Monday, August 30, 2010

Aisle 5 – Healthy Challenges 1: Beauty Products

• Challenge 15: Staying lovely without chemicals
• Challenge 16: Can you make your own skincare at home?

I have been plagued by sensitive skin since my late teens, so have always been wary of what I put on it. At the same time, I am compulsive about facial and hand moisturising, so have an eternal quest for the perfect products!

I turned away from the mainstream band-wagon more than a decade ago, when I finally could no longer ignore the excess packaging and ethical mistrust I had of many companies. I was a fan of The Body Shop for many years and found my solace in their hemp creams for face and hands, until Anita Rodderick sold out to Loreal, who are owned by Nestle, adding insult to injury. Giving up my beloved products was, however, a step I was prepared to take for my ethics.

For a while I turned to Lush and found a cream that suited my skin and was happy, however I go through this stuff at an alarming rate and couldn’t justify the frequent trip to Chadstone to buy more! Although they have an online option, I really needed something I could rely on getting without planning ahead. So I turned to the local health food store and found not only alternatives for my face and hands, but also discovered Alchemy and Akin products and was able find new shampoo and conditioner that were gentle on my skin and my ethics.

Since reading the book which inspired this blogging, I have now discovered another skin cream and am trying Moo Goo! So far, so good!

I have toyed with making my own products in the past, but came to accept there are better ways to spend my time and I am happy to pay for someone else to do the creating!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Aisle four – Household challenges: Cleaning, washing, Wiping and Wrapping

• Challenge 11: Domestic cleaning without chemicals
• Challenge 12: Green washing: laundry the eco way
• Challenge 13: Does recycled toilet roll pass the test
• Challenge 14: Can a girl live without clingfilm?

Okay – confession time upfront: I pay for a cleaner to come to my home twice a week, for a total of six hours. Have done since I re-returned to the paid workforce again in mid 2006. It is the only way I can balance paid work with my health challenges.

So … if it was just me, then I could say I clean almost 100% chemical free. I am a fan of ENJO cleaning gloves and other microfiber cleaning cloths and when I was doing all the cleaning, that is what I used for everything from the oven to the floors to the windows. And it is my main choice for cleaning in my workplace (for which I am 100% responsible!)

But I accept that whoever does the cleaning has the right to choose the tools for the job. So I provide spray cleaners etc for the paid help. I do, however, select the most- gentle, environmentally-conscious products I can and encourage the micro-fibre cloths in preference.

It is the best compromise I can achieve for now.

However, in the laundry (where my cleaner also does the bulk of the work) we reuse the grey water on the garden, so the detergent of choice is as eco-friendly as possible. No fabric softeners, no bleach and cold water wash for everything. We air dry outside in the sunshine from October through May, on our traditional Aussie rotary clothesline. In the colder months, there is generally not enough sun to dry things unless there is a good wind, so we revert to clothes horses over the heating ducts, hanging rails in the laundry and the clothes drier on occasions when time and space are short. (Drying a king-size doona cover on anything other than a full clothesline is a nightmare!)

Toilet paper: okay, here I fall over completely! We all have our weakness and nice toilet paper is mine! I have tried and failed conversion to recycled paper toilet rolls and the quality just didn’t pass the test. So consider this a fail!

BUT! I hardly ever use cling film, foil or baking paper and only have paper towel for the most icky of tasks. I use cloth hankies and napkins and Tupperware for food storage. Perhaps this compensates for my toilet paper failure???

Aisle Three – Chiller Challenges: Milk, Meat and Fish

• Challenge 8: The quest to find the mystery milkman
• Challenge 9: Going veggie – the one week challenge
• Challenge 10: Fishing for … anything that isn’t cod

Again, I have this aisle sorted! Our home delivery company, Aussie Farmers Direct, deliver our bread and milk twice a week! Both are self-branded and sourced from small businesses, so I feel good on that level. Whilst I really enjoy their bagels, the bread is a little ordinary, however I don’t eat it much anyway, so fine by me – and the others seem happy!

Our meat also arrives on the doorstep, vacuum-packed in portions and delivered into our esky in the early hours. We simply transfer it to the freezer and forget about it. There is plastic packaging to dispose of, but about the same as it would be from the butcher. I am not, have never been and probably never will become vegetarian – my heart is in the right place but I enjoy meat and live with other carnivores. However, we do have non-meat meals fairly regularly and I would happily go without meat in the short term.

Fish is a big requirement for people with MS, so Tasmanian salmon makes a frequent appearance on my plate – delivered by Aussie Farmers with our meat! I also eat a lot of canned salmon, tuna and sardines – which means a lot of label reading to ensure ethical and sustainable sources. Like the UK, Australia faces over-fishing in some species and I am conscious of this and do my best to avoid those species. I also no longer eat flake in my fish and chips (it is the Aussie standard), as flake is shark and shark is a big fish who eats all the little fish and ends up with all the toxins, including mercury.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Aisle Two – Homemade Challenges: Dinner, Dairy, Baking, Preserves and Soup

• Challenge 6: Ready Meals vs Proper Dinners
• Challenge 7: Back to basics: can one woman make her own

Ready meals – those “Light ‘n’ Easy” type stuff you keep in the freezer and pop in the microwave, have never been part of our diet – they just don’t appeal on many levels. We don’t even use much in the way of convenience foods (apart from pasta sauce, ready to heat gravy and the occasional slow-cooker recipe base), with most of our meals cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients. Like our fruit and veg, the meat is home delivered once a week and goes straight into the freezer in meal ready servings, so our biggest challenge is being motivated to use it!

Cooking is shared by all living in the household – currently my husband and I and two of our three adult children. Each has their own cooking style and regular dishes. Most meals create leftovers, which we stuff into Tupperware and fill the fridge and freezer – intended for lunches and “can’t be bothered” meals. We could do better in using these!

We probably eat takeaway once a week – home delivered pizza, fish and chips or chicken and chips. We are not perfect!

We don’t tend to have cakes or desserts on a regular basis and when we do they are home baked. Desserts tend to be based on using up excess produce – apple crumbles, bread and butter puddings – or on a whim (Kieran does a great chocolate cake from his own recipe!).

I create my own breakfast oats recipe most days in the rice cooker, but I am not a jam maker! Have done, but honestly think it is easier to let someone with knowledge and facilities do it! So I do buy jams at the supermarket, unless I stumble across some at a market or fete.

I am the only yogurt eater, so buying it is easiest. We have a bread maker, but the novelty wore of - so we get that home delivered too!

Aisle One – Fresh Challenges: Fruit and vegetables

• Challenge One: Can you do without supermarkets?
• Challenge Two: The vegie box: getting to grips with the mystery greens
• Challenge Three: The organic moral maze and the land of local produce
• Challenge 5: Can you grow your own?

I am feeling smug already on this one! For the past two years or so, we have used a home delivery service called Aussie Farmers Direct and have a box of fruit and veg delivered to our door step every Friday afternoon. The produce is all in season and sourced in Australia – if it isn’t growing here, it isn’t in the box! This more than meets our needs and has forced us to look at ways to use stuff we used to overlook in the green grocer or market (our previous preferred source – supermarkets being last on the list of options)

Organic? Look, my heart is in it but it is just such a grey area. I cross my fingers and hope the farmers growing our food are aware enough to be doing what they can in this area. Could do better, I know, but if I start driving around sourcing organic alternatives, I am going to cancel out the points I get from having it delivered direct!

In spring each year, I plant out pots of herbs and faster growing vegetables (like tomatoes) on our deck. It is certainly worthwhile for the herb factor and the general feel-good factor. We have TWO lemon trees and sadly, more return to the soil than we could ever consume, but they are grown 100% organically! And we use grey water in the garden (not on the herb post though) with a tank diverting the laundry water, so extra points for that!!!! Growing a full-on vegetable garden is not viable on our block of land, as we share it with too many trees (doing our bit for CO2!) so the competition for sun and water is already won!

There are local Farmers Markets in our area and visiting them is on my must-try list. I also work right near the famous Dandenong Market, so have plenty more options available. But we find our box does the trick and I don’t have to think about it at all!

Confessions of an (Aussie) Eco-shopper

I have just read a fabulous book by UK author Kate Lock, “Confessions of an Eco-shopper” and thoroughly recommend it. In 2007 Kate decided to set herself a series of eco-challenges and this is her account of success and failures along her journey.

I have lived and shopped as green as I can for many years – I assess purchases for how they rate in three areas – ethical, environmental, economical – so I was interested to see how I compare to Kate. Although a lot of the issues she addresses are UK specific and don’t cross-over to Australia (and we have challenges of our own – like not enough water – which the UK do not), however Kate and I seem of similar age and lifestyle, so share many issues.

Kate looked at this over a year. I am not! I am simply going to evaluate my lifestyle choices in response to the issues she raises in each chapter – or Aisle, as she called them.

Kate blogs too, so I am thrilled to continue following and learning from her.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


2010 is a time of MileStones for me – anniversaries of significance in my journey as a person with MS.

It is 15 years this year since I developed a “migraine” which didn’t go away and became concentrated around my left eye, in which the vision gradually faded and dimmed.

It was a week or two before I was seen by an eye specialist, who diagnosed Optic Neuritis (ON) – inflammation of the optic nerve. It was a chance meeting with an ABA Board member at an AGM that same day that changed my life. As she was a GP, I casually mentioned the diagnosis and she was not quick enough to hide that concerned look you never want to see on a doctor’s face. “Have they spoken to you about MS?” she asked.

Uh, oh.

This was 1995, pre-Google, so I searched on Yahoo and could only find reference to ON in articles about MS! Trawling the library gave the same results.

At my follow up visit with the specialist, he was not pleased that I broached the subject and was quite dismissive. But that seed of awareness was planted. I was sent for a CT scan (MRIs not yet commonplace) as they wanted to rule out a brain tumour! (As did I, as this had been flagged back in the mid 80s as a possible cause of secondary infertility due to high prolactin levels – associated sometimes with tumours in the pituitary. But I finally conceived so that wasn’t pursued)

Twelve months later, the condition flared up once more, and during my visit, I glanced (with the good eye!) at my unattended notes and saw he had mentioned my knowledge about the MS link. But he still didn’t want to discuss the elephant in the room.

Six months later, I had another flare up and never bothered to see the eye specialist. Instead I got a referral to a neurologist and had my first (extremely expensive) private MRI, which was inconclusive.

Despite this lack of diagnosis, everything I was reading indicated there were not many other causes of ON and they had been ruled out in my case (I had not contracted a rare tropical disease – nor syphilis!) so I began to treat my health with suspicion until proved otherwise. I decided to become the healthiest person who might have MS and turned to diet, supplements and other lifestyle changes.

During this same time period, I had also returned to paid work, gradually increasing to full-time, with managerial responsibilities, a long commute, a busy family and care of my aging father. The whole machine was working toward my next MileStone.

In June 2000, a changed MRI (my third) following some numbness in the sole of my right foot, led to an official diagnosis of mild relapsing/remitting Multiple Sclerosis. While those around me were shocked by this (especially those who had thought it “all in her mind!”), I was actually delighted! After five years with a question-mark hanging over me, I now knew for sure what I was dealing with.

The fatigue associated with MS is relentless, incomprehensible to those without it and is not compatible with the lifestyle I was leading. In the first week of September 2000, as the Olympics commenced in Sydney, my world crashed around me. I slept for much of the following six weeks and was still unfit for work six weeks after that. I even struggled to find the energy to read!

I resigned from my perfect job as retail manager at the Shop in the head office of NMAA (now ABA) and found myself making great changes to manage my health – including commencing Betaferon treatment – administered by self injection every second day. My doctor’s certificate for my employer stated I was unlikely to be fit for full time work again!

So here I am, ten years down the track. Off the medication I endured for four years (I am in the minority who suffer ongoing, flu-like side affects), still managing my health with a view to being a very healthy old woman who happens to have MS, and working part-time running the first Breastfeeding Centre for ABA!

I still battle with fatigue – I am in bed 12 hours out of every 24 – and have to be careful how I expend my energy, however I wish I had a crystal ball ten years ago to let me know where I would be today.

( I have never had ON again and my vision restored 100% after the first two attacks, but struggled after the third and left a slight deficit. I have lived with occasional numbness, sensory disturbances, temporary loss of the sense of taste [actual, not stylish!] and most recently, spasticity in my leg. My consistent symptoms remain heat intolerance and fatigue. I continue my journey with a positive outlook)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Breastfeeding Burqas" - Women's choice - or more oppression?

Around the Western world there is debate about the Islamic garment known as the Burqa.

Within the breastfeeding world, there is debate about a similar garment, known by a variety of names but with similar intention.

Breastfeeding covers.

These creations of the new millennium (before someone decided to make money out of the idea, you might have used a bunny rug) are starting to take off in a big way and that makes me scared. Because there is a very real risk that parts of our society uncomfortable with women openly breastfeeding in public will start to demand the use of such covers. And even though some women say they use them because they want the privacy or their baby is distracted without one, I suspect most do so because they fear negative attention.

Think of the actions of the flight attendant who tried to make breastfeeding mum Kathryn Ward cover up:

''I didn't say anything because at the same time she asked me she saw a padded insert underneath him and put it on top of him without asking my permission,'' Mrs Ward said. ''She said, 'I know it's natural, but some people may not like to see it.' ''

It seems pretty clear she believed something - anything - should be hiding the action.

If I lived in a world where I could be confident that every woman who used a breastfeeding cover was doing so because that was how she preferred things, then I probably wouldn't be living in a world where some believe a Burqa to be a woman's right and others believe it to be her duty.