Archive for ‘Green: Gardening, cycling, natural beauty products, environment & bees!’

March 21, 2014

Book: The Ivington Diaries

Books about learning to garden can be a bit repetitive. After all, there’s only a handful of ways to sow seeds. Books on gardens, however, are wonderful. This example from Monty Don, has captured my attention and really made me want to learn more and visit more gardens to understand planting on a larger scale. It’s written as a year’s worth of diary entries, but with the years ranging over roughly a decade, so for example January 1st 1999 is followed by January 4th, 2004 and it’s utterly captivating.  Monty writes so engagingly he makes you want to walk around the acres of garden (sections have names;  spring garden, jewel garden, white garden) and take a peek into the potting sheds. He writes of practical matters, mulch being a favourite, and of the joy and artistry of creating a beautiful garden, not to mention the work that goes into creating such a garden from scratch and his words are accompanied by lush photography so you get a good overview of the different parts of the garden through the year.

The book format (even down to the paper and font choices), reminds me very much of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diary which is an absolute favourite book of mine, so if you liked that, imagine a similar book set in a garden, and you’ve gone some way towards capturing the feel of this book.

The garden in question is at his home, Ivington, where he and his family moved following the collapse of the family business and the death of his mother. The house they bought and the creation of the garden seems to have brought their lives back together and in his own words ‘rebuilt’ him.  He writes with such love, attention and humour and, because the book is written as short diary entries, it’s really easy to dip into and read whenever you’ve got a free minute. I really recommend it, and think it would be a wonderful gift for Mothering Sunday…

The Ivington Diaries

March 10, 2014

Our urban green space.

Though it’s not officially spring yet, the area I live in has begun to change and the little green space opposite our flat has come alive.

When we moved into the flat in November, the whole area was quiet, tucked up for winter. We hardly saw anyone and the space between our houses felt huge. Since the warmer weather has started to arrive, the streets are beginning to fill up. The birds in our trees are singing, snowdrops planted on the green are in full flower and people are emerging from their winter.

Early mornings on the green often start with tai chi practitioners, working slowly and deliberately through their sequence of movements. They are followed by dog walkers and people on their way to work. Afternoons now see children back from school playing on the make-shift swing or kicking a ball around.

Yesterday, children from the local Sunday school spilled out from the Church Hall, escorted by white-robed nuns, to run around and play football with some other boys and their dad, whilst another boy was pushed on the rope swing. Next to arrive were three rainbow-haired young adults with their ferrets—this is Yorkshire, after all — who allowed their animals to enjoy a run around on the grass in the fresh spring air. Later, the football and ferrets were replaced by a family with a frisbee and a dog who was having enormous fun chasing around after the flying disc.

It’s not a perfect space, I know that. We have early morning tai chi, but we do sometimes also have late-night drinkers. But they’re quiet, and one of our community minded neighbours leaves a bin liner hooked over the edge of the bench, so they’re tidy too. The same neighbour cleared the leaves away from under the trees, so those snowdrops had space to flower. I suspect she’s the guerrilla gardener responsible for their existence in the first place. She’s someone I’d like to know better.

Yesterday we threw our windows open to let in the air and witnessing people using the green over the whole day gave me a feeling of lightness and of happiness. And of the confirmation, yet again, of the importance of green space close to where people live. It’s not a big space but it matters. The people living in this area live in a combination of whole houses, flats that are created from those houses, and social housing. No matter what we live in, we share a common lack of green space of our own. The houses are huge, but they are not blessed with large gardens; certainly they’re not big enough to kick a football. So having somewhere across the street for a run about is vital. Study after study has proven the importance of the natural environment for people’s physical and mental well-being, and although the occasional trip to a National Park is a wonderful thing, what people do in their everyday life matters more.

I’m very thankful to see our community start to come alive and to use the green. And I look forward to becoming more involved in it as the spring turns into summer…

February 18, 2014

The Leeds Minimalist Group.

On October 21st, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus aka The Minimalists, will be arriving in Leeds as part of their international ‘Everything That Remains’  book tour, and in anticipation of that, a local group has been established to welcome them to our fair city but also for us to chat about minimalism and provide some support to each other. Our esteemed leader, Wendy, describes the meetings as ‘probably the most fun, enlightening and interesting experience of your life…’ And so I went along to the first gathering with high expectations!

Thankfully, Wendy is completely brilliant, and so that first meeting was held in a pub and not only was there beer, but there was also free food. There is basically nothing better at bringing people together than food and beer so the chat flowed freely as we all introduced ourselves and talked about our backgrounds and why we were interested in minimalism. Everyone had their story to tell and it was a fascinating and truly fun evening.

Now, long term readers of this blog will know these things about me:

1 — Habitually, I’m a collector. From Blythe dolls to vintage Penguin paperbacks, I have always loved a good collection. I blame my antique dealing parents for that!

2 – Despite this, I’m on an unexpected journey—because of big changes in my life— towards a minimalist lifestyle.

For me, having a collection that you love and have meaning for you isn’t the same as Keeping Up with the Jones’ — a competitive fast-track to debt and anxiety. Mindless spending on stuff is where my problem lies and, as I’ve been more mindful about where I spend my money, that has, in turn, reduced my level of possessions. From shopping locally, to operating my ‘one in, one out’ paperback book collection, I am making lots of changes which are having a beneficial effect on my stress levels and my bank balance. I may even be sending those Penguin books off to the charity shop…

I may never reach the levels of minimalism as my boyfriend, who has 100 items that will all fit into one bag (if you exclude his bike), but I do have very few possessions now and a genuine interest in continuing the journey towards reducing them even more. Fewer things means more head-space, I’ve found.  Plus, by getting rid of all the clutter, the possessions I want to keep have the space to shine. For me, simplicity and minimalism is fast becoming a route to happiness.

If you have any interest in minimalism at all, or even a curiosity to see what a group of people who get together to talk about this looks like, please do come along to the next gathering. I promise you that it’ll be fun, you’ll be made really welcome and you may come away with a desire to join in with us!

The next gathering will take place in The Tetley Bar and Kitchen. The gallery is open until 8pm if you wish to visit before the meetup starts. Entrance is free.

Date: Thursday 6th March

Time: From 8pm

Location: The Tetley Bar and Kitchen, The Tetley, Hunslet Road, Leeds LS10 1JQ

Hope to see you there…

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Margot and Barbara is changing! I’d really appreciate your feedback. Click HERE to take part. Thank you 🙂

February 11, 2014

Living Naturally Soapnut shampoo bar.

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In an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic we use, I’ve been reviewing all my toiletries. I know already that I’ll decide not to replace some things; I’m very attached to my favourite beauty products!  Because of this, I’ve been going for quick wins where I have no emotional resistance. Shampoo was first on my list.

I have no particular brand preference but my dry, curly hair has to be washed, or at least dampened every day. Goodness knows what I do in my sleep but I always wake up with it sticking up like a scarecrow. The daily washing doesn’t help with the dryness though—although I rarely use a hairdryer so at least it’s not getting heat damaged too.

My friend Jo suggested soapnuts as a solution to my packaging dilemma, and gave me this Soapnut shampoo bar from Living Nature to try. Soapnuts are basically dried husks of the berries from the soapnut tree. You can find out more by clicking here. They’re really good for people with excema or skin conditions that react badly to the chemicals in a lot of toiletries or laundry products, so if you or a member of your family suffer in this way they’re definitely worth investigating.

The soapnut bar I tried is apparently suitable for the whole body as well as the hair, but I decided to approach it the old-fashioned way for this trial, and just washed my hair in the sink. The bar lathered up quite nicely and it definitely felt like it was doing a good job of cleaning my hair. What I hadn’t initially realised is that, as well as the soapnuts and Dead Sea salt, the soap bar also contains several oils (olive, coconut, palm and castor) which left my hair feeling really moisturised. I think if you have oily hair already, this might not feel so great, but it helped combat the frizz I get with my dry hair so was a real benefit to me.

Other ingredients in the bar are essential oils of lavender, rosemary, cedarwood and cypress, so it smells gorgeous, slightly medicinal and woody. I think it probably goes without saying, but it’s also handmade, vegan and free of any chemicals.

I really enjoyed this product and, given that the oils help with the dryness of my hair, it might have actually helped me to find a replacement for styling products too! Definitely a keeper…and it’s made me wonder what other soapnut products we could try.

Have you tried any soapnut products? Or other packaging-free shampoo? I’d love to hear from you!

 

January 28, 2014

Living without supermarkets: blog inspiration

Our’Living without Supermarkets‘ challenge continues. We do have our failures, but overall, things are going well. I refuse to beat myself up if we have to venture into the Co-op for the occasional item, life isn’t perfect. The main thing is to keep trying.

Our reasons for reducing our reliance on supermarkets continue to be:

1: Spreading the wealth. I heard a statistic a while ago that said of every four pounds spent in the UK, one of those is spent in Tesco. This may not be true, but it still made me shudder a bit. I’d like to put money in the hands of more than just a handful of multinationals.

2: Keeping our local stores and markets alive. With the British high streets and giant shopping malls up and down the country turning into a homogenised experience, you could probably be parachuted into many of them and simply not know where you were because of the identikit brands. Supporting those independent retailers who are fighting against this tide is important to me.

3: Eating seasonally.  Buying from local growers, producers and suppliers as well as eating what I’ve grown myself, helps to ensure that for some of the time at least, we’re eating with the seasons.

4: Less packaging waste. Our vegetables are delivered in a cardboard box that is returned for re-use time and again. Buying from a local market stall means paper bags instead of plastic – these can be composted. In many cases, I take a cotton bag and dispense with packaging altogether. There are many ways to reduce packaging by shopping locally.

Since starting on this journey, I’ve discovered and been inspired by many, many other folk. A handful of those are here:

The inimitable Mammasaurus has written a lovely, uplifting series of posts on supporting local suppliers.

You’ll find great supermarket-free and plastic-free posts over on Westywrites.

On My Make Do and Mend Year, the incredibly inspiring Jen writes about a variety of subjects, initially based around her year of not buying anything new. She writes passionately about upcycling, transition, community and positivity. I love this site and learn a lot.

Over on A Year without Supermarkets, Team Pugh are basically doing just that – living without supermakets. I’ve only just discovered this great site and I know I’ll return.

Are there any other great blog about going supermarket-free or plastic-free? Or do you write about eating seasonally, sustainable living or minimalism? I’d love to hear from you! 

January 23, 2014

Five gift ideas for Valentine’s Day.

In a couple of weeks it will be Valentine’s Day.  A day with a murky history involving the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a few executions and those pesky greetings card-makers getting us to spend our money — apparently it’s the second largest card giving day of the year after Christmas. However, even though I haven’t received a Valentine’s Day gift since a boy at school gave me a pack of Parma Violets (cue sad violin music) I’m not going to let that stop me from feeling optimistic about a day dedicated to love. 

For those of you looking for gift ideas for Valentine’s Day — or any day in which you might choose to declare your love through the medium of presents!—here are a few ideas.

One: Tattly tattoos.

Ok, so your idea of romance may not include a new tattoo (though I know a good number of people for whom a new tattoo definitely falls into ‘great gift’ territory) but these ones won’t hang around for long. Perfect for a new romance? And these pink hearts from Bekka Palmer at Tattly are glittery

Tattly sparkly heart tattoo

Image: Tattly

Two: David Austin roses.

Ah, roses. Ubiquitous on Valentine’s Day. If you’re going to buy roses, get them right. And the ones from David Austin are expensive but utterly glorious.

Three: A beautiful edition of a favourite book

For me, there’s nothing that says ‘I love you’ more than a special edition of a favourite book. Partly because books are the key to my heart but also because if someone takes the time to know what your favourite book is, they’re really rather special. For me, that would be ‘I Capture The Castle’ or a first edition Ruby Ferguson ‘Jill’ book, to help me complete my collection. The clothbound editions of classics from Penguin are also gorgeous.  I’ve chosen my favourite Austen novel, but the collection ranges from Emma to Dracula and Dante’s Inferno if you want to make some kind of point about a relationship!

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Image: Penguin

 Four: The Nutter

I’ll admit, this list is getting very personal, because I’m assuming that you might have someone in your life who cycles. And if you do, then this would make them very happy indeed. The Nutter is a cycling multi-tool from Full Windsor (crowd-funded through Kickstarter, incidentally) presented in gorgeous leather roll. It’s both beautiful and useful.  I’d love one…and then I’d love someone to teach me how to use it!

The Nutter

Image: Full Windsor

Five: Time

The gift of time together is something that money cannot buy. A special date night, a long Sunday afternoon walk, a night at the cinema or cooking dinner with a glass of wine. Put aside your phone, switch off the TV and spend some quality time together. Perfect.

Have a lovely Valentine’s Day, however you choose to spend it.

January 21, 2014

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend sees the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The birds that live in your garden, and in the trees outside my flat, are a great indicator of the health of the natural environment. Although the decline in farmland birds continues to be a source of concern and a priority for biodiversity specialists, the number and diversity of birds in our back gardens is something we can all do something about, by feeding the birds over the winter, providing habitat – instead of cutting down trees and replacing green with tarmac or decking – and planting pollinator-attracting plants (which will in turn attract insect eating birds!)

The RSPB are asking that we join in with the Big Garden Birdwatch by spending an hour of the upcoming weekend recording the number and variety of birds we see in our gardens. I don’t even have to go outside to do this, so plan to spend a nice leisurely hour with a cup of tea and a notebook.

By joining in, not only will you be making a contribution to a vitally important study, when you register to take part you will also receive a £5 voucher to spend in the RSPB shop – I’ve got my eye on a new bird feeder to accompany the wildly successful first one we attached to our window last month.

Alongside the hour long study, the RSPB are running a series of Big Garden Birdwatch events, and have lots of ideas of how you can help care for the birds over the winter. I do hope you’ll get involved!

Blue Tit illustration

Blue Tit: Image from RSPB

January 18, 2014

Photo of my week #1

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Finding time to study this week has been a challenge…

January 14, 2014

A Year of Ethical Fashion

The brainchild of the famous Pip Lincolne of ‘Meet me at Mikes’, the Year of Ethical Fashion is a blogger challenge that I first came across when Ruthy of Minibreak Mummy wrote this post about Who Made Your Pants? – an ethical underwear company.

Pip’s challenge is for people to:

  • wear clothes you already own
  • buy from ethical companies
  • make your own clothing
  • buy second-hand and vintage
  • swap with other folk

This subject resonates heavily with me, as I have long raged about cheap fashion. The nasty truth is that if you’re paying very little for your clothing, the chances are that someone, somewhere is paying a far heftier price. A lack of regulated working conditions, no sick or maternity pay, no regular breaks for food or the toilet, not to mention horrific factory disasters such as the recent fire in Bangladesh; the worst disaster in the garment industry’s history. And this is even before we start talking about child labour.

My own rules for clothing purchases have long been this:

  • Only buy what you NEED – and then wear your clothes, don’t leave them languishing in a wardrobe with the tags still on because you’ve got so much stuff!
  • Only buy what you LOVE – that way you’re not wasting money, resources and someone’s work on something you’re ambivalent about. (I realise that necessary clothing might not fit into this – but I think that work clothes that make you feel good do actually make life better…)
  • Look after your clothes properly. Wash according to the instructions. Take proper care of your belongings. Realise that resources are not infinite and treat them accordingly.
  • Get stuff repaired – I had my beloved (only) pair of jeans repaired at the end of last year, and they have months of life in them now.

One final point. The campaigning group Labour Behind The Label, suggest that one thing we could all do, regardless of where we shop, is to write to clothing companies and ask them about their labour policies. The more pressure they receive, especially from their customers (because that’s where their profit lies!) the more likely they are to improve their supply chain and those people who are making our clothes for us will receive a fairer deal. Sounds like an excellent idea to me. Take a look HERE for their guidance on doing this. 

I’ll be following this challenge with interest this year (and wearing what I already own) and I’m really hoping to come across some new ethical companies in the process.

A Year of Ethical Fashion

December 22, 2013

Photo of my Week.

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I took this photo in the Alpine House in RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate, where I visited last weekend on my bike. I’ve made the decision this week to re-start my horticulture study with a view to taking my RHS Level 2 qualification in June and I’m really excited about it.