For years, I’d been buying expensive cider vinegar, but you can make it from nothing more than apple scraps, water, and a tablespoon of sugar!
All you need to do is fill a jar with scraps – peelings, or cores are perfect, but if you’ve got windfall apples, they’re great too! – then cover with a solution of sugar and water. You need about a tablespoon of sugar per 500mls/1 pint of water.
You might find that the apples float a little here, but you can’t let them get away with that sort of nonsense – that’s how mould happens. I fill a small carrier bag with water to use as a weight and this gets right up to the edges of the jar. In the past, I’ve tried to do this without plastic, but I’ve never been successful. This way has always worked though.
Below is a very bad picture – not of cider vinegar, but of sauerkraut. It should give you an idea of what I’m on about with the bag though (I hope!)
And that’s all there is to it! You just sort of… leave it there for about six weeks. Or longer if you forget. Then filter it through a coffee filter, or a cheesecloth, or… something. And that’s all there is to it!
Have you tried making apple cider vinegar before? If you have, how do you weigh your apples down?
Last week, Husband, Dog, and I, walked the 62+ miles of St Cuthbert’s way. Spanning the border lands between England and Scotland, the route begins in Melrose and ends on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
The trip was meant to be a balloon-birthday present for Husband, but it actually fitted in with an assignment that I had for uni, so I had more than a vested interest too. Which is for the good, really, because it totally wiped out my savings, despite trying to do things on the cheap.
We used an app called YourParkingSpace, and left the car in Galashiels ASDA for the week, paying £12 for six days of parking. We could have parked for free in one of the council car parks at Melrose, according to the St Cuthbert’s Way guide book, but given the length of time we were away, I didn’t want anyone to think the car had been abandoned, and the CCTV at the ASDA was actually really helpful for my peace of mind. I think next time (because of course ‘next time’! Wait until you see the pictures!) I’ll get the train down, but as we had children to deliver to my parents first, it made sense to take the car.
We took our usual water bottles, used our every-day walking shoes*, and carried otherwise abandoned backpacks – one my dad had bought in the 70s and one from Freecycle. We made our own instant porridge (rolled oats, powdered milk, cinamon, sugar, and cranberries), and our own couscous sachets (plain couscous, bouillon powder, spices, dried fruit and cashews) to try and keep breakfast and lunch costs low. That said, it did keep our pack weight high!
We could have actually done the trip for a far lower price if we’d been able to utilise the YHA accommodation, but the dog made this an impossibility. If you can avoid taking your furry walking partner, I would definitely recommend doing so – sad as that is. The dog was an amazing companion to us while walking, but literally doubled the accommodation costs. Also, much of the walk is through livestock enclosures, or grouse-filled moors. We’re lucky that our dog will walk happily on a lead (hooked around the belt of our packs so we could keep our hands free), but if you’ve got a dog that pulls or with a strong prey drive, it’s going to be an exhausting trip.
But on to what we’re here for – pictures!
So why post about a holiday on a blog that’s primarily environmentalism based? I hadn’t planned to talk about this here when we set off, but after the first few days, I knew I had to.
For me, at least, it feels increasingly as though the UK is slipping backwards in time – through decades of hardship and regressive philosophy. The ‘lazy poor’ myth is rife, despite the fact that so many people living in poverty are actually working. I feel ashamed every time the UK’s prime minister speaks on the world stage. Or any stage. Or at all. It’s easy to forget that our land is more than our leader, our politics, or our failings.
Underneath all that, so often ignored, is the beautiful, forgiving earth. This island – for all of its human failings – is a home to be proud of. I can feel a sense of worth in the hills which challenge me, the crops which nurture me, and the wildlife which amazes me.
From adders, to hares, to newts… we saw them all on our walk. And I saw them through the eyes of the new American friends we made on our travels – with a sense of reverence and wonder. If this nation is to recover from its current toxic political state we’re going to need to find something to believe in, to be proud of. We need to find the great leveller – our literal roots – which can unite us all.
It’s all so very clear, out in the open, that we’re all on the same side. In line with the promise I made myself at the turn of the year, I’m going to do my best to stop arguing my point, but to try and educate. I’m not sure how best to do that yet, but hopefully, I’ll find a way. None of this is going to be easy. We need to improve access to the outdoors for as many people as we can (as discussed by Anita Sethi). To paraphrase Tony Benn – if we can find money to fund lockdown parties, we can find money to provide people with access to nature (and food, and healthcare while we’re at it).
*Both of us wear hiking boots as standard, though next time I buy, I’ll opt for the size up to make them more comfortable for swollen feet on long walks.
As energy, food, and petrol costs across the UK rise, it’s natural to want to look at ways in which to save money. Many environmentalists are taking this as an opportunity to talk about energy-saving and anti-food-waste strategies that they’ve employed. And that’s got its place, don’t get me wrong – as someone who wants to reduce waste, I’m all for more information on how to do so.
However… Environmentalists need to be careful not to co-opt poverty narratives.
Firstly, if someone is living below the poverty line and talking about it on social media, don’t start telling them to use a slow cooker and it’ll all be ok. That’s a bit like telling people that if they breath, they’ll keep living. People living on an increasingly-squeezed low income know all – literally all – of the superficial ways to cut energy bills.
Secondly, and more importantly, it’s vital that environmentalists don’t compare their own experiences with those of people living in poverty. You might both be darning socks, or meal planning, but the process of doing these things will be worlds apart. Choosing to make a pair of trainers last, safe in the knowledge that you can replace them if needs be, is worlds apart from trying to repair them in a freezing house, wondering if the power is going to go off as you’re doing it and knowing that whatever alterations you’re making have to work. Yes, the things that environmentalists do will save money – but that isn’t the primary motivation.
So please, if you’re an eco-blogger, don’t start telling poor people that ‘you understand what they’re going through’ because you too have ‘had’ to repair something. You didn’t have to. You chose to. It takes a lot to open up about poverty in a society where so much shame is attached to not having enough, and even historic poverty leaves scars. Someone talking about their experience of growing up without heating in the 1970s has probably impacted the rest of that person’s life – it’s not the same as choosing the turn down the thermostat.
There’s a lot I could say here – about how in-work poverty or being chronically ill impacts how you can shop and what you can cook. If you’re working, for example, there isn’t time to traipse round twenty charity shops in the hopes of finding the right object. If you’re disabled, access is potentially an issue – particularly with unpredictable conditions characterised by sometimes sudden fatigue/brain fog, such as ME and Long Covid. There’s also rural poverty to consider – how people living outwith city centres – where public transport is incredibly limited – don’t necessarily have access to discount supermarkets, second-hand items, or sometimes even cash/post offices for trading unwanted goods. And I haven’t even touched on how woman – particularly mothers – and people of colour are disproportionately impacted.
I write my blog as someone in a position of privilege – at the moment, I can afford to make choices based on ethics and ideals. I started this blog because I felt like more people would make an effort to act in environmentally positive ways if it was also immediately financially rewarding for them – no judgement btw, because that’s absolutely what led me to where I am. But I will say this: If you’re someone living below the poverty line, you are using fewer resources than those of us above it.
I spoke last time about resolutions as we ease into the new year. I touched on how positive simply resolving to enjoy a TV show had been for me, over the last 12 months.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m going to continue working my way through ‘Murder, She Wrote’, but I’m also going to try and form some connections.
The ongoing poop-show of the pandemic in the UK means that there are still many people I can’t see – getting to/from friends and family in Europe has been close to impossible. I’m also a creature of habit, and my current habit is isolation – this doesn’t help.
More personally, I’m not an especially sociable soul. I do tend to to find myself in unhealthy peaks and valleys of interaction, and these cycles still baffle me somewhat. I find balance difficult when it comes to people and find that I either wear myself out hopping from friend to friend for months at a time, or conversely, hiding – actively eschewing contact. The pandemic forced the later on me, and I find myself at a point where I’m hungry to see everyone. But now that I’m aware of how easily I can let myself get carried away, I’m going to approach my desire for connection to other people mindfully.
I’m still discovering what this means, but hopefully I can find the time to discuss it in the coming months.
In addition to a connection with people, I’m looking to connect with the world again. Travel was a huge part of our life before Covid hit – not necessarily international travel (though for obvious reasons, we spent a lot of time in mainland Europe), but even just trips to the coast, or the forest, or the mountains round about us. As our world shrunk, I found myself feeling more and more like I’d been cut loose – that I was disembodied somehow, an untethered balloon.
In response to this, I’ve decided to make the effort to live more seasonally. I already do this in regards to food (not least because it’s the cheapest way to eat), but I want to feel the seasons a little more – to celebrate them.
During the worst of the pandemic, I got into candles. As with so many things, I inherited some from my inlaws, but lockdown’s less frequent trips to the shops necessitated cupboard space for storing food, so I began to burn through them. To do so, I placed a pretty plate in the middle of my coffee table and over the months which followed, this became something of a little altar to the changes outside – stone eggs in the spring, pinecones and stunted pumpkins in autumn, and sweet-peas in the summer.
In the picture above, you might be able to see my charity shop bargain – The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. I’ve marked the dates on which she wrote observations in 1906, and aim to read them aloud – here in 2022. That way, I can directly contrast what I’m seeing in the natural world (and build connection there) but I can also connect to the past – to the nature-lovers who came before me.
Finally, I not only aim to connect with the physical, literal land of this country, but also, the nation state. The UK has felt increasingly hostile to my semi-migrant family since the 2016 referendum, and I know that if I want to change that, I need to stop distancing myself. For all that Britain has shown its ugly side for most of this past decade, it’s also shown that the vast majority of people want a positive change. First-past-the-post voting is broken, and I so often take heart from the ‘Proportional Commons‘ Twitter feed. What’s happening right now is far, far from ‘the will of the people’. And if that’s the case, perhaps the world isn’t as bleak as I’d thought and it’s ok for me to go out into it.
To focus on the good things, I’m using the Emma Press book, ‘Second Place Rosette’ . Divided into months, it offers what the introduction calls a ‘grass roots’ look at the country. So far, there have been verses about taking down the Christmas tree, and a comparison of Yorkshire puddings to lighthouses. It’s a glorious way to look again at an island I’d fallen out of love with.
University continues into Semester Two and I find myself on campus more. The young people I met during the first few months were inspiring – so different from my disinterested past-self that it was amazing to think they’re as young as they are. At 18, I was so burnt out from school that university seemed like the final hurdle – the last slog in a long line of exhausting exams – but that weariness doesn’t seem to infect the current batch of students.
Or perhaps that’s just archaeologists. Regardless, I feel that I’ve found myself in good company. I hope – most of all – to connect to the optimism present on my course.
As ever, I will try and update as often as I can, but the quantity of work ahead of me remains to be seen.
It’s time to post my little yellow canary off to my MP. (If you’ve not seen the previous post about the #CanaryCraftivist activism that I’m taking part in, the you can catch up here. 🙂 )
I’m really, really proud of the letter that I’ve written, so thought that I would share it here, in the hopes that it might inspire other people to put pen to paper – even if they don’t have a canary to post.
Hopefully, my writing is not too scrappy for you to read it.
This year… I feel slightly differently about the whole thing.
It’s not that I don’t agree that we should be trying to reduce our dependence on plastic – we absolutely should. We should also continue to try and dispose of the plastic items we do use in a responsible fashion – reusing and recycling where possible.
I just feel that sometimes, all the anti-plastic rhetoric distracts from other environmental issues.
For example – we encourage people to recycle any plastic waste that they have, but simultaneously advise against buying new plastic products. This creates an imbalance – what’s the point in recycling the material if we’re not going to use it anyway? In addition to reducing our consumption of ‘virgin’ plastics, we need to ensure that the plastic we do use is coming from recycled sources. This will be my personal focus this #PlasticFreeJuly.
I also think it’s important to acknowledge that products packaged in glass or cardboard often take up more space in transit, so require more vehicles to transport them (i.e. bottles of wine, vs bag-in-a-box). They also weigh more, so the amount of fuel used on freight is higher than their plastic-packaged counterparts.
I don’t feel like looking at carbon footprints is the answer either – to be honest, I’m not sure which metric we should be measuring ecological credentials on. I just know that avoiding plastic isn’t the whole story.
So, what can we do?
We can reuse things – and not just the pretty things like mason jars. I did a whole post about the uglier items which I hold onto – old food packaging, produce tubs, and sandwich boxes. Keeping these items saves me money, but it also diverts them from landfill.
We can assess what is actually necessary in our lives. Do we need a pack of disposable, plastic cloths for doing our dishes, or could we cut up an old towel? Can we look at what we feel we’re lacking, and try to fill that gap with objects we already own?
And finally, we can recognise that the current state of the world is not our responsibility alone. We can engage with protest groups (such as the Craftivist Collective) to try and influence government policy, we can vote for parties which prioritise our values, and we can hold companies to account for products and packaging which aren’t fit for purpose. There comes a point where we’ve done all that we can reasonably be expected to do whilst living within the realms of modern society, and it’s at this point we need to take a good look at whether or not we can change society itself.
This plastic-free July, I will continue to examine the objects I buy and consume, and continue to look at ways in which I can better myself. But I’m also going to take a look at some of the ways in which I can change the world around me – can I start looking at ways to pass on my mending skills, for example? I definitely plan on taking part in the Canary Craftivist project, but I hope I can come up with other ways in which to make a difference too.
Aside from curtailing your plastic purchases, are you planning to do anything for Plastic Free July? I would love to hear your thoughts.
I really love the idea of slow, gentle protest. It resonates with me – I understand the need for riot, for huge public uprising (i.e. The Berlin Wall), but I would also love to think that we can get to a kinder world without the need for violence.
So, when I heard that the Craftivist Collective were planning a Climate Crisis protest, I was super excited to take part.
This particular protest involves creating small, handmade canaries, because;
the yellow canary is the perfect symbol for this project. They need clean air to be able to fly high in the sky and far afield. In years gone by, they used to accompany coal miners into the mines and give warning signals when the air was too toxic to work in. Miners often called their canary partners ‘colleagues’ and cared so much for them that they wanted to protect them from harm, sometimes more than themselves.
Just as canaries were effective warning signs then, our Gentle Protest will be a kind, encouraging warning for Members of Parliament now. It will remind them that they can help nature, wildlife and humans flourish before it’s too late.
So, I dug out a pattern that I used a while ago – the ‘Bluebird of Happiness’. It’s a really neat, quick little pattern, and one that I’ve never made any alterations to. Now my little Canary is all ready to go!
When I’ve written the letter to my MP, I’ll share it here. I hope it will at least spark a thought.
Have you taken part in any climate activism? If so, what kind?
I mean, does anyone ever really expect their youngest child to request such a thing?
But such a thing was requested, and as such, I did my best to oblige…
Using some wide elastic, liberated from my grandmother’s stash, and an old towel with a hole in the centre, I cobbled together perfectly adequate sweat bands. Or at least, the small child seemed happy with them. But that’s not really the end of the story.
I was left with the rest of a very bald towel. And I hate throwing away fabric, even when it is as ancient as this.
I decided to do what anyone would do – I cut up the remains of the towel for dishcloths.
I started off by cutting through the hole, then by cutting those halves into quarters. Luckily everything came out pretty evenly, but you cut your cloth according to what you have…
I ended up with 8 good sized dish cloths. Despite the baldness of the fabric, though, I found that the edges were pretty prone to fraying.
So, out came the sewing machine.
I started by folding each edge over twice, but this was a lot of fiddly work, and it all got very thick on the corners. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue for the Jones, but I’ve run out of ‘period-correct’ fully round needles so I’m down to modern ‘organ’ needles. These work, but have slightly different proportions so the machine tends to struggle to catch the bottom bobbin on thicker projects.
I abandoned the double fold for a single folded hem and this worked just as well in stopping the fabric from disintegrating.
When it came to the cloth which had been right next to the hole, I just made a slight detour with the presser foot and everything came out ok…
It’s not perfect, but honestly, who cares when it’s a dish cloth?
And that’s really all there is to it. It took around 20 minutes from start to finish to make 8 cloths in total (but would be faster on an electric machine). These are also 100% cotton, so whilst 20 minutes of time vs 85p for a pack of 5 dish cloths isn’t a huge financial saving, it does prevent plastic microfibres from entering the water system, and it’s one fewer towel destined for landfill at the end of its life.
What do you do with your old towels? We used a lot as packing material when cleaning out my in-laws house so we have many, and only one dog to use them on! I’d love to hear any suggestions!
If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend doing so (or other books on the subject, like How to Break Up with Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo). These insights into the way that clothes are made and disposed of are the basis of my mending skills. By looking after the apparel we have, we delay the need for new garments and prevent mostly functional pieces from ending up in landfill.
So, as I had a shirt collar to turn, I thought I’d share the process with you today, in case it’s of any use.
This is an easy job to do and can be done either by hand or with a sewing machine (though the machine does give a lovely, neat finish). You only need to unpick/sew one line of stitching so depending on how quick you/your machine is, this might only be a five minute job. Even photographing things as I went along, this took less than 20 minutes. And I had to rewind my bobbing.
So, here’s the shirt collar…
As you can see, the fabric has worn thin and there are holes in it.
To begin, I need to unpick the line of stitching which connects the collar to the main body of the shirt. You can see this in the above picture, just below where my thumb is.
I use little scissors to start this process because it makes it easier to get the seam ripper in, but you can use a ripper straight away, or scissors all the way along – whatever is easiest, really.
Here we are, almost finished…
And now we have a seperate shirt and collar. And here you have some options.
a. flip the collar (as I detail below) to extend the life of the shirt. b. do a better job than I did and insert some iron-on interfacing into the collar to better support the holey bit, then flip the collar (as detailed below). c. Remove the collar completely and sew up the top of the shirt, thus creating a ‘granddad shirt’ neckline.
I opted for – obviously – option a, mostly because I have no interfacing at present. When holes appear in the collar on the other side, I’ll probably opt for option c. I’m not sure how that’ll look on a checked-shirt, but it’ll be perfectly fine for sleeping in, if nothing else.
Anyways, on with the sewing.
I flipped the collar and pinned it in place. Here you can see the holes are now on the outside of the shirt. This means that when the collar is folded back on itself, they won’t be visible.
After that, it’s just a matter of feeding the shirt through the machine, being sure to catch all the layers of fabric. This is easier than it might sound because you can just follow the previous line of machine stitching. *
And then you’re done. The collar looks as good as new on this side, and it’s ready for another half-decade of service! Hooray!
Like I said to begin with, this is such a simple five minute job, and when you compare the labour and materials (i.e. some thread) with the cost of a new shirt, it’s a really easy way of saving money. This is a job I did whilst watching a video so it’s not even like it ate into any leisure time. I’d call that a win all round.
Are there any easy, quick-fixes that you do on your clothes? I would love to hear about them – maybe I can have a go!
*I’ve been asked about my sewing machine a few times now so thought I’d chat about my menagerie of machines here.
The one pictured is a Jones Family CS from 1895 – a hand-crank, bullet-bobbin, organ-needle machine. I bought it in a charity shop in Norwich in 2006 for £20 and it’s what I learned to sew on.
I do also have two electric machines – a Frister and Rossman Cub 7 from the mid-80s (which is technically my mum’s), and a Pfaff from the late 80s/early 90s (which I inherited when my mother-in-law died and am yet to use).
The Pfaff needs significant work, which I plan on having done when lockdown eases – it sat uncovered and unused for a decade so is really gummed up – but I hope to bring it back into regular use soon as it has various embroidery settings which the Jones and F&R don’t have. The Cub 7 is also in desperate need of a service, but if you’re looking for a beginners sewing machine and can find one of these gems, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s easy to use, built like a tank, and runs really quietly.
For me though, nothing will ever beat the Jones on a straight stitch. That’s literally all it does – stitch forwards in a line. I can service it myself because it’s such an elegant, unfussy machine, and because it’s a hand-crank, I can set it up anywhere. I’ve been known to sit in the garden with it on a sunny day, or in front of a film with it on the coffee table. It’s slow enough that my children can use it without it running away from them too, and that’s a massive bonus. Around 2 years ago, I did a lot of work on it, and if anyone is interested in seeing the pictures of it being brought back from sitting in storage, let me know and I can write a post on it. 🙂
The other day, I went looking on Pinterest for some inspiration.
I love writing here, I really do, but sometimes I feel a bit like I’m repeating myself – that I’m not providing any new information. At some point in the later half of 2020, I began to grow self-conscious about what I was writing and it led to me slowing down in terms of posts.
I imagined people reading my work, getting bored of hearing about my garden, or the books that I’ve read, or the swaps that I’ve made.
Other people have done it all before and they’ve absolutely done so in a much prettier way.
And that’s when it really struck me – I wasn’t posting things which I thought were useful because they weren’t also pretty.
There’s a very specific…. aesthetic to low-waste/zero-waste living. Bright, minimalist spaces, glinting mason jars, soft brushed linens….
That just isn’t my reality, and I’m sure it’s not the reality for most people trying to reduce their impact on the planet. We all take baggage – literal and figurative – when we leave home. For my part, I took an entire Saab 9-5 full of stuff with me to university all those years ago, along with a severe lack of practical cooking skills which led me to far too many ready-meals.
Over the years, I consumed without thinking, and it was only in 2011 – after reading Lucy Siegal’s To Die For – that I began to consider the impact of the objects in my life.
As a result, there are multiple relics from my personal ‘before times’ in my life. They’re not pretty – they don’t fit with the ‘zero waste aesthetic’, but they do fit with the spirit of the thing, and so I thought I’d share them with you here. Hopefully they can help reassure you that just because you don’t have beautiful stainless steel lunch boxes, that you’re still doing a great job.
First up, my box full of ugly plastic bags…
This is exactly what it looks like. I keep a small box full of plastic food bags. I have diligently washed and dried each of these and here they sit, awaiting use! I employ them in my freezer, or – more pertinently at the moment – when giving my children snacks for school. Pre-covid, I used to bake them little cupcakes and back them in decades-old tupperware, but the fewer things which go to/from school just now the better. And that being the case, having these free bags as ‘disposable’ packaging for home bakes is excellent. Generally speaking, I try to get a few uses of the bags at home before I send them off with my kids, but given that typically these would have been tossed out instantly after unpacking the food within, even one extra use is a huge bonus.
And aside from anything else, I find it bizarre that we’re willing to spend money on a roll of freezer bags, whilst simultaneously throwing perfectly functional plastic bags out…
Next up – my ‘compost bin’…
This is an old yogurt pot from back when I used to buy yogurt regularly (I think I discussed yogurt before and decided that this is one of the ‘basic’ things that should be a real treat).
It sits on the side in the kitchen and gets filled with compostable food scraps. It’s ugly – especially now it’s so sun-faded – but it’s the perfect size to collect things in. It fills up quickly enough that we remember to empty it before it starts stinking.
I also have a load of these tubs which I use to freeze food in too – no need to buy special containers when I could just repurpose something that was free. It’s not as pretty as its custom glass/metal counterpart, but it’s keeping something out of the waste management system and that’s important.
Next up, my packaging supplies…
Yup. That’s where it all lives – in front of my dining room fireplace. We don’t light this fire because we haven’t had the chimney swept in actual years so try not to worry about the safety hazard all that paper near a flame presents.
Here’s a close up…
All that folded brown paper in the basket on the left is ‘padding’ from deliveries we’ve been sent, so I save it for gift wrapping. Either the children draw on it, or we use stamps to decorate it, and we reuse it that way. Also visible are some gift bags and some printed wrapping paper (which I rescued from the skip when we cleared out my inlaws’ house). I literally haven’t bought gift-wrap in years, but as a result, we do have to live around this… sculpture…
None of these things are attractive to look at. You’re not going to find them on Pinterest. But I think it’s important that we talk about the instantly accessible ways in which we can reduce our waste. I hope that this mini-selection of the literal (but useful!) junk that I keep around my house has given you some ideas.
I would love to hear some of the uglier things you manage to keep out of landfill. At some point, I plan to do a post about ‘random things which we’ve found and attached to our walls as art’ but this seems like a good place to start!