A Re-Examined Life

Canberra girl’s mission to live a more natural, sustainable life.

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No Waste Christmas

No waste christmas

This year I decided I would try to make my Christmas more sustainable and natural than I have in the past (makes sense seeing as I am trying to live a more natural and sustainable life).  And since making this decision, I have found that there are plenty of other people trying to do the same.  In particular there is a group called 1 million women who have started the “No waste festive season pledge“, and I have taken it!  They say “you don’t have to do it all, just what you can”  1 million women is not just for women, but named so because of the original concept.  The cause began “determined to do something about climate change” and, given that statistically women make about 85% of the consumer choices in a household, they figured they would start with targeting women (hopefully at least 1 million) to think about the types of purchases they are making.  The idea is that 1 million single women making small changes to live more sustainably, will collectively have a significant impact on the world.  They always have lots of great information about sustainable living, and leading up to the festive season they have been sending out ideas to assist in making the festive season less wasteful.  (Now that I am thinking about it, I really should have written about this earlier, but you can still take the pledge.  Especially all you last minute planners/shoppers).

No waste christmas

As part of my attempt for at less waste Christmas, I have set about making the majority of gifts that I am giving to people.  In fact some of the gifts have been a work in progress for months. I have had stacks of fun with it.  Sadly for you, I cant share any more about my presents today,  as there may be a recipient or two of these presents reading this, and I dont want to give any more away secret 🙂  But you will get to hear all about them in the following Christmas 🙂

So instead today, I’m going to rattle of a few facts I have learned about the current un-sustainability of Christmas.

Unwanted gifts

An article from the Sydney morning herald reports that the Australian institute conducted a study on Christmas waste with the results showing that:

  • During the previous Christmas, 6 million Australians received 1 or more presents that they never used or that they gave away.
  • 1 in every 4  people surveyed said that they expected that some of the present they give will end up unused in a cupboard somewhere.
  • Around 1 in 4 people buy gifts for people they would prefer not to buy for.
  • Unwanted gifts represent $798 million in waste of time, money and resources.  I find it much more impressive to represent the number with all it’s zeros, that’s $798,000,000 wasted. Gone.
  • On the flip-side, 4 out of 5 people said they would be happy for a donation to a charity to be made on their behalf instead of a gift. One charity I looked up can build a water well to provide clean drinking water to an entire town for $7,000.  $798m would buy 114,000 wells.

No waste christmasChristmas wrapping and packaging

The UK telegraph published an article which estimates:

  • 365,000 kms of christmas wrapping is thrown away each year.  Let me give that some context, the distance from one side of planet earth to the other is 40,000 kms.  That means, that with this volume of paper, you could wrap the earth up and give IT to someone as a christmas present.  Nine times over. 

  • 125,000 tons of plastic wrapping is thrown away each year.  That is about the same weight as 12,500 ten tonne trucks.

  • 2.6 billion, ( 2,600,000,000) christmas greeting cards are sold.  This volume is enough to fill a football field 10 storeys high. 

  • The annual waste from gift-wrap and shopping bags equals about 545,000 tonnes.   Which is 10 times the weight of the titanic.


ABC online published an article that estimates:

  • Australians spend around $10 billion on food over the festive season.  Did you get that?  $10,000,000,000!
  • Of the food that is bought, 35% will go to waste.  That’s $3.5 billion, or as I like to show it $3,500,000,000.  The world food programme estimates that there are currently 66 million children who suffer from hunger in the world, they could be fed for $3.2 billion.  So we could totally feed them all.

So let’s just stop wasting so much stuff.   Sign up for the pledge 🙂

I’m off to do some more work on my less wasteful Christmas presents 🙂


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Make it From Scratch – Greek Yoghurt


Recently I walked into the kitchen to find my 16-year-old, straining the milk through a colander to pour onto his breakfast. Seems he isn’t as keen on the unhomogenized milk as I am. He told me the “bits” are disgusting.  Those bits that he is referring to are creamy butterfat goodness.  Having spent most of my life depriving myself of butterfat goodness, I just don’t get how anyone could not want to be a part of it.  But then again, there are plenty of things I don’t get about 16 year olds.

I have been spending a fair amount of time straining in the kitchen too, but mine is because I have been making stacks of yoghurt.  I got my hands on a copy of Sally Falon’s book, Nourishing Traditions, which is full of all kinds of interesting information, but she explains how fermenting milk (and in case you didn’t realise, that is what you do when you make yoghurt), restores many of the enzymes which are destroyed during pasteurisation.   And this is just the beginning of the good news about yoghurt.

I think there is something to be said about foods which have been around for a long time, and yoghurt certainly has.  Yoghurt is apparently one of the oldest produced foods in human history.  Historians are unsure of how of just exactly how old it is, but estimate it was first used somewhere between 9000 and 6000 BC.  (For those of you who, like me,  gain no understanding from the use of BC timing, 9000 BC is 11,015 years ago.  I googled it and found out that you just add the BC number to the current year, I am officially a little bit smarter 🙂 ).

Yoghurt is very good for you,  everyone agrees on that, and apparently even from the very beginnings people have known of its health benefits. One of the main reasons yoghurt is so good for you, is that during the fermentation process,  there are lots of little good, helpful and friendly bacteria created, and when you put those little good guys into your tummy (by eating them), not only do they help you to digest other food, but they get rid of the bad, unhelpful and not-so-friendly bacteria in your tummy.  As I mentioned in my very first post, more and more research is showing the relationship between our physical health and our gut bacteria, so get stuck into the yoghurt.  I eat it every day.

Unfortunately, as with most things, the yoghurt you buy from the shop may not necessarily be that good for you.  I have found that the majority of yoghurt at the supermarket contain artificial preservatives, thickeners, and sugar, and most of them are made from low-fat milk.  Given that I use 2 ingredients to make yoghurt, I find the ingredients on this (fairly standard) label to be a little over the top.

greek yoghurt

So you should totally make your own.  It’s super easy, but to make it the super simple way I do, you will need a yoghurt maker.   I picked up mine from a school fete for $2, and there must be lots of people changing their minds about making their own yoghurt as I can honestly say that there has never been a time that I have NOT seen one at a school fete.  (That is probably because they don’t realise they can make yoghurt with 2 ingredients and use the shop bought yoghurt mix stuff, which basically helps you to make shop-bought yoghurt and it isn’t very nice).  I also usually see at least one at the green shed,  and in other second-hand shops, so I feel pretty confident that you should be able to easily grab yourself a cheap second-hand one.

Mine looks like this.

greek yoghurt recipe

The difference between natural yoghurt and greek yoghurt is that greek yoghurt is strained to remove the whey (that clear watery looking liquid you see in yoghurt).  I was going to tell you all about what whey is, but I actually couldn’t really find much information on it.  My basic understanding is that it is one of the proteins contained in the milk that separates through the fermenting process.  There are some schools of thought that suggest greek yoghurt is better for you as most of the sugary part of the milk separates along with the whey, so the greek yoghurt has less sugar in it.

I just prefer it because it is thicker and creamier and seemingly more delicious. I  have found that the amount of whey produced varies depending on how fresh the milk and/or yoghurt I am using is, whether I take the milk off before it boils, or if it actually gets to the boil.  (One time there was so much whey, and the separated yoghurt was so thick I think I accidentally made ricotta cheese. I haven’t been able to recreate it. )  But there is no need to throw out the whey you produce as there are plenty of things you can do with it, the Prairie homestead gives us 16 ideas.   Unfortunately yoghurt manufacturing companies aren’t doing any of the 16 things, as they are just throwing it out.  This is actually something of concern since lots of people have started purchasing greek yoghurt.  The Diary reporter published an article earlier this year describing the issues with the volume of whey that is being produced, they describe that the main concern is around whey getting get into waterways which would result in “massive fish kills and creating a dead sea by depleting oxygen”.  Who knew?  So like I said, you should totally make your own and then you can use up your whey and save the fishies 🙂

So this is how I make my yoghurt.


800 mls full-fat, un-homogenized milk

200 mls of organic greek yoghurt (for your first time you will need to grab some from the shop, but after you have made your first batch you can set aside some from your own to use)

What to do:

Heat the milk in a saucepan, stirring regularly until it just starts to boil.  Pour milk into the yoghurt making container and set aside to cool until it is luke-warmish, maybe a bit warmer.  The milk will have grown one of those milky skins on top, avoid breaking the skin and gently pour the yoghurt into the container. Give it a bit of a swirl and put the lid on.

Fill the yoghurt making incubator (as I like to call it, it’s the outside bit of the yoghurt maker), with boiling water (as per the instructions of the particular yoghurt making system) and put the yoghurt making container inside.  Close the incubator lid and set aside for a minimum of 5 hours.  I find leaving it overnight works the best.  After the desired amount of time, open the incubator lid and there you will find your home-made yoghurt.  Arent you clever?

To turn your home-made yoghurt into home-made greek yoghurt, you will need to strain it. People are always talking about cheesecloth, but I don’t have one, (in fact I don’t think I have ever even seen one), I just use a tea towel that I keep solely for that purpose.  I wet the tea towel and pour the yoghurt in, then gather up the top and squeeze gently over a bowl.  The whey will start to pour out and will take a bit of time.  I don’t usually have patience to go past 5 minutes and the result is thick enough for me.  If you don’t want to stand there doing that you can put it into the fridge and leave it to drain itself for a few hours.  And there you have it.

You can then get to making other home-made delicious things from you homemade greek yoghurt.  I’m sure there’s at least a million things, you don’t just have to eat it you know  🙂

I am currently using my homemade greek yoghurt to make homemade delicious smoothies every day for breakfast and here is my favourite:

Chocolate banana coconut smoothie


1 cup of homemade greek yoghurt

1 banana

2 teaspoons cacao

1 teaspoon coconut oil.

What to do:

I just chuck it all together and mix with a hand blender.  This little concoction keeps me full till lunchtime 🙂

Please feel free to share your homemade yoghurt home-made recipes in the comments below 🙂


1 Billion uses for Bicarb (make it from scratch – laundry detergent recipe)

bicarb soda - laundry detergent recipe

If there are a million uses for citrus peel, then there are undoubtedly 1 billion uses for bicarb.  Recently I borrowed a fabulous little book from my local Library called “The Miracle of Bicarbonate Soda, practical tips for health and home”, which contains around 100 pages of things you can do with bicarb.

You may think that calling bicarb a miracle is going over the top.  But not as far as I am concerned.  The 3rd definition for the word miracle, as listed on Dictionary.com (my favourite online dictionary) is, “A wonder; marvel”, and that is exactly what it is.

Here is a list of all the things I am currently using bicarb for:

I clean my toilet and bathroom with it by mixing it with my homemade citrus cleaner to make a cleaning paste.

I clean my oven with it by mixing it with vinegar, again into a paste, and leaving overnight.  (Sadly bicarb is not so miraculous that you wake up in the morning to a clean oven, you will need to apply some elbow grease and give it a good rinse)

I use it to clean my teeth.   I haven’t gone to the straight out bicarb on the teeth thing just yet, (yes I fully intend to give it a go) but I am using a shop-bought toothpaste that has bicarb in it.

I make my own laundry powder with it (see recipe below).

I deoderise my rubbish bin with it by sprinkling some on the bottom of my bin, it helps to reduce odours.

I deoderise my armpits with it by mixing it with coconut oil and cornflour.

I regularly bake with it.

I make a face/body scrub by mixing equal parts of bicarb and honey with a bit of water.   Skin feels amazing after using this scrub.

I unblock my regularly-getting-blocked-up-sink with it.  Pour 1 cup of bicarb into the blocked sink, followed by 1 cup of vinegar.  This will create a bicarb foaming frenzy, put the plug in on top of the bicarb eruption and let it sit for about 5 minutes and then pour boiling hot water down the drain.   If drain blockage is still occurring, repeat until drain blockage is gone.

I have recently removed a splinter with it.  A more obscure use for bicarb that I found whilst searching on google for the best way to remove a splinter, is to make a paste with bicarb and water and put it on the skin where the splinter is and cover with a band-aid.  Leave it for 12 -24 hours, after which the splinter will hopefully have removed itself.  If it  hasn’t come out, repeat.

(A note for anyone who is new to using bicarb for things other than cooking.  As mentioned above, when mixing bicarb with any kind of vinegar, and sometimes other liquids, it will foam like crazy.  Very cool, but potentially disastrously messy.  Be sure to mix in a container that is big enough to handle the foam.)

Some other more obscure uses for bicarb soda that might come in handy for you one day:

Putting out fires –  apparently you will find bicarb in certain types of fire extinguishers, and if you find yourself in the position of needing to put out a fire ,but with you don’t have a fire extinguisher,  chuck some bicarb on it.

To treat a jellyfish sting –  apparently by mixing bicarb with a couple of other regular house hold ingredients,  vinegar and meat tenderiser you can create a concoction to help treat the reaction to jellyfish venom.  (I have just confirmed that this does not mean you should start hitting the infected area with a meat cleaver, but there is a powder you can buy for the purpose of tenderising your meat. It sounds fairly gross and, in my opinion, should probably only ever be used for treating jellyfish stings)

And lastly my favourite, to make invisible ink (because I know you wish you had some)-  mix some bicarb with some water to create the ink, write/paint with it and let it dry.   To see the secret message, heat the paper by holding it over a light globe and the writing should display.

If you are looking for more things you can use bicarb for, check out 75 extraordinary uses for baking soda (a.k.a bicarb) on the Lifehackery website.

Now to my laundry detergent recipe, which I have been using for almost a year now, and because I am making it, you know it’s going to be easy.


As you can see, I keep mine in an old frozen yoghurt container and use an old kids plastic spoon to get it into the washing machine.

Laundry Detergent Recipe


Adapted from Readers Digest book “Homemade”.

2 cups of bicarb soda

2 cups of soap flakes

1 cup of washing soda

1 cup of borax

What to do

Combine all ingredients into a container and give it a good mix. That’s it.

Some recipes say to use a food processor, but I don’t bother.   I  use around 2 tablespoons for each load and just chuck it in, directly under the running water,  I was in cold water and it dissolves fine.

Washing soda and borax are both available in the cleaning aisle of the major supermarkets.   For the soap flakes I buy bars of natural soap (be very wary about anything labelled “natural soap”) whenever i see them and grate them with a cheese grater.  I wish cheese was as easy to grate as soap.

With each wash I fill my fabric softener dispenser with vinegar to replace the fabric softener.   I was very skeptical about this one when I started, but it genuinely works and my clothes never smell like vinegar.  You can also add some essential oils to the vinegar to make your clothes smell nicer.  In my experience you need a very strong essential oil scent, I find lemon myrtle and eucalyptus work well.

Just a note on borax.  When I first started looking into washing powder recipes I decided against using borax as the environmental working Group in America suggest it is not a good option.  But after doing some additional reading, including the David Suzuki foundation and Crunchy Betty (both of whom’s opinions I respect)  I have decided to use it.  If you prefer not to use borax you can leave it out of this recipe (although I found that without the borax that it didn’t clean as well), or David Suzuki has a recipe you might want to try.