So how did I perform?

Last year I wrote of my rather unusual green resolutions for the New Year (and recently reposted them). I’d forgotten them, but because I’d recorded them I have no excuse. I can go back and see how I’ve performed. They were a bit strange, it turns out.

1)            Forget your manners

This was about eBaying unwanted gifts being better for the environment than shoving them in a cupboard. I loved all my pressies last Christmas, but I have sold or given away plenty of other unwanted items over the year. Result: Eco-win.

2)            Have more sex

Suddenly wishing I hadn’t announced that one! In the interests of preserving some degree of modesty, I can only confirm that I have not divorced in the past year; hence there is no need for the un-green two houses and double set of everything. Result: Eco-win.

3)            Don’t go to the gym

No carbon burned for me to stay fit in 2015. It has been outdoors in nature all the way, running, cycling and walking. Result: Eco-win.

4)            Get a new hairstyle

I suggested that reducing the length of my hair would save blow drying time. This was misguided – after losing four inches my crazy hair required more attention from both the hairdryer and products. I’m growing it again. Result: Eco-fail.

5)            Don’t eat salad

Eating imported lettuce or cucumber in the winter months is bad for the environment. I saved it for the right time of year and enjoyed all the comforting root veg and red cabbages of winter. Result: Eco-win.

6)            Celebrate breasts

This one also sounds odd out of context, but was to do with supporting breast feeding because it is good for the environment as well as the baby. Mine are no longer required in milk-service, but it’s the kind of thing I like to go on about so I think I can say I have achieved it. Result: Eco-win.

7)            Don’t do the washing up yourself

I found this one very achievable. Using the dishwasher on eco-setting, with a marine safe powder has used far less water and energy than the sink. Result: Eco-win.

8)            Don’t get up so early

The later you get up, the more electricity and heating fuel you save on a dark morning. I’m brilliant at sleeping late; sadly the children have other ideas. Lights are blazing by 7 am. Result: Eco-fail.

9)            Ignore the garden

I’m a lazy gardener, so it was no trouble to leave seed heads and piles of leaves to provide food and shelter for wildlife, until springtime. Result: Eco-win.

10)         Don’t go to work

As a writer, I don’t have to travel all that much for work, so this one was easy – I don’t ‘go’ to work. Mind you, many employers are increasingly flexible and a work from home day, cutting transport related emissions, can be possible for many. Result: Eco-win.

I performed pretty well!  Recording the aims and checking back is satisfying and I shall be doing so again this year, although I haven’t quite got round to setting any targets yet… first goal, procrastinate less?

 

First published in a similar form in the EDP and EADT

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Have more sex, and other eco-resolutions from 2015

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Last year, I wrote some ‘alternative’ green resolutions for myself and hopefully to inspire others. They were a little silly, but were all good for the environment. I wanted to show that being green isn’t all about deprivation and discomfort.

As we approach the end of they year, I thought I should revisit them. I’ll let  you know how I performed soon.

Kate’s alternative green resolutions from January 1st 2015

  • Forget your manners

When Christmas is over, but the aftermath of presents remains, be honest. How many do your really like or need? Get on eBay and sell the things that don’t bring you a smile, far better to rehome than hide them in the cupboard.

  • Have more sex

As activities go for all you consenting adults, it is one of the greenest there is. No electricity is required and it warms you up. It’s also good for your relationship – so decreasing the risk of divorce which is very un-environmentally friendly (suddenly two houses, two cars and two of everything are needed).

  • Don’t go to the gym

Avoid being a hamster on a treadmill, burning carbon to get fit. No, just go outside instead. It is better for your mind and more challenging and varied for your body. Free too.

  • Get a new hairstyle

Ladies – take two inches off your hair and you’ll save minutes and carbon every day by reducing the blow dry time and the amount of product you need to use.

  • Don’t eat salad

This is a silly time of year to stick to lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes. These are in season in the summer so instead of buying tasteless imported versions now, save them for June. If you want to eat healthily this month then choose cabbage, root vegetables and spinach.

  • Celebrate breasts

Everyone knows that breast feeding is best for the baby, but it is also the very best choice for the environment too. Formula feeding has its place, but it comes with a massive carbon footprint and lots of packaging. Make sure you smile at nursing mothers and give up your seat to mums with babies in crowded cafes.

  • Don’t do the washing up yourself

Instead, put the dishwasher on eco-setting, use a marine safe powder and let the machine get busy – it will use less water and energy than you.

  • Don’t get up so early

These dark winter mornings mean two things are guaranteed – lights are on and so is the heating. Could you stay in bed for twenty minutes more and then just rush? More sleep is a good thing and so is saving energy.

  • Ignore the garden

Leave any seed heads or piles of leaves – they are providing food or shelter for wildlife. Keep your hands off until early springtime when you can go crazy with the secateurs.

  • Don’t go to work

In the absence of a lottery win halting all work, why not discuss a work from home day with your employer? This won’t be appropriate for all jobs, but if yours is mainly desk based then a regular day at home can help you be more productive as well as slashing your transport related emissions.

Look out for my update on how I did early in the New Year!

My very own X Factor

The People's book prize

With non-fiction writing, it all starts with the idea. Then you take your half-formed thoughts to a publisher (or many) and see if it captures their imagination too. If you are so lucky as to get the go-ahead, then the writing begins.

For me, working very part-time, with my daughter at home most of the week, this took a while – about a year and a half. This included working with photographers Phil Barnes and James Williamson, as well as my illustrator, Stephanie Laurence, to get all the beautiful photos and drawings done.

Next the detail bit – painstaking editing with my editor Sadie Mayne and then the design and the proof-reading. I’ve probably missed out lots of behind the scenes stuff that Green Books did for me too. Simultaneously, the sales and promotion kicks in. All before the book even hits the shelves.

It’s a long and fascinating road and I’ve enjoyed it all and learnt masses, but the reality is enough to put thoughts of best-sellers, glamorous book tours and black-tie awards ceremonies to the very back of my mind.

But then I heard that my book had been nominated for  The People’s Book Prize. This is an award that is given by the public, who simply vote for the newly published book that they love. It’s all about discovering us newbie authors, all passionate about our subjects and on the exciting journey of working out how we tell the world about our books.

It’s a bit X Factor style (although luckily without Simon Cowell or singing) because the public vote is what counts. The top three books from each section (I’m Non-Fiction) will go through to the next round. Best of all, there is a posh black-tie dinner in London for finalists to attend, which could just be the hint of razzle dazzle that I need.

So, without further ado, the voting lines are now open… will you, please?

Give a first time author a small taste of the glamour by voting here.

Thank you 🙂 xx

 

 

Eco-gifting for the family

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Are you one of the smug people who has nearly finished their Christmas shopping? Or are you a last minute, dash around the shops type? Either way, you are currently being bombarded by marketing galore.

Constant emails and cutesy catalogues will try to persuade you that all women desire purple silk underwear or fluffy ear muffs. Meanwhile, the man in your life absolutely requires a designer leather iPad cover embossed with his initials and the children will have a Christmas to remember ONLY if you buy them their own body-weight in overpriced, branded plastic.

We will all receive items that we don’t want or need and we will all spend a bit more than we should have done. Whilst our bank balances can hopefully recover in the New Year, it’s not so rosy for the environment because all consumerism has a direct impact on the planet. Now I’m not so mean as to suggest we don’t give presents, my children would still be crying by New Year’s Day if I was that horrible. However, burying them in an excess of new possessions doesn’t do them any favours.

Over-gifting your kids can result in them acquiring a spoilt, entitled attitude, not looking after their new toys properly and expecting even more next year. You know what over-gifting looks like: the child is swamped by presents which they open in an increasingly mechanical, zombie like way, finding it hard when the supply eventually stops.

To try and rein myself in (because it is so easy to get carried away) I love the gifting advice that goes ‘Want. Need. Wear. Read’ and try to apply it to shopping for the kids.

Want
A present is never wasted if it is what someone really, really desires. If you have no clue, then ask, or at least give vouchers rather than buying them the thing you secretly want. Yes, Dads with that Star Wars Lego, I’m talking to you!

Need
So it’s a little more on the boring side, but for children this is where the more sensible purchases come in, such as a new duvet set, furniture for their room, hairbrush or swim kit. Although my cousins were given toothpaste every year – I think that may be taking it a bit far.

Wear
Much as I love a festive jumper, giving it on Christmas Day means it is hardly going to be worn. If you must, then size up so growing children can wear it the next year too. Onesies, special dresses and organic cotton pjs make excellent choices here.

Read
The gift of a book is the most wonderful of all. What could be more perfect than giving them a whole world, for you to read together or for older children to discover alone? I don’t think anyone can have too many books.

Stockings
What about stockings? That’s helping Father Christmas plan your child’s stocking obviously. I try and keep to the above rules when, er, suggesting ideas to the elves. That is, something from each category of: want, need, wear, read – but we do have a whole stocking to stuff.

Eco-friendly ‘consumables’ are great filler options, such as Fair-trade organic chocolates, dried fruit, an all-natural bath bomb or lip balm, or shower gel. I also feel Santa should always provide useful items such as pants, tights, vests and socks.

When you are tight for time, it is easy to just grab the nearest available items, however eco-unfriendly. Don’t worry though, I’ve collated some green and thoughtful stocking ideas that will help!

Baby and toddler stocking ideas
I honestly wouldn’t go crazy for this age group – a couple of nice, eco-friendly toys and then a few practical items will be plenty.

I love these lovely sustainable wooden grasping toys by EverEarth.

A gnome leaf stacking toy.

Felt animals (3+).

Wooden letters for the bedroom door, like these.

Wooden cars (these mini ones are 3+).

Cutlery and plate sets.

Gorgeous Stockmar beeswax crayons.

Primary age stocking ideas
Eco action trump cards – a fun way of learning about taking care of the environment.

Mini boxes of a favourite ‘treat’ cereal.

Learn about natural energy sources with a potato-powered clock.

A new water bottle – this one is made from recycled plastic and has a charcoal filter.

A wind-up torch.

Wooden jewellery.

A flannel with their favourite character on.

A grow your own carnivorous plants kit.

Lavender and wheat filled teddies, that can be microwaved and will make the bed all cosy (so you can turn the heating down).

Teenager stocking ideas
A bead and hoop necklace, fairly traded and made from all natural materials.

Star wars origami.

These gorgeous birch candle holders.

Vouchers – probably iTunes.

An adult colouring book inspired by nature.

Pretty glass earring dish.

Slightly crazy, but low eco-impact, face drinks mats.

Who says money doesn’t grow on trees? Grow your own money (plant).

I also enjoyed these eco-gift suggestions from River Cottage HQ, and don’t forget second-hand items are perfect too. Now is also a great time to take any outgrown toys to the charity shop so someone else can benefit!

Above all, don’t go overboard on the pressies, do get out for some fresh air and do remember that possessions don’t bring happiness, it’s all about being together in your very own crazy, unique way.

Kate Blincoe is the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting (Green Books) and is a freelance writer.

Taking the stress out of going green

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Photo by Phil Barnes

It was an identity crisis moment. Sitting sobbing on the bedroom floor with a crying baby and another soiled cloth nappy that had splurged all over the baby, carpet and me. I’d had enough. I was obviously a terrible mother and now the eco-warrior in me had died too. Pass the disposables, sod the planet I was just trying to get through the day.

My baby’s bottom shrank overnight as the bulky reusable sat in the corner glaring at me and the slim, weird smelling disposables changed the way my child felt to cuddle. It had just been too hard; the cloth nappies had not fitted properly and I’d run out of the cash and will to do anything about it.

Then that good old parental favourite, guilt, jumped on to my back like a big ugly monster, taunting me with phrases like ‘those nappies will never biodegrade you know’ and ‘you are condemning your child’s planet to be a landfill site’. Still, my baby was happy and I gradually found my way through those early crazy months. I did feel sad though, not to be in the green parent tribe.

Once the brain fog had reduced I realised it wasn’t so black and white. There are in fact at least 50 shades of green. Anyone who has ever written a birth plan knows that from the very start, parenthood is about compromise and constantly reviewing your expectations. So what if I wasn’t using cloth nappies, there was so much I was doing right.

I found a green lifestyle that would make my family life better, happier and healthier, not worthy, guilt-filled and exhausted. This meant changing things that would benefit us and letting fun and family activity be the guide. I learnt that with the right information, even cloth nappies could have been easy, but hair shirts and hand-knitted muesli would be strictly banned.

Here are my top seven ways to be greener, happier and healthier without the stress:

  1. Make intelligent swaps.

That means using British grown rapeseed oil instead of imported olive oil to save carbon, whilst enjoying the bonus that it’s also lower in saturated fat, higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and cheaper. Also, it is easy to ditch marine polluting laundry detergent and opt for the wonderfully freaky soapnut shells. They are the dried fruit of the soapnut tree and clean clothes brilliantly without polluting or upsetting sensitive skin.

  1. Don’t be afraid of using technology to lure children outside.

Whilst we need to create a balance of screen time and outside time, it can be helpful to harness the power of the app for a fun activity. Try treasure hunting with geocaching, star gazing with an app like Star Walk and using the Wildtime app for nature inspiration.

  1. Do a better job of reusable nappies than me.

I totally messed up because I didn’t know some vital information.  For example, it’s best to try out a few different types before you invest in the 20 or so that you’ll need. Some types just won’t be the right shape for your baby and having loads that don’t fit will be disheartening and expensive.

  1. Make your milk feeding green

Breast feeding is best for the environment and your baby but that knowledge doesn’t help you when it doesn’t work for emotional, physical or logistical reasons. Step away from the guilt and make sure your bottle feeding is as green as possible. For example, you can buy safe glass baby bottles and make sure you keep your kettle de-scaled for efficient boiling.

  1. Learn a few tricks to cut your food waste

Did you know, the banana is one of the most wasted food items which is made worse by the fact that they have come all the way from the Caribbean or South America. Here are my tips for being a banana saver!

  1. Care about carbon, but don’t be ruled by it.

Get the basics like insulation sorted, try not to choose clubs and activities that involve lots of driving, choose local products with limited packaging, but then be kind to yourself. There is much, much more to being a green parent than carbon counting.

  1. Make your outdoors space count for wildlife.

Plant a pot with lavender to provide nectar, put up some bird feeders and have a messy ‘nature reserve’ corner with a stack of logs and sticks and long grass. Now is also the right time of year to plant some wildflower plugs such as oxeye daisy, corn poppy, ragged robin. These will bring colour and life in even the tiniest space.

So don’t be an eco-worrier; forget the guilt, take some fun steps and be an eco-warrior instead. There are happy green days ahead.

Can you believe this still happens?

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I love it when readers send me information about causes they are passionate about. Not all of it makes enjoyable reading, though. A recent letter highlighted the grisly issue of snaring in our countryside.

Snaring is the practice of using wire nooses to trap animals, such as badgers, foxes, deer and rabbits. Now forgive me for being naive, but I’d assumed snaring was illegal. It’s one of those old country skills that I thought had gone the way of basket weaving and falconry.

In fact, the UK is one of only five European members that still allow the use of animal snares. Foxes or rabbits are often the intended victim, although other animals can be caught (including domestic cats). However, the Badger Trust reported last year that the badger cull policy was leading to an increase in the snaring of badgers, even though it is illegal to kill badgers this way.

The legislation around snaring is complex. Several best practice guides exist, such as one published by DEFRA, but these are not legally binding (although they would be referred to in court in cases of suspected malpractice).

Snaring or trapping within sight or earshot of public rights of way, including footpaths and highways is generally considered to be bad practice. Catching the wrong species, for example badgers, wild cats, dormice and otters does constitute an offence – but you have to ask how on earth this is monitored, especially given that ‘good practice’ necessitates traps are out of sight and hearing of anyone. It would take a very honest person to shop themselves for a wildlife crime when they could quietly release or destroy an injured animal that they hadn’t intended to catch.

Let’s be clear: Controlling predators such as foxes is a common part of country life, carried out by landowners around the UK. It doesn’t just happen on shooting estates either; it is part of management practices on nature reserves too. For many people, this is intolerable in itself, but whatever your view on culls, the death in most cases is by gun; it is swift and professional.

By contrast, death by snare can be lengthy, indiscriminate and painful. In short, it is an inhumane and barbaric way to kill. Even proponents of fox hunting, which is of course now illegal, could cite the economic and community benefits associated with hunting with hounds – there are no such advantages with snaring.

Fox hunting, however, was very visible and there was a clear target for protesters. Meanwhile, snaring operates in secrecy, under cover of darkness and with no publicly available timetable. This has allowed it to persist in a time when an animal welfare concern is normally enough to generate headlines.

Snaring is undeniably out-dated and ‘good practice’ is incredibly hard to police. It’s time we left the medieval age behind us and updated the law.

First published in the EDP and EADT

Image from www.antisnaring.org.uk

Walking the walk – are you walking to school?

Why walking to school matters

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October is ‘International Dodge Speeding Car on Narrow Lane’ and ‘Get Rained on While Wearing Grey Trousers Month’. Luckily, at the last minute the organisers pulled in a new marketing team and decided on the catchier name of International Walk to School Month.

Living close enough to school to walk there with your children is a fantastic opportunity. Even if you live too far, you can park safely ten minutes from the gate and make regular exercise part of your daily routine – benefiting both you and your children.

Walking also reduces the hideous congestion of vehicles that develops around school gates. This haphazard parking can leave residents feeling like they live in a badly regulated car park and children are at risk as they weave their way through the traffic.

Environmentally, walking is a no-brainer. Reducing the number of people on the school car run slashes carbon emissions and…

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