Embrace the Now

ApplesThe seasons are changing, but I’m not ready to let the late summer give way to autumn just yet. In the garden, the pinks, purples and yellows of mid summer are slowly giving way to jewel bright reds and blacks as the trees become laden with berries. There are huge rosehips and the rowan trees are covered with red berries. The apple tree is heavy with fruit, it looks like we’ll get our best crop ever. The hazel trees are full of nuts, which means the squirrels are gathering. But it’s not autumn yet (despite what “Instagram” is saying, the changing colours, bronzing of the leaves, copper tones in the bracken are normal for this time of year). They reveal the promise of autumn’s bounty, and yet we still have summer skies, warm afternoons and plenty of sunshine to enjoy. Late summer offers so much, the opportunity to spend time with friends, and with the kids before they go back to school. Some of my clearest summer memories are of late summer blackberry forays, climbing trees still in full leaf and discovering that elder berries are bitter and best eaten cooked, not straight from the tree!

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I think we’re prone to forgetting that late summer offers us so much. I have ripe, red raspberries. The elder berries aren’t ripe yet, but the deep red stems are so beautiful and I love to admire the light as it filters through. In a few weeks the starlings and blackbirds will strip them in a matter of days  if I don’t get there first.

Before we rush headlong into autumn (which, if I’m honest)  is my favourite season), let’s just slow down and admire the now. There’s plenty of time to gather together all those autumn recipes for pickles, gins and cordials. Sit in the garden and enjoy the late afternoon sun if you can. Pick the late summer vegetables and last of the soft fruits. Take a moment to reflect on how beautiful this time of year can be, forget the rainy days that caused a change in summer plans. Go for a walk in the woods, on the beach or your local park. The blue skies are out there if you take the time to look!

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Embrace the prospect of autumn, but don’t forget to enjoy the now. Why not start by making a simple fruit cordial? I shared my recipe for redcurrant cordial way back in 2011 and I’m still using the same recipe today. You can swap the redcurrants for any summer fruit (or even a combination), my favourite this year has been rhubarb and raspberry.  If those rainy days threaten to spoil your outdoor fun, making a batch of cordial is a terrific way to bring some summer into your life – you can even use a bag of frozen berries – call it domestic foraging!

 

 

 

A Small Win for Zero Waste Beauty

I’ve been huge fan of Aveda for years*. Make up is sold in refillable compacts, ingredients are not tested on animals and best of all, if you order by post the packaging is plastic free (no sign of that pesky plastic tape I complained about in a previous post about our attempts to live plastic free). The Aveda packaging pictured above can all be reused. The box will most likely be used to send a commission design to a client, the shredded cardboard will go in the compost . Worms love cardboard, and at this time of year it’s a useful addition to mix with the huge amount of greenery and grass that is accumulating. Aveda’s plastic containers are made of at least 85% post consumer waste plastic and the empties can be recycled or taken back to the store . They have also pioneered the use of bio plastics and plant based packaging.

Used with  my crochet washable cleanser pads or washable face cloths this makes my beauty routine pretty close to zero waste.washable make up remover pads.jpgFor me, zero waste isn’t about recycling more, it’s about buying less in the first place and making sure the companies I buy from have considered the life cycle of their raw materials. It’s not enough to just print “recyclable where facilities  are available” on the side of a bottle. I want to buy from companies that use materials that  can be used again and again. Even better if they can be refilled and reused.  I’d be so much happier if we went back to the “old days” when you could take your empties back to the Body Shop.  (The Body Shop stopped offering refills in 2002, according to the Independent, because only 1% of consumers used the service). In the UK, very few shops offer a refill service, but I have a feeling this is going to change as the demand for plastic free packaging hots up.

Of course, making your own beauty products is the “holy grail” of zero waste, but  I’m not really enthused by the idea of home made soap, toothpaste and deodorant. For now, I’m calling this plastic free parcel from Aveda  a win in my goal for a less cluttered, uncomplicated life.

  • This post is not sponsored. All products  were bought, not provide free of charge in return for review or mentions on social media

 

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My Zero Waste Travel Essentials

Zero waste travel essentials –  bag, Alpkit spork, water bottle and a flask

Mr T and I love to travel. We like to wander and explore, to discover great cafes and local food. We have always travelled light (one rucksack each, hand luggage only – except for a 3 week trip to America when we also  took a suitcase between three of us). We have visited  over a dozen European cities by train, always making do with what we can carry on our backs. Often we have a tiny budget and that has led to several zero waste strategies almost by accident.

This time last year we were in Copenhagen, a long promised treat. This was also the first holiday where I deliberately set out to think about the  waste  our holiday would create and made a plan to avoid as much disposable plastic as we could. I was surprised how easy it was, and here are my tips based on that experience. This isn’t a sponsored post, I’ve included links to some of my favourite tried and tested products all of which Mr T and I have bought over the years.

  1. Do your research. We made sure to check out the sustainability policies of the hotel before we booked. You can usually find this on the hotel website (check out Macdonald Hotels website for an example). We chose a great, mid priced  hotel (with a gin bar!) that supplied toiletries in refillable wall mounted containers (no tiny “complimentary” bottles) ; showers not baths and supplied real cups and glasses to every room. If in doubt, ask. Most hotels are happy to oblige with requests such as “please can we have a small  jug of real milk instead of UHT cartons”. If your room supplies plastic cups, pop down to the bar and ask for a real glass, just because it’s in your room doesn’t mean you have to use it. Same with bottled water, snacks in the mini bar or freebies you don’t need and won’t use. Just leave them for the next occupant.
  2. Be prepared. We always travel with a few essentials. A flask for coffee (most hotels will fill it for you over breakfast and it’s cheaper than buying a coffee on your journey). My Platypus water bottle is probably my favourite. When empty, you can fold it up and pop it in your back pocket or rucksack, when you stop for coffee or lunch ask your waiter to refill it from the tap (never been refused). A spork , this one came from Alpkit and it’s great for camping or for take aways on holiday. A reusable bag is a must, use it to carry shopping, kindling on the beach or wet swimming gear. Ours came from Onya. If you have room, a tub for sandwiches or picnic lunches is very handy ( in Copenhagen, we ordered a room service breakfast which was so huge, we managed to eat our fill, then  pack a delicious picnic lunch using the tupperware tubs we had carried with us. We also filled our flask, so we could enjoy a cheap  refreshment break later! Learn a bit of the language so you can ask for “No bag please” or “Without a straw”.
  3. Indulge in a slow coffee. Instead of refusing a disposable coffee cup, take time to indulge in a slow coffee. Stop in the piazza or town square, choose a spot (sunny or shady), order a coffee and watch the world go by. Amuse yourself watching fellow tourists with their map upside down, the local family shopping, chat to your waiter and get a great recommendation for lunch.  Take time to notice your surroundings, check out  the guide book or read a book.
  4. Watch the locals. If you want to avoid lunch on a paper plate, pizza in a polystyrene container or shots in a plastic pot, watch the locals.  Observe what they order and where. Wander down side streets and find a restaurant that serves great local food. Where are the teenagers hanging out? You can bet the pizzeria they’re going to is cheap as well as tasty! At the market, look and see which stalls are filling plastic bags with fruit and avoid them. Watching the locals, it’s easy to spot which bakeries are selling baguettes in paper wrappers (or no wrapper at all), or which bar is offering tapas in glass dishes and on  real plates.
  5. Shop wisely. Do you really need to take back that novelty fridge magnet of the Basilica? Take photos to remind you of places you visit and things you see. If you must take home presents, choose local drinks, food or locally made crafts from natural materials. If you need a “thank you” gift for the neighbour who watered your plants or  fed your cat consider giving them a voucher for their favourite restaurant instead of a holiday memento. Your baggage allowance will thank you – and they probably will too!
  6. Pack sensibly. If you’re travelling by air, you’ll need to make sure your toiletries comply with airline rules. Save small sample bottles or food containers for your journey  (for years I’ve been using a child’s liquid paracetamol bottle with a child safe lid to store my shampoo). Look in your cupboards and  find uses for all those plastic containers you kept “just in case”,  instead of binning them. Use a bar of soap instead of carrying liquid shower gel, find products that multi task to help you travel light. Instead of buying a tiny toothpaste tube, I decant mine into a small bottle that once had eye drops in it. Rinsed and with the dropper made larger by cutting off the tip, it makes the perfect travel size toothpaste tube.
  7. Expect the unexpected. Even the best prepared and super efficient zero waste traveller will struggle occasionally. When this happens (your ice cream is served with a plastic scoop, or your ketchup arrives in a plastic pot), don’t get hot under the collar, explain to the vendor why you’re unhappy and maybe they’ll learn to offer them to customers instead of just supplying them automatically. Accept the small wins you’ve made  this holiday and the difference you’ve made and move on.  Enjoy being in a new place, with interesting sights and fascinating people. Enjoy your holiday.

 

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Slow Down, You Move Too Fast (Got to Make the Moment Last).

20160325_134452OK, so that’s paraphrasing Paul Simon, but I find myself singing this hippy, trippy song on my daily walks. It makes me smile as I wander.

I don’t wear headphones when I walk. I think I would miss the sounds of nature, the blackbird singing her heart out in the trees, the laughter of kids in the forest school, even the whoops from Go Ape when I get closer to Delamere Forest car park.

I know that walking, commuting or doing chores are prime candidates for multitasking. For listening to podcasts, audiobooks or a random playlist. But I just don’t enjoy noise when I walk (or when I write / design / proof read). My brain only seems to be able to do one thing at a time. I can’t read and listen to music; I can’t walk and listen to podcasts. I can breathe fresh air and notice the world around me.

In search of slow, I wander in the woods or step out of the garden gate into the fields. I take time to look around and to listen. I mull over the tasks ahead, I dwell (too much) on yesterday’s failings or problems I can’t solve. I might meet a neighbour, also out walking; often they’ll remove one ear bud and try to hold a conversation whilst their playlist continues. A tinny background noise as we exchange village gossip (garden produce successes, a new neighbour or another house for sale).  I want to shout “Unplug yourself”!

But, shutting ourselves out from the world has become the norm. I am the odd one out on the train because I’m not constantly scrolling through my smart phone or wearing headphones. I used to worry about this. Friends told me I was leaving myself exposed, that random strangers would “bother” me, that I would feel safer and more cocooned if I took refuge in my electronic devices.

I love those random conversations; if I am occasionally “bothered” by the person next to me I move seats. More often I discover fascinating stories, a man fresh out of prison on his way to visit the son he hasn’t seen in 15 years; the grandmother off to meet her first grandchild (yes, lots of photos, plenty of proud smiles); the teenager visiting a favoured university for an open day who has never been on a train (“Mum drives us everywhere”). We once took a train trip around Europe; we met friendly, interesting people on our travels. In cafes they would recommend their favourite flavour of ice cream or tell us where to eat dinner (In Italy a waiter at our hotel told us to eat at his brother’s restaurant “I grow the wine he sells, it’s my hobby”. It was the most delicious Montepulciano I’ve ever tasted).

On my walks I learn to recognise the call of birds, to hear the wind as it rushes through leaves in autumn, I hear the crunchy frost under my feet in winter. These are my mindful moments. I don’t need a 10 minute podcast to show me how to slow down, empty my mind and let go of those anxieties that cloud my judgement, The sights and sounds of nature are all I need.

Do one thing at a time, do it well. It sounds fine in theory, but it’s so tempting to rush through the “to do” list, to move on to the next chore. My working life is governed by deadlines, sometimes I need to work late, long hours or weekends. It’s not healthy and not always productive, but necessary. Finding ways to slow down, to relish the small moments of joy keeps me balanced. If your balance is an audio book on the daily commute, then that’s fine. I’m not suggesting everyone should unplug all of the time. Maybe some of the time? Use your time in ways that are productive and satisfying, ask yourself what strategies work for you. Find your own slow.

You and me, we’re different people. There’s no right, no wrong journey the slow life. Just a gradual shift to happiness and contended living.

I tread my own path. And I’m feelin’ groovy!

Can I Really Be Plastic Free?

Plastic – we just can’t avoid it – can we?

I’m fascinated and inspired in equal measure by the bloggers, writers and instagrammers who share their zero waste or plastic free journeys.  Cutting down (or even cutting out) disposable or single use plastic is one of my goals and so Mr T and I tried to live “plastic free” for one week.  We’re pretty “Green” already, so I thought that avoiding single use and disposable plastic would be quite easy. I was proved wrong and the experience led me to a few conclusions, which I’ll share at the end. The photo above shows our household bin after one week. It’s not pretty, but I wanted to share it, just to try and illustrate how I’m part of the problem and also trying (and failing) to be part of the solution. In contrast, our recycling bins are overflowing with paper , unwanted marketing brochures, cardboard packets, glass jam jars, beer cans, deodorant canisters and miscellaneous household ephemera). Reducing our recycling is another goal we’re working on. We don’t use plastic bin bags, we realised a while back that our household bin only contains packaging (Cheshire help us recycle almost everything else), so the bag became redundant.

You can search online for some pretty gruesome images of plastic waste,  and the facts about how much plastic goes to land fill are quite scary, but I don’t feel the need to share them here.  You can “search engine” them for yourself.

Now, on to our week:

Monday: Off to the supermarket. I thought this would be easy, we already take our own shopping bags, and take our own plastic bags for bagging up loose veg. It seemed daft to me that we would take our own carrier bags, but carry on using single use bags for fruit and veg, so we switched to a combination of cotton bags and re-using plastic bags a few years back (after watching a film called Message in the Waves – I’ve added a clip at the end of this post).  I came unstuck (no pun intended) with the tiny sticky labels on the cabbage, peppers and bananas. I didn’t bag them, but when I got home I realised the little stickers with the variety and origin are plastic. Even my local fruit and veg shop has these. Apparently they are required additions. Ho hum. A friend came to visit, she refuses to drink our goat’s milk (“It tastes grassy”) and turned her nose up at the raw milk from our village farm (“Is that safe? Isn’t it full of germs?”). So a trip to the village shop was needed. The small bottle of semi skimmed cow’s milk had a tamper proof seal, which can’t be recycled. Apparently these are mandatory. “Consumer demand”, I was told. It seems we’re so mistrustful of our fellow human beings we need tamper proof seals on just about everything we buy. The remainder of the milk we froze, ready  for the next visitor, the bottle and cap went in the plastics recycling bin.

Tuesday: How Green are disposable contact lenses?  Mr T occasionally wears disposable contact lenses. According to his optician, they’re “90% water and biodegradable”, but the single use packaging is made of foil and non recyclable plastic. On the up side Mr T doesn’t wear them every day, but I can’t find a way around the packaging and everything I’ve read tells me they’re not biodegradable  at all and just end up in landfill. Mr T’s optician had also told him they can be flushed down the loo – wrong – they should be disposed of with your non recyclable household rubbish.

Wednesday: I really thought I’d be OK with my laundry routine. We buy liquid wash in a 5l container and refill and old plastic bottle for easy dispensing. Mostly we wash at 30 degrees, on a full load. My pegs are made of recycled plastic (great, lots of Eco Brownie Points there), but those pesky pegs have been a thorn in my side. Every time I hang out the washing, at least one breaks, the plastic has become brittle. I emailed the manufacturer, who told me the recycled plastic “can become brittle when exposed to sunlight”!!! Honestly, I feel that warrants three exclamation marks. What’s the point of a peg you can’t expose to sunlight? I could (In fact I think I will), write a whole blog post on the stuff that’s sold as eco friendly, but really isn’t. I understand the need to have markets for recycled plastic, but if they’re not up to the job, it’s just another fail. I’m going back to wooden ones. At least when they break they go in the compost or for fire lighting.

Thursday: I need a new toothbrush. Have you ever tried to find a truly environmentally friendly toothbrush? You can buy ones with bamboo handles, but the bristles are nylon (and despite what you might read on the packaging, it’s rarely the biodegradable sort). I ordered one online, after looking at recycled plastic brushes, latex and handles with replacement heads, I decided this would be a the best, if most expensive option. It arrived in a plastic lined jiffy bag. Big fail. Apparently the order was “fulfilled by a third party, who don’t share our environmental values” I was told. At least I can reuse the packaging next time I have a small parcel to post.

Friday: Fail, fail, fail. When will magazines stop sending out subscriber copies in plastic bags? I’ve emailed so many publishers about this and never get  a satisfactory answer. Yes, I know I could switch to digital subs. But I’m old fashioned, I like a proper magazine to read and I like passing them on to friends and family. Once discarded we use them as fire lighting for the woodburner, or put them in the recycling bin. Two charity bags came through the letterbox, I managed to give one back as I happened to be near the door when it was delivered, but now I’m stuck with a bag I don’t need and didn’t ask for.  I picked up my dry cleaning, yet another plastic hanger I didn’t ask for – at least the assistant agreed to take it back.

The Weekend:Another online delivery. This time in a cardboard box, the glass bottle inside protected with cellulose chips. But the tape was plastic. I know the worms in my compost love cardboard. But they never touch the plastic tape and every year I pull loads of it out of the compost heap and put it in the bin for landfill. There must be a decent non plastic packing tape by now? Then my supermarket delivery arrived (Ocado earn gold stars because they buy back plastic bags for recycling). I have a chronic illness and I work from home. Sometimes a supermarket delivery wins out over the effort of driving to the shops. Every piece of fruit and veg was wrapped in a bag labelled as “not currently recycled”, the cardboard box of granola had a plastic bag inside and even the free magazine was wrapped in polythene.

So, we sat down with our bottle of biodynamic wine (glass bottle, real cork) and looked back over the week. Our experiment certainly highlighted a few areas where we could “do better”. But, as consumers we’re pretty much at the mercy of retailers and manufacturers. I’ve reached the conclusion that plastic free is a great aspiration, but will only really be an option when single use or disposable plastic is designed out of the supply chain. As consumers, we need to start asking companies  to look at alternatives and stop selling us the myth that single use or disposable means convenience.

I feel strongly that manufacturers, retailers and governments have a role to play here. It’s not enough for committed individuals to say no to single use plastic.  It’s going to take a real shift in how we live, shop and consume. So, was our plastic free week* really a failure? No, I think it was a small triumph. After one week, our bin is definitely emptier than usual. It took a bit of time and thought and there are still a few areas where I haven’t found a workable solution. I’m still looking for a perfect replacement for my disposable razor, dental floss and toothpaste tube.

Have you tried to be plastic free? I would love to hear how it worked out for you. Do you have any tips for avoiding the pitfalls we encountered this week? Or thoughts on how  we can be part of a plastic free future? If you haven’t really considered this before, you might like to read this piece “Could you go for a month without plastic?”

Or if you’re already concerned about plastic pollution, maybe you’d  take a look at this Greenpeace petition, asking our governments to legislate against single use plastic.

*We set out to avoid single use and disposable plastic items. Sadly, a completely plastic free home isn’t achievable for us – yet.

Note:

This post was updated on 14th June 2017

The film Message in the Waves was made by the BBC Natural History Unit  in 2007.

 

 

 

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Intention, Not Perfection

Well, first news is  we’re “normal”.

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I’ll qualify that. I’ve been struggling with how to describe our lifestyle to others, and eventually I’ve realised the obvious. We’re normal. Our lifestyle is normal for us. And, just as in every other aspect of our lives, everyone has a different idea of what that means. We constantly compare ourselves to others, which can be quite unhealthy and unhelpful. Whether its jobs, homes, holidays or the behaviour of our little ones, it seems we can always find a way to shame others or feel bad about ourselves. But I’m not into shaming, I don’t buy into the idea that my life is “better ” or worse than anyone else and that means I’m giving myself  (and you)  permission to stop the guilt and the anxiety.

I’ve been fretting about all that plastic in my waste bins (the recyclable and the non-recyclable). I feel really guilty that I’m deliberately buying stuff that will never go “away”. It’s become something of an obsession. I can’t stop myself reading and googling about the truth behind plastic’s short term convenience over long term harm to people and the planet. Someone recommended I read Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson; she wrote a blog and now promotes her book and her lifestyle all over the world. It’s a great read, plenty of food for thought and her commitment to not bringing potential waste into her home and a refusal to throw stuff “away” is admirable. I’ve also been recommended that we go “plastic free” or “waste free”, in fact any number of lifestyle choices have been presented to me which involved, refusing, giving up and going without.

But is it achievable for me and the Mr? I don’t think so. The whole concept, of “giving up” and going without just doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I’m not a “giving up” kind of person. As a Catholic child I rebelled against Lent, choosing positive actions over weeks of self-denial. I could never give up chocolate, but I would promise to make my bed every day instead. Bea Johnson’s approach is to rethink those 3R’s we’re so familiar with (reduce, reuse recycle) and instead she advocates a 5 R’s approach. The first of which is “Refuse”.  She says we should all learn to say “No thanks”, more often. I take her point, but I prefer to reduce. Choosing to take a cotton tote bag shopping, using a washable cup for take away coffee and carrying my own water bottle I’m already choosing to refuse disposables. I think my approach is more positive. It allows for the inevitable “blips”, those trips when you just aren’t prepared. I also think that the concept of refusing is quite negative. At one point Bea Johnson talks about asking her boys to refuse candy when out trick or treating so they don’t bring waste into the house. That’s a big ask for a small boy – I’m not sure Mr T would give up his packets of crisps and chocolate bars so easily! I’m uneasy with the idea of any philosophy that invites failure. That’s why diets don’t work for me. I beat myself up every time I “fail”.

Mr T and I live an intentionally simple life, but we certainly have acquired a lot of stuff we don’t need.  I was mulling over this concept of reducing versus refusing when I opened the drawer of my dressing table. The one where I keep my beauty essentials along with all those freebies and samples that seems to accumulate almost without thought.  I like to think I buy natural beauty products, avoiding products that have been tested on animal, but  I’m wary of  companies that boast about their eco credentials. You’d think those claims would mean the packaging was easier to dispose of or recycle. However, even the organic hair serum I paid an arm and a leg for turns out to be packaged in a non-recyclable pump dispenser (and annoyingly, I can’t see how it can easily be taken apart when I get near the bottom. So unless I attack the packaging with a bread knife I’ll lose the last inch of product). And what about all those tiny sample pots and single use sachets? It always feels great to snag a freebie at the makeup counter or to be given a free sample. But my dressing table drawer is full of unopened tubes and sachets I’ll never use. Those trial sizes that come free on magazine covers or with a full size purchase always seem so exciting, but judging by my dressing table, they soon lose their appeal.  In an effort to make my morning and evening routines less complicated I’m going to think more carefully before I accept those freebies in the future. Not just because their plastic packaging can’t be recycled and won’t break down in landfill, but because accumulating stuff for the sake of it is making me uneasy. I intend to bring less free samples into the house, but I’m not going to beat myself up when the occasional trial size finds its way into my home.

I used to make my own hand salve and lip balm, and so I’m going to find that recipe and start making my own again (I have lots of tiny pots and containers thanks to all those beauty freebies). That will stop the flow of empty hand cream tubes and lip salve tubs that fill my bedroom waste basket. It’s going to be hard to stop myself asking for “nice hand cream” at Christmas – but if I intend to make more and buy less, then I won’t need any – and less trips to the beauty counter means less opportunity to dither over a free sample!

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be asking myself some hard questions and searching for answers as I figure out how I can simplify my life and lift this feeling of unease that’s affecting me so much right now.  So, if you’ve got an eco-worry; a recycling dilemma or just want to know more about living with less; just ask. I can’t promise to know the answer, but we can find out together and help each other.

I’m not going to admonish myself when my Lupus means accepting a supermarket delivery filled with fruit and veg in non-recyclable packaging. But’ I intend to plan and prepare better so those emergency deliveries aren’t needed as often by stocking my freezer. Life is about intention, not perfection.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt for Unsplash

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Saying Yes, Not Saying No

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and get in touch after my last post – blimey what a confused lot we are! Thanks also to the kind friend who reminded me that we can never please all of the people all of the times – and that no-one can do everything. The task of living a “good life” becomes overwhelming. It’s much easier to break down our intentions into steps (big and small) and recognise successes and failures as part of the journey. I was also reminded of the short  film The Story of Stuff, which was released ten  years ago If you haven’t seen or heard of this, do go and check out the website or listen to the Story of Stuff Podcast.

And special thanks to the person who reminded me of my own advice: When you want to encourage people to change their behaviour tell them what they can do, not what they shouldn’t do. So, heeding my own advice, here’s what we’re saying “yes” to.

We’re saying yes to:

Re-usables

I’ m digging out my crochet cotton make up remover pads (that means saying no to future purchases of disposable cotton wool). You’ll be able to find the free pattern over on my knitting and crochet website later this week.  I’ll remember to take my Sigg water bottle out with me to avoid any temptations to buy bottles when I’m thirsty. I’m keeping up with the habit of carrying a cotton tote in my handbag (no accidental plastic bag purchases). We’ll continue to drink fresh coffee made using our cafetiere and compost the coffee. When a single use option is the only option, we’ll say no, or find a way to repurpose the packaging. We’re already well down this path, but we can definitely do “better”.

Meat and Dairy:

Yes, I know all about industrial meat production, factory farming and food waste. I’ll keep buying free range meat from the local farm shop, eggs from a friend and cow’s milk from the self serve machine at our local farm. This is the issue which seems to create the most conflict among groups and individuals trying to promote a greener or more ethical life. I don’t want to argue about the merits for and against (I was vegan, I worked for an anti vivisection charity, I am at peace with my choices). We’ll continue to eat plenty of fish and vegan dishes (they’re already a part of our weekly meal plans) and I’ll make sure to bulk  buy and freeze so we don’t waste anything and reduce the overall amount of packaging that comes into our home.

Buy more glass:

When I do buy something in a container I’m choosing glass first. All the research I’ve done (and my own gut instinct) leads me to believe that plastic is just scary. It leaches chemicals, it’s hard to recycle, it pollutes the ocean (I don’t want to lecture – make up your own mind, but we’re definitely heading towards a life with less plastic). Mr T drinks goat’s milk and so I’m choosing tetra pak over plastic, because so far what I’ve read makes me believe that’s slightly “better”. But I’m learning as I go. If I can source a local supplier of goat’s milk direct from the farm, that will be even better! Ultimately I’d like to see our whole packaging mountain reduce, but small steps…

Growing our own and shopping local:

I love to grow my own food, watching seedlings grow is so exciting. Every time I walk into the garden I am thrilled that it won’t be long before we’re putting home grown food on the table every day.  I like to know where my food comes from, trips to the local farm shop and markets are great places to meet the people who feed us and to ask question about the origin of what we’re buying.

Faitrade:

We’ve always bought Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate. Over the years it’s become easier to buy a whole range of Fairtrade foods and fashion. I like that Fairtrade principles pay attention to the environment and to the people employed. It feels good to me that people and planet matter to the organisations that run and support Fairtrade.

So there you are, five easy wins towards reducing my eco guilt. Your choices might be different, that’s fine. The small stuff adds up to big stuff.  Slowly, very slowly I’m hoping we’ll see a reduction in the stuff we throw away (that’s my biggest indicator) and that will mean less stuff bought. We’re also going to be more mindful about what we do buy, and how we dispose of it.

I’ve been reading blogs and books (on my kindle) about people who have adopted plastic free, or zero waste lives. I can’t help being inspired, but I know that this lifestyle isn’t an option for us (at least not yet). It would just be too hard, too overwhelming and I know that my Lupus affects my choices and my lifestyle whether I like it or not. I’m learning that my “Greenish” life is a journey, not a destination and I’m grateful to have you all along for the ride!

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Green (ish)

2013-11-03 10.24.21Labels are tricky. Over the years I’ve struggled with how to define my lifestyle. Is it slow? Mindful? Intentional (more of that another day). Or am I green, low carbon, eco friendly or ethical? The problem is, however I define myself, someone else will have a different set of values. I’ve been told my lifestyle isn’t “ethical” because I eat meat and “green” still carries all sorts of baggage. Whenever I find a way to describe how we live, someone else will find fault or gleefully pick up on my failings.

So, I’ve tended to stick to “Greenish” if people ask. The fact is, I just think of our lifestyle as “normal”. Well, it’s normal for us. Trying to avoid waste, thinking about our shopping habits and trying to buy clothes made of natural fibres in factories that value their workers all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

My neighbour recently “went vegan”, she’s on a mission to convert us all to a plant based lifestyle. Yesterday, she drove a 10 mile round trip to buy  a tetra pak of soya milk (she’d run out and “can’t” drink her coffee black). I thought about our own purchasing habits. When I run out of milk, I can walk to the local farm, buy milk in a reusable glass bottle from the vending machine and be home again in under half an hour. I struggle with the idea of getting in the car and driving so far to buy one thing. The packaging has to be recycled, the ingredients in her milk were part of the mechanisation of food production that I’m trying to avoid. But, she’s happy. Her choice didn’t harm an animal, that’s her bottom line.

So, how do we stay friends? Our ethical, moral and  lifestyle choices seem to be at odds. I buy organic, Fairtrade and local. She buys vegan ready meals, wears plastic shoes and acrylic jumpers from Primark. She eats an awful lot of imported fruit and veg. Air miles, carbon footprint and the issues of recycling aren’t on the list of things she worries about. She has made her choices and she’s happy with her decisions.  I’m happy(ish)  with mine.

Does it matter that someone else has a different set of values and priorities? Just because someone has a different idea of “a good life”, does that make it OK to criticise and condemn? I find myself mulling this over a lot at the moment. I would dearly love to reduce the amount we recycle. I really struggle with the concept that an overflowing recycling bin is a badge of honour – I’d much rather we just didn’t buy so much stuff in the first place. I worry about how many clothes we own and fantasise about building a capsule wardrobe, filled with eco friendly cotton, linen and wool. Yet most of my clothes come from charity shops and surely that has merit in a greenish life?

I struggle to know what’s best. I have a penchant for sparkling water. Is it better to buy in huge plastic bottles, smaller glass ones or invest in a soda stream and make my own?  My instinct tells me glass recycling is “better” than plastic, but I don’t know enough to be sure. A soda stream is made of hard plastic, needs refills of gas cyclinders and would involve a trip into town when I need a new one. I am confused.

If I’m confused, with my background in environmental education, community organising and low carbon consultancy what hope does anyone else have? For the time being I’ve settled on buying glass bottles and trying to reduce my overall consumption (on the basis that glass can be recycled over again, while plastic is much harder to process and recycled plastic has a limited market). If I’m wrong on that, please let me know where I can find out for sure.

I’ve come to the conclusion we can spend too much time worrying about “doing the right thing”, and that even in this internet age, getting accurate and useful information is a tricky business. I’m reaching the conclusion that simply buying less “stuff” might be the answer for us. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that buying single use  or “disposable” products makes me uneasy. Over the next few months I’m hoping to share my journey to less stuff. I’ll be looking at ways to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into our house, reducing our plastic addiction and finding solutions to all those “disposable” products that make our lives “simpler”.

If you’re struggling with the same dilemmas, or have solutions to these “eco worries”, do let me know. Perhaps this is a journey we can take together?

Five Veg Every Gardener Can Grow

20150519_102250It’s been a week of plots, plans, lists and hands deep in compost at every opportunity. Finally it’s time to start filling the windowsills with pots and seed trays. It’s a time of optimism and hope. I sprinkle seeds on warm earth, knowing that so long as I give them a little water and a little warmth tiny seedlings will appear like magic to fill me with joy and a sense of achievement.

Without fail, other gardeners will ask what I’m growing this year, not because they are interested in my plans, but it’s a chance for them to share and show off their own plans and perhaps, just maybe indulge in a bit of gardener’s one up manship. Oh yes ,were all guilty of that!

Growing fruit and veg is so easy, even when I didn’t have a garden I grew tomatoes and chillies on a sunny window ledge, pots of herbs on the doorstep and even a hanging basket by the front door of our flat filled with tumbling tomatoes. All you need is a bit of confidence, some spare cash to spend on seeds and compost and a little (or a lot) of patience. Borrow a couple of gardening books from your local library or check out some gardening blogs for ideas and inspiration. My favourite writers are Monty Don, Bob Flowerdwew and James Wong.

If you’re new to gardening, here’s my top five veg that everyone can grow without a greenhouse. If you have access to a sunny windowsill, you can start seeds off on there. Or, buy small plants online or from a garden centre. But,  for me so much of the joy comes from watching seeds germinate and flourish. It makes me feel incredibly clever!

Of course, along side these suggestions you should try and find room for a few herbs. A pot of basil on the window ledge or a small chilli plant will serve you well and are pretty reliable for beginners.

Onions

Cooks go through copious amounts of onions, and for me they are a kitchen garden essential. Choose your varieties carefully and you can have onions all year round. They’re easy to grow, relatively free of pests and the winter varieties especially, cope with a bit of neglect.

Tomatoes

These will do best if you grow them from seed on a sunny window ledge, but if that’s not possible, buy small established plants from a local garden centre (try to find one that raises their own plants from seed, they will probably be stronger and healthier). Choose tiny plum or cherry tomatoes to pluck from the plant, or big beefsteaks. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from.

Kale

While all the focus right now is on summer veg, start making plans for winter. Kale is easy to get established and will see you through the winter. I love kale raw, or  tossed in olive oil and roasted it’s delicious. Be warned, unless you want to feed your kale to the caterpillars, net it early or you’ll be left with shredded, good for nothing stalks that will make you weep in frustration (ask me how I know this).

Salads leaves

With a bit of planning you can grow fresh salads all year round. In fact, my autumn and winter lettuce do much better than summer ones, which just wilt in the heat or run to seed when I’m on holiday. You can buy packets of mixed seed. Just sprinkle a little in pots or straight on the soil every couple of weeks for regular crops.

Peas

I think almost everyone has a childhood memory of eating peas out of the pod. I grow mange tout, purple flowered ones that we steam. These are another crop that you can grow over a long season. By starting early and planting little and often you can have peas from June to late September if the weather is kind.  Mr T would sulk if there were no peas to pick as he wandered around the garden in the summer, we are like children as we sit in the sunshine with a handful of peas, shelling them from their pods.

Of course, these are just suggestions. Ask your neighbours what grows well for them, beg seeds from gardening friends and take all the advice you’re offered. You don’t have to follow it, making mistakes, experiencing crop failures and slug damage are all part of the learning process.

Now, if I haven’t put you off completely get out and grow!

Here’s a few of my favourite seed suppliers, gardening websites and sources of information.

Kings seeds

The Organic Gardening Catalogue

BBC Gardeners World Magazine

BBC Two Gardener’s World

Grow Your Own (magazine)

 

 

 

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Cherish the Simple Things

2013-11-03 10.24.21Sometimes, you just have to stop, pause for breath and breathe in some fresh air.

This weekend Mr T and I found ourselves with “nothing to do”, by which I mean no work commitments, no family outings, no plans made of any kind. We woke up on Saturday to glorious sunshine and over coffee and breakfast agreed to head out for a walk.

We pulled on our boots, and as we live so close to Delamere Forest that seemed like the obvious destination. We walked, we admired the brave “Hell Runners”, caked in mud. We dodged bikes, toddlers and friendly dogs.

We cam home refreshed, a pocket full of the last sweet chestnuts of the season and a determination to get out and “do nothing” more often.

An afternoon of gardening followed, we lit a fire and drank mugs of tea until it was dark enough to light some fireworks we had lurking in the back of the shed. We lit sparklers and watched the stars.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s not “things” that make us truly happy, but “simple things”, like love, friendship and time spent together.

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  • I’m Tracey Todhunter. I’m a freelance writer. specialising in green / ethical living – with a “sideline” in craft!

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  • Blimey! My crochet a pumpkin workshop at @ditzyrosemakes is sold out already - thanks to everyone who has booked - there are dates planned for workshops in October & November so if you missed out on pumpkins look out for more soon (inc granny squares on 10th November).
#crochet #amigurumi #learntocrochet #lovecrochet #cheshire #ditzyrosemakery And in contrast to previous photo of moody grey sky, the sun just hit the dew on the nasturtiums!
#girlgardener #ediblegarden #naturelover #nofilter When you're enjoying a quiet mug of tea & the sound of geese becomes deafening! Seeing far more fly over the house this year (& occassionally landing in the field, calling to each other then taking off and regrouping as if they have practised for years!! Lots of red admirals in the garden today
#naturelover #redadmiral #butterfly #embracingautumn #girlgardener #wildgarden Sunday loaf. I've always baked bread -  not very successfully - but earlier this year I treated myself to a workshop with Andy, who runs the Coffee Kitchen bakery in Cockermouth. He taught us that bread making can be slow &  gentle, that bread is a living food & that inspired me to keep learning & keep experimenting. This is a 100% spelt sourdough fresh from the oven. Mr T is desperate for it to cool down so he can have a slice, thickly spread with butter! Thanks @thecoffkitchen for all your patience & advice.
#spelt #sourdough #cockermouth #notjustlakes #slowliving #theartofslowliving #naturallyleavened #morningslikethese #slowsundays #bakingandmaking #homesteading #realbread #wildyeast #slowfood My "get up and go" got up & went. Trying to restore my mojo with a walk in the forest, where it's so wet that even the squirrels look miserable! Normally I stop here to drink coffee from my flask, but it's onwards & upwards, then home for dry clothes & hot chocolate!
#dailywalk #forestwalk #woodland #embracingautumn
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