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

#PlasticFreeJuly

The year before last, I made a huge effort to chronicle our plastic usage and find ways in which to curtail it.

You can read about that here.

This is a swan’s nest I saw in Amsterdam harbour. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget – nothing should have to live like this on account of humanity.

This year… I feel slightly differently about the whole thing.

It’s not that I don’t agree that we should be trying to reduce our dependence on plastic – we absolutely should. We should also continue to try and dispose of the plastic items we do use in a responsible fashion – reusing and recycling where possible.

I just feel that sometimes, all the anti-plastic rhetoric distracts from other environmental issues.

For example – we encourage people to recycle any plastic waste that they have, but simultaneously advise against buying new plastic products. This creates an imbalance – what’s the point in recycling the material if we’re not going to use it anyway? In addition to reducing our consumption of ‘virgin’ plastics, we need to ensure that the plastic we do use is coming from recycled sources. This will be my personal focus this #PlasticFreeJuly.

I also think it’s important to acknowledge that products packaged in glass or cardboard often take up more space in transit, so require more vehicles to transport them (i.e. bottles of wine, vs bag-in-a-box). They also weigh more, so the amount of fuel used on freight is higher than their plastic-packaged counterparts.

I don’t feel like looking at carbon footprints is the answer either – to be honest, I’m not sure which metric we should be measuring ecological credentials on. I just know that avoiding plastic isn’t the whole story.

So, what can we do?

We can reuse things – and not just the pretty things like mason jars. I did a whole post about the uglier items which I hold onto – old food packaging, produce tubs, and sandwich boxes. Keeping these items saves me money, but it also diverts them from landfill.

We can assess what is actually necessary in our lives. Do we need a pack of disposable, plastic cloths for doing our dishes, or could we cut up an old towel? Can we look at what we feel we’re lacking, and try to fill that gap with objects we already own?

And finally, we can recognise that the current state of the world is not our responsibility alone. We can engage with protest groups (such as the Craftivist Collective) to try and influence government policy, we can vote for parties which prioritise our values, and we can hold companies to account for products and packaging which aren’t fit for purpose. There comes a point where we’ve done all that we can reasonably be expected to do whilst living within the realms of modern society, and it’s at this point we need to take a good look at whether or not we can change society itself.

This plastic-free July, I will continue to examine the objects I buy and consume, and continue to look at ways in which I can better myself. But I’m also going to take a look at some of the ways in which I can change the world around me – can I start looking at ways to pass on my mending skills, for example? I definitely plan on taking part in the Canary Craftivist project, but I hope I can come up with other ways in which to make a difference too.

Aside from curtailing your plastic purchases, are you planning to do anything for Plastic Free July? I would love to hear your thoughts.

xx

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.

 

An update on Fryer Soap

Any readers who have been with me for a while, might remember me having a go at making soap from fryer oil.

Buuut….

The oil never really lost the smell of food and though it did eventually lose the melted-toffee consistency in the drying process, it melted again in my soap bowl.

So, I tried a few different things with my second batch, and Oh My Goodness! What a difference it made!

One of the main issues with the soap was the smell. This time round, I filtered the oil the same as before, but then I left it in a bowl on the kitchen side for a week. I think ‘airing it out’ helped a lot, but I also heated it with some lavender flowers in then strained it again. I don’t know which of these things actually performed the magic of removed the smell but I don’t actually care! Chip stink was gone, and I was ready to go!

As I discussed previously, the first batch of soap had the texture of chewy toffee – not something I want from a soap! According to a book about soap making that I have, this was on account of a lower quality lye. So, to compensate, I took the quantity of lye that SoapCalc told me to use, and added 4g more. I just sort of guessed how much extra to add, because I’m not an exact cook and somehow, this just felt a bit like recipe fudging, rather than the science it actually is.

I also added a jar of coconut oil – this was primarily because I had it, don’t like cooking with it, and I wanted to use the jar for something else.

This time round, everything combined to make an absolutely perfect soap.  It smells clean, the texture is perfect, and it lathers wonderfully. I actually feel happy giving this as gifts. I’m so excited to try making some more – perhaps adding in some coffee grounds as an exfoliant, or some oats and camomile for a honey smell?

What are you favourite fragrances for soap? I’d love to try something a little different next time! As ever, you can contact me here, or on Twitter.

 

An update on the garden

My goodness, my garden has been good to me this summer!

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I am more and more grateful every day for the lovely patch of land we inhabit. From giving us a space to meet family in the early days of lockdown easing, to feeding us delicious fruits and vegetables, and drying the constant stream of laundry which comes out of my house daily, the garden has nourished us.

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I’ve done my best not to waste a single gift I’ve been given. The beetroot has been pickled for winter – a sweet and tangy accent to hearty stews and stovies. The leafs have been saved for salads and a soup I’ve taken to calling ‘summer borscht’ – a mix of potatoes and beetroot leafs.

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The wilds have been fruitful too – mushrooms and berries aplenty. We’ve supped on blaeberries gathered from a woodland carpeted in plants dripping with fruit, and on peppery chanterelles, buried like gold.

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I’ve dried camomile, fennel and lovage in the sunlight that streams through the car windscreen – an impromptu dehydrator that we’re so lucky to have.

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And the peas and courgettes keep coming – dressed in fine summer mint, they make every meal feel like a treat.

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And the salads! They look like sunshine on a plate, sprinkled with petals and agate-slices of radish.

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We’ve even had hazy elderflower cordial and blackcurrant schnapps from our wonderful trees and fruit bushes.

I’m not naive enough to believe that we could feed ourselves entirely from the garden – we’ve had help from an incredible Community Supported Agriculture farm a few villages over. If you’ve not looked into this scheme near you, I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. It has totally changed the way we eat, building our meals around vegetables we’d never used before. The farm near us make YouTube videos about what they’re planting and how they’re doing it, so even my beige-food-loving child is excited to eat the things ‘seen on TV’.

My next step is to start looking into ways I can be good to my garden. I’m already composting everything I possibly can – the next step is to use this as mulch and put it to good use. Other than that, my main aims are to try and remove as much of the rosebay willow herb as I can, and to address the black spot that’s involved itself with my roses.

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…and the mystery spots on the gooseberry bush…

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…and the spots on the crab apple…

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… and finally the rather tragic pear tree…

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I hope I can find out what these issues are – I would love to be able to save these plants!

If you have any suggestions, I’d be really keen to hear them!

The End of #PlasticFreeJuly – a long, musing post.

So, July is drawing to a close and I’ve been trying my best to live without plastic packaging – how did I get on?

It’s a hard thing to quantify, really. I jumped on board with this at the very last minute with absolutely no forethought as to how I was going to talk about it all, so I’ve not done any prep whatsoever. Had I been an organised soul, I would have photographed what a week of plastic looked like pre-July so we would have a comparison.

Alas.

I do, however, have a particularly heartbreaking photo of a swan’s nest I took in Amsterdam harbour in 2012. Yikes.

Anyways, I did take pictures for each week of the challenge, so at least we could have a look at what’s there.

If you’re not interested in reading the breakdown, head straight to the conclusion.

WEEK ONE

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2 x plastic milk bottles, Sweet wrappers, 2 x ‘Rice & Grain’ sachets, Channa Masala Kit, Croissant box, Meat Tray, 2 x Mozzarella bags, A bag for bread rolls, A bag for tatties, Strawberry box, Misc. bags, Postage material.

I recycled the meat tray, strawberry box, the two milk bottles and the cardboard in the packages which were mixed materials.

WEEK TWO

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Croissant box, Meat Tray, Mozzarella bag, A bag for bread rolls, Bag from a brownie mix, Pack of sunflower seeds, Crisps, Butter pack, Bag from muesli, Antihistamine blister packs, Coffee bag,Tomato Paste cap, Top of a chocolate spread jar, Cheese packet, 3 black foam trays, Bag from a salami.

The meat tray and card from the croissant box went in the recycling bin.

WEEK THREE

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Jiffy bag, 3 x vacuum packaging, replacable dish-brush head, granola bag, almond bag, cream lid, crisp packet, 2 x croissant box, jelly baby bag, dog food sack.

I recycled the croissant boxes and will reuse the jiffy bag and dog-food sack.

I’m adding this picture, because when I take out what I can recycle/reuse, this is the volume of plastic waste for my family of 4 in week 3…

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WEEK FOUR

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Coffee bag, muesli bag, cover from a multipack of cans, cocoa powder pot, crisp bag, yeast box, 2 x mozzarella bag, cheese bag, butter pack, scotch tape pack, Costco sandwich box.

I’ll recycle the lid of the cocoa tub, the yeast box and the scotch tape holder. I’ll use the sandwich box as a propagator in the spring next year.

CONCLUSION

Even though I didn’t notice a huge difference to usual in our plastic consumption, this was an incredibly interesting exercise. Having the weekly picture and analysing each one really made me focus on the areas I haven’t managed to reduce our consumption of waste in – animal products being the obvious one. Were plastic my only focus, I could change this easily by buying from the deli counter at Morrisons and bringing my own tubs, but outwith July, I do try and think of fuel consumption too. I’m not sure how to balance this one long term, but hopefully a solution will become evident.

The other big area in which I noticed waste was surrounding convenience – trays from lunch out, the sachets from our camping food…. All things designed to be grabbed and consumed with minimal thought and effort. Coincidentally, mid way through the month, Surfers Against Sewage posted the following infographic on Twitter :

It’s really interesting to note that with the exception of Tesco, all of these are convenience brands – things that are designed to be ‘grab and go’. There are three ‘stimulant’ brands – Red Bull, Lucozade and Costa Coffee – designed to keep your fuelled for longer. I can’t help but feel as though if we all slowed down – rested instead of caffeinated – we’d make less mess.

And I know that slowing down isn’t always an option in a world full of such sweeping inequality. There are hundreds of posts I could write on the subject, but in short, a lot of people actually aren’t paid enough to slow down and many of us have been conned into thinking we aren’t paid enough to slow down – trapped in debt we’ve used to pay for things we don’t need. In addition, a 2018 study found that women have an average of 5 hours less leisure time a week than men. Until we address these inequalities which are eating into our time, convenience – perceived or real – is always going to sell.

So what’s the answer? The single most effective thing we can all do is ‘buy less’. It sounds easy, but in a society where even the bus stops are designed to tempt you into wanting something you don’t already have, it can be harder than you’d think. It’s especially hard in a country where poverty is increasingly viewed as a moral failing.

Those of us with the luxury of a disposable income need to stop over-consuming because it widens the class divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ – it fuels the desire for debt and the idea that happiness can be purchased. We need to start by being honest with ourselves about the difference between want and need, then we have to act accordingly. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to cancel junk mail (I talk about that here), unsubscribe from all promotional emails (if a shop’s worth going back to, I’ll remember it), and install an Adblocker on my internet browser (I use this one).  It means that I have to actively search out things I’d like to buy, rather than succumb to outside influences. Adding the layer of Plastic Free July and Buying Nothing New has really helped to focus that effort too.

I can only speak for myself – in this as in all things – but I would love to hear your take. Did you participate in Plastic Free July? Will you be continuing with any of the swaps you’ve made?

Unexpectedly useful items for low-waste living

Whenever I find myself in a bit of a rut, I tend to find myselflooking online for some ideas about low-waste living. Sometimes I’ll find something new, but often, I keep coming across beginner tips in low-waste living. Which is great – we all have to start somewhere – but I do sometimes feel like after a certain point, we’re sort of just left to get on with things.

And on the one hand, I absolutely appreciate just how much of a difference it can make if you take your own reusable water bottle and coffee cup when you’re out and about, but I find myself wishing that there was more being written about the unexpected things which help with waste reduction.

So, keen to redress that balance, I thought I’d give you a run-down of things that I find really useful when it comes to cutting back…

  1. Funnels – I really, really love my jam funnel. The wide opening makes it ideal for decanting things like pasta and rice, preventing wastage through spillages. Since we started using our local refillery for dried goods, decanting dried goods has become a fairly regular occurance and whilst I could technically manage without this, it does make life significantly easier. The example below came (I think) from Lakeland many, many years ago. It has survived many jam seasons, the dishwasher, two children using it in the bath to slosh water… I highly recommend. The other funnel is equally useful for cordial, homemade schnapps, oils and all things liquid. I use the jam funnel to refil glass yogurt tubs for school lunches – replenishing the containers with chocolate mousse, or homemade jelly. The jam funnel also allows me to buy mayo and other table sauces in glass jars, then decant them into old plastic ‘squeezy’ bottles.

  2. A Bucket – This one might seem a little random, but I honestly don’t know where I’d be without my bucket! I’ve spoken before about trying to save water, but that’s not easy when you factor in how my shower works. You have to turn it on from across the corridor, before running into the bathroom, stripping off and jumping in!  Having a bucket on hand to retain water that would otherwise run down the drain really helps for watering plants – both inside and out. I also use the water to wash the car. Whilst we don’t have a water meter (water is included in council tax in Scotland), I can imagine this being especially useful for those who do.
  3. A teapot & thermal cup – This has halved the amount of tea I use. Not because I drink less tea, but because I waste less. At the moment, I use a little red, enamel pot. It happily fills two cups and uses one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea to do so. When I make tea now, I always pour a second cup into my thermal ‘to go’ mug and come back to it later. This means I don’t have to boil the kettle a second time, use another spoon of tea, or throw out the unused no-longer-hot liquid. Winning all round.

The beauty of all of these things, is that they tend to be present in most households. Perhaps not the jam-funnel, but the bucket and the teapot are fairly common items. The others are cheap to pick up second hand, and the bucket needn’t be a bucket – it could be an old waste-paper bin, a washing-up bowl, a particularly large saucepan…anything which catches water. You don’t need a teapot either – using a heat-proof jug is perfectly acceptable too.

What are the unexpectedly useful items on your low-waste list? I would love to hear them – either here or on Twitter.

#PlasticFreeJuly, and how we’re getting on with our shopping.

A while ago, I posted about trying to shop low-waste at various supermarkets and other outlets. 

I thought I would give a brief update as to how I’m getting on, in conjunction with the start of Plastic Free July.

For those who haven’t come across the campaign before, Plastic Free July encourages people to pledge to reduce their plastic consumption, over the course of the month. The website says:

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.

It sounds easy enough, right?

So how have I been doing at reducing the amount of plastic my family consumes in general? And where do I need to improve?

I think the best way of doing this is looking at products that I was either having to drive great distances to purchase plastic-free (i.e. milk) and products I was still buying in plastic. For ease of reading, I’ll neglect to copy over my notes from the original post, but I’ve linked it above in case you’d like to compare.

Milk – My local butcher has started selling this in returnable glass bottles. This means that I no longer have to drive to the dairy, and can combine the travel with my trip to the refillery. So much win!

Double cream – I can also buy this from my butcher. Like the milk, it’s comes in returnable pint bottles. 

Muesli – I’m still buying this, but we’ve made progress in the fact that this no longer has to be from Aldi/Lidl. I’m going to be brave and attempt to make my own over the course of July… I’ll let you know how we get on!

Greek Style Yogurt – I think – for the sake of the challenge – that I’m just going to cut this out of my diet. I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to make excuses for my consumption of store-bought yogurt any more – unlike the butcher’s milk and cream, I can’t account for how the dairy cattle producing this are treated, and I can’t justify the plastic so… yeah… bye-bye yogurt. Sad times.

Scottish Baby Potatoes – I’ve been buying my potatoes in bulk from the butcher since I last posted. They come in large, paper sacks with recyclable plastic handles. I figured this was better than the non-recyclable bags.

Salted Butter – I’m still buying this. I will keep buying this. I have reduced my consumption of it, though, by using a 50/50 combination of oil/milk in cakes, and by using oil in pastry. It really is just a topping for bread now, and an ingedient in cookies.

Stockan’s Oatcakes – I’m still buying these, though not as often as I used to since the schools closed to pupils. For the sake of the challenge, I’m going to try making them – though it’s important to note that the oatmeal comes in a plastic bag too…

Fresh corriander – We’re now growing our own.

Tesco value toothpaste – This is still the toothpaste of choice so I won’t be changing any time soon – challenge or not.

Curry powder – Now that the refillery stocks herbs and spices, I’m sorted!

Asprin tablets – I haven’t actually bought any since the previous post. Hooray! Unless things go horribly wrong, I should have enough to see me through July.

Leaf tea – I’m still buying the same leaf tea, but I’ve started drinking more coffee (made from freshly ground beans – not instant, or a pod – purchased from an independant shop). This is great for two reasons – firstly, less coffee keeps me more awake than more tea so I’m boiling the kettle less. Secondly, I like my coffee black, so I’m using waaay less milk than if I was drinking the equivalent amount of tea that is necessary for consiousness. I’m also drinking fresh mint tea after dinner, so the amount of tea I’m getting through has reduced dramatically.

It’s so easy to think that we’ve reached a plateau when it comes to shopping with less packaging, but even finding ways to swap out one item every week – or even every fortnight – will eventually result in a largely plastic-free shop. And that’s an incredibly empowering thing. We don’t have to accept the shrink-wrapped status quo. By remembering that if we can’t refuse to buy an item, we can reduce the quantity we purchase, we stand to make environmental gains. To quote the amazing Zero Waste Chef;

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Throughout the month, I’m going to keep hold of any plastic waste we do generate, in order to talk about it once we’re finished. I’m going to speak about whether foregoing things like yogurt had a negative impact on my quality of life. I sincerely doubt it will.

What are your most recent sustainable swaps? Are you taking part in Plastic Free July? I would love to hear how you’re getting on. Contact me either here, or on Twitter.

 

Playtime

I hear it time and time again when the topic of children arises – how can they have so much stuff?

And at the risk of sounding brutal, the answer is: because we buy it for them.

But do we really need to?

It’s easy to feel judged as a parent – to feel as if by not doing what others around us are doing that we’re somehow failing. But that simply isn’t the case – all our children are different and they all have different interests and passions.

But we don’t need to buy whole new sets of playthings for each of these interests if we invest in good quality, versatile items to begin with. And these might not necessarily be toys. 

The loose parts play movement aims to foster a sense of creativity and inventiveness in children by providing them with tools from which to create the things they want to play with. There is a wealth of information online with ideas all over Pinterest , but there’s also a really comprehensive guide available here, on Play Scotland’s website.

Loose parts might include things like shells, buttons, sticks, empty picture frames, feathers, building blocks, small bean bags, dried peas, cups, and old baking equiptment.

In the picture above we’ve got some corks, stone eggs, chopsticks, wooden fruit, feathers and wooden cutlery.

We also have some beautiful old Danish and German coins we found, whilst clearing out my inlaws’ house.

The dried peas have long been a favourite to play with – they form the basis of many a pretend meal, as well as rubble for diggers and landslides for trains.

Blankets are another wonderful item to add to the mix too – old cot-blankets are ideal as they’re a managable size for small people. These serve as dressing up, dance floors, doll beds, landscapes, i-spy scapes (in the case of one particularly colourful patchwork example) and den-building fodder.

With the above selection of seeminly random objects, we’ve played supermarkets and cafes, built bridges and birdnests, and done no end of collages.

This is the bird my eldest made, following a trip to the local falconry centre.

Over the lockdown period, we used the loose parts to supplement learning – shown here when we modelled parts of the butterfly/caterpillar lifecycle.

The above wooden tray is actually a bread-board I found in a charity shop – the dip where the letters are is intended for butter, whilst the chamber holding the rice originally held a grid for slicing the bread over to stop the escape of bread crumbs.

I used the grid part for threading when the children were younger…
Nowadays, it tends to be used as a musical instrument ‘scraper’. Running a chopstick along the ridges makes an excellent sound.

In the past, it’s also been used for Hama beads – the beads themselves occupying the butter cavity, whilst the plate sit in the bit where the rice currently is. In fact, this single, unobtrusive item has possibly one of the most-used play things in our house. And I can use it for its intended purpose when the kids have finished with it!

There are lots of possible games and activities you can make from loose parts – we’ve enjoyed DIY draughts/checkers, a ring-toss game, mancala, and a whole variety of transient versions of snakes and ladders. You can make counting games, where children place the correct number of buttons or pine cones or blocks onto the relevant digit (i.e. 7 coins on the number 7), or bingo grids where they roll a dice and cover the number they roll using – for example – a shell.

We’ve made matching games, which are great for early literacy – matching shapes is an essential skill for early reading. All I did here was lay keys out on the scanner bed, then press scan.

One of our recent favourites has been float vs sink. You ask the child which items they think will float, and which they think will sink and then you experiment…

The only limits, really, are your imagination… and the size of item you include for younger children.

You can make use of loose parts anywhere – they’re great fun for playing with in the garden and on walks.

Most of the things we use either came from charity shops, the kitchen drawers, or the countryside around us. Conkers and acorns were gathered on woodland walks, wooden spoons and chopsticks were purloined from the kitchen, whilst corks, bobbins and buttons have been diligently saved over the years. Keys were purchased on eBay and things like the wooden fruit and stone eggs were picked up along the way in charity shops.

Obviously we do have purpose-made toys too, but I tend to focus on truly versatile things – Lego, wooden blocks, vehicles, animal figures, dolls, stuffed toys, musical instruments, and STEM sets like Georello gears and Magformer shapes. All of these are readily available second hand (though branded things like Lego can be slightly more costly, even when used).

Loose parts are cheap, easily-accessible and versatile. A few small drawers of them can replace cupboards-worth of conventional toys. The ones I’ve showcased here tend to be made from natural materials, but that’s only because I’ve been trying to reduce the plastics in my house for many years now. Plastic bottle tops, plastic bobbins, single-use neon shot glasses, plastic straws, plastic pipes… these are all useful, valuable resources too. The point is not to elimiate synthetic materials, but to have fewer, more versatile items. This, in turn, will reduce the need for new toys, the storage to keep them, and the production of them – most of the items listed have either been used before (i.e. corks and bobbins), or can be used after they’re grown out of (i.e. the bread board).

One of the single, easiest things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to consume less. Loose parts are a great way to do this whilst fostering a love of imaginative and educational play.

I would love to hear any ideas for how to use loose parts – I’m always on the lookout for new ideas on how we can use them! You can contact me either here or on Twitter.

DIY Cosmetics

I’ve posted before about making soap but in truth, there are very few bathroom products that I don’t make myself. From the cotton cloths I use on my face, to a really simple bath soak (epsom salts + dried lavender = all there is to it), I like knowing what’s in the things I put on my skin.

This works for me for a number of reasons. Primarily, because I’m really not much of a wearer of make-up, which I think this next sentence will demonstrate…

The tiny little tub in the picture (filled there with my DIY attempt) was the Beauty Naturals powder I bought for my wedding in 2008. It ran out last week…

And I know – you’re not supposed to use make-up past a certain age, but honestly… it was only a little past its use-by date, then only a little past that, then it was so old I couldn’t see the date stamp, and then the tub was basically an antique…

I’ve seen loads of tutorials online about how to make your own face powder from kitchen staples. These are invariably mixed from cocoa powder and some sort of white starch – in my case, I used tapioca starch because my refillery had given me a free bag.  It was past its best-before date…

I’m sensing a pattern…

Most of the ‘recipes’ I looked at dealt with powder for pale skin, but I did manage to find this tutorial on YouTube, which gives a suggested ratio for darker complexions. In all honesty though, I think this is just a case of messing around with the ingredients until you find something you like.

In terms of cost, this is just about the cheapest thing you’re going to find anywhere. You may already have the items you need in your store cupboard and at around £8 for 4g of finishing powder, I would venture that you can buy the ingredients for less, and have enough of them to make powder aplenty for years to come.

Being totally honest, I wouldn’t say this powder is a perfect substitute. It lacks a degree of warmth and the colour I mixed has a slightly grey quality to it when sat in the pot. I think that next time I dry some beetroot peel for stock, I’ll add the tiniest pinch of the resulting powder to try and add more of a ‘blush’. That said, it’s perfectly servicable as it is, so I’ll probably forget for another … ahem … 12 years.

Eep.

Other bathroom cabinet staples which I’ve made include:

Moisturiser: This is really simple. Simply melt around 0.5cm of a block of beeswax (or around 2-3g) with a heaped tablespoon of coconut oil, a teaspoon of olive oil and a tsp of glycerine (available in the baking section at most supermarkets, or online).

Lipbalm: I make this in ‘bulk’, filling up old Vaseline tins, or old liquorice pastile tins. Really, though – any small, portable container will work.

This I make by melting half a bar of beeswax, and the same weight of coconut oil together. Sometimes, if I have any for making my knitting more water-resistant, I add a teaspoon of lanolin. You can buy this in metal tubs online – I bought mine from a seller called ‘Elijah Blue’ but i can’t find links to their shop anymore – or in the baby section at the supermarket labelled as Lansinoh Lanolin cream. It’s expensive, but a little goes a long way and it’s a great alternative to the likes of Savlon cream or Germoline.

If you’re trying to avoid animal products, simply substituting the beeswax for extra coconut oil is absolutely an option but do keep in mind that the melting point for your products might be a little lower. This being the case, you may want to consider using a screw-top jar – tiny hotel jam jars are ideal, as are old contact lens cases – as you’re less likely to suffer leaks this way, if your balm does melt into liquid.

Obviously, this means that the lip balm basically becomes pure coconut oil. There’s nothing wrong with that – and it’s definitely an affordable way to do it – but if you wanted to add some other, slightly solid oils there’s no reason you couldn’t do that. I’ve heard good things about cocoa butter.

Dry Shampoo: When I go camping, I tend to use a lot of dry shampoo. I had been using Batiste spray and then the bottled Lush equivalent, but when I read the ingredients on the Lush bottle, I thought I’d have a go myself. The main components are – again – some kind of starch. I add cocoa powder to mine as my hair is really dark, but as above, adjust the ratios according to your own requirements.

In terms of things that I use and I’ve tried making, that’s about it at the present time. If I’m still writing this in another 12 years, I’ll tell you how I got on with DIY eyeshadow (I’ve heard good things about turmeric and cocoa powder), but as I said to begin with, I’m not really much of a make-up wearer.

Have you tried any of the above? Do you have any suggestions as to what I should try next? I would love to hear your comments – either below, or on Twitter.