Author: astrobarbieblog

5 ways to reduce single use plastics

Before I get stuck into my list I want you to know that I am not some sort of Earth-mother-eco-warrior, I just don’t like the amount of single use items (mostly made of plastic) that get thrown away everyday. I have made some small changes to the way I live and the products I choose to try and make a small dent in the amount of waste we generate. If you’re interested in doing the same read on…

1. Drinks on the go

I bloody love a takeaway coffee. When I plan on going to a new place for a walk, a significant factor is always whether there’s a good cafe nearby for me to try. When I noticed this was becoming an almost daily habit I decided to invest in a reusable cup to take with me. I have a glass KeepCup and I love it. 


I have walked away from one cafe that said they didn’t allow customers to bring in their own cups (but after emailing the manager I was told they were ok with me ordering a “to stay” coffee then transferring it myself) but most places are really accomodating and some even do discounts for customers that use reusable cups. 


I also carry a water bottle everywhere. I have quite a collection but my favourite for day to day is this smallish one from Macpac because it fits in a handbag.

My newest investment is a stainless steel drinking straw. Plastic drinks straws are in the top 10 most washed up items on beaches causing things like this so I decided to try and curb the habit. In case you’re thinking that a reusable straw sounds a bit unhygienic, you can get little brushes to clean them out.

2. Shopping bags

I know everyone in the UK will be familiar with the idea of taking your own bags to the supermarket after the introduction of charging for plastic bags in 2015. I think this is a fantastic initiative and apparently it is working, with the number of plastic bags being used dropping significantly. I hope they introduce it in Australia. I am a huge fan of keeping a simple canvas tote bag (I have a canvas bag full of canvas bags) and I use the sturdier “bags for life” whenever I go to the supermarket. I always try to return them to the car as soon as I’ve unpacked the shopping so there’s no excuse. 


So now I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use during the actual shopping process and have started using these reusable produce bags from ChicoBag. 

3. Reusable nappies

This will be irrelevant to anyone who doesn’t have a baby so I will just direct you to my earlier post if you want to read about how and why I use reusable nappies (my favourite brand is Hippybottomus in case you’re wondering)

4. Toilet paper

Wait, what? Reusable toilet paper?! Don’t worry, I definitely get rid of my toilet paper but I get it from Who Gives A Crap, which is another company doing great things. You get it delivered to your door as frequently as you like, it is made from recycled materials, it is wrapped in paper not plastic and the company donates money to WaterAid. Amazing. It is not the most luxurious of toilet papers but it is by no means bad. It’s available in Australia, the UK and USA. 

5. Sanitary products

Ok, so if you thought the toilet paper was bad, you may want to stop reading now. This one goes out to all the ladies. 

My latest discovery is Thinx knickers (there are a few other brands that seem to be equally as good) who have reimagined the way we deal with our periods. I’ll let their website do the talking but I’m a fan, as are Mila Kunis and Mindy Kaling so you know you’re in good company if you follow this one up. 

Thinx is another company that gives back and they have set up a foundation to support girls and women in the developing world so they can access menstrual products and safe spaces to learn and talk about their bodies, health, safety and finance.

Listen to Miki Agrawal, the Thinx founder on The Freakonomics Radio podcast. 

So that’s my five ways to try and reduce your single use item waste, what other ones are there that I’ve missed? 

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When is it time to up your game? 

One of the reasons I love sport and physical challenges is the way it acts as an analogue for the way we approach so many areas of our lives. I can obsess about talking over why I have decided to approach physical activity in a particular way before realising it says much more about my broader personality. With that in mind, I have been thinking a lot recently about whether to stay in my comfort zone or to push myself regarding triathlons. 

I wrote a post a few months ago about completing my first triathlon after having a baby. I decided that I simply wanted to complete one, regardless of length or the time it took me, and when I did I felt elated. That was in December, and since then I completed another of the same distance in January, and another of a similar distance last weekend. (These were “super sprints”: 250 m swim, 7-10 km bike, 2-3 km run). In the one I just completed I got a PB, including the events I had done pre-baby! I felt great at the end of the race, and didn’t feel sore at all the next day. 

Now, one of my frustrations with the sport of triathlon is that there are no ‘in between’ distances, to step up to the next distance means doubling what you did before. So for my next race, should I repeat the same distance again or should I step up to the next one (the “sprint” distance: 750 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run)? Should I stay firmly within my comfort zone but try to go faster or should I see what I’m capable of in the further distance? I have done this distance before, a few years ago, so I know that I am capable of doing it. But can I do it well, or will I just have to switch to survival mode to get it done? 

This got me thinking of goal setting in general, and whether it is better to set yourself smaller goals that you know you can achieve, or grander ones that introduce that feeling of doubt in your abilities. Two quotes spring to mind when I think about this:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo 

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

I love the Michelangelo quote, as it really sums up how limiting it can be to stay within your comfort zone. Applying the quote directly to my triathlon: How could I fall short if I choose the longer distance? 

My worst discipline is running, it’s always in that final leg that I struggle. I hear so many people at the start line panicking about the swim and saying that once that part is over they’ll be able to relax. For me it’s the opposite. I have a lingering dread the whole race knowing that the run is still ahead of me. During my recent event one decision I made was to leave everything on the course, in every leg. So often I have been worried about going out too hard in the bike leg and saving ‘something’ for the run. This reminds me of being told that most people who have died of thirst in deserts are found with water still in their bottles. They’re saving it for the future instead of using it when they need it. I know, of course, that there’s a fine line between squandering something too early instead of waiting for when it’s needed and one of the great things about hindsight is knowing when that applies and when it doesn’t. In the moment you have to make the decision. 

So what’s the worst that can happen*? I have to walk on the run. If I truly have nothing left I know what my strategy will be. And that’s ok. 
What’s the worst that can happen if I pick the shorter distance? That I won’t be as fast as I was in the recent event? Or that I could have gone further but will have to live with the not knowing? For me, the missed opportunity to find out what I’m really capable of would be worse than a disappointing race. 

So, as you can probably work out I have entered the longer distance. I have just under three weeks before I take part in the race so I will let you know how I get on. Has there been an occasion where you set the bar too low for yourself and felt dissatisfied with achieving your goal or do you have an example where you went so far out of your comfort zone that you regretted it? Maybe only let me know about the latter in three weeks time… 

*I no longer regard finishing DFL as something to be scared of, following my friend’s recent epic windsurfing race.

I feel obliged to tell you about this podcast

If you’ve spent any amount of time longer than approximately 30 seconds with me recently, I will have mentioned my latest obsession with podcasts, specifically the ‘Happier’ podcast by Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft. 

I came across Rubin after I read her book The Happiness Project and, although her personality is vastly different to mine, a lot of her ideas and strategies for building more happiness into your everyday life really resonated with me. 

The Happier podcast features lots of tips to try at home, ways to know yourself better and the hosts are incredibly honest about their shortcomings as well as their successes. One of the biggest parts of it is how to build habits into your daily life, and how your personality makes this easier or harder to do.

Rubin has identified four personality types or ‘tendencies’ in her latest book Better Than Before, and they are based around how you respond to external and internal expectations. For example, an external expectation is something like a work deadline and an internal expectation could be a New Year’s resolution. 

The four tendencies are upholder, obliger, questioner and rebel. If you want to find out which one you are she has a quiz on her blog

I am a classic obliger: I find it very easy to meet external expectations but struggle with internal ones. I have numerous examples of this from both my professional and personal life, as well as my approach to studying, exercise and diet. 

For example, when I was going for a promotion that involved putting together a portfolio of my work I simply couldn’t get around to it. My manager kept saying that I could work on it in my own time and just submit it whenever I wanted but I had to ask him to give me a specific deadline. I then found it easier to stick to the arbitrary deadline, because I didn’t want to appear to be the person that couldn’t do it. 

Another example was getting a personal trainer when I wanted to get fit. The obligation of having to show up at a certain time to work out suited me perfectly. You couldn’t cancel on the day of your session without losing money and I never missed one. When I recommended it to a friend she wasn’t convinced, because her theory was that I wasn’t doing any kind of exercise that I didn’t already know how to do, so what was the point in paying for it. My answer to that was that even though I know the steps to get to where I wanted, I needed some kind of external accountability to get there. That is the overall philosophy for the obliger tendency. 

I’ve started to look at everyone around me and try to understand their personality type, and I think it might (fingers crossed) be making me more empathetic to the way others approach tasks. 

If you want to find out more about the four tendencies you can read Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin or listen to episode 13 of the Happier podcast for an overview on personality types and episodes 35-38 for a deeper look at each of them (or start from episode 1 and work the whole way through). I’m so interested in this and love discussing it with people and hearing how the different types work when making and breaking habits, so let me know what tendency you align with and how you make it work for you. 

Finishing DFL

I have a friend who has become obsessed with windsurfing in the past year, so this summer she packed a board and sail (or three) and came to stay with us for an epic five weeks on the water. The culmination of her trip was to be a windsurfing ‘marathon’ event in Lancelin, a couple of hours north of Perth. She didn’t know if she was ready for such a major event, if she had the windsurfing skill, the fitness or simply the balls to go as far offshore as the race would force her to. She decided to give it a couple of weeks before signing up.

During her time here she chatted with locals, went on road trips to check out new windsurfing location and continually pushed herself out of her comfort zone. The consensus? She would give the race a go, because… well, why not? She was capable and she was as ready as she could be. 

On the day of the race I waited to hear from her. My phone rang and am elated voice was at the other end:

“I did it! I finished it! I came DFL, but I finished it!”

“What’s DFL?”

“Dead f****** last!” 

She said towards the end she lost sight of the person in front of her and approached the finish line with the support boats in a convoy around her. 

She couldn’t care less about her place in the race, she was overjoyed to have taken part and to have made it to the finish.

Finishing last in an event has often been something I’ve been afraid of, but has never happened to me. I’ve often said I wouldn’t mind if I did because “you know, someone has to” but I don’t think I’ve ever truly believed it before. But now, I don’t just believe it, I think I’m even prouder of my friend because of it. 

She started. She stood on the beach at the start line, wondering if she’d taken on too much. The starting signal went and she picked up her gear and headed into the water, over the waves and out to the ocean. 

She finished. Which means even when she lost sight of the competitor in front of her she kept going. When others dropped out part way through, she kept going. 

She finished last. Which means out of all of the people out there she was one of them that found it the hardest. She was one of the people that had to take a leap of faith in her own ability and have a go before she knew she was ready.

Now that she’s done the event once, she seems pretty keen on coming back and having another go in 2018, with a whole extra year’s worth of experience behind her. I hope she does, and whether she has a cracker of a race or one that she finds to be a huge mental and physical challenge, she can rest assured knowing that even by lining up at the start ready to have a go at something that pushes her to her limits is truly admirable. 

End of 2016 thoughts

It’s no surprise that as the end of the year rolls around we all start reflecting on the last 12 months before starting another trip around the sun. I think it’s fair to say that 2016 has been a roller coaster, and for many, with more lows than highs.

I feel particularly conflicted as I look back on the year that’s been, as I compare my personal life with my thoughts on a global scale. 

For me, in my own little bubble in my corner of the world, this year has had the biggest highlight of my life: having a baby. It has been an eye opening, humbling but utterly joyful experience. I was worried that having a child would make me lose some of my identity and I would become just “mummy” rather than the person I have been thus far. I really feel, however, that in the last 6 months I have become even more myself, and have a stronger sense of my own identity as I spend my days with this tiny human. I know I want to be the best version of myself to act as his role model and so he inspires me to take care of myself, both mentally and physically. I feel grounded when I’m with him. 

And yet. I watch the news. I read comments online from hateful people. I look at the events of the past 12 months and feel scared about the future. I’m reminded of our own mortality with every notable death that gets reported. I feel anxious about the decisions made around the world that I have no say in but are likely to affect me. So I think “what can I do about it?” And most of the time I feel pretty useless. 

So here lies the conflict. To be so content on a small scale and so anxious about the state of the world. How can these two states coexist? 

And here is my conclusion as we come to the end of 2016. All any of us can do is try to leave this place in a better state than we found it. I now think this means teaching our children the values that we know are out there but we can’t always see. Compassion. Honesty. Empathy. Sustainability. And to teach them these things we have to model them everyday. 

In doing that, and remembering that I am raising a tiny human who could go on to have a big impact on his world, I must try to remember that I am doing something. I am no longer a passive bystander when we talk about the future, I am a stakeholder. 

Reusable nappies – Post 2

Reusable nappies – Post 2

In my last post I talked about how I chose which type of nappy I wanted to use and my favourite brand. That was the easy bit… now let’s discuss how they actually work in practice.

Now, I had never changed a nappy before having my own baby. I didn’t grow up with loads of babies around and was never overly baby orientated. So I went into this whole nappy thing with a mixture of what swung from blissful ignorance to the sheer terror of the unknown. To be honest, that’s how I went into the whole baby thing, and six months in it’s been amazing (I have learnt A LOT).

So nappies. As I said in my last post I didn’t start using the reusable ones until about 8 weeks whilst I was finding my feet. In that 8 week period I was blown away by how many bags of used nappies I was taking to the bin everyday, and with every bag I thought about the landfill and the amount of time nappies take to break down. Not cool. I was pleased I’d made the decision to try reusable ones but I decided to be kind to myself (always) and not beat myself up if I found it too hard. At this point I’d only bought about five nappies so the investment wasn’t so big that I felt bad if I stopped (spoiler alert: I didn’t stop, I really like using them!). 

Laundry routine

I was not too familiar with what baby poo is like so I read about how to clean the nappies and followed the advice of the nappy companies and blogs of people that were using them. 

Generally, milk fed babies poo is water soluble so you can just chuck everything in the washing machine. It also doesn’t smell too offensive, so whilst it wasn’t the best part of my day, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (although it has put me off chunky sweet potato dip for life). I kept a slide top bin next to my change table and just threw the soiled nappies in there. This was in the winter so the room was cooler and the bin didn’t smell too bad. I could get away with washing them every 2-3 days. 


I wash the nappies on the “mixed” setting of my machine at 30 degrees C. I use a natural detergent for them, but not one that contains plant oils. I did no prewashing or soaking. 


I always dry my nappies outside, but under a covered area. These octopus hanging driers have been one of my most used items, they are so convenient for nappy washing. The bamboo pads really don’t take long to dry so the whole process is not too arduous. 


If I’m feeling organised I’ll reconstruct all of the nappies and line them up beautifully so they are ready to go, but more often than not they just end up in a mixed pile of pads and covers and I make them up as I use them.


Now that my baby is on solids things have changed a little. I was dreading the poo from solids but in all honesty it’s much better to deal with than the milk poos. I use a bamboo liner in the nappy now and can just lift it out and throw the poo in the toilet. It’s much more like a play doh consistency so doesn’t go everywhere like milk poo. Too much information? Maybe, but I had no idea before having a baby and could have done with someone making it nice and clear for me! 

Also, it’s now much warmer here so I can’t leave the bin for too long. I’ve got in the habit of washing that day’s nappies just after I’ve put my baby to bed so they don’t sit in his room overnight. 

How often I change nappies

You will find with cloth nappies that you have to change them far more regularly than disposables, as they don’t have the magic water absorbing chemicals that the disposables do. I generally change his nappy every 2-3 hours, and I definitely had a few times where I left it too long and they couldn’t hold any more liquid. More regular changes means a fresher, drier bottom and I think this contributed to the fact that my son has had no nappy rash. 

I’ve been told recently that reusable nappies make it easier to potty train as your toddler knows the feeling of being uncomfortable with a slightly damp nappy and so will let you know that it needs changing. This was only anecdotal so I can’t promise anything!

When he was still waking every few hours during the night I would check and usually change his nappy but as he started to sleep longer, and stopped pooing in the night, I wanted to be able to leave him without worrying about leaks. I started to use an extra pad in them but found this didn’t work as well as I would like. So overnight he sleeps in a disposable. Remember how I said I wasn’t going to beat myself up if I could do it perfectly? Well, I decided that one disposable per day is so much better than one bin bag full per day so I’m ok with my choice. I might start trying to use the cloth ones again over night, but I switch to a disposable because he was waking due to a wet nappy rather than anything else. Changing him then woke him up more so I made the call that longer periods of uninterrupted sleep was better for both of us. 

The only other time I’ve used disposables is when we went overseas on holiday. I really admire anyone who would continue their reusable routine on a plane or whilst staying away from home, but I decided not too. After two weeks of disposables I was wooed by how convenient they are but made sure I got straight back into my reusable routine when we got home and I quickly remembered why I love using them. 

What about when you’re out?

No one wants to lug smelly nappies around with them, do they?! This was an area that I thought I would just use disposables because it would just be too much effort but it’s been fine. I always keep a couple of disposables with me just in case but in general it’s been fine. Keep a wetbag with you and empty it as soon as you get home and it’s really not as bad as you might think. I use this wet/dry bag because I can just grab it out of my big nappy bag when I need it.


Give it a go

If you’ve read this far you must be considering using cloth nappies. If you’re not sure, just get a couple to try and incorporate them into your routine, perhaps on days when you know you’ll be at home. You may find that gradually you lean towards using them more and more, but every time you use a reusable instead of a disposable is one less nappy ending up in landfill. Which is a winner. 

Reusable nappies – Post 1

Reusable nappies – Post 1

When I was pregnant I started to really think about ways to live more sustainably, with a much stronger sense of what kind of world I would want my baby to grow up. Very idealistic, I know. So much of the time we look at the bigger picture and think ‘how can I possibly change this, I’m just one person’ instead of just making small changes and spreading the word about what you’re doing. 
So here I am, doing just that. And I’m going to spread the word about the oh so glamourous topic of reusable nappies. You’re in for a wild ride, I promise… 
I started researching modern cloth nappies (MCN) during my pregnancy and found there was a lot of information out there, but much of it was based in the USA and some brands and products were hard to come by in Australia. I’ve now been using them for 5 months (I didn’t use them with a newborn, more on that below) and will never look back. 


The biggest questions I had were:

  1. What types are there are which are best?
  2. Do you just spend your life washing? And isn’t it a little bit disgusting?
  3. How many do I need? Does this work out cheaper in the long run? 
  4. Do disposable nappies have their place in a MCN routine?

In this post I’m going to focus on question 1: What types are there and which do I think are best?
There are two key things to consider when choosing a type of MCN to use:
(a) all-in-one (AIO) vs all-in-two (AI2) which made up of a liner and a cover

(b) nappies that change size as your baby grows, known as one size fits most (OSFM) vs sized nappies

All in one vs all in two

AIO

Pros: easiest to put on as soon as they are washed and dry they are ready to go – no ‘construction’ required

Cons: can take longer to dry, can be more expensive

AI2 

Pros: quick to dry as cover and pad can be separated, can reuse a cover with a new pad (I don’t do this very often so it isn’t a big selling point), can add more pads to bump up with absorbency

Cons: slightly more fiddly, some companies aren’t as cheap as they first seem because you have to buy the pads separately 

My choice: AI2 

I like the fact that you can separate the pad from the cover and they dry really quickly. My favourite design is one with a pocket that you slide the pad into, it’s the simplest and cheapest option and it works really well.


One size fits most vs sized nappies

OSFM
Pros: cheaper in the long run as you just need to buy your initial stash

Cons: can be a bit bulky on little babies, the fit might not be great to start so may get leakage

Sized

Pros: better fitting nappies

Cons: much more expensive in the long run

My choice: OSFM

Now, I didn’t use MCN until my baby was about 8 weeks because in the hazy days of having a newborn I didn’t want too much on my plate (I now think I could have coped just fine) so just used disposables at first, so I can’t comment too much on using them on very small babies. When I felt that I had got to grips with the tiny human that I was responsible for I started using some OSFM nappies and they worked really well. I didn’t like the idea of having to buy a whole new batch every time my baby outgrew them.


How to chose a brand

I started off buying a few nappies from different brands until I established which ones I liked best. 

My favourites BY FAR are by Hippybottomus, which is an Australian company. They were also the cheapest and the simplest to use! Win win! They wash well and dry really quickly. Their price includes the cover and pad. I went on to buy a total of 20 nappies from them, with a few spare pads. I still use the nappies from Itti Bitti that I bought (I have 5 in total) but I find I only reach for those once my Hippybottomus stash is depleted.