Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dry baby skin rash and blistered nipples

This is another post on the miracle properties of calendula balm.

Umi had a terrible dry, peeling rash on both cheeks, that developed at around one month.
I didn't put anything on it, until, as last resort, I dabbed on some calendula-infused olive oil. I had been keeping it to make bottom balm, according to my earlier post.

The rash looked better immediately, and had totally disappeared in two days. This was after weeks of having it.

I also never got around to posting about this at the time, but the same calendula balm for the nappy rash was magic for my blistered nipples during the early weeks of breastfeeding. I stumbled on this after trying pretty much everything else. What I did was, I put lanolin on the nipples before each feed. This made the nipples soft and the feeding easier. Then after finishing feeding on each side, I slathered on the calendula balm. Those persistent and excrutiating blisters soon cleared up! Calendula is an edible flower, so no need to wash it off before feeding again.

For the balm, just put freshly picked or alternatively dried calendula petals in olive/sunflower/almond oil and leave, covered tightly, for three weeks, shaking the jar daily. Make sure there is no water on the petals and no air pockets in the oil. Strain and voila! You have calendula-infused oil. Heat this with beeswax to melt the wax, and cool to solidify.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Practical Parenting

I forgot to mention this (so much other stuff on my mind...like pondering how my tiny newborn got suddenly so substantial), but I started a monthly column in Practical Parenting magazine.
The November issue has the first column - but I think the December issue is already on sale! I never even got to see the November one.
December's has ideas for a more sustainable gift list (and one that won't break the bank).
I must admit, I inspired myself! :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

deconstructing conventional wisdom

I was recently visiting my Dad who had been reading a book by his favourite biologist, Desmond Morris - Illustrated Babywatching. I read it while I was there for the weekend. It's absolutely fascinating, full of baby-related trivia such as why babies are called babies, why they cry, and how quickly they learn to recognise the smell of their own mother's breastmilk.

But one section I thought could be amended. The section on toilet training averred that, among other things, baby chimpanzees start to hold themselves away from their mothers when weeing only once they are about two years old. Until then they urinated on their mothers. This was the sole piece of biological evidence Morris gave for saying that human babies had no control of their elimination processes (or sphincters).

However, Umi is now nine weeks old, and I have held her over a pot to do wees and poos from her first day of life. At the beginning I would undo her nappy, which would often be dry, and straight away she would wee, stimulated by the cool air. But from about six weeks on, she had enough control to wait until I held her over the pot. At night she would keep her nappy dry between feeds. At other times, she'd make a special noise so that I would give her a 'potty opportunity'.

I think human babies are born having the awareness of when they eliminate. EC is about recognising small signs of this awareness and acting on them. It's not the same as toilet training.
Morris says you can't 'teach' an infant how to toilet. Of course - neither can you teach a baby to cook and use a knife and fork. However, you can help a baby to eliminate hygienically and comfortably, just as you can help a baby to access milk.

Seems a no-brainer, really.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Flannel Fings nappy

Do you like the sassy denim nappy Umi is modelling here on my mum's lap?

Tricia, who has a wonderful blog, sent this to Umi for her birth-day. Look, Tricia, it still JUST fits! The design of the all-in-one interior is really clever and fantastic for fast drying (though I didn't photograph that as Tricia tells me the current design is a bit different.)

But best of all I think is that this beautiful nappy is made entirely from reclaimed fabric - denim and flannel. Lovely and soft!

It arrived in a bag made of jeans (I'm going to sew a strap on and call it a shoulder bag) inside a compostable plastic wrapping (lucky, as it arrived in the rain), and included a pile of lovely soft face flannels made of reclaimed fabric, that reminded me of a simpler, prettier life. Tor loves these flannels - he sucks them in the bath. So much nicer than cheap terry towelling.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A box-full of 'new' toys, without spending a cent!

Do you know how to provide your small child with a whole lot of fresh toys without having to go out and buy them?

Just do as I did this morning and have a big toy-cleanout. Whether you are putting them away for the next child or taking them to another family or a charity (I was planning all three), pack up your child's most neglected toys and put them in a big box or bag. Or just get them out of their old dusty hiding-place and shine some daylight on them.

If your child is like my three year old (and I suspect they are), they will immediately grab the toys and start avidly playing with them. They will declare undying attachment to the said toys, and absolutely veto your taking them away :)

I had one particular pull-along wagon of unpainted blocks, of strange shapes which didn't really lend themselves to any particular building task, that I picked up at a charity stall. Torsten has never ONCE played with it. Today, 'rescuing' it from the throwaway heap, he found it fascinating!

Anyone else witnessed this phenomenon?

It kind of shows that it's not the toys, but the child's interaction with them (depending on his stage of development) that makes the play.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Elimination Communication

I didn't blog about this or write about it much in the book. The reason was simply that I didn't have any first-hand experience with it. But elimination communication (a fancy way of saying holding the baby over a container or toilet when you think or she signals that she's about to 'go') is my latest news in bringing baby up more sustainably.

I am proud and happy to announce to everyone who may not already know it, that EC is possible and easy and really fun - right from the birth of your baby!

Read about EC at Wikipedia or on Ingrid Bauer's site.

I guarantee it to be thought-provoking!

There's a limit to how much I can blog with one hand while delicately balancing a sleeping baby on the other, so I'll have to be expanding on this later!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Umi's birth

Our baby girl, Umi, was born Monday evening in the water at home. A lovely, undisturbed, instinctive birth.

I am all the more passionately persuaded of the wonder of home birth - I want Umi to have one herself!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Newborn Nappies

Something welcoming about a pile of fresh nappies, isn't there?

I find old (used) fabric the best for making nappies as since it comes pre-washed it is extra-absorbent. But recently Mum gave me this lovely stripy flannelette to make something for the new baby (no, Cutie still hasn't arrived yet). I had an old pattern piece sourced online, but it's no longer available free >..< However, according to my brother-in-law Greg, who since the birth of his first baby two weeks ago is my biggest nappy-making disciple, this pattern is excellent:

I used sewn-in soakers made of well-used microfleece from an old quick-drying towel. An overlocker was handy for finishing off, but Greg is sewing his inside-out then finishing the edge by hand.

Fitted nappies are a funny shape so when you've finished cutting out you'll probably have lots of left over fabric. Turn it into soft baby toys!
I stuffed this with wool fleece and put a little bell into it.
A friend says to use Kindersurprise egg containers, if you come across any. Fill them with rice or something that rattles, and use instead of a bell.
If you don't stuff them too full they can be used as building blocks too :)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Making scrap fabric into birthday cards

I asked rhetorically in an earlier post what to do with bits of embroidered fabric that I was loath to throw out. Well, I've thought of something!

Some folded cardboard and a pot of paste, oh and a few squares of coloured handmade paper, and I had myself some greeting cards in time for Mum's birthday and Father's Day.

Since I had the paste and stuff out anyway, I looked around to see what other bits of fabric, crochet squares and buttons I could stick on more cards.

It's funny that I kept these tiny scraps of fabric and misshapen crochet done while I was trying to master a new stitch, but it doesn't feel so silly now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book signing in Katoomba

Blue Mountains Books in Katoomba is hosting a book signing next Saturday at 3pm.
I'm going to show-and-tell how to implement some of the ideas in the book.

The address is 66 Katoomba St (about a third of the way down the main drag of Katoomba, on the left-hand side of the road going away from the station.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Win a copy of the book??

I apologise for not being clever enough to have thought of this myself...
Virginia is giving away a copy of Sustainable Baby, to someone who leaves a comment on something they do to help the environment, on her blog.

What a nice idea!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fresh Wakame!!

Sea vegetables are extremely nutritious, offering many trace elements unavailable in land-based produce these days, including iodine and potassium. Iodine is important for thyroid function, and sea vegies are even a source of Vitamin B12, which vegans can sometimes lack.

Of the sea vegies, wakame is the tenderest and (if you're unused to eating seaweed) the easiest to eat. Fresh wakame, which I used to feast on every day in Japan, is even better. And - an interesting development - it looks as though Australian chefs are discovering it.

Wakame is currently classified as a noxious weed by the Department of Primary Industries. However the interesting thing from an environmental viewpoint is that wakame can thrive in polluted waters and actually improve the quality of those waters. Growing seaweed is currently under trial as one of several industries that could transform saline water into usable water, thus turning semi-arid rural areas of Australia into productive agricultural land.

If you've got wakame in your local shops, here are some ways to use it:

Wakame in Miso Soup
Real miso soup is so easy I wonder why people still use that packaged, over-salty stuff.
For good Japanese-style stock you need a piece of konbu, another sea vegetable. Or if you are a fish eater you can use several dried anchovies or dried tuna flakes, both available in Asian grocers.
Bring the konbu or fish to boil for ten minutes, then remove (I often leave them in and eat them)
Add vegetables of choice and simmer till al dente.
Dissolve miso to taste.
How easy could that be?
A wonderful and easy variation of miso soup is simply to lightly simmer a handful of dried wakame and a half-block of silken tofu, cubed. Then add the miso.

Wakame Salad
You can probably find a lot of recipes for this all over the web, but my simple, foolproof method is:
Rehydrate quarter of a cup of pelleted wakame, or a whole cup of dried wakame strips, by soaking ten minutes in cool water. Drain.
Add a chopped tomato or two.
Season with a teaspoon of tamari soy sauce mixed with a teaspoon of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of sesame oil. Voila!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bonzer! Review!

Sustainable Baby had a fun review in the online magazine Bonzer! - "by, for and about wise elders".

Reviewer Valerie Yule has done some calculations I never thought to make:

The priorities for this modern mother are interesting as reflected by page lengths—33 pages on home cooking, 25 pages on nappies, 19 on health, 17 on enjoying playing with baby (hurrah!), 15 on buying and saving, and 14 on tips about clothing, with appendices about making things. No need to hassle about how these sustainable babies sleep or misbehave.
Debbie interestingly gives the first 25 pages to nappies, [diapers] including useful advice about how overseas babies respond to having no nappies, and the real comparative green-ness of cloth versus disposable.

I really liked this sensible, intelligent and funny review.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Compost "Worm"

I got an amazing addition to my garden toolbox last week - the Compost Worm, invented by Dion Kentwell in Newcastle. A retired engineer, Dion named the device 'Worm' to describe the way it 'screws' down inside the material (apparently this is common engineer-speak). You could also call it the Compost Corkscrew - it corkscrews down into the compost just like into an old-fashioned bottle of wine, then you pull it up again in order to aerate the contents, and corkscrew the other way to let all the material go again.

The problem with composting when you don't have any garden waste or chicken manure or anything going into it is that all the kitchen waste on its own just sits there, compacting into a really horrid substance. This is the case with me (renting a house with a professionally maintained garden) just as it is in an urban environment.

I knew I had to do something with my compost but was a bit stumped. A weekly pitchforking was recommended, but I didn't own one. Besides, where would I put everything I upended with the pitchfork? I could hardly wield one in my 30 weeks pregnant state, either.

Enter the Compost Worm and its amazing ability to turn a solid, slimy smelly mass into aerated, tossed and pleasant-smelling humus.

You can get quite warm operating it (great in the cold weather right now) but it isn't as physically demanding as pitchforking :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Buying in bulk

Buying grains, legumes and other dry products in bulk is not only great for cutting down on the packaging thrown out in your garbage, it is great fun for toddlers. Pouring, decanting and filling containers is good for their coordination and can teach them a lot about volume and mass.

Go for packaging you can easily re-use. Yesterday I saw a picnicking Blackheathen carrying kids' jumpers and snacks in an old basmati rice sack that already had handles sewn into it. Real mountains style! And very sensible of the rice company. It was Pakistani, by the way. Now we just need some Australian producers to think of this.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

avoiding just one more piece of plastic

This isn't going to save the globe, but if you're feeling preparations for a baby involve just TOO much plastic, one thing you can pass on buying is the plastic toddler-proof door-lock.

As you can easily forget to do these up when you open often-used cupboards, these aren't as safe as simply putting chemicals and knives up high (what are you doing with toxic chemicals in your kitchen or bathroom in the first place?)

Put precious breakables in cupboards with knob handles. Then you can simply and easily shut them with an elastic band (save the ones from bundles of spinach and asparagus at the market) stretched around both knobs.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

interview on Babble

Amber Robinson from the online parenting magazine Babble, posted an interview about the book
Amber writes, "You may have noticed that green is the new black when it comes to raising babies these days."
I have been a bit cut off from big city culture since moving up to the mountains, so I didn't quite realise that!
Certainly the few expecting parents-to-be I have spoken to this week about the book have mentioned that they are highly motivated by this very topic.
It's wonderful to hear!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

livening up old t-shirts

A Japanese friend of mine, Ayako in Hazelbrook, has a beautiful way of turning old t-shirts from op shops into attractive, one-of-a-kind items.

She simply appliques small circles or squares of Japanese-print cotton onto the t-shirt in eye-catching contrasts.

She originally used new t-shirts for her beautifully hand-crafted items, but wondered why they weren't selling at the local markets, although they had a lot of attention from passersby. I think we have pinpointed why - no one wants to spend too much money at the moment.

When she switched to using the old t-shirts, she started selling more.

I think the old ones are even lovelier! There's something about a new creation from old materials which appeals.

Here's me wearing one of Ayako's shirts in the garden:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Available from the following Australian bookstores...

Here's a non-exhaustive list of physical shops where you can find my book.
I went to check if it was at my local Gleebooks. It was, but I had to search! Someone had piled some different books on top of it!
I resolved to go in every day and make sure it was visible, but I lost my nerve today when it was the same assistant on duty - I didn't want to look suspicious!

Abbey's Bookstore
ABC Books
Angus & Robertson
Collins Books

Please comment on this post if you've found it anywhere else!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Book finally launched

I found out that a 'book launch' actually just means sitting around waiting for the phone to ring with requests for press interviews. Far from being a glitzy affair (friends have been asking if they should start waxing their legs yet), I could just as well have been sitting here in my PJs doing the interviews.

Actually, I was in my PJs this morning for a 5:15 am live radio interview on ABC's Overnights. I wonder if any one was interested in the topic at that hour of the morning. Andrew says plenty of new parents up at that hour...but as I remember listening to the radio was never high on the agenda in those days.

Press people have been very supportive of the book, and I had a lovely review by a great-grandmother in an e-magazine for seniors, Bonzer!

I did however have a 'stuck' moment when ABC Canberra did a live interview focusing on the nappy 'debate', and a caller rang in to say her children had had terrible nappy rash which had only been kept in check by disposable nappies.

I tried to get across the message - which I really hope comes across in the book - that the important thing is to start thinking about your and your family's consumption impact. Not what nappies you use!

But radio is a difficult medium. The person who gets the last word really gets the last word!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cleaning out the bathroom cabinet

It's not only baby who doesn't need all those products. I just commented the following on this US
blog about saving the environment from home. Then I thought, sustainable parents need this advice too:

Here’s a tip for not buying face cleanser or moisturiser. Have you olive oil in the cupboard? Almond oil? Do you have roses growing in the garden? Pick some rose petals and infuse them in the almond oil for a few weeks, shaking daily. Then strain and put in a disused cosmetic bottle. This is your facial oil (moisturiser).

Now for the cleanser. Wet your face and tip a bit of olive oil (food grade is fine) on your hand. Massage this over your face. It feels great! Wipe it mostly off with a warm damp facecloth. Now rub in your rose oil. Maybe if you have oily skin you can skip the rose oil altogether. However I find it great for my fairly dry and damaged skin (and what Australian past the flush of youth doesn't have damaged skin?).

No chemicals, no preservatives, parabens or sulphates. And no extra packaging!

If you have rose essential oil you can add this to the rose-infused oil. That way you don't forgo the pampering factor! It smells divine.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Warm fingerless mitts from old woollen jumpers

I blogged earlier about making nappy covers from felted woollen jumpers, and using leftovers to make mittens for babies. Here is a way to use the arms from the jumpers to make the warmest fingerless mitts out!

1. Take the jumper sleeves and cut them to the length you want. Pin them to the narrowness you want around your wrists.

Now stitch or overlock this seam.

2. Cut a hole in the stitching along the seam, right up near the cuff of the sleeve (this is for your thumb to poke out, so measure where you would like the finger part of the mitt to come to)

If the wool is properly felted (see earlier blog) you don't need to hem it as it won't fray.
Your finished mitts!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Making pants

Making pants for a toddler/young child is so easy, as they are all straight up-and-down, no inconvenient curves like adults.

I blogged earlier about cutting out pants from an existing pair, onto an old t-shirt.

But if, like me, you have already used up all your old t-shirts, sometimes you need to use new fabric! (shock, horror).

Anyway, the principle is the same. Just turn the existing pair of pants inside out and fold the pant legs together so that the crotch is clearly visible. You then cut around it.

I always cut with an extra inch or so around (apart from the seam allowance) so that there is room for your child to grow!

These were from new fabric, but used a recycled applique :) This cute duck was made by a friend of my mother's for her children, forty years ago! I just went around it in zigzag stitch.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Removing pesticides from produce with vinegar

In my book I explain why it's always better to buy organic.

But sometimes it's not really practical.

Affordability, availability, and sometimes freshness, are not always maximised with organic produce, depending on where you live.

I blogged earlier about minimising your pesticide consumption by buying smart.

The other way is to wash the produce in vinegar.

I'm not sure of the chemistry-based reason why this works, but it's been around for generations. Just soak fruit and vegetables in a mixture of vinegar and water (1 part vinegar to 9 parts cold water) for five minutes (scrub with a brush if something hard like a potato or apple) then rinse in plain cold water.

Any vinegar will do; I recommend the plain white vinegar you can buy in bulk.

For obvious reasons, this method doesn't work with mushrooms (which are better wiped rather than washed) and soft fruits like berries, which just soak up the vinegar.

A caveat is that some pesticides permeate the skin, so this method won't be fail-safe; neither will it help if the pesticides are beneath a waxy coating - you know, like you often find on supermarket apples.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

turning an adult top into a little girl's skirt

Here's a Roxy top with cute embroidery that someone handed down to me but never quite worked for me. Too short, as I remember.

Anyway, I'm glad I held on to it (as I nearly always do...thinking someone someday could re-use it). I attacked it with some scissors:

...sewed down a waistband (I cut so that about 2 cm from the bottom of the bodice remained attached)...

...threaded elastic through, and got a pretty skirt!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

cold and flu remedies in the cupboard

Tor and I have been struck down by something fluey this week. It featured lots of coughing.

Now, coughs in themselves have a raison d'etre - they expel mucus and get rid of muck in the lungs. So I don't like medicating them. In case you need further discouragement, commercial cough medicines have been found to possibly cause more harm than good.

The production and disposal of drugs is also deleterious on the environment.

On the other hand, it can really make life easier to have a few remedies, just to soothe throats and calm the spasms. Fortunately the pantry can supply quite a few.

Note: with discretion, these can be used for babies - however, medical advice cautions against giving honey to under-ones. You can use rice malt syrup or sweeten with stevia drops instead. However, real honey is really the best thing for coughs, and even out-performs commercial preparations.

#1 Ruth's Israeli Grandma's Pungent Simmer for dry coughs
This is really soothing and works to moisten up a dry cough. Slice up a raw onion and a few cloves of good-quality pungent garlic. The stronger the smell, generally the stronger the antibacterial quality. Simmer these on low heat in a cup of milk until onion is soft. Strain, add raw honey, and give a few spoonfuls between meals.

#2 Simple Thyme tea for productive coughs
When you have a lot of phlegm coming up, thyme can be a great expectorant. (Thymol, an extract, is one of the active ingredients in the popular Vicks brand chest rub). Brew a generous sprig of thyme (or a half teaspoon dried herb) in a covered cup of boiling water, for ten minutes. Serve with half a teaspoon honey. You can add any leftover tea to baby's bath.

#3 Mrs Sakaki's radish syrup for phlegmy coughs
My Japanese 'mother' gave me this time-tested remedy which is well-known in Japan. It's antibacterial and helps break up phlegm. Peel and dice a Japanese 'daikon' radish (the long white kind). Put the pieces in a jar and cover with honey. Keep it in the fridge, shaking daily, at least overnight, and if possible for three days. The juice of the daikon will come out into the honey, making a thin syrup. Strain and give a teaspoon to children when a cough is keeping them up at night. You can use the cubes of daikon as a condiment to curry - sweet and crunchy, delicious!

#4 Ayurvedic turmeric remedy for dry cough
Turmeric is feted in India for many qualities, and one of them is as an aid for dry and frequent coughing. Toast a pinch of tumeric in a dry skillet, mix with a teaspoon of honey and feed from the spoon, or add a pinch of the spice to warmed milk.

I'll follow this up soon with a recipe for flu soup!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Don't you love it when mothers-in-law visit with their arms full of freshly-picked produce?
Mine came with apples recently, lovely sweet Golden Deliciouses.

This is actually not a lot of apples for me, as I like to simmer them up into a sweet apple butter that does for our porridge in the mornings, spreading on toast, and as a warm, healing dessert with yoghurt or creme fraiche.

Simply peel, core and chop the apples and put in a heavy-bottomed pan with a few dashes of cold water or apple juice for an extra sweet taste (amount depends on how thick you like the apple butter), and an inch or so of a vanilla bean.

Bring to the boil, reduce to low heat and simmer for as long as it takes to get the below texture. I usually let it go about forty five minutes. Mash with a potato masher. So sweet and delicious (especially if you remember the vanilla bean!)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

making newborn fleece covers

It's not a secret any longer - I'm expecting another baby!

I went with a bit of trepidation to my 18 week ultrasound yesterday (trepidation because...I'm not sure that knowing more about your baby actually puts any of your maternal mind at rest!)

I'm glad we went though - as I half-suspected, our baby seems to be a tiny girl. (The other half suspected it was a boy! Hee hee.) Now we have 3 months to think about raising a daughter before reality is suddenly upon us!

Somehow I feel more responsible for trying to understand our girl child while our husband interprets our boy child for the world, and the world for him in turn. Is that silly? Anyway, I feel a new sense of responsibility, a bit different to how I felt when I gave birth to a boy last time.

Now, preparing a baby trousseau is a lot simpler the second time round. I mean, we have already everything she needs! But I did need to make a few newborn nappies and covers. Apart from the obvious, the size, I feel newborns need more attention to things like softness of fabric. While I search around for some organic fabrics to make newborn nappies, my mum and I meanwhile made up some tri-colour fleece covers, just for fun.

I used a pattern for toddler undies, available free online, and just shrank it by photocopier, to 80% of original size. The reason this pair are tri-colour is actually because we used left-over fleece scraps from Mum's box. I'm going to cut up an old fleece dressing gown for some more - remember the older the fabric the fewer residual chemicals. As long as it's not worn through already!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I decided to write to our minister for health regarding the scary prospect of the end of independent midwifery. Please have a read of what I wrote, and be moved to write your own letter - soon!

Nicola Roxon
Minister for Health and Ageing
Parliament House, CANBERRA 2600

Dear Nicola,

I am a former current affairs journalist, now a book author (Sustainable Baby, to be published mid-2009). I am a mother of one, and planning to have my second child at the end of September, delivered at home by an independent midwife. I’d like to add my voice to the many others to plead with you to do something about saving homebirth midwifery.

The report of the last Maternity Services Review states that the Government will not support the costs of private homebirth services under the Medicare Benefits Schedule, nor will they help to provide indemnity insurance assistance to midwives working in private practice. If plans go ahead to establish a national registration body for health professionals, for which professional indemnity insurance will be mandatory, I fear that subsequent children of mine and those of my Australian sisters everywhere, will be denied the birth experience (homebirth) which is actually the gold standard of maternity (and therefore baby) care, according to the World Health Organisation.

Birthing at home can be a more sustainable choice, both financially for the entire health system, and in terms of consumption of medical equipment and the myriad of throwaway items found in hospitals. With proper midwife care, it can also be the best possible start for a new human being.

My great-great grandmother was jailed in South Africa for helping impoverished women abort unwanted foetuses. I think the prospect of making it illegal for women to help other women give birth as they choose, in this day and age, and in this country, is absolutely untenable if we consider women to have gained more liberties since then.

I ask that you support a woman's right to choose where and with whom she gives birth, in 2010 and beyond.

Best wishes,
Debbie Hodgson

Monday, March 30, 2009

Calendula Nappy Balm Recipe

Today I got a visit from two amazing women who work at Newtown's The Watershed, in Sydney.
It's a community resource centre dedicated to educating about sustainability. Apparently it's won all sorts of awards and all. Annie, the facilitator, and Megan, the coordinator, asked me to come and help out at their next workshop on natural baby care (scroll down the list of workshops to see this). Also known as the Nappy Workshop, as a lot of time is spent on this subject!

We decided to make Calendula Nappy Balm in the workshop. This sounds fancy but is the easiest, yet most rewarding cream to make, as there are so many uses. Rashes, pimples, dry skin, sunburn, cuts and grazes... I use it as a night cream for my face and hands.

I've got a recipe in my book which calls for macerating calendula petals in olive oil for three weeks before making the oil into a solid salve with beeswax. However for the workshop we wanted to be able to make the whole recipe then and there. So here is my simple recipe for on-the-spot, self-solidifying calendula ointment.

For as much calendula balm as your whole extended family can use, you need:

Half a kilo of coconut oil (look for organic, cold-pressed oil)
Calendula petals (3 cups fresh, 1.5 cups dry)

Heat the coconut oil in a stainless steel saucepan until it melts.
Add the calendula petals and, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or chopsticks, heat them on low for about half an hour. Be careful not to burn them.
Strain oil through a piece of muslin and store in clean jars. The balm will solidify on cooling.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

buying modern cloth nappies

If only modern cloth nappies were readily available in baby shops and department stores! I feel sure simply EVERYONE would be using them if only they could see how cute and practical they are.

However until more people use them, baby stores won't stock them. If you are a cloth user, take every opportunity to ask at stores whether they are stocked. If enough enquiries come in, they should consider stocking them.

On the other hand, I noticed Babies Galore now stocks a certain cloth nappy brand which I know from experience look lovely but for all practical purposes are dysfunctional. They are also hugely expensive. So I didn't hold back telling the store manager what I'd found through experience. Most managers have no idea what is a really useful product, until they get feedback like that.

Until better shopping options become available, you've got to either make your own (see my book) or shop online.
My personal favourites for online shopping (in terms of service and quality of product) are as follows:
Zappy Nappies
Our first cloth nappy (a present from a thoughtful friend) was a Zappy - they are truly great value and I really recommend them for daytime use. They're extremely trim and come in interesting fabrics. The design is great for quick drying and for going from newborn to toddler. Very economical.
After a forgettable trial with some second-hand Australian organic cotton all-in-ones, which was too dogged by leaks to be sustainable long-term, I retired them and bought Scottish-made Tots Bots from this Australian outlet. They were like a breath of fresh air. The cleverly-designed covers are pretty much leak-proof, even if it weren't for the excellent fitting qualities of the nappies themselves. Not cheap, but definitely worth it. Ones to note are Flexitots, made of highly absorbent bamboo velour and microfibre, and Bamboozles, made of bamboo terry cloth. Although the bamboo fabric does degrade faster than cotton, in my experience (making it good for composting but not so great if you are hoping to cover the bottoms of two or three children,) it is a great environmental choice (a fast-growing crop that doesn't need any pesticides, unlike cotton).
Wee Wuns
This store was great for the variety of products. Save money on postage by getting nappies (all the leading brands) and training pants plus useful products like washable menstrual pads and nursing pads, waterproof tote bags for used nappies, swimming nappies, woollen baby clothes, and even patterns for sewing your own nappies and covers.
You can often find great nappies here - not used (E-bay forbids it) but home-made by work-at-home-mums. Fantastic quality can be had for a small price, depending on the sewer. Even if there are only a few advertised, ask if you can order extra to save on postage - they may make them to order.

I also highly recommend bidding on used-nappy auctions (see my earlier post).

Second hand nappies

If you feel moved to try washable nappies, but the initial monetary outlay seems high...
Or, if you are already using washable nappies and want to save yourself in money terms even more than the thousands per child that you already are...
Or, in a similar vein, if you want to reduce waste even further than you already are...

At least consider buying second hand nappies.
I shop on a very useful site, here, where you can browse nappies and covers for auction, among other baby-related items. You can also post used nappies of your own.
Some of the nappies have not even been used, only pre-washed. Sellers state if there are stains or pilling. Alternatively, if you are squeamish about the idea of used nappies, consider used covers - you can save yourself as much as half the price of a new one.

My tip is to browse online nappy shops (see later post on these) for an idea of what you need, what size you need it in, and how much each would cost new, so you know how much to bid, and for what, on the second-hand auction site.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

ABC radio

I meant to blog about this the day it happened, but got struck down with a raging middle ear infection, which I'm still nursing. On Monday, I got a hurried call to talk on Deborah Cameron's Mornings show on ABC's 702 Sydney station. Deb was talking about her new sewing machine and how it was going to save her lots of money. She invited me on to talk about how to recycle fabrics around the house and 'reinvent' clothes. The thrust of her segment was saving money in these times of 'economic distress'.

Luckily I didn't have much time to get nervous - about half an hour, before we were on live.

It was so inspiring to hear from all the listeners who called in. One mum, Melinda, talked about how she turned her husband's old business shirts into light hot-weather shorts for her son. She used the pockets and cuffs as they were, into the shorts, and made Velcro closings for long pockets on the legs to keep his matchbox cars. (Was that right, Melinda?)

I've turned an old shirt of A's into pants for T and got 2 pairs of different sizes out of one shirt - it really is an economising measure! The shirt had a tear on the sleeve so was headed for rags anyway. The best part about it was that I absolutely loved that shirt; I think A might even have been wearing it the day I fell in love with him :)
It was yellow with reddy brown striped checks, made out of soft flannel. Ahhh.
I think the baby pants might just live on forever....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Coughs and thyme (and also time!)

It's just been in the news that cold and cough medications may be banned here for children under 12. Some have already been banned for under sixes in the UK.

Apparently there is no evidence they do any good, and some evidence that they do harm, to children.

It makes sense that the cough is there for a purpose - to expel mucous, which is in turn there for a purpose - to rid the body of the virus!

However a persistent cough can keep your baby and you up at night, and sometimes is due more than anything to the already-present irritation - it's kind of self-perpetuating.

There are a number of home remedies you can use for such times to help soothe the impulse to cough, and I've found the best one (endorsed by my whole family and my local pharmacist) to be thyme tea.

Just pick a couple of sprigs of thyme from the garden (or use culinary thyme from the shops) and infuse ten minutes in just-boiled water.

Raw honey added will soothe the throat and help suppress the cough mechanism. Add it after the water is no longer near-boiling. (Be aware that medical people recommend waiting until after baby is one year old to introduce honey). Actually if you have no thyme to hand, just honey in warm water is very soothing on its own, or add some lemon juice, very alkanising on the body.

Leftover thyme tea can be added to baby's bath last thing at night.

Of course, the best thing for any cold symptom is rest - in other words give it time! Colds do take a long time to go through the system, especially for babies and toddlers (and pregnant women!). Don't expect to get 100% well in less than two weeks!

I'm no medical expert, but for what it is worth.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

the most renewable source of food for babies

These days most young mothers try really hard to breastfeed despite the fact that it isn't often easy or pleasurable!

But, being one of those women for whom it was actually a source of incredible pain and illness, I thought it was worth a post on one of the many secondary reasons why we should persevere beyond it all to continue breastfeeding. (Naturally, the primary reasons are the optimal health of our baby and our bonding with it).

Breastfeeding actually reduces our carbon footprint.

That's because breastmilk is the most sustainable human food source around, and has the least impact on our environment.

Infact Canada, Canada's breastfeeding advocate, points out that infant milk formula requires deforested land for cow pastures (and alternatively soybean crops), fuel, electricity, transport and processing, antibiotics and hormones, water, cleaning agents, labels, bottles, and rubber nipples, not to mention extra health care and medication for those babies for whom formula isn't suitable (I can attest to this - I was a formula baby, and suffered continually from chronic indigestion - or colic - for the first year of my life).

The same source calculated that to replace breastmilk, it would take 135 million lactating cows to make the artificial milk required to feed the babies of India alone. That's a lot of hormone and antibiotic-fed, methane-producing animals! Meanwhile, a lactating woman would only need a few hundred extra calories a day - easily met by wholegrains and locally-grown vegetables and fruits - to feed her child.

And that if half of Canadian babies were bottlefed for six months, that would send more than 15 million tin cans to landfill.

All good reasons.

It's a worry that breastmilk has been found to have concentrated amounts of environmental toxins. But it's still best for babies on every count of health. Moreover, concentrated infant formula is also likely to be contaminated with similar toxins.

Friday, February 20, 2009


No one with a heart could witness the terrible ordeal families were put through in Victoria this month, with the 'superfires' down there, without grabbing at that heart in a spasm of sympathetic pain.
It's also painful to think that 'green' policies are being blamed by conservative columnists for the fires because they stopped landowners preemptively burning vegetation on their properties months in advance of the fires..
We have also chosen to live in a bushfire-prone area - Blackheath in the Blue Mountains of NSW.
It's mainly for the abundant bush environment that we moved here, and I wouldn't want it to be tampered with on the hope that that might keep fires away.
Instead, I think every street should be provided with a concrete fire-proof bunker. This engineer thinks reinforced underground car parks could serve as shelters for members of the community to wait out fires.
Under Swiss law governments are required to provide nuclear-safe shelters for every citizen. How civilised.

Book on its way to the printer!

I finalised the last things on the manuscript for the book this week.
Having said that, there is little you can actually change on a manuscript once the indexing is done... Perhaps fortunately! Otherwise perfectionists like me would still be rewriting a year later.
This has been a really edifying experience - you can't know what it's like to write a book until you actually do it. It's also been a lot of fun!
I am looking forward to going back on the radio to talk about Sustainable Baby and doing other 'publicity stunts'!

Monday, February 9, 2009

shopping organic on a budget

Did you know you could dramatically reduce your family's pesticide exposure more cheaply by following an organic shopper's guide?

Like many mothers, I suppose, when it was just my husband and me and we both had our regular-paying city jobs, I had no problem with buying everything organic. Now that there are three of us living off much less money, I am much more sympathetic to the lament that, "oh we'd like to buy organic, but it's so expensive...."

Now, I personally believe that the only way to make organic produce less expensive is to buy more of it. It makes sense - the price of organic food in Italy, for just one example, has dramatically dropped over the years, along with demand dramatically increasing (14% of Italians now buy organic regularly). If we don't continue to demand something, supply will never go up and prices never go down.

However, a family budget is a family budget, isn't it.

I was interested to find a couple of NGOs in the US which have conducted their own studies on the pesticide levels in conventionally-grown produce, and written their own 'shoppers guides', accordingly.

Click on links to 'shoppers guide' and 'pocket guide' here and here.

I would say that although agricultural practices do vary between the US and Australia, these studies are still reliable guides for us down under, in the absence at any rate of any similar local studies (I will post a link to such a study as soon as it is published!).

Some of the findings should not surprise you - for instance peaches, nectarines, strawberries and all those lovely soft-skinned fruits appear to hold a lot of pesticides, peaches being the #1 worst. So buy these organic - hang the price! Unfortunately these are some of the more expensive organic fruits, precisely because they are so delicate and vulnerable to pests that they need more careful protection.

Apples, those great worm-housers, come second after peaches for being high in pesticides, when conventionally grown.

But it may surprise you to know that potatoes and carrots, despite their protective skins and living below ground, are still bad for pesticides (probably because the soil by now harbours so many chemicals). These are worth buying organic - in my opinion the taste factor for organic potatoes alone makes it so. On the other hand, chillies (or 'hot peppers') surprised me by coming quite high up on the list - I would have thought their heat would deter pests all by itself.

On the other side of things, if you need to economise this week (or every week), you might care to know that onions, avocadoes, mangoes and pineapples, asparagus, kiwi, blueberries and bananas are among the lowest (out of 45 kinds of garden produce) in terms of pesticide load, according to the Environmental Working Group study.

That's good news for mango lovers - even conventionally-grown mangoes are pricey this year :(

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ahh...the bounties of the summer garden

Proper summer has really only just arrived here in the mountains, so our summer vegies are just getting going now.

However, I am expecting a deluge of zucchinis any moment :)

Here's my recipe for zucchini pikelets.
I suggest making up a huge batch of dry pikelet mix. That way when you feel like making them, it hardly takes any time at all. I originally found a basic recipe for this in Cathe Olson's The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook. You can read Cathe's blog, all about food politics and wholefoods, here
Basic dry mix
10 cups unbleached flour (any kind)
1/4 cup baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt or kelp powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Whisk together and store in an airtight container in a dark place. Use the mix within a few months.

To make zucchini pikelets, add the following to the basic mix:
1 egg
1 1/2 cups milk (dairy or non)
2 tablespoons oil (I use sunflower)
3/4 cup grated zucchini

Add a little sesame oil or vegetable oil to a frypan set on medium heat. In a large bowl, beat the egg, add the milk and oil and stir well. Add the basic dry mix and stir till combined. Test the heat of the pan by flicking a drop of water into it – if the drop bounces it’s ready. Pour a ladleful of the mix into the pan to form a small pikelet for baby or go larger for the adults. Cook until the edges are dry and small air bubbles pop on the surface. Turn over and cook on the other side.

Serve warm with applesauce and freeze the rest for snacks to take on outings.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book being illustrated!

Right now Sustainable Baby the book is being illustrated. It's really fun to see all the charming drawings my illustrator, Tamsin Ainslie, is coming up with. I think the pictures are going to actually make the book. You can see some of her drawings at her blog,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Turn an old t-shirt into pants for baby continued....

I blogged the first steps of making these pants earlier, up to pinning and sewing the pants legs together:
Make a channel for the waist elastic by turning the top of the waist over and sewing it down. Thread pants elastic through with a safety pin.
Can you believe they're finished already?
These were a bit boring, so I sewed an old fabric coaster onto the leg :)

Turn an old t-shirt into pants for baby - 1

I didn't think this up myself - I saw it here, but if you have one pair of pants that fits baby really well you can duplicate the pattern so easily. Unlike T-shirts (still haven't figured out how to make these), pants are simple; just straight up and down lines, and only the crotch to refine really. I made totally unique, nowhere-else-to-be-found pants from an old sheet with a duck motif, and you can use old cotton men's shirts too, but if you use an old t-shirt as here, then you can take advantage of the bottom hems being already completed for you.

Get an old t-shirt and check the pants will fit into it.

Fold the pants legs one over the other so that the crotch is outlined, and lie it down on the t-shirt, hem to hem and outer leg of pant against outer seam of t-shirt.
Pin and cut it out, leaving about half a centimetre around the crotch and inner leg for a seam. Also leave about an extra centimetre above the waist for making a simple waistband for the elastic.

Switching the pants over, do an identical piece from the other side of the shirt.

Open each piece out and pin them both together along the curve of the crotch. Sew together (don't sew the legs yet).

Open out the pieces and you will have something that starts to look like a pair of pants. Sew up the legs now.
To be followed up...

Sustainable Christmas - gifts #2

One of the happiest smiles I got from a gift at Christmas was from something that took me a few minutes to make: Rose Geranium Sugar.

I picked about ten leaves of my potted Rose Geranium and buried them in 500g raw sugar in a jar. After about two weeks I took out the dried leaves and decanted the wonderful-smelling sugar into a pretty jar I found at an op shop.

The sugar turns out quite damp but nothing wrong with that.

I wrote on the label to sprinkle on porridge. It would be nice to bake cakes or things with it too.

In the photo I have some sugar along with the leaves of the rose geranium plant macerating in almond oil. I turned this into face moisturiser later; smells divine.

Next I'm going to try Peppermint Sugar. I've got a yummy smelling Chocolate Mint going haywire in a hanging basket.


My shipment of soapnuts arrived! Yay!

These two bags - 1 kg in all - are supposed to take care of my laundry for the next 24 months!
I've been looking everywhere locally for soap nuts as they are the easiest, cheapest and most hypoallergenic thing you can put in your wash. I had some samples of them which lasted for even more washes than the packet claimed, and was absolutely won over.
My local co op said they had actually considered these but decided they didn't work. I wonder what that meant? These won't make your whites fluorescent, but frankly even cricketers aren't expected to look whiter-than-white these days. When you take the clothes out of the wash they don't smell like detergent - rather, they smell like wet clothes! After you line dry they just smell like clothes - neutral.
Warning: if you use these for any length of time, you will start to feel faint from the chemical smell just walking past the laundry section at your supermarket!