Brace yourself

We have lived in our house for nearly 20 years now and, in line with our general ethos of trying to reduce our impact on the environment, we have done our best to make things last. Eventually, however, there comes a time when the fixtures and fittings need replacing, We’ve been aware that our kitchen cabinets have been getting more and more tatty in recent years.

We started talking, a couple of years ago, about having them replaced. I got Tim (the wonderful cabinet maker who built our pine cupboards) to look at them with a view to him constructing a whole new kitchen for us. However, he was of the opinion that this was unnecessary – the carcasses of the units were very robust and he suggested that just replacing the doors would be the way forward. I searched and searched for ‘off the shelf’ doors that would match the ones Tim had made before, but had no joy, so I gave the job to him.

He constructed traditional ledge-and-brace doors from pine. and even managed to reuse most of the original hinges. In addition, he was able to clad the ends of the cupboards to make them look even smarter. He also put new fronts on the drawers.

Finally, he was able to modify one of the cupboards so that it has a back door. This may sound odd, but supporting our breakfast bar is a big corner cupboard… you know the sort – so big that things get pushed to the back, never to see the light of day again. Usually, of couse, these are in the corner of a room, but not so ours – it just had a wooden back on it. I asked Tim if he could remove the back and fit doors so that I could access it from either direction and, being the skilled carpenter that he is, he had no problem building a frame, modifying the shelf and fitting additional doors.

You can even see a door of the original cupboard Tim build for us a couple of years ago in the background of the last picture!

So, our kitchen has been rejuvenated. In the end, all the wood, two hinges and the screws were new and three of the existing hinges also had to be replaced. The wood was sourced from a local sawmill and the work was done by a local craftsman – now, that’s my sort of revamp. I feel that we’ve managed to make an enormous improvement whist making use of as many of the existing materials as possible. At some point I’ll have the work surfaces replaced, but they are ok for now and I’m still pondering suitable materials.

I am a very happy snail.

ScrapHappy June 2019

A very small ScrapHappy this month.

Mr Snail has a friend at work who’s just got a rescue cat… a poor kitty who has, so far, spent its life living in a garage. It now has a much more pampered existence and so I thought that it deserved a little present. I dug out at bit of scrap yarn and created little mousey:

hello Mr Mousey

No pattern, I just made it up as I went along. Its eyes and nose were made of a tiny length of left-over sock yarn and it’s filled with (new) wool filling. I hope kitty enjoys it.

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate,  Tall Tales from Chiconia. On the fifteenth of every month lots of other folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan (me)Karen,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki and Sue

If you fancy joining, contact Kate and she’ll add you to the list. It would be lovely to see more non-sewing posts, but any use of scraps is welcome.

We need to talk about plastic

Today I want to discuss plastic… it’s in the news a lot at the moment and it is always portrayed as being evil. Well, I want to say that I disagree. Please stick with me on this and I’ll explain why I’m worried about the huge number of “plastic-free [insert town name here]” initiatives that are springing up and the way that plastic is presented currently in the media.

Language is very important, what we call things affects the way we perceive them. Call it “global warming” and the immediate image (in the UK at least) is nicer summers; call it “climate change” and that just means things are going to be different, and, after all, we all know that “a change is as good as a rest”; but call it “catastrophic climate breakdown” and there are no comfortable images to hide behind. See what I mean?

The limery… a good use of plastic?

And so to “plastic-free” towns and cities. I know this term has been coined because it’s short and snappy, but it’s also very misleading. Think what your town would be without any plastic; think what your home would be without plastic, First, all my windows would fall out, I wouldn’t be writing this because I wouldn’t have a computer; my sewing machine (mainly metal) wouldn’t have any knobs; the limery wouldn’t exist… I could go on, but you get the drift. The idea of being plastic-free, just doesn’t make sense in our modern world. What we really need to do is stop using plastic indiscriminately and unnecessarily. I don’t even mean that we should abandon single-use plastics, because there are cases where they do much more good than harm: minimising food waste, for example.

However, there are many, many uses of plastic (and other materials) that are completely unnecessary. Ages ago I wrote a post about buying a new set of earphones and the amount of packaging (plastic and card); once unwrapped I was able to fit the entire contents into a matchbox although the original pack was measured 13 x 14 x 4.2cm. Many items that don’t need any packaging at all (cauliflowers, for example) come surrounded by it and many items that are in a container (e.g. a bottle) have some additional card or plastic surrounding them. Lets cut down on such unnecessary use of any materials, plastic or otherwise.

Lots of products come with a plastic “tool” in every pack – balls for dispensing laundry liquid in the washing machine, for example, or scoops in tubs of stain remover. In all likelihood, the ball for laundry liquid will last hundreds of washes and certainly doesn’t need replacing with every bottle. These unnecessary items are bound to end up being discarded because, even if you can think of an alternative use for a few of them, there is a limit. So, they end up in landfill or going to be recycled.

And, of course, there are things that we really should just stop making because they are completely unnecessary and highly damaging to the environment. My greatest irritation in this respect is balloons – especially those filled with helium, a rare and precious element in itself. And the idea of deliberately releasing ballons at events makes me so cross – we might as well go and chuck our plastic waste in the local river.

However, I still think plastic is a good thing when used wisely. In addition, we have a lot of the stuff already around and simply stopping using plastic items does not address this fact. I occasionally read of people discarding all their plastic containers in favour of glass and metal in the kitchen and I think of all the waste being created. There are issues with storing food in plastic (see, for example the efsa information on Bisphenol A, a chemical found in many plastic food containers and linings of food containers such as steel cans), but these can, to some extent, be mitigated by enclosing the food in another wrapper before putting it into the plastic container and also ensuring that you never heat food in the microwave in plastic containers. As with most things, the best way to reduce your impact on the environment is to keep using what you have and not just throw it away and buy something that’s marketed as being more environmentally friendly (hello “greenwash”).

But, what about all that plastic that we are finished with? What about all that plastic that’s polluting our seas and land? Well, here’s the thing: it already exists and we need to think very carefully about how we deal with it. Currently, far too much plastic is simply discarded – being complacent because it goes in the recycling bin is not the answer. Recycling is not the magic solution we would like to imagine, and recycling only works for certain types of plastic under certain circumstances. Similarly, adopting the attitude that all plastic is evil and to be shunned is not helpful. What we need is a sensible approach to dealing with the plastic that has come to the end of its useful life and to that end, we need to use it again, Without a market for recycled plastic products, there is no incentive to do anything other than discard it. So, if you want to buy something made of plastic, have a look to see if there’s a recycled version and, if not, contact the manufacturers and tell them you want to see one.

Some of the big pots already in use for growing peas and beans

Recently I wanted to get some large pots to increase our available growing space. Now, whilst terracotta pots look good, they are heavy and cumbersome to move, especially when full of compost and containing a plant. I was, therefore, delighted to find some 35 litre pots, with handles and made of recycled plastic. It seems to me that this is exactly the sort of thing we should be using recycled plastic for – they are destined to have a long and productive life and deliver many years of vegetable-growing.

So, yet again we return to the 3Rs, in order of priority: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

REDUCE: if we don’t need it, let’s not produce it in the first place.

REUSE: once we have an item, let’s get the maximum use possible out of it – for its original purpose or for something new. Single-use items are bad for the environment and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary (which is sometimes the case… let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water).

RECYCLE: when we’ve had the maximum possible use out of a particular item, let’s recycle the materials and treat them as a valuable resource.

And this is not just the responsibility of individuals – this is something we have to demand from producers and politicians. So, as well as RRR, do some writing. I encourage you to tell manufacturers and retailers what you want: let them know that simply substituting one thing for another is not good enough: we want to see a reduction in packaging, we want to be able to have containers refilled, for example. In addition, let’s try to force the issue by changing the law – write to your elected representatives.

So, what plastic items would you ban? What alternatives would you prefer? And who is responsible?

What a difference a yarn makes

I haven’t been very creative over the past few days… the gum infection transformed into an abscess, the antibiotics made me feel extremely unwell and I had to have emergency dental treatment last Friday. It’s the first time a dentist has ever had to take my pulse and that treatment has had to be suspended whilst I’m prevented from fainting! Oh well… I’m feeling somewhat better today and I’m waiting for an appointment to have a root canal, although I’m back at the dentists for a review tomorrow. Anyway…

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My Yarndale haul

Before all this happened I started (and it seems like ages ago now) knitting a shawl using the beautiful Little Grey Sheep mini-skeins that I bought at Yarndale last autumn. I realise now that I never shared with you much about my visit to Yarndale with my dear friend Mrs Robinson. We decided to go with specific projects in mind and one of mine was to get some interesting colours to use for a shawl pattern I’d had a hankering to make for ages – the Leftie Shawl. In the end I selected six colours: green, pale yellow, bright yellow, orange, pink and purple (for some reason the orange is obscured in the picture of my Yarndale haul – that gold with the big band is for a different project).

I already had a ball of Little Grey Sheep wool left over from the Poison Oak top that I made last year and I thought that this would be perfect for the main neutral colour, allowing all those bright yarns to shine. So, I started off, using the size of needles suggested… and quickly became disillusioned: the colours seemed diminished and the material I was creating stiff and not at all drapy, as I envisioned the shawl

At this stage of creating anything it’s hard to stop – you’ve already put some work in and it feels like a waste to give up. But I didn’t like it. This thing that I had wanted to make for months and months wasn’t turning out well. So, taking a big deep breath, I started again, still using the coloured mini-skeins, but this time with larger needles and some of the fabulous Milburn yarn from Eden Cottage yarns. I had too much of this for the project it was bought for (one that’s currently on hold), so this was going spare. Milburn contains some silk, so it creates a fabric with much more natural drape than pure wool.

And I wasn’t disappointed, the new shawl looks and feels much more like my vision. The coloured wool helps it to keep its structure and the soft silk and wool means it should be a joy to wear. Here they are for comparison, new on the left, original on the right.

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the two versions

Sadly the picture makes them look much more similar than they actually are, but, take it from me (and the Knit Night gang) the one on the left is much more striking than the one on the right.

Despite no progress over the last few days, prior to that I had done quite a lot and I’m rather pleased to be creating something with colours that I wouldn’t normally choose, but that I really do love. I’m so glad that I started again.

My health or the planet’s?

The other day I had an e-mail from Patricia with the possible text for a blog post. Here is what she wrote:

IMGP6953I was tempted to call this Scrap Unhappy, but will refrain and remain positive, but I am concerned with medical waste.  Not on the huge hospital scale, but my own small domestic waste from the first aid box and prescription and non-prescription drugs.

I just finished a bottle of medicine and was rinsing out the bottle recalling a time when medicine bottles were returned to the chemist for re-use. Now that is impossible, but I can recycle both the glass bottle and the hard plastic top in my council doorstep collection. But that’s about all that is recyclable in my home pharmacy.

At the beginning of this year I went through my first aid box, not a job I’d done before and I’m ashamed at how many out of date items I found and more to the point of this blog, disturbed by how much plastic was in there. Long gone are the days when first aid meant linen bandages and cotton wool, lint and little gold safety pins. Tubes of antiseptic and cream for insect bites etc all needed replacing and although I couldn’t stick to my preferred brands, which all came in plastic,  I was happy to find how many products were available in metal tubes. I found Weleda especially helpful and their staff were as knowledgeable about their packaging as their products. Their package arrived in paper, card and potato starch based pellets that would bring a smile to the sternest Snail.  But plasters – what are they? Micropore? What is it? How are they to be disposed? When they have been used on wounds, I feel the only way that meets both health and safety demands of disposal is burning, but otherwise? And what of those bits that come off plasters?  Has anyone moved away from these plasters in pursuit of something greener?

However the real trouble started when I looked at my prescription and non-prescription tablets. They all come in blister packs. As far as I can tell none of them, not even a simple aspirin or antacid is available in a bottle. And what are blister packs? It seems as if there is no requirement for medicines to contain information about safe disposal beyond the safe disposal i.e. return to the pharmacy, of the drugs themselves. I once gardened for a large community and a member of that community took her daily walk after lunch around the grounds. She took with her, her daily pill and one could follow her progress by the tiny metallic plastic top that had come from the blister packed pill. Now I guess we could make our way across the planet following this and other home medicine spoor.

Has anyone else tried to ‘green up’ their home remedies? I’d love to hear from you or can you please point me to others addressing this.

What an interesting post I thought… I’ll put that up later in the week… and then I got toothache…

… not just an irritating ache, but real, powerful pain that had me scurrying for strong painkillers and a hot water bottle and then, as quickly as possible, to the dentist, followed by the pharmacy, where Patricia’s words came back to me.

IMGP6956So, here I am this evening, still with my hot water bottle, but also with various types of medication all in an abundance of packaging. Turns out that I most likely have a gum infection, so there are antibiotics (blister pack/cardboard box), then I needed strong painkillers (blister pack/cardboard box) and interdental brushes (plastic and cardboard packaging plus their plastic handles and bristles) and antiseptic mouthwash (plastic bottle).

Well, there go my environmental credentials as soon as I have a medical problem. Perhaps there are alternatives to some of these products that have less or more environmentally friendly packaging, but when you are literally crying with pain, it’s not the time to seek them out.

And I’m not the only one in our household with dental issues. Daisy has rather poor teeth. I do clean them with a brush (plastic) and doggy toothpaste (hurrah! metal tube), but she also has a tooth cleaning chew every day and these come in a box with several plastic packs each containing a few chews. However, I have recently found an alternative. It is possible to buy unpackaged dental health chews from our local big chain pet shop, who simply put an elastic band around them. Next time I buy some, I will take my own container so they can go straight in that.

I genuinely understand why it is considered best practice to put tablets into blister packs, but I can’t help feeling that if we trust our pharmacists to dispense the correct drugs, we could perhaps trust them to put those drugs in a bottle for us too. And certainly over-the-counter medication could easily be sold in sealed, returnable bottles, as used to be the case.

Anyway, I’m now going to take some of those strong painkillers, so you may not get any sense out of me for a while…

Shepherding the lost sheep

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Chrissy and one of her many spinning wheels

Unlike Little Bo Peep’s sheep, which would, apparently, return home of their own accord ‘wagging their tails behind them’, most sheep need a shepherd – someone to guide then, nurture them, heft them and ensure their well-being. Sadly, it appears that many farmers and shepherds could, themselves, also do with such care and attention… and so, I’d like to introduce you to Chrissy Smith, an amazing woman doing her bit to help the sheep farmers of Wales.

Interested in Welsh sheep breeds and discovering a few years ago that their wool was not really being understood and effectively marketed by the farmers who produced it, Chrissy decided to take action. So, she established The Lost Sheep Company. By understanding the properties of the wool of different Welsh sheep breeds, farmers can appreciate the value of what they produce and consumers can select wool that will do the job they want. So Chrissy is on a mission to get everyone (producers and users) to appreciate the value of wool, especially wool from the traditional Welsh breeds: Balwen, Beulah Speckled Face, Black Welsh Mountain, Jacob, Kerry Hill, Llanwenog, Lleyn, Ryeland and Welsh Mule.

On her web site, Chrissy provides a wealth of information, from how to roll a fleece, to the characteristics of wool from the different breeds. In her shop (well, heritage craft centre really) in Colwyn Bay she sells fleeces, hand spun yarn and equipment, restores old spinning wheels and runs and hosts classes. She buys fleeces from local farmers for ten times the price that the wool marketing board pays (which is often just pennies per kilo), processes them in a couple of old twin tub washing machines and works her magic with natural dyes.

In 2017 Chrissy was involved in reviving the tradition of the Conwy Wool Fair and she’s hoping to make this an annual event.  In fact, what she’s seeking to do is to re-introduce the traditional Wool Charter Market in Conwy – the right, granted by royal charter, to close off the streets and hold a market to trade wool once a year. Apparently, she’s got Prince Charles on the case trying to track down the original charter. Now wouldn’t that be an event worth going to?

We met Chrissy during the Knit for Peace Wool Hunt weekend and, for me, visiting her shop and hearing about her work was one of the highlights. I am always inspired by people who see a problem and take action, and you don’t get more active than this. If you are ever in north Wales, The Lost Sheep Company is really worth a visit.

ScrapHappy May 2019

In keeping with my recent activities, this month’s ScrapHappy is in the garden.

It’s a busy time of year for a gardener. Sowing seeds, potting up, transplanting and preparing beds for planting all seem to need to be done at the same time. If you visit your local garden centre, you are led to believe that you must buy all sorts of items to ensure that your garden grows, but there are also many scrappy solutions and I thought I’d share a few with you.

Many items, such as plant pots and labels can be used time and again, but when they finally come to the end of their life, there are alternatives. Recently I have used a couple of plastic buckets (that originally contained fat balls for the wild birds) to plant courgettes in, having punched some holes in the bottom for drainage. I cut up old plastic milk cartons to use for plant labels and these last for years – I write on them with a marker pen and clean them off each year with a bit of methylated spirit. My lettuce is planted in an old fish box that a neighbour found washed up on the beach and the pots containing my young pepper plants are currently sitting in an old polystyrene insulated mailing box that keeps them warm and acts as a water tray. I look at all moulded plastic packaging to see if part of it is the right shape for a pot holder and cut out the useful bit if it is. Punnets that have had fruit in (grapes or strawberries, perhaps) make ideal little seed trays, and they usually have holes in the bottom already; the ones with integral lids can even act as a tiny greenhouse when you are germinating seeds. And squirty bottles containing cleaning products can be thoroughly washed out and used as small garden sprayers, for things like foliar feed.

All these items are the sort of thing that gets thrown away on a daily basis, and even if they could be recycled, reuse is always a better option.

These are just a few examples of scrappy re-use in my garden; there are plenty of others involving pallets (see Mr Snail’s blog for an abundance of these), an old rotary clothes drier, electrical cables, mushroom trays and more. Do you have any scrappy gardening solutions?

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate,  Tall Tales from Chiconia. On the fifteenth of every month lots of other folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan (me)Karen,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki and Sue (who I have just persuaded to join in)

If you fancy joining, contact Kate and she’ll add you to the list. It would be lovely to see more non-sewing posts, but any use of scraps is welcome.

Dame Hilary, in the Library, with the Knitting Needles

In the United States of America there is a network of Presidential libraries and a library has been established for every president since Herbert Hoover, each located in their home state. In the UK we don’t have such a network, so there is only a single Prime Ministerial library: Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden in Wales.

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Gladstone’s Library

Being the only Prime Ministerial library is not the only thing that makes this place unusual, it is also the largest (some sources say only) residential library in the country. It’s a place that has fascinated me ever since I first heard of it and so, when I saw that Knit for Peace were running a short knitting holiday there, I couldn’t resist.

Last Saturday, therefore, saw me arriving at this amazing building, ready to enjoy meeting other knitters in some impressive surroundings. Outside, there are gardens and an area of woodland, but it is the building that is really impressive, both outside:

and inside

The books are mainly history and theology, so no light reading, but they are accessible on the shelves and you can even sign them out if you are staying and take them back to your room to read. However, I wasn’t really there to read, I was there to knit, socialise and visit some woolly places… which is just what we did.

Upon arrival, we congregated in the sitting room, where I was surprised to be introduced to the founder of the Charities Advisory Trust (the parent organisation of Knit for Peace) Dame Hillary Blume. Two other members of staff also attended the weekend as well as a number of their regular volunteers, meaning that I got to hear lots about their work, from who curates the wool collections for the monthly raffle (which I won last autumn)to the compilation of the Good Gifts Catalogue and what day of the week they have cake in the office.

Each day we went out and about, visiting local wool producers/ retailers, making trips to Abakhan, Black Sheep Wools, The Lost Sheep Company and the Chester Wool Company/Fibrespates, returning to the library to knit and chat. To be honest there was rather more chatting than knitting, and indeed so much chatting that at least two of us (me being one) had to frog some of our work because we made mistakes whilst getting distracted by the conversations!

So, the weekend was a great success – money was raised for the charity, lovely places were visited, knitting was knitted, crochet was crocheted, conversations were had and I made a hat from some of my raffle winnings (it will be returned to Knit for Peace, who will find it a good home).

Church 1 : Council 0

Saint Deiniol’s Church in Hawarden in Flintshire boasts the most beautiful churchyard in the spring. First come the snowdrops, then come the daffodils and finally the bluebells arrive, accompanied by a host of other wild flowers. This glorious succession is allowed to progress and is available for all to enjoy. Not until all these flowers have finished is the area cut, thus ensuring that woody species don’t encroach and the cycle will be maintained.

Just across the road, are the two council cemeteries, where the grass is mown to within an inch of its life.

I certainly know which I (and the wildlife) prefer.

Make soil not war

I have been feeling extremely glum over the past couple of days, reading more and more about the myriad ways we are screwing up our planet, particularly with respect to climate change. What saddens me most is the lack of foresight of politicians and those who wield power (political or economic). For example:

  • Sadiq Khan telling the Extinction Rebellion protestors that London needs to get back to “business as usual”, when that’s exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.
  • The supervisory board of Bayer supporting the CEO, despite 55% of shareholders voting to express their concern over the company’s acquisition of Monsanto… and all the issues associated with the fact that glyphosate (remember that “benign” weedkiller Roundup?) has now been scientifically linked to cancer. OK, the shareholders are probably concerned over profitability, but even so, the board still don’t care.
  • A report (the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Report) extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet that, it emerges, was funded by global “food” businesses that make ultra-processed junk in their factories and (mis)sell it as being healthy for both people and planet… when reliable research is increasingly demonstrating the value of extensive, grass-fed livestock production for building soil and sequestering carbon and the adverse effects of diets that do not include nutrient-dense food, but rely on excessive carbohydrate intake. If you are interested, you can read more here.

I could go on, but it’s just too depressing.

Sometimes I feel as if I might as well embark on a gigantic shopping spree and sod the planet because it’s buggered anyway. And then I go into the limery and see what’s growing…

And so I remember the joy that comes with growing and nurturing the plants in a garden… a practical thing, but so, so important.

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a bed of potatoes

On Sunday, outdoors, I planted potatoes – one of the raised beds is now full. I saved the sprouting tubers from last year’s harvest, so there will really be no food miles when these produce a crop. This bed was constructed on an area where, when we moved to the house in 1999, there was no topsoil. We’ve worked very hard to create conditions suitable for growing vegetables. Whilst I was planting, Mr Snail scythed the front garden (man-power not fossil fuels) and the cuttings went in the compost bin, to be resurrected in months to come as vegetables. So, in our future we have peppers and chillies and courgettes and squashes and potatoes and lettuce and beans and peas and carrots and parsnips and kale… the carnivores will keep the flies under control, the passionflower will bring joy to our eyes and eventually we might even pick an avocado (the plant came out of my sister’s compost heap!).

If you read about combatting climate change, you will find all sorts of great suggestions, but for me, the greatest joy comes with growing. Nurturing your growing space – whether it’s a tiny terrace or a vast farm – is a real practical way to help the planet. In particular, making compost and building your soil is a wonderful and effective way to lock up carbon. So, whether you are composing with bokashi in an urban apartment or have vast hot compost beds on your allotment or smallholding, keep at it. These are genuine ways to save the world… and even if the politicians and big food succeed in their drive towards planetary annihilation, at least you’ll have a salad to eat whist the world collapses around you.

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