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!

 

 

 

Busy Doing Nothing

Sometimes I wear my “busyness” like a badge of honour. Being “busy” equates with success and achievement. On holiday, I noticed that I was far happier  when I was “not busy”. Those days when I sat by the pool, meandered around the garden or strolled down to a local cafe to mooch and enjoy an espresso with Mr T were some of the loveliest days I’ve had this year. We relished having nothing to do, nowhere to be and no-one to please but ourselves.

I came home with a sketch book full of ideas, swatches for new designs, hundreds of photos taken with my new camera and I refound my creativity. It’s the first holiday in years when I haven’t felt homesick within a few days of arriving. The beautiful gardens surrounding our holiday cottage were so wonderful we didn’t feel the need to stray far from home. We didn’t “tick off” many tourist destinations, we hardly ate out and we spent very little. What did we do? We swam, Mr T cycled. We visited the local towns and markets, bought local cheese, meats and honey (oh yes, and wine of course). We cooked simple meals, we talked, listened to each other and in the interests of full disclosure I should tell you we spent  more afternoons than we should enjoying a “siesta”! We watched TV coverage of the Tour de France (and saw some of it in the flesh), we didn’t feel the need to apologise for wasting our time in such trivial ways.

Since we came home, I’ve tried really hard to spend time doing “nothing”. Every day I have taken an hour out to go for a walk or tend the garden. I’ve been happier, less stressed out by deadlines and negotiating commissions. There have even been days when I’ve pulled the cobwebs off the deck chair and sat in the shade under the hazel trees to read a book.

This time, usually early in the mornings has often been the best part of the day. Disconnected from the internet, phone on silent I have been more aware of nature and more aware of the people who matter. For the past week, each day has begun with a walk in the local forest. I wasn’t aware of the concept of “Forest Bathing” until recently, but the idea that being outdoors is good for mental and physical well being isn’t a surprise to me. Ask any gardener, and they’ll wax lyrical about how much better they feel after an hour of weeding, dead heading or pulling up weeds – even the mundane tasks improve our moods!

The other thing I’ve noticed is this: No-one has noticed I’ve been disconnected! Nobody has noticed that I haven’t been answering emails, posting online, commenting or responding until late in the morning, sometimes not  even in the afternoons. In short, my day has started later and yet I’ve achieved the same, sometimes more in less time and in a better frame of mind.”

Slowly, very slowly I’m losing the need to appear busy to outside observers. I don’t feel the need to justify how I’ve spent my day or have something concrete to show off. Busy doing “nothing” is probably when I’ve been most creative, happy and above all, content.

I just wish I had learned this lesson in my twenties, not my fifties!

 

Sometimes it’s OK to have too much

There are some things you can never have too much of and in a world where I’m trying to live with less, today I’m celebrating abundance. In my world there can never be enough friendship, love or creativity, but I feel oppressed when I’m surrounded by too much unnecessary “stuff”. I try to see having too much as a welcome opportunity to share, celebrate and find joy in excess.

Aren’t these sunflowers beautiful? I took this photo on holiday in France last week. We were driving to the local market when I shouted out to Mr T that he must “stop the car now”. We spent at least ten minutes gazing at their beauty, the field seemed to go on forever and we were mesmerised. They may seem gaudy and excessive to you, but I am transported back to that sunny day every time I looked at that picture.

On holiday, we seemed to have too much of everything. No wifi meant we weren’t distracted by emails, social media or checking our phones for updates there was time to just sit and talk. We rented a cottage from an English lady who was bemused by our lack of intention. Did we not have  a list of places to go and things to see? Did we want her to recommend restaurants and bistros? No, we were content to visit the market, buy bread and cheese for lunch, which we spent watching the Tour de France. We spoke to the locals who pointed us in the direction of tiny coffee shops, we drank espresso and visited places you won’t find in the tourist brochures. We came across the remains of a Roman bath house next to a municipal car park and a beautiful garden tended by a 103 year old French man who insisted we took away garlic and artichokes from his plot. We had lazy breakfasts and we sat in silence watching the sunsets.

We celebrated having too much time, too much sunshine and delicious wine. We enjoyed the company of birds and butterflies and when Mr T went out on his bike I swam in the pool and read books (averaging one a day, sheer luxury). We truly were busy “doing nothing” and it was bliss.

I truly believe that you can never have too much of a good thing. Having too much is the perfect excuse to share and to give. My garden is a perfect example right now. After two weeks of neglect while we were on holiday, there is plenty of everything (especially weeds and long grass, but I’m calling that a wild flower meadow and the bees are happy). Gluts of soft fruit mean visits to the neighbours to offload excess, resulting in conversations, shared coffees and exchanging gooseberries for radishes or carrots. I’m making fruit flavoured gins and vodkas to give away at Christmas and of course I’m freezing, making jam and ensuring there will be good things to eat in winter.

Whatever you have too much of, find a way to share it, rather than discarding or wasting it. Whether it’s money, time or food, small acts of sharing make us feel better. I’m not talking about organised volunteering or philanthropy, just the small acts of kindness that can become part of every day. Buying a couple of extra items in the supermarket and popping them in the Food Bank collection point. Gifting your unwanted books to a community library or even just taking the time to chat to a lonely neighbour instead of dashing inside when you get home from work. An added bonus is that you’ll find this kindness returned in unexpected ways. We have a green house gifted by a neighbour who had become too infirm to enjoy his garden, he was going to sell it, but overheard my husband telling a friend I wanted one but couldn’t afford it. My freezer is full of a friend’s “glut” of raspberries and my wardrobe full of charity donations.

Celebrate excess, seize the opportunities and remember that sometimes it’s OK to feel good about having too much.

This is an extended version of a post that originally appeared on Medium.

What I’m Reading

We’re in full holiday prep mode this week and  I’ve just got back from Woolfest (an annual celebration of wool, natural fibre and British sheep breeds). The house is piled up with samples, swatches and notes for my new book and so I have barely found time to write a blog post!

Instead, here’s a round up of what I’ve been  reading (and watching) this week.

On the blogs, Regula Ysewijn has been articulating the unease lots of us are feeling about the rise of what I call “big organic”, with Amazon’s recent bid to acquire US company Wholefoods, is it time we reconnected with the local? Read Regula’s piece here. I definitely believe life is better when we buy good food, from local people.

While I was at Woolfest, the team behind Murmurations organised an truly inspiring event at Storyhouse in Chester. Thanks to social media, I have managed to follow much of the conversation. Check out their feed on Instagram or twitter for a taste of the inspiring stories. With speakers including Sheila Dillon, Charlie Gladstone and many more. It’s certainly true we get the communities we deserve, so if you want to see real change, you have to contribute!

Slightly different, (but still resonating with my journey to slow) have any of you been watching BBC’s Handmade in Japan series? It’s still available on iplayer, where you can watch this fascinating insight into the traditional Japanese Kimono

On my bedside table you’ll find “The Man Who made Things Out of Trees”. Written by by Robert Penn, this  is a truly fascinating insight into the crafts people who make beautiful things from wood. Definitely worth a read if you appreciate hand made, small scale production.  There’s a review in the Guardian, and if you’re intrigued find it in your local independent book shop or library.

Finally, I’m reading issue 2 of Tortoise Chester. This new independent magazine is a celebration of creativity and “slow” in the broadest sense. I didn’t manage to track down a copy of issue 1 as we were on holiday when it came out and my trawl of Chester’s independent shops failed to turn up a copy (pleased it was so popular, but gutted). So, when I heard issue 2 would be available at Murmurations I managed to persuade a friend to drop a copy through my letterbox on her way home.

For the next two weeks, Mr T and I will be in France. I’m hoping to watch a little bit (a lot) of the Tour de France, explore French markets, boulangerie and wine producers. There will be plenty of lazy mornings, long warm evenings and I hope to come back refreshed and full of enthusiasm for my next book and finally able to share with you some new clients I’m writing for.

Have a sunny July xx

 

 

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!

What is a Capsule Wardrobe? (and why I don’t care if I don’t have one)

A photo of my wardrobe

My not so capsule wardrobe – it appears I like pattern!

So, what is a capsule wardrobe? I am reading so much about streamlining, de cluttering and minimalism at the moment and at every turn I come across this concept of the capsule wardrobe. Now, I remember years ago reading about this in Women’s magazines. There were features every month about how a grey / black / neutral limited wardrobe would simplify your life and turn you from a Slummy Mummy to super together Mum about Town overnight. I tried them, but I’m just really bad at following rules!

The idea of a streamlined, simplified wardrobe does sound appealing. I just can’t see how it would work for me. I’ve looked at the Konmari method, Project 333  and dozens of podcasts, blogs and Instagram feeds promising me the secret to a minimal wardrobe. Wouldn’t it be great to open your wardrobe every morning and not be faced with that “Oh my, what am I going to wear” dilemma? I solved it by working from home – honestly – the Amazon delivery man doesn’t blink an eye if I  open the door three days running in the same t shirt and yoga pants I laughingly call “work out wear”. When I do venture out, pulling on a Seasalt tunic and a pair of jeans works for me every time! Have I got a capsule wardrobe already, but just don’t know it?

Because I wanted to write this post, I took a photo of my wardrobe. The truth is, I don’t really have that many clothes. Do I? Living in the UK, I definitely need to dress for the seasons.  There are winter clothes (down coat, waterproof, sturdy boots), gardening clothes (jeans, t shirts and jumpers that don’t mind getting filthy when I’m weeding), decorating and housework clothes, special occasion clothes and then the stuff I wear every day. I pulled apart the hangers and thought about what I could throw away (in the words of Marie Kondo, what doesn’t “spark joy”). Honestly? I couldn’t say every item in my wardrobe sparks joy, but it does serve a purpose. There is nothing I could throw away.

I don’t buy clothes very often, but when I do I definitely fall into the “buy once buy well” camp. I like clothes that will last and earn their keep. Some are from charity shops, some were swapped with friends and there are a few “special” purchases bought for occasions such as weddings or my daughter’s graduation. I’m a big believer in clothes meeting the  “30 wears” rule. A reaction against disposable fashion, buying clothes you’ll wear at least 30 times certainly encourages you think about longevity, not just seasonal style. I have a functional wardrobe, and it serves me well

So, what do I mean by a “functional” wardrobe? Every thing in my wardrobe serves a purpose. The high waist bootleg jeans for those “fat and frumpy” days; the straight leg petite fit jeans that look great with heeled boots and a smart shirt for “daytime smart / casual”. The John Rocha dress I bought in the sale that only comes out for weddings and christenings. The basic t shirts and sweatshirts I wear every day, paired with jeans and the summer skirts and strappy tops that only see the light of day for two weeks every July! There are leggings for running (currently unworn because bloomin’ Lupus is flaring), the paint spattered jeans for annual decorating, the dressing gown and nightie that only come out for hospital visits. The Christmas t shirt that only gets worn in December and the beautiful beyond imagination embroidered and sequinned wool skirt that cost an arm and a leg 20 years ago, but still comes into it’s own for winter “formals” (works Christmas parties, the day I met Prince Charles* and those days when I really need to dress to impress!) and there, lurking at the back is the leather jacket Mr T bought me 15 years ago –  which truth be told –  no longer zips up. It’s job is to remind me I was once a little bit sassy and could carry off a strappy cocktail dress and leather jacket combo!

Even my undies drawer works hard. 3 bras (black, white, “neutral”), 10 pairs of knickers (ironed and folded  – is that too much information?) and a couple of camisoles for low cut tops that reveal too much middle aged flesh! Of course, we’ll skim over the sock drawer, I do have a little bit of a hand knitted sock addiction!

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My current favourite pair of hand knitted socks

Is a functional wardrobe as good as, or better than a capsule wardrobe? Could I make do with less? If I threw out everything I haven’t worn for six months what would  I do when summer comes? (or was summer ’17  that glorious week in May and now we’re declining into autumn)? Should I throw away the leather jacket, wool skirt and killer heels just because I don’t wear them very often? Nope, they’ll have their day and having them means I won’t be tempted into spur of the moment or panic buys when the need for such an outfit arises.

You see, all these bloggers talking about their capsule wardrobes seem to be  constantly buying new. They’re all about this season’s sneakers, coat and must have  dress. My summer sneakers are both over ten years old and the Birkenstocks, just in view in that photo of my wardrobe are equally mature. At the end of the summer I’ll clean up my summer shoes, repair the heels, buy new laces and swap them out for my winter boots (similarly vintage).  You see, a capsule wardrobe isn’t the same as a minimal wardrobe and my functional wardrobe probably falls somewhere in between. My wardrobe isn’t full of mix and match separates, I can’t make 20 different looks from six Key pieces. Nor have I pared down my wardrobe to the extent that I have conquered my laundry mountain like these ladies from the Purposeful Home Podcast. But I am still wearing this shirt and denim skirt I bought in 2006!

classic white shirt and denim

My favourite white shirt and denim combo

So I don’t have a capsule wardrobe, who cares? Living with less, doesn’t mean living  with little. Minimalism, intentionalism, slow living, whatever we choose to call it is about living unencumbered by the stuff that causes stress and anxiety.  Taking the time to make considered purchases, valuing what we have and not being weighed down by the pressures of conforming to what we think is expected of us. That’s true minimalism in my book.

*a girl is allowed the occasional name drop, surely?

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You can Eat Cake for Breakfast (but only if it’s my best ever raspberry cake recipe)

20170702124957Not just any cake. Packed with fruit and nuts, this is practically health food! I’ll admit, with no shame we ate a slice for breakfast and felt no guilt. (Nope, not even a little bit). Of course, I’m not suggesting you make a habit of cake for breakfast, but the occasional indulgence is OK. Let’s face it, not much can be worse than those sugar filled cereals we all love but pretend not to because “they’re bad for us”.

I like a cake that will serve as dessert as well as accompany a morning mug of coffee and this old favourite really does fit the bill. You can serve a slice with creme fraiche (or double cream) or just eat it on its own. It is quite moist, not the kind of cake you can eat with your fingers – although Mr T would disagree – sticky fingers can be licked clean he tells me!  I’m sharing the recipe for this Raspberry and Almond cake here (or you can find it by clicking on the recipe tab in the sidebar) but first a few tips.

I tend to weigh out in cups (American, not Australian), simply because that’s easier for me than getting out the scales. Butter has a handy guide on the wrapper, so you can just cut off what you need. I use Spelt flour (Sharpham Park), but there’s no reason why you couldn’t sub a plain flour, or even try using your favourite gluten free if  you need to. I used frozen raspberries, the remainder of last year’s crop. You could use fresh if you prefer.

My oven is a bit on the cool side, so everything takes longer to cook, so use the timings as a guide. You know your oven, so start checking after 45 minutes to test if your cake is cooked. I store my cake in the fridge, but it will sit quite happily at room temperature for a day or two, so long as it’s in an air tight tin. Why do I keep cake in the fridge?  If we can see it, we’ll eat it, so it’s best hidden away behind the vegetables  where Mr T won’t go snacking!

When lining your cake tin, either use a quick release springform tin,  or make sure the lining paper sits higher than the sides of the tin so you can lift it out. This cake won’t thank you for turning it upside down to cool – you’ll end up with a sloppy mess and lose the pretty, crunchy topping.

Orange zest definitely falls in the “food for free” category. Next time you eat an orange, pop the peel in a tub and freeze it. You can grate or zest it from frozen straight into your cake mix. You can do the same with lemons, if you need the juice for a recipe, freeze the empty “shell”.

I don’t know who should take the credit for this recipe, it was sent to me by a friend when my daughter was little, we had enjoyed a slice (well, since we’re friends I’ll admit it was two) at her house and I loved it. Over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit, adding flaked almonds to the topping and experimenting with the sugar quantity (I think I’ve got that just right now). I hope you enjoy it.

This post isn’t sponsored by any of the companies listed in the ingredients. I’ve just names them because they work well for me. You can, of course substitute your personal favourites.

Now, don’t eat it all at once!

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Seek the Simplicity

Sometimes life can be so overwhelming. We need reminding that self care is vital. We need to take time out to remind our selves that we should be nurtured and cared for. If we can’t do that for ourselves how can we expect others to treat us with tenderness and compassion when there are dark days? If we always appear strong and “together”, how will our friends and family know that like the graceful swan, we are paddling like crazy just to stay afloat?

I worry. I worry  about things I cannot change, I worry about the things I can change, but don’t. I worry all the time.  I fret about doing too much, about not doing enough and sometimes I worry about doing nothing at all. I don’t share the worries, the moments of uncertainty or the days when I feel like a fraud, that  my lack of writing or crochet  skills will be “discovered” and I will need to find a “proper” job again!

On days like this,  everything crumbles. My Lupus flares up, I lose the ability to settle to work, the “to do” list becomes overwhelming and I have to stop. Today is one of those days.  There are a couple of new books in the early stages, a possibility of some consultancy work and our holiday to plan. My desk is a chaotic mess of hand written notes, half finished crochet samples, maps of France and ferry timetables. My week has become over complicated and I cannot focus.

So today I sought out simplicity. I took a mug of coffee into my garden, I wrapped myself in a crochet blanket and I watched the birds, bees, and spiders. The birds only seem to worry about a lack of access to the bird feeder. They squabble and bicker as the queues build up (so many fledglings to feed), the pigeons jostle for best pickings dropped by the sparrows and blue tits.  The bees just make constant journeys between chives, comfrey and their hives. They do this on repeat, humming gently. Wasps and flies do “their thing”. The robin sits on the floor beside me, he’s more used to following me through the veg patch as I uncover grubs. He and Mrs robin have hungry mouths to feed, so he only hangs around long enough to give me a scowl of disapproval. He likes me busy and occupied.

Everything in the garden seems to have purpose, while today I have none. The emails are going unanswered, shopping lists ignored. There is a parcel waiting to go to the Post Office (another commission off to be approved by a client) and a letter to a lovely friend that needs to be written.  I have phone calls to make and a greenhouse to water. But, everything can wait. Today is about doing one thing at a time, and first there is coffee.

I like my coffee made slowly, brewed in a percolator. I can hear it bubbling and gurgling through the open window. Usually, I would use this time to wash dishes, sort laundry or make a valiant attempt to tidy. Instead I am sitting in the sun, watching small creatures and listening to birdsong. I refuse to feel guilty that I am not multi tasking. If Mr T were to read this, he would nod sagely and tell me he adopted this approach a long time ago. He spends a lot of time sitting still (reading, thinking, planning). He doesn’t worry about “stuff”. He takes what life gives him and makes the best of it. I could learn a lot from Mr T. He knows the restorative power of being idle!

Now, with coffee poured and the mid morning sun casting shadows over the garden I feel less agitated. Does it really matter that I took a couple of hours off to do nothing? The world around me has continued. No-one has noticed I didn’t reply to their email or “like” their Facebook post.  I drink coffee, watch birds and my head clears. I shall take the sourdough starter out of the fridge and make a loaf (it will be ready for breakfast tomorrow). I shall make lunch then take a walk and post my parcel. One thing at a time. Ticks against menial tasks on the “to do” list.

Tomorrow I shall add another task: Seek the simplicity.

One day at a time, one simple task, one achievement, one small win…

 

 

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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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  • 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.
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