Home, and a few words about what I’m doing here.

The schools are off now.

We’re staying at home.

There will be A LOT of gardening going on, a lot of reading, and using online resources. I posted on my other blog (The Inquisitive Newt), a long list of activities we plan to do over the coming weeks. I hope it might be of use to some of you.

With the exception of this post, I don’t actually blog in ‘real time’. I queue things up as they become relevant, or as I finish writing them – some posts are more in depth than others and/or may require a before/after picture, for example.

I’ve got posts lined up and ready to go until April 6th.

I’ll endeavour to continue after this point, of course, but I wanted to let you know that if any of the next handful of posts reference us going out/meeting people, that all of this occurred in the past. In particular, the post about our local market and seed library springs to mind. The market I’m referencing happened on March 7th, though the post isn’t scheduled until April 2nd. 

I ask that you keep this in mind. 

Really, being at home isn’t anything of a hardship – there is so much to do here, and so much richness in our lives. We have aeons worth of things we could be doing – boredom will not be an issue – and while we’re here, perhaps I’ll finally lower my transport emissions! 

In regards to the kids, I’d originally wanted to home-school my children though my eldest had other ideas on the matter. I’m glad things turned out this way – our school community is vibrant, supportive, and nurturing. Our staff – teachers, secretary, cook, cleaner, visiting specialists, and so many more – are all like an extended family. Whilst I might be keen to work with my babies more, I think they’ll miss the wonderful community they’re leaving behind (for the time being). I’m especially sad for my youngest – the transition from nursery to school will be interrupted, sudden, jarring.

For a much better post about staying at home, why not take a look at ‘En Casa’ on This Simple Life.

And whatever else you do, please, please, please – do stay at home. Unless you’re a key worker, the best way that you can help fight this virus is by giving those working in the hospitals time to treat patients. A close second is to stop panic buying. If you’re out of bog-roll because other people have hogged it all, consider the innocuously named ‘family cloth’. It is absolutely my plan B!

So if you’re not working from home, sewing your own loo roll (don’t flush it!!!!) or gardening, what other free things can you get up to?

Why not check out Project Gutenberg, for free reading material? Or your local library’s online catalogue?

There’s also a whole pile of free video-games on Abandonware.

I made mention earlier to child-friendly activities that I listed on my other blog, but it’s worth linking to again here. Especially worth noting are the links to classical music.

Or watch our veg being grown at the local Community Supported Agriculture initiative – I can’t wait for our first veg boxes, and the children really love watching the videos!

If that’s not enough, I totally recommend having a peruse this list of activities from Chatterpack.

Stay safe out there, friends. Be excellent to each other.

Every tree is a forest

Recently, I posted about replacing my evergreen hedge with native trees. 

I had been planning to purchase some saplings from The Woodland Trust,* but something last week stopped me, and I decided to put a post out on Freecycle instead. What I discovered was something inspiring.

My notice read something to the effect of;
WANTED: Tree weeds. Do you have saplings growing where there should be no saplings? I would be very happy to come and remove them, and give them a good home.

An amazing couple responded to my ad, and so I set off – armed with my shovel and some empty dog-food sacks in which to transport the roots.

As my sat nav brought me towards the house, I passed a plantation of young trees and wondered if this was where my saplings would be coming from – the response had said, ‘We have some trees to spare’ so I thought that perhaps the couple had bought a large quantity to fill the field and hadn’t been able to fit them all in.

When I arrived, however, the lovely people donating the plants took me round to the back of their house where they presented the biggest monkey puzzle tree I have ever seen. It looked to be around six storeys high and was apparently planted when the house was built. As the cottage looked to be around 200 years old, I could well believe it. It was absolutely magical – an enormous ladder of spiney branches, reaching into the sky.

And all around it, at waist height, were bare saplings. The homeowners explained that birds came to sit on the tree, pooped as they set off again, and spread a variety of mystery seeds all around the monkey puzzle tree. Most were obviously raspberry canes, but others looked more robust and it was these we settled on.

I mentioned the plantation as I began to dig, saying that I’d thought the saplings might be coming from there, and they explained that the entire thing had been filled with self-seeded examples from beneath the monkey puzzle tree.

I was absolutely taken aback. Here was the making of a forest, stemming from the planting of one single tree. The huge field full of saplings had been laid in the last ten years – how many generations had been in that house before this point and had pulled up all those potential trees? How many trees had been lost through being in the ‘wrong place’?

As humans, we have both the power to destroy and to protect, and never have I seen it as starkly as I did here. The residents of this cottage had the option to do as all their predecessors did – to rip out the self-seeded trees which threatened to take over their garden. But they didn’t. They chose to save literally hundreds of saplings and create native woodland instead. And now that they’ve filled their own land, they’ve chosen to help others plant trees too.

And each tree – as evidenced by that incredible, giant beanstalk-esque monkey puzzle tree – has the potential to create not just one, but a multitude of forests over the course of its life. And all those forests need in order to become are humans willing to work with the natural world, and not against it.

I took home and planted a beech, a holly bush, an-almost-certain-rowan, and three mystery trees. Whilst our slip of garden won’t ever be big enough to plant a forest in, I am now determined that I will pass on whatever saplings come form these plants. I might not be able to plant a forest here, but I can make sure that while I am custodian of these trees, that I give their forest every chance I possibly can – even if that’s dispersed throughout the region.

Have you planted any trees this year? Do you think it’s something you have space for in your garden? What would you plant if you did? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts – here, or on Twitter.

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*I just wanted to touch on why I did things this way. Firstly – fewer transport miles. There were a total of six miles between where I am and where the trees were. This means that – secondly – I know that whatever I plant can survive here and will be hardy enough to tolerate the weather. Third, there’s no packaging – I reused the sacks my dog’s food came in, and now that my saplings are in the ground, I’ll be able to use them again. Fourth – and it’s a big one – time. According to everything I’ve read, it’s actually pretty late in the season for me to be planting trees. Apparently, they need to be moved during their winter dormant phase so as we move into spring, the window for getting them in the ground grows ever shorter. I didn’t know how long postal delivery would be, so this seemed like an instantaneous alternative.

And finally, even though I didn’t get the trees from the Woodland Trust, I put in a donation to the same value as I would have spent. The charity does absolutely amazing work, and I want to support them – it’s why I chose them to buy trees from rather than my local garden centre. I feel like this way, everybody wins.

 

More low impact hobbies.

A while ago, I did a post about low-impact hobbies such as reading, playing games, and photography, but I keep thinking of more things so thought I would do another round up of eco-friendly ways to pass time.

Puzzles

A personal favourite at the moment is jigsaws – we buy them from the chairty shop, do them once and then return them. They generally cost between £1-3 for a 1000 piece puzzle which is a LOT of entertainment for the money. Combine this with an audio book from your library, or a free podcast, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun evening in. Or at least… I think so.

Musical instruments

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This is a bit of a tricky one in terms of cost so it really depends which instrument you want to play and whether or not you already have one. I’m – honestly, don’t judge me – a massive fan of the recorder. It’s cheap, compact, available in wood, and easy to pick up. I know it has a bad a reputation given the number of school children who seem to believe that the point is to blow it as hard as possible, but when played properly it’s every bit as beautiful as a flute. I mean, check out this concerto...

If recorder really isn’t your thing, the ukulele is a great option. You can pick up a good one relatively cheaply – even new – and there are countless YouTube tutorials out there, as well as free tab music online. The size makes them easy for children to play and as all four strings are tuned to a chord, they sound fine even when strummed by small, enthusiastic hands.

Personally – because I’m a sucker for punishment – I’m learning violin. This isn’t a cheap option, but I was lucky enough to inherit one that isn’t dreadful so I thought I should probably learn to play it. So far, I still sound like I’m scratching nails down a chalkboard but I’m not getting worse so I’ll take that as a win. It’s good fun, regardless.

Most libraries have a good supply of music tutorial books and ours has a 3 month borrower limit (or rather, you get 1 month with each book and can renew 3 times) which is ample opportunity to practise the music.

After the purchase of the instrument, playing it can be incredibly cheap. Whilst I’m going to need more violin lessons – because they are such an… analogue instrument, and it’s tricky to get the right note – it’s perfectly possible to teach yourself the recorder. You either play the right note, or you don’t – get the fingering or you, or you don’t. If you have a tuner/tuning app on your phone, the same applies to the ukulele. Using library books and online tutorials makes it completely free to play, and none of the above  require any power.

A great way to resource share, or to try your hand if you don’t want to make a big financial commitment, is to rent an instrument. Some councils do this for school children, whilst some brass bands will offer the loan of something to play, sometimes in addition to lessons. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people, pick up a new skill and connect with your local community. And practising will take up time at home. If brass music isn’t your thing, then it might be an idea to try local folk groups and see if they have a similar scheme.

With instruments, it really is a case of, ‘you get what you give’. If you devote an a small amount of time to practise every day, you’ll get good quickly. Better to do ten minutes daily than an hour every fortnight, so making it part of your routine really helps. 

Volunteering

If your schedule allows, volunteering can be a really fun thing to do. Whether that’s in a charity shop, with your local library, at your kids’ school, on a village hall comittee, at your local hospital, or just taking part in a #2minbeachclean next time you walk your dog, there are literally thousands of organisations looking for people to help. It’s generally free (a lot of places pay travel expenses), it’s a great way to meet people, an excellent boost to a CV, and you’re helping to build the sort of world you want to live in.

I’ve done a lot of volunteering over the years – as an NHS breastfeeding supporter, a library lackey, at school clubs, and in a charity shop. When we first moved to our current area, it was volunteering which helped me find new friends and I’m so glad I did it.

Writing

I’ve reviewed a lot of books about the environment in the last year – and am probably due another round up of them soon! – and common to nearly all is the need to talk about why we’re taking steps to reduce our impact on the planet.

Even if you’re not ‘a writer’, you helping every time you you chronicle your experience in a blog, or Twitter feed, YouTube chanel, or local newsletter article. Figure out a way you feel comfortable communicating and then do it! Whilst you might need the use of electricity to do this, it can make an enormous difference. If yours is the post which pursuades someone to start carrying a water bottle, then you’ve just increased the impact you have on water-bottle consumption by 100%. And that’s pretty magical.

Of course, you can write other things too, just using a pen and paper. Snail Mail is one of my absolute favourite things to do in an evening – it’s slow, deliberate, and an incredibly intimate way of keeping in touch with friends. And nothing cheers the recipient up like a hand-written letter in the post box. Makes a change from bills, right?

I would absolutely love to hear any other suggestions you might have for ways to pass the time. The further down this route I go, the more willing I am to give just about anything a try, so challenge me! I’d love to hear your ideas here, or on Twitter.

 

 

 

Cleaning products…

So many fantastic posts have been written about eco-friendly cleaning over the years that I’m sort of reluctant to weigh in on this… but here goes.

In my opinion, you only really need three things to clean effectively – soap, an acid, and an alkali. In my case, I love washing-up liquid, vinegar/citric acid, and bicarb.

That said, I still buy dishwasher powder and washing powder.

So why do I do this? In short, because the machines prefer the powders. I have used liquid soap (which I made myself by grating a bar) in both dishwasher and washing machine, but whilst the items in the machines got clean, I found that the drain in the dishwasher got a bit more… slimey than usual, and the washing machine didn’t quite clear the drawer as well.

After the liquid soap experiment, I went back to dishwasher tablets but these are deceptively wasteful. I’d rejected the idea of powder on the basis of its plastic bottle, but whilst the boxes for the tablets were cardboard, each tab was individually wrapped in plastic film. Fail. Another issue is that in our soft-water location there was too much soap in a tablet and this left residue on the crockery. We cut the tablets in half and that worked fine, but it we still had the issue of the non-recyclable wraps. In the end, I decided that a recyclable bottle of powder was the best plan as we could use as little as we wanted and nothing was going to landfill. It turned out to be a great solution long term because I’m now able to buy powder refills at my local package-free shop. Win.

For dishwasher salt and rinse aid, I’ve been using Sodasan and Bio D respectively. These are both in recyclable packaging and score well on the Ethical Consumer lists.

Washing powder is actually surprisingly easy to find plastic free. We’re using ASDA’s cheap non-bio just now, but Morrisons is great, as was Tesco’s. Again, the soft water means we can use far less than the recommended and still get clean clothes.

Over the years, I’ve tried many things – the DIY liquid soap, soap nuts, an Eco Egg (which was fine for nappies, but terrible for school uniform – go figure), and fancy ‘Bio D’ powder. The biggest disappointment was the Bio D, to be honest. I bought it from Ethical Superstore on account of it being good for septic tanks, and because of the success with the rinse aid, but in all honesty, I wish I hadn’t bothered. It looked as though it came in brown paper but this was actually non-recyclable plastic, and I just don’t feel it got things that clean. Admittedly better than Ecover and Method in terms of ethics (both of these companies being owned by SC Johnson – a company which admits to animal testing), Bio D didn’t deliver the product that I was expecting so my next stop looks to be Eco-Leaf. I’ll update you on that one.

As for the rest of the house – it took me a long time to give up bleach (I really love bleach). For my loo these days, I essentially make bath bombs. I read in one the many books I’ve borrowed in recent months (I think it was Zoë’s Eco-Thrift Living but not 100% sure) about how using acid alone to clean the toilet can lead to eroded pipes. In an effort to counter that – and based on nothing but my secondary school science education, and enthusiasm – I mixed 2 cups of citric acid powder with 1 cup of bicarb, then spritzed it with water until it stuck together and pressed the lot into silicon ice cube trays. Now I plop one of these into the toilet bowl, let it fizz a bit and apply the toilet brush (a few words about eco-friendly toilet brushes here). An unforseen bonus is that if I forget a birthday present, I can put some of these in a pretty jar and say they’re bath-bombs – there’s nothing harmful in there.

I know, I know… I probably shouldn’t confess to giving toilet cleaner as a birthday gift but I might as well come clean – I am great at crafts and dreadful at organising myself.

For everything else, I tend to sprinkle bicarb on and then spritz with vinegar. I really like making citrus vinegar because it doesn’t smell like my misspent youth behind a chipshop counter. It does look a bit like wee when you filter out the peel though, so I guess that’s the payoff… After I’ve used the spray, I wipe the whole thing down with hot water and washing up liquid, using my knitted dish cloths.

What do you use to clean your house? Do you use commercial cleaners or DIY things? I would love to hear about any tips you have, either here or on twitter.

 

‘The 5 Rs’ – Reduce

I thought, over the next few months (or any other time I start to run low on ideas for content 😛 ) that I could look at one of the 5 Rs in more detail. This time, it’s the turn of Reduce.

I like ‘reduce’ as a concept – if I was the sort of person who picked a word as a theme for the coming year, I think ‘reduce’ would be the sort of word I’d pick. Reduce my spending, reduce my waste, reduce the time I spend online, reduce the number of things I own, reduce my worries, reduce any excess in my life… so many things I aspire to reduce. 

But realistically, what am I doing about it? I’ve written at length about reducing plastic in the bathroom and food waste in the kitchen, but not a vast amount about things like energy consumption and resource sharing.

I thought I would remedy that today.

Reducing resource use

Books are the obvious one – we get ours from the library, reducing our spending and the amount of resources we use in one fell swoop.

Clothes are another point to mention. In addition to buying second hand where possible, we use dye to make things last longer and do lots of repairing. I also try to select clothes made of natural fibres, but with school uniform, this is incredibly difficult. In future, I’ll post about the other ways in which I get the clothes which have to be new i.e. underwear.

Furniture is largely second hand, with the exception of the mattresses, pillows, and duvets for the beds.

In our room, we don’t use bedside lamps – we actually bought LED lanterns for when we go camping and use them by our bed for the rest of the year. I like items with dual purposes like this – our enamel camping plates, for example, serve as pie/crumble dishes for the rest of the year, and the solar lamps we use to highlight guide ropes to young children on toilet trips during the night double as Christmas lights in the garden. There is no sense in us having lamps by the bed in addition to the lanterns, when the lanterns can serve perfectly well.

In the bathroom, we’re down to the bare minimum of disposables. I recently wrote a long post about ways in which we’ve improved the bathroom compared to how it was in 2019, but I didn’t mention a few of the things I’m proudest of in there.

The bath mat, for example, was made from old jeans and duvet covers. I cut these up using my friend’s rotary cutter and then wove them using a peg loom. Whilst I really love this, and look forward to having another go on the loom when this rug gets too manky to use, I know that I can wait until I have the right fabric to shred by simply placing a towel on the floor. So many times, we buy things, or make things which we don’t actually need because an existing object will do.

In the photo above, you can also see an old pan-stand on which I’ve put some of my millions of spider plants. They’ve been potted in an old pyrex dish. Going forward, I really want to add some more plants with different shapes and textures so I get a lovely tower of green next to the bath… so far, though, it’s just spider plants…

In the dining room, we’ve switched to cotton napkins to reduce the amount of single-use paper towels/kitchen roll we were getting through. The napkins were made from a pack of tea-towels that we didn’t feel did their job properly. I sliced them into quarters, hemmed the raw edges and now they’ve got a new life as perfectly servicable napkins. Hooray!

I’ve spoken at some length about our kitchen before, but I think it’s worth mentioning the soap pump we use for washing-up liquid. This ensures that we’re not pouring more in than we need. The resusable brush handle, the recycled plastic brush heads and the washable knitted cotton cloths all help reduce waste here too.

Reducing energy consumption 

In order to reduce our impact throughout the house in general, we’ve done the obvious – fitted energy saving light bulbs, backed the radiators with foil and switched to a green energy supplier.

These are small acts to reduce our expenditure – both financial and carbon – but they are paying off slowly. One day, I would very much like to be able to reduce our fuel usage further by installing a different heating system, but for now, this will have to do.

In addition to the obvious things – cooking multiple things when the oven is on, hanging washing out to dry and turning off all the lights obsessively – we’ve tried a few other things to cut our electricity use. The camping/bedside lamps I mentioned above help to reduce our power usage as they run on rechargable batteries and each charge lasts for months so that’s great, but the biggest energy saving we’ve made has come from switching our NAS server for a smaller one.

When we set up our home business, we did the obvious thing and got a small-business sized NAS server as a way of backing up our data. It soon became clear, though, that this was total overkill. We were never going to fill 6 drives, doing what we do. We made the switch back to a domestic sized NAS and not only is our living room so much quieter (the ‘new’ NAS isn’t actively cooled), but we’re saving a LOT of electricity. I mean, evident-on-our-bills sort of a lot. Selling on the huge NAS earned us back a significant sum – far exceeding the cost of the ‘new’ (to us) NAS – so we’ve come out of the change more ‘cash rich’ too. It’s absolutely worth looking at your technology and its energy usage to see what you’re able to swap out. It’s just a case of gettinng the right tool for the job.

One of the more controversial swaps I’ve made, has been to do away with my smart phone. It had come to the end of its useful life (due to software updates rather than hardware issues, much to my chagrin) and as I’d deleted my facebook account, have a wonderful camera (which I clearly never use for this blog…) and a GPS for the car, I didn’t see any reason to spend horrendous quantities of money on a new one. Instead, I bought the 2017 remake of the Nokia 3310.

I absolutely loved the original Nokia and spent many a Higher Maths class playing Snake under the table. The bonus of the remake is that battery technology has improved so much since the year 2000 that I can now go seven days or more without needing to charge my phone! Whilst I haven’t seen the obvious change in my electricity bill that I saw with the NAS server, I’m sure that in a small way, this is making a difference. Going forward, I’d like to look into getting a solar-powered charger that would work with my Nokia, but for now, I’ll content myself with not having to plug in every 24 hours.

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As I said last time, it feels as if my efforts to cut fuel consumption have reached something of a plateau, but I will continue to try. Hopefully making all of the above changes (which are either free, or save us money long term) will help us to save up for the larger ‘upgrades’ we need to make in order to be more efficient.

Do you try and reduce your fuel consumption? I woud love to hear any tips you have, either here or on Twitter. 🙂

Confessions of a terrible eco-warrior…

Well, I just did the WWF carbon footprint questionairre survey thing (official name, that) and apparently, I’m producing 108% of the carbon I should be for 2020…

Apparently, the areas in which I need to improve on most are…

…unsurprisingly, my household consumption of energy and my travel.

So, firstly, do I agree with this? The travel – certainly. The household – probably.

For balance, I took another survey and got the results above. There seems to be a discrepency between the two surveys – the WWF one puts us at 11.4 tonnes, whilst the second survey puts us at 8.44 tonnes. Given the UK average is apparently around 10 tonnes (according to WWF) and 14.1 tonnes (according to Carbon Independant), I would say we were somewhere in the  average range for the UK population… (…but then, isn’t everyone – technically?)

I’m trying not to get too hung up on the numbers, but I have to say – I’m a little disappointed. I work really hard to reduce the impact I have, but short of moving into a city (or at the very least, a village), I can’t think of ways to reduce our travel impact further and which are within our financial reach.

At the moment we’re running a relatively new (2014), small-engined Petrol car. It’s well maintained, the tyre pressure is checked monthy and I make a conscious effort not to carry excess weight. I suppose that after summer, the number of trips to school/nursery will halve as both offspring will be in the same building at the same time, so perhaps it’s just a matter of holding on until then.

In an ideal world, I’d be able to either swap this car for an electric vehicle, or add one to our ‘fleet’ (the fleet of one car and two bicycles! Ha!), but again – finances make this a prohibitive action.  The best I can do for now is to combine trips – i.e. go shopping whilst my eldest child is at their club, or visit friends whilst children are at school rather than making special trips. On the rare occassion I make a trip alone, I do walk into the town, but there’s no way I could do that with my miniature entourage – it’s over an hour’s walk, and health complications make anything more than around 30 minutes painful for my youngest. If anyone has any ideas on reducing milage when you live in a spot with minimal public transport, I would LOVE to hear them.

In regards to the household usage, heating accounts for just about all of this. We live in a 3-bedroom, detatched house in the middle of nowhere. When we moved in, I had no idea just what a difference this would make to our heating use, compared to living in a small semi-detatched bungalow and our previous terraced house… More fool me. Exterior walls are cold.

Eventually, we plan on replacing the old velux windows upstairs with newer ones (again, money) as the double glazing that’s there was installed in the late 80s so isn’t very efficient. Meanwhile, I’ve backed each of the radiators with reflective foil (I think there’s a DoNation pledge that covers this, but I can’t remember what it is) in an effort to lose less heat to the rock that surrounds us. We keep the ambient temperature to a cool 14C in the rest of the house and heat the living room with a log-burner as it’s where we sit. We wear a lot of sweaters. And woolly socks. And walk around with wheat bags stuffed about our clothing. The glazing is better downstairs, but I’d like to get curtains (again, money) which would help keep heat in.

We buy the wood for our stove from managed local woodland, and the stove doesn’t get lit until later afternoon. We boil our kettle on the top of it when it’s on – it’s not reducing our immediate emissions, but it’s at least lowering our electricity costs, I suppose.

That’s it, really.

And you know what? All of it feels like excuses. We could do X if Y… We could change X but… At this stage, I’ve done pretty much all of the ‘superficial’ things I can do. The next stages seem to need serious commitment, whether financial or otherwise.

To improve at this point we could: move to the village where school is, move to the bigger village where there is public transport, change to an electric vehicle, change our whole heating system to a more earth-friendly one, clad the house with insulation… none of it cheap, none of it easy.

It’s disheartening, because it feels a lot like I’ve plateaued, but I suppose I should take heart from the fact that we’ve managed to get this far without having to do anything drastic to make a difference. Which is actually a pretty interesting thought – at no point so far do I feel as though I’ve made a sacrifice. The actions I’ve taken to reduce our impact on this earth have either enriched our lives, saved us money, or both.

So, what is the next step for us?

Well, it will require some serious thinking. We’re currently a single-income, self-employed, EU-citizen-earner family, living in the UK, so nothing is certain at the moment. It’s not the nicest place to be, and it certainly leaves us reluctant to spend money. I think, to begin with, curtains are probably the next step…

I’ll keep you updated. ❤

Improving the bathroom

Those of you who’ve been with me a while might remember my very long post about the single-use and plastic free items in my bathroom, and about how I planned to improve things.

Well, some time has now passed and some of the consumables are coming to an end, so I thought this would be a great time to examine some of the alternatives I outlined last time. In addition to this, I need to replace my toilet brush and soap-trays so I’ll be writing about that too.

As I said last time, we use an electric toothbrush. I had planned to buy the LiveCoCo replacement heads, but they do have quite a hefty price tag and you need to pay additional postage to return them for recycling. A chance post on Twitter led me to an alternative option, by Brushd . The initial purchase price is cheaper, and the postage to return the heads for recycling is prepaid. For me, it’s a no-brainer – I ordered the Brushd option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brushd also do a corn floss in a glass container. The website doesn’t actually list floss refills so I was reluctant to buy from here, even though doing so would reduce the amount of waste created by postage. I emailed the company to enquire about refills and they will apparently be adding them at some point in January so I decided to take the risk. Hopefully other brands of refills will fit, even if Brushd decides not to go ahead with adding this product.

When we first moved into the house, and I decided to start using bars of soap instead of pumps, I bought some wooden soap dishes. These have served us really well, but they’re… well… wood. And when wood gets wet, it starts to break down.

This is where we get into somewhat muddy waters, if you’ll pardon the tentative pun. What do I replace the soap dishes with?

If I replace them with more wood, I’ll have to do the same in a further five years and though five years is a reasonable amount of time, it’s definitely not the best I can do. My aim with replacing things in this house is to do it once, then never have to think about it again.

With that in mind, what are my options?

PLASTIC:
– Positives – 
It lasts forever (unless it breaks). It’s light to transport, readily available and won’t shatter on the tiles if the children drop it. It’s really cheap.
– Negatives – It lasts forever, unless it breaks – at which point it becomes landfill/recycling. I don’t like the look of it. There’s a risk it will end up in the ocean if it’s not properly disposed of.

GLASS: 
– Positives – It’s beautiful, recyclable, relatively cheap, easily available.
– Negatives – It shatters if the children drop it on the tiles. It’s heavy, so costs a lot to transport – both financially and in carbon terms.

ENAMEL:
– Positives – This is one of my favourite materials of all time – especially in the kitchen – and I love how it looks. It lasts forever. It doesn’t break if the children drop it. It’s light, to tansport costs are low.
– Negatives – Pinterest and that whole serving-chips-in-old-camping-mugs thing has made enamel really popular so it’s no longer the cheap, cheerful nostalgic thing it was when I first started using it. Whilst I would love to find an enamel soap dish, there don’t seem to be any out there for less that around £15 when you factor in postage and quite simply, I can’t afford that.

CERAMICS: 
– Positives – It’s beautiful, versatile, relatively cheap, easily available.
– Negatives – It shatters if the children drop it on the tiles. It’s heavy, so costs a lot to transport – both financially and in carbon terms. It does break down into rubble, but that seems like a loss of resources.

NOTHING
– Positives –
It’s free! I don’t need to source anything so I get more time to enjoy my life!
– Negatives – 
My sink ends up looking like the slime monster of doom attacked it and I have to clean more often… Which doesn’t happen, because I hate cleaning, so the blob begins to absorb bathroom dust and- Well, you get the idea. Just no.

WOOD: 
– Positives – It’s cheap, sustainable, light to transport, readily available, and doesn’t shatter on impact with the tile floor.
– Negatives – I don’t want to have to keep replacing it every few years.

So, as usual, no perfect option. I was moaning about this to my mum, though, and she suggested that I start to think outside the box in my internet searching. Just because I was going to use something as a soap dish, that didn’t mean it needed to start out life as one. She suggested searching for ‘ashtray’ because the decline in cigarette smokers means that these can be had for pennies and are plentiful. She also suggested I search ‘trinket dish’ as these have largely fallen out of fashion too. Armed with these new search terms, I set to work and soon found a plethora of interesting, vintage articles for no more than a few pounds.

I opted for enamel – as I said above, it’s one of my favourite materials – but rather than choose the kitchen-style white-with-blue-rim, I selected patterned enamel on copper. Not as light as the stuff I use for baking/camping, but still pretty practical for the bathroom. I bought the one pictured below, plus a pair of smaller dishes which will be used upstairs – one for the soap and one for the shampoo bar. Even including postage, these three soap dishes cost less than I would have payed for the modern, fashionable equivalents.

If time wasn’t against me, I would definitely have had a look around our ‘local’ charity shops, but by the time I drive over there, I generally only have ten minutes to look around before I have to drive back to pick up the children.

The other item I really wanted, was an eco-friendly toilet brush. The plastic one we have been using has definitely come to the end of its life and I need to up my game. Shamefully, I didn’t even think of the fact that as my brush was balding, it was shedding the plastic bristles into my septic tank.

This became another case of thinking outside the box. You can buy some lovely toilet brush holders but these were brand new and expensive, and though I’m not advocating second hand loo-brushes, buying a brand new jug to put a poop-cleaner in really didn’t sit right with me.

If you’re happy to spend big money to get plastic free items, Utility make this beauty – pictured above. 

Boobalou also do a lovely version that’s slightly more affordable. It can be purchased from their own website, or from Ethical Superstore.

I decided I didn’t want to pay for the container, though, and though I purchased the Boobalou brush, I made the decision to repurpose an existing object for the container – in this case, stoneware jars.

I seem to remember these being pretty big in the 90s, Changing Rooms sort of era, but happily, they’ve since fallen out of fashion.

Stoneware Jar | eBay

These are absolutely perfect for my needs:

  1.  Not plastic
  2. Second-hand
  3. Really easy to clean (outside with a hose – ha!)
  4. Heavy, so won’t tip over with a brush inside (a fear re. the enamel jug, above)
  5. Cost less than £10 incl. postage, but easily available at charity shops etc.
  6. Durable – most are Victorian, These aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.

In our case, they also match the bathroom tiles so I’m calling that a huge win!

Until now, I had been scrubbing my loo with bleach, but I’ve found a refillable soap – Suma EcoLeaf toilet cleaner –  which I’ll try out when my new brushes arrive. I’ll take pictures too – I’m hoping it will be as pretty a solution as possible!

Hopefully, my septic tank will thank me for all of this!

Right, enough about my loo for one post! I hope you’ve found some of this useful – I think sometimes it helps just to see the various thought processes behind other peoples’ purchaces, in case it solves an issue we’ve been having with our own.

I’d love to hear any comments you have on this – either here or on Twitter. 🙂

My year in review, and my intentions for the coming year.

2019 was a year of wild ups-and-downs for our family, and I can’t believe it’s already come to an end.

The most positive thing that I’ll be taking away from 2019 – looking through the prism of this blog – is that we’ve managed to continue making small changes to our lifestyle, despite all the other challenges we’ve been faced with this year.

My most popular post of 2019 was the book review of Eco Thrifty Living, by Zoë Morrison, followed by the sumary of What I learned in #NothingNewNovember. I would love to hear which posts you enjoyed most so that I can bring you more of what you like reading in the coming months.

Moving forwards, the area I intend to address first of all is our plastic consumption in the bathroom. I spoke about this at length in an earlier post and we’re coming to a point where I feel I can start to make changes.

I also plan on getting more out of our garden – we want to plant up four raised beds for vegetables in the coming months, prioritising heritage seeds, purchased from a UK supplier. If all goes well, we may invest in a greenhouse, towards the end of 2020.

I intend to address our wardrobes and root out as many synthetic items as I can. This won’t always be possible, but I will try to minimise the harm we cause.

We will try to reduce our energy consumption by downsizing appliances, updating elements of our heating system, and prioritising low-impact hobbies.

I aim to read more about reducing our waste – prioritising Working-Class Environmentalism by Karen Bell. I am hoping that my library will purchase a copy so that others can benefit from it too.

I don’t want to write a traditional ‘New Years Resolution’ – I feel like that sets me up for failure – but I promise I will keep trying to reduce my impact on the world. Do you have any intentions for 2020? I would love to hear about them.

 

Red cabbage rescue

So, you’ve had your festive feast and made sure to save any spare cooked vegetables for classic leftover dishes like bubble and squeak. But what about the vegetables which didn’t make it to the pan – the half red cabbage, for example?

Cabbage is actually one of the easiest vegetables to save from the rubbish bin. Unappetising in a soup – unlike most other vegetables – it makes the most amazing fermented preserve (I’m told by German friends and relatives that I can’t technically call this sauerkraut because it’s red cabbage, but it’s definitely sauerkraut-adjacent).

First, you need to very finely shred your cabbage.

As you can see from my picture, I did not ‘very finely’ shred my cabbage. This doesn’t really impact on the taste, but when you’re grabbing handfuls of it, covered in salt, it’s much easier if it’s thinly cut.

You need to add around 1 tbsp of salt per half a small cabbage (accurate measurements there), then grab handfuls of the cabbage/salt mixture and effectively knead it in the bowl. Eventually, the cabbage will begin to give up a brine. If this doesn’t happen after around ten minutes of kneading then you probably need to add a little more salt and keep kneading.

To store the cabbage during fermentation, you will need a jar, and a weight that fits inside the jar. Please excuse my laziness in not properly removing labels from re-used jars – they do come off on their own eventually…

Decant the cabbage/salt/brine mixture into the jar – the cabbage should have reduced significantly in volume by now. Add any spices you think would be nice – we really like mustard seeds, fennel seeds, corriander seeds and nigella. Mix them all together and then begin to compress the cabbage until all strands are sitting below the level of brine.

When you’re happy with your cabbage/brine arrangement, you need to weigh it down so that the cabbage doesn’t escape as the liquid evapourates.

At this stage, sensible people would add weight inside the glass ramekin…

I am not a sensible person, so I put a jar of rosehip jam on top… Job done. But only because you shouldn’t close the jar lid as the cabbage ferments. If you do, you could end up with a build up of pressure from the gas created by the fermenting process. Place your jar somewhere room-temperaturey (again, very technical instructions) and check on it regularly to make sure no cabbage is escaping the brine.

After about 4-5 weeks, start tasting your cabbage. When it’s ‘sauer’ enough for you, remove the weight, give it a good stir, decant into another jar and put the lot in the fridge. This will then slow subsequent fermentation.

Serve as you would any pickle, but it’s especially good on a creamy oat cake.

How are you using up any leftovers this year? I’d love to hear suggestions here, or on Twitter.

#CutTheWrap – what does low-waste gift-wrap look like?

I’ve spoken recently about trying to #CutTheWrap this Christmas and thought I would take this chance to share some of the ways I’ve done that. I don’t know about you, but I actually found it really hard to visualise some of the ideas people online have been talking about, without actually seeing a picture.

So, here are some pictures!

Some of you may remember my talking about buying second-hand earrings and making my own displays for them. Above is a picture of the finished article – the card the earrings are hanging on is the back of an old calendar which I used to wrap other gifts, whilst the tiny envelope is a sheet of my eldest’s origami paper.

Above is a second-hand silk scarf and a vintage book – I picked both up from my local thrift shop for an absolutely tiny price, then used one to wrap the other. To do this, I used Furoshiki – the Japanese fabric wrapping technique. I have to say – this is a total game-changer for me. I’m going to slowly invest in some second-hand scarves over the next year and use these to wrap my family’s gifts every year from now on.

Here are some gifts wrapped in old music, but you could use maps, or anything else which has a hypothetical expirey date. Arguably, this sheet music could have been put to better use at a charity shop, but it’s an exam piece for grade 2 treble clef trombone – a test I sat in around 1996. As the music changes fairly regularly, this isn’t really going to be useful to anyone…

…Especially as I spilt Ribeana all over the piano accompaniment as a terribly clumsy 11 year old. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone imagined the trombone might be an instrument I should play…

Moving on…

The calendar features again – this time, one of the pages, tied with the annoying shoulder ribbon from the inside of a shirt….

This year, instead of individually wrapping the gifts for my long-distance friends, then posting them in a large outer box, I decided to use the packing paper as the gift wrap. If I’d had more time before the kids came home from school, I would probably have tried to draw a city scape – you know the ones with the gable ends facing out which look a bit like Amsterdam? But time was of the essence so I did a hasty self-portrait instead, instructing my friend to open the card but not the package.

Honestly, I’m sort of wishing I’d waited until the kids were in bed to do the one above because I’m not super happy with it, but never mind. It’s done now and making its way to the intended recipient.

I would love to see any attempts you’ve made to #CutTheWrap – it’s so nice to admire all the creativity that’s out there.