One green summer: clingy gets good

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It is time to ditch the cling film. It is yet more disposable plastic sneaking its way into your life. But finding an adequate alternative is not easy. Tin foil just ends up in landfill, a plastic bag can only be reused a couple of times, Tupperware requires decanting hassle – sometimes you just want something to quick and easy to seal a bowl so your ratatouille leftovers are ok for lunch the next day.

Enter Beeswax Wraps…

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There is something fabulously vintage about these wraps, with their pretty prints and beeswax smell (mind you, less pretty ones are available, for teenager’s lunchboxes and so on).

These ones remind me of my grandmother, who died when I was 12. She was a proper farmer’s wife, constantly baking, making jams and generally feeding anyone willing to be fed. She had one of those net domes for keeping flies off food and loved a lace doily. She would have loved these.

They are utterly retro and charming, but also very effective. Made from locally sourced beeswax, organic jojoba oil, pine resin and cotton, each wrap is just sticky enough to adhere to the sides of bowls and containers to seal food in tight. The warmth from your hands helps it stick firmly and, once stuck, it stays firmly in place. As creators, Fran and Carly say, “Clingy, but in a good way.”

You can use them to wrap bread, sandwiches, cheese… anything really. If you want to get whizzy, you can even make cute little boxes as in this tutorial.

However, I had a small problem using mine. I realised I was avoiding them for ‘messy’ items, like the beautiful cheesecake that I made then dropped and had to scoop up and pile in a bowl. I didn’t want to ruin my pretty wraps. Then it came to me – that we have chosen not to engage with many items we use. We’d rather not feel anything for them – use, and dispose.

It’s a funny feeling to suddenly care for an everyday items, but I do, they make me smile when I use them. So I told myself to stop being a fuckwit, and to get them mucky, because after all, they clean easily and well.

After use, you simply rinse the wraps in cold water and a little gentle soap, then hang them out to dry. Every few months, you can ‘pasteurise’ them, by popping in a low oven for a few minutes. They will be as good as new.

The wraps are delivered entirely in paper and card packaging, and would make lovely gifts for eco-conscious people in your life. You certainly can’t say that about cling film!

In summary, I like my food wrap how I like my men: Ethical, long-lasting, attractive, smell great and clingy… but only in a good way.

For more info, check out: www.beeswaxwraps.co.uk or ask the lovely Fran and Carly any questions on Twitter @beeswaxwraps_uk

I was sent this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

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One green summer series COMING SOON!

This summer I am trying and testing the most exciting green products on the market. For me to share them with you, they have got to be good, VERY GOOD – I have to love them.

I’m researching small companies seeking to do things differently, challenging the old, eco-unfriendly ways. Maybe they are helping to reduce our use of plastic or finding new uses for unwanted materials. I’m looking for bold, innovative and, importantly, lovely things.

WATCH THIS SPACE!

Pond action

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My 93 year old grandad had a bit of a predicament. A badger fell into his fish pond and drowned. It wasn’t something he could get out on his own. Just a few days after the unfortunate pond cleaners came in to sort it out, a fox came to drink, and not caring that it was seen, it lapped ferociously.

In this heat and drought, wildlife needs water desperately, taking risks to get it. I’m glad our tiny pond in our garden is doing its bit, and have topped it up a little in recent days.

With young children, I’ve shied away from a bigger pond in my garden because of safety concerns, but just a tiny, shallow pond can still bring massive benefits for nature. Not only that, but creating a mini pond is a quick, garden project that will bring a whole new dimension to even the smallest outdoor space. It’s one that children can help with, and will get endless pleasure from after just a week or so.

Firstly, you need a water tight container. Something that is about 40cm deep at least, and roughly half a metre squared is enough to be worthwhile. I used a cut off plastic barrel, buried below the soil level (but would work equally well above it). An old sink or tin bath would work just as well. You could also try a wooden half-barrel, lined with pond liner which will be at an ideal height for young children to look in.

Fill it with rainwater from a butt, ideally, but if that’s not possible you can use tap water. Just make sure you then leave it a week before adding in your water plants. You’ll need a few small, oxygenating plants such as the dwarf water lily or water soldiers. Many species don’t need planting – they just float on the water surface.

Finally, you can add in a wooden ramp or pile of stones to help wildlife such as frogs to access the water (and get out again) and a few rocks nearby to offer a hiding place. As that badger found out, it is important for wildlife of any size to have a way to escape.

After that, it’s pretty self-maintaining. You may need to top up the levels with a little collected rainwater when it is very hot and dry, and any out of control plants can be trimmed back, but other than that, you can sit back and enjoy. However, do remember that young children will still need supervising even if it is shallow.

If you build it, they will come. Soon, you’ll be welcoming creatures such as toads, frogs, newts, dragon flies, pond skaters, water snails as well as providing a drink for birds and hedgehogs. Just a little bit of water really is the source of life.

Parents – this could change your life

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Crying, screaming, biting, whining, throwing food, pulling hair, making a mess, answering back, swearing, screen battles, refusing to do homework or go to bed, taking drugs, not coming home. And that’s just me.

Oh yeah, parenting is full of challenges that will push you to your limits and beyond, making you feel that strange cocktail of love, anger, helplessness, fear and despair.

As the mum of an autistic child, I’ve also had to get used to the idea that parenthood isn’t always the straightforward, happy place I thought it would be when the lines on a stick first turned blue.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be great parents, and then wonder why we end up a version of ourselves that is hard to like – let alone inspire the kind of confiding intimacy with our children that we dreamt of.

And yet, we expect to be able to do all this without any help: The hardest job on the planet with zero salary and zero training. Back in the new-born days, many of us read baby manuals – these have been shown to reduce your confidence – the more baby books a mother reads, the more depressive symptoms and the lower self-confidence she reported. This insightful analysis of the baby industry is well worth a look.

Books can be amazing resources, but with raising small people they only get you so far before the perfectly formed theory hits messy reality. Once I’d realised the traditional methods of ‘threats and rewards’ are not only ineffective, but damaging to my relationship with my children, it felt like I was learning a new language – which is pretty hard to do on your own. I knew where I wanted to be, but couldn’t work out how to get there.

I decided to try a parenting coach instead – someone who could teach me the theory like a book would, but then take it to the next level and make it real and relevant to MY life and MY issues.

Andrea Rippon of Practical Parenting Skills runs courses in Parent Effectiveness Training. I was attracted by the ethos of honest communication, seeking understanding and shared problem solving that her approach encourages.

I soon discovered that the main premise behind it is instantly liberating – THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD BEHAVIOUR. What even when she kicks my head while I’m driving? Even when he gives that look he knows will make his sister explode? Yep. All behaviour is communication – it might not be the clearest form of communication but they are doing their best with the skills they have right now to meet their needs.

From this starting point, Andrea busts plenty of myths around parental consistency (get this YOU DON’T NEED TO BE CONSISTENT – adaptability is a far more useful skill), helps us explore which values we should hang on to from our own childhood (are those values truly serving you and your family) and guides us to speak to our children in a respectful way that engenders their respect towards us, even from the earliest age.

The true beauty of the sessions is giving yourself a space each week to think about how your family functions, and the chance to have personalised, targeted advice from Andrea. My group had a warm, sharing atmosphere where honesty was our currency and we supported each other to explore the relationships that matter to us more than any others.

We take courses in yoga or pottery and we get massages to sort out the sore spots in our bodies, yet so few of us seek the support to help us truly invest in our family. Not many courses are life-changing, but this one is.

I attended Andrea’s parenting course in exchange for honest feedback.

Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers.  She has been running Person Centred People Skills courses for 20 years.  She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children by using these evidence-based communication skills.  Her next Open Programme  for parents, carers and grandparents, starts in Norwich.  She can also offer Parent Coaching by Skype.  She writes a regular Parenting Column for the Eastern Daily Press. 

What’s brown and magic?

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It is beneath your feet and grows the food you eat, but as a society we take it for granted. The good old brown stuff, soil, is one of our unsung heroes. Trees and bees get all the attention – they are, let’s face it, rather more active and endearing than soil. However, it is time for soil to take its turn in the spotlight… Ladies and Gentlemen, today is #WorldSoilDay.

So we all know that soil is essential for food production, obvs, but don’t forget that plants are also grown to provide fibre for energy, clothing, medicines and animal feed. Not only that, but according to the Soil Association, soil also stores most of the world’s carbon (beat that, trees) and is home to an incredible amount of living organisms, such as invertebrates, bacteria and fungi. In fact, just one teaspoon of soil can contain as many micro-organisms as there are people on the planet.

Soil is also vital in its role as storing and filtering water. This means that it increases our resilience against floods as well as droughts.

As if that wasn’t enough, the good bacteria in soil are also beneficial for our health. Contact with soil makes us happier and smarter and explains why activities such as gardening can help with mental health.

That’s nice then. Thanks soil for being there. I’m off now to find some buzzy little bees to save… Bye…

Except, stop. Soil isn’t ‘just there’ a static, immovable constant in our lives. In fact, our soils are in danger. They are disappearing at a rate that is alarming for future generations, with 2.2 million tonnes being lost and degraded in the UK each year. This is caused by factors such as expanding cities, transport infrastructure and pollution – either industrial or through the inefficient use of fertilisers.

Not only that, but climate change may increase rates of loss if drier conditions make soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, or if intense rainfall washes soil away. It’s much harder to put it back than it is to look after it.

The Soil Association campaigns for better protection for soil, including supporting organic farming practices and promoting best practice. We can all do our bit for soil too.

Organic may be part of the solution, but it can be more costly. As an alternative, seek out the LEAF marque (a symbol of a leaf) which indicates that products have been grown sustainably.

Next, think about your own patch of soil and how you can look after it. If you have a garden, however tiny, then get composting. Leaves, cut grass, fruit and veg peelings and tea bags will all mulch together in perfect harmony in a compost heap or bin. You’ll end up with lovely rich organic matter to spread onto your flower beds and help make healthy soil.

Don’t buy peat-based compost either. This is a direct way of digging up special habitats and valuable carbon stores. The peat-free alternatives these days perform just as well.

It is most definitely brown and at first glance rather boring, but soil is the very stuff of life and it needs our love.

Foxes on tour – Lucy Jones’ Foxes Unearthed

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Foxes are personal for me. We go way back.  Foxes, real and imagined, are woven through the fabric of my childhood. The fictional foxes take the form of Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, the adorable cub jigsaw puzzle I completed over a hundred times, and tales of ‘blooding’ during hunt scenes in the old-fashioned pony books I read.

This was the backdrop against which I encountered real foxes. At night, we would go foxing.

To an onlooker, it would have appeared as if we were lamping – seeking to dazzle foxes with a bright light so as to shoot them. Not so. My Dad used to take us out in the Landrover and we would use the headlights to find foxes in the dark, which would freeze for a moment staring at us. We would enjoy watching them, becoming experts at spotting their reflective eyes.

You see, unlike many farmers, my father never shoots foxes and actively welcomes them on to the farm. Nevertheless, we’ve had many incidents of other people trespassing to kill them. My Dad with a dead fox in the back of his truck and tears in his eyes is not an uncommon scene. Someone detests foxes so much they aren’t even able to tolerate them on someone else’s land.

It is this love and hate juxtaposition that Lucy Jones explores in Foxes Unearthed, A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain.

Despite being a naturalist, and trying to read natural history books, I confess to finding them on occasions dry and lacking in ‘hook’. I was relieved to find that was not the case here. In common with my favourite nature writers, Melissa Harrison and Helen MacDonald, this book offers that personal voice that makes it all mean something to the reader, and roots it in a modern, human reality.

Well-presented facts and information are all very well, but it was the glimpses of Lucy, as if seen through trees, that really made this book work for me. Skilfully interweaved amongst fiction, fact and folklore, we learn about her relationship with foxes. She visits people who keep them as pets and, in a heart-stopping section, she joins hunt-saboteurs in the field.

This book conveys a deep love and respect for our natural world, whilst somehow managing to do justice to both the love and the loathing of foxes. Lucy is not pollyannaish about foxes – she recognises their wildness and their negatives, but she explains that most problems people encounter with them are due to human actions (eg hand feeding or poor poultry management), combined with the media’s desire to sensationalise and scandalise. Thus it is easy to believe we have ‘menaces’ and ‘dangerous predators’ growing in numbers and becoming more of a threat – when really there is no evidence for this. It simply makes a better headline.

I learnt a lot from this book. Highlights for me include discovering that a fox lived on the top level of the Shard and also that the average weight of a fox is approximately 6 kg. That’s the same as my (yes, ok, she is a bit tubby) pet cat. My local paper has yet to report on the ‘massive tabby terrorising the area.’

The language throughout is evocative and descriptive without sacrificing precision, concision or humour.

This is a subtle, richly-layered and deeply satisfying read, full of energy and enthusiasm. Those who enjoy fact and research will not find it lacking, whilst those, like me, who want a personal voice and thought-provoking incision with entertainment will storm through the pages… like a hunt through the countryside.

 

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for supplying me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Foxes Unearthed was published on 16th March 2017 in paperback and is also available in hardback. Lucy’s blog tour continues over with BookishBeck.wordpress.com tomorrow.