Category Archives: Sustainable Living

Time for change

When I first started this blog it was meant to be a way for me to share what we had been up to, exchange ideas for sustainable living and, yes, to give the occasional shout out to promote my business.

As I scroll back through the things I have posted over the last couple of years  it strikes me that so much of it is no longer relevant. Of course we still need to live greener, simpler lives. Of course we still need to consume less. Of course we still need to educate ourselves about the impact our actions are having on the planet and the effect that it’s going to have on our children and our children’s children.

The problems just seem to have become so much bigger. Or maybe it’s not that they are bigger, it’s that there is an increasing awareness of how much damage is being inflicted to line the pockets of the few at the expense of… well it seems to be at the expense of just about everyone and everything.

I used to think that there was a way to opt out. To live on the fringes and lead a simple, low-consumption life. That if we just shared our ideas our collective consciousness would grow. That if enough people took action we really could change the world and leave a better future. I’m beginning to suspect that I was incredibly naive.

Like many people I spend most of my time content in my little bubble. I try to live an ethical life, supporting local business, fair-trade and environmentally sound initiatives because I do believe that consumer power is one of the best ways to effect change. After all, the whole world seems to be run on this made up thing called money.

Of course those that have the majority of the wealth want to keep it all to themselves. This is not news. I find it ridiculous that they want to do this at the expense of just about everything else, but it seems that they do. And it’s getting ever more difficult to get away from the corporations and profiteers who are robbing each and every one of us blind.

I get so angry about it all. I can’t even find the words to express myself anymore. Well I can, but they’re mostly expletives. My partner calls it “Toryettes Syndrome” but I seem to be affected by every single politician, not just the f***ing Tories.

The cost of living keeps going up and the wages keep going down. Every day we are told that we have to work harder for less, be grateful to have a job and yet there are fewer and fewer jobs to be had. If you don’t/can’t work you are labelled a scrounger and, despite the fact it’s illegal and immoral, you can be forced to work for a big corporation for free. This means there’s less paid employment for everyone.

And all the time the big companies make bigger profits and the banks keep getting bailed out. I mean, what the actual fuck?

It won’t be long until self-employed people like myself will be in the same situation as those who are unemployed. Like many working parents, I am entitled to Tax Credits to top up my income, however under the proposed new system I could be forced onto Mandatory Work Activity if my earnings are low.

Never mind the fact that it’s incredibly tough for a small business like mine to compete with the big boys, especially when they get free labour as part of the governments “welfare reform”. Not to mention the numerous tax breaks big businesses get plus their rampant exploitation of natural resources and people all around the world.

I just want to opt out, really I do. But how do you go about opting out when those with the money have all the control?

There’s just so much to be angry about but the thing that makes me most angry is how bloody ignorant so many people are. I am constantly stunned by the bigoted and self-righteous comments that I read on social media, newspapers and blogs. Is it really that difficult to understand? Or is it just that people are so brainwashed by the corporation controlled media that they have forgotten how to think for themselves and empathise with their fellow human beings.

Take a few steps back and put on a wider lens. The bigger picture is pretty terrifying.

We really need to take action. Now. But where do you start? Clicking “like” on a picture on Facebook won’t do it, that’s for sure. We need to get out into our communities. Meet each other. ORGANISE! Share our stories and educate each other, because we’ve all got a lot to learn.

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Completely and utterly lost the plot

Today was a sad day for our adventures in sustainable living.  One of our biggest missions in self sufficiency has been to try to grow as much of our own food as possible.  Unfortunately, after nearly 3 years of struggling against the elements, I’ve finally decided to give up on my little allotment plot.

It certainly wasn’t an easy decision but it had to be done.  When we joined the waiting list I had just one child who was at school and quite a lot more free time.  By the time we’d waited 3 years for a plot to become available I’d had another (very demanding) baby, was running my own business, and we’d started homeschooling.  Although in theory homeschooling and allotments should go hand in hand, I found the reality to be quite different.

The kids love pottering around planting seeds and weeding when they feel like doing it. Dragging them half a mile down the road to battle the ever increasing jungle that was our plot 3 or 4 times a week was a completely different matter.  It stopped being fun.  In fact, on those frequent occasions when we hadn’t made it down for a few weeks (or even months) the feeling of dread about what we were going to find down there took all the joy out of growing our own.

I do think that if we’d been able to eat everything we grew it may have been different.  However a lot of our crops just vanished into thin air.  Yes I know that there are plenty of birds, mice and rats on allotments who will help themselves to your raspberries and other soft fruits – not to mention the slugs – but that’s just one of those circle of life kind of things.  When you go down on Christmas Eve to pick your abundant harvest of sprouts and find that each and every plant has been stripped bare it’s another matter entirely.  And as for the person who decided to help themselves to our asparagus in its second year, killing all of our plants in the process (asparagus needs at least 3 years to establish before it can be picked).  Well, I hope they enjoyed it because we certainly couldn’t.

It’s not that I don’t like sharing our food – far from it.  In fact in our years of plenty most of our friends have been inundated with various crops (actually, they’ve usually been inundated with lots of courgettes and rhubarb but you know what I mean).  However, I can kind of see how the kids lost interest when they weren’t actually getting to eat the things they had invested so much energy into growing.

To be completely honest, despite the occasional thefts and the moaning kids I could have put up with all of it to continue on the plot if it hadn’t been for this year’s TERRIBLE weather.  2012 being the wettest summer on record was the final straw.  Nothing grew except the weeds – everything else rotted!  We couldn’t get down there at all, and to be honest there wasn’t really much point in even trying to go.  The ground was so wet that walking on it would have damaged the soil structure.  The DPM which protects our growing soil from the arsenic (our plot was along a disused China Clay train track) ensured that the water couldn’t drain.  Even the most seasoned and experienced allotmenteers lost practically everything they grew.  It just wasn’t happening.

So today I phoned the council and handed in my notice.  Our allotment days are over.  Although I was told I could go on the waiting list again for another plot, I really don’t think the allotment lifestyle is for us.  There are too many highly specialised pests and diseases, too many chemicals, and too many interfering busybodies to make having an allotment worthwhile.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t had fun over the past few years.  There have been some really cool things about having an allotment (the winter of apple wine being one that particularly springs to mind). We’ve got muddy, we’ve had a laugh and we’ve got to enjoy loads of new foods that we’d never have even thought of making had it not been for our various gluts.  Courgette bread anyone?  How about beetroot and chocolate cake?  Omnomnom!

Now my focus is turning to creating a Vegetable Yarden instead.  We’ve got a backyard, albeit a small one and we’re not afraid to use it to its fullest.  I’ve found this amazing website called Vertical Veg which is full of tips for growing in small spaces.  I will beat the slugs that live under the decking and grow as much as I can outside my kitchen door.  This might be the end of our allotment but when it comes to growing our own, this is only the beginning…

bye bye allotment, we will miss you!


Greener Alternatives That Don’t Cost The Earth – Soap Nuts, The Natural Way to Do Your Washing.

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees, especially in these tough economic times.  Soap Nuts, however, do and they are an effective and economic alternative to conventional laundry detergents.

After writing about some of the nasties which are lurking in many laundry products, I thought I should take the time to tell you about the awesomeness of Soap Nuts.   Soap Nuts grow on the Soap Berry tree and have been used for centuries in India and Nepal.  Like many plants (such as the chestnut tree & soapwort) they are naturally high in saponins, or soap.

Why would a plant need to produce soap?  Well, the saponins act as a natural defence against fungus, bacteria and pests, helping the tree to grow in less than favourable conditions.  (As an aside you can use them to make your own eco-friendly pesticide sprays, multi-surface cleaners and even head-lice repelling shampoos but more on that later).

So the tree isn’t particularly bothered that its anti-fungal, anti-microbial berries are also incredibly useful for us when it comes to washing our clothes.  It’s got its own reasons for producing them, which we humans have been taking advantage of for centuries in many parts of the world.  The soap is released when the berries are put into warm water, producing mild bubbles which keep even delicate fabrics naturally clean and fresh.

For washing clothes I pop about 6 soapnuts into an old sock and tie a knot at the end so they don’t escape.  I put the sock in with my clothes in the washing machine drum and let them do their stuff.  Washing at 30° is fine for most things.  You get more bubbles at a higher temperature but they won’t last for as many washes.  That’s right, my 6 soapnuts will do at least 3-4 washes which means they cost less than 10p a wash!  Compare that to the prices of a conventional non-bio, even a non-ecofriendly one, and you can see straight away how they benefit your wallet.  Oh, and as they leave your clothes naturally soft there’s no need to use fabric conditioners either which saves you even more money and makes them perfect for washing towels and re-usable nappies too.

So Soap Nuts can save you money on your household expenses, but how are they at saving the planet?

Really rather good, as it goes.  Firstly they grow on trees.  Trees absorb CO² and release oxygen so Soap Nuts are a truly renewable primary resource.  The trees are hardy thanks to their natural defences, and grow well in many tropical climates. They grow to around 20-30 feet and will produce berries for about 90 years providing much needed income to the rural communities that live in these areas.  Local farmers collect the fruits as they fall, dry them in the sunshine using no chemical processing whatsoever, before packing them and shipping them to their destinations.  Try comparing that to the pollution caused by the production processes of the conventional SLS laden washing powders which make huge profits for big multi-national corporations.  I know what I’d rather put in my washing machine, especially as the anti microbial properties of the waste water they produce even helps clean out the drains in an environmentally friendly way.

Soap Nuts are a great alternative to conventional detergents for sufferers of eczema and psoriasis and have actually been used for years in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for these conditions.  They are hypo-allergenic which makes them particularly good for people with sensitive skin, especially babies.  The lack of chemicals means that they keep your colours brighter for longer, however don’t expect your whites to come out “Persil White” if you use Soap Nuts on their own – they’re only berries for Pete’s sake!  Not to worry, though.  A teaspoon of Soda Crystals or BioD Nappy Whitener in with your wash will give them a sufficient boost to keep your whites white.  For dark and coloured washes they are perfectly good on their own and are a completely natural and organic detergent which keeps your clothes soft and clean.  And that is why I am nuts about Soap Nuts.

If you’d like to try them for yourself take a look at Living Naturally Soapnuts!


The Hidden Danger in Charity Shop Clothes…

Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to clothes shopping I’m much more into charity shops than high street shops.  Let’s face it, charity shops are one of the most environmentally friendly sources of clothing you’ll ever come across, and they’re bloody cheap too!  As long as you have a good idea of what clothes suit your body shape and a reasonable knowledge of decent clothing brands you can come home with bundles of lovely new(ish) outfits for under a tenner.   And if they don’t fit quite as you’d like it’s  much easier to get the scissors and unpicker out to remodel them into something more flattering when the garment in question has only cost you a couple of pounds.

Just recently I’ve been running into a spot of bother with some of my charity shop finds.  I bought a gorgeous Wallis jumper for just 99p and (foolishly) decided to wear it that day.  It smelled fresh and clean and I just didn’t think.  Even when the burning rash spread up the left side of my face it didn’t occur to me that my lovely new jumper might be to blame.  I just slapped on some aloe vera gel and let it settle down.  It wasn’t until I put on the jumper a couple of days later (guess what, it still smelled lovely and fresh) and my face flared up again that I made the connection.

The thing is, laundry detergents and fabric conditioners contain some of the most toxic chemicals in the home but for some reason modern thinking (i.e. what the box in the corner of the room tells you) has decided that if your clothes don’t have a strong fragrance then you aren’t clean and acceptable. However there is a vast amount of research which shows that the VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) which make up these products are having a profound effect on health.  In fact, recent studies have shown that the air quality inside the average home is WORSE than it is outside, regardless of whether you live in the countryside or in the heart of the city centre.  Is it any wonder that there’s been a sharp rise in allergies such as eczema and asthma in the last few decades?

Now I’m a smoker, so I’m not going to lecture anyone on the dangers of airborne chemicals.  Life would be pretty boring if we didn’t take some risks, but where the health effects of smoking are well documented, the health risks of fabric conditioners, laundry detergents, air fresheners and cleaning products are nowhere near as widely recognised by the vast majority of people.  The general opinion seems to be that if it’s on the shelves at the supermarket then it must be safe.  Sadly the reality is that detergent manufacturers have no legal obligation to even disclose all the ingredients they but in the box or bottle, let alone test them all and how they react with all the other airborne chemicals which are in the home.  If you look at some of the ingredients that are disclosed, the results are pretty scary.

•    Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer

•    Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant

•    Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

•    A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

•    Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list

•    Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders

•    Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

•    Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

•    Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

Wow!

Some of the other health effects that come from using these kinds of conditioners and detergents include:

•    Headaches

•    Nausea

•    Vomiting

•    Dizziness

•    Blood pressure reduction

•    Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract

Yet we wear clothes that release these chemicals all day before settling down to sleep on pillows and duvets that are infused with them.  It’s just crazy!  Not to mention the effect these chemicals are having on our waterways and wildlife.  Do you suffer from headaches, fatigue or skin problems?  Maybe you should re-think what you are putting into your washing machine?

As someone who has used only green products for the last decade or so, I realise that I’m probably quite over sensitive to the chemicals found in non-eco brands.  I notice the smell on people in the park, and the next door neighbours washing line regularly has us begrudgingly heading indoors.  Like anything, we get used to what surrounds us so I guess that’s why detergent manufacturers come up with ever more inventive ways to get those fragrances out there.  “Keep your clothes huggably fresh, even after 12 hours” says one well known brand which comes with “state of the art scent release technology”.    I just don’t get it.  They make my eye’s water and my skin flare up and my kids hate them too.

Even after washing again without softener, these chemicals stay in the fabric which makes them even more hazardous for those who have sensitivity to them.  I’ve been known to wash hand-me-down clothes which have been donated to my kids up to four times to get rid of the smell and even then it can malinger.  There are many individuals who have unwittingly put a new brand into their washing machine, discovered they are allergic and then been unable to rinse the fragrance out of their machines and keep suffering from the allergic reaction long after they have stopped using the product.

So what are the alternatives?  BioD is a UK based company which uses only safe and natural ingredients in their products and they’re nowhere near as expensive as Ecover (which isn’t actually as green as they would have you believe).   You can get Eco-Wash Balls from a number of different manufacturers, with varying results its true, but I can vouch for the fact that the one Wikaniko sells works and works well.  Soapnuts are another fantastic detergent.  They are so natural they grow on trees, keep your clothes soft and have the added advantage of being completely compostable once you’ve finished with them.  As for fabric conditioners, I just don’t use them.  I’d much rather smell of nice organic perfume and put pomander bags in my drawers.  Old fashioned I know, but so much nicer than the smell of “Black Diamond & Lotus Flower”.  What does a black diamond even smell like anyway?

Anyway, I’ve learnt my lesson about charity shop clothes.  No matter how much I’m itching to get into my latest treasure, it’s not worth the risk of itching all over and having a rash for the next two weeks.  Won’t stop me charity shopping though, got to love those brand new second hand clothes.


Ordinary women as makers of history…

March the 8th 2011 marks the centenary of the first International Womens Day, a major day of global celebration of women.   So what’s all the fuss about?  Surely in the 21st century we have achieved the emancipation that the suffragettes struggled for in the early 1900s?  Like many women of my generation I have a decent level of education, flexible work which allows me to spend quality time with my kids and a loving relationship with a partner who treats me with respect.  But it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come over the last hundred years.   Back in 1911 when International Womens Day (IWD) was first honoured, over one million women and men were attending rallies to campaign for the basic women’s rights that we take for granted today.  They campaigned for the right of women to work in decent conditions, to vote, to be educated and hold public office and these activists helped put an end to discrimination.   I feel very lucky to be born at a time and place where I can take all of these things for granted.

For so many women across the globe, poverty, displacement and atrocious working conditions are still rife and so the fight continues.    To fuel our consumerist desire for summer veg all year round, sweatshop manufactured jeans for a fiver and countless gadgets that end up in landfill within 6 months there are families living in horrendous conditions all over the world.   For me, International Womens Day is about making the change to a more sustainable lifestyle, being aware of the effects of globalisation, climate change and the insanity of our dependence on fossil fuels.  By getting together with my friends I can raise a bit of cash to help women and children in poverty.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s a reason to celebrate.

The UN describes International Women’s Day as “the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for “liberty, equality, fraternity” marched on Versailles to demand women’s suffrage.”  By acting locally while thinking globally I honestly believe we can make a difference and help the women of the future to live a brighter, happier future.


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