Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf

At the start of last year, I borrowed a book from the library called Stop Staring at Screens. Whilst it was a perfectly passable book, it wasn’t exactly the thing I’d been hoping for.

At the time, I wrote:  I checked this out with a view to learning why my youngest child is so absolutely smitten by anything with flashing lights. This book definitely doesn’t do that

But Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf does, and a lot more besides.

Honestly, I’m so excited to talk about this book that I sort of don’t know where to start, so I’ll just begin where I begin and hope I’m not too incoherent.

Wolf began life as a school teacher, but became fascinated by the way children learn to read. This led her back to university to study the neuroscience of literacy – mapping out how our brains manage this incredible feat. The ability to read is something I’ve completely taken for granted until now, but seeing how many amazing things happen every time we look at a sentence really opened my eyes. It’s a skill I’m going to actively take the time to appreciate from now on!

I’ve always been an avid reader – save for a small period of time after my eldest was born, during which I had postnatal depression* – so I’ve felt the importance of books for years, but I’ve never been able to articulate why they’re incredible until now. Books can teach us empathy, Theory of Mind, critical thinking, and patience. And whilst they can’t provide the video tutorials of YouTube, they can offer a physical, tangible form of knowledge.

From an environmental perspective, this book is really important. Without studies like these, we can’t hope to understand what it is about our current technology which makes us so addicted to it, and until we can begin to look at why we’re using it in the way we are, we can’t begin to change our relationship with it – whether that’s how we utilise our phones, our laptops, or our televisions. I especially liked that Wolf encourages biliteracy – a proficiency in printed words as well as those on screen. She advocates that technology and digital reading are important tools, but stresses that…

“A flotsam of distraction and information […] will never become knowledge.”

Since reading this book, I’ve made a conscious effort to change my habits regarding the internet and the things I read online. I’ve turned off various messaging services and though I shut down my social media for other reasons, the lack of notifications definitely helps to keep my focus firmly where it should be – on the text that I’m reading. Again, for other reasons, I’m turning my internet connection off at 9pm every night, but this helps with the quality of information that I’m taking on board too. Sitting and properly reading and absorbing a book is far more rewarding that skimming past a stream of information.

And the more we know, the more in control we can be. The less time we spend online, the more time we can spend in the world, enjoying it. The internet is a wonderful tool if used properly, but it can also be a tool for those trying sell us things we don’t actually need. By making sure that we’re the ones in charge of the time we spend online, we’re less likely to fall victim to how the internet can be used against us – as a means to encourage overconsumption and feelings of inadequacy.

By return to our reading roots, we can foster feelings of empathy and our Theory of Mind – the part of ourselves which helps us understand that though we’re happy, there are people in the world who aren’t. By reading more, we hone our abilities to think critically and fight the misinformation out there. And if we can do that, we’re well on our way to making the world a better place.

Full disclosure: I actually put off reading this book for the longest time because it was written by someone with such specialist knowledge, however this is where the fact that Wolf is a former teacher really makes a difference. The way the (sometimes incredibly complex) information is conveyed is done so beautifully – even poetically in places.

Don’t feel like this book is beyond you, as I did for so long. It’s absolutely not. I pass on the vast majority of the books I read, but this is one which is going to stay firmly on my shelf so that I can come back to it again and again.

Have you read Reader, Come Home? If you have, I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts. You can get in touch via the comments below.

Love,

Farn ❤

*~*~*

*I still read a lot but I read to my baby – childhood favourites like Beatrix Potter, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Black Beauty. It took a long time before I was ready to tackle any adult books again.

Self Care

The last twelve months have been challenging. Yes, they’ve brought some unexpected benefits too, but for the most part, I don’t think anyone can honestly say that the past year is something they’d like to replicate – what with the death and disease and all.

As I said, I don’t intend to make a whole pile of pledges for the coming year, but I do want to focus on looking after myself. Beyond day-to-day actions, I tend not to share much of myself on here, so let me summarise the years since 2016 as having been ‘tumultuous’. The Brexit vote, the death of both in-laws, some interpersonal strife, various medical conditions, the loss of our only income (which has thankfully been resolved), and the minutiae of ‘snags’ which give any life pause, have all been packed into an eventful 48 months. And given that it appears life will continue at this slow, half-pace for some time yet, now seems like the perfect opportunity for some introversion.

Self-care is a term that I have a duplicitous relationship with. On the one hand, I understand the literal need to care for myself, but increasingly, I find that the term has become tied up in consumption. The idea that we should ‘treat ourselves’ by opening our wallets has become synonymous with the phrase.

I’m trying to look at long-term ways in which I can look after myself, alongside the ‘quick-fix’ options that a moment of particular stress sometimes merit. So, I thought I’d share some of the ideas I had here in the hopes that perhaps you could benefit from them too.

Long-term Care

  • Exercise – Everyone knows we need to move in order to keep our bodies healthy, but exercise doesn’t need to feel onerous and it absolutely doesn’t need to be expensive. If you’re somewhere with a good pedestrian infrastructure, an easy way to begin is by walking as a mode of transport where you can. If you’re in the middle of nowhere and don’t want to just ‘go for a wander’, try to work a few extra steps into your day by parking in the space furthest from the supermarket when you do your shopping (for example). It doesn’t seem like much, but it all helps. If you’re feeling more active, there are various ‘Couch to 5k’ running apps out there which are often free, but if you’re not confident enough, staying home and doing ten minutes of yoga before bed is good too. Honestly – whatever you can manage.
  • Good food – on bad days, cooking can seem like too much effort, but it’s absolutely possible to enjoy good, healthy food without trying too hard. I know they’re wrapped in plastic, but buying in some bags of frozen, roasted vegetables can be an amazing way to speed up making dinner/avoid the temptation of a take-away. I like to fry some off in a little olive oil, stir through couscous with some lemon juice and some herbs, and then have this for lunch. Or I sometimes dump the whole bag in a pan with a can of tomatoes and a can of kidney beans, some spices and some herbs for a vegetable stew. Or stir the vegetables through pasta with pesto, or heat them into a bastardised ratatouille to dip some crusty bread in. As I said, these come in plastic, but one small bag is so much better than the bevy of take-away containers which they replace. And it is possible to buy fresh, plastic free versions and then roast them and freeze them yourself for use on days when it all feels a bit much.

    Another favourite meal which is quick and easy to prepare is a root vegetable curry soup – I like to use pumpkin when I can get it but frozen carrots/parsnips/butternut squash all work well too. All you need to do is put your chosen root-veg in a pan, add a can of coconut milk, a can full of water, some vegetable stock and a tspn of Thai red curry paste. Simmer until your vegetables are soft and then blend. You can also go for the ultimate cheat’s ‘cream of tomato soup’ – a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of coconut milk, a tspn of sugar and half a tspn of salt. Heat it and blend it together. Jack Monroe’s cookbook ‘Good Food for Bad Days’ and Ella Risbridger’s ‘Midnight Chicken’* both cover this section beautifully.
  • Adulting This is the one I’m most guilty of putting off – all the admin-y bits which life in the modern world necessitates. I’m trying to keep things in order with a bullet journal this year because ticking things off really helps me. It’s working so far, and the simple act of just paying this bill, or that invoice, straight away frees up so much head-space compared to thinking ‘I must remember to do X later’, about ten times a day.
  • Learning I’m very much a believer in the old adage ‘we are never too old to learn new things’. I have had so much slow joy from learning to play my violin, and so much deep satisfaction from learning new languages that just writing about them here makes my soul feel good. Reading, studying, watching plants grow… all of these things enrich my own life so much. Even if I only play a single line of music a night, or repeat a single German or Danish phrase, it is deeply fulfilling.
  • Knowing when to say ‘no’ Whether you’re trying to cut back on alcohol, or smoking, or unnecessary spending, saying ‘no’ can take courage, especially if you’re used to trying to keep everyone happy. To make it easier for myself to say ‘no’ to spending money, I’ve installed an ad-blocker on my internet browser and I’ve unsubscribed from all sales emails. I’ve also starting turning my computer’s internet connection off at 9pm each night, so that I can say ‘no’ to unwanted interruptions in my private time. You’re absolutely allowed to do this.
  • Just because you can chose, doesn’t mean you have to We’re overwhelmed with options for entertainment these days – so many streaming services available, conventional television, YouTube, DVDs, video games, books, music… it can feel like an obligation to consume all the media that’s being recommended to us. But we don’t have to. It’s perfectly fine to watch those two seasons of Galavant every night for a month, over and over again if that’s what makes you happy. And it’s just as fine to sit and play Solitaire on the PC instead of whatever’s just come out on the shiny new PS5. In fact, it’s perfectly fine to just grab a pack of cards and play Solitaire on a table. Familiarity is allowed. We are not obligated to seek novelty.

Short-term Care

  • Bring a plant into a space Greenery immediately brightens up a room. I promise that someone you know, or someone on freecycle, will have a spider plant that they would love to give to you. Or grow something yourself, like an avocado pip. It’s totally free and incredibly satisfying.
  • Have a hot bath or shower This can be revitalising, especially if you’ve just…
  • Change your bedsheets for clean ones I honestly think that one of life’s greatest pleasures is getting into clean sheets straight after a hot bath or shower.
  • Give your feet a rub This doesn’t need to be anything more elaborate than rubbing some oil/moisturiser into the soles of your feet. It doesn’t even need to be a fancy oil – olive oil from the kitchen will absolutely do. Showing your own body physical affection can be a really powerful thing.
  • Get outside Even if you just stand in your open door/by the open window with a cup of tea for five minutes, this counts, and it’s amazing how restorative this can be. We’re so busy trying to ‘do’ things all the time, that we sometimes forget the peace there can be in just ‘being’. This is a great way to remind ourselves.
  • Listen to a song you love and if you feel like it, sing or dance or weep.
  • Bring art into the world This might mean hanging a poster, or even just a picture printed from the internet, or it could involve checking out some of the amazing protests undertaken by the Craftist Collective. It could just be mending your socks. Personally, I love drawing on envelopes. I like to imagine that it’ll make the post deliverers smile, as well as the recipient, and I get a real thrill out of drawing the things. They’re no great works of art, but art they are – honest and humble and real. And the world needs more art.
  • Choose comfort If you want to spend a night watching films from your childhood, do it. If you want to read a book but can’t be bothered with your ‘to be read’ pile, dip into something you’ve read before. I found myself reading my collection of vintage Ladybird books the other day. I spent four hours doing it and I regret nothing.

    As you can see, none of the above cost money, or if they do, it’s very little. They all aim to address quality of life without introducing more ‘stuff’. We don’t need to consume to be happy, we simply need to focus on the things in our hearts and on being kind to our bodies. In times like these, we need to nourish ourselves so that we can weather the storm. Because as much as I would like to believe that 2021 will bring beautiful, hopeful change, I can’t see that happening – at least not in the UK. As I write, towns just north of here are already feeling the crippling effects of Brexit on their ancient fishing industries. It’s two weeks into the new year, and no one can tell me yet if it’s legal for EU citizens to continue to drive on their current licences in this country… And that’s just the stress on top of the deadly, deadly plague.

    We have so far to go – we need to build our strength for things to come.

    What are your favourite forms of self care – either for the long or short term? I would love to add some more to my repertoire. I’m not really using Twitter that much right now, but you can very much still get in touch with me via the comments below.

    With much love.
    Stay strong.
    Farn ❤

    ___

*Don’t let the title put you off if you’re not a meat eater – I’m not, and there’s still plenty in there for me.

The New Year – and why I won’t be making resolutions.

My posts are sporadic at the moment. I usually try and update twice a week, and for a really long time, I did a good job at keeping up that pace.

But – as with most people – the virus has begun to shift my priorities, and my habits. I’ve honestly not been sitting down at a screen as often as I was before, so I don’t end up writing.

This is one of those very sharp, proverbial double-edged swords. On the one hand, I’ve not done as much writing as I would have liked, but on the other hand, I’ve been enjoying so many other things – a quiet Christmas, a gentle New Year, and all manner of projects which I had set aside and forgotten about. I’ve rediscovered a love of cross stitch, and of colouring-books – the later being something that I can sit and do with my children for long, quiet hours with audio books in the background.

I had planned to commit to doing at least one post per week this year, but I think, given the need for flexibility and resilience in the face of a changing world, I don’t want to commit to that. I’ve broken other promises I made to myself – to buy nothing new for twelve months, for example (something I want to discuss on here at some point) – and I don’t want to set myself up to fail.

Instead, I want to focus on slowing down – further still – and truly appreciating what is all around me. I want to spend another twelve months nurturing my garden, learning to cook new foods, reading new books, and gaining new knowledge. I’ve applied for University to study Archaeology, and if I get in, I know I’ll throw myself at my studies – one doesn’t often get a second chance to do something as big as a degree, and I want to make a good go of it, should I be lucky enough to get in.

I will absolutely continue to update here, but I’m not sure how often, or even how long for.

In any case, I just wanted to let you know what was going on and why I’d been quiet.

With much love to you and yours in the coming year,

Farn ❤

Non-physical gifts

Recently, I covered which physical items might make nice, ethically sourced gifts. And these are lovely – everyone like presents! – but so many of us already have all the items we could possibly need for the coming year.

Experience gifts, such as cinema tickets, nights away, dinners out etc. are all things I’ve given in previous years, but obviously, the pandemic makes this harder. Take-away vouchers are still very much an option, as are book tokens, and subscriptions to things like Audible, Netflix, and Spotify. But there are lots of other ideas too – ideas which might also help to make a positive impact on the world, rather than simply avoiding a negative impact.

  1. Why not create a YouTube playlist of videos you think your friend/family-member would like, then share the link? For example, I have one friend who is a huge fan of period costume and historic sewing, so I’m trying to curate a list of videos about this. Other ideas include tutorial videos – if someone you know wants to learn to knit, for example, you could seek out instructions that you think are clear and compile a list of those. You could make a mix of music you like, or even agree to learn a new skill with your recipient, then discuss how you’re getting on online. This all has the added bonus of being free!
  2. Going back to the skill-learning – you could sign your recipient up for an online course, or offer to teach them something you know via skype/Zoom etc.
  3. If you know something about music, you could write a song. Or if you’re a writer, then a poem or a short story? I’m currently in the throes of editing a book that I’ve written for my eldest’s birthday next year, something I plan to convert to PDF and load onto my e-reader to gift. Obviously, this takes time, but doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t create any waste.
  4. For children, you could offer to pay for memberships to clubs like Scouts and Guides, or sports classes. This helps both the child and the parent out and might mean that someone gets to try something they wouldn’t otherwise have had the means to do.
  5. Volunteer your time. Even if you can’t meet up and help out with something, perhaps you could offer to proofread any writing a student does for one year, or write someone three weeks worth of meal plans (because meal planning for yourself is so boring even if it does make a huge difference to cost/waste). There are loads of things you can turn your hand to remotely.
  6. Make a reading list for someone. If they’re interested in learning more about a certain subject and you have knowledge in that field, then a reading list is a wonderful way of sharing what you know.
  7. Collect a variety of different recipes and send them either as a Word document/PDF, or as a Pinterest board. It’s like a personally tailored cookbook that can be accessed anywhere.
  8. Vouchers for businesses local to you/the recipient, or small businesses which can be supported online. At the moment, many small retailers are experiencing cash flow issues, so things like buying a voucher for a favourite store can really help.
  9. Agree with friends and family to swap a book you’ve finished and enjoyed. This can be a one-way, direct swap, or it can involve more than two people. Yes, there’s a physical object involved, but it’s something you had already.
  10. Dedicate a tree to someone you love via The Woodland Trust or another organisation. I like to do this for first Christmases after the birth of a child, or after a wedding. It’s a really nice way of symbolising hope for the future.
  11. Fund a charitable organisation which aligns with the values of your intended recipient. For children, I like to buy a voucher for Lend With Care, as they can chose a business to invest in and watch grow. The other great thing about this, is that as the loan is repaid, it can be reinvested into other enterprises and really is the Gift That Keeps on Giving. Choose Love is another online store which allows you to send goods to people who need them, rather than those who don’t.

Aside from many of these ideas costing nothing, they can all be done fairly last minute, and are also ideal for family and friends living far away – no postage costs! As the UK exits to ‘transition period’ of Brexit on the 31st December, postage stands to grow increasingly complicated, so it’s good to keep alternatives to physical presents in mind.

What about you – would you be happy to receive any of the above? Or do you prefer a solid object? I would love to hear any ideas you have for gift alternatives! As ever, you can contact me here, or on Twitter.

The best of the books 2.0

After all the amazing books I read last year, I decided to do another round-up of earth-loving literature, in case people need some gift inspiration.

Books make superb gifts, and can so often be sourced second hand.

Anyway, here – in no particular order – are some great reads from 2020.

Rootbound, by Alice Vincent

This is an absolutely beautiful book. It’s written like poetry, and chronicles a year in the life of the author, following a break up. Walking the fine-line between intimacy and intrusion with perfect grace, I feel like this would make a wonderful gift for a tired millennial, or someone in the midst of a life change.

It talks about the history of plants, as well as the wider world – the way everything around us seems to rushed and busy, and why a connection with nature can be instrumental in forcing us to slow down to look after ourselves.

Read my full review of Rootbound here.

Oak and Ash and Thorn, by Peter Fiennes

I don’t often have favourite books, but I think if I did have to choose a favourite of those I read in 2020, then Oak and Ash and Thorn would be it.

I initially described it as a love letter to the forests of Britain, and an obituary to those we’ve lost, but it’s so much more than that. I think of parts of it when I’m walking in the woods still, all these months on. It speaks about the healing found in the trees, and as such, I think it would make a lovely gift for anyone in need of a little love after this year.

Read my full review of Oak and Ash and Thorn here.

Hidden Nature, by Alys Fowler

I absolutely loved this book, though that might have something to do with the fact that I’m an enormous fan of Alys Fowler’s work. She was absolutely instrumental in my wanting to grow food for myself, after I stumbled on her BBC series about edible gardening, and how one could have a space which was both beautiful and practical.

In this book, she discusses finding natural beauty in the unexpected places within towns – like the Birmingham Canals. But she also discusses the hidden nature within ourselves. This is a wonderful voyage of self discovery.

Read my full review of Hidden Nature here.

The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide, by Jen Gale

One of the more practical books I read this year was the Sustainable(ish) Living Guide by Jen Gale. This was definitely more of a ‘how to’, rather than a nature memoir, but the friendly tone makes it incredibly accessible. Based firmly in the philosophy that doing something imperfectly is better than doing nothing, this is a fantastic introduction into lowering our impact on the earth.

I would definitely recommend this for anyone who doesn’t think they have time to live lightly.

Read my full review of Jen’s book here.

How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum

I found this guide to giving up plastic one of the better ones. I like that it acknowledges that there is no single path that everyone can take, and that sometimes, plastic is necessary.

I think one of the best things about this book is how based in practicality it is. So many of the things I read about environmentalism bemoans the state of the planet without offering ways to fix it beyond ‘don’t use plastic bags for your vegetables’. This book went into details on how to protest, and how to set up beach cleans. It’s a realistic representation of the scale of the problem.

Read my full review of How to Give Up Plastic here.

How to Break up with Fast Fashion, by Lauren Bravo

This book is a fabulous introduction into how the things we wear are made, and why we should stop buying mass-produced, unethically-made clothing. Stark in that it doesn’t pull any punches, but empowering in that we can still change things.

This is one of those books which I fully intend to present to my children when they reach their teenage years, and I imagine it will be a good antidote to many shopaholics.

Read my full review of How To Break Up with Fast Fasion here.

A Life Less Throwaway, by Tara Button

This is a wonderful book, all about how buying a single high-quality item can actually save you money over the course of your life. It goes into the environmental impact of things like planned obsolescence, and how one can avoid it.

The author runs a website which details many objects which have been proven to last, but the philosophy of why she’s created such a resource is outlined in detail in this book.

This would make a fantastic gift from someone about to set up house on their own.

Read my full review of A Life Less Throwaway here.

How to Save the World for Free, by Natalie Fee

How to Save the World for Free by Natalie Fee was one of the first books that I read in 2020. I really love the premise of the book – that environmentalism doesn’t have to be elitist and expensive. That said, I’m in a somewhat privileged position, and I’ve yet to read ‘Working Class Environmentalism’ by Karen Bell, so I don’t know how true the ‘for free’ part will ring with who need things to be actually free.

Regardless, there are many really great ideas in here which so many of us could take on.

Read my full review of How To Save the World for Free here

RHS Plants from Pips, by Holly Farrell

This is definitely a ‘for all the family’ sort of gift. Both myself and my children reference this regularly and we all find the instructions clear and concise. We’ve managed to grow numerous avocado plants by using these instructions, as well as a very delicate, temperamental ginger bud, which sort of sulks on the window ledge.

There are all kinds of ideas in here, and it just goes to show that you can find life and nature anywhere, even in your compost heap.

Read my full review of Plants From Pips here.

There were a few others that I read over the course of 2020, but these are definitely my top picks.

What did you read this year, and what would you recommend I put on my library list for the coming 12 months? I would absolutely love to hear your recommendations! As ever, you can leave a comment here, or contact me via Twitter.

Physical Gifts

There are SO MANY amazing videos on YouTube about the various physical gifts that we can give one another. So, rather than relate what they’re saying on this post, I thought I’d just compile a playlist which you can watch here. Some gifts are every day things, produced in better ways, from better materials, whilst others seek to help the recipient reduce their environmental impact.

In addition to the above videos, I thought I’d make a very brief list of some of the physical gifts that I plan to give, and how I’ve sourced them.

  1. Socks – I don’t care what anyone says. Socks are exciting gifts. You can get so many wonderful ones these days, and the Green Shopper has compiled a list of those which are totally plastic free. Personally, I opted for pairs from The West Yorkshire Spinners. These are made in the UK, from UK wool.
  2. Books – When my children were little, I used to check books out of the library, wrap them and read them, then return them after the novelty wore off. If any became a favourite, then I would source a copy online, second-hand. And for a recent birthday, my husband ‘gifted’ me a library book a month too – he would choose one for me and it was a fabulous way for me to expand my reading beyond the topics I would normally pick.
    For new books, rather than use The Company Named After a River, I use Hive. Hive give a percentage of profit from their sales to an independent bookshop of your choice. Waterstones and Blackwells, also both have online stores and are solid choices – the former in particular is a cornerstone of many high streets and it would be a shame to see physical retailers go under due to the pandemic.
  3. Sweets/Chocolate – I’ve been buying gummi sweets from my local refillery and packing them in pretty Christmas DIY drawstring bags, but you can also buy them from the Beamish online store and help to support an amazing open-air museum. Great options for chocolate include Tony’s Chocolonely, and Divine. In the past, I’ve seen some supermarkets offer Fair Trade chocolate coins, but I haven’t seen any this year.
  4. Toys – Last year, I spoke about DIY Lego Kits, and I think that it’s worth reposting this as Lego is so often at the top of wish-lists. Otherwise, charity shops and eBay are great places to find second-hand options. And why children are little, they honestly don’t care. This year, I bought most the gifs for my two from Myriad Toys. I chose carefully – some tools for woodworking and a pocket knife – because I know these will last and be treasured. I know that they’ll nurture skills for the future.

There are other physical gifts I’m giving, amongst family and friends. I’ll be handing out some hampers of homemade, homegrown goodies – camomile tea, chutney, apple butter, and bread, amongst other things. And I’ll also be giving away objects my children no longer have any interest in, and which I think their friends will love. I’ve spoken about it with my children and we’ve selected things in exceptionally good condition. I honestly don’t see the need to dispose of these via charity shops, only to replace them to pass on. We need to remove this sense of taboo that we seem to feel when it comes to giving/getting used items as gifts.

I’ve spoken before about gift wrapping, and about the campaign to #CutTheWrap, and I do honestly believe that if you do nothing else this holiday to reduce waste, taking on board some of these ideas will be hugely impactful. Wrapping paper literally exists only to be thrown away. It creates so much extra waste and work, and just isn’t necessary.

By switching to fabric drawstring bags, I’ve saved myself the time I would spend wrapping for my children, and because I will use these year, after year, after year, I’m saving myself money too. And these bags will, potentially, last a lifetime. They’re easy to DIY – those I’ve made were constructed with a combination of quilting fabric from my mother-in-laws stash, and some my mum found in a charity shop – but even if you don’t want to sew your own, you can order them from places like Etsy for a reasonably price. I searched for ‘Christmas Cloth Bag UK’ and found a huge selection.

I hope this has given you some ideas. I plan to have another post up with some of the books I’ve read and loved this year, but in the meantime, you can check out my last round-up here, in case you need some inspiration.

As ever, I’d love to hear your ideas and what your plans are for the holidays. Whatever you’re doing, I hope you stay safe ❤

Chocolate Snowmen

One of the low waste advent activities that I like to do with the children in the run up to Christmas is to make chocolate snowmen.

For these, I use white chocolate, dark chocolate chips, and the tiniest pinch of turmeric. I bought the chips from our local refillery, but the chocolate tends to be whatever I can get from the supermarket that’s wrapped in foil and paper – Green & Blacks, if I’m feeling flush but Lidl’s cheapest otherwise.

The snowmen are fairly self-explanatory. I melted the white chocolate and set aside a few tablespoons of this. I added a pinch of turmeric to the set-aside chocolate and dabbed it onto some baking paper to make the carrot noses.

After the now-yellow chocolate had set, I let the children spoon some of the still white chocolate onto the paper, and adorn with chocolate chips and turmeric noses.

One the snowmen had dried, we packed them in little brown paper bags to gift to friends. Although the paper isn’t plastic free – modern baking paper being coated in a sheet of silicone – we did reuse this many times over the week as we created an army of snowmen. And overall, I think we definitely reduced the amount of plastic that conventional chocolate gifts would have produced.

I would love to see any pictures if you have a go – I think these guys are so cute! What are your favourite festive treats? As ever, you can contact me here or on Twitter?

The Ukelele, or ‘when we get it wrong’.

For Christmas 2019, I bought my eldest child a ukelele.

Money was tight. It usually is at this time of year for most families, but there are few freelance jobs in December (in our line of work), and the car needs a service and MOT here too – and on this occasion, a new timing belt. So I bought the Aldi ukelele on a whim when I saw it in store – there it was, the exact gift I had been looking for and under budget. It was even in a physical, real-life shop, so no packaging from a postal order to dispose of either.

Feeling rather clever, i stashed it under my bed and went on with the Christmas preparations. It was only on the 22nd when I took the ukelele out to tune it that I realised it was largely unplayable.

Let me be clear – the ukelele as a gift isn’t a problem. Its an ideal first instrument. Tuned to a chord, even strumming open strings sounds great – instant musicality. Its compact and light-weight which makes it easy for small people. You don’t need to read music to play – ukelele ‘tab’ music is accessible and easy. All in all, its a rock-solid way to introduce children to the creativity inherent in music.

The issue with this particular ukelele, is that the g-string couldn’t really be tuned without making it so loose as to be baggy.

So, with two days until the gift was due to be given, I called my brother and had him source a second ukelele online. This one cost £15 more, but the build quality was vastly superior, it came with a strap, case and tuner, and a small yet concise book of chords and tab to get a beginner started.

My eldest was absolutely delighted with the second ukelele, but this left the problem of what to do with the first. Initially, I planned to return it, but then I read this article. In short – most returned gifts are sent to landfill, and I absolutely didn’t want to be responsible for consigning a brand new object to oblivion.

In short, my haste, lack of research, and desire for a low price had left me with an item I couldn’t use, an overspend, and the responsibility of disposing of a brand new object – one that probably wasn’t constructed using best-practice to begin with.

I wanted to write about this for many reasons – but primarily, I wanted to show that everyone can and does make environmental mistakes. I spend my free time writing about how we can be kinder to the earth,  reading about waste reduction, and trying to use what I have creatively,  yet I fell prey to a tiny price tag during a tricky time of year.

It takes planning to avoid this kind of error, and planning takes time. If you’re working, have children, have other people in your care, or any combination of the above, then time is something of a luxury that most of us don’t have around Christmas. It’s easy to talk about shopping earlier in the year, or about making sure we take the time to do our best, but sometimes that either isn’t possible or one or two items fall through the net.

When this happens, it’s natural to want to berate yourself – to be cross about the avoidable error – but treat yourself the way you would treat a friend. Remind yourself that you were busy, that these things happen and that you’ll try harder next time. Then move on. If we begin attaching guilt and shame to the things we do which are less than ideal then it’s easy to lose the motivation to keep going.

In short – be kind to yourself this holiday season. None of us are perfect.

Preparing for Christmas

Last year, I did a really good job of reducing the waste our household creates over the festive period.

This year, I want to do even more!

To start with, I plan to continue my efforts to #CutTheWrap by using cloth bags for all of my family’s gifts. This will not only cut down on expenditure over the long term (never having to buy gift wrap again!) but it will also save me time – something that’s very presious in the winter months.

I will also continue to champion my low waste advent calendars, and try to gift as many eco-conscious books as I can.

But… what else can we do?

Over the coming weeks, I would like to talk a little bit about expectations, panic buying, and the need for research before gifting anything. I want to discuss whether it’s ever OK to ‘gift’ someone a library book, and what you can do instead of giving gifts.

These are all pretty big topics, so I’ll pause here for the time being and invite you all to ‘watch this space’ for what’s to come.

As ever, if you’ve got any suggestions about ways to make Christmas a less wasteful period of time, I would absolutely love to hear them – either here, or on Twitter.

 

Break.

I’m going to take a short break from blogging on here for a while.

It’s nothing serious – I’ve just been posting twice a week for over a year now and I need a chance to rest and recharge.

When I do come back, I think it’ll be a once-a-week sort of thing.

Thank you for reading along with me, for all the comments, and for all the ideas which have helped me to make my life more sustainable.

If you’re short of reading material in the meantime (unlikely, I know), you can check out some:
Amazing books – (I especially loved Oak and Ash and Thorn, but all of these are wonderful!)
This Simple Life – a wonderful blog about life in Spain.
Read, Learn, Live – another wonderful blog, that’s not about life in Spain.
Eco Family Life – a third wonderful blog about trying to reduce waste for a family.

There are all sorts of amazing resources out there – Jen Gale’s ‘Sustainable(ish)’ site and Rae Strauss’s ‘Zero Waste Week’ movement spring immediately to mind.

I hope you’ll join me again in a few weeks when I come back.

With much love.
Farn ❤