Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough

This was a really interesting book.

First published in the early years of the new millenium, this book argues for circular design, and gives amazing examples of instances where such a thing has been achieved.

It argues that humanity can do better than being ‘less bad’ for the environment – that we have the capacity to create a world in which waste fuels industry in a more meaningful way than the incineration of refuse to produce electricity.

It argues that we need to stop selling products, but to sell – instead – a product’s service. One of the examples given is a carpet – the customer pays for the service of the carpet, then at the end of said carpet’s useful life, the top is removed, reprocessed and remade into another carpet, whilst the underlay remains intact and ready to receive its replacement.

It talks about incredible work at the Ford Rouge plant – where mushrooms and plants are used to purify the soil of toxins, caused by a century of industry. It talks about incredible financial savings that businesses can make, simply by making their car-parks porous. It talks about what a city would look like if all the roofs were made of living grass – a natural way to improve air quality, retain water to cool the town, and to ease strain on public water systems, all whilst improving habitat for wildlife.

This book was really inspiring for a number of reasons. Firstly, it didn’t deal with the concept of ‘reduce’, at least, not in the way we’re used to viewing it within the sustainability movement. Instead of ‘use less’, Cradle to Cradle encouraged ‘reduction’ by redesigning our systems to use waste as raw material, effectively, negating it as a concept entirely.

I guess the most accurate description of this book I can think of is: ‘an optimistic capitalist does environmentalism but in the best possible way’. It’s the sort of thing I’d give to an engineer, or small business owner – or an eco-skeptic who acknowledges there’s a problem but doesn’t think we can do anything about it.

It also made me look at some of my own deep-founded beliefs. Whilst I’m not going to start spending money at That River Company any time soon, and will continue to boycott Nestle, I have a lot more respect for businesses who do work with the brands that I personally consider evil. The question: ‘How can you work with such people?’ was asked throughout the text, and the answer the authors gave – as a sustainability based company – remained ‘How can we not?’ If we want to change the world, we can’t just ignore the parts of it we don’t like – we have to actively engage with them to change them.

The book is a very short read – under 200 pages. It’s perhaps beginning to date a little now, the main body of the text having been written around the year 2000, but the concept is sound and if you’re interested in learning more, there are multiple case studies on the Cradle to Cradle website.

Have you read this book? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’m also open to recommendations of nature themed/sustainability books and documentaries. Particularly those which don’t place sole responsibility for the climate crisis on the consumer…

I wasn’t expecting this from an old towel…

I wasn’t expecting to be asked for sweatbands.

I mean, does anyone ever really expect their youngest child to request such a thing?

But such a thing was requested, and as such, I did my best to oblige…

Using some wide elastic, liberated from my grandmother’s stash, and an old towel with a hole in the centre, I cobbled together perfectly adequate sweat bands. Or at least, the small child seemed happy with them. But that’s not really the end of the story.

I was left with the rest of a very bald towel. And I hate throwing away fabric, even when it is as ancient as this.

I honestly don’t know how that hole got there…

This came at a fortuitous time, though, because my knitted dishcloths look like this…

Massive holes all round.

So.

I decided to do what anyone would do – I cut up the remains of the towel for dishcloths.

I started off by cutting through the hole, then by cutting those halves into quarters. Luckily everything came out pretty evenly, but you cut your cloth according to what you have…

I ended up with 8 good sized dish cloths. Despite the baldness of the fabric, though, I found that the edges were pretty prone to fraying.

So, out came the sewing machine.

I started by folding each edge over twice, but this was a lot of fiddly work, and it all got very thick on the corners. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue for the Jones, but I’ve run out of ‘period-correct’ fully round needles so I’m down to modern ‘organ’ needles. These work, but have slightly different proportions so the machine tends to struggle to catch the bottom bobbin on thicker projects.

I abandoned the double fold for a single folded hem and this worked just as well in stopping the fabric from disintegrating.

Double fold on the left, single on the right – not a huge difference.

When it came to the cloth which had been right next to the hole, I just made a slight detour with the presser foot and everything came out ok…

It’s not perfect, but honestly, who cares when it’s a dish cloth?

And that’s really all there is to it. It took around 20 minutes from start to finish to make 8 cloths in total (but would be faster on an electric machine). These are also 100% cotton, so whilst 20 minutes of time vs 85p for a pack of 5 dish cloths isn’t a huge financial saving, it does prevent plastic microfibres from entering the water system, and it’s one fewer towel destined for landfill at the end of its life.

What do you do with your old towels? We used a lot as packing material when cleaning out my in-laws house so we have many, and only one dog to use them on! I’d love to hear any suggestions!

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.

How to Turn a shirt collar

I’ve said before that Lucy Siegle’s excellent book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World is the main reason that I began to look at the way in which I consumed.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend doing so (or other books on the subject, like How to Break Up with Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo). These insights into the way that clothes are made and disposed of are the basis of my mending skills. By looking after the apparel we have, we delay the need for new garments and prevent mostly functional pieces from ending up in landfill.

So, as I had a shirt collar to turn, I thought I’d share the process with you today, in case it’s of any use.

This is an easy job to do and can be done either by hand or with a sewing machine (though the machine does give a lovely, neat finish). You only need to unpick/sew one line of stitching so depending on how quick you/your machine is, this might only be a five minute job. Even photographing things as I went along, this took less than 20 minutes. And I had to rewind my bobbing.

So, here’s the shirt collar…

As you can see, the fabric has worn thin and there are holes in it.

To begin, I need to unpick the line of stitching which connects the collar to the main body of the shirt. You can see this in the above picture, just below where my thumb is.

I use little scissors to start this process because it makes it easier to get the seam ripper in, but you can use a ripper straight away, or scissors all the way along – whatever is easiest, really.

Here we are, almost finished…

And now we have a seperate shirt and collar. And here you have some options.

You can:

a. flip the collar (as I detail below) to extend the life of the shirt.
b. do a better job than I did and insert some iron-on interfacing into the collar to better support the holey bit, then flip the collar (as detailed below).
c. Remove the collar completely and sew up the top of the shirt, thus creating a ‘granddad shirt’ neckline.

I opted for – obviously – option a, mostly because I have no interfacing at present. When holes appear in the collar on the other side, I’ll probably opt for option c. I’m not sure how that’ll look on a checked-shirt, but it’ll be perfectly fine for sleeping in, if nothing else.

Anyways, on with the sewing.

I flipped the collar and pinned it in place. Here you can see the holes are now on the outside of the shirt. This means that when the collar is folded back on itself, they won’t be visible.

After that, it’s just a matter of feeding the shirt through the machine, being sure to catch all the layers of fabric. This is easier than it might sound because you can just follow the previous line of machine stitching. *

And then you’re done. The collar looks as good as new on this side, and it’s ready for another half-decade of service! Hooray!

Like I said to begin with, this is such a simple five minute job, and when you compare the labour and materials (i.e. some thread) with the cost of a new shirt, it’s a really easy way of saving money. This is a job I did whilst watching a video so it’s not even like it ate into any leisure time. I’d call that a win all round.

Are there any easy, quick-fixes that you do on your clothes? I would love to hear about them – maybe I can have a go!

*~*~*

*I’ve been asked about my sewing machine a few times now so thought I’d chat about my menagerie of machines here.

The one pictured is a Jones Family CS from 1895 – a hand-crank, bullet-bobbin, organ-needle machine. I bought it in a charity shop in Norwich in 2006 for £20 and it’s what I learned to sew on.

I do also have two electric machines – a Frister and Rossman Cub 7 from the mid-80s (which is technically my mum’s), and a Pfaff from the late 80s/early 90s (which I inherited when my mother-in-law died and am yet to use).

The Pfaff needs significant work, which I plan on having done when lockdown eases – it sat uncovered and unused for a decade so is really gummed up – but I hope to bring it back into regular use soon as it has various embroidery settings which the Jones and F&R don’t have. The Cub 7 is also in desperate need of a service, but if you’re looking for a beginners sewing machine and can find one of these gems, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s easy to use, built like a tank, and runs really quietly.

For me though, nothing will ever beat the Jones on a straight stitch. That’s literally all it does – stitch forwards in a line. I can service it myself because it’s such an elegant, unfussy machine, and because it’s a hand-crank, I can set it up anywhere. I’ve been known to sit in the garden with it on a sunny day, or in front of a film with it on the coffee table. It’s slow enough that my children can use it without it running away from them too, and that’s a massive bonus. Around 2 years ago, I did a lot of work on it, and if anyone is interested in seeing the pictures of it being brought back from sitting in storage, let me know and I can write a post on it. 🙂

The Ugly truth

The other day, I went looking on Pinterest for some inspiration.

I love writing here, I really do, but sometimes I feel a bit like I’m repeating myself – that I’m not providing any new information. At some point in the later half of 2020, I began to grow self-conscious about what I was writing and it led to me slowing down in terms of posts.

I imagined people reading my work, getting bored of hearing about my garden, or the books that I’ve read, or the swaps that I’ve made.

Other people have done it all before and they’ve absolutely done so in a much prettier way.

And that’s when it really struck me – I wasn’t posting things which I thought were useful because they weren’t also pretty.

There’s a very specific…. aesthetic to low-waste/zero-waste living. Bright, minimalist spaces, glinting mason jars, soft brushed linens….

That just isn’t my reality, and I’m sure it’s not the reality for most people trying to reduce their impact on the planet. We all take baggage – literal and figurative – when we leave home. For my part, I took an entire Saab 9-5 full of stuff with me to university all those years ago, along with a severe lack of practical cooking skills which led me to far too many ready-meals.

Over the years, I consumed without thinking, and it was only in 2011 – after reading Lucy Siegal’s To Die For – that I began to consider the impact of the objects in my life.

As a result, there are multiple relics from my personal ‘before times’ in my life. They’re not pretty – they don’t fit with the ‘zero waste aesthetic’, but they do fit with the spirit of the thing, and so I thought I’d share them with you here. Hopefully they can help reassure you that just because you don’t have beautiful stainless steel lunch boxes, that you’re still doing a great job.

First up, my box full of ugly plastic bags…

This is exactly what it looks like. I keep a small box full of plastic food bags. I have diligently washed and dried each of these and here they sit, awaiting use! I employ them in my freezer, or – more pertinently at the moment – when giving my children snacks for school. Pre-covid, I used to bake them little cupcakes and back them in decades-old tupperware, but the fewer things which go to/from school just now the better. And that being the case, having these free bags as ‘disposable’ packaging for home bakes is excellent. Generally speaking, I try to get a few uses of the bags at home before I send them off with my kids, but given that typically these would have been tossed out instantly after unpacking the food within, even one extra use is a huge bonus.

And aside from anything else, I find it bizarre that we’re willing to spend money on a roll of freezer bags, whilst simultaneously throwing perfectly functional plastic bags out…

Next up – my ‘compost bin’…

This is an old yogurt pot from back when I used to buy yogurt regularly (I think I discussed yogurt before and decided that this is one of the ‘basic’ things that should be a real treat).

It sits on the side in the kitchen and gets filled with compostable food scraps. It’s ugly – especially now it’s so sun-faded – but it’s the perfect size to collect things in. It fills up quickly enough that we remember to empty it before it starts stinking.

I also have a load of these tubs which I use to freeze food in too – no need to buy special containers when I could just repurpose something that was free. It’s not as pretty as its custom glass/metal counterpart, but it’s keeping something out of the waste management system and that’s important.

Next up, my packaging supplies…

Yup. That’s where it all lives – in front of my dining room fireplace. We don’t light this fire because we haven’t had the chimney swept in actual years so try not to worry about the safety hazard all that paper near a flame presents.

Here’s a close up…

All that folded brown paper in the basket on the left is ‘padding’ from deliveries we’ve been sent, so I save it for gift wrapping. Either the children draw on it, or we use stamps to decorate it, and we reuse it that way. Also visible are some gift bags and some printed wrapping paper (which I rescued from the skip when we cleared out my inlaws’ house). I literally haven’t bought gift-wrap in years, but as a result, we do have to live around this… sculpture…

None of these things are attractive to look at. You’re not going to find them on Pinterest. But I think it’s important that we talk about the instantly accessible ways in which we can reduce our waste. I hope that this mini-selection of the literal (but useful!) junk that I keep around my house has given you some ideas.

I would love to hear some of the uglier things you manage to keep out of landfill. At some point, I plan to do a post about ‘random things which we’ve found and attached to our walls as art’ but this seems like a good place to start!

Much love.

Farn

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 ❤