We shall fight on the beaches…

The Zero Waste life is eyeballing me. I can’t look away.

On Sunday night our family sat down, as we always do, to watch David Attenborough. It was Blue Planet 2. If you haven’t tuned in yet, I can’t recommend the series strongly enough.

Sir David, for the first time that I can remember, drew his attention to plastic in our oceans.

This issue has been on my mind for some time now. I go walking on the beach regularly. Even though I live in southern New Zealand, about as far from the large populations of the world as you can get, I find plastic rubbish to take with me when I leave.

Every time I walk, I “take 3 for the sea”, yet there is always more than I take, much more than I can carry.

take 3 for the sea

I take 3 for the sea every time I walk, but it’s just a drop in the ocean…

The thought of what lies beneath the waves of the world disturbs me. The beach – the ocean – is a place I have always come to in my life for peace and reflection. It’s a place I visit to collect my thoughts, to meditate and relax.

The sound of the water and the smell of the salt soothes me. It’s my heart place, the place I feel safe and calm.

Sometimes tragedies grow in your mind, looming larger, until they become so personal that they engulf you and you have to act.

This is what has happened to me. The tragedy of our oceans has become my tragedy.

So over the next year, our family will reduce our waste. I will reduce our waste. I don’t know if we’ll get down to the mason jar levels I’ve seen by the Zero Waste community of the world, but we’ll do what we can. I’ll talk about it, here at this blog.

This is my call to arms, and I’ve called others in too. It’s good to know I’m not alone. We’re building a community here in Dunedin, with our first meeting next week. All of us feel the same way and want to see change happen locally. We’ll support each other, encourage each other, and hopefully bring a few more on board. Create change for the better.

I’m not a granola-eating hippie. I don’t bake my own bread, make my own clothes or smoke pot (lol). I’m just an ordinary person who loves the beach and wants the beaches to stay beautiful for her great-grandchildren. Doesn’t everyone want these things?

So I’ll dare use the great words: we shall fight on the beaches. I don’t think Churchill would have minded me using his quote, because it’s time to make changes for his great-grandchildren too.

The road goes ever on…

Minimalism is a journey. Like a road or a river, it can sweep you off your feet and carry you away with the changes it makes in your life.

I became a minimalist four years ago. Since then, I’ve been blogging here at Simple Living…With Kids. I’ve learned so much. My life has completely transformed.

In those four years, I’ve sold a farm, ended a marriage, found a new partner, and sold approximately 90% of my belongings.

I dared to ask: What makes me truly happy?

The answers I found surprised me. Nothing that makes me happy comes from stuff, from owning, or from status.

All the answers that consumerism typically gives us didn’t – don’t – work for me.

For me, happiness comes from doing my own life well.
Using my own skills well.
Being a great mother, partner and friend.
Being a truthful, diligent writer.
Being responsible, honest and caring.
Having integrity.
Being accountable for my own actions and words.
Being the best person I can be.

These are old-fashioned concepts, and I believe there’s a resurgence happening all around us just beginning.

This gives me hope.

Minimalism is a doorway

We begin with minimalism, with simple living. What then?

Once we lose the clutter, clarity begins.

I’m beginning to understand that I am just a small part of this amazing world. Life is about so much more than buying stuff and blending in to the crowd with the right fashions and a big mortgage.

Minimalism is leading me to a powerful love for the world around me, particularly the oceans. It leads me to a strong desire to protect them.

I’m developing an interest in Zero Waste living, and I’m pushing myself to reduce my footprint live sustainably.

My family are right there with me, guiding me, sharing these concerns.

I pick up plastic rubbish with my partner’s twelve year old daughter.
I watch videos on sustainability with my thirteen year old son.
I assist my partner as he sells plastic-free products at local markets, and I watch my daughter as she learns about sea animals.
Together, as a family, we’re learning to shop at the bulk store and reduce our rubbish that we put out on the kerb each week.

We’re taking small steps, but together our journey continues.

Minimalism – simple living – are first steps.

Together we’re ready to take the next ones.

The road goes ever on...

Banning the bag – a discussion with Greenpeace

I was contacted by Greenpeace earlier this week. I’d signed a petition to ban plastic bags, and I think they figured I might be willing to donate and support them financially.

I wasn’t willing to do that, as I focus my financial support in another direction (KidsCan NZ), but I did have an interesting discussion with the Greenpeace representative about plastic waste and the problems it presents for our environment.

The Greenpeace ‘ban the bag’ campaign. A great idea – plastic bags are a huge problem. But Greenpeace is offering no ideas of what to replace bags with!

‘Single use’ bags are really dual-purpose bags

The argument you’ll hear against banning bags in New Zealand is that people re-use them for their rubbish bins, and this is true. Again and again I hear, If we ban the bags, people will just have to buy them instead. ‘Glad’ and other plastic bag makers will be thrilled. Their profits will soar. And ordinary folk will have yet another item they have to buy which once was free.

There are a lot of poor people in this country. The last thing they need is to pay for rubbish bags. I’m a keen environmentalist but I also feel strongly for families struggling to make ends meet.

I asked the Greenpeace Rep on the other end of the phone what suggestions she had for people to use for their rubbish instead of the single use shopping bags. She had none. None at all!

In my view this is pretty pathetic – if you’re going to ask people to change, you MUST offer an option for them to change to. People do love the environment and want to help, but they hate feeling like it’s a choice between feeding their kids and being ‘green’.

It shouldn’t ever be a choice! We should all be able to support our planet and do the right thing – and we should all be able to save money in the process. Being green shouldn’t only be an option for rich people. It should be for everyone.

    ‘Being green shouldn’t just be an option for rich people. It should be achievable for everyone.’

I pointed out that we can’t just put our rubbish in the bin without bagging it. It’ll fly all over the street and make a mess. She agreed. We also can’t go ‘zero waste’ – we’re a family with four kids in a country town on a budget and the plain fact is, we use products that have packaging.

While it’s a good thing to lobby companies to use less packaging and to choose items with less packaging, change will take time in that direction and in the meanwhile, families will continue to produce plastic waste that needs bagging.

So yes, I support Greenpeace’s ban on single-use bags, but realistically I don’t think it will happen. If Greenpeace is not offering any alternative solutions, the problem of plastic bags won’t be solved by their ban even if it works – it’ll just be transferred. Instead of free plastic bag waste we’ll have bought plastic bag waste instead. We might have fewer, but the problem will remain.

I don’t have answers beyond what we already do. We have chickens to use our food waste – and they do this brilliantly. We compost everything the chooks won’t eat. We recycle everything we can. We buy bulk when we can to cut packaging further. We burn most of our cardboard and paper waste in the fireplace for extra heat in winter. So most of the unsorted waste that goes to landfill is plastic.

We have chickens which take care of almost all of our food waste. We compost the rest of our rubbish, recycle or burn it, so virtually the only rubbish going to landfill these days is plastic.

It’s clear to me that society is improving. We’re getting better. But we have a long way to go. And one thing is clear – you can’t successfully ban plastic bags without having a genuine alternative for all people, wealthy and poor, to switch to.

Rethinking sustainability…leaving the farm

Early this year, I sold a small organic farm on the outskirts of our city, and moved back into the suburbs.

Our farmhouse in the morning. It was idyllic, beautiful…and not sustainable.

I didn’t really have a choice, to be honest. I was divorcing, and the place needed to be sold for financial reasons anyway.

But prior to that, being on the farm for nearly a decade had made me rethink what sustainability means, and how we can move forward in a world that seems intent on, well, not moving forward much at all.

Petrol…the fly in the ointment

We were extremely car-dependent at the farm. There was no public transport. The nearest supermarket, bank, school – all of it was a drive away. There were no buses or trains. This was a huge hurdle to sustainability.

I was routinely spending $100 a week on petrol, and my partner was spending the same. Getting around drained our energy, our time, and our finances.

It was lovely living on the farm and having heaps of space – and animals! – but there was a lot of work behind the scenes that I didn’t expect and that cost a lot as well.

Did I make a mistake moving to a farm? No. But I don’t think that type of lifestyle is the way forward for humanity, as a whole.

It’s appealing, and it stirs in us a vision of an idyllic past, but it’s not practical for a sustainable future.

The present…around the corner to everything

When my new partner and I bought a home this year for our four kids (two of his, two of mine), we bought a very, very walkable home.

Our new house and garden from the rear. It’s in a lovely sunny spot, central and walkable to everything.

The bank is a two minute walk around the corner. There’s a park just across the road. The supermarket is five minutes’ walk, with shops and cafes and restaurants in-between.

Our Walkscore at our new home is 74. That translates as “Very Walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.”

Our new home is very walkable, with a great “walkscore”. See https://www.walkscore.com/ to find your own walkscore!

By comparison, our Walkscore at the farm was 0. “Car-Dependent. Almost all errands require a car.”

The difference is striking. Our kids walk to school, unless the weather is bad. My partner can walk to work – and does. I can walk into the city, or a bus runs right past our door every few minutes.

Most days I don’t use the car much, if at all.

I’d been wondering how I’d possibly be able to stay at the farm should I ever stop driving. Living here, that’s never an issue, because I simply don’t need to be able to drive.

What does sustainable really mean?

There’s no point in running an organic farm if you’re using three tanks of petrol every week to get anywhere.

You’re trashing the planet, no matter how organic your veggies are!

By comparison, the suburbs can be more sustainable if you live with a large group of people together, share your energy costs, walk for a lot of your journeys, and the journeys you do need a car for are short.

Plus, from a purely financial point of view, I’m not spending massive amounts of money on petrol every month. I don’t particular want to make oil companies richer. Does anyone?

Of course there’s more to being sustainable than petrol and cars. Suburban chickens, worm farms, backyard fruit trees, and an unpackaged, locally-produced diet can all play a part.

home made chicken tractor

Suburban chickens can play a role in sustainability.

So can handing-down clothes, buying locally-manufactured clothing or secondhand, using a capsule wardrobe, and limiting imports.

A capsule wardrobe can be a part of modern sustainability.

Finally, reducing family size through access to contraception, ease of access to abortion, education, and solid welfare support all play a role, as can voting on environmental lines and social welfare concerns.

Moving forwards to a new sustainability

I’m not sure what genuine sustainability will look like in the future. But, looking back, I know what it isn’t.

I know we need to reduce car usage, and we need to make our cities more walkable, and lobby to make public transport better and easier to use.

Perhaps we need to open our minds to new ideas, and discard old dreams that don’t fit with a modern reality.

My farm was lovely, and it was organic but sustainable?

No. I can’t say that.

However, I hope our new home in the suburbs might be…one day.

Suburban chickens in a chicken tractor!

Know about this post:

  • We rebuilt our chicken tractor (portable chicken coop).
  • The tractor measures 3 metres long x 1.5 metres wide x 1 metre high. The run end opens completely for full access, and the shelter end has a half-height hatch for access to eggs, bedding and food.
  • The tractor is made from
    • treated pine,
    • treated 7 mm thick treated “second quality” plywood (has knotholes, which we painted over),
    • chicken wire,
    • self-tapping wood screws.

    The hatches have two hinges each, and are secured with fencing nails (these form loops) through which we ran light chain and attached padlocks. The shelter end was painted with leftover paint we had in the shed.

    chicken tractor with chickens

    The chooks really seem happy in their new home!

    We also attached handles made from a small length of rope and some old hose we had lying around. The handles make it much easier to move the tractor around the garden to fresh grass every two weeks.

    The nesting box inside the shelter end is an A4 plastic box we bolted to the side of the shelter end frame with more wood screws. It has drainage holes we drilled to help keep it clean.

The tools we required for this project were just a power drill, a hammer, a special drill bit for the wood screws, a hand screwdriver, a staple gun (for attaching the chicken wire, bolt cutters (for cutting the chain), and heavy duty scissors (for the chicken wire).

The wood was all cut to the right sizes at the hardware shop (Bunnings NZ) for us for free, although we did find we needed a small saw for cutting the access hole between the shelter end and the run part of the tractor.

I designed this tractor, after looking around online and finding nothing that suited my needs (i.e. a cheap, easy to build, functional chicken tractor!). It’s into it’s sixth year (I think) and is looking great, especially with the new cladding on the shelter end.

If you’d like more information about the tractor, please leave comments below 🙂

What is a chicken tractor and how does it work?

We recently renovated our chicken tractor for our new chickens.

In case you were wondering what a “chicken tractor” is, it’s a portable chicken coop. They’re cheaper to build and they have no flooring.

A chicken tractor stays in place in the garden for anywhere between 2-4 weeks, depending on how long it takes the chickens to turn over the ground and make it muddy and remove most of the grass.

Then you pick up the tractor and move it along (the chickens stay inside while you move it!) to the next plot of fresh grass.

The benefit of this is you never have to clean a coop out, you don’t attract rats or mice, the chickens get fresh grass, and the chooks are always adding fresh manure to the ground, which the worms and grass love.

Once the ground has been turned over, you can choose to throw some grass seed on if you want, but in New Zealand everything grows like crazy so I’ve never bothered.

For the system to work well, you need to have about 6 x the amount of floor space that the tractor takes up, so that by the time it returns to its original position on the grass, it’s been a minimum of 12 weeks gap for the fresh grass to grow.

This is usually enough for everything to re-seed properly, even over winter, but if you need more space adjust accordingly.

In summer, move the tractor under trees for shade, and in winter move it out into full sun to keep your chickens happy and warm.

About our chicken tractor

I built our chicken tractor with a friend about six years ago.

Originally we clad the sleeping quarters end of the chicken tractor in some old swimming pool “blanket”, which looks like very thick oversized bubble wrap. It worked well, was cost-free as it was second-hand, and it kept the chickens warm in their sleeping area.

You can see a picture of how the tractor looked below.

chicken tractor

What the chicken tractor used to look like, with blue plastic on the sleeping end.

Note: The sleeping end has a perch that runs at half height the full width of the sleeping quarters. Chickens like to perch at night, off the ground. It helps them feel safe and happy.

Over time, we found the blue plastic “pool blanket” perished and ripped, and a complete re-cladding of the coop was necessary.

We re-lined the run end with chicken wire (the original version used green plastic mesh) a couple of years ago, but the sleeping end needed a re-clad too now.

chicken tractor 1

The tractor with its blue plastic removed. You can see how the frame is put together, if you want to build one.

A quick measure up, and we were down to our local Bunnings warehouse. We bought 7 mm thickness second quality treated structural plywood, so it won’t rot when it gets wet.

Note that if you do build a chicken tractor, you’ll need to use treated wood to avoid wood rot. Most treated pine is very affordable and designed to last 20+ years in all weather.

chicken tractor 2

Adding the new cladding to the chicken tractor. This was attached with self-tapping wood screws and a drill.

The guys at Bunnings cut our plywood to size for us for free. Yay! 🙂

chicken tractor 6

We cut out a small opening between the housing end and the run. The tractor is on its side in this picture, while we worked on it.

We attached the new plywood to the old frame using the original wood screws that had been used to attach the blue plastic – I’d unscrewed and cleaned them up with a scrubbing brush and hot water when we removed the remnants of the plastic. Re-using hardware saved a lot of money in projects like this!

Then we painted the coop up using some leftover exterior house paint that had been left in our garage when we moved in. It wasn’t a great colour (grey) but it was free, being leftovers, and suited to purpose.

The paint will also help further protect the wood and weatherproof the coop.

chicken tractor painted

The tractor painted, and rope handles attached. We may have to do more decoration as the grey is pretty grim!

The final step was using gap sealer to seal gaps in the corners of the sleeping quarters. We don’t want the cold winter wind getting in and ruffling any feathers!

We hope the newly-clad tractor will last for many years, and keep our new chickens very warm, dry and happy!

home made chicken tractor

The chicken tractor in action in our garden 🙂

How many chickens?

A chicken tractor this size can comfortably house six chickens (or five hens and one rooster), but 3-4 birds is a more comfortable fit.

chicken tractor

We have six chickens in our tractor at the moment, but two are destined for the pot in a couple of weeks. Four chickens is a much better fit for this size of tractor.

We found that 3-4 birds is ideal, because our household provides an almost perfect amount of leftovers to feed the birds, so we have virtually no costs in chicken food.

This is a win-win – our food waste becomes a usable product, and we get free eggs. Plus, chickens fed on household scraps are happier and healthier than chooks fed nothing but pellets!

How to look after suburban chickens

Chickens are really easy to look after.

hyline chicken

Our chickens are hylines – they’re great little layers, and easy to handle.

Like all animals, they need fresh water, plenty of good food, and appropriate shelter.

Chickens also need oyster grit to create good strong eggshells.

You may have heard that they can use ground up eggshells instead of grit – this is true but it can encourage them to eat their own eggs which you don’t want!

Instead, use the crushed eggshells on the garden, and buy a bag of grit. It’ll last forever and is very cheap. Put a small amount in a heavy bowl – they won’t take much but they will use it.

We replace their water every 2-3 days, or if it gets mucky before then. You don’t need a fancy water container – we’ve always just used a bucket or plastic container. Just make sure the water level is accessible, and there is a brick or similar in the bucket so it doesn’t get knocked over – chickens like to perch on the edge of their water container to drink!

Chickens eat practically anything from the table – including chicken! Ours eat everything except avocado pits and peels, carrot tops, lollies (hard sweets), and actual bones.

We feed our chickens every leftover from the table, including: bread crusts, stale bread, apple cores, leftover veggies, leftover meat, leftover burgers and pizza, dripping and fat from roasting trays, fish fingers, tofu, curry, you name it!

When we have a lamb or chicken roast we throw all the bone leftovers in the cage. The chooks love it! They peck every tiny scrap of meat away and even eat the marrow if they can get at it. Snap big bones open with a mallet – they’ll peck at everything inside.

Chickens need proper shelter, especially in extreme climates. Where we live, it gets down to freezing and we have a couple of snow days each year, so the tractor we’ve built does them fine. But if you live in a really cold climate you’d want to build a tractor with two layers of plywood and insulation between.

Chickens are known to overheat on hot days, so move the tractor away from direct sunlight if it’s going to be a scorcher.

Finding good layers… and how to pick an old bird!

I messed about with fancy birds for a few years, but these days I stick to Hylines or Brown Shavers. It’s up to you what breed you go for, but for a good layer try to find birds that are less than two years old.

The older a bird gets, the bigger the eggs they will lay over time. Their comb will be pale or dull, and their legs pale and extra scaly. Most of the better layers tend to be smaller, lighter breeds.

A good layer will give you at least 5 eggs a week, sometimes more.

If you want to keep a rooster, be aware that many councils have restrictions, due to noise. Check first, before getting your roo in.

Chickens don’t tend to get too many parasites, but they can get red mites. If they do, you can buy dusting powder from the local vet. It’s the same powder that is used for horses, so if you have a horsy friend ask if they have some first.

Great apps for simple living and staying sane

I use a variety of great apps for staying sane in this crazy world. Here are a few that I strongly recommend. All are freely available for download.

Although all of these apps also have Premium (paid) versions, I have not yet found it necessary to pay for any of them – the free versions work very well in all instances.

Insight Timer

Daily meditation practice is a cornerstone of staying sane and sensible, and the Insight Timer app makes daily meditation really easy.

Some of the guided meditations offered for free at Insight Timer.

It offers a variety of guided meditation, as well as a Timer option for personal, straightforward meditation. There are groups to follow and be a part of, and you can even create your own local group if you want.

Available here: Insight Timer.

30 Day Fitness

30 Day Fitness offers a series of free workouts you can do at home, with no need for weights or machines. It makes working out easy. You can focus on various muscle groups, or do an all over workout, and each of the exercises is explained with simple videos.

Available here:

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is simply the best food and diet tracker I’ve ever come across, and I’ve been using it, on and off, for years.

You can easily scan in practically any processed food via its bar code, or you can enter via calorie load. You can even enter your own foods, or foods you cannot find, as well as complete recipes and eating plans.

The app tracks weight as well as diet, and has attached forums and friend capabilities, if you choose to use them.

Available here:

StrongLifts

StrongLifts has an excellent name as one of the simplest muscle building programmes around. It’s been around for years, via the StrongLifts website, and the app is straightforward, free and easy to use.

While using the Stronglifts app, I saw my bench press go up by nearly 15 kgs, and saw similar gains in the other exercises it incorporates.

Whether you stick just to the StrongLifts program while lifting, or use it as part of your overall fitness program, it’s a useful app and a useful tool. Worth checking out.

Available here: StrongLifts.

MapMyWalk

MapMyWalk is a great, straightforward walk and run tracker. It tracks calories and distance, and you can see the walks and runs others in your local area are doing.

MapMyWalk

MapMyWalk enables you to track your walks anywhere in the world, and share them with others.

You can set goals, and keep track over weeks and months of where you’re at and what you’re achieving, or just use it on an irregular basis out of curiosity to see how far you’re travelling when on holiday. Up to you, but I find it useful and fun.

Available here: MapMyWalk.

WARNING! Avoid the social media side of these apps!

I think our lives are all too busy these days. It’s easy to let our phones get clogged up with apps that make life even busier with stuff that doesn’t matter, while ignoring the important things.

While the apps I’ve recommended above do have a social media element to them, I strongly recommend against this side of them. Don’t link them to Facebook and Twitter, and don’t join up to all the attached forums and chitchat.

Instead, use them for their best purpose – which is simplifying your life, helping you to stay healthy and calm, and helping you to eat well.

If you do this, avoiding all the social rubbish that comes with the apps, you may find them a useful way to simplify and improve your life.

I did 🙂

Saying NO to fast fashion with a capsule wardrobe

I’ve been doing The Project 333 for nearly four years now.

The Project 333 is a Capsule Wardrobe system. It asks us to dress with 33 items, or fewer. The rules are fairly simple:

  • 33 items or fewer in your wardrobe. This includes jewelry, shoes, outerwear and other accessories. Vision glasses, wedding rings and religious items are exempt.
  • Sleepwear, workout wear, underwear, in-home only wear is not included. In my case, I’ve created a “10 items or fewer” Workout Wardrobe, that I use for workouts only. I also have items like nighties, ugg boots and a robe that I only wear at home (of course!).
  • You can box up seasonal wear to keep safe for the next year. This doesn’t count in your 33 items. For me, as it’s winter in New Zealand at the moment, I’ve boxed up my light denim jacket and a couple of dresses, which I won’t wear until summer again.

Stepping off the fast fashion train with a capsule wardrobe

Having a capsule wardrobe enables me to step away from the crazy, unsustainable world of fast fashion.

For a long time I’d had issues with the way fashion was going. Clothing was becoming poorer and poorer quality, while the stories of child labour and sweatshops were hard to ignore. I’m not a full-blown activist, but I wanted what I wore to reflect who I am. And who I am is NOT someone who supports cruelty and abuse.

Fast fashion is designed for profit, not for those who wear it or those who make it. It is cheap to buy, per item, but expensive in the long term. It is not designed to last or look good. Much like a drug hit, it give a quick “buzz” then the thrill is gone, forcing the user to move on to the next hit, then the next.

My capsule wardrobe from a few years ago. Some items have changed, but I still dress with less.

What I wear, what I buy…

These days, about half of my wardrobe is made locally. I buy locally made merino tops that I layer, and I stick closely with a color code of blue and black, with some brights in accessories for interest.

I’m also a fan of secondhand, recycled jewelry. I often pop down to the local Hospice shop, where I pick up cheap jewelry for a couple of dollars apiece. I wear it, then when I’m bored of it I donate it back and buy a replacement from the Hospice shop again. In this way, I’m sharing what I have, and I have an endless supply of great, recycled jewelry I don’t have to store or maintain! It’s a winning strategy!

Inside my drawer. A color code of blue, green and black helps me keep organised.

How a Capsule Wardrobe will change your life

Take a step away from fast fashion. Fast fashion is trashing our planet and hurting people and economies. Taking a step away from the madness is a positive move for everyone.

Buy fewer clothes. Less money wasted, less time spent shopping. More cash left for the things that really count.

A co-ordinated, planned wardrobe. Fewer items are easier to co-ordinate. I also have a color code – blue and black form the basis of everything I wear, with pops of warm colors in accessories (yellow, coral, red).

More money for better quality clothes. Having fewer items means I now have the budget for better items. I can buy three t-shirts at $80 each in merino, instead of 10 t-shirts at $20 each, and I know my better quality items will fit better, look better, feel better and last longer than the cheap ones ever could.