About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Challenging times

I have mixed feelings about the challenges that people post on their blogs. I quite like occasional ones, like Mumma Troll's eat for £1 a day challenge. These are a nice way of starting conversation and links between blogs, building little communities in blogland. On the other hand, I'm not so sure about the regular ones like documenting your plastic waste every week.

I'm not quite sure why I feel uncomfortable about these regular challenges. Louisa touched on one aspect in her post on extreme frugal challenges, which was the competitive, one downmanship. There's also the regular commitment required. Of course, this can be a good thing, if it encourages the development of good habits. In the context of writing a blog, though, this is not something I want. Some people use weekly features to structure their blogs, and I often enjoy reading these, but for myself, I'd rather write about things as they occur to me; I don't want the blog to become a chore because I've set myself the task of writing about a particular thing each week.

There's also the nagging feeling that by signing up to someone else's programme of challenges, I'm letting them do my thinking for me. In general, I don't think it's a bad thing to find someone whose principles you agree with and follow their guidance on the day to day decisions in life. I'm aware that humans, as a species, do most things on auto-pilot and if we think we're making conscious, deliberate decisions about every aspect of our lives, we're kidding ourselves. On the other hand, I'm as vlunerable to the illusion of conscious control as the next person, and so I choose not to delegate my decisions to someone else.

All that said, I've been following Change the World Wednesday for a little while now. The idea of this blog is to have a little challenge each week that lots of people can sign up to, and spread the word about, with the aim of encouraging widespread behaviour change for greener living - a most laudible aim. Notwithstanding my reservations about signing up to things, I've tried the last couple of challenges.

The first challenge I tried was reducing shower times to five minutes. Ironically, since I stopped using shampoo, I tend to spend longer in the shower. Without the routine of shampoo - rinse - conditioner - rinse, I just stand under the water and my mind wanders, for 15 to 20 minutes sometimes. I've been thinking I need to do something about this, and the challenge was the nudge I needed. I found the timer function on my mobile phone, set it to five minutes and put it on a shelf in the bathroom as I stepped into the shower. When the timer pinged, I finished rinsing off the shower gel or whatever, and got out. Easy! I'll be sticking with that new habit.

The second challenge was to avoid using paper towels for a week, which confused me until I realised that this are what I call kitchen roll. I thought this one would be easy, as I hardly ever use them anyway, but then I remembered one thing that has me reaching for the big tissues without hesitation:

Cat sick, hiding on the hideous carpet. I'm so glad this wasn't a few inches further over, or I'd have stepped in it with bare feet.

I use washable cloths for cleaning up other things, but couldn't face the thought of cleaning out a cloth after using it for cat sick. I had a bit of a think - might there be an alternative to kitchen roll that I could use once and dump straight on the compost heap? How about big, soft leaves? I have comfrey...

As comfrey plants go, this one's quite small.

When the inevitable happened, I headed out into the garden and picked a few leaves. The first thing I discovered was that comfrey leaves don't hold together so well as paper towels - it's quite easy to put a finger through one. However, with two leaves together and a bit of care, that wasn't a problem. Once the bulk of the mess was gone, it was a bit more difficult to clean the remnants off the carpet, as the leaves started to disintegrate with scrubbing. If the puke in question had been wetter, I think I'd have had to give up and use... well, I could probably have coped with a cloth for that bit - it's a bit less icky by that stage.

So, could I give up kitchen roll for cleaning up cat sick? I'm not sure. The leaves are only available in summer, and this time it happened to be a nice, sunny morning and I wasn't in a hurry to do anything else. The leaves also weren't very good. I did manage to clean up the mess, but kitchen roll would have done it better. Still, the important part of that is that the leaves did work - the job was completed successfully. It's more faff and not as effective. Maybe I'll do it this way sometimes, but mostly I suspect I'll be back on the disposable paper, just for this.

How could she be guilty when she's so cute?


  1. I hadn't heard of #ctww before but I'm going to start participating when I can. Small steps seem a lot more sustainable than changing everything at once.

    We used to get through a lot of kitchen roll picking up cat sick too - until we realised those lovely people from BT/Yellow Pages/Thompson dropped a neat stack of disposable paper wipes through our door. It's really thin paper so we need to use a few sheets at a time (depending on how wet it is ... iccccck) but at least it isn't kitchen roll.

    We've opted out of getting phone books now so our supply is dwindling - but I'm tempted to cut up squares of newspaper to use next. We don't get newspapers that often ourselves but it's pretty easy to find people who do (we already get stacks from John's parents for firelighting/chicken coop lining).

  2. I don't usually follow any of those challenges to the letter, but if it's a blog I read it's likely something I'm interested in anyway, so it's often a good prompt to make a bit of an extra effort at whatever it is.

    As to the cat sick, I use loo roll. I can't remember the last time I bought kitchen roll. Anything I buy for occasional use tends to get used more and more often simply because it's there, so it's easier to just not have it and find an alternative!

  3. Ha! Cleaning up cat barf is a topic that I'm quite familiar with, and I admit, I generally opt for a paper towel, especially for the sloppy gooey wet ones. But I will say that once you get the bulk of it cleaned up and tossed, using a cloth rag instead of a paper towel lets you scrub the remaining mess out of the carpet much easier because the cloth doesn't fall apart. It's not as gross as I had imagined. But I think Louisa has a great idea with using paper that would be tossed anyhow.

    I must say that I'm in agreement about the long term challenges thing. I tried tallying my plastic for about a month, and while it did open my eyes, it also made me a bit crazy. I think there's a fine line between trying to adopt greener habits and creating a self-imposed prison sentence. Hanging oneself on the alter of environmentalism will do no one any good.

    I also just have to remark that whenever I read your blog I'm reminded that Americans and British really are "two people separated by a common language" as they say. It's amazing to me how much of our vocabulary is so different.

    This has nothing to do with anything, but CatMan and I study Spanish together, and our most recent adventure was reading all of the Harry Potter books in Spanish. It was great fun, but then when we decided to watch the movies on DVD, I was totally lost. First of all, I couldn't understand half of what the actors were saying because the British accents were so thick... then there was all the slang, and finally there were all of the JK Rowling made up words which are completely different in Spanish. It took me forever to figure out that a "death eater" was really a "mortifago".

    Finally I realized that the DVDs had an option to watch them with Spanish voice dubbing, so I tried it and was amazed to discover that it was vastly easier to understand in Spanish! Not sure what it means, but I found it quite ironic that I could understand a person speaking a foreign language more easily than I could understand a Brit!

  4. This post actually makes me feel better about my wildly inconsistent blogging. ha! Thanks.

    I dig challenges, because little projects keep me from spending too much time in my head (aka going crazy). But sometimes I get tired of constant stretch to Be Better. I recently decided I was going to do some bat shit crazy challenges just for the fun of it. I doubt I'll be chronically much of my "dance like it's 1987 for 15 minutes per day" challenge on the ol' blog, although I'm sure some video would be hilarious.

    As for paper towels/kitchen rolls. I got along fine without them for years. If something was truly too disgusting, I would just toss the piece of old t-shirt or whatever I used to clean it up. No, not as green as reusing, but at least I'm tossing a well-used, repurposed scrap instead of a virgin forest paper product. Of course, now I've hired a cleaning lady and she requires paper towels. I can't win.

  5. I've never thought about using leaves for cat vomit ... but it makes total sense. I've used leaves while hiking when nature called and I wasn't prepared. :-) So it makes sense!

    I appreciate your initial comments about challenges. You are one of the rare people who motivates themselves without an impetus. You are also someone who has a great way of sharing information so ... I'm awfully glad that you decided to accept the challenge and write about it!

  6. Louisa, using old Yellow pages is a good idea - I'll do that next time we get a new one. We do use them for their intended purpose (business around here aren't as good at internet advertising as some) so we'll have an ongoing supply.

    Hazel, that would be the effect, well known in economics, of availability on consumption ;-) Good point!

    ECL, I have to confess that I made a conscious decision not to 'internationalise' my blog. I am British and I will write in the Queen's English, dammit! Actually, I don't suppose the Queen ever says 'puke', but you know what I mean. I figured that if I have to look up American slang when I'm reading your blogs, then you can look up British slang when you're over here (or just ask me). Sorry if that's not very friendly.

    It's quite amusing that you found Spanish easier to understand than British, especially considering the number of regional languages spoken in Spain!

    CF, always happy to make you feel better ;-) I love your dance challenge, and I want pictures!

    I think if anyone was willing to clean up after me, she'd be entitled to demand whatever she wanted to get the job done. You can't be responsible for other people's decisions, though you can talk to them about it. If you paid her more and she bought the tools of her trade herself, the net result would be the same.

    SF, such kind comments! Although, as I sit here reading and writing on blogs when there's brocolli to plant out...

  7. Washing cat sick from a cloth is surprisingly easy: just shake it over the loo / bin / grass where you're dumping the sick, then put some water and cleaning product of your choice in the sink and leave to soak while you recover with a nice cup of tea and a slab of cake. Rinse and then put in washing pile. It's less yucky than taking photos ;)

  8. I'm liking the cake part of that plan but...

    OK, maybe I'll be brave and try it ;-)

  9. I also have such a hard time with most challenges, but have just started the #ctww one and think it could be great! I always like to see different bloggers' take on a topic as it is often so different and gets me thinking about new directions.

    Not sure if I have any ideas for you about the cat sick, except perhaps paper that could be composted?

  10. Hi Brenna, thanks for your comment :-)

    I always compost the paper towels anyway, and buy a recycled brand, so I don't see using them as such a green sin, but for the sake of the challenge I wanted to see if I could avoid them entirely. I guess this is why I'll probably go back to the paper towels - I was only doing it for the challenge anyway. Still, it got me thinking, and I managed to prove that there is an alternative.


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