Things I can learn from Max

As some of you already know, our doggy buddy Max finally passed away a couple of weeks ago. It was very peaceful, but has left me feeling very sad. I am trying to remember the lessons that he taught me, so here’s a little reminder for you too…

The Snail of Happiness

I am very unsettled. The presence (and absence) of builders over the past few weeks means I don’t feel particularly relaxed.

First, every morning, there’s the will they/won’t they arrive question. Then if they don’t turn up first thing the issue of whether I should release the chickens to free range, or whether the builders will appear later and then I’ll have chicken wrangling to deal with. If they do arrive there is disturbance and noise, even though the workers are all very nice and deeply apologetic when they need to ask for something. I had hoped that it would all be over in three weeks, but it’s going to go on longer than that.

In an attempt to work out how I should get through the next few weeks, I have been observing Max, who seems to take this sort of thing completely in his stride (well, shuffle, really)…

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All washed up

For some time we have been struggling to find suitable, biodegradable washing-up equipment. Mr Snail (who does most of the washing-up) likes to use a brush. Most brushes for this job are plastic and the bristles get flattened very quickly, making them useless. First, I found a recycled plastic version with a replaceable head, but the quality was so poor that the head needed replacing after only a few uses. Then, I was delighted to find a wooden brush with natural plant-fibre bristles and replaceable heads. I bought one, along with spare heads, and we gave it a try. Sadly, the heads seemed to last only a short time too, were a less than ideal shape (round) for getting into all the nooks and crannies and repeatedly fell off the handle. Eventually Mr Snail refused to use them any more and returned to a standard plastic brush. The quest continues to find a washing-up brush that actually delivers all we need: a good shape, durable and made from natural materials.

Mostly, I prefer to wash up using a cloth. Crochet cotton cloths are fine unless you want some abrasion and my old abrasive cloth, which I have had for years but is very worn, is plastic (nylon possibly). I was happy, therefore, that Red Apple Yarn sells textured cotton dishcloth yarn and I just had to give it a go. I decided that a loose mesh was likely to prove most useful, and whipped up a crocheted dish cloth in double quick time. I tested it out this morning* and it does a good job, although is only a bit abrasive (it felt more so when I was working it up). For me this is likely to be a good option; for Mr Snail the quest for the perfect brush continues.

-oOo-

* I washed up because Mr Snail was still in bed recovering from yesterday’s 21-mile sponsored walk.

Too late for me

Long-time readers will recall my struggle to give up teabags because of the plastic they contained. Before I made the switch to loose leaf tea, I tried in vain to persuade Clipper, the company whose teabags I used to buy, to change their product. I wrote to them in 2014…

Dear Clipper
On your ‘our story’ web page you publish the following statement:
“Always a pure, natural product – there isn’t a single artificial ingredient in any of our products.”
However, in your FAQs, I discover that
‘Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic’.
Oh, I’m so disappointed! As someone who is trying to live more sustainably, I want to eliminate as much single-use plastic from my life as possible. I love your organic tea bags, but feel that I’m going to have to revert to loose tea because of the presence of this plastic. Yes, I know it’s a small amount, but it’s still there and it all adds up.
Please, please could you consider ways of making tea bags without the plastic? I know it would make you very popular with customers like me who care deeply about the environment and the products we buy.
Many thanks
Dr Jan Martin

… and they wrote back…

Dear Dr. Martin,
Thank you for contacting us here at Clipper – it is lovely to hear from you!
With regards to your concerns about their being plastic within tea bags we can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.
In terms of Clipper packaging in general we can confirm that we do not use PLA material (the biodegradable material used for some pyramid bags and other plastic packaging) as it is derived from corn which may be from GM sources.
Best regards

Hayley Butler
Consumer Care

Now, fast forward to 2017 and David Attenborough’s second Blue Planet series on the BBC highlights the devastating effect of plastic pollution in the oceans. More customers start calling for plastic no longer to be used in (amongst other things) tea bags. More customers demand change…

So I contacted them again… more publicly and more bluntly this time, using Twitter:2018-04-27 (1)and their response was rather different:

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What a difference a few years makes!

See? The Snail of Happiness – ahead of the game!

Sadly for Clipper, they are too late – my transfer to loose tea is complete and I won’t go back.

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byebye bags

Bamboo – the not-so-natural fibre

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different breeds provide wool  with different characteristics

As you will have noticed, I am a fan of working with natural fibres – my preference being sheep’s wool (because we produce lots of it in the UK), but I’m not averse to other types too, including the fleece/hair from other animals such as goats and alpaca. There are some circumstances where something like cotton is much more appropriate… when making Knitted Knockers, for example, but most of my knitting, crochet and felt-making is done using wool.

You may have noticed, however, that when talking about working with non-wool natural fibres I don’t tend to mention bamboo or soya “silk” or a number of other fibres that are derived from natural materials. This is because bamboo etc are members of a class of fibres that, whilst not made from petrochemicals, like acrylic, are “manmade” – the rayons.

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a bamboo yarn sample

Rayon is a manmade fibre, but created with polymers from natural sources (often cellulose from plants, but sometimes another source of polymer, such as protein in milk – yes, milk) rather than petrochemicals. For example, viscose is a sort of rayon made from wood pulp; Tencel is a sort of viscose made from eucalyptus wood (usually found as fabric rather than yarn); bamboo yarn or bamboo silk is a sort of rayon (unless it is referred to as bamboo linen, in which case it’s retted and spun from the natural fibres like flax).

There are all sorts of environmental and health issues associated with the chemical processes required to create these products (with the exception of Tencel® and other Lyocells, which are produced in closed loop systems that avoid chemical pollution). Rayon fibres are biodegradable; indeed, they break down at approximately the same rate as cotton, if not a bit quicker. However, it’s important to understand that the processes used to make bamboo and other similar yarns are chemical and similar in some ways to the production of plastic yarns, but with a very different polymer source. It is often difficult to find details of the processes used to create these purportedly “natural” fibres, although it’s easy to find misleading claims about their environmental and health credentials.

Generally the rayon yarns are soft and silky, with little give in them.

Different fibres have different characteristics, and it’s a case of choosing the right one for the job. I would always recommend handling yarn before you buy, which generally means supporting a local yarn shop… adding an extra dimension to your ethical choices as regards your knitting and crochet.

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buy your yarn somewhere like this – support the local economy, get expert advice and feel and see the yarn before you buy

 

Why I’m Walking for Wildlife

Mr Snail is undertaking a sponsored walk next week to support Denmark Farm – an amazing local conservation charity where he is now a trustee. Here’s his post about it, with a link to the page where you can sponsor him… even a small amount will help as the charity will get some extra money if they get enough individual sponsors.

writinghouse

RIMG9243.JPGIt’s a waste bin, it’s the Earth – go on, guess the symbolic meaning…

I promise this will be my almost probably last post about my sponsored walk! On 28th April 2018, I will walking from Aberaeron (in West Wales, UK) to Lampeter (er, still in West Wales, UK). I thought you should know why (apart from the obvious “because he’s totally bonkers” reason).

Wildlife worldwide is in crisis and it isn’t just cute furry animals, pretty flowers, or the other living things lucky enough to have come under Sir David Attenborough’s scrutiny. There is pretty much no order of life that hasn’t been negatively affected by human activities. One of the problems that humans appear to have is why the loss of an ape, a snail, a frog, a tiny water-borne flea or a mammoth elephant might matter.

When I say every living thing is connected to every other…

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The good soap dish guide

Over the past few years I’ve become a convert to soap – the solid bars, not the liquid. Using it can help significantly cut down on our use of plastic (soap is often sold wrapped in paper or in cardboard boxes and even completely unpackaged) plus it cuts down the unnecessary transportation of water (a large proportion of what’s in all those bottles of shampoo and liquid soap). In addition, it’s easy to find small soap producers who source their ingredients ethically and who do not use palm oil in any of its many forms. A number of people have told me that they cannot use soap at all, but I encourage you to give it a go. I used to find soaps very harsh on my sensitive skin, but these days there are so many options and so many good soap-makers who select their ingredients very carefully that you might be surprised. For example, goats milk soap is very gentle (I use one that also contains Calendula, which is great for sensitive skin) and the Castile soaps form a lotion rather than a lather and therefore have moisturising properties.

The one issue with bar soap, however, is that it does need to be treated with care so that it doesn’t become a soggy mess between uses. Simply keeping your soap in a bowl by the sink or worse still in the shower will just result in you ending up with a bowl of gloop. There are many different solutions – some better than others – so I thought it might be useful to share some examples for those of you considering using soap. The key issue is drainage – you soap will remain in the form of a solid bar and will last much longer if it can dry out between uses, so all soap dishes should be freely draining.

 

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coconut ‘flower’

None of my soap dishes are plastic. The first one I bought was made from a coconut shell on three little dowel legs, with a dozen holes drilled in the bottom. This is a beautiful dish, but there are a couple of issues with it. First of all, it’s round and with only having three legs it overbalances when I put a large new oblong bar in it. However, as you can see, it is the ideal shape for the solid shampoo I use, which comes in round cakes. The second issue is that the holes in the bottom do get clogged up and require cleaning out every few weeks to avoid this simply becoming a coconut shell bowl. Still, a little bit of hot water sorts out that problem. This dish has been in use for several years now and is still going strong.

 

In my search for soap dishes that were suitable for the soap that I normally use, I ordered two types from the company that soap comes from (The All Natural Soap Company). The first is a ridged wooden block, which allows free drainage even when it has got a bit soapy:

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ridged wooden block

This is the perfect size for the bars that I use and I have a couple of these beside the bath. The ridges get clogged after some weeks of use, but a quick scrub with a nail brush and some warm water returns them to a serviceable state.

 

Both the above dishes do dribble a bit, so they need to be placed on a non-permeable surface – sitting them on a small tray or saucer would be ideal, although I simply keep mine on the end of the bath.

I also have a wooden ladder-style soap holder that sits beside the kitchen sink. The soap here is the bar used most frequently and the chances of it becoming soggy are very high, so I chose this design with that in mind.

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kitchen sink soap

I have to keep it in a rectangular dish that needs to be washed out frequently, and this is probably the design that I am least happy with. As you can see, it’s rather suffered from getting wet so frequently, although the soap does stay quite dry.

 

If I had a suitable place to put it, though, my choice would always be a magnetic soap holder. These magic contraptions allow your soap to dry out completely and, as a result, last as long as possible. This is mine above the bathroom sink:

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my favourite

This holder comes with a metal disk with a wavy edge that you embed in the soap so that the magnet in the wall-mounted piece can hold the soap. Of course you need a suitable location to site these, preferably over the sink so that any drips (there won’t be many) are easily wiped away. This is my absolute favourite soap holder.

You’ll notice that none of my soap holders/dishes are made of breakable materials. That’s because the ceramic one I had got knocked into the sink and smashed. After that I decided I needed to stick to something less fragile.

 

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not plastic – honestly

Of course, you also need something to carry your soap in when you are away from home. I have two plastic soap boxes that I have owned for decades. These function perfectly adequately, although I have to be careful to drain them and leave the lids off as much as possible to allow the soap to dry. However, the lovely folks at All Natural Soap recently asked if I would test out a new soap box for them – they have been looking for a non-plastic version for sometime. When it arrived I was surprised that it did seem to be plastic, but apparently it’s made from natural materials and is biodegradable (they are testing this out currently by burying one in their compost heap and one in the soil). It’s not much different from standard boxes, although it does have some slight ridges in the bottom to help keep the soap dry – if they were deeper they would do the job better. Interestingly I trialled this and found that my soap did not form a soggy mess as long as I drained it well before closing the box, even when left shut for a week… I wonder if it ‘breathes’ a little. They are not yet available on the web site, but it’s nice to know there are non-plastic options out there and I’d certainly recommend this one when it becomes available.

 

So, that’s a quick tour of my soap holders. Do you have a favourite design at home? Do you use bars of soap?

 

Hanging out to dry

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snap!

There are some things in life that you don’t buy very often… not because they don’t get used, but simply because they don’t wear out very quickly. A particular example is clothes pegs (pins). It’s probably 20 years since I bought any new ones and at the time the problem of plastic waste did not occupy my mind, although I can remember cursing about my old plastic pegs breaking. I think I looked for wooden ones, but couldn’t easily find any and so bought a (plastic) basket of (plastic) pegs from Woolworths. The basket has long since disintegrated and I made a felt peg bag some years ago. Recently, however, there has been an outbreak of exploding pegs. The plastic is finally breaking down and I’ve been cut several times as a peg snaps whilst being squeezed to open it. Some pegs have even snapped whilst in place on the washing line – leading to even more cursing and some essential re-washing.

My very old wooden pegs (given to me by my mum about 30 years ago) are still going strong, although they probably need soaking in something to get them clean, as I think things may have started growing on them. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them. So, a purchase was required. In this case I did not need to do any research because I knew exactly what I wanted. Years ago I read about a company in Scotland that was selling a product called K-pegs – strong metal pegs capable of holding washing on the line in the windiest of conditions. A little bit of hunting around and I found the company (Exquisite Scotland) and placed my order. They arrived a few days later and I have been very impressed. I’ve already tested them out in windy conditions and to secure a heavy mat and I’ve had no failures. There’s no plastic and they are easy to keep clean, so I think I am on to a winner…. and will probably never have to buy another peg again in my life. Oh, and wonderfully they arrived in re-used packaging… a company after my own heart.

My laundry issues did not stop there, however. I also have some plastic ‘smalls’ driers. I really like these because it means that when the inevitable rain comes, all those little things on the washing line can be brought in quickly and with minimum effort. Like the pegs, though, these elderly plastic items were starting to disintegrate. One was thrown out a few years ago and the remaining ones have started losing pegs and arms:

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gradually deteriorating

Replacing these took a little more research, but I found that several metal options are available. In the end I chose a version that does have plastic cables to suspend it, but that is mostly metal. The pegs are good and strong and, although the hook does not grip the washing line, the new K-pegs can be used to secure it.

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lots of pegs

So, I’m now all set for many years of hanging the washing on the line – no matter how windy it is.

For Pauline

We lost a lovely, funny, talented lady last week. Knit Night at Red Apple Yarn will not be the same without her. I can do no better than Jude’s words…

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Last week our friend Pauline died. Our thoughts are with her family, who have been through so much during her illness.

She was a warm and generous person with time for people. We shared the enjoyment in making knitting, collecting wool and sharing a hobby with others. While the shop has been open she has been a rock, encouraging me, listening to my struggles with commerce and buoying me up when things went wrong. I enjoyed her company. I wish I could have protected her from the cancer that ended her life too soon. I would have liked to get on and do all the things we had talked about doing  – visiting the lavender fields and that infamous trip to Shetland in a minibus with all the other ‘mad knitters of Lampeter’.  Every time I pick up needles and start a lace pattern I’ll remember her in my stitches…

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Another pond

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I would be writing less here because I would be doing other writing intended for publication elsewhere. This included fulfilling a promise to make some contributions to the Plastic is Rubbish web site/blog, which provides resources for those looking to cut down their use of various plastics (below are pictures of some of my alternatives).

I often say that my blogging is like throwing a stone into a pond and letting the ripples spread out. I am hoping that having my writing appear elsewhere is like throwing stones into another pond. If you fancy a dip in that pond, you can read my first contribution here, and I do encourage you to have a look round the site as it does contain all sorts of useful ideas, resources and products. Don’t worry, though, it’s not a preachy site, for example, they say…

We shop at supermarkets when we have to, eat meat and drink alcohol. Giving up is not in nature. We want to do everything just without creating a huge pile of non-biodegradable, possibly carcinogenic, animal-killing rubbish that future generations will have to clean up.

We dont  cut plastic completely, you will only get the Dyson when you pry it from my cold, dead hands, but we aim to stop abusing plastic and encourage the discussion on how and when it should be used.

It is a British-based site, but a lot of the content is relevant wherever you are in the world.

Privilege

Some months ago, a comment from Jill (Nice Piece of Work) on my post about decluttering got me thinking a great deal about privilege. About the fact that I am only in a position to make choices because of my circumstances… the fact that I am educated, that my parents both had jobs and money, that I live in a democracy, that I am a member of the major ethnic group in my country, that I have a job, that I have home and partner, that I have a supportive family, that my country is stable politically, that I am healthy. So many people have so many immediate things to worry about… where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight, whether their children are safe, how they will pay for medical treatment…. When I thought about all the problems I could be facing, it seemed somewhat crass to be fretting about clutter.

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This simply isn’t available to everybody

Then last week we were having lunch with Sue (Going Batty in Wales) and discussing her recent experience during the time she had her arm in a cast, having broken her wrist. She mentioned the necessity of using prepared, frozen vegetables when she was unable to chop up her ingredients for cooking, and how disappointing many of them were in terms of both flavour and texture. This sort of inability to do things is the long-term reality for many people and so they, unlike me, are deprived of a full range of choices when it comes to, amongst many things, their food. So, there’s my privilege again.

It’s funny how these sorts of conversations come around several times… the following day I was having a video chat with Kt (Kt Shepherd Permaculture) in Spain and she mentioned the value of ready-meals for people with limited abilities to cook. She pointed out how marvellous they are for those who rely on other people preparing their food: to at least be able to choose a dish that you fancy and heat it up yourself. Ready-made food may not be everyone’s idea of freedom, but for some that is exactly what it represents. And so, again, my level of privilege is reinforced. I can choose what I eat, what I buy, where I buy it from, how I cook it. The fact that many ready meals are, in the words of Joanna Blythman, “food-like substances” rather than real food is unacceptable – we should not condemn those with limited choices only to poor choices.

So where have all these thoughts led me? I don’t think feeling guilty is the answer – that just directs energy to a useless end, but certainly being aware of such privilege is important. This issue certainly relates to the permaculture ethic of ‘fair shares’ but perhaps I haven’t really thought about it in this way before. I feel that I would like to take action, but other than doing the usual things I can to support my friends and local community, I’m not sure how. I’m only just beginning to think this through and deciding on possible actions, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and what, if anything, you or anyone you know is doing from/about their position of privilege.

 

 

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