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Monthly Archives: August 2011

I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time actually: make daily meditation a habit. Actually, I think I even told myself that when I got pregnant, I would do this, for the baby. Now I have only one more month to go, so this is my last chance!

Power of Less style
Habit: 10 minute sitting meditation
When: First thing in the morning (or: at the first suitable moment)
Reward: A nice relaxing cup of tea afterwards on the balcony
Obstacles: If I have back pain due to the pregnancy, just go for a semi-sitting position with back support. If that is also too much, do it lying down. If I feel like I have no time… Come on, it’s just 10 minutes!
Start: Right now!

Log
Day 1) Timer (with subtle sound) didn’t go off. Fix that for next time. Sitting started out well. Focusing on belly breath and baby. Then baby started pushing in my ribs, so I lied down.
Day 2)

After the Rubbish Diet Challenge, I’m keeping my eyes open for something new. Here is a totally not-exhaustive list of some of the more fun challenges I came across on the internet.

Less Stuff

The Packing Party
From: the Minimalists.com, part of the 21-day journey into minimalism
This one is probably the most effective of all the declutter challenges I listed here. The official challenge is to give yourself 1 day to pack all your stuff into boxes. Cover large items you can’t box up with sheets. Now, for the next 7 days, if you really need something, unpack it. After those 7 days, everything that is still packed you can trash, sell, or donate. Of course all kinds of variations are possible. You could do one room at a time, or give yourself more time in the unpacking phase.

Digitize Your Stuff
From: the Minimalists.com, part of the 21-day journey into minimalism
This challenge is to scan in all your photos and all the documents you really need. Also store your CDs and DVDs on your computer. For safety, you could sign up for an online backup service. Then you trash/donate/sell the physical items.

100 Thing Challenge
From Guy Named Dave [Earlier references: 1,2]
Keep only 100 things, or: live one year with 100 or less personal possessions (so things shared with others are exempt). Collections can be counted as 1 thing. Want more of a challenge? Why not go for just 50 things? Exile Lifestyle made the list visual with pictures — very nice.

10 Things Challenge
From Simple. Organized. Life.
Get rid of 10 items a week. Very feasible, and you still get rid of 520 items over a year’s time!

Less Clothes

Six Items or Less
Choose six items of clothing and wear only these for one month, not counting undergarments, swim wear, work-out clothes, work uniforms, outer wear, shoes and accessories.

Project 333
From Be More With Less
This challenge is a lot like the previous one, with slightly different rules. Pick 33 items, including clothing, accesories, jewelry, outerwear, and shoes, and stick to those for the next 3 months. Again some exemptions: underwear, sleep wear, workout clothing, and the wedding ring.

The One-Year Wardrobe Project
From Get Rich Slowly 
Following the same principle as the Packing Party: move all your clothes to a spare room. Whenever you need something, and it is not in your closet, get it from the spare room. Once you wore something once, it can stay in the main clothes closet. After one year, get rid of the clothes you haven’t worn.
Don’t have a spare room? You can also hang all your clothes with the hangers backwards. Once you used the item, hang it up with the hanger the right way. After a year, you can see exactly what you have worn, and what can go.

One Dress for One Year
From the Uniform Project, Little Brown Dress, One Dress Protest
Wear the same dress for one full year. Change it up by combining it with different items and accessories. Very inspiring to watch the Uniform Project Picture Book video. That is one versatile dress!

Less Buying

The Great American Apparel Diet
Do not buy any new clothes for a year. Exemptions: underwear, shoes, accessories, gifts, and of course: second-hand clothes, and making your own clothes.services, charity, plants, art supplies, (legal) digital books and music.

Buy Nothing New for a Year
From The Compact, through And then there were four (more readable text)
Don’t buy any new products of any kind — borrow or buy used. Some exceptions: necessary stuff such as food, drink, medicine, cleaning products, underwear,

Less Chemicals

No-Poo Challenge
From Feeling Feminine, via The Thrifty Mama
For at least two weeks, go without shampoo or conditioner. You can just wash your hair with water (hot, and close off with cold), but there are also other alternatives for washing, such as baking soda and vinegar.
I have been trying for a couple of weeks with apple vinegar, which worked great, but I don’t like the smell. You do wash it out, but while in the shower, it is not really nice. So at the moment I switched to the water-only method.
On a related note, you could also try to replace other personal care products with natural ingredients. For example, think about your deodorant, shaving cream, other creams, facial masks, scrubs, hair masks. Google can point you to a lot of fun recipes to try.

Show Your Plastic Trash
From My Plastic-Free Life 
Collect all of your own plastic waste for a week. The first week, live normally, so you can see your starting point. Take a photo and list out the items. Fill in the online form where you can ask the community for tips, but also think about what you could easily replace with plastic-free alternatives, what items you could give up, and what items are problematic. Then go for the next week; continue for as long as you like. It is an ongoing challenge.

Doing Less

The Four-Day Week Challenge
From: A List Apart
Work four days a week instead of five. You’ll probably end up more focused, more efficient, more creative, more relaxed, and more connected to the important people in your life.

Doing More

101 Things in 1001 Days
Make a list of 101 things you want to do, then try to do them over the next 1001 days. Here is some inspiration to get started.

52 in 52
From Kelly’s World
A variation on 101 in 1001: do something new each week.

Health

30 Sugar Free Days
From OlsonND
Eat only low glycemic index foods for 30 days: no sugar, no grains, no starchy vegetables or high glycemic index fruits such as bananas. What you can eat: most veg, fruits, protein. The website has a link to a pdf which contains a more explanation, and a detailed list of good and bad foods.

Run 30 / 40 / 50 Miles in 30 Days
From: Map My Run
One mile (1.6km) a day. Sounds very feasible, doesn’t it?

Misc

YES! No Impact Week
From YES! Magazine
“Challenges you to live a radically greener and more connected lifestyle–for just one week.” Each day has a different focus: consumption, trash, transportation, food, energy, water, giving back, eco-sabbath.

Flylady Babysteps
One month to get your house in order.

NaNoWriMo 
Write 50,000 words in one month. Yearly returning challenge that always starts November 1. There are a couple of variations on this, for example for creating your own comic.

The GOOD Challenge
A different challenge each month, to try to live a better life. Examples of past challenges: Give up soap and shampoo; Give up processed food; Drive less; Go vegetarian; Waste less; Unplug at 8 (less internet).

Create a New Habit in 30 Days
From: The Power of Less
Pick only one habit to focus on. Start small: just 10 minutes a day. Commit publicly. Write out exactly what habit you will be forming, when you will do it, any rewards, and how you will overcome obstacles. Tie the new habit to something you already do consistently every day. Be as consistent as possible. Report your progress every day. Give yourself rewards each week, and stay positive. (Accompanying PDF)

One week goes by pretty fast! Curious about the end results?

My direct bad waste:

  • some unknown plastic in box of strawberries
  • a broken glass, with paper wrapped around it
  • a cotton bud
  • frozen puff pastry wrapping (plastic and sheets inbetween)
  • aluminum foil from chocolate bar (perhaps filtered out in post-separation?)
  • wrapper from dishwasher tablet (unnecessary, because we also had those with disolvable wrappers available… oops!)

All in all not too bad I think. With a bit more care and planning, some of the waste could have been avoided. I guess that is all part of the learning process. A true zero waste week is definitely possible!

The most important thing this week was the challenge to go outside of my normal comfort zone, and try some alternatives. Also it creates awareness of where your waste comes from. With us, it is mostly food-related. So, we had to try some different ingredients than we would normally use, and try to create some things from scratch. We had home-made bread, pita, and pancakes! What is also interesting, is that often the food with non-recyclable waste is actually not healthy, such as potato chips and desserts. So zero wasting is actually better for your health too!

So what now? We will keep trying to minimize our bad waste, but a little less forcefully than during the zero waste week. This is also partly due to the fact that my pregnancy is making it more and more difficult to visit many different stores to get the less-packaged items. I definitely want to try some more recipes, like those for microwave chips and home-made vla. In the mean time, I will keep my eyes open for other challenges to try, to get closer to a more minimalist and environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

We’re already halfway into the zero waste week. So far things haven’t been easy. Getting really to zero definitely is hard. Yesterday my husband made puff pastry with home-made mushroom ragout. The ragout was laughably easy to make. First melt the butter and add flour. Mix. Then add vegetable broth, and finally the cut-up mushrooms. Bake the puff pastry in small forms in the oven. Put the ragout in. Done!

But there was some waste. The puff pastry was wrapped in plastic, with sheets inbetween the pastry sheets. It definitely generated less waste then if we would have bought ready-made pastries and ready-made ragout. And it is great to also see how my husband is becoming more waste-aware! So I simply added part of the waste to my personal waste bag for this week.

Another tricky thing is that it is difficult to plan ahead when you’re pregnant. Sometimes I feel a bit faint, and I have to eat something, anything, right then. Of course it helps to carry something on you. Yesterday to work I brought an apple, a banana, and some nuts with sultanas. But I also already have been in a situation where I had to eat something, and all I saw  around me in the store where I was at that moment was wrapped in plastic. In the end I bought a chocolate bar. The paper outer wrapping is fine. I have no idea whether that aluminium foil is filtered out in post-separation though. So I added it to my waste bag.

Aside from the yummy new recipes for bread and ragout, I also discovered something else this week. I can refill my old Ecover containers for laundry detergent and fabric softener at one of the local eco stores. A nice surprise. They also had pure olive soap (wrapped in only some paper), that I had not been able to find elsewhere.

So what am I really missing? I miss potato chips: it always comes in this mix wrap of plastic and alimunium. And vla (a type of custard), especially because it seems to help with stomach acid, which is definitely a problem during the last stages of pregnancy. I have been looking for vla in PET or glass bottles, but so far, no luck. Perhaps at some point I could try to make these myself (recipes for chips in microwave and deep frying, recipe for vla (sorry, Dutch)).

Even though I will not be really 0 waste, it is still nice to try to make it as little as possible. It is probably a bit similar to becoming vegetarian. In the beginning I really had to make an effort, but as time goes on, you just know what you can and can’t do, what you like and dislike, and it becomes a habit that you no longer have to think (too much) about. And it is definitely a fun challenge to think about how you could still do certain things but then without the waste!

Based on the tips on The Fresh Loaf and his recipe for white batard, here is an improved recipe for white bread.

For 2 loaves of white bread

Ingredients
2 tsp dry yeast (~14gr)
1/2 cup warm water + 2 cups of warm water
6 cups of flour + 1 cup
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil

The evening before (about 12 hours before the next step)
Mix 1/4 tsp dry yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, 1 cup flour
Cover bowl, leave out at room temperature

The next day 
Mix 5 cups of flour and 2 cups of water. cover bowl with damp towel. wait for 30min (autolyze)
Mix in the 2 tsp salt, 4 tbsp honey, 3 tbsp olive oil, the preferment (mix from the day before), and rest of the yeast (1 3/4 tsp) — note: if you have the type of yeast that needs activating, put the yeast in a separate bowl with 1 cup of the warm water and a bit of the flour, for about 10 min. This is also a good way to test if your yeast still works.
Stretch and fold –– it is so sticky that I just do the best I can with a spoon. Let rise for 30min.
Stretch and fold — it is still very sticky, but I add about half a cup of flour just try. Let rise for 30min.
Stretch and fold — still sticky. Again adding half a cup of flour . Let rise for 30min.
Divide into 2 loaves, shape into the form you like or put in bread form, seam down — do not punch it down totally, but leave some gas in. Carve the dough in at the top, at least 1cm deep  Let rise for 1h.
Note: because I let one loaf rise in a form, but the other not, it was difficult to cover them during the rising process. Instead I wetted the bread tops every now and then to prevent dehydration.
Wet the top with a bit of water. Bake at 230 degrees Celsius for 25 min.

    

The verdict
The final bread looks nice. The internal structure is great. Love the holes. But it does seem a bit too oily to me. During the process, it smelled a lot like oliebollen, which are oily, sweet dumplings Dutch people eat at new Year’s eve. One other thing I did not like about this recipe compared to my previous recipe, is that it takes a lot more effort, as you knead the dough four times, with only thirty minutes in between! Less work is definitely better.

Next time?
My recommendations for adjusting this recipe for even better bread are:  less water (2 cups?), less oil (1 tbsp?), less honey (1 tbsp?). Let’s keep the preferment and autolyzing. They require little effort, just more waiting. As there is a lot less sugar then, remove one kneeding down, and add a little more time in between the rises. Keep the high temperature baking. The recipe now seems to move more into the direction of French baguette. When I try this next week, I will post the results again.

In the Netherlands, bread is generally sold in plastic bags. You could go to a bakery, and ask them to leave the wrapping off, but you could also learn to bake your own bread. This way, you can be certain about the ingredients in them. Besides, the smell of baking bread is delicious, and the kneading is actually quite zen. Bread making does not take that much active time, perhaps only about 20min. The rest is waiting for the dough to rise and the bread to bake. So why not give it a try?

A very simple recipe that works quite well for me:

Ingredients for 2 loaves
14 gr dry yeast (buy in bulk to avoid all the wrapping)
2 cups warm water
2 tbsp honey (or sugar)
6 cups all purpose flour
~1tbsp salt, ~3 tbsp olive oil

Preparation
Mix the yeast with the water and the honey. Wait a little.
Add the flour, salt, and oil. Mix and knead for about 10min. Let it rise to double size in a bowl covered with a wet towel.
Knead the dough again, flatten it out and roll it up to a bread shape you like, or put the roll in a bread form. Let it rise again to almost the size you want it to be when done. You can cut into the top so the dough does not break, and to give the loaf a nice look. When I don’t want to wait too long, I let the bread rise in the oven at about 40 degrees C.
Bake in oven for 30min at 180 degrees Celcius. Let it cool off.

The result  is a nice white bread with a very soft crust. It does not have the structure yet of store-bought bread, but it is getting close enough that my picky husband is eating it voluntarily. I don’t know why, but the rising works better when making 2 loaves at the same time.

Just today I discovered this great website: The Fresh Loaf. It features a great set of lessons that takes you through the different ingredients and steps in bread making, including tips on how to get a better end result. I will definitely be trying out some if his advice, such as: adding more sugar, preferment, autolyse, more water, less punching down in the last step, and baking at higher heat. If it works out well, I’ll post the new and improved recipe, with pictures.

Before I started the Rubbish Diet Challenge, I did do some recycling, but I was a bit lazy, so sometimes glass pots or paper would end up in our waste bin. I also did not do any plastic recycling at all. Here is an overview of what is done in terms of recycling and waste in the Netherlands.

Plastic and glass with a deposit refund (statiegeld)
In the Netherlands it is mostly the bigger PET and glass beer bottles that have a deposit which you get back after you hand the bottles back in at the supermarket. Over 90% of these bottles get reused or recycled this way!

Paper
Paper is collected on the curbside once a month here. Old paper is recycled to make new paper, for example toilet paper, notebooks, and envelopes.

Glass
Near all supermarkets you can find containers for glass waste. You can leave the lids and paper labels on as they will separate it afterwards, but Milieu Centraal advises to already separate it correctly beforehand. Glass is great stuff, as it can be reused endlessly without loss of quality. In new glass pots and bottles, about 60% old glass is recycled.

Plastic
Since the beginning of 2010 you can hand in plastic separately in the Netherlands. There is a list of what you can and cannot put in the large orange containers which are to be found near every supermarket. The tricky thing is this: our plastic waste is transported to Germany to be processed. There they separate the plastics into PET (indicated with number 1), PE (numbers 2 and 4), and PP (5). If you look at the list, however, there is no mention at all of these different plastic materials. This means that our plastic waste may also contain PVC, PS and mixed plastics, which will simply be incinerated or dumped after they have arrived in Germany. According to official numbers obtained by Kassa in October 2010 (watch the episode online — Dutch), 20% of the plastic waste arrives in Germany is considered unusable for recycling. Of the other 80%, not everything will be recycled either, because of ‘impurities’ (rests of paper and foil on the plastic packaging?). Cleaned, molten old plastic can be resources for new plastic products.

Small chemical waste (KCA)
Every household has a red box for small chemical waste — the stuff that is too dangerous to put in your normal waste bin –, which you can then drop off when it is collected in the neighbourhood every now and then, or you can drop it off yourself any time at an ‘environmental point’ (Dutch: milieupunt).

Organic waste
Most people will have a green container at home for their organic waste (GFT – vegetable, fruit, and garden). Unfortunately, when you live in an apartment, there is no separate green waste collection. In my city, there is also no option to bring it somewhere yourself to hand it in separately. This waste will be turned into compost. Fun options here are to process this waste yourself: start your own compost heap, get a bokashi bin, and/or a wormery.

Grey waste
Even the residual waste is not all lost. At the factories that process this waste, still quite some post-separation takes place, to separate out plastics, metals, and cartons. For example, about 85% of metals is recycled by post-separation with magnets and magnetic eddy currents.

Bad waste
For the zero waste challenge, anything that is probably not recycled or reused I consider to be bad waste. This means that cans are okay, even though they do end up in our grey waste bin. As for plastics, I only accept 1:PET, 2/4:PE, 5:PP, and the biodegradable type, as the rest will probably end up as waste anyway. Of course as waste goes, glass, paper, and organic waste are very much preferable.

PS Another interesting move is to go plastic free. A lot of the things you can do to get there are actually the same as what you would want to do to reduce your waste! But let’s take it one challenge at a time…