Posted on 1 Comment

In which we decide to call time

We’ve had a rough time of it lately, Mr Namasi and I.

The political situation in the UK over the past couple of years has made for much uncertainty regarding our future in this country. Recent events in our own lives have only added to that:

  • My chronic pain condition has made it increasingly difficult for me to walk, let alone carry out any physical work in my workshop.
  • The accident in my workshop has led to the loss of pretty much all my stock of completed items, as well as my pending projects.
  • Things did not work out as planned at the job that Mr Namasi took in Oxfordshire – the one that was the reason for our move from Northamptonshire.

I simply don’t have the heart to keep trying to make Karyn’s [re]Kreations work, so I’m calling time.

I have sold most of my power tools, and am looking for buyers for my workbenches (let me know if you’re in the market for them). Such stock as has survived the workshop disaster (by dint of being in the house at the time) will be sold off at clearance prices.

Thanks for your company along the way. Thank you to those of you who supported me by sharing posts about my pieces, and a special word of thanks to those who bought either my pieces or my services.

I don’t think there’s really much point in saying more than that. Take care of yourselves.

Posted on 1 Comment

Oops!

January has been a bit of a walking through treacle month so far. But then it is for many people. The post-Christmas slump when the family has departed and the house de-Christmassed, the overly long wait for payday, the winter blahs (even though we’ve turned the corner and the days are getting longer)…all that stuff.

In addition to the usual suspects, January has been a month during which

  • I have been battling the black dog.
  • I have attended the funeral of a man who died far too young (he was 30!).
  • I have grown to despair of the sort of conversations that take place on Twitter. During my years in the field of L&D, Twitter was one of the most important tools in my toolkit. Since I no longer have those conversations to take part in, the balance has changed, and there is just so much vitriol. I have begun the process of extricating myself from that space.
  • Someone I thought I knew has metamorphosed into someone I barely recognise, and it is causing pain to two people I care about.
  • I have been entertaining grave doubts about the future of Karyn’s [re]Kreations.

This combination of factors already had me a bit of a low ebb, so I wasn’t in the greatest of places when the tree surgeon hired by our landlady had an accident and fell through the roof of my workshop. There are so many aspects to this event.

  1. The tree surgeon dude’s wellbeing. When he came to the house to let us know what had happened, the first question Mr Namasi asked him was whether he was okay. He said he was fine. Mr Namasi thought he’d probably feel less fine the next morning. (spoiler: he’s back today, and he is indeed fine – he said he’s had worse falls in the line of his work))
  2. The roof is asbestos. Apparently the risk sets in when it breaks and the fibres are released. Well, it was broken. The broken bits have now been removed. But I don’t know what the associated risks are of fibres on the contents of the workshop (see below).
  3. The structural damage. The hole in the roof is huge. Unfortunately, because it’s asbestos, a specialist replacement is probably on the cards. Because we don’t own the property, this is of course, the landlady’s problem, but she’s a lovely lady and it’s not a nice problem for her to have. And, now that I think about it, I guess there will come a time when there is asbestos-related work going on, on the property. I’m not sure how that will affect us.
  4. The damage to my stock. The part of the workshop that was damaged is where I keep my pending and completed projects. Some pieces of roofing have done damage to the pieces, and lot of dirt and debris has landed all over the place. I have yet to do a proper audit of the true extent of the damage.
  5. The impact on my already wobbly mental health.

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I shared a post about the damage to the workshop, focusing on the potential impact on Karyn’s [re]Kreations. Because that’s what the page is about. I reshared it on my personal Facebook page, and on Instagram.

This was when I discovered that I might not always present myself in the best light. A few people urged me to be grateful that the tree surgeon hadn’t been hurt, and reminded me that that was the most important consideration. I was utterly taken aback. Of course it is. And of course I know it. And of course, if the man had been hurt in any way, I’d have made a completely different sort of post. Of course. Well duh. Obvs. All those things.

But apparently it isn’t ‘well duh’. Apparently people didn’t automatically infer from my post that the structural damage to the roof and the damage to my stock was the worst of it. Apparently it isn’t immediately clear to people – even those who know me personally – that I value people more than things. That sat in my belly like a rock. And it reminded me of something.

Years ago, when I was submitting papers towards my Master’s degree, my course supervisor would repeatedly ask why I hadn’t elaborated on this or that point. I would explain that I had only 3000 words, and didn’t want to waste them stating the obvious. She would reply that ‘the obvious’ wasn’t necessarily obvious to the person reading the paper. I still contend that anyone to whom that particular obvious wasn’t obvious had no business marking Master’s degree level papers on the subject, but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for here.

It does seem, however, that I fell back into the same damned trap of assuming.

I clearly need to rethink how I present myself. I need to find a way to make it clear that I care about people. About the planet. About the environment. About animals. That I’m not just about stuff. Belongings. Possessions. Property. Things.

The problem is that I thought I was already doing that. This is a helluva concept to be tackling in a state of blah-ness. I might have to come back to it when my inner Tigger moves back into the front room and my inner Eeyore has dozed off again.

Posted on 1 Comment

Reflecting on a less wasteful year

This has been an odd year. For the first half of it, we were living in a thatched cottage in a Northamptonshire village. For the second half, we have lived in a thatched cottage in an Oxfordshire village. The two villages are so vastly different that I have a vague sense of disconnection – as if the two halves of the year have been lived by different people (the fact that the second half of the year has been six months of a persistent, but low-grade depression has been a contributing factor, of course).

But one thing has definitely been a constant: my exploration of ways to live a more ecofriendly life has spanned the year. And it is something I hope to continue improving. Here are some of the small changes I’ve made:

  • Ditching the clingfilm. I have made waxed fabric wraps – some with pine resin, and some without – to replace clingfilm in our kitchen.
  • Reducing waste – thanks to the excellent kerbside collection services provided by our local council, we have been able to make a dramatic reduction to our non-recyclable waste. Recently, we didn’t put our bin out on non-recyclable collection day, because it was empty. That was a first, and it gave me such a buzz.
  • Ditching the cotton pads. I made reusable fabric replacements for the cosmetic pads that formed part of my daily skin care routine. I also learned a valuable lesson about them: tie them into a sock for washing, and don’t put them in the tumbledrier – they are small enough to get caught in filters and stuff.
  • Making my own self-care products. I haven’t bought deodorant, body lotion or salve (the sort you use for minor abrasions/scalds) in ages. I’ve made my own. I am using up the stock of lotions and potions I have in my dressing table, and then I plan to replace those with ones I’ve made myself, too. I’m not yet brave enough to try making my own shampoos or body washes, because Mr Namasi has a tricky skin, and I don’t really want to subject him to failed experiments.
  • Growing food. I am a pretty useless gardener, but there is a community garden in our village, which I joined as soon as we moved here. This has given me access to company, new skills and freshly grown vegetables.

    Making more preserves
  • Making (more) preserves. This is not a new skill. I’ve made pickles, jams and so forth before, but somehow being in a country village has reawakened that side of me. And the sense of well-being I get when I open the larder cupboard to see a fully stacked top shelf is palpable.
  • Shopping differently. There is a buying group in our village that buys from a wholesaler of ethical products (foods and non-foods) with reduced packaging and so forth. I joined the group, and then found myself in the role of admin as the previous incumbent is moving away. We order every second month, and therefore tend to buy in larger quantities. The delivery is made as part of a set route, which has a positive impact on our collective carbon footprint.
  • Less stuff. This year, Mr Namasi and I opted not to exchange Christmas gifts. We also asked our sons not to give us anything. We had to downsize considerably when we moved here, and we still have more stuff than we need. We have decided to focus more on shared experiences. So we will explore the countryside and visit various places of interest.

Looking ahead to 2019, I’ve decided to really test myself. I’m going to see if I can get through the whole year without buying anything new. Of course, this doesn’t apply to food and other essential consumables. I am already a regular user Facebook marketplace, Freecycle, Vinted and online spaces of that ilk. I am also a regular visitor to charity shops. For 2019, I’m going to see if I can limit myself to those spaces. These are my options:

  • Make it myself. I have the skills to make a wide variety of things from furniture to clothing.
  • Repair what I have. I have the skills to repair many things myself. There is also a repair cafe in Wantage, where I can take any small appliances that break down, to see if they can be repaired.
  • Buy secondhand. Charity shops, Facebook marketplace, and any number of other spaces exist for this purpose.
  • Borrow from friends. So often, when we have an event to attend, it involves buying a posh frock that might only see one wearing before being relegated to the back of a wardrobe. Perhaps my friends and I can do the occasional swap shop thing to get more life out of a fairly expensive purchase. This applies to hats and evening bags/clutches/purses (choose your word) too.
  • Do without.

No more manis

One other thing I’ve decided to give up on – and hear me out on this one – is professional pedicures and manicures. The manicure thing isn’t going to be a biggie. My hands are too busy for prettying up, so I tend only to have a manicure once every couple or years or so, for a special occasion. The pedicure thing…. that’s a different matter altogether. I can’t abide unkempt feet, so I have always taken good care of mine. Every Sunday night, while Mr Namasi plays ice hockey, my ritual has been a soak in the tub, with a facemask, followed by a DIY pedi. Since I developed polymyalgia rheumatica earlier this year, I have been unable to twist my hips and knees enough to take proper care of my feet, and so I have treated myself to (more or less) monthly pedicures to supplement the limited work I can do on them. But my conscience has been bothering me terribly. You see, manicures and pedicures involve vast quantities of cotton pads and – for some inexplicable reason – clingfilm. I also have concerns about the various products used. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to achieve it, but I am going to have to step back up to the plate on my foot care routine.

I hope that this time next year, I will be able to reflect back on a 2019 that has been even less wasteful than 2018. Are you in? Shall we hold each other to account come year-end?

Posted on 2 Comments

The birthday I never expected to have

Yesterday was my birthday. My 56th birthday. And this is a big deal, even though it doesn’t have a zero at the end. Here’s why. Warning: this is going to get weird. But I can’t not write this post, for some reason.

There have been times in my life when I have known something. Something I had no way of knowing. Something I had no business knowing. And – most of the time – something I haven’t wanted to know.

Let me give you an example. One of the clearest examples from my life. One day, when I was at boarding school, our temporary matron walked past me and I knew she was about to die. Imminently. The certainty of her death settled over me like a thick, heavy, black blanket. Just a few hours later, an announcement was made that she had indeed died.

This is one example. There have been others – usually less dramatic than this, but still very unsettling. There is something very uncomfortable about saying something to a person that you think is obvious and well-known, only to have the person look at you in horror and/or mortification and gasp, “How could you possibly know that?”

Some people talk about being ‘a sensitive’. In the charismatic/pentecostal church the term is ‘word of knowledge’ and it is regarded as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There may be other terms in other faiths. I don’t know. I haven’t researched it. I don’t want to know. I recognise that you might be reading this thinking, I know what this is, and I could explain. Please don’t. I don’t want to know. It’s no gift at all.

Some people have identified this trait in me, and have encouraged me to develop it. After the death of the matron, I became quite hysterical, repeating over and over that I had known it was going to happen. Most of the girls just shrugged it off as attention-seeking on my part. There was, however, a pair of sisters at the school who practised some alternative belief system. I think it was spiritualism, but I couldn’t say for sure after all these years. They were overcome with excitement at the discovery of my ‘psychic ability’ and wanted more than anything to mentor me as I developed it. I didn’t want to develop it. I didn’t want a closer relationship with the sisters, who made me feel uncomfortable at a fundamental level. Years later, I would say ‘they made my spirit itch’. I didn’t want to know when random people were about to die.

About 10 years ago, I went to an osteopath, expecting to have my skeleton realigned. The very first words the man said to me when he walked into the waiting room were, “Oh good. You’re a sensitive.” He was appalled that I had no interest in discussing my aura or my chakras or any other invisible/intangible thing, and just wanted him to sort my back out. He kept trying to steer the conversation in that direction, until I snapped at him that I was paying £1 per minute of his time, and I’d like to choose how that time was spent. He more or less asked me never to come back. As if there was any danger that I would.

So… that’s the context.

One of the things I have known, is that I wouldn’t live past 55. I attended my father’s funeral in 1998. He had taken his own life at the age of 57. It wasn’t his first attempt. During his wake, I became aware of a certainty that I wouldn’t even live to see 57. And the knowledge felt old and familiar, even comfortable, like a pair of well-worn shoes. As if it had always been there, but I was just looking straight at it for the first time. 55. That was it. That number was as clear in my mind as if it had been posted on a billboard. That was all I was getting. The knowledge didn’t scare me. It was just…there.

Until yesterday, I had only shared that information with two people.

The first was a young man we fostered for a while. Things were beginning to go pear-shaped and we were having one of many arguments. He made a comment about not living to a ripe old age, and I snapped out my certainty that I wouldn’t see my 56th birthday.

The second was much more recently. I was speaking to one of my oldest, dearest friends who knows me and my baggage well, and who also happens to be a doctor. I was discussing my chronic pain condition with her, and raised the possibility that this would be what finished me off, since I knew I wouldn’t see my 56th birthday, and that day was closing in apace.

I had never told another living soul. Not my husband, not my kids, not my Mom. Yesterday I did tell Mr Namasi. But you’re the fourth person to know this weird secret I’ve been keeping.

As you can imagine, as I neared 55, any condition that arose (including my bouts of depression and the attendant suicidal thoughts) would have me wondering whether this was the thing that would do me in. A cluster of cells in my breast? Oh, perhaps I’m going to die of breast cancer. Post menopausal bleeding? Ah, perhaps it will be cervical cancer. Unspeakable chest pain? Hmm… perhaps it will be a heart attack. And not in any hypochondriac way, either. There was always an element of academic interest, like watching something under a microscope and being interested in the developments.

And then I turned 56.

And the thing that I knew – the bedrock, familiar truth that has always been there – turns out not to be real after all.

It raises a delicious uncertainty. I have now entered into a period of life I never foresaw. I can plan a trip to South Africa for my mother’s 80th next December. I can start thinking about Mr Namasi’s 60th birthday. I might live to have grandchildren, after all. I might get to be mother of the groom. Maybe even twice! I might get to share my husband’s retirement years with him.

And perhaps some of the other things I know are also not true. Perhaps I have unwrapped the ‘gift’ and found an empty box.

I’m in uncharted waters. The next landmark comes on 1 June 2020, when I become older than my Dad ever lived to be.

Will you keep me company as I find out how that feels?

Posted on Leave a comment

Looking ahead to 2019

Do you make new year’s resolutions? At what point do you decide what they’re going to be?

I imagine that if you make them up on the fly on new year’s day – when you’re feeling bloated and uncomfortable after all the eating of the preceding month or so, and possibly hungover from the night before – swearing off booze and being determined to eat more healthily are likely to top the list. Aaaand, of course, the chances of breaking those resolutions within the month are that much higher.

I’m not much of a one for resolutions. I prefer to set goals, and new year’s day is as good a time as any.

I’m toying with the idea of doing something fairly major next year, and I don’t want to enter into it lightly, so I’m thinking about it quite carefully to decide whether it is an achievable goal.

I’m considering a fast of sorts. A few years ago, I decided to challenge my serious shoe habit and go on a year’s ‘shoe fast’. In the end, the fast went on for 18 months for a variety of reasons. But the fact is that I managed it. This time around, I’m thinking of swearing off new things altogether. Obviously I will continue to buy toiletries, food and the essentials – although, even there, I have been trying for some time to make more and buy less, and to buy sustainable, ethical products – but I’m thinking of things like clothes, shoes, jewellery, phones, appliances, furniture, bed linen, etc. I wonder if I could go a whole year without buying anything new. If I can’t find it pre-owned or make it myself, I go without.

For the most part, I’m fairly confident. But there are a few things I have to consider.

  1. Most significantly, purchases for the home don’t just affect me. I share my home with Mr Namasi. And he would have to be on board with the idea of nothing new for a year. If he wants a new sofa, my goal of only buying pre-owned items might be at risk, but I can’t strongarm him into abiding by goals he didn’t set and had no say in. This is what project managers call a ‘dependency’.
  2. Some items I’m confident I can make or repair. Others I’m not so sure of. For example, I have never made a bra. The very thought of it makes me nervous. If I were a neat little B cup, I could just choose to do without. If I were younger, I might not need a great deal of support. I am neither of those things. I am middle aged with a GG cup (and no, I’m not ‘bragging’, don’t even go there – there is absolutely no advantage and several disadvantages to having a disproportionately large bust), which means I practically need something designed by a structural engineer. I’ve also never made jeans, and don’t have a great deal of confidence in my ability to make a pair that would be robust, comfortable and flattering. I’m an odd shape. Could I do it?
  3. Some things are unforeseen. What if the year pitches me a curveball? I can make clothes if my body changes. If my prescription changes, I will consider new glasses essential and therefore exempt from the moratorium. But there might be other changes I can’t even imagine at this point. I might have to revisit things if for example I lose all my hair and have to decide whether or not a wig constitutes an essential item.

Generally speaking, I’m a seat-of-the-pants kind of person. But when you’re setting goals, if you are to be true to them, you really do need to think things through. I mean, otherwise there’s no point in setting the goals in the first place. You know what they say: a goal without a plan is just a wish.

I’ll let you know whether I pluck up the courage to go through with this one as my goal for 2019.

Posted on Leave a comment

Christmas gift suggestions

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I’m doing a series of gift suggestions. I thought it might be worth posting a collation of them here. You will quickly discern a common thread: an unapologetic emphasis on the renewable, sustainable, eco-friendly and global-village-considerate. I have also tried to be considerate of a range of budgets.

I should mention that none of these links are sponsored. In fact, none of these businesses even know I’m writing this post. So all recommendations are my own.

Here goes:

  • A bee saver kit from somewhere like Friends of the Earth. You’ve heard all the dire warnings of the trouble we’ll be in if the bees disappear. And you probably know that bee populations are declining alarmingly. So – even if you share my phobia of pointy insects – let’s do our bit for the pollinators.
  • A stainless steel insulated drink bottle. An alternative to bottled water and the plastic it usually comes in. Chilly’s does a great one.
  • A cooking kit. Not one you’ve bought from a supermarket, but one you’ve assembled yourself. Something as simple as brownie ingredients in a reusable jar, or something utterly hip, consisting of the tears of a mermaid’s uncle, exotic spices from the Land of the Lost Metaphor and truffles harvested at 9 minutes after midnight on a day not ending in Y. You could be precise and measure out the ingredients to the last picagram, or supply a box of this, a bottle of that and a tube of the other. Don’t forget to include the instructions.

    4Ocean original bracelet
  • A bracelet from 4Ocean, made out of plastic removed from the sea. This is definitely an ‘accept no substitutes’ situation. 4Ocean isn’t a company that sells bracelets. It is an organisation that cleans the ocean. The bracelets are a fundraising by-product. Every bracelet sold represents a pound (450g-ish) of plastic removed from our oceans. So a bracelet that looks like this one, but has been made by a company (or even an independent Artisan) that makes jewellery isn’t the same thing by a long shot. The UK supplier is here, and the USA supplier here.
  • A place at a half or full day workshop. This will take a fairly generous budget for the most part. They are of the order of the gift that keeps on giving: the fishing lesson, rather than the fish from the old adage. Something like welding, wet felting, silversmithing or blacksmithing. Or perhaps a master class in singing or dance or worship leading might be a better fit for your loved one.
  • An eco-friendly bird feeder from somewhere like Ethical Superstore. These are such a win-win item. The birds are fed, especially through the lean winter months, and your loved one has the pleasure of seeing the birds come into their garden.
  • A bamboo phone stand/holder from somewhere like Protect the Planet. I know. Some of you are wondering why anyone would need such a thing. Most of my knitting/crochet patterns and cooking/baking recipes are online, accessed via my phone. Every time I want to see what the next step is, I need to pick the phone up to look at it. If my hands are covered in marinade, or bread dough, this is less than ideal. A phone stand is simple genius at its best. And bamboo is highly sustainable.
  • Craft/artisan food and drink items. Gin is enjoying unprecedented popularity at the moment (in the UK, at any rate), and you can scarcely turn around without encountering entire walls of varieties. They seem to come flavoured with every imaginable herb, spice and fruit. Craft beers are also popular, and local microbreweries are enjoying strong support. Since moving away from Wellingborough, we have missed Hart Family Brewers, but Mr Namasi has manfully set about tasting all the nearby offerings in the Vale to find a local replacement. Such a trooper. Artisan cheeses are another option, and will keep long enough if you buy a whole cheese with a protective coating of some sort. Farm shops (such as Three Trees and Saddleback) are usually a great place to find these items. I’d also like to give a shout out to a local business in the Vale of the White Horse called Bloomfields Fine Food. Not only do they stock all these items – and more besides – but they display a map showing where their suppliers are based and most of their items have a shelf edge ticket which includes the food miles of the product.
  • Membership of English Heritage, National Trust or Woodland Trust. Obviously, if you don’t live in the UK, you’d need to explore equivalents in your part of the world. Your loved one gets what amounts to a season ticket to visit various sites, while the funds go towards maintaining these valuable spaces. We thoroughly enjoyed our family membership of English Heritage when we lived in Kent and the children were little. It took us 6 visits to Dover Castle to see everything we wanted to see there, which would have been prohibitively expensive without our membership cards. When we moved to Milton Keynes in 2002, and then Northamptonshire in 2008, we found there were too few places within easy reach to make it worthwhile being members, so we allowed it to lapse. This year, as soon as I knew we were moving to Oxfordshire, which abounds in English Heritage sites, I took out annual couples’ membership for us to mark the occasion of our 30th wedding anniversary.
  • Following on from the previous point, as one friend suggested, an annual pass to Blenheim Palace or membership of Kew Gardens or The London Wetland Centre for someone with a special interest in history or plants or birds or photography… For example, I have a notion of visiting Kew Gardens several times throughout the year, and taking photos of the same trees each time to capture the seasonal dance – and those trees’ steps in that dance.
  • A keyring made from a recycled circuit board. Protect the Planet has some cute ones. Dumped computers are a very real problem, particularly in developing countries, where richer countries pay for the privilege of dumping their electronic waste. There are entire communities which – quite literally – live on these dumps, and are exposed to all manner of hazardous waste as CRTs and the like are subjected to the elements.
  • A custom starter pack for a more ecofriendly/sustainable daily lifestyle. You could buy one from somewhere like The Wise House, or you could make your own, including plastic-free items like beeswax wraps and handmade bath puffs.
  • A loose leaf tea gift set from somewhere like Wearth for the tea aficionado in your life, or a starter pack for the person who is an aficionado-in-waiting.
  • Upcycled cufflinks made out of colouring pencils, or a fire hose, or a Jackson Pollock-esque painted canvas. If your budget is a little bigger, perhaps a fire hose wallet?

I’m going to stop there, because although I’m not out of ideas, I realise that I have provided links to several sites where you may get wonderfully sidetracked and find your own inspiration. But I can’t end without suggesting the sort of gift your loved one will never even see. I’m talking about things like toilet-twinning and the donation of a goat, chicken, beehive or cow to a needy family. Within my circle of friends are many people who would love such a gift, and in fact one who proudly displays a picture of her twinned toilet in her own guest bathroom. Not everyone needs something that benefits them directly.

I hope I’ve inspired you. Please feel free to share your own ideas and suggestions, or stories of your loved ones’ reactions to their lovingly chosen non-tat Christmas gifts.

Posted on Leave a comment

Why I’m not getting gifts this Christmas

A few days ago, Mr Namasi and I sent this message to our sons:

Dad and I don’t want you to buy gifts for us, please. It will be our great pleasure to have you home for Christmas and to be able to feed and spoil you for that time time. That will be enough for us. We’re not even buying each other gifts this year, choosing instead to do some nice things together.

They have enough expenses. Now that our sons have left the nest, seeing them is beyond any of the gifts their limited budgets could stretch to. One of our sons became a student this academic year, at the age of 25. The other recently had a car accident in which his little car was totalled. That’s one part of it.

Another part is the stuff. We moved twice in a year. The first time, we shed possessions as part of the normal moving process. Then we promptly became the repository of masses of furniture as first one and then the other son moved in with us temporarily, bringing all their furniture, and then moved out into furnished places, leaving their possessions behind. The second time we moved house, we downsized significantly and shed yet more stuff. We still have more than we have space for, even after a fairly successful yard sale in the summer, and an ongoing relationship with Facebook Marketplace, local ‘for sale’ sites, Freecycle and the like.

We have reached the stage in our lives when it’s hard to choose gifts for us. Particularly if you’re on a tight budget. I mean, I’d love to attend one of Emma Mitchell’s (aka Silver Pebble) workshops, but they come with a price tag beyond the reach of pretty much everyone buying gifts for me. So the fallback tends to be gimmick gifts which raise a laugh when they are opened, and add to the general merriment of the occasion. What’s lovely about these is that they show how well a person knows you. What’s less lovely is that they tend to end up in landfill once you get past the guilt of throwing away something given to you as a gift.

Yet another part is the wrapping. Around this time of year, we begin to see articles about the environmental impact of Christmas wrapping. We are reminded to do the scrunch test, to see whether wrapping paper is recyclable.

But that doesn’t really help with the packaging the gifts come in: the boxes and plastic and tissue paper and and and.

So many aspects of Christmas can be… is unseemly the word I’m looking for? The shops become a deeply stressful place to be. The foods that no-one enjoys are served up because it’s traditional. People spend money they can ill afford on gifts for people they scarcely know. Vast quantities of alcohol are consumed to alleviate the stress of the whole business. Masses of packaging is included in the next few kerbside garbage collections.

And it needn’t be like that. Why not leave out the food no-one likes, and replace it with something you do like? Make it part of your family’s unique Christmas tapestry. Support independent shops or local makers, artisans and crafters when choosing your gifts. Explore alternative ways of wrapping gifts that don’t have a massive environmental impact.

Consider intangible gifts: indoor skydiving, a spa treatment, a tank driving experience, membership of English Heritage/National Trust.

So many posts have been written on this subject, I feel as I would just be reinventing the wheel to go on. So I’ll steer you towards this post which contains several workable suggestions.

And I’ll end with this little reminder:

Posted on Leave a comment

DIY body lotion

Since I have the ingredients to hand at the moment, I’m exploring a variety of first aid and personal care products. I have already had a go at:

  • deodorant, which I’m wearing as we speak, and which is proving at least as effective as any commercial products I’ve used in the past. Of course, only extended use will reveal whether my skin copes with it.
  • pine resin salve, which I have several occasions to use since making it. I’m pretty happy with its effectiveness as a salve, and my skin has shown no negative reactions. But then, I’m not allergic to pine sap!

Yesterday, I tried making some body lotion. I have found it increasingly difficult to source body lotions. Because of my long-term use of corticosteroids for a chronic condition, my skin is parchment thin in places, which has bearing on the sort of body lotions I choose. For the most part, I find that the cheaper ones are pretty useless. Some of the more expensive options are richer – perhaps they are less diluted during the production process?

Finding effective lotions that are also cruelty-free makes for an even greater challenge. Whole food shops, particularly those that are independently owned, will often have a variety of cruelty-free personal care products (see my post script for a short note about how to identify cruelty-free products), and of course, there is always Lush and The Body Shop.

I explored a few different recipes, trying to find something that could be made with fairly readily available ingredients. This is what I settled on (see note below about where I got my ingredients):

6 ingredients

  • 125ml jojoba oil (you can substitute any other liquid oil, such as almond, avocado, olive…)
  • 60ml coconut oil
  • 60ml beeswax
  • 30ml shea butter
  • (optional) few drops of essential oils – I chose bergamot, because it’s my favourite, and added a few drops of peppermint just for fun

Place all the oils, apart from the essential oils, into a bain marie/double boiler and heat gently until they have all melted, stirring occasionally to combine them. Remove from heat and add the essential oils. you won’t need more than about 15 drops, but this bit is entirely up to you. And for goodness’ sake, don’t use an oil you’re allergic to, or that you can’t stand the smell of! Pour into a tin or a jar (if you’re using a glass jar, you might want to warm it up first, to prevent cracking).

My initial reaction is that the lotion leaves quite a greasy residue on the skin at first, so I might tweak the recipe a bit. One thing I definitely would add is 30ml (or perhaps even more of vitamin E oil), but I didn’t have any to hand at the time.

Where did I get my ingredients?

  • Jojoba oil – local whole foods shop
  • coconut oil – CostCo, but almost any supermarket will have this
  • beeswax – this lot came from LiveMoor, but I’m exploring options with a local beekeeper
  • shea butter – CostCo
  • essential oils – local whole foods shop or Essential Oils Online

PS: a quick note about identifying cruelty-free products.

When China opened up to imported products, many companies couldn’t resist the lure of an additional one billion potential new customers. The Chinese government stipulated that all products had to have undergone animal trials before being allowed to be sold within the country. A number of companies which had previously had a strongly stated cruelty-free position, changed their stance in order to access the new market. This includes some of the front-runners within the ‘no animal testing’ space.

I won’t bore you with the details of some hair-splitting, semantic pretzel conversations I have had with representatives of some of those companies. What I will say is this: if it matters to you whether the products you use are cruelty-free, please don’t just assume that the products you buy fit that bill, even if they did in the past. There are smart phone apps that you can download to help you check on the spot whether a product is cruelty-free.

The one I have is called Cruelty-cutter. I scan the bar code of the product with my phone’s camera, and the app searches the database for information about the product. If the product is not on the database, I can submit details of the product for it to be researched and added.

For a bit of perspective: I spent an hour in my nearest Boots, checking the shampoos for sale there with the Cruelty-cutter app. I found not one single shampoo that was certified cruelty free. To be fair, a significant percentage of the products weren’t on the database, so their animal testing status was unknown. Everything was either ‘not cruelty free’ or ‘status unknown’. I gave up and went to Lush, which was a bit more out of my way but where I was spoilt for choice.

Posted on 1 Comment

DIY deodorant

Finding deodorant can be tricky if you don’t want to use aerosols, or aluminium, or products tested on animals or any of the other myriad issues that we’re slowly learning are detrimental to us and/or the planet. I’m not going to pretend that suitable products don’t exist. They absolutely do. But I thought I’d experiment with making my own deodorant at home.

Of course, Pinterest is always your friend in these cases, and I explored a few recipes, and found some that use relatively everyday ingredients. The result is a cream you rub in. It’s easily absorbed and doesn’t leave a greasy residue, but I’m not sure what it would be like to use it on hairy armpits.

Ingredients

You will need:

  • 65ml (5 tablespoons) arrowroot or cornflour/maizena
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) bicarbonate of soda (affectionately known as bicarb) – or baking soda if you’re American (it’s the same thing)
  • 90ml shea butter
  • 50 drops of tea tree oil (or other essential oil of your choice)

Let’s just unpack a bit about those ingredients. As you can see from the picture, I bought my arrow root and bicarb at Waitrose. This is just because I happened to be there. You can get these products pretty much anywhere – probably even your little corner shop. And, of course, you will use these in your cooking and baking, so you’re not making a special purchase, only for the leftovers to languish in your pantry cupboard until underverse come (you get a geeky handclap if you can name the source of that reference).

Tea tree oil probably won’t be available from your local supermarket. I bought mine from my nearest health/whole foods shop. You might find it from a pharmacy, too. You don’t have to use tea tree oil – pretty much any essential oil will do, if you’re only after a fragrance for your deodorant. But I opted to use tea tree oil, because, well, not to put to fine a point on it, I SWEAT. I was always inclined to knock the ‘horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow’ thing into a cocked hat, and now I have a pretty physical job and am post menopausal. I sweat like a bloody horse, okay? Sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s relevant. If you don’t see the connection, tea tree oil is antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, insecticidal, and fungicidal. I also rather like the smell.

Shea butter is probably the least readily available product on this list. You can buy it online, of course, but you might feel that some of large online buying sites (koff koff, Amazon) have a bit of an ethical/moral question mark over them, and prefer to buy elsewhere. Oddly enough, I found mine at CostCo, of all places. It’s organic, fair trade approved, and comes in a twinpack (2x150ml). The tubs are metal, which is both reusable and recyclable.

I have no pictures of the process, this time, but it’s pretty straightforward. Yield is approximately 200ml.

  • Either chop the shea butter up into small pieces, or melt it gently in the microwave or a bain marie/double boiler, then place into a bowl. Use a bigger bowl than you think you will need. If you have a choice, go with deep and narrow, rather than wide and shallow.
  • Add the two powdered ingredients and blend – you can decide whether you want to do this with a fork or a handmixer. This may take a while. Be patient. You’ll get there.
  • Add the essential oil. Blend again.
  • Transfer into a container that seals, like a glass jar or a tin with a screw top lid. Make sure to scrape out the very last bit to get full value for your money and effort.

You can apply it with your fingers or a make-up sponge. Rub it in until it is completely absorbed. It goes further than you would expect.

Posted on Leave a comment

Pine resin salve

Pine resin salve

It’s been far too long since I did any making of the sort that I could share here. Which is not to say I’ve been idle. Far from it. I have been tending the largest garden I’ve ever had in my life, and loving it. This is not, of course, any guarantee that the garden will thrive. I am not known for green fingers!

But today I did a bit of making I thought I’d share with you.

I made some pine resin salve, using just three ingredients: pine resin (you’ll be astonished to learn), jojoba oil, and beeswax.

Three ingredients

I sliced my finger

Before we go any further, I should probably explain what pine resin salve does, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth making some. Oddly enough, I had just made this batch, when I needed to use some of it on myself. I was busy with another make, when I sliced my finger on a very sharp metal edge. See the photo taken just this very minute, which was quite tricky with a ‘proper’ (non smart phone) camera and my left hand!

Pine resin is naturally antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. So the salve can be used to treat minor grazes and cuts. As well as preventing infection and reducing inflammation, the stickiness of the pine resin also helps keep a wound closed. Some people swear by it as a treatment for eczema.

Caveat: some people are allergic to pine resin. In case it needs to be said: such people should not use this salve.

The proportions are:

  • 60ml pine resin
  • 125ml jojoba oil
  • 30g beeswax

Pine resin

Pine resin doesn’t tend to arrive in conveniently usable form. It tends to be large crystals.

You can use it like this if you like, but it’s harder to measure out by volume that way, and it takes aaaaaaaages to melt.

Much more usable

So I recommend that you crush it first. Pour a quantity out onto a sheet of baking parchment or waxed paper or newspaper or something. If you have waxed cloth wraps, these could serve, too. Fold the paper/cloth over the resin crystals and then whack them repeatedly with a rolling pin or a hammer or other blunt instrument.

The result is a far more usable product.

Bees wax

 

You can buy beeswax in pellet form, but it’s more expensive. So I buy the sticks and grate it myself. I have a dedicated wax grater for this purpose, so I don’t have to go through the faff of cleaning it before using it for food again. It’s not that I’m particularly extravagant. It’s just that our old hand grater broke, and when I replaced it, I kept the old one for crafts. I also have a dedicated fork for stirring wax-based concoctions. This is one that must have been left behind by a barbecue guest at some point, and remained unclaimed.

 

Kit:

I am reliably informed that the main piece of kit you need to use for this is called a bain-marie in the UK. I know it as a double boiler, and when I went shopping for one in Swindon, was appalled that I tell people who worked in specialist cookware shops was a double boiler was. To me, a bain marie is a whole different thing used for keeping food warm when catering. Hey ho. If you don’t have one – whatever you call it – you can use a bowl over a saucepan, or a smaller saucepan over a larger one. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can buy the top pan bit separately… as long as you call it by a name that the shop assistant recognises! Do not, under any circumstances apply direct heat to the sap – it’s highly flammable!

You will also need containers for the finished product. You’ll need something that won’t melt, like glass, ceramic or metal. To give you an idea of yield: using this recipe, I filled 15 small (lipsalve sized) tins – roughly 10g of salve in each.

Melt the resin in the oil

Fill the bottom pan of your double boiler/bain marie with enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the upper pan, and bring it to a boil. Pour the oil into the upper pan and place it on top of the lower pan. Add your pine resin and stir occasionally until it has melted. This might take a while, and it will go through a stage of sticking in a gloopy mass to your fork (or whatever you’re using to stir).  If your resin had bits of bark in it, you might want to strain it through a piece of muslin once it has melted.

Once the resin has melted, add the wax. If you want a softer salve, you can choose to reduce the amount of wax by as much as half. Stir until the wax melts. This should happen very quickly.

Then you’re ready to pour your salve into containers. If you’re using glass jars, I suggest you preheat them first, to avoid cracking the glass. Leave to cool, and hey presto.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t fancy going through all that faff, but you’d still like some pine resin salve. As luck would have it, I just happen to have tins of it for sale at £2.50 each. Let me know!