Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There's no place like home

About 15cm worth of old papers burned for heat!
In our old office, there was no room for the filing cabinet (bought at a bargain price when Intel NZ made us all redundant and closed up shop).

It was also closed with plastic baby safety locks.

Not surprisingly, we filed things elsewhere and let the papers in the filing cabinet get old and outdated.

With our new office downstairs came new inspiration!

The top tray is so loaded it has bent.
Cleaning out, moving out

I lightened the load of old paper with all its memories: old technical writing newsletters, history of a successful NIMBY protest against a heliport, old old bank statements...

Then I took out all the folders and instructed the rest of the team to haul the cabinet to its new home right by my new standing desk.  For the first time since we moved to this house, the filing cabinet is actually in our office! Now there's a real chance we'll use it properly.

We still have some catching up to do on the filing.  The next step is to relabel folders so they match our current life.

And when the filing's all done, the filing cabinet will do double duty as a solid step up to access the door to our underfloor space.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Top 10 Vegan Wars - Fighting the good fight


Everyone knows that vegans are mellow, peaceable, anaemic, skinny and limp whispering incense waving meditators.  Right?  Anyone else remember the Comedy Company's Vegan Cooking skit?  (Please post it if you can find it.)

In real life, we're a violently opinionated lot.  More like Monty Python's "I'd like to have an argument please..."

And when we can't get enough arguments and abuse from animal exploiters, we energetically seek them from each other.

Ten Steps to VMAD (Vegan Mutually Assured Destruction)

Step right up and choose your side.

10.  Vegan cats

It's unethical to support the meat industry, even when feeding cats.


Cats are obligate carnivores; it is animal abuse to feed them vegan food; don't impose your own vegan values on your cat.

9.  Non-vegan partners

How can any vegan live with a partner who refuses to accept their fundamental values?   If your partner won't go vegan, you're enabling their meat-eating by staying together.


How do you expect everyone to find a vegan partner when most vegans are women?  If you have a supportive partner, you may be able to make a big impact even if the partner does not go vegan.

8.  Abortion

Vegans believe in quality of life for animals and humans.  It would be better for an animal never to be born than to live and die as a farm product, and sometimes it is better for a human not to be born either.


Any compassionate vegan will be pro-life - vegans value the lives of animals, so it's hypocritical to allow a helpless human baby to be murdered.

7.  Having children

How can a vegan decide to breed more children into this high-consuming culture in an overpopulated world?


Having children is an important part of being a human animal, and children can be taught by the good example of vegan parents and carry this lesson into the future.

6.  Activism

Vegans teach and reach best by being a great example while delivering positive messages.


Unless we're in their face all the time, we won't make any progress.  People want to ignore the facts about animal products - don't let them!

5.  Vegan diet vs vegan lifestyle

You can't just have a vegan diet - vegan means against animal exploitation so you have to avoid using all animal products, not just avoid eating them.


If you're not eating any animal products, then surely that's a vegan diet and we should support that as a great effort?

4.  Health vegans

Giving up eating almost all meat and dairy products for whatever reason is a very strong and admirable commitment.


Being vegan for your own health is selfish when the real issue is how badly humans treat animals.  It's not really vegan anyway - they only worry about their diet (see #5) and some of them still eat honey and animal byproducts.

3.  Vegan meats

Fake meats are a great stepping stone in a transition from meat-eating to veganism and an enjoyable ethical treat.


Fake meats glorify meat and are not very healthy or environmentally friendly.

2.  Vegetarians

Vegetarians are still on a journey and doing a lot of good already.


Vegetarians are just as guilty as meat-eaters of animal cruelty because they eat eggs and dairy.  We need to remind them of that every chance we get.

1. What Vegan Really Means

I give up.  Google returns more than 4 million hits for "vegan definition".  One for each vegan?

And everything in between

Go on, admit it.  I bet you are burning to give me the Right Answers.  I'm sure I haven't managed to hide entirely which "side" of each argument I favour.

Making a real difference

All of these are compelling ethical dilemmas.  But as you spiral into a quagmire with an equally argumentative vegan, ask yourself:

Even if I won, what difference would it make?
If you have strength, a power, some wisdom and logic, a biting wit, charm and persuasion - should you concentrate it on those who already agree with you on 99% of this stuff?

If we agree to disagree on the 1% amongst ourselves, then all of us might have the energy to turn on the light for our own vegan vision to the meat-eating majority. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Winter Window Harvest

At the end of our New Zealand summer growing season, I planted some eager tomato volunteers for my first ever experiment with growing tomatoes inside.

My winter window tomatoes then...
Garden Indoor Tomato.jpg
I thought the weedy one on the right was not going to live.

 My winter window tomatoes now!

The weedy one is still weedy, but gave me my first ripe tomatoes.

I've eaten two of the tiny red ones, and they are sweet and juicy.  Success!


Here's hoping all those big green and rosy-green ones get really red too.  Winter is ending and the sun in that window is getting even stronger.


I did not use a growing light as is commonly recommended, as I was aiming for a minimalist experiment.  With two small children also at floor level, I didn't want to invest in tricky, interesting and expensive equipment.  I did my best to provide light for as long as possible during the day, and artificial light in the evenings.

Will I do this again next winter?

This may depend on whether those big greenies get ripe for me.  The obstacle course at the end of the dining table was not always welcome.  I'd get a better return from several small herb pots.
What would you grow in a sunny window?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Use it up! How sweet it is...

Setting these specific Use It Up challenges is motivating, successful and enjoyable. I've been warming my hands on hot cups of tea on these chilly winter days.

This latest in the Use It Up series is another old sweetie like in the first challenge (I mean the marshmallow Eskimos, not the sweetie husband, of course.)

These chewy Mentos were also bought as party bag treats for some birthday party of yore, from an online grab a deal of the day.

We hide sweets from our all-seeing, all-climbing son, but this lot got hidden a bit too well, out of easy reach of my vertically challenged arms.

I've put them back into circulation while they're still yummy.  They're just the right size packet to share just a couple with a lot of kid friends, and DH and I enjoyed a packet during our viewing of Billy T: Te Movie instead of buying outrageously expensive movie theatre offerings.
Stocking up can be a wonderfully frugal activity - but you can't rotate your stock if you don't know where it all is.  Store things where you would look for them even when you've forgotten what you bought!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This is not a breastfeeding blog

Photo from Rehydration Project newsletter - check it out!

I am a committed breastfeeder and my children are weaning naturally (in years, not months).  It's very important to me and sometimes I write about it.

But I have no formal training and there are plenty of expert breastfeeding sites available.

There but for the grace of...

Each mother faces her own journey and obstacles.  This is not about judgement.

Had my sister not stood up for my first child against the hospital staff, nobody else (including me) would have stopped his tiny body from being pumped full as he could hold with artificial milk (formula).

I could now (unnecessarily) be a bitter wannabe breastfeeder as well as a bitter wannabe homebirther.

Instead, I have a dream.  It's about a different world of baby feeding.

My dream


  • Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed every baby...and any young child still needing extras on top of solid foods.
  • Mothers see breastfeeding from childhood on, within the home and out in public.  So do fathers.
  • Before the baby's birth, mothers learn even more about breastfeeding the same way we currently learn about birth.  Every mother has already joined a community breastfeeding support group (like La Leche League) before she even looks her own baby in the eye.
  • There are lots of trained breastfeeding experts who really know how breastfeeding works and why it sometimes doesn't work.  They're available to all new mothers, especially those who are at known risk for breastfeeding problems. 

When breastfeeding doesn't work

When a mother can't breastfeed her own baby, she
  • employs a wet-nurse (a respected and rewarded profession) or 
  • uses a milk bank (common, affordable, and well-stocked by healthy donors) 
All birth institutions support this as standard.
  • Artificial milk is rarely needed.  It would be available only by prescription, not in the supermarket.  We know the artificial can't be as good, especially for such a complex substance as biological mammalian milk. 
  • We don't spend money trying to improve artificial milk or show that it is really just as good - we need that money to support our wet nurses and supplies of donor breast milk.

It takes a mother...and a village

  • Mothering your own children, including breastfeeding and natural weaning, is as highly respected and valued an occupation as any that is commercially paid. 
  • We accept the general benefit to all society of having young children in the consistent care of their own mothers.
  • There is tax relief and real social support available to encourage mothers to be the first, best, and most available childcare for the crucial first few years. 


Very possible, with a lot of baby steps.
  • Milk banks - already increasing again worldwide, now that safe testing is available.  Please support the New Zealand Maternity Manifesto, which asks our politicians to support milk banks among other positive initiatives.
  • Wet nurses - a golden opportunity and a respectable and valuable way for some mothers to supplement their income in a struggling economy. 
  • The money - already in circulation, spent on artificial milk.  Now we just need to get real.
  • The attitude?  That's up to you and me, baby.
Feeding in Nature

A tigress has just birthed cubs in an animal reserve.  Would her carers decide, "This tiger has a more important job to do as an exhibit in our reserve.  We will take her cubs and feed them artificial milk so she can return to her normal life as soon as possible.  Nobody has proved that it isn't just as good."

If they did, imagine the reaction of the tigress.

Artificial milk for human babies is largely created from milk stolen from a mother cow or goat and her baby.  These placid animals have no choice when their milk, their babies, and their mothering role are taken from them.

Don't your babies deserve a tigress?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Billy T James did not have to die at age 42

Billy T James.jpg

Last night I watched Billy T: Te Movie. It's a must watch for anyone interested in New Zealand Maori and European culture - or  multiculture of any sort.

Introducing or remembering Billy T James

Here's some classic Billy T comedy showing his remarkable flexibility.

From birth, through the development of his career stages, to his tragically early death, his life was pure drama thinly overlaid by his comic talent.  His painful journey through a heart attack, quadruple bypass, and heart transplant had the feeling of an inevitable train wreck. 

Billy did not want to lie down and protect his health; he was addicted to the energy of the stage. 

And as his close friend and New Zealand costar Peter Rowley said:
I never saw a green vegetable pass his lips.  His favourite food was KFC. 
I already knew the ending of the story, but I could not help thinking:
Dr McDougall could have saved Billy T. 
Billy T vs Bill C
Billy T was lucky enough to get the gift of a new heart.  What if Billy T had also had the gift of health advice like former US President Bill C, who also suffered a quadruple bypass?  Clinton talked to CNN recently about his phenomenal health turnaround with a lowfat vegan diet.

We might still have Billy T. James' light and wisdom with us.  And we'd be better for it.

It's too late for Billy T.  And for Elvis, John Candy (both also dead at 42), and "Mama Cass" Elliot.  We lost them all for the same avoidable reason - a fatally unhealthy diet.

So whaddya reckon, mate?  Know any jokers worth saving?  You could help them be heart attack proof; just recommend Te Diet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Health education with Dr T. Colin Campbell - Please Don't Feed the Animals!


Even before I got fired up from attending the Why Animals Matter conference here in Auckland, New Zealand and wrote my Open Letter to the New Zealand Green PartyDr T Colin Campbell's Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition had already assigned me the task (should I choose to accept it) of getting political.  

At the end of his lecture, Dr. Bruce Monger urges us to action with a quote from Howard Zinn: 
Nothing of positive social value is achieved from the top down, always from the bottom up." He adds some insight of his own: A healthy democracy is derived from an informed citizenry that takes the time to voice its opinion on how things should be run.
Because you now have far more nutritional knowledge than most people, your opinion on health-related topics is very valuable to the public, your elected representatives and others in positions to influence public opinion and nutrition policy.

To Russell Norman and Metiria Turei, co-Leaders, Green Party of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Listen. Nearly 4 billion people beg, "Please don't feed the animals!" 60% of our people go hungry because we feed most of the world's plant crops to animals destined for a shrink wrapped package and a short shelf life. This meat, along with sugar and fat, gives people in wealthy nations 50% more calories than we need...and obesity. Plants need energy and water to grow - but an animal consumes many times those resources before becoming food. But we can waste even more. Got fresh food? Process it (energy), package it (more energy) - and then ship the food around the country...or the world! Most people like us eat this way all the time - following a perfect recipe for oil dependency, war, and pollution.

Listen. Our planet groans under this wealthy diet. Our oceans are dying: fertilizers wipe out marine life already threatened by systemic overfishing. Our land is dying: animal pastures erode faster than they are replaced and intensive crop farming exchanges nutrients for pesticides and herbicides. Farm animal waste pollutes our drinking water and crops, and (jokes aside) they are major greenhouse gas emitters. And food packaging adds its own layer of pollution.

Listen. The UN has told us that our diet must change toward sustainable plants. You can personally change from an energy hungry diet to a plant-based diet; just listen to the message of Professor Emeritus Dr. T Colin Campbell ( and others. This diet is tailor-made for the Green Party; please take up the challenge and spread the word for the sake of the planet - don't feed the animals, and let the land feed the people instead.
Strategy Note
I sent this letter to the Green website but received no response.  It worked much better to send my open letter directly to the Green MPs' email addresses (and blog, Facebook and tweet it, too).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Outsmarting your inner hoarder

You know your decluttering enemy - it's you.  You, and that little whisper in your head as you handle each thing that owns you:

"Keep just
this one."

When you hear that whisper, fight with all you've got.  Here's some practice ammunition (see bullets :-)

Enemy Whispers

1. I might use this someday.
  • Someone else can use this today.

2. I paid good money for this.
  • My good money will be worth it once this gets used.

3. I might miss this if I get rid of it.
  • What's the worst thing that would happen if I miss it?

4. If I fixed this, I'd use it.
  • I stored this instead of fixing it - I probably won't ever fix it.

5. Oh, the memories!
  • I could keep a photo, or a piece, or just one memento, and that would be just as good.

6. I'm going to start doing that again.
  • Oh yeah?  When?

7. It's not taking up much room in that box.
  • How many storage boxes belong in my life?

8. My kids could use it when they set up their own house. 
  • My kids will have the same shops to choose anything they need, when they need it.  I don't need to run an amateur junk shop.

The world is stuffed

Close your eyes and imagine:

...your pile of unused stuff.
...adding the unused stuff from every house in your neighbourhood.  Now your city.  Now your country.
...all the factories producing more stuff every second.
...all the people who don't even have what they need and can't afford to buy new or buy at all.
...being a part of the solution instead of the problem.

It's easy.  Just take a deep breath, and let go.

Someone will thank you for it.  It might even be you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Decluttering - thinking big and sewing it up

My grandmother bought the latest model sewing machine some decades ago and put it to very good use.  She loved to sew, and we still have a few of the baby clothes she sewed when we were young.

In another millennium, in another hemisphere, I am not using it at all.

No, I'm using it to hold up stuff on its way out of the house.  It's built into a quite nice solid wood table on wheels, and takes up a small table's share of room.

It's nice, potentially so useful, and sentimental as well, so I have kept it.  I do not love to sew.  It's Living the Life You Have all over again (instead of the one I wish I did).

If I want to have an occasional sewing machine, just in case, to show the kids how it's done, this is not the machine for me.  I can easily buy a compact sewing machine...


I did some research on TradeMe to price the machine (after the obCheck with the rest of the family), but then stalled again.  Freecycle saved the day:  "Wanted: sewing machine..."

Nice guy picked it up yesterday, and the new owner says she loves it.  Grandma Eileen would be pleased, I'm sure.

As a bonus, I also released a small stack of sewing manuals.

Dollars and sense
New sewing machine?         $1 reserve or $30 buy now on TradeMe
Old sewing machine table?  $unknown, satisfaction guaranteed
Brand new clear space?      Priceless

Monday, August 8, 2011

7 Minimalist Parenting Tips

Christmas comes early at our house!
Parenting is hard work.  Here are a few ideas to make it easier.

Do they always work?  Hey, they're tips, not miracles!  But these are pretty amazing considering you will be doing less.

1. One Word 

Kids don’t listen to long lectures, or even mini-lectures.  Not when they’re old enough to pretend they are, nor when they’re old enough to stop pretending.

Once you have their attention, remind them in a word:  “Dishes!”  “Towel!”  “Pyjamas!”

In context, this means as much to them as your five minute version.

  • Less energy
  • Less yelling and fewer unkind words
  • Less "tune-out” training for your kids
2. Wise Whys 

A “Why?” marathon can wear out the most seasoned parent.  Your answers never satisfy.
Guess what? Your child loves to talk to you and has found the easiest way to keep you talking.
When you are tired out, make it their turn.  
“What do you think?”
The answer may be a delight.  Other times it breaks their rhythm and leads the game to a natural end.  In any case, it gives you a break.

This also works when your child is asking “silly questions” she already knows the answer to.  Use it even when she may not already know the answer.  Thinking is good brain exercise!

3. Help Less

Babies are helpless, but not for long.  If your child can drag a stool over to a cupboard and raid sweets from a top shelf and argue why he needed them, he’s a pretty capable person!

What could a young child do in your house that you are in the habit of doing because you once had a baby?
  • Get their own clothes from a drawer and put them on?       
  • Set and clear the table?        
  • Feed pets?
  • Pack a schoolbag?

Love them more and more as they grow; and help them more by helping them less. 

4. Yes 

Kids aren’t adults and they don’t have our years of experience.  They haven’t learned the whole list of things they’re not supposed to do.  One of my top posts talks more about this.

So they will ask to do odd things.  (Often they don’t even ask.)  You will want to say “No.”  Think twice.  Kids hear “No” all day.  How does it feel when you are told “No”? 

There are times the answer must be “No.”  Is this really one of them?  Would a “Yes” and some help be even better?  Spend your “Nos” as wisely as your money.

My children are playing with the Christmas tree as I write this…in August.

5. Just for Fun 

There is always work to be done.  How much better if it’s fun?

Instead of trying to get the kids out of the way while you get jobs done, see which jobs can be done together. 

The job may not be done quicker.  But when it is done, everyone has:
  • learned something
  • done something
  • shared time together
Compare this to the kids watching a DVD while you race to the finish…then collapse when they are ready to spend time with you!

6. Listen


Just listen.
Don’t solve.
Don’t judge.
Use magic words like: “Hmmmm?” and “I see.”
Just try it.

7. Love and Hugs 

Want to halt a fullblown family argument?  Stop trying to win and instead hug your child and/or say “I love you.”

Not only is it true, it gives everybody time to think.
Many of these ideas adapted for my family’s use from How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
I'd love to hear what works in your house!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Decluttering books - living history

As any book lover will agree, a book is not just a book.  It is a friend, an adventure, a release, a comfort, and an escape...

For us, it's very hard to see even a gigantic book collection as clutter.
You can see empty spaces!
I have already pared down lineal metres of books and am still working on it.
Just a few more books that I enjoyed but don't need to keep.

This box of favourite Regency and other romance books we have released represents much more than  childhood memories.  My sister also reluctantly admitted that she did not have room for these books and did not need them.  But it hurt.

I boxed them up quickly and offered them before they became another yo-yo.  More honestly, they already qualified.

We've both revisited the worlds represented in these books countless times.  The basis of the collection was my mother's.  I grew up with these companions.

The truth is that I have not picked one to read in at least a year.  I use the library regularly and have discovered new favourite authors (and I want space to own more from them!)  When I don't have a library book on hand, I am still passing these over for others on the shelf.

I have finally outgrown this particular sort of relationship fantasy, enjoyable illusion as it has provided over the years.  There was a clamour of interested takers, and I'm sure the new owner will enjoy them as much as we did.

And my daughter can decide what form of story appeals to her - in her own time.  Like so many others, this is an inheritance she can well live without.