift for his wife. She was reminding him what he bought last year so he wouldn't buy her the same thing again.. now that is service.

Even further edited to add:

From another NZ reader: Thunderpants. These look amazing! And this is from their website:

We love New Zealand, our families and our jobs. The Thunderpants business model is based on similar principles of slow growth, family before business and lifestyle over work. And it’s worked pretty well for us for the last 20 years, proving that it is entirely possible to work in a sustainable way that supports your local economy.
Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly the kind of business I want to support. The Thunderpants company sells 300,000 pairs of undies each year. I live in a region with a population of 100,000. We could support an underwear company right here in lovely Northern Tasmania if everyone bought local. 
An Australian reader has recommended Intimo Chic, a party plan lingerie range which has a good ethical and humanitarian standard for their Chinese factories, and offer ranges with, er, good support which is an area that seems to be a bit lacking in the other ethical ranges.. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Another Bad News Sunday

My dear friends, this is the dark side of our ubiquitous electronic devices.

Complete and utter devastation of a once magnificent piece of Mongolia. A huge and completely unsustainable city built on the Mongolian steppes just to supply the tiniest part of an ipad or smart phone. And this is one tiny component of an enormous web of similar horrors world wide.

Unfortunately our lap tops, ipads and smartphones did not just pop out of a nice clean factory somewhere with no back story. The mines which supplied the many components for our devices are not the ones we see in Australia with health and safety inspectors and workers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and environmental regulations which, though not great, at least exist.

The rare earths needed to make smart phones come from the mines of Northern China whose miners die with heartbreaking frequency in unregulated work conditions. Or from mines controlled by Congolese war lords with truly brutal conditions and appalling human rights violations. The mines produce large amounts of radioactive tailings and require toxic acids to process the rare earths, and these toxic wastes all need to be processed safely to avoid contaminating surrounding communities and countryside. Needless to say, this is not always a priority for mining companies, or governments such as North Korea which are sitting on large reserves of rare earths. And radioactive waste. How exactly do we process that securely anyway? Anyone?

I don't mention this to make you miserable and feel guilty. I think we need to know the stories behind our stuff. Because if we don't, how can we make informed decisions about what we will and won't stand for?

For thousands of years nomadic herders have crossed the Mongolian plains. It has been their homeland, their life, their livelihood, and they found a way to flourish in that harsh and beautiful environment which would have preserved it forever. Then we decided that we NEED smartphones. And now look at it.

This article was brought to my attention by a commenter (thanks Kelvin) on this week's Archdruid Report, my weekly fix of big picture commentary on the state of the world. Now, the Archdruid is no armchair theorist. When any of us begins whining and wringing our hands in the comments, his first question is, "And what are you doing, right now to tackle this problem?"

So here are some thoughts. First, I do not think it is reasonable for me to wreck other people's habitats or their health so that I can have new electronic devices. What to do? I still want to write to you all and have a way to contact my teenagers when they are out and about.

The good news is - the world is already awash with electronic devices. I am typing to you now on a perfectly functional second hand laptop, salvaged by IT superhero Chris, who makes it his business to rescue the still useful electronic devices he comes across in his line of work that would otherwise be sent to landfill, and reconditions them to be reused in the community. He is a star! All of us here at Chez Blueday have second hand phones from various sources, all of which also work perfectly well.

My next thought - we need to treat the devices that we do have as if they were precious and irreplaceable. Because they are. They represent an incredible collection of resources, and lives, livelihoods and habitats were impacted by their manufacture far beyond what we can see.

When they break - let's fix them. Let's not do that old worn out calculation - will it cost more to fix than replace? It will literally cost the earth to replace it. Let's give some work to a local technician and have our electronics fixed and good to go another few years. When they are irretrievably dead, they can all be recycled - so those rare earths can be re-used instead of mined out of the Mongolian plains.

And let's keep the cycle going. Do you have a drawer of old phones or a cupboard with unloved laptops or ipads? Find someone who would love to inherit them and pass them on. Maybe keep an old phone or two for when the smart phone dies. Have you seen the latest fashion trend? Yes, flip phones are back. I have never owned a smart phone because a)ridiculously expensive and b)many people seem to be owned by their smartphones rather than vice versa. I do not want to be that person. I am the person in the waiting room with the book.

So let's have a conversation about what our devices do for us, and whether they are worth it. All of it..