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?

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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How British is British Wool?

When I stopped working full time I wrote on my blog that from now on I was “most likely to be found growing veg on my allotment or knitting with British Wool”. I’m proud that I support British and Independent yarn producers, spinners and dyers, but just lately it seems to have got harder, not easier to find wool that is truly British (by which I mean, reared, spun and dyed here in the UK).  Most knitters think the Woolmark is a good indication that they’re buying British, but take a closer look at the label.

In the past week, three knitters have asked me to suggest British Wool suitable for knitting cushions for the Woolsack Project, which aims to send every Paralympian and Olympian competitor home with a hand knitted cushion afer the Olympics in September. I wondered, is a wool carrying the British Wool Trademark good enough to qualify and what about wools that don’t carry the label?

In order  to use the British Wool trademarks a wool product only has to be “at least 50% British”. Yes, that’s right. Up to 50% of the wool in your “British Wool” may have come from abroad or contain non wool fibres. I did discover a new label was launched in 2010 – the Wool Platinum mark for 100% British Wool, but I’ve yet to see it on a ball of wool, at the moment it seems to apply only to wool products. Conversely, just because a wool doesn’t carry the label doesn’t mean it comes from outside the UK. Confused? I was. I’m sure I’m not the only knitter who doesn’t really understand who or what the Wool Mark is for.

I started looking through my stash, seeking out wool I know or think is British.I found some real gems in there (the beauty of stash diving – it reminds you exactly what you have – and what you need to stock up on). I found half a ball of a beautiful British Mohair from Yorkshire. White Rose Mohair is reared in Yorkshire, processed in Bradford and sold as a standard DK weight. I can vouch for the softness and lovely stitch definition, it’s also great value at less than £4.00 per 50g ball (100m).

I also found a few left overs of Troon Tweed, a gorgeous oiled Aran  from Scotland, which I used to make my felted crochet bag and several pairs of Duffers. It’s a great yarn, definitely up there with the best “value” ranges and a proper “workhorse” yarn ideal for jumpers, felting or for tea cosies. There was also a ball of Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran (not strictly British as it’s spun in Ireland, but that’s close enough for me!)

I also found some gorgeous Natural Dye Studio yarn  (Dazzle, Blue Faced Leicester) carrying the British Wool Trademark, a hank of Erika Knight’s gorgeous Maxi Wool, a new range which is 100% British Wool,  spun in Yorkshire by Laxtons. There is a great DK weight in the range too and the colours are lovely. Of course there’s plenty of Rowan’s Fine Tweed in this house too, bought for the Dales Blanket. Again, 100% British Wool, processed and packaged  here in the UK.

Now, it’s not just the “big names” who are selling 100% British Wool, you can also shop local and independent buying direct from yarn producers. A few of my favourites are listed below, do click on the links and take a look at some of the yarns on offer.

I’m also  looking forward to getting my hands on some British linen soon. You didn’t know flax grew in the UK? Neither did I, but it turns out to right on my door step, growing in North Manchester as part of a community project called Sow Sew. That really will bring down my “yarn miles”!

In future I won’t just be looking for the British Wool Trademarks, I’ll be thinking about the environmental impact of my wool. Where was my wool grown, combed, scoured and spun, dyed and packaged.(You’d be amazed how much British Wool finds its way to Europe to be processed and transported back to be sold here). And, just because an independent supplier isn’t using the Woolmark label I won’t assume their wool isn’t British.

Finally, if you’re interest in the journey from sheep to skein, you might like to read this blog post by Kate Davies.

Independent Spinners and Dyers and Retailers Using British Yarns:

Blacker Yarns

New Lanark

Little Houndales

June Onigbanjo

Wensleydale Long Wool Sheep Shop

Texere yarns

Laxtons

Oh – and  don’t forget the British Sheep Breed Societies -the Jacob Sheep Society is just one of many that has been very helpful to me in sourcing British Wool.

If you have time  take a look at Wovember’s Hall of Shame for wool products that aren’t wool at all :(

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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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  • Finished a new shawl. Far too hot to wear it, but luckily my shed is a great backdrop! Yarn is King Cole Riot. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #neverenoughshawls #sheshed #madenotmanufactured #crochetlove Free food! Next best thing to growing your own food is eating other people's homegrown. I'm looking after my neighhour's garden & boy does he have a lot of radishes just now! I have written a blog post about more of my favourite (almost) free foods. Link in profile, now I'm off to pickle these radishes.
#frugalfood #foraging #ediblegarden #growyourownfood #girlgardener #allotmenteering #eattheseasons #permaculture  #zerowaste #slowliving #gardentotable #organicgardening #forktofork I'll admit it, I grow this mostly for it's amazing colour - but the stems are delicious sauted with chorizo or streaky bacon!
#mygardenrightnow #girlgardener #girlsthatgarden #permaculture #growyourown #ediblegarden #bakingandmaking #slowliving #organicgardening I do love a formal garden. I walk through this one every Friday on my way to knit group.  Castle Park is a hidden gem.
#gardens #castlepark #parksandgardens Thanks @simplycrochetmag for featuring my crochet picnic basket :) The pattern is available  now in Simply Crochet celebrations edition. You'll need a cardboard box to upcycle & some chunky cotton yarn, I used DMC Natura XL & finished it off with leather buckles from Bag Clasps. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #upcycling #reloved #crochet #makersgonnamake #lovecrochet Today I shall mostly be darning... these were the first socks I ever knitted, I resisted for years(turning heels, grafting toes all looked like too much faff), then I bought a book called Toe UpSocks Two at a Time & now I only wear handknitted socks. Because I love them, I shall darn the toe & keep wearing them for another 5 years!! (btw @lottieknits you sold me this yarn at Stash - happy days :)
#toeupsocks #toeuptuesday #30wears #zerowaste #reducereuserecycle #throwbackthursday #choosewool #igknitters #slowliving #bakingandmaking
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