Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's Raining, It's Pouring

Our garden is a mess. Seriously, it's a jungle of weeds and something needs to done. The good news is something is going to be done. Through a friend, I've found a man who is a 'garden whisperer'. When he came over for our first meeting, he didn't see a jungle of weeds, he saw possibilities. In his mind, there were fruit trees where the soursobs are now growing. Although The Garden Whisperer hasn't started work in my garden yet, my friend has been happy with his work. You may have read in an earlier blog about the peaches my friend brought me from her garden. She credits The Garden Whisperer for their quality. His business is Every Day Sustainable Living. Check it out.

The Garden Whisperer is away for two months. I wish he wasn't because the first job he is going to do here when he gets back is install rainwater tanks. I keep watching the current never-ending rain and wish it wasn't going to waste. We could be filling tanks to sustain the garden during the heat and dryness of summer.

The rain has led me to think about the ethics of some businesses. It may seem like I intensely dislike and avoid big business and favour small local business. Generally speaking that is the case. It's really more of a case of knowing the facts about who you're dealing with. For example, I've mentioned before how much I love the Body Shop and what they do. Sadly, they're owned by L'Oreal which doesn't have the same record on ethical products and business. Cadbury use Fairtrade chocolate these days but are owned by Kraft who don't have a good track record on workers' rights. With smaller companies the chain of ownership just isn't as long.

On this rainy day, however, I'm none too pleased with a smaller company. Three years ago, after a bad roof leak, we had a roof restoration done. With the restoration came a seven year guarantee. After the first bad rain following the restoration we had a leak and it was fixed immediately. Subsequently, every time there is a heavy rain, we seem to have a leak. Every time we have a leak I spend weeks chasing up someone from the company to come and fix it.

The company about which I write specialises in roof restorations. I assume their people are very busy doing them and to make the time to come and check a small leak is a low priority. There have been times when I've just wanted to forgot the whole thing and get a local repairer in to do the job. I love conspiracy theories so I began to wonder if the company is counting on people doing just what I'd contemplated. If enough people have restorations at the high price of them and get frustrated enough not to keep chasing the company up when there is a leak, the company would be doing quite well financially. I'm not suggesting that's company policy or anything. To paraphrase from The Pirates of The Caribbean, maybe it's more of a guideline! Unspoken, of course.

I don't really know what's going on but it feels like customers are being exploited. It's definitely not up there with the ethical issues I'm normally so passionate about but I figure in this day and age of Facebook, Twitter and blogs companies would understand that 'word of mouth' carries much further.

I know I just took quite some time off but I'm having another much shorter break of a week to have some quality time with Husband. See you when I'm back on-line.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What You Eat Can Be Political

Both of my children are vegetarians. Teenage Daughter sat at the dinner table five or so years ago with roast chicken on her fork, looked at it, said, "This used to be alive" and promptly burst into tears. She hasn't eaten meat since. Teenage Son followed about three years ago. I have to admit I didn't expect him to continue; I thought he was just jumping on his sister's bandwagon. He's hit that stage in his growth where he'll eat anything that's not tied down; anything except meat. Credit where credit is due.

I became a vegetarian when I was nineteen. In the nearly - but not quite - thirty years since, I've been a vegetarian, eaten only fish and eaten fish and chicken. These days I do the latter so I'm definitely not a vegetarian. Husband eats everything. He called from interstate the other night to proudly tell me he was going to cook his first ever steak. Ick. Better there than here.

These days Teenage Daughter is well educated on vegetarianism. She told me the other day that more carbon emissions could be prevented by someone eating a vegetarian diet for a year than giving up driving a car for the same period. Food for thought - pun intended.

The other day I blogged about the Slow Movement and about what we eat. I didn't really touch on the politics of it, however. We definitely eat out and get take-away. Teenage Daughter works in a family owned and run Chinese restaurant. Most of our dining and take-away is at or from there. The food is fresh and tasty and there is something for all of us on the menu. Eating in there is an exercise in Slow Living! I like that now that I'm used to it. Occasionally Husband and I buy chicken and chips from a local business.

These days we've almost entirely ditched chain and franchise dining. Speaking for myself that has been a conscious choice. Sometimes I meet friends for coffee or lunch and try where possible to choose, not only independent places but ones that use locally grown products. One I particularly like is The Organic Market and Cafe. I got caught out and about the other day; I had expected to be home for lunch but was still in the thick of running errands. I happened to be in a local bakery so I ate there. It wasn't the healthiest of lunches (a vegetarian pasty) but it wasn't the golden arches.

The large fast food chains concern me. I don't know who runs them, what's in their 'meals' and where the ingredients come from. I don't know where their profits go and I don't know what corners they cut to ensure those profits. I don't know what impact all that food growth and production is having on the environment. I don't know what the long term consequences of regular 'dining' there will have on our health as a community but I know it won't be good. The fact that they promote themselves as family friendly is particularly scary. I have similar issues with pre-prepared supermarket meals for the same reasons. I get that people are busy and that I'm lucky to be at home during the day. I also get that convenience and fast food manufacturers are playing on the fact that people are busy.

I'm off now to make some lunch!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Treasure Hunting

I wonder if I've already written a blog by this title about the bliss of "op shopping." If I have, I make no apology;  I truly love this activity.

In a few short days I'm going away. It occurred to me that I didn't have many clothes to bring with me. The SAHM/writer's 'uniform' of windcheater, tracky dax and uggies, enhanced by floppy tits probably isn't a good look outside of the house, let alone outside of the state. I decided it was time to visit my local Salvos store.

Teenage Son and I had been there very recently. He had a lovely outfit for Husband and my vow renewal ceremony but was lacking a smart jacket to set it off and, more importantly, keep him warm. We found a man's dress jacket in small. It was navy blue pinstripe, worn so infrequently that the pockets were still sewn closed. The tag read, $6.99. I thought they were seriously underselling themselves. When we got to the check out, however, that tag colour was half price. Consequently, I paid $3.50 for Teenage Son's as new dress jacket.

That day was difficult for me; we were on a time limit so I had to just buy the jacket and leave. Today, however, it was my turn. After scouring the racks I had about 15 garments I wanted to try on. The point of trying on so many is elimination. There are so many brands, all of which run to different sizing. My size in one brand can be too big while in another too small. Like Goldilocks I have to keep trying until I find something that's just right. To me, that's part of the fun of it all.

Clothes shopping is something I dislike. Back in my thirties, as I was leaving Mother's house one day, she said, "You still dress like a uni student." A couple of - all right, many - years later that's still my style. I love jeans, boots and scarves. Even more so, I love individuality. I don't want to dress and look like everyone else. It's difficult to retain one's individuality at a chain store. Op shopping, however, is something I love. It's much easier to find those hidden treasures that speak to the individual within at an op shop.

Ultimately I came home with five items. I got a tapestry patterned waist coast, a beaded denim skirt, a plain black skirt and plain brown top which will act as the 'straight men' for some of my fancier things and a pair of dress pants. It came in at $25.

It thrills me that one of my favourite pastimes is also perfect for the Footprints Project. The clothes are secondhand so not part of the supply and demand chain which can lead to unethical practises and environmental degradation. Furthermore, most op shops are linked to a charity, not profit driven businesses. I'm not thrilled with the comments made by the hierarchy of the Salvation Army this week in relation to homosexuality. However, the Australian branch is trying to distance itself. In addition to that, the money I spend at the store helps people who may be struggling to keep warm this winter. Sometimes I have to make a decision based on 'the lesser of the two evils.'


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Party Plan Selling

Party plan selling is very popular in the suburban mortgage belt where I live. It's a chance for a group of women - usually mothers - to get together, socialise and have a few drinks.

A couple of weeks ago I went to my first party since beginning the Footprints Project. The invitation specifically said, 'no pressure.' And there was no pressure from the hostess, the saleswoman or other guests. There was, however, pressure from my conscience. There I was enjoying wine, cheese and good company on a cold winter's night so the least I could do was buy something small, right?

The party was a candle party and the hostess' house was bathed in soft candle light and perfume. I had determined I was not going to buy anything. I knew nothing about the company and I prefer to only buy beeswax or soy candles these days. As I sat perusing the catalogue, I noticed 'soy blend' candles. Maybe ....

The saleswoman began her spiel. Most of the guests had been to so many of these parties they could have done it in her place. What struck me was her insistence on how good candles are for people and that the paraffin used in their candles was 'food grade.' I felt reassured, knowing that if I chose to eat one of the candles I'd be okay. I'd prefer to burn them and, as far as I know, paraffin candles are not considered to be very good for one. Trawling through the internet looking for information on 'food grade paraffin candle safety' leads to conflicting websites.

That was okay, though, because I still clearly had the choice to buy soy blend candles instead. The word 'blend', however stopped me in my tracks. What did it actually mean? Was it 5% soy/ 95% food grade paraffin? I got the feeling the saleswoman may not have been much help so I didn't ask. These parties are usually for a captive audience, not for a trouble maker like me!

I arrived home wallet in tact, conscience mixed. On the one hand I felt I had the moral high ground; on the other I felt like I'd let my lovely friend, the hostess, down. I jumped straight on the internet and did what I should have done before I went. I googled the company and learnt it was the subsidiary of a larger publicly listed company. Not all publicly listed companies are bad and I could find no actual 'dirt' about the company on-line. However, I'm wary of publicly listed companies. They often put keeping their share-holders happy with profits higher than taking care of the environment, their suppliers and their employees.

Perhaps I should steer clear of these parties in the future.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Footprints On Our Friends' Lives

Today I'm not thinking about the big picture footprints that this project is about. I'm thinking about something closer to home; the "footprints" or impact our lives have on our friends.

Yesterday I got the news that a boy I knew at school had passed away. I write 'boy' about this 40-something man because I hadn't seen him in over thirty years so it is as a boy that I picture him. A mutual friend has been keeping me - along with many others - up to date on his health. I think all of us on the email list collectively held our breath each time he took a turn for the worst and sighed in relief when he rallied. I doubt I'm alone in the sadness I feel today over the loss of one so young.

He was part of an extraordinary group of men who have remained close friends, some since early high school, some earlier than that. I think the sadness I feel today is on their behalf. I, too, have maintained close friendships with a group of women I've known since my teen years. It would be impossible to be friends with someone for such a long time and not have an impact on their lives. I imagine his friends are keenly feeling the loss of someone who's held their affection and loyalty for such a long time.

Up until yesterday I had never thought about what it would feel like to lose one of my best friends. My friends are all wonderful women, each of whom has had a positive influence and impact on my life. I feel great love for all of them. I like to imagine us all still getting together when we're well into our twilight years. We've shared much over the years and I hope we'll continue to do so.

The 'boy' about whom I write leaves behind a wife and family. Their grief must be enormous and I don't mean to belittle that in any way. I'm just thinking about the other 'boys' in that group today and the loss that they're feeling, too.

Rest in peace, Mac. I'm sure you've left gentle footprints on your friends' lives.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Have Suitcase, Will Travel

Teenage Son was the only family not to own a monstrously large suitcase up until two days ago. We needed to buy him one because we're all going to be away at the same time so he couldn't borrow another family's member's this time. Furthermore, it's time. He's in high school now and will be going on school trips and summer camps.

When the rest of us got new suitcases it was easy. Wait until Harris Scarfe had them on sale and go and buy one. No Footprints then so it didn't matter which brand we bought or where from. How things have changed!

Harris Scarfe still sell heavily discounted suitcases. Unfortunately, HS is owned by the Manassen Food group. What's wrong with that? Who cares anyway? Manassen's parent company is now China Bright, a company which seems to be implicated in human rights violations. I certainly don't want to knowingly spend money which could go to this company IF I HAVE A CHOICE. In this case,  I had a choice; shop elsewhere.

So, I exercised that choice and decided to go to Victoria Station, a company started by and still run by two brothers from Perth. There was no ethical sourcing policy in relation to the company but they were selling the same brands as all the other stores. As far as the brands themselves, I could find no luggage manufacturers with an ethical sourcing policy either.

That's where I hit a dead end. I could buy from a local company but I couldn't be sure about what I was buying. In this case, the suitcase was a necessity. The two choices were secondhand or buying the best product affordable so it wouldn't need to be replaced any time soon, thus having to buy more potentially unethical products in a short period of time. In this case, I opted for the latter. I've looked for secondhand luggage before and it's hard to find good stuff.

I ended up buying the best brand I could afford and hope that the suitcase lasts until Teenage Son leaves home!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Slow Movement

A friend of mine sent me a link to the following talk:  Carl Honore praises slowness. My friend thought that there was some overlap between the Slow Movement and the Footprints Project.

Let me start by writing that if you live your life quickly don't bother to watch the talk. It is long and you may be unable to slow yourself down for the fifteen or twenty minutes it takes to watch it. Personally I found it riveting. That may be because I've been aware of and interested in the Slow Movement for some time. In fact, I was googling for information on it long before Footprints was conceived.

Husband is working from home today and joined me to watch the talk over a cuppa (Fairtrade organic, of course!). He immediately pointed out that one cannot live too quickly on Footprints. He believes we have to slow down and think about everything we do and its consequences so, although not part of the Slow Movement, we are living a Slow life by default.

What we are doing is different from the Slow Movement more in objective than in execution. I think the Slow Movement is wonderful and would have no hesitation in being a part of it. I would, however, continue to do what we're doing now for the reasons we started them.

Husband and I were eating Slow Food before there was ever a movement. We love home cooked meals made from fresh local ingredients and always have. As soon as we moved in together we began to enjoy a 'sit down at the table with no distractions evening meal'. Our lives are chaotic having two teenagers but whoever is at home for the evening meal sits down at the table for a cooked meal. Sometimes the combination is a little quirky; it's not unusual to have Husband, Teenage Son, The Boyfriend and me while Teenage Daughter is at work. One evening I had Teenage Daughter, The Boyfriend and the Twin Nephews with me. These days eating any other way would go against the philosophy of Footprints. Fast food for us consists of fresh baguettes filled at home with fresh produce. We do that when we have to be somewhere in the early evening and don't have time to sit down and enjoy a meal together.

It wasn't just food Carl Honore talked about, of course. Husband and I both agreed that we had been doing other things he talked about. I remember fondly the years when the children had bedtime stories. We began doing that almost immediately after each was born and found it rewarding for them and us. Some nights I'd read from books, some nights I'd make up stories and some nights we'd just lie in bed and talk as they got older. After that, I'd sing some lullabies. They're both musos now and have come to realise that I can't sing but I could fool them back then.

On weekends mornings they began to clamber into bed with us as soon as they were out of cots. They both remember with great pleasure the game 'Attack the Hand' in which they'd try to tickle Husband. Even now Teenage Daughter still occasionally climbs in for a cuddle and Teenage Boy jumps on Husband trying to attack him. After that we often have a big breakfast of eggs or pancakes.

Being on Footprints requires taking time to solve problems, look up information and plan and prepare things. One needs to be creative. There is a certain excitement in having a problem and a solution finding you when you're doing something else. That happens a lot to me but I'm not sure it could happen if I lived my life too quickly and tried to fit too much into it. When I'm weeding or cleaning or doing other things I would classify as 'mindless' I like to leave my mind open for day dreaming rather than plugging into a portable digital device. I don't know what the Slow Movement would think of that but I find it helps with creativity.

Speaking of which, I'm off to meditate for awhile before the kids get home. It's a busy night. Grrr.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Vintage Shopping

I had my first experience of vintage shopping back in my mid-teens. One of my best friends and I decided to visit Mabs. For those of you familiar with Adelaide back in the 1970's Mabs was on Rundle St in the East End, along with many other quirky and unusual shops.

I bought a pale mauve 1940's dress. It was way too big for me but it came with a belt so I wore it with the belt tight and the top portion of the dress sitting over the belt to create and skirt and top illusion. The look probably didn't work but I felt good in the dress. I've always been a little different from the rest of the crowd so the dress and the way I wore it was probably reflective of who I was.

A couple of years later I spent a summer with my grandparents. My nana had long abandoned dresses in favour of the polyester pants and blouses so popular with her generation. She was, however, a hoarder. I spent happy hours exploring her closet and finding several 1940's dresses and a beautiful hand beaded cream coloured cardigan. I wore the cardigan until it fell apart.

Over the past weekend, my husband and I renewed our marriage vows. I decided I wanted to buy something vintage to wear. It would be classy and fit into our lifestyle. Vintage hasn't gone out of style; there always seem to be a handful of vintage boutiques. I went to Ruby Red Vintage and Relax in Vintage. At the former, the owner had fun handing me various 1950's dresses, all of which were too small. (I'm bigger than people think.) I was on my way back to the car when I remembered hearing about the latter so I dropped in. It was there that I saw four or five hand beaded cream cardigans. I bought one and brought home my treasure. Everything else I wore I already owned except the shoes which I borrowed from Teenage Daughter. I planned my entire outfit around my new treasure. I'm hoping to wear this one until it falls apart, too.