Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

When we moved to Australia last year, we weren't expecting anyone to celebrate Halloween, so we were surprised and seriously unprepared when lots of trick-or-treaters came to our door. This year, I bought quite a bit of candy, and there weren't nearly as many trick-or-treaters...meaning those who came by took home handfuls of candy (hooray!). Halloween is very much an imported holiday here. The witches and goblins made it over, but you don't see much costume variety and almost no home decoration. Maybe they'll get there in time, maybe not.

I admit that I'm getting slack on American holidays. At first, I tried celebrating anyway while living somewhere no one else really acknowledged the holiday, but I found more often than not that made me feel even more sad and remote from home. Then again, letting them skate by unacknowledged doesn't feel so great either. The middle ground is not making too much of a fuss, and just enjoying them simply. Simple is good! We knew we wouldn't take the girls trick-or-treating, but I wanted them to have costumes anyway. After all, we had been invited to a birthday party at the Margaret River Chocolate Company, costumes welcome. In the spirit of simple, I decided to make the girls' costumes. They needed to match so there'd be no jealousy. They needed to be simple so they'd be comfortable. Ladybugs!

I just whipped up some smocked sundresses from red cotton quilting fabric. Ellie helped me potato stamp the black spots onto it first. Add a headband with sparkly antennae, and we were in business!

In reality, the costumes didn't last long. Ellie prefers to choose her own clothes, and the ladybug dress was not her outfit of choice. Also, she said the headband hurt her head (her hair is really thin, so the little combs meant to keep it in place probably scraped her a bit). After the novelty of her headband wore off (about 30 seconds), Stephanie never even tried on her dress. No one ever accused my children of not being fiercely independent. This is why the "simple is best" philosophy works!

The party was good fun, if a bit overwhelming in size. Down Under, it's common practice to invite whole families to birthday parties. Consider the average size family of 4. Invite your child's entire class at school, plus friends from other places and quickly you have a birthday party of over 100 people. Yikes!

After such a busy morning, we laid low in the evening, playing across the street with the neighbors as the trick-or-treaters made their rounds. Not a very Halloween feel, but it was a really nice day.

Postcard, anyone?

We wrote a number of postcards during our trip to Bali, but as far as we know, no one has received one yet. The hotel offered to mail them for us, so I wrote to ask if somehow the postcards were still there. This is the reply I received today:

Greeting from Alam Sari Keliki.

Hi, how are you? hope everything is fine. We already posted all of your postcards and letters, please be patience.

Thank you.

I can be patience, but can I also be notified if anyone receives one of our postcards? We are curious about the mailing time. Always different from place to place! Thank you!

No 'poo update: The verdict

I debated about including my reasoning in my last update post, because I knew as I did so that I'd already made my decision: 'poo free is not for me! The first two of my three reasons for the experiment don't actually apply since I already choose my shampoo with those considerations in mind. The brand I use produces 100% recyclable packaging, and the product itself doesn't contain SLS or SLFS. That leaves the curiosity reason, and that one is now satisfied too. Although at no point did my hair feel unclean or smelly, it also never felt nice. I didn't like touching it, and neither did Markus. I dreaded washing it, because I felt like that process was a real bother without any satisfying results. I knew the gig was up for good when Ellie asked four days in a row why my hair looked so crazy. I couldn't wait to wash my hair again, and Markus pointed out I didn't have to. Since I did this experiment for me, there was no reason to continue once I'd made my decision. Good point! Last Sunday, I shampooed and conditioned my hair, and it felt so good!

I am happy I tried the experiment. It was interesting, and now I do know about the alternative. I think it might work great for people with shorter hair or thinner hair, as well as for people who use cheap shampoo with nasty ingredients. The day I attempted to wash out the olive oil and hated the detergent feel of the shampoo, I used cheap travel shampoo we had in the bathroom because my nicer shampoo had run out. That cheap shampoo really did feel awful on my hair, and it would have been worth the baking soda/apple cider vinegar alternative. In the end, it comes down to making choices. You have to do what works for you. For me, the expensive shampoo is worth the price...but it's nice to know that for certain since I've given the opposite a try too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baby Stephanie is awake.

Each and every morning (and after naps), we know that baby Stephanie is awake because floating out from the extension come little shrieks of joy. No crying, no shouting for anyone to come get her. Shrieks of joy, each and every time.
What a fantastic way to start the day!

Ellie's first class photo

I think elementary class pictures are very special (and often hysterical), and this is Ellie's very first one.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chef's assistant

This morning, Ellie and I cooked up some "Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes" from The Rustic Table. Ellie's interest in cooking waxes and wanes, but this weekend she got into it full swing. We made cheese straws for snack yesterday, and she wanted to make them again for breakfast. I managed to talk her into the pancakes instead. They're perfect for our days. They are yummy on-the-go (Stephanie often eats breakfast in her car seat), and Ellie loves them in her lunchbox for morning tea at school. As for the name of the recipe, it's entirely possible Constance Snow (cookbook author) is right about them. They are so delicious (especially when you sneak in a mashed banana when your 4-year-old isn't watching)!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mixed message? I think not.

Recently, I have been reading about effective communication as part of my doula training course. One aspect of effective communication is congruence of verbal and nonverbal expression. Non-verbal communication can have a far greater impact than verbal communication, so it is important the two convey the same message. The training manual says that when the two are not congruent, the message that will be most effectively conveyed is that you are not to be trusted; I might tweak that to say at least your verbal communication would be questionable to the recipient. For example, Ellie is a notoriously picky eater. She says (loudly, decisively) that she does not like oatmeal. Yet, when I serve her oatmeal for breakfast, her non-verbal communication looks like this:


His life is so hard...

Saturday, October 24, 2009


The other day when I found myself unexpectedly covered in olive oil, it seemed the perfect time to try out my next experiment: the oil cleansing method (OCM). I learned about this while I was reading up in preparation for the no 'poo experiment, and I was intrigued. Using the OCM, you wash your face with a combination of castor oil and olive oil instead of face wash or soap. Yes, you read that correctly. You wash your face with oil, and this even works for people with oily skin. Although this may seem counterintuitive, oil breaks up oil. Ask the manly men in your life, and they'll tell you that you can't remove motor oil or engine dirt/gunk from hands with soap; you have to use an oil-based cleanser. On a lesser scale, the same principle is at work in the OCM. Here's the regimen:

1) Just before using, mix castor oil and olive oil. I use an empty travel-size squeeze bottle for this; just pour in the oil and shake. If you have "normal" skin, it's 1:1 (a teaspoon of each does the trick). If your skin is dry, use 1 part castor oil to 3 parts olive oil. If your skin is oily, use 1 part olive oil to 3 parts castor oil. Tweak as needed until you find what combo works best for you.
2) Pour a quarter-sized amount of combined oil into your palm, rub hands together and gently rub oil onto your (dry) face in a circular motion using your fingertips. Be thorough and don't rush; this can be a really nice facial massage, so enjoy it. Although the OCM does remove make-up (including eye make-up), do not directly apply oil in the eye area.
3) Steam your face by applying a hot, moist washcloth and leaving it in place until cool (takes about 1 minute).
4) Rinse the washcloth in warm water, and then wipe your face to remove excess oil. You can wipe gently over the eyes in this step, which removes eye make-up beautifully.

Recently, simple mom wrote a more thorough post about this with other resources if you'd like more detail. I only need to use the OCM at night. In the morning, I just rinse my face with cool water to help wake me up before applying my sunscreen. That's it!

From the get-go, this experiment had a leg up on my No 'Poo Month, because I'm prompted by curiosity and a personal search for something better that the standard. Whereas I'm actually quite satisfied with my shampoo (meets criteria that rationalizes its use), I have yet to find a commercial facial cleanser that I like. Most seem harsh and dry out my face severely. I've settled on a cleanser for "sensitive skin" that isn't quite so nasty, but it doesn't remove the little make-up I wear (mascara and lipstick). I've been using the OCM for about a week now, and (barring any future mishaps) I am sold. The process is like a mini-facial every night; so pleasant! It removes mascara without a trace, and my skin feels amazing. I'm over 30, so skin care (i.e., fighting the dreaded wrinkles) is a concern, but the OCM is so nourishing! I can even foresee that I will need less moisturizer over time, perhaps not at all during the day. I have never had problem skin (knock on wood!), so I don't know from experience how it would work for those who do...but you can see via simple mom that the OCM is endorsed for people who are acne-prone. I can highly recommend giving the OCM a try. You might be sold! If not, at least you might have fun giving yourself a really inexpensive facial.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No 'poo update: Week 3

I've fielded a lot of questions about this no 'poo experiment, most commonly "Why?". There are several reasons, but these are the big three:

1) Commercial shampoo and conditioner creates a lot of waste. The industry of it, the packaging of it, the transport of it, the use of it, what gets washed down the drain, what stays on your skin and in your hair, the disposal of empty packaging...

I am not a holier-than-thou, not-green-is-so-wrong, you-deserve-to-burn-for-your-wasteful-ways environmentalist, but neither am I in denial about the negative impact waste has on this planet, not just on ecosystems but also on all those who depend on those ecosystems, people included. The wealthier you are, the more disconnected you are from waste and its harmful effects. Just think of how many disposable products are available these days that weren't a few years ago, and how many we take for granted that our grandparents would never have considered when they were young. A close older friend told me her son wore cloth diapers because she simply couldn't afford disposables. She had a set number of cloth diapers (around a dozen) that she had to make last until he was potty-trained...and I bet she even used the cloth for cleaning after that. The sheer amount of waste we generate for luxury's sake is appalling. Some things just make life a lot easier (there's a lot to be said for disposable diapers), but some things are just downright ridiculous (consider individually wrapped, one-time-use, full-of-chemicals-yet-"flushable" toilet wipes). Even if you leave out the whole cycle of the shampoo industry from creation to use, you as the consumer know that on a regular basis, you toss out empty shampoo and conditioner bottles made from plastic. How many do you toss out a year? How many do we all toss out a year? Over ten years? Twenty? You see where I'm going with this.

2) Shampoo itself contains some pretty nasty stuff, albeit in minimal quantities.

Shampoo is a detergent, just like other detergents. It is very effective at removing oil, and it uses a lot of the same chemicals for this process as does dishwashing, laundry, and other detergents. Further, shampoos add shine because they contain mineral oil, a byproduct of distilling gasoline from crude oil. This byproduct exists in such vast quantities that it is cheaper to build it into an astounding array of daily use products than dispose of it safely. I personally am a bit over those first two things (probably more than I should be), but this last stuff caught my attention when I learned about it when baby Stephanie was a newborn: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLFS). These are foaming agents in shampoo, body wash, face wash, toothpaste...and they are also severe skin and eye irritants. There are lots of scientific studies you can read if you want the low-down, but it is generally held as truth that all commercial products containing SLS and/or SLFS use such minimal levels that there is no issue for that particular isolation. However, recent studies have questioned the real safe level of usage, given the amount of products that are regularly used in combination and the fact that these chemicals pass into the skin and build up internally. I learned about them as a parent of a newborn, because there are real concerns about infant and child eye development. Eye tissue also absorbs these chemicals and young eyes (especially newborns' eyes) are developing at such a rapid rate. There are concerns about long-term damage, and these concerns are gaining momentum because so many products contain the stuff. And if you look, you might be surprised at how many products you use (including most mass-produced "safe" baby products) contain either SLS, SLFS or both. My reading on the subject led me to further understand the potential harm these chemicals have on people with severely depressed immune systems, particularly people undergoing chemotherapy. On the bright side, there are commercially-available brands of shampoo that do not contain these chemicals. You can find lists of them online, or you can start reading labels. It's not a bad habit, though it can be time-consuming (and often discouraging).

3) I am curious.

This experiment, like almost any other, was prompted by curiosity. An alternative exists to the what is it like? Using baking soda and apple cider vinegar generates less waste (comes in recyclable cardboard and glass, respectively), is healthy for skin, doesn't leave build-up in my body or the shower, the pipes, or the sewage system, and (unlike most environmentally-responsible alternatives) is a LOT cheaper than the standard. I have the flexibility and interest to try it, so why not?

How went week 3?
It was interesting. My hair did really well in Bali, because the air was so humid that my hair felt more nourished than it really was. I got back here and had a major case of "ick" (as you read in the last update). I decided to treat my hair to a homemade hot oil treatment: 1/2 cup of olive oil heated with 1/2 cup dried rosemary, strained, applied to hair and left on for 15 minutes. The regimen said to "wash hair twice" to remove excess oil. Hardy-har-har. On the upside, this treatment did indeed nourish my hair. It feels very soft and luxurious, and it is nice to know this can be achieved with natural ingredients. HOWEVER. After four washes in two days, my hair was still so full of olive oil that it looked wet when it was dry. I felt and smelled like a veggie ready to be tossed into the oven for roasting. The attempts to wash it out also coated my entire body and shower in olive oil residue. It's been slippery around here. I finally broke down and gave it a single wash with shampoo. And you know what? If you want to appreciate what they say about shampoo being a detergent, use it to try to wash out copious amounts of olive oil from your hair. Much to my surprise, I hated the way it made my hair feel. For the first time ever, it really felt like a detergent and I didn't want it on my head. So even though a second wash with shampoo would have gotten out the rest of the oil, I decided to return to the baking soda and wait it out. Here we are four days later, and yes, I still have a bit of olive oil in my hair. Maybe that's why it is so soft and luxurious-feeling.
The hot oil experiment was not a total flop. I still think it could be a great idea if I were to use a LOT less oil (maybe a tablespoon or two), and I learned a surprising lesson. Now, into the home stretch...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bali Highlights

Markus and I are not your average tourists. We don't like resorts. We don't like crowds. We avoid the beaten path. We both enjoy learning about local customs and traditions, and Bali was fantastic for that! The Balinese people we met are absolutely lovely. They are genuinely warm, open and interested, particularly in families. Having children is all you need in place of introduction. Straight off, you will be asked where you come from and where you stay; these questions help them identify you and what you like. If you are alone, they will ask if you have children (never say you don't want any, which they cannot comprehend). They will tell you about their own children. Those who speak English are eager to share Balinese culture and traditions, and they will share as much as you want to know or as much as their English allows.

In attempt to avoid my usual droning on and on (no short version, especially when I'm excited by the topic), I will try to share some highlights as pictures with explanations.

Our hotel, Alam Sari Keliki. Most rooms were individual little buildings around the pool. They gave us the family suite up in the villa. It's further up the hillside and separate from everything else, so it was very peaceful and private. You can reserve the entire villa and gain use of the kitchen and the library/TV room, but we didn't miss TV and the food was so fantastic and cheap in the restaurant that we didn't miss the kitchen either. Alam Sari has a large organic vegetable garden, and most of the food served is harvested from their own garden. While we heard of tourists getting gastro issues in Bali, we had no trouble whatsoever. Our food was amazingly fresh, fabulously tasty, and carefully prepared. The hotel is environmentally sensitive. Wastewater is recycled so it doesn't end up in the river or the rice fields. We had most of the hotel to ourselves (between large groups), so Ellie had free reign of the pool and Stephanie could dine in the buff. They were both thrilled! The restaurant is open from 7am to 10pm, which made it so easy for us with our kids' strange eating times (ready for dinner by 4-4:30). It was super clean, well-appointed though simple, and very comfortable. The people could not have been kinder to us. One woman, Warsi, was our server at breakfast so often that Stephanie thought her name was "Morning!", since we always greeted her with a happy "good morning". When Warsi was off, Stephanie would ask, "Where Morning?"
The hotel is a 20-30 minute drive into Ubud. There is a free shuttle 3 times per day, but there was almost always someone available to take us in for a minimal fee (maybe $6) whenever we wanted to go. They also were happy to take us to local attractions as requested, including the elephant safari, Bali Bird Park, the ancient temple site of Gunung Kawi and the holy springs at Tirta Empul.

The rice harvest was underway. In the village of Keliki, this is still done primarily by hand. They do not use machines, because although machines increase speed, they reduce workers. By keeping manual labor, more people in the village benefit from work. They earn wages or rice, both of which are helpful to their families. You can see lots of ducks in the foreground. One of our hosts, Dewa, called them "Balinese vacuum cleaners." They eat snails, weeds and other pests in the rice field and leave behind fertilizer, which allows the rice fields to remain organic. Pretty brilliant, actually.

The penjor. I became somewhat obsessed with these Galungan decorations. They are huge bamboo poles, wrapped and intricately decorated. Wood carvers decorate theirs with tiny carvings, decreasing in size as they near the top. Many people work rice and fruit into the wrapping, in thanks for the harvest and in hope that the birds will eat it and scatter the seeds. Everything about Galungan was so joyful! Being an atypical tourist, I felt uncomfortable taking pictures of people that day, worshipping, praying, doing all the things they do in their traditional clothing. I would be most uncomfortable if a busload of tourists showed up, entered the church and started snapping away while I was I just don't feel comfortable doing the same to others, even if they are used to it. Thus, my obsession with the penjor.

The holy baths at Tirta Empul, near Tampaksiring. At this site are the springs that are the primary source for a major river in the area. We watched the water bubble up out of the volcanic sand. They feed first into these baths, which are used for religious cleansing. Dewa told us that you pray for "right thinking, right speaking, right doing" as the water moves from the top of your head over your face and down your body. The water will wash away what makes you unclean or unhappy, any illness or not good thinking. Water is bottled and taken home to those who are too young, too old or otherwise unable to travel. In this, one of the larger baths, there is old Balinese writing over three of the spouts. These tell of specific uses for those particular baths, but most people cannot read that language anymore so all are used equally.

Bali was our first introduction to Asia, and I couldn't get enough. It is wonderful! It is so delightful to know that in less than four hours, we can be in a place that is so different! There was a pervasive sense of harmony there. One of the beliefs Dewa explained to us is a strong belief in cycles of life. Black and white fabric adorns temples, and it symbolizes the co-existence of good and not good. Westerners might say "good and evil", but Balinese people say "good and not good" because it implies less judgment and more acceptance that not good things are to be expected as a natural part of life. They no longer practice religious meditation in addition to prayer, but rather believe in meditating as part of work, focusing on whatever task is before them and being thankful for the good it provides: physically, mentally, spiritually. They believe not everything in life must be explained or understood. Dewa told us that many Balinese people do not know about the Bali bombings that killed 200 people. He did not tell his own grandfather, because he knew it would make him sad to know so many people had died for no reason. He did not tell his grandfather that the terrorists were Muslim, because his grandfather might start to think all Muslims are bad, though most Muslims are good. He did not tell him because his grandfather might feel despair and helpless because there would be no solution. Instead, he asked his grandfather about it in a "what if" scenario. This allowed his grandfather to think about it, offer solutions, and share wisdom. It allowed the discussion to be positive rather than negative. There is so much wisdom in this thinking.

What a day!

While we were away, the weather was a bit unusual here in Perth. The days were sunny and warmer than usual, just gorgeous by all reports. When we came home on Saturday, it was a shocking 37 degrees (that's about 100F) and dry as a bone. It was bizarre. Too hot for me. Too hot for summer even, and it is only early spring! Very weird. The plants didn't like it. Our strawberry plants are dead. Ellie's cubby house windowbox flowers are dead. And a massive colony of ants moved into the cubby house, especially (but not only) the stove. Although I'm sure there will be many people out there who will want to publicly flog me for spraying insecticide where my children play, we sprayed insecticide where our children play. We don't let the girls take real food into the cubby house (in hopes of avoiding bugs), so the ants must have been driven in by the heat...and the fact that our neighbors just sprayed their entire garden for pests, so these guys were on the move. The sheer numbers were too much to manage, and they were aggressive. We found Stephanie covered in ants (in her diaper too), crying pitifully and being biten...and this was outside the cubby house. It wasn't good. So Markus sprayed like crazy and blocked off the door with a big concrete slab for two days. Yesterday, I went in and cleaned out the carnage.

There were quite a few live ants still around, maybe trying to salvage the eggs (it really was a colony in there, eggs and all). I took everything out and hosed it all down. Then, I poured boiling water over the floor and sideboards. The boiling water should clear up the trail and keep the ants at bay (we hope). It was oddly satisfying to clean the cubby house so thoroughly.

Later, I was hit by the hayfever truck. When I say hit, I mean it ran me over, backed up and did it again and again for a few hours. I texted Markus that I was in allergy hell. He might have thought I was exaggerating until he came home and saw my face. Yikes. It was ugly, people. Yes, I have heard of antihistamines, but no, I didn't have any and don't really like taking meds anyway (I tend to have big reactions to even over-the-counter stuff). In my allergy-induced fog, I looked across the room, and saw this mess on the kitchen table...

...and it made me smile. I loved seeing all the evidence of happy girl work. Stephanie wanted to paint. Ellie wanted to work with beads. We just pushed everything else to the side and got busy with creating. It was so easy to transform it back again for dinnertime, and that made me smile too.

Yesterday was quite a day, but it was a good one too.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bali High

Where to start? What to share? There is oh-so-MUCH!
Now that we're back into our routine, we've run into lots of people who ask the obvious, "How was your holiday?" It seems a bit redundant to say "Bali was fantastic!"...but it really was (is!). Only a three-and-a-half hour flight from Perth to Denpasar took us to a completely different world. It's almost like Disney World; it even has a US$25 entry fee (temporary visa) and an AU$15 exit fee. Most Australians head for Kuta on the coast, and it's probably fair to say that (on a relative scale) Aussies have done for Kuta what Americans have done for Cancun. It's an inexpensive place for the big S's: sun, sand, shopping, service, and substances (well, alcohol at least, but that doesn't start with S). None of that appealed to us much. We have gorgeous beaches near Perth, so we opted instead for the lush interior, selecting a small hotel in the village of Keliki near Ubud in central Bali. Our flight times were odd, so we arrived at our hotel close to midnight the first night, only getting our first look around the next morning. Check out our view:

That's the volcano Gunung Agung, the tallest and most spiritually significant peak in Bali. Once the daylight hits the humidity, you cannot see it at all from Keliki, but early in the morning (before 7am), there it is. Magnificent.

Ubud is the cultural center of Bali. The villages all around it specialize in particular crafts. It's amazing. One does soft wood carving, another does hard wood carving, another for stone carving, gold and silver jewelry, clothing, miniature's incredible. Being in one of the small outlying villages, we would pass through some of the others on commutes into Ubud, and the level of craftsmanship on display were stunning. I'd love to go back and rent one of the ubiquitous scooters/motorbikes to see them all. With two wee kiddos in tow, we felt teased by all the richness around us. The girls travel well and usually manage one for-the-adults thing per day, but that's the most we push them. At first, Markus and I felt frustrated by our lack of freedom to explore, but then he reminded me that the other option is not to visit Bali right now at all (wise man).

The timing of our visit couldn't have been better. Our hotel regularly hosts school groups, and we arrived the day before one group left and we left the day another arrived. In between, we shared the hotel with a maximum of 6 other guests (including one family of four from Germany). Essentially, we had the whole place to ourselves. The rice fields were ready for harvest, most of which is still done by hand in the area where we visited. In the larger world, Ubud was hosting its annual "Ubud Writers Festival" (which alas ended on the first full day of our visit). This has grown in consequence over the years, so that it attracts authors from all over the world to come and give talks and workshops. This year, it even attracted a Nobel Prize winner, a source of great pride for the locals, though none of whom (charmingly) knew who it was. On Wednesday, the Hindu-practicing locals celebrated the festival of Galungan. This was a source of endless delight to me. I couldn't get enough of their penjor and temple decorations. Families not only pray at their family temples, but also at the village temple, temples belonging to other families helpful/close to them and other functional temples (such as the temples where they work, including the one at our hotel). It is such a joyful holiday. I loved seeing their traditional clothing and big smiles on everyone's faces. The children have three weeks of school holiday around Galungan to allow for the multi-day preparations and celebrations. The day before is really busy, finalizing decorations and preparing the offerings. Balinese people don't eat much meat, but they slaughter chickens and pigs for Galungan. Our so-informative-and-often-funny host, Dewa, explained that chickens symbolize greed, because they peck peck peck for food all day long, never satisfied; pigs symbolize sloth, as they flop over for long sleeps as soon as they've gorged themselves. These animals are slaughtered as part of a cleansing ritual. Some of the meat is offered to the gods, but the rest is happily consumed in feasting. On Tuesday afternoon, Dewa told us, "Today is very good day for Balinese people...not so good for chickens and pigs."

I could easily do a blog post for each day of our trip (would you mind if I did?). There was so much to see and do and learn. We snagged every opportunity to learn more about Balinese culture and traditions, and it was wonderful and fascinating. Bali is the only part of a developing country that Markus or I have ever visited where we felt no threat of crime or violence or even social unrest at any time. Some people have more than others, but by Western standards, nobody has much...but almost everyone seems to have enough. There is a pervasive sense of harmony in the ritual of their daily lives that comes through to an observant visitor even before it is explained. Religion plays a huge role. Over 80% of Balinese people are identified as Hindu, but Dewa told us most Balinese people don't align themselves solely with that religion. They have a blend of traditional beliefs with most practices centered around the Hindu faith, which came to Bali centuries ago.

Of course, the girls cared about none of this. They did have a fantastic time, though. When you ask Ellie about Bali, she reminisces about ice cream and the pool. Baby Stephanie was enraptured with the chickens that were just about everywhere, along with a few cows, duck in the rice fields, and of course the special trips to the elephant safari and the Sacred Monkey Forest. This morning, she took my finger and led me to the front door, saying, "Wanna see 'phant. Wanna go Bali." I don't blame you, darling.

In the interests of not going on and on even more than I already have, I'll wrap up this post. I've uploaded well over 100 pictures from the trip to our flickr account, and you can access them all by clicking on the flickr badge on the sidebar. Please let me know if you'd like more details (where we went, what we did, what we saw...). I will be so happy to share!

No 'poo update: Week 2

Yes, I actually schlepped baking soda and apple cider vinegar to Bali.
No, I didn't cheat.
I did not fall off of the No 'Poo Wagon...although I have to say, I no longer enjoy washing my hair.

Having my hair washed has always been my favorite part of getting a haircut. Even washing at home, I enjoy how refreshed and clean I feel afterwards, how nice and soft my hair looks and feels. NOT RIGHT NOW. I didn't even want to use the pool in Bali because it would mean I'd have to wash my hair, and I just don't enjoy it with the whole baking soda business. My hair is not enjoying it either. I might not be following the program correctly or maybe I'm just in the throes of the adjustment period, but if my hair stays as it is now, I will definitely not be a convert. They say the low point is week 2-3, so maybe that's where I am. That's why I'll stick it out for the month, to see if we (my hair and I) get beyond the weirdness.

So, what is my hair like these days?
When it's wet, it is extremely heavy around my head from all the natural oils. When dry, you can feel oil on my hair (enough to see a slight shine on your fingers after just touching my hair), even though it doesn't look greasy per se (no lingering grooves from the brush). That's around the scalp. The ends of my hair are straw-like dry and a bit frizzy. This part is apparently not unusual for people with long hair, even after being poo-free for a long time. I really need to get on the coconut oil bandwagon, but I didn't schlep that to Bali and it didn't occur to me to buy some there (though I probably could have, now that I think about it).

Sorry for the dark photo. I keep forgetting to have someone take one for me during the day, so I just used my computer to do it now.

The good news is I am more inspired to style my hair to keep the world from noticing how crap it looks. I did a fun twisty-twirly thing with bobby pins today that was raw-ther impressive, given the fact that I don't have an extra mirror to see what I'm doing behind my own head. Maybe this no-poo foray will have the added benefit of motivating me to style my hair more often. For now, it's on to Week 3...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For Meghan and Eric

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

We're back!

We're home again after a fantastic week in Bali. I've just uploaded 900 photos (yes, literally) to the computer. Once I go through those, I'll be posting and sharing stories and pictures from our trip. Hope you enjoyed a great week last week!

Saturday, October 10, 2009


All week this week, I've been feeling the itch. It's time to go, time to move, time to get out and do something different! Although I never thought I would be able to make a true statement like this, I feel so amazed and blessed to realize that thinking back, I can't remember the last time we stayed in one country for an entire year. I'm not just talking about moving (thank goodness!); we usually travel internationally at least once a year. When Markus and I started our relationship, we lived in different countries (US and UK), and a tradition was born. When I'd visit him, we'd travel on the continent. When we moved to the US, we still made various journeys: Germany to visit family, Costa Rica, Belize, Vancouver... Due to extreme circumstances, our time in Qatar was full of travel: US, Germany, Sicily, Dubai, Seychelles... Then, living in Holland, everything was so close that it was almost silly not to hop borders. Along with multiple trips by plane or train to various spots, we drove a couple of hours to Antwerp for the day at least once every 6 weeks (they praise Belgian chocolate/beer/waffles for a reason, people!). Ellie's passport was nearly full by age 3. It's stunning.

Since we've moved to Australia, it's been a different ball game. Frankly, we've needed (and greatly appreciated!) the time to deprogram from the past four years of crazy. We wanted stability. We wanted to stay put, so stay put we have done. Now, it's time to get out and about, if only for a week. Soon, we will start our journey to visit yet another place I never thought I'd be so lucky to see. I cannot wait!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Chick on my shoulder

Yesterday morning, the girls and I drove out to visit the Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm. The weather has been absolute heaven this week, Thursday was our one day without playdate plans (whew!), so off we went! Both girls love it there! Ellie was hooked from our first visit a year ago, but now baby Stephanie is old enough to enjoy it too. Ellie still makes a beeline for the baby animals indoors. Those are the smallest (mainly chicks, baby rabbits and baby guinea pigs), so she can cuddle them in her lap to her dear-sweet-nurturer's-heart's content. She has always been incredibly gentle and careful with the animal babies, and it is so beautiful to watch. By comparison, it's all the more frustrating to watch other kids be so rough with them. The babies seem to understand how loving Ellie is, and they settle down peacefully in her lap. It is so sweet.

It is still school holidays, so it wasn't long before the animal farm was overrun. We arrived before opening time, but Farmer Lin let us in early. That gave us some lovely time with the baby animals before the crowds took over. After a while, I tore Ellie away from the indoor portion to allow Stephanie to explore her favorites, the larger animals outside. She is so excited by the cows, the sheep, the goats and all their respective babies. There were several new goat kids (very tiny!) that enraptured both girls, so we went in the pen. As soon as we did, they surrounded us, nibbling gently and hoping for a bottle. This led to great excitement and not a little fear in my own kids, who both clung to me with incredible strength and alas, prevented any photo ops.

Despite the increasing crowds, Ellie dragged us back inside to visit the small babies again before we called it a day. It was so packed with people that we could barely make our way inside, and the baby animals were looking mightily harassed. I lifted out one last chick for Ellie to cuddle, and in our hands, it calmed down much so that it didn't want to go back in the pen. When I opened my hands to place him back, he walked up my arm and snuggled down in the crook of my elbow. It was so cute that I let him stay for a while, but we needed to go so I straightened my arm to get him...and he waddled up to my shoulder and snuggled against my neck. Ellie snapped a photo for me.

Back outside, we tried to have a little lunch picnic before getting back into the car. Unfortunately, a huge tom turkey wanted to join our party. Baby Stephanie started shaking like a leaf at his approach, her little heart racing. She seemed to be debating just how little she liked him until he got right next to her and let out a loud "gobble gobble gobble" to seal the deal. She started wailing, Ellie clung tightly to my other arm, and it was time to go!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sidewalk chalk extravaganza

Back in April, we bought the most beautiful box of sidewalk chalk for the girls (although I can easily see buying this for adults too; look at those colors!).

This week, the warm sun inspired us to take our creativity (and snacking) outdoors.

No 'poo update: week 1

I've been poo-free for a week now, so I figured I'd update those of you who are unabashedly using me as a guinea pig. I've done two washes and am due for a third tomorrow. During the first wash, I immediately noticed how heavy my hair felt around my scalp, presumably with natural oils. My hair definitely felt different during and after both washes, though once dry, it looked relatively normal and felt very soft and clean. Over the week, I noticed my hair getting increasingly frizzy, especially around my face. I was expecting an oily period of adjustment, but this is more dry. The frizz is not attractive. Thus far, I have resisted my urge to hot-roll it into submission, because I want to see what will happen as the experiment continues. The urge to abandon this project altogether was quite strong on Day 5, when I mentioned to Markus how weird the frizz was and he replied with a sheepish, "Um, yeah...your hair doesn't look so nice." Call me old-fashioned, but I really don't want my husband to find me unattractive if I can help it. I'm not trying to be vain and shallow here, but I do still cling to the fact that I won "Best Hair" my senior year of high school (I wouldn't win it right now, I'll tell you that much). I almost quit right then, but he started backpedaling and clarified his comment, saying my hair wasn't nearly as shiny or full as it usually is (which is true) but he's proud of me for giving it a go and thinks I should stick it out for the month. Okay.
A recommended help for long hair is rubbing in a small amount of extra-virgin coconut oil while hair is damp. Other natural oils work well too (extra-virgin olive oil, almond oil), but coconut oil smells the best. I bought some, but I cannot find it anywhere. Alas. After the second wash (day 6), I applied about a teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil all over my hair. It was so minimal that I thought it would wear off on the towel or absorb in. It didn't. So today my hair is dry and clean...and visibly coated in a light slick of olive oil. Fabulous.

This is only the first week, and there was bound to be an adjustment period. By most accounts, the adjustment lasts for 2-3 weeks, so I guess I'll be sticking through it as my hair gets more freaky and I tweak the formula to combat long hair dryness.
Onward we go...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Oh dear...

Markus sent me this image as part of an email forward today, and I had to share it with you. I can't say I had ever made that association with the Christ image before, but (despite my best intentions) I might from now on. Since being amused by total blasphemy is most likely a big no-no, I'll be hoping not to get a seat too close to the public toilets while I'm attending Satan's orientation lecture. Thanks a lot, guys.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Warm sun means fresh local produce

And God created Roma tomatoes, so that man might enjoy pomodori al forno.
And He saw that it was delicious.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Playdate madness

This second week of school holiday is shaping up much more beautifully than the first. I think the girls needed that week to adjust to being together 24/7, and now they are having a blast! Another factor must be this fantastic spring weather we are (finally!) enjoying. The sun is shining, the breeze is blowing...not a cloud in the sky or dispositions! Ellie has playdates planned for almost every day this week. Today's friends arrived before 10am and went home again around 1pm. We all had a great time, but we are also, as they say in France, le trashed.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hitchcock Down Under

Have you seen the movie "The Birds"? Alfred Hitchcock must have gotten the idea for it after visiting Australia in the springtime. The usual suspects are magpies, which swoop with vengeance during the mating season. Their vicious swooping lasts for about a week. The only real solution is to avoid them the best you can, be sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat and don't look up at them to provide a facial target for beak and claws. Fun!

Yesterday, Markus was the victim of a surprise kamikaze attack from a wattle bird as he attempted to leave the house for work in the morning. He always cycles to work. He always parks his bike in the same place. Wattle birds are very territorial (usually with other birds), but Markus wasn't in any new territory, so the whole thing was rather odd. Even more odd was noticing throughout the day that our resident wattle bird attacked cyclists going up the road. It literally chased them all the way to the end of the road, swooping and snapping the entire way until they turned the corner. Then, it flew back to one of the trees around our house and calmly observed its domain. Careful observation has led to this very strange conclusion: the bird is not swooping the cyclists themselves; the bird is attacking the bikes! Thankfully, it has no interest in pedestrians, so the girls are safe in the yard as long as they don't touch any of the bicycles. We can only take the advice of wearing hats, keeping our faces down, and hoping it stops soon. The whole thing is really crazy and not a little maddening for the people on bikes (Markus included!). Just in case you are disinclined to believe me, I captured this morning's attempt to leave for work:

Just one more item for the "Life is different Down Under" list!

No, Markus's arm isn't injured. He is holding at his side in what I assume is his best attempt not to whack the bird for all it's worth. It really is quite unpleasant to be dive-bombed repeatedly by a psychotic bird.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

October is "No 'Poo" Month

I've recently read of a growing trend among greenies: stop using shampoo or conditioner to wash hair. The idea is that hair does not require all the chemicals and minerals in commercially-produced products to keep it clean and healthy. As people with oily hair can tell you, the scalp produces lots of natural oils that are intended to keep hair in tip-top condition. The more products (and heat styling) people use, the more damage they cause and the more products they need to combat/repair it. I'm a great candidate for giving "no 'poo" a go because I am so low-maintenance (okay, lazy) about styling my hair. I don't blow dry. I don't use styling products (hairspray, gel, etc.). I don't wash my hair every day (every 2-3 days does the trick just fine). An extra qualification is that I don't work in an office. With the change to being poo-free, there is a good chance of a transitional period when hair will become significantly more oily. The scalp has become accustomed to being stripped of natural oils by shampoo, so it overcompensates. Without shampoo, there could be an oily mess for a few weeks. In my line of work, that really doesn't matter. Let's face it, if it all goes pear-shaped this month (which I doubt it will), the last poo-free day will be Halloween, so my hair could be ready to go!

This is the "before" shot, taken today. I'm due for a wash tonight; the last wash was two nights ago.

So, how to proceed?
Shampoo will be replaced with a mix of baking soda and water in a ratio of 1 Tablespoon to 1 cup.
Conditioner/rinse will be replaced with a similar ratio of apple cider vinegar and water, with an occasional treat of rosemary tea (clipped fresh from my garden).
I have long hair, so I also plan to apply a small amount of coconut oil to damp hair each time.
Several sites have all-natural recipes for styling products (if needed) and deep conditioning treatments for once a month. I will forego those during my month-long trial period for purposes of evaluation of the basics. I'll let you know how it goes! Anyone interested in joining me?

To give credit where credit is due, my information was gathered from the following blogs:
Simple Mom
The Herbwife's Kitchen
Clothesline Alley

Snippets of our morning

Ellie, proud and excited: "Mama, I just sneezed out a little piece of Rice Krispie!"

Stephanie, whacking her princess-dress-clad little body: "CUTE!"