Archive for March, 2008

Like blimmin’ buses….

…. are fun things I want to do with real people. Harrumph.

One of the forums I post on is having a meet-up the weekend after next, which I wanted to go to, but due to money being tight and the bf having exams, it would involve me basically being a big pain in the bottom and potentially scrounging lifts and somewhere to sleep off someone(s) I don’t know (otherwise I can’t go, in which case this is entirely academic). But it would be sooo much fun: skill-sharing/workshops, barbecue, evening in the pub chatting, actually meeting people I’ve ‘known’ for a while….

BUT I just got an email about a one-day organic gardening course happening just down the road from me. I think it’s run by the lady on Freecycle whose eggs we bought last summer (must start doing that again, her hens have probably started laying again now). Aside from the significant financial advantages (it’s much cheaper than the train fare alone, and the proceeds go towards a local food co-op), an organic gardening course for beginners would be SO useful right now*, and I also feel that actually going out and meeting other people in my area is, in the long-term, more… what’s the word?…. sustainable? useful? in line with what I envisage for the future?… than meeting people who are scattered across the country. I mean, the internet is a great tool for meeting like-minded people, and, dear lord, I would have gone nuts without it since I left uni, but it’s not the same as having people nearby you can chat to all the time. I feel like I should ‘invest’ in that over going to Dorset. (If nothing else, I might need them when the oil runs out ;-).)

I then said to myself, ‘Hey, just listen to what you want to do, don’t get bogged down by what you think you ‘should’ do. And I really don’t know. I want to do both equally. Meh.

What should I do???

—————-

Had a busy, ‘green’ weekend. I actually used my treadle sewing machine yesterday!! I made a real, live thing that I can actually use!! Well, it’s a cushion, and the foldy-over bit where it closes is a bit rubbish, largely because I didn’t measure it or plan it in any way, shape or form (cut it out back when I was fiddling around with the machine in January and didn’t know the first thing about anything) so it’s a bit ‘amateur’, but my sewing machine works!! Hurrah!!! I will photograph it tomorrow and show off to all and sundry (as part of the post on sewing that I’ve promised you for so long!).

We did Earth Hour, in spirit, because the bathroom light is broken and won’t turn off. We didn’t go into the bathroom between 8 and 9 p.m. though. As I understand it, it was more about making a statement than about trying to calculate electricity use reductions or anything. Instead we had an argument about peak oil over a candlelit dinner. Oh fun. Think it’s all okay now though. Must stop being crazywoman.

I also turned the compost heap, as part of my springtime rat-discouragement programme. Nasty thing’s been stealing my compost, and while I accept that in an area of high human population density, like where I live, there will be lots of rats, and that deterring them from the compost heap is a somewhat Sisyphean task, I still have a totally irrational objection to the fact that this one’s on my patch and eating my carrot peelings! I also don’t want it pissing all over stuff and giving me diseases. Or decamping to the house next winter. Hmm.

Today, the weather was gorgeous and sunny. I can’t believe this time last week it was snowing. I wanted to go out with the conservation group (I’ve been busy every Sunday this year, give or take a couple when the weather was mingy) but due to mammoth disorganisation on my part, I contrived to miss them at the station. I wandered around Reading for a while, hoping I could get into Waterstones at 10 and reserve my copy of the Self-Sufficientish Bible, but it didn’t open till 11, and I tried to have a wander along the canal, but found myself wandering around an industrial estate, so I went home.

I then tried to mend my bike, which has had a puncture since I left uni. I couldn’t find my bike pump. Thwarted again.

I then decided to varnish the wine boxes I intend to grow things in. I ran out of Ronseal with a few panels left. Yet again, thwarted.

I then planted some flowers in the spare pot in the front garden. I also dragged the bf out for a walk, exploring Holt Copse, one of the few parts of Wokingham left that hasn’t been built on, which was very exciting but rather muddy.

We had a stir-fry with kohl rabi in it for dinner. For a vegetable that looks so amusing, it really doesn’t taste very interesting. I bet people used to grow it just to keep themselves entertained during the long winter nights.

I did the next part of my sourdough, adding some more flour and water. I do that again in about two days… then a few hours after that… then again…. and again… then I get to add some salt…. and some time in about 2012 I get to start pre-heating the oven. We’re putting another ham in to brine tomorrow, too.

And then I made the bf clean the kitchen floor while I came on the internet.

* Some of the garlic in my veg rack had started sprouting, so I yanked the spindlier parsley out of its pot (there are two boisterously healthy ones just next to it) and popped the garlic in instead. I have no idea if this was sensible, I can’t remember where the garlic came from and it’s probably cheap Chinese garlic that won’t be very well adapt to the climatic conditions of, er, my kitchen. I’ll probably get sod all in the way of garlic, and I bet the rest of my parsley will now die just to spite me. Ah well. Nothing ventured…..

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March 30, 2008 at 9:00 pm Leave a comment

Goods 4 Girls

This is basically just a plea for money – but in a good cause. I wouldn’t normally write about charities and try to part you from your hard-earned dosh, as really it’s up to you what you do with it, but I would like to draw your attention to this amazing and inspiring initiative!

In the USA, there were some adverts recently by companies who make disposable tampons and sanitary towels to donate freebies to girls in Africa who would otherwise miss school because of their period… Which is a fine and noble gesture (probably :-S ) but in many of these areas there are no landfills or programmes for dealing with solid waste, and most rubbish is burnt. The synthetic components of the pads and tampons, plus the plastic packaging, will emit pollutants when burnt, nor will the products (except possibly cotton tampons) or packaging biodegrade. I’ve visited several countries in Africa and you can have it on good authority from me that the last thing most places in Africa need is more half-burnt plastic lying around!

Goods 4 Girls are sending out washable, reusable pads, which (as they generally have a waterproof barrier) would allow girls to carry on attending school and doing regular activities more than with rags or newspaper, which is what many use at the moment. The aid organisations that Goods 4 Girls are involved with will ensure that the communities where pads are given out have adequate water for washing the pads.

Also, as these pads last for ages, unlike disposables, it doesn’t create ongoing dependence on companies and aid organisations to continue meeting girls’ monthly needs, and also doesn’t create a situation where the girls get accustomed to using disposables and then have to buy them once they have outgrown the school programmes. (Nestle, anyone???)

You can find out more about the project from their website http://www.goods4girls.org, and also find out how you can help – you could give money directly if you like (through Paypal is probably easiest unless you’re in the US), but you can also buy one or more pads (many of the sellers will donate an extra one for every four or so bought to donate; also, some of them are on etsy, where you can use Paypal) or make your own and send them. (As the charity is based in America, atm they want you to send them there rather than directly to the organisations in Africa as this makes shipping, imports etc much easier.)

Crunchy Chicken, who started this whole thing off, recently wrote on her blog that demand is far outstripping supply at the moment, so if you would like to donate anything at all, I’m sure it will be much appreciated.

Oh, and don’t forget Earth Hour at 8 p.m. tonight.

March 29, 2008 at 6:12 pm Leave a comment

A little vitriol for the weekend

I knew this would happen. I knew it! I’m only on page 14, as well!

I’m sure I’ve told you countless times about the issue of the Independent I saw in a newsagent’s last year sometime. The Independent newspaper, for non-British readers, had (or maybe has, I haven’t read it in a while) a deliberate policy of being hard-hitting with the climate change news, and frequently had headlines such as, ‘We’re all dooooooomed!!’ or, ‘The polar bears are all going to die!!!’ or, ‘Our raving incompetent politicians have failed us again and the planet is going to become one big desert!!!’

Leaving aside the reasons why this approach isn’t the best one to take in any case (the Transition Towns Handbook, as quoted in a review here, sums it up rather well):

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

I was further struck by the utter incongruity of the advert at the top of one of these copies of the Independent, which had a headline about, I think, how at the very least 80% cuts in emissions were needed:

Free inside: 16-page motoring supplement.

Huh? What? Motoring? In cars? Running on petrol? Pumping CO2 out into the atmosphere?

Yes, Mr Newspaper, man. Very consistent.

Anyway, I generally esteem the Guardian more highly than the Independent, and, to their credit, they do seem to take climate change and ‘ethical living’ seriously and, further to their credit, they have also progressed beyond the ‘shout louder and louder about the numbers and see if anyone listens this time’ approach. But, having only got to page 14 of the Climate Change supplement from last Sunday’s Observer Magazine, I have seen adverts for:

  • MacBook Air
  • No7 for men products
  • Golf GT Sport
  • some swanky shoes
  • Sony flat-screen TV
  • Chrysler 300C

and there’s an advert for a Lexus on the next page. They’re not even pretending. No ‘This car is pretending to be green,’ and no ‘This computer is really energy efficient.’ Just bare-faced advertising for more, energy-consuming stuff, slapped onto the page opposite an article about how great life would be if we cycled more. Mixed messages? Missing the point? I mean, I know they have to make money so they can publish this stuff, but if they’re going to tell us we need to change our expectations and aspirations, shouldn’t they be setting an example? Making it easy for us?

I feel like the last bastion of sanity in the mainstream media has let me down.

I’m going to email them immediately. Who’s with me?

March 28, 2008 at 4:02 pm Leave a comment

Few things

1. Earth Hour.

This Saturday (March 29th) between 8 and 9 p.m. It’s a bit like e-day, except it’s only an hour and I’m actually going to do it this time. Here’s a bit about it from the website:

On March 31 2007, for one hour, Sydney made a powerful statement about the greatest contributor to global warming – coal-fired electricity – by turning off its lights. Over 2.2 million Sydney residents and over 2,100 businesses switched off, leading to a 10.2% energy reduction across the city. What began as one city taking a stand against global warming caught the attention of the world.

In 2008, 24 global cities will participate in Earth Hour at 8pm on March 29. Earth Hour is the highlight of a major campaign to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to take the simple steps needed to cut their emissions on an ongoing basis. It is about simple changes that will collectively make a difference – from businesses turning off their lights when their offices are empty, to households turning off appliances rather than leaving them on standby.

Even if your city isn’t taking part (surprise, surprise, mine isn’t) you can still take part yourself and find something fun to do in the dark. I’m torn between a candlelit supper and a candlelit bath, both of which will require energy to heat the oven or the water, though, which seems to defeat the purpose. Hmm. Candlelit salad?

2. Today I am going to plant some seeds. (I know some of you started ages ago, but I have no propagator, no greenhouse, a cold house and only limited amounts of indoor space anyway.) I’m sick of winter. Sick, sick, sick of it. Sick of cabbage and parsnips, sick of the house being cold, sick of having to wear tights and I want to wear my new skirt that I made! It’s a little bit sunny outside, so, dammit, I’m going to pretend it’s spring. March this year came in like a lion, stayed like a lion, got more liony and is now looking a teensy bit lamblike outside. In fact, in my weekly missive from the veg box, the Italian lady who half runs it said that when she first arrived in England she couldn’t understand why English people talked about the weather so much, but she now realises that if anywhere else had weather that was half as interesting as ours, they probably would talk about it more too! (We had dinner with the bf’s dad at the weekend, who lives in Spain, and he was complaining that it was ‘only 14 degrees in Malaga’.)

3. My shampoo soap arrived this morning and I have used it for the first time. My hair is currently covered in avocado oil and a large towel, so I can’t report back on it yet, but I’ve cracked and decided to pour the nasty, chemical-filled stuff down the sink and recycle the bottles anyway. I know, such a waste, but I just don’t want it on my hair any more!

4. I’ve made a starter for sourdough bread. I love sourdough bread, and I suddenly went into a baking frenzy last night. We’ve run out of salt, so I was experimenting with herb mixes in my normal bread dough (had some for breakfast, it tastes slightly tomatoey, and still in need of salt… hmm….) and was clearly seized by rampant bread enthusiasm. Anyway, there is a small lump of flour, milk and water in a bowl by the radiator, where it will remain for another two days. I shall keep you posted. I’m not expecting to get the hang of it immediately though.

Going to make some saffron buns today. Saffron stems been soaking overnight – I’m clearly going for ‘things that take a long time’ atm. Slow living, an antidote to the day-job….

5. I’ve ordered some reusable pads. My Mirena has made my periods so light, I’ve been wearing pantyliners instead of using my Mooncup a lot of the time, and now I’ve finished my stash of bog-standard Always ones, I’ve decided to get some washable ones. I hear you can use the water you soak them in on the garden – anyone care to suggest that to the bf? 😉 (The same bf who refuses to pee on my compost heap, even though it’s great for the compost heap AND apparently a rat deterrent.)

And tomorrow, I really will write about getting rid of the chemicals in the kitchen and why sewing isn’t as scary as you think it is. =)

March 27, 2008 at 10:43 am 2 comments

"When I’m in the flower garden, I just speak hen…"

Thought this was great! Trailer for a film about young farmers in America.

March 26, 2008 at 10:52 pm 2 comments

M&S bags petition

M&S recently announced that they were going to start charging 5p for plastic carrier bags, which is, of course, excellent, BUT it would be even better if they stopped giving them out altogether. So, a very organised person on INEBG set up a petition to ask them not to supply carrier bags, which you can sign by clicking on this link:

http://mrratty.wikidot.com/inebg-petition:ms-carrier-bags

Thank you.

March 25, 2008 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

De-chemicalising the house, part one: the bathroom

Scientist Boyfriend being, more specifically, Chemist Boyfriend (he did a masters in something to do with hydrogen fuels), whenever I talk about there being ‘chemicals’ in things, I usually get a withering look and a reminder that, technically speaking, water is a chemical. Therefore, I would like it to to be understood that, for the purposes of this post and the following post on cleaning products, when I refer to ‘chemicals’ I am referring to synthetic chemicals, probably derived from petroleum, which I have decided I don’t want in my house any more.

Why not?

What’s wrong with these things? Well, working from the general principle that when deciding what to put in my body I tend to go for stuff with short ingredients lists, composed of things I could source myself, grown with ecological sensitivity and sustainability in mind and bought with as short a chain as possible, it seems sensible to apply it to the things I put on my body too.

I have next to no understanding of biochemistry and how these things actually work, whether these things are actually bad for us, but in the interests of sustainability, I can confidently declare that I would far prefer our remaining petroleum reserves to be used to synthesise, say, insulin for my diabetic granny, or hormones for contraceptive pills to keep the population at a sustainable level and allow women a greater degree of independence, than for making oven cleaners, conditioners and anti-bacterial soap.

Anti-bacterial soap is fantastic stuff; I love the fact that people who might need to operate on me at some point will be using anti-bacterial soap. But (unlike a story told to me by friend of mine who had her knee stitched up by her boyfriend’s mum (a surgeon) using a large glass of wine as anaesthetic) I don’t tend to operate on people on my kitchen table very often, and I firmly believe that a bit of everyday dirt is good for the immune system and can easily believe that a lot of asthma and allergies are a consequence of too-clean houses (not all, of course, but a lot).

Purely anecdotally, my skin is also much softer since I’ve been moisturising with hemp seed oil
and my mirror sparkles after a clean with white vinegar and newspaper (and no, it doesn’t leave smeary newsprint marks on the mirror).

Therefore, since I can by and large clean my body and my home with other things, there is no reason why I shouldn’t try and wean myself off petroleum-derived, mass-produced products, not to mention the packaging/waste issues.

Where am I now?

I still feel bad throwing perfectly good shampoo or cleaning products in the bin, so I’m slowly working my way through what we already have in the house.

This is my bathroom cupboard:

As you can see, I still have plenty of mainstream, petrochemical-filled products, but (which is more encouraging) most of them were gifts. Aside from toothpaste, face scrub and hemp seed oil, I haven’t bought any toiletries in about a year.

The long-term goal is to use as natural products as possible. (Sadly, I don’t think there’s an eco-friendly substitute for Jolen bleach. I hate that I use it, for various reasons, but I can’t face giving it up yet, at least while my job occasionally requires me to meet people, be confident and look smart. If you want to harangue me about it, please take it up with my mother, who gave me a massive complex.)

Soaps and shampoo

On a daily basis, I use a face scrub from Lush, which is made from things I could source myself if I had the inclination to make it, and moisturise with hemp seed oil from Innocent Oils. I use solid soap instead of shower gel, although just bog-standard soap I got as a gift, but still use nasty mainstream shampoo. I will go over to solid shampoo and conditioner once I’ve finished the remnants of a some Herbal Essences 2 in 1. Switching shampoo is a big wrench, I’ve been using this one for five years – in fact, they briefly discontinued it and when I first saw it again I stockpiled about five large bottles cos I liked it so much! Funny how when I first started using it I loved the flowery smell, now it just smells artificial and chemical.

However, I have just ordered some shampoo soap from the Barenaked Soap Company, because I was enchanted by all the beautiful-shaped soaps (so shallow!), although I was tempted by this one as well. I’ll try it next time and compare them. I’m going to try conditioning once a week with avocado oil (or olive, or hemp) as suggested by this video. I mean, if a proper model can do it, it can’t be a filthy, hippie thing, can it, now?! =)

I’ll also look into shaving soap (or even go back to just using normal soap!) but I don’t think I’m ready to give up the razor and use a blade yet. Or go wild and hairy.

Other products

I also use cider vinegar as deodorant, just applied with cotton wool pads (which are then composted). I’m going to cut up an old T-shirt now I’ve run out, though. I can’t remember where I read this tip, but nobody has complained about the smell yet! It comes in a recyclable glass bottle from the supermarket and is very cheap. I recommend it.

I have some muslin for making into face cloths (I bought them to wean myself off those disposable Olay face cloths, which I loved) but haven’t got round to hemming them yet. Maybe I could get some pinking shears instead. According to Glamour magazine, muslin is supposed to be a good exfoliant.

The most plastic-intensive thing is toothpaste and toothbrushes. I used some charcoal-based toothpaste from Lush, but it was sooo expensive and I used it so quickly I simply couldn’t justify it. I will get some herbal toothpaste, I think, but it still comes in a plastic tube. I’m also going to try making some from bicarb and peppermint oil – will experiment and post the recipe if it works. Various bloggers in America use the Preserve toothbrush which is 100% recycled, but it doesn’t list any stockists in the UK. I could use a wooden one, but even I balked at paying £4 for a tooth brush (I know, I know, so inconsistent).

March 25, 2008 at 1:01 pm 2 comments

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The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."