Connection

I spoke last time about resolutions as we ease into the new year. I touched on how positive simply resolving to enjoy a TV show had been for me, over the last 12 months.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m going to continue working my way through ‘Murder, She Wrote’, but I’m also going to try and form some connections.

The ongoing poop-show of the pandemic in the UK means that there are still many people I can’t see – getting to/from friends and family in Europe has been close to impossible. I’m also a creature of habit, and my current habit is isolation – this doesn’t help.

More personally, I’m not an especially sociable soul. I do tend to to find myself in unhealthy peaks and valleys of interaction, and these cycles still baffle me somewhat. I find balance difficult when it comes to people and find that I either wear myself out hopping from friend to friend for months at a time, or conversely, hiding – actively eschewing contact. The pandemic forced the later on me, and I find myself at a point where I’m hungry to see everyone. But now that I’m aware of how easily I can let myself get carried away, I’m going to approach my desire for connection to other people mindfully.

I’m still discovering what this means, but hopefully I can find the time to discuss it in the coming months.

In addition to a connection with people, I’m looking to connect with the world again. Travel was a huge part of our life before Covid hit – not necessarily international travel (though for obvious reasons, we spent a lot of time in mainland Europe), but even just trips to the coast, or the forest, or the mountains round about us. As our world shrunk, I found myself feeling more and more like I’d been cut loose – that I was disembodied somehow, an untethered balloon.

In response to this, I’ve decided to make the effort to live more seasonally. I already do this in regards to food (not least because it’s the cheapest way to eat), but I want to feel the seasons a little more – to celebrate them.

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During the worst of the pandemic, I got into candles. As with so many things, I inherited some from my inlaws, but lockdown’s less frequent trips to the shops necessitated cupboard space for storing food, so I began to burn through them. To do so, I placed a pretty plate in the middle of my coffee table and over the months which followed, this became something of a little altar to the changes outside – stone eggs in the spring, pinecones and stunted pumpkins in autumn, and sweet-peas in the summer.

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In the picture above, you might be able to see my charity shop bargain – The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. I’ve marked the dates on which she wrote observations in 1906, and aim to read them aloud – here in 2022. That way, I can directly contrast what I’m seeing in the natural world (and build connection there) but I can also connect to the past – to the nature-lovers who came before me.

Finally, I not only aim to connect with the physical, literal land of this country, but also, the nation state. The UK has felt increasingly hostile to my semi-migrant family since the 2016 referendum, and I know that if I want to change that, I need to stop distancing myself. For all that Britain has shown its ugly side for most of this past decade, it’s also shown that the vast majority of people want a positive change. First-past-the-post voting is broken, and I so often take heart from the ‘Proportional Commons‘ Twitter feed. What’s happening right now is far, far from ‘the will of the people’. And if that’s the case, perhaps the world isn’t as bleak as I’d thought and it’s ok for me to go out into it.

To focus on the good things, I’m using the Emma Press book, ‘Second Place Rosette’ . Divided into months, it offers what the introduction calls a ‘grass roots’ look at the country. So far, there have been verses about taking down the Christmas tree, and a comparison of Yorkshire puddings to lighthouses. It’s a glorious way to look again at an island I’d fallen out of love with.

University continues into Semester Two and I find myself on campus more. The young people I met during the first few months were inspiring – so different from my disinterested past-self that it was amazing to think they’re as young as they are. At 18, I was so burnt out from school that university seemed like the final hurdle – the last slog in a long line of exhausting exams – but that weariness doesn’t seem to infect the current batch of students.

Or perhaps that’s just archaeologists. Regardless, I feel that I’ve found myself in good company. I hope – most of all – to connect to the optimism present on my course.

As ever, I will try and update as often as I can, but the quantity of work ahead of me remains to be seen.

With much love and hope for the new year,

Farn

A New Year

Last year, I made a point of not making any resolutions as 2021 ticked around.

But interestingly, not making any resolutions was a resolution I didn’t stick to. Asked again and again by people trying to make polite conversation, I finally blurted – after a particularly self important speech about self-improvement from the person asking me – that I was going to watch ‘Murder, She Wrote’.

Yes, that one.

Yes, the much-memed 1980s crime show starring Angela Lansbury.

And actually, it was so much better for me than all the years I’ve tried to do something to better myself that I thought I’d mention it here.

As with the person who seeded the idea, there’s this fallacy that a new year requires a ‘new me’ – as if the person we’ve been for the last twelve months is a skin we can shed. But we can’t – we take our experiences with us, and if we’re serious about improving, then we learn from them.

Both the good and the bad.

I chose a TV show to watch because it’s something I almost never do. I’ve got nothing against television, for the record – I just don’t ever feel like I can commit to epic seven-season stories, with 20+ hour-long episodes per season. I honestly barely feel able to commit to a film. That each episode of ‘Murder, She Wrote’ is entirely self contained made it feel less onerous.

I also wanted something old, familiar, and friendly. I know, I know – murder does not equal friendly. But my memories of the show are sick-days from school, curled up on brown velour sofas, stuffing my puffy face with Heinz tomato soup. Associatively, it felt safe.

Mostly, I wanted something I knew I would enjoy. It’s so easy to get swept up in the duty of improvement, in the work we do on ourselves, that we neglect the fact that pleasure can make us better people too.

Let me repeat that: Doing something that feels good can help us to do good.

This is the permission, if you need it, to put aside all the things you feel that you ‘have’ to do – whether that’s getting into shape, eating better, or decluttering – in favour of doing something you want but never allocate yourself time for.

Because I have learnt at least as much from watching a TV show about an old woman ignoring authority, misogyny, and agism, as I have from reading countless tomes on feminism.

So though my own ambition this year is slightly different – and I’ll discuss that soon – I would like to invite you to join me in doing something over the next twelve months because you want to, and because it feels good.

Pleasure in what’s already there is one of the biggest acts of rebellion against this consumerist society of ‘not-enough’ that we have.

Working-class Environmentalism by Karen Bell

I meant to read this for a really long time, but completely failed to get round to it until a few months ago.

I wish I’d read it sooner.

Working-Class Environmentalism by Karen Bell is one of the first books I would recommend anyone read if they’re new to the sustainability movement. Yes, in places is reads like a dissertation, but it deals with so much more than the usual ‘mason-jar low-physical-waste’ side we so often see.

At this point, I’ve read a lot of books about sustainability, but all of them seem very much pitched at a certain income. Even How To Save The World for Free felt as though there was an earning threshold that was a prerequisite to being environmentally sound. In the UK, where the divide between rich and poor is growing ever more pronounced, more and more people fall below this mark.

I could write a whole book about the ways in which the sustainability movement is only superficially set up for those on a lower income but thankfully, I don’t have to because Karen Bell did.

This book isn’t a work about the things that those in low income households can do to save the environment. It’s about the ways in which people who earn less are already doing more for the planet than their better-off counterparts. It’s about the disproportionate impact of poor environmental strategies on those who live in deprived areas. It’s about the myriad ways that conventional environmentalism is causing a bigger class divide – like how it’s easy to blame those who need plastic-drenched ready meals because they’re working three jobs. Or how we demonise those who rely on fast fashion prices to clothe their families because trawling charity shops or second hand sites takes more time then they have free/have internet access for. There are so many ways in which the mason jar aesthetic of the zero waste movement disadvantages all of us, but this is so seldom spoken about and almost never in conjunction with money – if it is discussed, it’s in regards to mental health and the unachievable expectations we place on ourselves in a capitalist culture.

I also feel that it’s worth mentioning – just from a ‘growing as a human being’ standpoint – that the definition of ‘British working class’ is no longer someone from a northern mining town. It’s call centre workers, care workers, and beauty technicians. It’s Deliveroo drivers, and Uber drivers. In-work poverty is rising. And poverty disproportionately impacts people of colour, traveller culture, and immigrants.

It got me thinking more about the ways in which the zero waste movement encourages a minimalist aesthetic, and how this contradicts the poverty-driven desire to hold onto things ‘just in case’. I remember listening to a podcast by Jen Gale (of Sustainable-ish fame) in which she encouraged people to stop hoarding baby clothes and school uniforms, as passing them on would prevent the need for more to be made/sold. But what if you can’t afford to replace them after you give them up? I know that saving and repairing my eldest’s uniforms has been of huge financial benefit to me – especially now that the pandemic requires that uniform is changed daily. If I needed to buy 3-5 shirts, 3-5 sweatshirts, and 3-5 pairs of trousers per child per year, that would cost well over the £100 mark – and that’s factoring in second hand, off-brand bottoms. That’s a monumental amount of money when you’re in receipt of Universal Credit. *

For me, one of the most important factors in this book was the message that if you’re living on a low income, you’re probably already living in a more ecologically sound way, than those earning more and buying ‘green’ things.

In short – if you’re only going to read one book about the planet this year, let it be this one.


*If you’re in the market for off-brand school uniform, or for logo-sweaters from around Glasgow, then Apparel Exchange are a great social enterprise offering donated goods for low prices – including wellies, hallowe’en costumes, and waterproofs.

Their landing page also specifies that : “families can […] receive free clothing from us when times are challenging.”

If you have clothes to donate, you can make contact with the team here.

I’m not affiliated with Apparel Exchange at all, just for full disclosure.

I Belong Here, by Anita Sethi

When I read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, I went on a bit of a hunt for more lyrical books about ‘walking to find your place in the world’. Ever since visiting Holy Island, I’ve had a hankering to walk St Cuthbert’s way – it’s like an itch that won’t pass – but until my children are either big enough to join me or big enough to move out, I have to content myself with enjoying such trails vicariously.

I Belong Here by Anita Sethi is one of the books which have helped assuage that urge.

The book is – at its core – about a walk along the Pennine Way. This trek across the ‘Backbone of Britain’ is not just as a hike, however, but also medicine for the soul.

Sethi suffered a racist attack prior to undertaking the walk and skillfully uses the path as a metaphor for discussing our sense of origin, self, and home. She speaks about the dangers of being a woman, walking alone – particularly the additional dangers which occur when you’re not a white person in a predominantly white country. She discusses the difficulties faced by single parent families and those on low incomes when it comes to access to nature.

It was a timely reminder for me, as I struggle to reach civilisation using public transport, just how lucky I am to live swathed in the green of the countryside. I know that I’d rather be having issues getting into town than getting out of it. The health benefits – both physical and mental – of living in the midst of nature are touched upon in Sethi’s work, as are the ways in which those with money act as gatekeepers to the natural world for those without. Sethi makes many references to the way that walking and nature helped her to combat her anxiety – the book is a wonderful piece of activism, championing the fact that the countryside is for everyone.

There are so many excellent points about identity, and how the countryside of a nation can define us as much as the culture of it can. Again, it’s not something I’d given much thought to, but of course we’re shaped by our physical environment. The book made me feel, more than ever, that I belong in my little corner of the North East – the summer chanterelles, winter kale, and autumn apples of my immediate area have built my bones. The earth here has fed me, and I, in turn, will feed the earth. The land and I belong to each other, and Sethi’s book was an incredible reminder of this.

I could say so much more about this book, but in short, the best thing about this book was the way that it made me reflect on my place in the world. And the conditions which allow me to feel that yes, I Belong Here.

This is a definite ‘must read’.

Have you come across Anita Sethi’s work before? If so, I would love to hear what you think.

xx

Elderberry Cordial

You’ll have to excuse the absolutely terrible photos – it’s been a mad sort of weekend. I’ve got so much going on right now, and so much to tell you about, but I didn’t want to let the elderberry season sail past without writing up a brief tutorial on how to make this incredibly tasty autumn drink.

First of all, you’ll need some elderberries. Gently remove them from the stalks and weigh them. I had 400g, so I put them in a pan with 400mls of water. If you have 700g, you’d use 700mls etc. Then, add the zest of one lemon. Use your best judgement on this one. If you’ve got a lot more berries than me, add the zest of two lemons…

I’m very lazy, so I just used a potato peeler to slice off strips, but if you’ve got a proper zester, then feel free to employ it here.

Now, simmer the lot for between 30 minutes to an hour.

Once that’s done, mash the berries as best you can to release the juices and then sieve the lot. I use our incredibly fine metal sieve, but a cheese cloth, or old baby muslin would be better. Again – lazy. Washing a cloth was too much work.

Pour the liquid back into the pan and discard the pulp. Add sugar – this should be the same weight as your berries. In my case, I added 400g because I had 400g of fruit, but if you had 300g, you’d add 300g sugar etc.

When the sugar has dissolved, pour your liquid into a sterilised bottle and you’re ready to go. I dilute this 1:5 with boiling water.

You can add a cinnamon stick at the same point I added the lemon zest for a slightly more festive flavour, but to be honest, I forgot this time and haven’t missed it.

If you try this I would love to hear how you get on.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, was a book that I initially dismissed after having read 161 pages.

I’m not really sure how that happened. Usually, if I make it to the 50 page mark in any book, I’m guaranteed to finish, but in this case, I just didn’t. In 2019, I bagged up the book and took it back to the library unfinished, presuming that I would think little more of it,

Except, I thought about it all the time. I thought about the wonderful ways in which Jahren uses the scientific processes of plants as a metaphor for the many facets of humanity. I thought about the many different kinds of love she talks about. I thought about the unlikeliness of life as she describes it – poetry meets science.

I knew I had to find a way to finish the book.

I put myself back on the waiting list for it and was about to check it out again when the pandemic happened. And then my place in the queue expired and I forgot to renew it.

But earlier this year, that same copy I’d started in 2019 made its way back into my hands and I gobbled up the rest of the story.

There’s not really a lot to say in terms of plot – the book’s subtitle covers it all rather succinctly. It is a story of trees, science, and love. But it’s more too.

It’s a book about the family we choose and about the ways that love endures. It’s about plants, undoubtedly, but about people too and our connection to the world. I felt like a cell of a bigger organism whilst reading this book and that sense of connection is worth so very much after such a long spell of isolation.

It’s about the sacrifices that we make to do the things we want – living in dodgy trailer parks to own a horse, for example, or sleeping in a van. It’s a nice reminder that our priorities might not be linear, and that at some points in our lives, our actions might align with our values more than others.

There is so much here to love, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why I put this to one side. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear what was being said, or perhaps I just needed time to let the first half percolate. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I went back to it.

Another great reminder that life isn’t linear, and reading books doesn’t have to be either.

What’s the longest time you’ve taken to finish a book? I think this one is a record for me at three years, but in my defence, I did have a chunk of time off! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Love.

xx

#CanaryCraftivist – The Letter

It’s time to post my little yellow canary off to my MP. (If you’ve not seen the previous post about the #CanaryCraftivist activism that I’m taking part in, the you can catch up here. 🙂 )

I’m really, really proud of the letter that I’ve written, so thought that I would share it here, in the hopes that it might inspire other people to put pen to paper – even if they don’t have a canary to post.

Hopefully, my writing is not too scrappy for you to read it.

With much love, and hope.

Farn

How to easily repair torn sweater cuffs

Last time I posted, I covered how I mend school trousers. This time, I thought I’d relay how I repair sweater cuffs.

My eldest is a chewer – anything that can go in their mouth, does go in their mouth.

The picture above isn’t the best, but you can see where the cuff edges have been gnawed.

This can technically be repaired in a similar way to the trousers, but this time I opted to replace the whole thing. And because the replacement fabric is a slightly different colour, I needed to cut off both of the original cuffs.

I cut outside of the seams to try and reduce the bulk of cloth going through my machine.

Here are the sleeves, ready to receive their new ends.

I used the pieces of sweater that I removed to figure out how big I should make the new cuffs. These are the same width as the originals, but double the height so that when they’re folded, they end up the correct size.

Next, I sew down the short edge – you can see where it’s pinned in the above picture.

Because this is a stretch fabric, I needed to use a zig-zag stitch, so couldn’t set my hand-crank Jones to work. This is my* Frister and Rossman Cub 7, doing its thing. It’s a hardy little machine and a great model for someone just starting to sew. If you can pick one up second hand, it’s absolutely worth it for general household repairs.

If you have access to an overlocker, you can also use this for the cuffs, and it’ll arguably give you a better, more professional, finish. But then, if you have an overlocker, you probably know all this already… 😉

Now that the sides have been joined, the cuff needs folding in half. These raw edges are going to join up with the raw edges on the sweater sleeve.

You should have 3 layers of fabric in a sandwich here – two from the cuff and one from the sweater’s sleeve. To align the cuff properly, I keep the right side of the sleeve facing out, then slip the cuff over the top of it, on the outside. I hope the picture helps that to make sense…

Again, I’ve used the zig-zag stitch for this. I went around the seam twice, because my child is not so kind to clothes, but once is adequate for most sweaters…

In addition, when I turned the cuff the right way round, I zig-zagged over the join – again, this isn’t necessary, but I’m hoping this will make it all last a little longer!

Finally, repeat the process the the second cuff…

As you can tell from the picture above, the colour match is far from perfect, but it’s good enough for things like art or gym days. Eventually, the bright blue of the new cuffs will fade to be more in line with the body, at which point they’ll be significantly less noticeable.

If you have old, worn out sweaters, they’re absolutely perfect to cut up for this, but otherwise, a fat-quarter of stretch jersey rib will last a long time – definitely cheaper than buying new sweaters!

Have you tried repairing any school uniform in preparation for the coming term? If so, what did you mend? What are the most common tears you come across? Is there anything you’d like a tutorial of?

As ever, much love ❤

*I say ‘my’ Frister and Rossman – it’s technically my mum’s…

Is it worth mending school uniforms?

The schools in our area are back in session very soon, so I thought I would dig out the uniform from last term and have a look at the condition of it. I’ve spoken before about removing stains from otherwise well-fitting items, but stains are some of the easier things to remedy.

Harder, are the little tears which result from slightly-too-long-trousers being rubbed along the ground, or from sweater cuffs being teased at with teeth during difficult sums.

I thought we’d start with a trouser leg cuff.

I started by turning the trousers inside out and unpicking the half of the cuff with a hole in it.

Here, you can see how big the hole is, and how frayed the edges are.

For the purposes of this post, I drew roughly along where I planned to stitch the fabric using tailor’s chalk. It doesn’t show up especially well, but I hope you can make it out.

It’s possibly easier to see in this photo as I’ve already started stitching. I tried to get as close to the edge as I could so that I lost as little length as possible.

Here it is, all stitched up. The raw edges will be contained within the cuff, so there’s much less risk of fraying now.

Next, it’s just a case of folding the cuff back into place and stitching it down again. As you can see, the edges of the trouser leg no longer line up, but when these are being worn, you won’t be able to see this at all.

To reattach the cuff, I used a simple whip-stitch (or felling stitch), taking care to only catch the tiniest bit of the leg fabric with the needle.

When the repair is finished, it looks like this – it’s only a little neater, but it is significantly less likely to unravel. Again, you won’t notice this mend when the trousers are worn because of how the fabric hangs over the shoe.

This is how it looks ‘end-on’. You can see the tuck, but if the difference in the way this is folded bothers you, then you can continue stitching all the way around the inside of the cuff…

Which is a repair I’ll show you on a sweater at some point soon…

Do schools use uniforms where you are? If they do, do you buy new every year, second-hand, or repair the previous ones (presuming they still fit)? What are your uniforms made of? Our logo’ed ones are all poly-cotton blends, which is far from ideal.

As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Farn xx

The one thing I wish I’d known sooner…

There is so much advice out there about ways in which to curtail our impact on the planet – leave the car at home, stop buying bottled water, stop eating meat, don’t use plastic products…

Refuse.

Reduce.

But for me, none of that was sustainable.

The human mind is a funny thing. I know that all of the above is factually accurate – that these are all necessary things which I should be doing in order to combat the climate crisis – but when I’m told that I can’t do something, I feel a spark of rebellion.

“I don’t want to stop using my car, thank you very much.”

I suspect I’m not alone.

Doing the right thing became much, much easier when I started to rephrase what was being asked of me. Instead of looking at my life in relation to the environment in terms of deficit, I began looking at it in terms of abundance.

Instead of saying ‘use the car less’, I began to think of it as an opportunity to walk or cycle more.

Rather than ‘eat less imported food’, I started to tell myself that I should eat more local produce.

You’re probably sick of this picture, but I’m not sick of eating this kind of mushroom! 😀

So to anyone who is just beginning to look at living more sustainably, I would say look for abundance.

  • Plant more edibles – herbs, or even bean sprouts, on the window ledge are enough, though Project Diaries on YouTube have amazing tutorials about how to garden cheaply/for free
  • Cook more – check out Madeleine Olivia on YouTube for seriously easy, quick, and delicious recipes, or Pick Up Limes for something more involved
  • Plan more – the better the meal-plan, the less food waste there is and the less money lost – an all round win
  • Walk or cycle more – it feels better than being stuck in a car, and could potentially save money on travel (or gym membership if you’re so inclined)
  • Read more – it’s a free hobby if you use the library or Project Gutenberg, and it’s a sustainable choice
  • Get more from your possessions – repair them so they last longer. There are so many tutorials online that the world really is your oyster.
  • Take more picnics, have more adventures – if you have your lunch with you, there’s less of a limit to where and how far you can go in a day (and it’s cheaper than buying something while you’re out)
  • Keep more money – I’ve saved so much money by finding joy in cooking new recipes, exploring the countryside, and reading books.
  • Enjoy more time – fewer things means less to manage and more time for yourself
  • Learn new hobbies – a few mending skills can see you on your way to sewing or knitting a whole garment – that’s a whole new creative outlet
  • Enjoy the things you love – by buying what you adore rather than what’s trending, you end up filling your house with things which are truly unique to you. And if you love the things you have, you won’t want to replace them regularly with new equivalents. (I personally have a penchant for 70s melamine camping crockery and old enamel cookware – both in hideous orange and brown combinations – but find your own

My life feels so much fuller since I started looking at things in this way – it feels like I’m living a life of plenty, not of loss – despite the fact that I’m consuming less. I think that we need to start looking at environmentalism in terms of what we gain, rather than through the prism of what we stand to lose.

What advice would you give to someone who was new to sustainability? Or what aspects of low-waste living do you think aren’t spoken about enough/are spoken about in a way that perhaps doesn’t tell the whole story?

With much love.

Farn