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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.

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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.

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Beyond ‘junk with paint on’

Today, I spent a happy hour talking upcycling with an engaging bunch of seniors. Bearing in mind that many of them remember ‘make do and mend’ from before I was born, they had as much to teach me as I did them. But that was kind of the point. I wanted them to see that that mentality had regained currency. I wanted to remind them of the fun challenge of making something out of something else.

When you raise the topic of upcycling, some people will inevitably roll their eyes. Some time back, one guy flat out told me that upcycling was the process of ‘turning junk into painted junk’.

And that is certainly one possible approach. You could indeed take some piece of cheap furniture, slap a coat of paint on it, and make it fit for another go ’round. Why not? When money is tight, it works. The nursery which served both my sons through their babyhood was very much an example of that. A second hand cot, which I painted. Curtains which I shortened, using the off cut to make cushions for the pine rocking chair (bought new by Mr Namasi). An antique yellow wood wardrobe, passed down through the family, into which I inserted shelves for the tiny clothes. A piece of net curtain which served as a mosquito net, and a deterrent for the cat (so many horror stories about babies being suffocated by cats… to this day, I have no idea if any of them were true!) A tatty desk, which I painted and topped with a padded changing mat, and above which I hung an wall-mounted shelf for all the nappy change/bath time necessities. I had one friend who was absolutely adamant that she would have nothing secondhand for her new baby. But the joy it brought me to paint the walls and furniture in that little room remains with me to this day.

So: yes, much of it was painted junk. And it was wonderful.

But there’s more to it than that.

Some of the ladies at today’s presentation remembered their mothers cutting down their fathers’ army military trousers and jackets to make trousers and skirts for the children. Some of them even that themselves. They remembered the challenge of turning military dress shirts into miniature shirts for sons and blouses for daughters. Women who had served made over their own uniforms to wear afterward. One lady had fond memories of using smocking to turn anything and everything into something pretty. These days, smocking is enjoying something of a revival, but more commonly in connection with soft furnishings than clothing.

One lady remembered her father working in a ribbon factory, and bringing home the pieces that couldn’t be used. She would use these to make baby blankets, earning what she called ‘bobbin money’ (new expression to me).

We talked about furniture: restoring beautiful pieces built to last; reusing the drawer handles, feet and hinges on pieces which had finally given up the ghost. We talked about repairing cars by using spare parts from scrap yards. Before cars had on-board computers, replacing a faulty carburettor with a new one was something one just did.

Items made from pallet ends

I showed them some smaller examples of my own work: my Madonna and child; my sock dolls; a few Christmas decorations, ornaments made from the rings out of lampshades, light bulbs, corks, old blankets, pallet ends (see picture); little boxes I had decorated to use for trinkets, etc.

I took a deep breath and showed them some of my failures, too. Not that anything is ever a complete failure: at worst, it serves as a learning experience, but sometimes I find that if I set a thing aside for a little while, I’ll come back to it with fresh ideas or a new direction.

Sometimes, a coat of paint is enough. Sometimes more is needed.

I have a beautiful pair of old bi-fold doors that I want to use as the starting point for a sideboard, and a few beautiful arm chairs that I’m planning to re-upholster. These items deserve better than a trip to landfill. And – I believe – that the young men who once occupied a room full of my upcycled pieces that served as their nursery, deserve to live in a world not overrun by landfill sites.

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The singles’ club…for socks

Today I’m talking about – of all things – odd socks. The good thing about textiles is that they are highly recyclable. Old jeans and jackets can be used to make bags, or re-cover chairs. Odd socks, not so much. Old textile products can be ground up to make insulation and wadding, so there is that option. But let’s see what else we can do with them.

The Singles’ Club

A permanent feature in the Romeis household is The Singles’ Club. This little basin is the repository for socks which inexplicably emerge from the laundry without their mates. When it starts to get a little full, someone (usually me – it’s my favourite chore) will go through it and perform a mass wedding ceremony, as long lost partners are reunited.

When the children were little, I used to make up stories about the socks as I paired them up. Sometimes socks would look as if they belonged together, when they didn’t. And sometimes I would find that I was inadvertently trying to match up one of Mommy’s white sports socks with one belonging to one of the boys. All of this would get woven into the narrative. If Mr Namasi was in earshot, there might be a carefully ribald joke or two that would – in the manner of children’s theatre since time out of mind – sail right over the head of the youngsters and occasionally (if Mommy was very witty) cause coffee to mysteriously emerge from Daddy’s nose.

Inevitably, some of the socks are never reunited with their partners. And what do we do with those?

If your family is anything like mine, wearing mismatched socks is an option. I know one young lady who just slings all her socks into a drawer and wears the first two that come to hand each day. But I find wearing socks of different thicknesses irritating, so I don’t do that. That said, a black sock with red heel and toe can safely be worn with a black sock with yellow heel and toe from the same 3-pack. No-one is going to see the heels and toes, after all. A yellow googly-eye sock can happily be worn with a pink googly-eye sock from the same pack. The socks are daft to begin with. Wearing different coloured ones is somehow within the bounds of acceptable eccentricity – even with a suit, if you do it with aplomb.

Sock doll

But it’s the socks that just can’t even be ‘mismatched up’ that are the problem. So here are some uses:

  • If they’re made from natural fibres, you could use them to buff your shoes. This works particularly well if you stuff one sock with a few others.
  • Adopting the same approach of popping a few socks inside another one, will give you a great defogger for the inside of the car windscreen. Once again, it’s best to go with natural fibres here, or you’ll just end up smearing the condensation around inside of wiping it away.
  • They also make great duster-gloves. Just pop one on your hand and wipe down the various surfaces that need dusting.
  • Any sock, natural fibres or not, can be used to protect shoes when packing.
  • Pop a bar of soap inside a sock and tie it to your outside tap for washing your hands when working outdoors. Just remember to cover it when it rains, and you should probably bring it indoors in the rainy season.
  • Socks make great covers for golf club heads.
  • Or how about a pair of kneepads for your crawling infant?
  • I have a friend who makes a nifty hair bun using socks. I never acquired the skill when my hair was longer, but then I have never been able to ‘hair’ very well. Here’s a link for those with more skill than me in this area.
  • If you have a very small dog and a large sock, you can make a jacket for your pooch with little hassle.
  • Then, of course, there are the myriad sock dolls and puppets to be found on Pinterest. I’ve had a go at a few of these myself, and they are rather cute. The one shown here is one I made.
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Re-using that plastic: bottle caps

Let me start this post with a reminder that the overall idea is to reduce the amount of plastic we use. That will inevitably reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate. The ideal is a zero plastic lifestyle.

It surprises me that I actually have to point this out, but reaction to previous posts in the series makes it clear that I do: none of the ideas shared in this series about reusing plastic are meant to encourage readers to go out and buy products in order to get their hands on the plastic items needed. Quite the contrary. If you decide you’d like to build a greenhouse out of 2 litre pop bottles, I can almost guarantee that you won’t need to buy a single bottle of pop yourself. Put a call out on your local Facebook group. Send an email out to your friends and family. Go door to door down your street, and chances are you’ll have enough bottles to build a double storey house… although I wouldn’t recommend it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the intended subject of this post: the reuse of plastic bottle caps. This is the last in this series. From next week, I’ll be looking at something other than plastic for a while.

The real bummer with plastic caps is that they are less widely recycled than the bottles they seal. Please check to see whether your local recycling service recycles PP (pop bottle caps) and HDPE (sometimes used for milk/fruit juice). If they don’t, you’ll need to separate them out from your trash. If you sling a bottle-with-cap into the recycling in an area where the caps are not recycled, there is a good chance that this will be seen as ‘mixed plastic’ and will be removed. At that point, landfill is a very real possibility.  If your local recycling centre doesn’t recycle this kind of plastic, there are some charities that do. Do a quick Internet search to see if there are any such services in your area.

So, what are we going to do with the little blighters?

Bottle top floor tiles

Some of the projects I shared in my post about reusing pop bottles, include the lids, so I won’t repeat those. But do have a quick (re)read to see whether there’s anything there for you. Other ideas include:

I have also seen ideas for Christmas decorations, and even jewellery. And, if you’re anything like me, each new thing you see will foster ideas of your own. What I love about this era is how much people are willing to share their skills and ideas. There’s a generosity among creative people that warms the cockles of my heart.

Until next time.

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Reusing that plastic: fizzy drink bottles

Fortunately, the plastic used to make fizzy drinks bottles (PET) is widely recycled. But we are trying to reduce our output, so this post will focus on alternative uses for them. And they are legion!

Sadly, bottle caps (PP) are less widely recycled. Many of the projects shared here include the caps, and I will look at some separate uses for them in a separate post.

Lighting

In places without an electricity mains supply, drinks bottles have been used to provide indoor lighting, using the principle of refraction. In my native South Africa, this technique has made an enormous difference to children in informal housing settlements, struggling to complete homework by the light of a kerosene lamp (which is both unhealthy and dangerous). Obviously, in a wealthy country like the UK, the call for this lighting method isn’t particularly great. It also helps to have some sunlight to refract, and we know that there are times of the year when that is in short supply here. However, if you’re an outdoorsy, roughing-it type, you might find it useful. So here‘s how to make your own.

As a variation on the theme, simply strapping a headlamp to a drink bottle filled with water will create an instant lantern. As long as you remember to point the light inward towards the bottle, of course, so that it can be refracted! This works very well with milk bottles (HDPE) too.

Based on this concept, the ‘Liter of Light‘ project has transformed lives in some of the poorest parts of the world, as well as those hit by natural disaster.

Gardening

The humble plastic bottle can also be pressed into service in your garden. They can be used for wall gardening (see picture), hydroponicscloches, and seedling propagation. They can be pressed into service to keep the slugs away from your veggies, the wasps away from the outdoor living space, and the mozzies away from your blood. Do, however, bear in mind that traps for ‘baddie’ insects might also kill some of the good guys, so do weigh up the pros and cons before installing them willy-nilly.

They can even be used to build greenhouses (or summerhouses).

You can use them to make bird feeders for both seed eaters and nectar drinkers (and probably insectivores, if you put your mind to it).

You can make a sprinkler and a bird shower. I’m not sure whether those two belong in the gardening section, to be honest. Pets and children are just as likely to enjoy them!

Air conditioning

Like the lighting solution, this one might not have as much application to the UK as to some hotter climes. But feast your eyes on this brilliant use of recycled plastic bottles, a board, and the laws of thermodynamics, to make an air conditioner that uses no electricity.

Crafting activities

Madonna and child – reclaimed materials (and polyfilla)

This is a rather miscellaneous list of craft activities which involve plastic bottles:

As you may know, plastic bottles formed part of the Madonna and child figures (see picture) made during the workshop I conducted in December. I have also seen extremely complex and sophisticated fairy villages made using plastic bottles as a base.

It seems, from the practical and functional to the whimsical and purely decorative, there is a use for these bottles.

Until next time.

 

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Reusing that plastic: plarn

Someone (several someones, actually) recently drew my attention to a video on FB, showing how to fuse several layers of plastic shopping bags together with an iron. The video then went on to demonstrate how that fused material could be used to make several different types of bags, including a durable shopping bag.

The comments on the post were chiefly of the “so I just spent x minutes of my life learning how to use x hours of my life turning a bag into a bag” ilk. I’m never sure whether to cry or roll my eyes when I read reactions like that. I want to shout “You’re missing the point!!!!!

I would like to point out that the primary goal of this series of posts is to reduce the amount of plastic we throw away (and let me just take this opportunity to say – yet again – that there is no such place as ‘away’).  Re-using that plastic to make something useful and durable, is the means by which we work towards that goal. There’s no single idea that’s going to suit everyone. I’m just presenting a few that might prove helpful. Obviously, there is no point making something so useless, impractical or ugly that it will wind up in the trash anyway.

Today I’m going to talk about turning those dreadful shopping bags into ‘plarn’ – a sort of plastic ‘yarn’ that can be used for knitting or crochet. And I don’t mean the thick, reusable ‘bag for life’ things. I mean the ones that we comparatively recently began to pay 5p for in the UK. Drive down any of the highways, byways and country lanes in the UK (and we’re not alone in this) for evidence of the problem these bags present. They’re snagged in the hedgerows, they’re floating in puddles, they’re flying on gusts of wind, they’re dotted about countryside.

So… to the en-yarn-ifying. There are so many existing videos and instructions on this front, that I’m going to draw on those, rather than reinventing the wheel. This video clip will do as well as any other, because it has the added bonus of linking to a pattern to crochet a carrier. Here’s a flat text-and-sketch post describing the same process.

Other methods include cutting bags into continuous spirals instead, but the above method makes for a more robust end product.

And I totally get that going to all that trouble to make a bag when you already had a bag to begin with, does seem a little like overkill. So here’s an astonishing thought: don’t make a bag. Make something else. You will not believe how many ideas and suggestions are already out there!

  • Make a bedroll for a homeless person to put their sleeping bag on (or for yourself to take camping)

    Plarn bedrolls
  • Or a mat on which to store muddy boots.
  • Or a cover for the back seat of the car for when Fido has taken an impromptu swim at Salcey Forest (and by ‘Fido’, I might mean Jessie, my very own, beloved half-Akita who leaps into any body of water without provocation).
  • Make some placemats
  • Or an outdoor plant hanger thingy
  • Make an organiser to hang behind the front seat of the car, where you can keep the essentials
  • In fact, here’s an entire directory of patterns using ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn), and…
  • Here’s a website dedicated to its use

Until next time.

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Re-using that plastic: Doorstop

Yesterday, I posted about the various steps we can take to reduce our plastic. I promised that I’d provide some upcycling/reuse suggestions. This is the first: you can use plastic jars to make doorstops.

This is actually a commissioned project that I worked on this very morning, so it’s hot off the press.

You will need:

  • A fairly large empty plastic jar, preferably with lid
  • Something to weigh it down with
  • Some kind of covering for the jar
  • Glue or a needle and thread to hold everything together

That’s all a bit vague, isn’t it? Have a read through the rest of the process and you’ll get the idea.

The jar

When I was 10 years old, one of our ‘housecraft’ projects was to make a doorstop. This involved using 4 needles to knit a cover for a 500ml Coke bottle. By dint of (ahem) clever embroidery and the placement of pompoms, the covered Coke bottle was transformed into a (ahem again) ‘beautiful’ Poodle. The bottle was half filled with sand to weigh it down before its Poodle cover was stitched in place.

The thing is, a Coke bottle has a pretty small base, which doesn’t make for much stability. Also 250ml of sand doesn’t weigh a lot, and can’t hold a door in place in the face of a determined Eastern Cape easterly wind. I’m here to tell you that the wind will move the door anyway. The bottle will fall over, and the sand will leak through the knitting and your mother will not be impressed. This is not the desired outcome.

Instead, choose a large jar with a broad base. I chose this one. I didn’t even take the label off. It does have a lid, even though it’s not in the picture. We’ll come back to that.

 

The weight

We have already established that 250ml of sand isn’t going to do the trick. So what is? Well here is why I was so vague before. You could use sand – just more of it. You could use plaster of paris. You could use stones. You could use discarded weight plates from your neglected garage-gym. You could use gold bullion. Heck you could even use water, as long as you have a lid for your bottle. Water weighs 1kg per litre – that’s pretty respectable.

I used plaster of Paris purely because I had some available.

Once you’ve added weight to your jar, you can put the lid on. A couple of pointers here:

  • If you’re using water as your weight, I suggest you seal the lid in place with silicon or hot glue or plumber’s tape or some such
  • If you’re using plaster of Paris, wait until the plaster has set before putting the lid on – setting plaster is exothermic and needs room to breathe

The cover

Now, because this is a commission, I got a bit fancy here. You can do what you like. You could even leave it as it is, if you prefer. Or you could paint it.  Or decoupage it. Or cover it with wallpaper.  You could wrap it in a cast-off item of clothing, knotted at the top.

This is what I did.

  • First, I measured the circumference of the jar (at its widest point)
  • I cut a piece of calico wide enough that it would overlap slightly when wrapped around the jar, and long enough so that it would extend slightly beyond the top and the bottom of the jar. Because I used a piece of calico that had come off one of those pine-and-calico wardrobe thingies, the piece I cut was already hemmed on two sides. Win. If you want to hem yours, go ahead. If not, don’t.
  • I then, you’ll be astonished to learn, covered the jar with the calico. I used hot glue. You could sew yours, and slide the jar in.
  • I folded the top of the calico over the closed lid of the jar and glued it in place. I did the same at the base. You could catch it with a needle and thread, if you prefer.
  • Because I want my client to be able to pick the doorstop up easily, I decided to give it a secure handle. I used some of the tapes from the aforementioned pine-and-canvas wardrobe thingy for this. I cut two lengths that would be long enough to go under the base of the jar like stirrups, with enough left at the top to tie secure knots. I glued the straps across the bottom of the jar, laying them across each other like the strings around a parcel. Then I tied them all together at the top. Note: the are no joins at the bottom – that wouldn’t be secure. I’ll come back to those loose ends in a bit.
  • I cut a piece from a scarf I had picked up from a charity shop. It’s in blues and oranges, with a lovely pompom fringe, and I’ve been dying for an excuse to use it for a project. I cut it long enough so that I could fold it over the base as I had done with the calico, while leaving a cheerful pom-pom-y fringe at the top. The scarf was wide enough to go around the jar and then some, but I didn’t I cut the extra width away, because the more of an overlap there was, the more pompoms there’d be. Win.
  • I wrapped the scarf around the jar. When it overlapped, I just kept going. Then I glued the end in place.
  • I folded the excess over the base. This time I used a needle and thread to catch it all together. Then I cut a circle of calico, which I placed over all that untidiness. Just for a little touch of why-not-ness, I blanket stitched around the edge of the calico circle. I need to make a note about this base. Please see the * at the end of the post.
  • Now for the finishing touches. I gathered the top into a bunch, including the loose ends of the calico tapes, and tied some coloured tape tightly around it like a ponytail. I used the four loose ends of the calico to make two loops, which I stitched (glue might not hold the weight), so that the new owner can hook a finger or two through them to move the doorstop.

And here is the completed doorstop, earning its keep. You can make yours as plain or as fancy as you like. You could give it ears and googly eyes and turn it into a creature of some kind. Let your imagination run riot. Have fun. 

* The base of the jar I chose is concave, which means that it remains stable in spite of the fact that I folded quite a lot of fabric over the bottom and glued it in place. If you’re using something with a flat base, you’d be better off not folding fabric under, but cutting it off level with the base, gluing it in place, and then adding some kind of trim around the bottom.

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Plastic and you (and me)

You have almost certainly heard of the proliferation of plastic pollution that is slowly suffocating the planet. Especially if you watched the final episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet II, narrated by the one and only David Attenborough.

When plastic was first invented, the fact that it was virtually indestructible was a major plus. Now that we’re unable to get rid of the stuff, and we’re finding it in remote locations, and in the gizzards of animals who live far away from human habitations, we’re a little less convinced. The problem is, it’s so damned convenient… in the short term, at any rate.

I’ve seen a few threads lately, where people have been happy to report that they put all their plastic into the recycling, so their consciences are clear. And, of course, they should be. Sadly, the authorities taking care of that recycling have not always been entirely transparent or above board in their disposal techniques. Part of that is because the volume of plastic we’re generating is just too great to be coped with. Especially since China has decided they’re no longer going to be the dumping ground for the world’s garbage.

So now what? What can I do? I’m only one person!

You’re absolutely right, of course. And, as coincidence would have it, so am I. In fact, everybody is only one person. And what you can do is no less than what anyone else can do. Here is a list of some measures you can introduce to reduce the amount of plastic waste you generate.

  1. Take your own bags when you go shopping. Those plastic shopping bags are an absolute scourge! And don’t use those really flimsy plastic bags provided for fruit and veg (they just rip, anyway!). If the supermarket has a weigh-your-own option, just stick the label to one of the pears/potatoes/whatever. Or weigh the loose items, pop them into a reusable bag, and hand the printed label(s) to the cashier. If they don’t have such an option, the cashier is perfectly capable of weighing loose items.
  2. Switch to nappies/diapers that are plastic-free, and ideally reusable. There is a growing supply of these, and you’ll save money in the long run. The volume of disposable nappies being thrown away is a major contributing factor in plastic waste, particularly in the USA.
  3. Carry a reusable bottle with you – preferably not a plastic one – and refill it, rather than buying bottled water. This, of course, only works if you’re somewhere where the water quality can be trusted. You can also use your refillable container instead of the dreadful little plastic cups in waiting rooms up and down the land (particularly the NHS – what up with that?)
  4. Take your own container when you go to a restaurant, if you’re likely to take your leftovers home with you. If your restaurant refuses to play ball, take your future business elsewhere, but chances are they’ll have no problem with it.
  5. Stop using straws. If possible, go without altogether. But if you absolutely have to have a straw, it is possible to buy reusable ones. I will grant you that they’re not cheap. I will also acknowledge that it isn’t always easy to get bars and restaurants on board with this one. I recently asked for my drink to be served without a straw, but it arrived with one anyway.
  6. Rethink the way you pack your lunch. Reusable containers are the way forward.
  7. Lobby your government and your supermarket to do something about excess plastic packaging on foods, or shop somewhere that doesn’t pre-package everything up the wazoo. Some customers have resorted to removing the plastic packaging and leaving it at the store. The good news is that this approach makes the supermarket take ownership of the amount of plastic they’re generating. The bad news is that they’re likely to dispose of it in the cheapest way possible, which is unlikely to be to the benefit of the environment.
  8. Take your own cup to the coffee shop if you’re ordering your coffee to go. Yes, I know that most coffee places use paper cups, but those lids are plastic. You might even get a discount for taking your own cup. If your current coffee place doesn’t offer a discount, take your business somewhere that does – the little independents are usually pretty switched on.
  9. Switch to detergents and household cleaning products that come with a refillable option. This a growing trend, so check your locality to see if there are any outlets near you that will allow you to take and refill your own containers, charging by weight for what you take.
  10. If there is a choice between a plastic bottle and a carton, take the carton. If there is an option for a glass container, take that. This applies to all sorts of products, including food and drink.
  11. Use matches instead of plastic lighters. Or get a refillable metal lighter.
  12. Steer clear of plastic cutlery. I know that’s not always possible when you grab a meal on the fly from the roadside services. But perhaps you could get into the habit of keeping a metal spork in your car, and one in your desk drawer.
  13. Avoid microbeads. Don’t assume that it’s just beauty products that contain them, either. Some of the heavy duty hand cleaning products used in workshops and by gardeners contain microbeads too. Check the label for polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon. There are alternative products available, and you can even make your own – Pinterest is your friend!
  14. Consider making your own household cleaning products. Once again, Pinterest is your friend. It’s less complicated than you might expect.
  15. Re-use your plastic items. Over the next while, I’ll be posting a few ideas and suggestions for crafty items you can make, using reclaimed plastic. Watch this space.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. It’s also not always possible to do all these things. But let’s have a crack at it.

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Reflections on an austerity budget

Not that long ago, Mr Namasi and I had two good salaries coming in: he had an executive  job in the city, and I had a very respectable career in the Learning & Development field (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is – most people don’t).

But, after a quarter of a century, I had become disenchanted with the L&D field. Luminaries in the field were standing on platforms saying things I had been saying for years without anyone taking the blindest bit of notice. I was having the same conversations with clients I had been having for a decade and more. People constantly used the word ‘innovation’, but seldom meant it. And my mental health wasn’t great.

So, because Mr Namasi was earning a good salary and our sons were grown up, we decided that we could afford for me to embark on this next chapter: making, upcycling, crafting and doing. I was as happy as Larry, but I was making little to no money. It didn’t matter, though.

Then Mr Namasi’s company was closed down.

By 23 December 2016, we had gone from two good salaries to none. And the job market for the over 50s is looking bleak, to say the least.

So we instituted what we call our ‘austerity budget’.

This involved some very obvious things like not eating out, not buying new clothes, cutting out luxuries, reducing our use of the car and so on.

We changed our buying patterns: shopping at cheaper supermarkets, checking out the reduced section, using cheaper brands, reducing our meat consumption, buying cheaper cuts of the meat we do eat, buying frozen instead of fresh, etc.

We changed our eating patterns, too: instead of cooking up a whole pack of bacon (for example) for a single meal, we now spread it over two or three meals. We substitute pulses for meat (lentil Bolognese, anyone?). We tweak recipes to leave out more expensive ingredients. We try to use what herbs/spices we already have.

We made a conscious effort to decrease our wastage. So we deliberately plan meals around what we’ve got in the fridge, so that the half bag of salad or two lonely carrots are eaten before they become irredeemable.

Best. Toothpaste. Ever.

We accept gifts without taking offence – seeing them for the acts of love they are. Our pantry is occasionally bolstered by items donated by friends, and we were recently blessed out of our socks to receive pretty much a year’s supply of our preferred toothpaste (an environmentally friendly, health shop brand not available in supermarkets, and carrying a comparatively hefty price tag).

We arrive empty handed at friends’ home when invited for a meal, and trust that they will forgive us the lack of a bottle of wine/bunch of flowers/box of chocolates for the host/ess.

We give home made gifts for birthdays, weddings, etc. and trust that the recipient will appreciate the thought, love and effort that went into making something instead of buying something.

Home made body lotion

We try to diy as much as possible: mending broken things we would normally just replace, and so on. I even had a go at making my own body lotion, using up dregs from various bottles in my dressing table, together with various oils and so forth I had to hand. The resultant concoction is a little weird, but it will do for now, and it didn’t cost me a penny.

And then there’s always Freecyle/Freegle and their ilk. 

Does this sound miserable to you?

Well, it isn’t. It’s something of a journey of discovery. An adventure. And we’re in it together. We make no bones about the fact that it’s tough, but we find that adopting a positive attitude, and being flexible about unexpected results makes it totally bearable. Even fun.

We recently attended the wedding of our younger son’s best friend. The fresh-faced young couple spoke their vows, committing to the better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health. And we thought about how, in the 29 years we’ve been married, we’ve experienced – and survived – all those things. And right now, worse, poorer and sickness (if you count my ongoing battles with depression) are the order of the day.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m ready for the austerity budget phase to be over, the sooner the better. But while it lasts, there’s no point in being miserable about it.