No incontinent handbags and stay chilled in the heat… One Green Summer series

K12KVCPPL-SC-water-bottle-kids-fishing-style

Baking hot 29 degree sunshine, parched ground, no shade. My son was taking part in an Under 9s cricket tournament and he was putting masses of pressure on himself. My daughter was generously giving out rocks she had smashed open to reveal crystals within…. then regretting it and trying to reclaim them. In short, the temperature was rising!

There was no better day to test out the children’s double insulated water bottles from Klean Kanteen, promising to keep their water iced for 40 hours or (not terribly weather appropriate right now) their hot chocolate warm for 12 hours.

Made from stainless steel, I was reassured that the materials are non-toxic and BPA free and very critically for poor me who has been known to drip water from my handbag like an incontinent guinea pig… THEY DON’T LEAK.

The lid is plastic, but compared to the usual twist cap bottles we use that seem to need replacing every month (because they get yucky in the cap, split when dropped or get chewed lids) this is a massive reduction in plastic.

The kids like them, find them easy to open and close and are pleased with the fact that no one else at school has them.

Meanwhile, I have been testing the entirely plastic-free Reflect bottle. It’s made from sustainably harvested bamboo, stainless steel and food-grade silicone. Nothing else. It is a good-looking bottle, equally at home by the yoga mat as it is going to the beach.

K20VCSSLRF-MS-reflect-insulated-poncho-woman-style

The plastic-free Reflect bottle

They are very effective. All three bottles can be hot to the touch on the exterior when left in the sun, in the OVEN TEMPERATURE car for example, but within the water remains icy loveliness.

And as for the cricket tournament, it all ended well. My son’s team came second, and my daughter gave the crystal rock back to the (wailing) child who she had ‘reclaimed’ it from. And the water remained as chilled at the G&T I came home to.

For more info, and to check out the plastic-free bottles and other products, visit: http://www.kleankanteen.co.uk

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

Advertisements

One green summer: clingy gets good

Family+Kitchen+Pack+Lifestyle+low+res

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…

3+Mediums+BWW+2018

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.

What’s brown and magic?

soilassociation

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.

No dirty secrets this Valentines

Valentines blog.jpg.png

Take your average supermarket rose. That bloom was probably grown thousands of miles away – Columbia and Ecuador are major exporters of cut flowers. The result is that your well-meaning bunch of flowers this Valentines comes with a significant carbon footprint.

Those pretty flowers have other dark secrets too. Many are not grown under Fairtrade agreements, meaning that workers may be exploited. The International Labor Rights Fund found that more than half of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers suffered work-related health problems such as eye and respiratory problems due to high uses of pesticides and fungicides. In high season, working weeks of over 70 hours were not unusual.

Your rose, when cut, is then doused in chemicals to keep it ‘fresh’ for the flight and wrapped in masses of plastic. It will arrive with you already a week old, with quite a past. All for something that’s sole purpose is to look pretty for a short while, to then end up in the compost.

Oddly, for a nation of gardeners, only 10% of the cut flowers sold here are actually grown in the UK. This is gradually changing, with more and more small scale producers entering the market. Cornwall is increasingly developing a flower production industry, but the East of England is blooming too, with Suffolk well known for roses and Colchester for its peonies.

The appeal of the vintage look has also led to natural flower arrangements growing in popularity for weddings, including wild flowers such as cow parsley, cornflowers, sunflowers, or apple blossom for a fresh, original ‘just picked from the hedgerow’ feel.

The success of Georgie Newbery’s book, ‘The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit’ shows that there is an increasing interest in avoiding the shops by growing lots of beautiful flowers at home, or indeed setting up a small scale business. Many people who want to grow flowers have a target in mind, such as providing all the flowers needed for a family wedding or party.

With that traditional day of flower giving, Valentine’s Day, fast approaching, don’t give a bunch of roses with a dirty secret. Instead, choose British blooms from a local florist, or at the very least, seek Fairtrade roses. I’d far rather a bunch of cheery daffodils than imported roses (husband take note). And remember, British flowers last longer than imported ones, so whoever you are buying for, you’ll stay in their good books for longer.

KB, first published in the EDP and EADT

Taking the stress out of going green

den2

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.

Forget the commemorative mugs, here is a lovelier way to mark the birth of a child

plantingtree_3

So Kate and Wills are in the midst of the pukey/screamy/nappy-changing wonder all over again, but meanwhile, thousands of other people in the UK will be marking the birth of a child no less important. Whilst Princess Charlotte will get bunting, commemorative mugs and endless column inches, there is a much lovelier way to celebrate the newest addition to your family.

Planting a tree for the birth of a child, or as part of their naming day ceremony or christening, is a wonderful way of linking them to the natural world. A tree that is theirs will make them feel special and they will grow older and taller together, recorded in a photo together each birthday. It is a way of planting the child’s roots firmly in the soil.

Every tree planted has massive benefits for the environment. A tree is a mini planet; a perfect eco-system for insects, birds, mammals. A mature oak tree is home to over 280 species of insect alone. Not only that, but it is removing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turning it into oxygen for those new lungs to breath.

Ideally, choose a native tree, such as a rowan, silver birch or fruit tree. If space is an issue, then a small bay or rose in a pot is a lovely option. For fruit, try a patio plum tree. These can even be grown on balconies but you’ll need to remember to water them regularly.

When choosing a tree, you may be interested in the symbolism and folklore behind different species. The rowan is the Celtic tree of life and is traditionally planted to celebrate the birth of a new baby. Meanwhile, the oak is linked to strength, wild pear for loyalty, hazel for creativity and cherry for love and protection. Good luck to you if you plant a hawthorn… it apparently results in contradiction.

Of course, a tree so loaded with importance is a risky proposition. What if it dies or you need to move house? You could wait until Autumn for a planting ceremony to increase its chances of survival, watering frequently if you opt for spring or summer planting, or planting two (in the hope that at least one would make it).

If you need to move house and want the young tree to come too, make sure you water it well the day before moving and keep as many of the roots intact as possible. Then, wrap the roots in damp sacking for the move, and replant it as soon as possible into a hole that is bigger than the one you took it out of. And water often, while crossing your fingers.

If every new baby had a native tree planted in its honour, then our world might just look a little greener.

A similar article published in the EDP and EADT

Step away from the gym

Image

 

So you want to be healthy in 2014? Lose a little weight? Feel less stressed and more energised? ‘Ah,’ many of us think to ourselves, ‘well in that case, I simply must join a gym. Within days I’ll have a six pack and biceps to die for’.

Don’t do it, you have a choice. The January gym fad is unlikely to last. We do it because we are so desperate to take some action that indicates our intention to be different this year.

However, the reality is that you will probably go once or twice. The rest of the New Year’s resolution crowd will be there, incompetently clanking the weights or standing idly queuing for the Powerplate. It will feel like hell on earth and it will be easy for you to find excuses to avoid going in future. The direct debit will continue to leave your account and the chains of a year’s contract will feel heavier than the dumbbells you tried to lift.

Actually, I enjoy exercising in a gym, but have seen for myself how, after that initial January rush, so many new members’ workout cards end up untouched at the back of the pile. If you still want to join in March, then go for it. You’ll probably get a better deal too.

Instead, try stepping outside. Yes, it’s freezing, but that burns calories. Yes, it’s dark, but wear a head torch and go with a friend. The benefits of exercising outside are massive and Mother Nature makes no charge.

A report by the University of Essex explains that exercising outside may feel easier than doing so in the gym. When allowed to self-select walking speed, participants tended to walk faster outdoors than indoors. Paradoxically, they reported a lower rating of perceived exertion. You are likely to end up fitter without so much mental effort!

Green exercise is also strongly linked with improving self-esteem and reducing negative feelings such as tension, anger or depression. This is vital for children and teenagers too, so lead by example.

Chilly, gloomy January is undeniably the hardest time in the year to get out there, so do it now and, in just a matter of weeks, the gradual awakening of spring will keep you hooked. You will hear birdsong and see nature busy around you, not caring that your lycra is somewhat past its best. Snowdrops, courting birds and mad hares are all waiting to distract you from the fact that you are exerting yourself.

It’s so simple too – all you need is a pair of trainers or walking boots (and of course the all clear from your doctor if you’re not used to exercising) and a park, pavement, footpath or country lane.

I mentioned that there is no charge, but I forgot to tell you about the contract imposed by the great outdoors. It will make the gym’s commitment of 12 months seem paltry. This is a lifetime arrangement, because once you build a little time into your routine for green exercise and start feeling the benefits, you will be addicted for life. 

First published in the EDP and EADT