DIY reusable water balloons!

Summer is well and truly on its way – even in North East Scotland.

Unfortunately, so is Covid. Still. Again. I don’t even know any more.

Either way, I had both children off school recently with a dose of the plague (confirmed by a hoarded LFT). So, I took the opportunity to teach Eldest to sew some simple cushions.

To use as reusable water balloons! Hooray!

These are fairly self explanatory. In the scrap bag we found some pre-cut patchwork squares, left over from a previous project, but any woven fabric should do the job. And we stuffed them using the guts of an old bed-pillow – most of which was sacrificed to make me a kneeling pad for when I’m digging – so potentially, this is a cheap (if not ‘free’*) project.

We made ten little pillows in total, so each participant gets five. Eldest paired the fabric so that there are five pillows with matching sides and five with contrasting sides – odds v evens, if you like – but the design is pretty irrelevant. Once these ‘balloons’ are in play, they’re all free game!

These are a great way of using up scrap fabric, and a good way of preventing plastic waste in the form of popped balloons. On top of that, they use very little water, so if you’re on a meter, that’s good news too.

And if you’re in Scotland, they work indoors on cold days as mini ‘pillow fight’ ammo!

Cut/find two squares of fabric and place them right-sides together.
Sew around the edges, leaving a gap for the stuffing.
Turn the right way round and fill with stuffing.
Sew all the way around the edge, being sure to catch the opening properly.
And you’re done! Enjoy!

Do you have know of any really easy beginner sewing projects, suitable for someone just learning? We’ve done all the usual bits – aprons and tote bags, for example. I’m keen to try teaching Eldest how to make shorts next but I don’t know if I’m jumping the gun – I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’d especially love to hear about your attempts at making these plastic-free water balloons, if you decide to give them a try.

Much love

Farn.
_____
*Is anything really free? I mean, I bought the stuff once, right? And labour isn’t free, even if it is in the name of education. I feel like maybe it’s time we started acknowledging all of these hidden costs in things. Do you feel the same?

Food Waste Slaw

I recently posted about making vegan mayo from chick-pea water. And that turned into the perfect excuse to make a good old-fashioned coleslaw!

In-keeping with the theme of using things you’d normally throw away (like the chick-pea water and apple vinegar for the mayo), I thought that instead of using cabbage for the main bulk of the coleslaw, I’d use cauliflower leaves.

This was exactly as easy as you’d expect. I shredded the leaves, grated two small carrots and an apple, then mixed the lot in some mayo. I added some chopped parsley and lovage as I served it – because we have some – but normally I might use fennel seeds or coriander/cilantro.

I didn’t tell any family members that I was using a different type of leaf, or a different type of mayo, but no one noticed and when I told them after we’d finished, they confirmed that they hadn’t noticed. So I’d call that a win!

How do you use your cauliflower leaves? Until now, I’ve just roasted them in oil and chili flakes whenever the oven has been on, and eaten them as a snack, but I’m always keen to try new things!

Vegan mayo from food waste that actually works!

I’ve got to confess, I was more than a little skeptical when someone first mentioned vegan mayo to me.

I had a go though – and it worked the first time! – but subsequent attempts were always runny. I hadn’t really lost anything but some oil for trying to make it, but with the price of sunflower oil skyrocketing in the UK right now, I put my experiements on hold.

Then Husband found this Danish recipe and everything changed!

I’ve translated it below, but because it’s not my recipe, I’d really appreciate you clicking the link above if you do try it. Credit where it’s due, and the original author definitely deserves the clicks. There’s even a handy video, so when you’ve got the quantities from down below, you could just head over and watch the instructions there? 🙂

Micadeli’s Vegan Mayo!

200 mls of neutral oil (e.g. sunflower/grapeseed/vegetable oil)
50 mls chickpea water
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp mustard (I use Dijon)
1 pinch of salt

Put all of the ingredients in a jar with a neck big enough for a stick-blender to fit in (or another type of container).
Blend with the stick-blender at the bottom of the jar.
Done!

The recipe above is really forgiving. You can use it with oil from jars of sundried tomatoes, for example (make sure it’s 100% oil that they’re in), or use a garlic or a chilli oil instead. We use raw, homemade cider vinegar for this, so depending on what food waste you’ve got – oil and chick-pea water – you only need to get mustard and salt to make this work!

I would love to hear how you get on if you try making this, and I’d love to hear about any variations you decide to use!

A Guide to Eco-Anxiety by Anouchka Grose

This is a book I read a while ago now, and to be honest, I don’t remember a huge amount about it.

I really liked the concept when I first picked this up, but I remember that I felt the execution was a little lacking. What I really wanted to read, was something similar to Factfulness by Hans Rosling, but about the environment. But what I got was largely a self-help book with a slight eco focus.

I think I’m a fairly logical, ‘citations please’ sort of person, so what I’d actually have found comforting was seeing areas in which humanity had managed to make progress, coupled with an analysis of how we did that. Fact gives me hope. Deep breathing makes me feel helpless – it’s what you do when there’s little/nothing else left.

And I don’t want to believe we’re there yet.

If you do want to read something heartening, that did actually improve how I see the world, then the above-mentioned Factfulness is a much better idea. I think the subtitle is something like ‘why you’re wrong and the world is better than you think’, and honestly, that was just what I needed.

I think we have this misconception that we need to be right in order to be happy, but that just isn’t true. I think we need to be honest so that we can make progress and be happy.

This book is definitely worth a nosey if you see it in the library, and even worth a few pounds if you happen upon it in a charity shop, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for.

What do you do in order to stay optimistic about the state of the world? Have you got any books you look to for advice?

A New Year

Last year, I made a point of not making any resolutions as 2021 ticked around.

But interestingly, not making any resolutions was a resolution I didn’t stick to. Asked again and again by people trying to make polite conversation, I finally blurted – after a particularly self important speech about self-improvement from the person asking me – that I was going to watch ‘Murder, She Wrote’.

Yes, that one.

Yes, the much-memed 1980s crime show starring Angela Lansbury.

And actually, it was so much better for me than all the years I’ve tried to do something to better myself that I thought I’d mention it here.

As with the person who seeded the idea, there’s this fallacy that a new year requires a ‘new me’ – as if the person we’ve been for the last twelve months is a skin we can shed. But we can’t – we take our experiences with us, and if we’re serious about improving, then we learn from them.

Both the good and the bad.

I chose a TV show to watch because it’s something I almost never do. I’ve got nothing against television, for the record – I just don’t ever feel like I can commit to epic seven-season stories, with 20+ hour-long episodes per season. I honestly barely feel able to commit to a film. That each episode of ‘Murder, She Wrote’ is entirely self contained made it feel less onerous.

I also wanted something old, familiar, and friendly. I know, I know – murder does not equal friendly. But my memories of the show are sick-days from school, curled up on brown velour sofas, stuffing my puffy face with Heinz tomato soup. Associatively, it felt safe.

Mostly, I wanted something I knew I would enjoy. It’s so easy to get swept up in the duty of improvement, in the work we do on ourselves, that we neglect the fact that pleasure can make us better people too.

Let me repeat that: Doing something that feels good can help us to do good.

This is the permission, if you need it, to put aside all the things you feel that you ‘have’ to do – whether that’s getting into shape, eating better, or decluttering – in favour of doing something you want but never allocate yourself time for.

Because I have learnt at least as much from watching a TV show about an old woman ignoring authority, misogyny, and agism, as I have from reading countless tomes on feminism.

So though my own ambition this year is slightly different – and I’ll discuss that soon – I would like to invite you to join me in doing something over the next twelve months because you want to, and because it feels good.

Pleasure in what’s already there is one of the biggest acts of rebellion against this consumerist society of ‘not-enough’ that we have.

Working-class Environmentalism by Karen Bell

I meant to read this for a really long time, but completely failed to get round to it until a few months ago.

I wish I’d read it sooner.

Working-Class Environmentalism by Karen Bell is one of the first books I would recommend anyone read if they’re new to the sustainability movement. Yes, in places is reads like a dissertation, but it deals with so much more than the usual ‘mason-jar low-physical-waste’ side we so often see.

At this point, I’ve read a lot of books about sustainability, but all of them seem very much pitched at a certain income. Even How To Save The World for Free felt as though there was an earning threshold that was a prerequisite to being environmentally sound. In the UK, where the divide between rich and poor is growing ever more pronounced, more and more people fall below this mark.

I could write a whole book about the ways in which the sustainability movement is only superficially set up for those on a lower income but thankfully, I don’t have to because Karen Bell did.

This book isn’t a work about the things that those in low income households can do to save the environment. It’s about the ways in which people who earn less are already doing more for the planet than their better-off counterparts. It’s about the disproportionate impact of poor environmental strategies on those who live in deprived areas. It’s about the myriad ways that conventional environmentalism is causing a bigger class divide – like how it’s easy to blame those who need plastic-drenched ready meals because they’re working three jobs. Or how we demonise those who rely on fast fashion prices to clothe their families because trawling charity shops or second hand sites takes more time then they have free/have internet access for. There are so many ways in which the mason jar aesthetic of the zero waste movement disadvantages all of us, but this is so seldom spoken about and almost never in conjunction with money – if it is discussed, it’s in regards to mental health and the unachievable expectations we place on ourselves in a capitalist culture.

I also feel that it’s worth mentioning – just from a ‘growing as a human being’ standpoint – that the definition of ‘British working class’ is no longer someone from a northern mining town. It’s call centre workers, care workers, and beauty technicians. It’s Deliveroo drivers, and Uber drivers. In-work poverty is rising. And poverty disproportionately impacts people of colour, traveller culture, and immigrants.

It got me thinking more about the ways in which the zero waste movement encourages a minimalist aesthetic, and how this contradicts the poverty-driven desire to hold onto things ‘just in case’. I remember listening to a podcast by Jen Gale (of Sustainable-ish fame) in which she encouraged people to stop hoarding baby clothes and school uniforms, as passing them on would prevent the need for more to be made/sold. But what if you can’t afford to replace them after you give them up? I know that saving and repairing my eldest’s uniforms has been of huge financial benefit to me – especially now that the pandemic requires that uniform is changed daily. If I needed to buy 3-5 shirts, 3-5 sweatshirts, and 3-5 pairs of trousers per child per year, that would cost well over the £100 mark – and that’s factoring in second hand, off-brand bottoms. That’s a monumental amount of money when you’re in receipt of Universal Credit. *

For me, one of the most important factors in this book was the message that if you’re living on a low income, you’re probably already living in a more ecologically sound way, than those earning more and buying ‘green’ things.

In short – if you’re only going to read one book about the planet this year, let it be this one.


*If you’re in the market for off-brand school uniform, or for logo-sweaters from around Glasgow, then Apparel Exchange are a great social enterprise offering donated goods for low prices – including wellies, hallowe’en costumes, and waterproofs.

Their landing page also specifies that : “families can […] receive free clothing from us when times are challenging.”

If you have clothes to donate, you can make contact with the team here.

I’m not affiliated with Apparel Exchange at all, just for full disclosure.

Elderberry Cordial

You’ll have to excuse the absolutely terrible photos – it’s been a mad sort of weekend. I’ve got so much going on right now, and so much to tell you about, but I didn’t want to let the elderberry season sail past without writing up a brief tutorial on how to make this incredibly tasty autumn drink.

First of all, you’ll need some elderberries. Gently remove them from the stalks and weigh them. I had 400g, so I put them in a pan with 400mls of water. If you have 700g, you’d use 700mls etc. Then, add the zest of one lemon. Use your best judgement on this one. If you’ve got a lot more berries than me, add the zest of two lemons…

I’m very lazy, so I just used a potato peeler to slice off strips, but if you’ve got a proper zester, then feel free to employ it here.

Now, simmer the lot for between 30 minutes to an hour.

Once that’s done, mash the berries as best you can to release the juices and then sieve the lot. I use our incredibly fine metal sieve, but a cheese cloth, or old baby muslin would be better. Again – lazy. Washing a cloth was too much work.

Pour the liquid back into the pan and discard the pulp. Add sugar – this should be the same weight as your berries. In my case, I added 400g because I had 400g of fruit, but if you had 300g, you’d add 300g sugar etc.

When the sugar has dissolved, pour your liquid into a sterilised bottle and you’re ready to go. I dilute this 1:5 with boiling water.

You can add a cinnamon stick at the same point I added the lemon zest for a slightly more festive flavour, but to be honest, I forgot this time and haven’t missed it.

If you try this I would love to hear how you get on.

Is it worth mending school uniforms?

The schools in our area are back in session very soon, so I thought I would dig out the uniform from last term and have a look at the condition of it. I’ve spoken before about removing stains from otherwise well-fitting items, but stains are some of the easier things to remedy.

Harder, are the little tears which result from slightly-too-long-trousers being rubbed along the ground, or from sweater cuffs being teased at with teeth during difficult sums.

I thought we’d start with a trouser leg cuff.

I started by turning the trousers inside out and unpicking the half of the cuff with a hole in it.

Here, you can see how big the hole is, and how frayed the edges are.

For the purposes of this post, I drew roughly along where I planned to stitch the fabric using tailor’s chalk. It doesn’t show up especially well, but I hope you can make it out.

It’s possibly easier to see in this photo as I’ve already started stitching. I tried to get as close to the edge as I could so that I lost as little length as possible.

Here it is, all stitched up. The raw edges will be contained within the cuff, so there’s much less risk of fraying now.

Next, it’s just a case of folding the cuff back into place and stitching it down again. As you can see, the edges of the trouser leg no longer line up, but when these are being worn, you won’t be able to see this at all.

To reattach the cuff, I used a simple whip-stitch (or felling stitch), taking care to only catch the tiniest bit of the leg fabric with the needle.

When the repair is finished, it looks like this – it’s only a little neater, but it is significantly less likely to unravel. Again, you won’t notice this mend when the trousers are worn because of how the fabric hangs over the shoe.

This is how it looks ‘end-on’. You can see the tuck, but if the difference in the way this is folded bothers you, then you can continue stitching all the way around the inside of the cuff…

Which is a repair I’ll show you on a sweater at some point soon…

Do schools use uniforms where you are? If they do, do you buy new every year, second-hand, or repair the previous ones (presuming they still fit)? What are your uniforms made of? Our logo’ed ones are all poly-cotton blends, which is far from ideal.

As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Farn xx

I cycled to the train today and this is what I learned…

Firstly, I learned that I am really, really unfit.

This surprised me enormously because I’m not a very still person. Walking is still my main (only) social activity, despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, and I’ve been wandering up and down all our local hills for literal years now (formerly with a 16kg toddler on my back!). All that practice wasn’t enough though – and it wasn’t even the incline which I thought I wouldn’t manage which forced me to dismount and walk. It was a very long, very slight climb to the top of a hill.

Which brings me neatly to point two: No matter how pretty the German city bike is, 3 gears are not enough. It’s a heavy bike – two very large wheels, a nice low cross bar, sit-up-and-beg handlebars… I imagine that in the Netherlands, or parts of Denmark, or even the Fens in the UK, that it would be a perfect bike. I mean, on the flat bits, it is an absolutely perfect bike – super comfortable to sit on and very, very smooth to ride.

But this is Scotland. And we have hills. There was one point – a sudden, but sharp incline which I don’t actually notice in the car – which almost brought the bike’s wheels to a stop, even in the appropriate gear.

Interestingly – point three – it actually took the same amount of time to get to the village on the bike as it would in the car. The car has to slow tremendously for the corners because the road is super narrow and the track to our house is made mostly of holes. Because the car is low, and because I can’t hear if there’s any traffic coming over the engine, I never really get above second or third gear, whereas on the bike, I can see over all the hedges and hear if there’s anything coming, meaning that I don’t have to moderate my speed nearly as much. So, I can actually get to my destination as quickly on two wheels as I can on four. There is one very steep hill on the way there, but for the most part, it’s a road to roll down. Hence why the way home is… a struggle.

Finally, there are very few places I feel happy leaving a bike in the village. One is able to rent locked parking at the station from the council (it’s not too expensive, but for one year’s rental, I could buy a massive bike lock and park for ‘free’ for the length of my degree), or there are a handful of bike stands, but these are in places where I would feel really conscious about abandoning my vehicle for the day – the leisure centre car park, or just outside the corner shop… It feels… invasive of me, to take up space which customers might need.

Mostly though, I learned that it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be.

Some things which would make my life easier/make me more likely to keep this up:

  • I’d like to get some trousers which will be acceptable for use in the classroom, as well as on the bike. Currently, I’ve only really got large, linen confections (and an oversized pair of dungarees made from orange cheesecloth). I’d be worried about these catching in the chains. I’m not really a leggings person so I’d need to figure something out in terms of clothing.
  • I need to figure out a way to carry as few things as possible. I’m currently weighing up the logistics of photocopying textbook pages and only taking the chapters I’m working on, but that seems wasteful. I’d never planned to take my laptop with me (I don’t trust myself with it on a bike!) so PDF scans aren’t really an option either. I wonder how many books relevant to my course will be available via e-reader, and if so, whether I can get them without using That River Company.* I wonder what the best way to carry lunch, snacks, and possibly breakfast is. I wonder how to take enough water with me for the day so I don’t have to buy more… There’s only a small front basket, and I’ve got a backpack which will mostly be filled with my helmet, unless…
  • I rent one of the bike lockers at the station, though realistically, that ties me into rail travel as the relevant bus stop is right at the other end of the village. The bus is cheaper, and whilst it takes longer, it gets me into the city closer to the university. The train station necessitates a 30-45 minute walk at the other side… Good for fitness, but hardly great for studying.

Ultimately, my transport situation remains a work in progress. I will do what I can to avoid purchasing another vehicle, but the infrastructure round here does not make it easy!

Do you cycle? Do you have any hints and tips for a total beginner, tackling hills for the first time? I would really appreciate any wisdom you could impart!


*FYI: I use That River Company’s e-reader because someone was giving one away on Freecycle. I download classics for it via Project Gutenberg. I’m one of those people who refuse to buy from said River company, hoping to – and utterly failing to – make a difference.

Transport

Well…. I actually got accepted into University. As of September, I’ll be going back to school to study an MA in Archaeology.

I’m excited. Also nervous – I was 18 when I started my last degree and the difference between how I feel now and how I felt then is stark. I remember only one mature student from my time before – a lovely woman, if somewhat distant – and I’m beginning to worry that the distance she experienced was not voluntary but enforced. It’s not as though I’m going there looking to find friends – I’m very much going to learn – but I’m also acutely aware of how lonely education can be if there aren’t people to share your passions with.

But let’s focus on ‘excited’. And transport. Because I live approximately an hour and a half from the campus.

I’ll know more about my schedule in July, but if my last arts degree was anything to go by, teaching hours will be minimal. I sort of hope so, because it’s a heck of a commute to do every day!

I do have a few options. As it’s only myself travelling, I do have the freedom to walk the hour to the nearest bus stop. I can hypothetically cycle too, but my bike is a European back-braking city-bike – designed for Hamburg streets, not Aberdeenshire hills. In order to cycle with any regularity, I feel as though I would need to trade my bike in for something with (at the very least) gears in order to tackle the not-insignificant hill which leads to the nearest village. Once at the village, I can then choose between a bus and – miracle-of-Beeching-surviving-miracles – a train. The train is fast, but expensive, and I would need to undertake another hour’s walk from the station to campus on the other side, whilst the bus is painfully slow but cheaper and – ultimately – more direct.

I’ve spoken with my family about possibly purchasing a small, second-hand electric car, but I just don’t feel like the charging infrastructure is there yet – hardly unsurprising for the oil capital of Europe, but I can hope. And of course, there’s the option of the ‘banger’ – a cheap, ancient car which limps along between fixes. Hardly green or economical.

Before I go any further, I know that this is, as my husband would say, a ‘luxury problem’. I’m talking through a myriad of transport options for accessing voluntary, expensive, higher education. I could make points about how many people have to make this journey daily for employment purposes and don’t have the easy option of ‘if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get an old car’. I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in and I fully appreciate that. It is beyond frustrating that there isn’t an affordable, easily accessible public transport infrastructure up here – arguably where people need it most due to hugely scattered population and centralised services….

But I digress. This is where we’re at.

During my first year of studies – because Covid – much of the learning will be online anyway, so I’ve pledged not to purchase a car until at least year 2, by which point I hope to have proved to myself that I can absolutely do without one.

My plan at the present time is to cycle while the weather is conducive to using my heavy, gearless bike, then walk through the worst of the winter months. In an ideal world, I’ll take the train – because I’m still a child who loves the romance of trains at heart – but I’ll inevitably end up taking the bus because money.

If I’m being entirely honest, the environmental impact isn’t the main driving force behind my decision. Yes, it’s definitely part of it, but what swayed me, was the ‘dead’ time spent on public transport. Since mobile phones came into common usage, we’ve been expected more-and-more to be ‘on’ at all times. We need to be ‘doing’ in order to be valid*. Using public transport will – for me – carve out a time in which I can’t do anything other than read. I’m still using my Nokia 3310, so I won’t have access to the internet for the entire journey, and I won’t be behind the wheel so I’ll be free to let my mind wander as I enjoy the countryside.

In addition, it’s going to help me work exercise into my day. I’m someone who very much benefits from exercise in terms of my mood, but I’m also someone who never makes space for it. Hopefully by making it a necessity, it’ll keep me going.

Obviously, all of this could change in the coming months, but for now, this is my plan.

If you’re a cyclist and you have any advice for me, I’d be super keen to hear it. I already have the helmet, high-vis vest, bike basket, and waterproofs. My friend has recommended a set of solar bike lights with a decent charge life, so I’m excited to research them. Any words of wisdom beyond that are thoroughly appreciated. I’m especially interested in how to keep my ears warm in the freezing winds which are still – in May! – bringing sleet and hale.

I’m going to get my bike out and make sure it’s all in working order then have a few ‘trial runs’ into the village. I’ll let you know how it goes.

For now, much love.

Farn ❤

*If you’re interested, Jessie Gender does a whole incredible video about the nature of work that I would definitely recommend… even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.