I cycled to the train today and this is what I learned…

Firstly, I learned that I am really, really unfit.

This surprised me enormously because I’m not a very still person. Walking is still my main (only) social activity, despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, and I’ve been wandering up and down all our local hills for literal years now (formerly with a 16kg toddler on my back!). All that practice wasn’t enough though – and it wasn’t even the incline which I thought I wouldn’t manage which forced me to dismount and walk. It was a very long, very slight climb to the top of a hill.

Which brings me neatly to point two: No matter how pretty the German city bike is, 3 gears are not enough. It’s a heavy bike – two very large wheels, a nice low cross bar, sit-up-and-beg handlebars… I imagine that in the Netherlands, or parts of Denmark, or even the Fens in the UK, that it would be a perfect bike. I mean, on the flat bits, it is an absolutely perfect bike – super comfortable to sit on and very, very smooth to ride.

But this is Scotland. And we have hills. There was one point – a sudden, but sharp incline which I don’t actually notice in the car – which almost brought the bike’s wheels to a stop, even in the appropriate gear.

Interestingly – point three – it actually took the same amount of time to get to the village on the bike as it would in the car. The car has to slow tremendously for the corners because the road is super narrow and the track to our house is made mostly of holes. Because the car is low, and because I can’t hear if there’s any traffic coming over the engine, I never really get above second or third gear, whereas on the bike, I can see over all the hedges and hear if there’s anything coming, meaning that I don’t have to moderate my speed nearly as much. So, I can actually get to my destination as quickly on two wheels as I can on four. There is one very steep hill on the way there, but for the most part, it’s a road to roll down. Hence why the way home is… a struggle.

Finally, there are very few places I feel happy leaving a bike in the village. One is able to rent locked parking at the station from the council (it’s not too expensive, but for one year’s rental, I could buy a massive bike lock and park for ‘free’ for the length of my degree), or there are a handful of bike stands, but these are in places where I would feel really conscious about abandoning my vehicle for the day – the leisure centre car park, or just outside the corner shop… It feels… invasive of me, to take up space which customers might need.

Mostly though, I learned that it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be.

Some things which would make my life easier/make me more likely to keep this up:

  • I’d like to get some trousers which will be acceptable for use in the classroom, as well as on the bike. Currently, I’ve only really got large, linen confections (and an oversized pair of dungarees made from orange cheesecloth). I’d be worried about these catching in the chains. I’m not really a leggings person so I’d need to figure something out in terms of clothing.
  • I need to figure out a way to carry as few things as possible. I’m currently weighing up the logistics of photocopying textbook pages and only taking the chapters I’m working on, but that seems wasteful. I’d never planned to take my laptop with me (I don’t trust myself with it on a bike!) so PDF scans aren’t really an option either. I wonder how many books relevant to my course will be available via e-reader, and if so, whether I can get them without using That River Company.* I wonder what the best way to carry lunch, snacks, and possibly breakfast is. I wonder how to take enough water with me for the day so I don’t have to buy more… There’s only a small front basket, and I’ve got a backpack which will mostly be filled with my helmet, unless…
  • I rent one of the bike lockers at the station, though realistically, that ties me into rail travel as the relevant bus stop is right at the other end of the village. The bus is cheaper, and whilst it takes longer, it gets me into the city closer to the university. The train station necessitates a 30-45 minute walk at the other side… Good for fitness, but hardly great for studying.

Ultimately, my transport situation remains a work in progress. I will do what I can to avoid purchasing another vehicle, but the infrastructure round here does not make it easy!

Do you cycle? Do you have any hints and tips for a total beginner, tackling hills for the first time? I would really appreciate any wisdom you could impart!


*FYI: I use That River Company’s e-reader because someone was giving one away on Freecycle. I download classics for it via Project Gutenberg. I’m one of those people who refuse to buy from said River company, hoping to – and utterly failing to – make a difference.

Transport

Well…. I actually got accepted into University. As of September, I’ll be going back to school to study an MA in Archaeology.

I’m excited. Also nervous – I was 18 when I started my last degree and the difference between how I feel now and how I felt then is stark. I remember only one mature student from my time before – a lovely woman, if somewhat distant – and I’m beginning to worry that the distance she experienced was not voluntary but enforced. It’s not as though I’m going there looking to find friends – I’m very much going to learn – but I’m also acutely aware of how lonely education can be if there aren’t people to share your passions with.

But let’s focus on ‘excited’. And transport. Because I live approximately an hour and a half from the campus.

I’ll know more about my schedule in July, but if my last arts degree was anything to go by, teaching hours will be minimal. I sort of hope so, because it’s a heck of a commute to do every day!

I do have a few options. As it’s only myself travelling, I do have the freedom to walk the hour to the nearest bus stop. I can hypothetically cycle too, but my bike is a European back-braking city-bike – designed for Hamburg streets, not Aberdeenshire hills. In order to cycle with any regularity, I feel as though I would need to trade my bike in for something with (at the very least) gears in order to tackle the not-insignificant hill which leads to the nearest village. Once at the village, I can then choose between a bus and – miracle-of-Beeching-surviving-miracles – a train. The train is fast, but expensive, and I would need to undertake another hour’s walk from the station to campus on the other side, whilst the bus is painfully slow but cheaper and – ultimately – more direct.

I’ve spoken with my family about possibly purchasing a small, second-hand electric car, but I just don’t feel like the charging infrastructure is there yet – hardly unsurprising for the oil capital of Europe, but I can hope. And of course, there’s the option of the ‘banger’ – a cheap, ancient car which limps along between fixes. Hardly green or economical.

Before I go any further, I know that this is, as my husband would say, a ‘luxury problem’. I’m talking through a myriad of transport options for accessing voluntary, expensive, higher education. I could make points about how many people have to make this journey daily for employment purposes and don’t have the easy option of ‘if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get an old car’. I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in and I fully appreciate that. It is beyond frustrating that there isn’t an affordable, easily accessible public transport infrastructure up here – arguably where people need it most due to hugely scattered population and centralised services….

But I digress. This is where we’re at.

During my first year of studies – because Covid – much of the learning will be online anyway, so I’ve pledged not to purchase a car until at least year 2, by which point I hope to have proved to myself that I can absolutely do without one.

My plan at the present time is to cycle while the weather is conducive to using my heavy, gearless bike, then walk through the worst of the winter months. In an ideal world, I’ll take the train – because I’m still a child who loves the romance of trains at heart – but I’ll inevitably end up taking the bus because money.

If I’m being entirely honest, the environmental impact isn’t the main driving force behind my decision. Yes, it’s definitely part of it, but what swayed me, was the ‘dead’ time spent on public transport. Since mobile phones came into common usage, we’ve been expected more-and-more to be ‘on’ at all times. We need to be ‘doing’ in order to be valid*. Using public transport will – for me – carve out a time in which I can’t do anything other than read. I’m still using my Nokia 3310, so I won’t have access to the internet for the entire journey, and I won’t be behind the wheel so I’ll be free to let my mind wander as I enjoy the countryside.

In addition, it’s going to help me work exercise into my day. I’m someone who very much benefits from exercise in terms of my mood, but I’m also someone who never makes space for it. Hopefully by making it a necessity, it’ll keep me going.

Obviously, all of this could change in the coming months, but for now, this is my plan.

If you’re a cyclist and you have any advice for me, I’d be super keen to hear it. I already have the helmet, high-vis vest, bike basket, and waterproofs. My friend has recommended a set of solar bike lights with a decent charge life, so I’m excited to research them. Any words of wisdom beyond that are thoroughly appreciated. I’m especially interested in how to keep my ears warm in the freezing winds which are still – in May! – bringing sleet and hale.

I’m going to get my bike out and make sure it’s all in working order then have a few ‘trial runs’ into the village. I’ll let you know how it goes.

For now, much love.

Farn ❤

*If you’re interested, Jessie Gender does a whole incredible video about the nature of work that I would definitely recommend… even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.

Reading

This is just a short post to let you know that I’m still here, doing my thing.

Which at the moment is mostly reading.

And planting the occasional seed.

The hard lockdown in Scotland following the winter holiday was compounded by a very heavy snowfall. For two weeks, we couldn’t get the car to the house, and I had to bring my groceries home on a 25 year old wooden toboggan!

The enforced hibernation gave me the opportunity to indulge in some reading and to be perfectly honest, I haven’t really stopped.

Few of these books are about topics I cover here, but I feel like books are fairly low-impact ways to entertain ourselves – all things considered…

52 Times Britain was a Bellend – James Felton
How to be Human – Ruby Wax (yes, that one)
Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez
Set Me on Fire – Ella Risbridger
Kitra – Gideon Marcus
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (thank you, Msdedeng!)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jannson
Hera Lindsay Bird – Hera Lindsay Bird
Five Years Vol. 1 – Chris Riddell

There were others too, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them. Also, 52 Times… not for anyone who doesn’t like swearing…

Besides that, I’ve been spreading home-composted mud through the raised beds, and setting seeds indoors.

Last year, I blogged a lot about what was happening in our garden, and I plan to do so again, but for now, here’s a recap of what we grew over the last 12 months

For the most part, this year’s plans are just a repeat of last year’s. The asparagus didn’t make it through the summer, so I probably won’t be planting that again, and I haven’t planted nearly as many (or, in fact, any) brassicas this year. I honestly think I’m too impatient for asparagus – even when using crowns – and as leafy greens featured heavily in our CSA veg boxes (and as they’re the type of vegetable we eat the least of) I’m not sure if I’ll bother.

My old favourites are back though – peas, radishes, courgettes and carrots. They’ve all been sown in paper pots and packed in old Costco sandwich boxes (to act as propagators and which I’m reusing from last year!) so hopefully I’ll start to see signs of life soon.

There’s definitely more of a routine to this year. Even though last spring is the first time I’ve ever really done any ‘serious’ gardening, I feel as though I’ve learned enough to justify how much more confident I feel this time around.

And I have to say, seeing the peas I saved from last year’s crop start to grow is an absolute thrill. It’s so wonderful to witness that cycle first hand.

But anyways, I’m talking too much. It’s definitely time to head back to my books…

On my bedside table just now are:

Pleasure Activism – adrienne maree brown
&
How To be a Craftivist – Sarah Corbett
&
Skellig – David Almond

(Just in case you’re interested)

I love talking books (in case you haven’t guessed!) but I don’t want to bore anyone. Shall I keep mentioning what I’m reading outwith the nature/environment ones?

I’d love to hear your thoughts (and recommendations!) – as ever, you can get in touch via the comments section.

Much love ❤

Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Farn ❤

*~*~*

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

Self Care

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

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

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

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

Long-term Care

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

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

Short-term Care

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

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

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

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

    With much love.
    Stay strong.
    Farn ❤

    ___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farn ❤

Non-physical gifts

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Tomorrow’, the Film

Before the lockdown, a friend of mine lent me her copy of the film ‘Tomorrow’.

Written by Cyril Dion, and directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, the film focuses on the powerlessness it’s easy to feel when dealing with the climate crisis, and what people all over the world are doing to combat this at both a grass-roots and political level.

Featuring segments about urban agriculture, local currency, Finnish schooling, and all manner of subjects in between, the film-makers manage to paint a really positive picture of how our world could look in the near future. And most importantly of all, it looks achievable. The interviews with people who have already made aspirational changes make it look easy, and rather than the feeling of doom that’s so prevalent in much of the media in regards to climate, I came away from watching this with a feeling of hope.

Hope that I could do more, hope that what I was doing mattered, hope that others would try too. The Los Angeles Times Review said it really well;

‘”Tomorrow” swaps the usual handwringing doomsday prophesizing in favor of a decidedly more proactive approach.’

I particularly loved the soundtrack to the film, which is possibly a bit of a superficial take-away from it, but I felt it was so perfect for setting the tone and keeping things positive, but not ‘jolly’. And from a personal stand-point, the division into ‘chapters’ really aided my watching this – it meant that I could sneak a segment in daily whilst the children were occupied with other things.

Have you seen the movie? Is it one you would recommend? I would love to hear your thoughts, and any other suggestions for things I could watch. Contact me here, or on Twitter.

‘Project Wild Thing’, the film

Project Wild Thing, by David Bond, is a really interesting little film. Released back in 2013, this one has slipped under my radar until now and I’m not entirely sure why… It appeared on my Twitter feed as something free to watch during lockdown and so, excited to see something new, I thought I would give it a go.

Project Wild Thing Screening - Upper Hutt - Eventfinda

I spoke before about how, in order to get children to care about the natural world, we needed to get them out in it, and invested in what was happening there. This film is about doing exactly that.

In the beginning, David appoints himself ‘marketing director for nature’ and from that point on, the narrative just sort of writes itself. He looks at the amount of time his own children spend outside and comes up with a pretty sad pie chart – only 4% of his daughter’s time is spent outside. This is the same proportion of time that she spends in the bathroom.

Speaking to marketing advisors and various creative people, David discovers that whilst parents want their children to go outside and enjoy the natural world, many are too conscious of risk. He touches on our societal fears of abduction and injury and I feel like these points are really important to acknowledge.

The scene in which David interviews a classroom of teenage girls really resonated with my own secondary school experience. In short, the pressure to look a certain way dictated their actions – in this case, they avoided the natural world. They didn’t want to go outside in bad weather because of the clothes they’d be made to wear by parents. It was a stark reminder of the culture amongst secondary children – peer approval really is everything, and unless we normalise the use of appropriate clothing amongst older children/young adults, this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away.

After watching the film, I had a better look at the website for The Wild Network. There are all sorts of things on there which I want to explore more of – specifically the various activity ideas.

At the time of writing, the film was available to watch for free, but even if that’s no longer the case, I would still recommend seeking it out. It’s a properly interesting little documentary.

Have you watched Project Wild Thing? What did you think? Do you have any ideas for other films I should see? As ever, contact me here or on Twitter to let me know.