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Wendyl Nissen - The Green Goddess and the Good Life

Once upon a time, the Green Goddess ducked out of the rat race, and went home to bake bread, grow veges, keep chooks and have the life that her nana had lived.

She began making her own cleaning products out of baking soda, vinegar and a few essential oils, and discovered health and healthier relationships in the process.

Wendyl Nissen's life was a roundabout of deadlines, stress, pressure, and writing about things she wasn't necessarily interested in, much less passionate about. About ten years ago she re-evaluated her life and decided to leave the high-flying print and television journalism career behind. 

This is not the first time I've heard this story: a woman leads a hectic, stressful life, frantically trying to be all things to all people - a super-woman and super-mum - and then re-evaluates in response to a major health crisis. It is a story told by many a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Except that Wendyl had no health crisis. In fact, there was no real watershed moment in which she decided something had to change. It was a more gradual process.

"At about 40 I started asking myself if this [her high-flying journalism career] was what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life," she explained.

"So I came home to work freelance, and found more time for my kids, and more time to read books."

On the surface of it, Wendyl's life became the antithesis of the feminism her mother espoused as she was growing up. But as she points out to me, as we sit in the dining room of the Michael King Centre where she is in "semi-hibernation" working on her latest book, "feminism is about having a choice." And hers was to go back to the life that her nana had lived.

She said it felt really good, and in her writing she started focussing on what she was passionate about. She was heavily influenced by author Michael Pollan, described on his website as "writing about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment".

She admits that she's always been a bit of a hippy; a child of the sixties. Her mother was a feminist with a career and children, taking advantage of all the modern conveniences on offer, including processed foods and supermarket shopping. In fact, Wendy's mum doesn't quite get Wendyl's decision to return to a simpler life.

However, it seems to me, as I talk to Wendyl, that it really isn't a simpler life. She strikes me as a bit of an "A-type" personality. She may be "working from home", but her life is hardly limited to feeding the chooks and scrubbing the kitchen with vinegar and baking soda while the latest batch of bread is baking. For a start, here she is desperately trying to finish her latest book, while churning out columns for the Weekend Herald, Herald on Sunday and the NZ Women's Weekly. She has her own show on Newstalk ZB and on top of that I swear I saw her on a trailer for the TV3 comedy show, Would I Lie to You. 

The wholesome, natural cleaners that she started making for herself ten years ago, and then made for friends, has turned in to a full-blown cottage industry with her son making copious quantities of an ever-increasing range of products in their basement.

"The change in lifestyle was originally part of an intention to slow down," Wendyl tells me. I raise my eyebrows and think "so, this is slowing down"; I'm exhausted just making notes on it all.

She sort of sheepishly admits that she is too busy and getting busier, and the ideas keep coming (there's that A-type personality again; she just can't turn off her brain).

"But I will be able to look back and feel proud of what I've achieved," she tells me. 

The sceptic may be inclined to think that she is just hopping on the clean and green bandwagon and making a decent amount of moolah doing it. 

But there is something very down to earth, wholesome and comfortable about the Green Goddess empire that Wendyl has created. It is very easy to believe that this really is about a better lifestyle for not only her and her family, but the planet and everyone on it. After all, if it was just a get rich quick scheme, why would she post her recipes (and labels of her products) on her website for all to take advantage of? 

Wendyl is also realistic and moderate. She believes in being as healthy as possible - physically, spiritually, mentally. But she says there are no absolutes, no black and white. There is none of that evangelical "this is the way, the truth and the light" from her. She says that the trick is not to do it all at once, to make changes to your life slowly, one thing at a time.

For those who want Wendyl's life, or at least part of it, as I do, or are even just looking for a great, old-fashioned healthy recipe for a cleaner or two, come along to the Breast Cancer Network AGM on the 16th of May and hear Wendyl, the Green Goddess, speak passionately and convincingly about how to live like our nanas did.


Copyright © 2012 Sue Claridge

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