Friday, 29 October 2010

Electricity E-LEC-TRI-CITY

Who remembers School House Rock and the song Electricity? Despite recommendations in the song to scrape across a carpet then sneak up on your very best friend and zap him on the ear--I do not recommend making that form of electricity as it really cheeses people off. He will no longer be your very best friend if you keep shocking him on purpose.

What cheeses me off (can a vegan be cheesed off? I supposed if it is cheezed off with a z  then it is acceptable to the vegan police) as I was saying before I went chasing some random tangent: What really cheeses me off is electricity wastage. This is where many kilo watt hours (kWh) are spent and much CO2 farted out into the atmosphere. Each kilo watt on your bill represents about 600g of CO2 emissions from a power station. So if your bill says you have used 1000 kW in three months that is equal to 600 kg of CO2--the same CO2 as driving the family car 2,500 miles.

 Do you ever think about who supplies your electricity? Getting your electricity from the Grid--standard fossil fuel power company-- is incredibly wasteful. Grid electricity costs more financially and environmentally because of the poor efficiency (wastage) of converting fossil fuels in powder stations to power you can use. It takes enormous heat and energy to do so and they let off large amounts of heat and CO2 just doing the conversion for you to then waste at home. And dont even get me started about my feelings on Nuclear Energy--I might start quoting Sting lyrics from the 1980s at you and no one wants that. Check and see if your regular supplier has a Green Tariff where they use renewable sources to make your electricity.  Ours did but used a combination of renewable and fossil fuel so we switched to a company called GOOD ENERGY which is 100% renewable. Think about it--fossil fuels are being depleted --in our lifetimes there will be no more so you might as well  start using renewable energy now. GOOD ENERGY uses solar, wind and water to power up our electrics and that makes us very happy. Switching to the Green Tariff can cut the average households annual carbon footprint by 2 tonnes. It may cost about 10% more than what you pay for fossil fuels--but isnt the earth worth it?

So now that Ive done the decent thing and switched suppliers what can I do to stop wasting energy in my home I hear you cry--I said I hear you cry. Look if you dont take a  more active part then this next bit isnt going to work.

1. Put in low energy light bulbs. Theyre not as crap as they used to be. Seriously when they first came out it was like sitting in the dark. Times and technology have changed. Get one that is a high wattage--ours are 23 watt (equal to 103 watt) and look for one with a high Lumen number--this is brightness. If you hate yellowish light then look for one with a high Kelvin number which is whiteness of light. They are a good value these days as well. They used to cost like £5 a bulb (but they last for donkeys years) but we spotted some recently for £1 each which makes the value even better. To put it into perspective: A 100 watt light bulb left on for 10 hours uses 1kW of energy (600 g of CO2) whilst a 20 watt bulb (equal to 100w) left on for 10 hours = 0.2 kW of energy. I cant do the math but even a math defective like me can see that number is considerably smaller.

2. Computers First off dont be scared --Im not going to tell you to get rid of yours. Im not getting rid of mine--how else would I write this interesting and informative blog? We have, however, chosen not to have the internet at home. This was a huge waste of our money and time because we left the computer on all day on the off chance we might to look something up or just fart around and look at stuff we didnt care about like cats playing the piano on YouTube or our favourite 80s videos. So we use ours for typing and then I paste it all onto my memory stick and then add it to my blog from work. Let me tell you a few computer facts:
Ÿ         A laptop uses 1/6 the energy of a desktop.
Ÿ         Turn it off if you are going to be away for more than an hour. 1 computer left on all day = 1500 lbs of CO2 a year. It would take between 100 and 500 trees to absorb the amount of CO2 released into the air. Jinkies! This figure has me really thinking .My school has about 20 desktops in the computer suite that are often left on all day. I know it is a pain and a time suck to have to boot up from scratch every time a new class comes in, but think of what we are wasting. If you know another class is following your lesson then by all means then leave them on, but if no one else is booked then full shut down please. I plan to introduce these statistics at our next eco council meeting (Im one of the sponsors) and we can train the eco reps to check the computers after a lesson.
Ÿ         Screensavers may be cute but they are also a waste of energy. As I said--shut down if youre not using it. Dont just leave it on in the off chance you might want to find some lyrics to song you heard in 1976.
Ÿ         If you leave your computer and printer (plus fax and scanner and other God knows what other computer related gadgets you have) plugged in and on all the time just in case you could be spending about £100 a year just on the off chance you want to use them. Have I made myself clear here yet? Turn it off when not in use. Dont turn it on if you are not using that bit. I am getting tired of saying this so Ill go onto the next electricity suck.

 3. Television another time wasting (as well as money wasting) thing we have chosen to not have. But how can you live without telly I hear you gasp? Easily when you think that the TV Licence to get the basic 5 channels costs £140ish a year. And to watch what--Big Brother crap reality show? Strictly Come Dancing with the Stars nonsense? The Boy with a Arse where his Face should be? (channel 5 only) I rest my case. Dr Who and QI are the only thing worth it--and thats not worth £140 a year. Plus we can watch them at work on BBC- iplayer for free.  But I digress.
For those who do have telly the mantra is (repeat it with me) Dont leave your telly on standby. If you cant be arsed to get up and turn it off at the set and instead just use the remote which leaves the telly on standby with a little red light just waiting for you to decide if you want to watch something you will waste tonnes of money and CO2 and you deserve everything you get. Turn it off properly--making sure no current is running when not in use--we unplug our DVD player/computer monitor (known as the Big Lizard--monitor--lizard--geddit??? never mind) after use. So should you.  This standby warning goes for all you have plugged in. If the current is flowing so is the CO2 and money from your bank account.

4. Recharging your stuff My first question is do you really NEED that mobile phone/blackberry/I-pod or other portable energy suck gadget? The answer for us is no. We dont need to be connected to technology 24/7. We like to talk. And read. And not have our brains turned to mush by radiation from cellular phones--but thats for another time. If you do think you HAVE to have all that stuff then charge only when you need. Dont keep your charger plugged in when nothings charging. Thats like the light being on and nobody home.

These have been the highlights of the Eco Workshop I went to. I was pleased to see we were doing so much--but it is still not enough.  We ALL need to reduce our CO2 or this planet is headed for oblivion (to quote Neil the hippy from The Young Ones)

The Earth is our mother. You wouldnt treat your mother this badly would you? Dont answer that. But seriously --Be the change you want to see in the world. Make it happen.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Water Water Everywhere

The Ancient Mariner clearly knew something we didnt. But since he was talking about seawater and wearing a freakin albatross around his neck this is probably not a good analogy and just makes me look quite clever and ever so slightly pretentious for mentioning it.

Fresh water is precious. Over 1 billion people and rising dont have access to clean water whereas the average person in the developed world uses an astounding 100 litres a day easily. It is easy to get lazy when it just pours like magic from the tap. Here are some of the things we are doing to reduce our water wastage. You can do them too!

1. Dont let the tap run. This can easily send 20 litres down the drain in about a minute. Spiderman and I are well trained not to let it run whilst brushing teeth, but we both are in a bad habit of using it to rinse off a couple of dishes--which somehow takes so much longer and suddenly there are twice as many dishes than you realized and this one has something sticky on it that will need scrubbing and POW! Before you know it--tonnes of water wasted. We are vowing to fill the sink with soapy water--a few inches will do--and wash any dishes this way. That way if something needs a bit of a scrub it can get it and the tap is not running like a taxi meter whilst we do it. Which brings me to number 2. No laughing because Ive just said number 2.

2. Dont rinse soapy dishes under a running tap. This a huge water waster. There are 3 things you can do. Hope you have a dual sink that you can fill with some clear water for rinsing. We dont so thats out. Create a dual sink with a plastic tub that you fill with water and dip soapy dishes in to rinse off. Or behind curtain number 3 is to pile all the slightly soapy dishes in your dish drain and pour a few glasses clear water over the lot and let the water drain off into the sink. We have extremely hard water and this just creates lots more soap scum for us so we go for option 2 and use the tub to hold dirty dishes so the sink can be clear for things like draining stuff in the colander. This is also true for scrubbing up your fruit and veg--dont do it under a running tap.  Fill the sink with water add a wee drop of ecological washing up liquid and a splash of vinegar (will help get waxes off) and scrub that way.  Then rinse as you would dishes. And since Ive just mentioned it:

3. Use ecological washing up liquid or tablets if you own a dishwasher. Why buy some scary artificially coloured liquid that is made from petroleum and has harsh chemicals and lemon fresh chemical smell? If you want lemon flavour--use a real lemon. We wash with the mildest eco detergent made from plants and have a whole arsenal of cleaning weaponry. We buy loofah sponges at the Pound Shop (think Dollar Store) cut them into pieces, tie a bit of hemp twine around them and instant pot scrubber. When one wears out you can compost it. I keep small shakers of bicarbonate of soda and salt next to the sink if extra scrub power is needed. I have an old shampoo bottle filled with white wine vinegar (its cheap and doesnt smell as strong as plain white) for when you need to degrease. But my real secret weapon is lemon. I use fresh lemons a lot in my cooking and then I save the lemon halves for washing up. Use a juiced lemon as a pot scrubber to degrease and make the dishes smell nice then compost.

4. Fix leaky taps ASAP A tap that drips once per second can waste 15,000 litres in a year and a thin trickle up to 100,000 in a year going straight down the drain. We have leaky tap issues in this flat. We report them immediately but whether the plumber gets here immediately is another story. Weve been known to manually turn off the hot water valve to stop a leak--only turning it on when we need hot water--until the plumber arrives.

5. Get a water saving device for your toilet. If you are lucky enough to have a new modern toilet then you wont need one--it already is a low flush kind. But if you have an old one like we do consider a water saving device. Dont put a brick in like they used to tell you in the 80s--it will dissolve and give you hosts of issues. Use a Hippo Bag or an empty 1 litre bottle filled with water. We tried a hippo bag but it made our toilet leak and the plumber gave us dirty looks and a stern talking to. So right now I am subscribing to the If its yellow let it mellow theory --which Spiderman does not like therefore I only do it when he is not home. I hope to get a 1 litre or perhaps 500ml container in there soon and try again.

   6. Wash your clothes at 30 or 40 degrees. There is no need to wash higher. I mean 30 degrees C is like nearly 90 degrees F for Friths sake. Washing at 60 degrees uses twice as much energy as washing at 40 degrees. As Ive said we use ecological soap nuts to do laundry and I find they release their soap better at 40 degrees. But that is high as we go. And the same goes for detergent. Dont use some crazy perfumed one made from petroleum. Or TIDE or anything else owned by Proctor and Gamble because of their appalling animal testing policies. But thats for another post.  Also always wash with a full load. It just makes sense. Washers use up lots of water per load you might as well get more clothes done for the water used. And while on the subject of laundry:

  7. Dont tumble dry if you dont have to. Tumble driers are HUGE energy sucks and HUGE CO2 emitters. Every time you tumble dry around 2.4 kg of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Line dry--inside or outside--and save the drier for maybe just tasking the excess water out of heavy thing like jeans or towels and then line dry the rest of the way. When we lived in Louisiana we dried all clothes indoors on clothes racks under the ceiling fan (too much pollen for me to dry outdoors). Here we do it on racks in the back room next to the dehumidifier--aided sometimes by the heater and the fan as the season dictates.

This one I disagree with but will print it anyway as it appears in everything I read.

8. Take a shower rather than a bath. When they say this they are referring to a 5 minute shower. I have never in my whole life been able to make a shower as short as 5 minutes.  I like hot water. I like warming up stiff and sore muscles in hot water. The longest shower I can ever recall was one that lasted 45 minutes while I recited the bulk of Act 1 of a one woman show I was performing under water. However this problem is solved for me as this flat does not have shower. You heard me correctly. We live without a shower. And do you know what? I love it. I didnt think I would, but I do. They say that a  short shower uses 35 litres of water if you have a low flow shower head and over 100 litres if you have an old shower head/power shower as opposed to a bath which uses much more than that--they mean a FULL bath. So I measured out what was 35 litres and how much bath water that allowed me and thats what I run. Its about 4 inches. Every morning I lay back and let the hot water release vertebrae compressed in the night. I can lay back for as long as I like and no extra water is running down the drain. Problem solved.

So think about the water that flows freely from your taps and realize that so many other people in the world do not have that luxury. Think before you waste.  

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Plastic is (not) fantastic

I have an uneasy relationship with plastic. Things that used to be in glass bottles now are in plastic. Glass bottles may have plastic lids. You cant escape it. Things rarely come in boxes anymore. Just more bloody plastic bags. I am quite proud of how little we throw away--just one black bin bag every 3-4 weeks.  I want to be a really committed environmentalist and say “if it comes in a plastic that cant be recycled then I wont buy it.” But I cant. Or rather I don’t want to. These are a list of all the plastic we have to throw away. This is the sum total of what goes into our bin.

Plastic bags that contained:
Rice (we buy white and brown)
Nuts (we buy cashews, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds)
Bulgur wheat
Pasta (we buy several shapes)
Dried fruit (coconut, apricots, cranberries)
Frozen veg (peas, corn and edamame)
Frozen fruit (in winter when we cant get fresh and freeze ourselves we buy frozen cherries, blackberries and raspberries for smoothies)
Recycled toilet paper
Small bags of sugar snap peas or tenderstem broccoli
Bag o spinach leaves for smoothies
Rice cakes
Oat cakes
The bag my organic cotton balls come in

Things that have an annoying non recyclable bit of plastic on an otherwise recyclable product:
That plastic seal on hummus
That plastic seal and lid on bottles of Tabasco sauce
Plastic wrapper on SunMaid raisins--the plastic container is surprisingly useful and we reuse as many as we can and recycle the rest. But not the label which peels off to be able to open it
The screw on lid of tetra packs (juice and oat milk)
The lid on 2 brands of spices (including the fairtrade spices)
The lids on our shampoo bottles

Things that have crinkly wrappers:
Nakd bars (these are raw bars made from nuts and dried fruit like dates and raisins and come in flavours like gingerbread and pecan pie)

Things that come in plastic tubes:
Sun dried tomatoes (not oil packed)

Things that look like foil but really arent and things with that fake foil lining:
Tear off lids to yogurt pots
Bags surrounding tea bags
Hemp seed bag
Flax seed bag
Powdered vegetable stock canister
Engevita nutritional yeast cheese substitute canister
Cocoa powder canister
(these last 3 all have plastic lids that have a number 4--and we cant recycle 3 and 4 locally)
The inner wrapper of my favourite chocolate bar--70% cocoa with chillies

That is what fills our bin every month. These are the only things we throw away. Everything else is recycled, composted or an alternative is bought. I would like to be a better person and decide not to buy these items, but I am weak. Many of these would reduce the amount of food we could eat. Many like the Nakd bars are a wholesome alternative to candy bars and buying them supports a small company in Wales. I just try to look for alternatives where ever possible. Some people are lucky enough to have BULK BINS and they can scoop out many of these things into their own container. We do not so we must make do. I will go out of my way to buy a particular brand if they only pack in a box without a plastic inner liner. So far risotto rice and polenta are the 2 that fit this qualification. Buying produce at the market/green grocer means I can buy loose without a plastic bag. I continue to seek out alternatives.

Are you overflowing with plastic packaging? Is there an alternative? Can you do without it? If you are aware of packaging it might make you buy it less if it is just for a treat. What can you recycle? This is the contents of my bin. Whats in yours?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge

Colder weather is here (My Louisiana peeps may not be feeling it yet, but you will soon!) It’s time to take part in the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge set by one of favourite blogs Crunchy Chicken--who really does put the mental in environmental. Her wit and humour help us to do amazing eco things and enjoy it while we do it.
Here is a link to her website detailing the whys and wherefores.

With England being chilly and damp most of the year there is a real temptation to want “comfort” heating to ward off the drizzle you’ve just walked through. Most of England has radiators that provide heat in each room as well as a timer on the boiler so you can have your heat come on at set times of the day. The radiators have a control where you can turn them up or down in each room depending on how much heat you need per room.

Keeping your house comfortable, but not overly hot just makes sense. Money sense as well as reducing your carbon emission sense. Just turning down your thermostat by one degree can save 10% on your heating bills. FACT: If you are walking around in shorts in winter then your house is too hot.  

This is what we are doing this year to meet the challenge:
1. Opening the curtains in the living room when we wake up to dispel the condensation that we get on the bay windows and to allow heat from the sun (sun??? What sun in Britain???)  to heat the room when we’re at work.  Then closing the curtains at dusk.
2.Using the timer and only heating the house as needed. An hour in the morning when we wake up so it won’t be freezing when we bathe and dress and then off again until Spiderman gets home from work. I get home at around 2:00PM and exercise. I get so hot and bothered I need to run the fan so no reason to use the heat yet. Spiderman gets home around 5:00PM. We turn on the heat then--but low--below 70 and only heat the rooms we need. The heat goes off no later than 9:00PM as we get ready for bed. We don’t heat overnight as we are under a big duvet and we can snuggle for warmth. Tonight because I roasted potatoes in the oven we were able to turn the heat off earlier as the oven warmed the front of the house.
3. Put on extra layers. This is actually only for me as I am the only one that ever gets cold. Spiderman insists I am part reptile.  I sometimes pretend that we need to turn up the heat for the spider’s sake--after all they are tropical and need warmer weather (but to be fair they have their own heat mat) --but it is really for me. I dress in lots of layers at home. Typically leggings and vest (undershirt) then long sleeve shirt, polar fleece jumper, long johns over leggings, socks, slippers and a knitted hat made by my step dad Jamie. I also have arm warmers--like knitted leg warmers but for your arms and hands (Duh!) in case my hands are cold. If all else fails I have a SNUGGIE which our mate Loren sent from California as a gift. Thanks, babe! I use it often. If bundled up like an Eskimo I still feel cold we are allowed to raise the thermostat by a degree. But usually this does me.  
4. Some DIY.
a) Last year we were getting huge cold draughty winds coming through our bay window through the flimsy curtains that came with this flat. I searched around the 8 charity shops in Hitchin (count ‘em, 8! So many bargains to choose from!) and found a pair of beautiful, thick, lined, heavy weight all-the-way-to-the-floor curtains for £10. That has helped enormously with preventing heat loss and allowed us to heat that front room less. My goal for this year is to do the same for all windows. We have a school holiday next week when I plan to do some major second hand shopping. 
b) Also to block up any draughts like the one coming under our front door from outside. We have an adorable draught excluder shaped like the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs complete with stripy tights and ruby slippers--thanks Mum!--that we are committed to using when we are here. You can really feel a difference as you walk by the door.
c) This is the one I hope to do. Every eco book I read says if you have radiators on outside walls which we do--4 of them--that putting foil or reflective covered doo dahs you can buy at a hardware store will reflect heat back into a room so you can turn your radiators down. I have yet to convince Spiderman of the merits of foil behind our radiators. Are you reading this honey? Please stop rolling your eyes and think of the savings. Think of the CO2 emissions we won’t be producing by running the radiators less. Think of every crying polar bear who died because we didn’t put foil behind our radiators. Ok, that last one was a bit mad. But if you are reading this my love--will you please think about it?

Obviously if you own your home making sure you have insulation in your roof, walls and ceiling will help heat not to escape. Three quarters of your heat will be lost if you are poorly insulated or draughty.  We don’t have control of that as we rent this flat so it’s heavy curtains and draught excluders for us.

Will you take the challenge? Come freeze yer buns with us. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

It’s (Not) Easy Being Green

I recently went on an all day workshop by the Living Witness Project on Climate Change: Our Quaker Response. It was, I suspect, how some Christians feel when they go to a revival--- full of renewed joy and enthusiasm for a topic close to their hearts.

We moved to England to be able to DO something about our carbon footprint. We left behind a wasteful life --a draughty old TARDIS house that was bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, 2 vehicles (despite the fact that we worked at the same school which was a 10 minute walk away from our house) throwing away bags and bags full of rubbish because there was no recycling, filling up our space with lots of things we didn’t need. I can remember things like owning 27 drinking glasses. We would honestly get to number 27 before we washed up. Eating the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) of lots of plastic packaged artificial ingredient crap that barely passed for food but was easy to cook because it was fast and we were tired. Despite our affluence we were unhappy. And quite fat, if I'm honest.

Here in the UK we are able to really make a difference.
Ÿ         We choose to live in a small but comfortable 2 bedroom flat. FACT: 2 people do not need a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house to themselves. All that space is there begging to be filled up with things you don’t need.

Ÿ         We choose to live and work in the same town so that we can walk to work, to the shops, to the market or wherever we need locally. We can take the bus or train for longer journeys. FACT: 2 people do not each need their own car. We got by for many years with one before Spiderman learned to drive. I will be honest and say--I never wanted to walk anywhere in Louisiana due to the heat. I’d be a beet red, sweat dripping puddle by the time I reached my destination. Plus working as a teacher I had to carry loads of display materials or books I’d graded to and from school so I needed to drive. But not 2 separate cars to the same school.

Ÿ         Things that come in plastic with a tonne of preservatives and made from animals that were pumped full of hormones, led painful lives and experienced painful deaths is not food. FACT: Real food is made from fruits and vegetables and beans and pulses and whole grains. We try not to eat anything that is not recognised by our grandmother’s generation as food. With the exception of tofu--which my grandmother would not recognise, but an Asian grandmother would. FACT: anything beginning with Mc is not food.   

Ÿ         We recycle like mad. Cans and glass and paper are picked up every fortnight behind the flat by the council. We also have a brown bin for putting food waste and cardboard in. We fill up 1-2 buckets a week full of food scraps and peelings and cardboard that the council picks up and turns into compost. We can take tetra packs and plastics 1 and 2 and 5 and 6 (but not 3 and 4) to be recycled behind the supermarket. This means we only throw away a bag of trash every 3-4 weeks. Sadly, everything in that bag is plastic. INTERESTING FACT: We constantly hear people moaning about how England lags behind on the recycling front compared to other European countries--but to us coming from no recycling it feels amazing. Louisiana doesn’t do state wide recycling--just the major cities. And ours wasn’t major enough. Here at least everywhere does something and our county does heaps.

There are lots of things that we do. These are just a few. What are you doing? Don’t be put off by the fact that you can’t do everything. Do something. Do lots of somethings. They will add up to a big thing. Just do it.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Food Addictions

Do you dream of food? I was having this discussion at work  about food cravings. That sometimes a food craving symbolises a vitamin/mineral you are lacking. All through my hysterectomy recovery I craved millet. I didn't know why. Now I know it is super high in iron--and I was anemic after surgery. Lately for me it has been tenderstem broccoli. Now, anyone who knows me knows I used to HATE broccoli. But tenderstem is different. It is what it says on the tin. The stem is tender--more like asparagus--and not so woody. The florets are not grainy. I cannot get enough. We are eating it 3 times a week as a side dish. Last night I dreamt of roasted sweet potatoes--their tender orange flesh all caramelized and sweet. Am I mad?

At school others were teasing me about my healthy food eating. They were saying things like “I crave chocolate” or “I crave chips” (meaning fries in the British sense) or “I crave crisps” (potato chips) and the overwhelming response---DRUMROLL PLEASE---“I crave cheese.” Most people say to me “I don’t know how you can be a vegan. I could never give up cheese.” Well there’s a reason for that. Cheese is addictive. And not in the “It’s so delicious I’ll just have another slice” kind if way. 
Here is an excerpt from an article in the Orlando Sentinel July 13 2003. This information comes from
Of all the potentially addicting foods, cheese may be the most complex. In research studies using vegan and vegetarian diets to control cholesterol or reduce body weight, most participants soon forget the lure of ice cream, sour cream, and even burgers and chicken. But for many people, the taste for cheese lingers on and on. Yes, 70 percent of its calories may come from waist-augmenting fat, and, ounce for ounce, it may harbor more cholesterol than a steak. But that cheese habit is tough to break.
Why is cheese so addicting? Certainly not because of its aroma, which is perilously close to old socks. The first hint of a biochemical explanation came in 1981, when scientists at Wellcome Research Laboratories in Research Triangle Park, N.C., found a substance in dairy products that looked remarkably like morphine. After a complex series of tests, they determined that, surprisingly enough, it actually was morphine. By a fluke of nature, the enzymes that produce opiates are not confined to poppies -- they also hide inside cows' livers. So traces of morphine can pass into the animal's bloodstream and end up in milk and milk products. The amounts are far too small to explain cheese's appeal. But nonetheless, the discovery led scientists on their search for opiate compounds in dairy products.
And they found them. Opiates hide inside casein, the main dairy protein. As casein molecules are digested, they break apart to release tiny opiate molecules, called casomorphins. One of these compounds has about one-tenth the opiate strength of morphine. The especially addicting power of cheese may be due to the fact that the process of cheese-making removes water, lactose and whey proteins so that casein is concentrated. Scientists are now trying to tease out whether these opiate molecules work strictly within the digestive tract or whether they pass into the bloodstream and reach the brain directly.
So there you have it,  folks. CHEESE is a DRUG. It was difficult to stop eating cheese, but the thing that keeps me away when I sometimes let my thoughts linger over a piece of salty, crumbly caerphilly cheese is how it got that way. A female cow was impregnated, then gave birth to a calf. That calf was not allowed to suckle his or her mother’s milk for more than 24 hours before being separated. If the calf was female it will be pumped full of hormones and antibiotics just like her mother and grow up to be  a cow with enormous, painfully overstretched udders who will then give birth to her own baby who will be taken away from her and the whole cycle starts all over. If the calf was a male it will be turned into veal. Thinking of this is all it takes for me to remember why I don’t want cheese.
No cheese for me, please.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Passin' a good time

One of the teachers at my school came yesterday all excited. She was searching the second hand books at David's Bookshop in Letchworth (a wonderful independant bookshop) and discovered a book from Louisiana. I was skeptical as to what it might be when lo and behold she produced a copy of The Cajun Night Before Christmas illustrated by James Rice published by Pelican Publishing.

Spiderman and I laughed and laughed. We both had this book as children and remembered it fondly. We sold many copies of it the year we owned the bookshop. How did this book make it's way across the ocean?

The teacher who bought it for me said she and her daughter tried to read it but couldn't understand any words. I had a go at reading it in my admittedly very poor Cajun accent and everyone was rolling with laughter. I have been told I must come read it classes in December so this is another story I must practice.

Looking on the dust jacket I noticed other books by James Rice. I remember Gaston the Green Nosed Alligator and Gaston Goes to Mardi Gras (I'm sure I had these as well) but I was not familiar with the Gaston works for BP series--namely Gaston Drills an Offshore Oil Well and Gaston Lays an Offshore Pipeline. I somehow can't imagine these last two being as popular today.

There are many things I disliked about Louisiana--racism, segregated schools, views on education, that hunting culture that puts animal heads on walls--but this book reminded me of the things I love--cypress trees with moss, spicy food, zydeco music and the good memories I have of so many Mardi Gras spent at the Acadian Village.

Thaks for the memory.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Step right up and see the amazing, colourful bag!

Here it is. The bag of my dreams. In a lovely shade of pink which, coincidently, is the exact shade my wedding dress was those 18 and a half years ago. Being frugal gal, I first dug through my scrap bin to look for a fabric that could be used. Everything was really thin and would make a good liner, but not a good outside. I went to the market and looked for some thicker fabric, but none was to be found. But frugal gal does not give in so easily. We have masses of curtain shops in town that have beautiful, heavyweight fabric. But much of it costs like £8 a metre. YIKES! Too rich for my blood. So what can frugal girl do? Many of these places have bargain bins that have offcuts--those fag ends of cloth that are too small to do anything with. Hooray! I struck gold or rather struck pink. This lovely rich pink fabric with a pleasant sheen was mine for the mere snip of £2. I trotted off back to the market and bought some heavy iron on interfacing from the Haberdashery stall--I love the word haberdashery--a couple of buttons and I was good to go. One of the fabrics lurking in my scrap bin was a perfect match for the pink fabric. I washed and dried it on a radiator and all was ready. Here is the inside of the bag so you can see the funky lining. There are also 2 pink interior pockets I made with leftover pink, but we didn’t take a picture of them.

I learned to sew for the theatre. This is good in a way as it has enabled me to be creative in converting one thing to another or doing without a pattern. Unfortunately, there is a laziness to sewing for the stage. Thread doesn’t match the fabric? Who cares! It won’t show from the stage. Stitches all wonky? Audience won’t be able to tell. Many of my early projects followed these misguided directives and were a bit crap, if I’m honest. My last backpack was in this category. I ran out of iron on interfacing about ¾ of the way through. Now, the sensible thing to have done was to stop and wait until the next day I could go out and purchase some more. But it was Saturday and the shops would all be closed tomorrow and I want it done NOWWW (said in my whiniest voice) and so I carried on. And the bag was stiff in some places and floppy in others. And it bothered me EVERY SINGLE TIME I wore it, which was every day.

So this bag resolved to be different. I took my time. Unpicked wonky bits and did them properly. When I ran out of thread I did not carry on with just any old thing I had lying about (as tempting as it was) and only sulked slightly according to the Amazing Spiderman. And the work has paid off. It is lovely. And now I have attached all my badges--which are a great out reach--kids talk to me about books, people ask me about being Quaker or Vegan--and God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. Here is a picture of me in action, wearing the bag. I'm in Spiderman's school library.

Hooray for the amazing, colourful, beautiful bag!  

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Sewing is my bag

I love that expression. Actors pretending to be hippies in old Dragnet episodes would say something like that. My favourite speech by a spaced out hippy in her flower shop called The Cry of Sweet Pleasures and Stems of Dear Love was on the Dragnet episode where the purse snatcher turned out to be a dog. At this point the Amazing Spiderman would say jokingly, “Thanks for ruining it for me!” but either you are a mega Dragnet fan as I am (I even have a replica 714 badge!) and you already know this episode or you’re some unfeeling bastard who doesn’t care.  This is the scene:

Hippy: I’m not like some. I dig the Fuzz. After all you are like the flowers yourselves. You have to live too.
Friday: Did you report your purse stolen by a dog?
Hippy: No. The Friendly Fuzz in the black and off white wheels said he’d make a report. That’s his thing.
Gannon: Thing?
Hippy: We all have a bag and in every bag we have a thing. My bag is flowers. My thing is finding homes for them. He said it was a dog. I didn’t say that.
Friday: If you didn’t say that it was a dog, why would the officer report that it was?
Hippy: He who steals my purse, steals my heart for he is obviously in more need than I am and my heart goes out to those who need --for I have no needs, save to be needed.
Friday: Well, that’s a real gentle philosophy lady and if what’s you feel why did you report the theft of your purse?
Hippy: But I didn’t, Love. See, when the creature made off with it I had no bread to pay the bus driver and he didn’t want to let me ride, see - collecting fares is his thing. Well, I felt I should ride and pay later. Well he called the Man to put me off the bus and that’s when I explained to the Friendly Fuzz.
Gannon: Then you didn’t register a complaint?
Hippy: I never complain.
Friday: Well there are women who have complained that a dog snatched their purse.
Hippy: Just like all creatures, there are guide dogs and misguided dogs.
Friday: Maybe you can help us find this misguided one.
Hippy: No, Love. I must stay here in the Cry of Sweet Pleasures and Stems of Dear Love.
Friday: Well all we want is a description of the dog.
Hippy: Well it had a tail, but so do ponies and cows and alligators so that’s really no help, is it Love?
Gannon: What about colour?
Hippy: How drab the world would be without colour. Yes it did have a colour.
Friday: What colour, Miss?
Hippy: Brown, black and yellow.
Gannon: How large would you say it was?
Hippy: Oh, a size two.
Gannon: A size two what?
Hippy: My daughter is a size two. She’s about that high. 
Gannon: Now is that standing on its hind legs?
Hippy: Not as it was running.
Gannon: Did it stand on its hind legs to take your purse?
Hippy: I don’t know. The lovely creature approached, said something and when I turned it was running off with my purse.
Gannon: (giving meaningful glance to Friday) It said something?
Hippy: Of course. It said “Excuse me.”
Gannon: (more meaningful glances) The dog talked?
Hippy: Yes, Love. In its own words of course.
Friday: What words?

Brilliant, no? The point this huge digression has taken is that my bag is sewing and making things creatively/cheaply is my thing. The backpack is nearly completed so stay tuned tomorrow to see the amazing, colourful bag! I will complete the last bits tonight and Spiderman will kindly take photos.  I’ll just go polish my badge.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Krafty With a K

In Louisiana, for some absurd reason, many things are spelled with a K that have no business being spelled with a K. Krafty for a start. There was a shop in town called Krafty Kreations which I suppose they thought was kute. Is it any wonder that Louisiana ranks 49 out of 50 in education? Every child grows up thinking you spell things with a K. But I digress.

I like to be crafty--and spell it with a C, thank you very much. I love to sew. I love to embroider (hand sewing) and I love machine sewing. When we moved to the UK the first appliance we bought after a fridge and a washing machine was a sewing machine for me. Yes, I love it that much.

A few months ago my wallet went kaput (and that can be spelled with a K!) It was falling apart at the seams and I needed a replacement. But what to do? Every one I found at the market was made of leather--or at least had some leather bits--and that I did not want. So what’s a crafty gal to do for cheap? Make it herself! So I did. I dug around in my scrap basket and found some fabric. Every time I sew I save back bits that might be useful. You never know, do you? I found some blue and green leafy apron fabric that I loved as well as some blue dress fabric and I was good to go.

Here it is. My wallet. Or purse rather. Over in the UK what I’d call a wallet is called a purse and what I’d call a purse is called a handbag. Confused yet? So was I. But now I’ve got the hang of it.

This is how it looks all closed up. Isn’t it purdy?

This is how it looks open. There is a enclosed pocket for cards that fastens with a button to stop cards from falling all over the place when you least expect it. That button was a later addition after experiencing aforementioned disaster. Now it works perfectly. There is a bit for bills (not that I ever have many of those just laying about) and a bit for change. The change compartment presented me with a poser as I don’t do zips. But I cleverly made an attached drawstring bag that perfectly holds the change in and you just press the toggle and the bag opens and you can get your change out. I carry lots of coins about--you have to remember that £1 only comes in coins not bills so there are always lots of £1 coins and £2 coins in my change compartment for buying fruit and veg from the market or greengrocers.

It has inspired to me to make a backpack or rucksack as it is known here to replace my current one which is a bit tatty. I use this in place of a handbag to be hands free. I like to decorate it with badges--or pins/buttons to my American homeys--from all our travels and with children’s book characters. So soon when I finish the gorgeous bag I shall blog about it. 

So for now, go forth and be krafty, but never be krap.

A Carpet of Scarlet and Gold

Autumn Movement

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper
   sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
   new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind,
   and the old things go, not one lasts.
Carl Sandburg

I love this poem so much with its rich metaphors. It is beginning to be so true here. The leaves are turning and the ground is littered with scarlet and gold. I am teaching this poem tomorrow to a small group of reluctant boys and I have collected a fallen leaf for each to use as a starter. I also love this poem because my late grandmother was Carl Sandburg's biggest fan. I will read this tomorrow in honour of her.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Goat Be Gone

This is the name of my new deodorant. It started off as the name of the peppermint cooling spray I invented for using backstage at the school play where it was so darn hot and we were wearing all black. Anyone who has ever worked backstage in an airless theatre knows what I'm talking about. Somehow the term Goat Be Gone has evolved to mean anything that stops the stink.

And my friends, I do. I am by nature a sweaty person. I have temperature fluctuations throughout the day--getting worse since my hysterectomy—whenever I do a storytelling I work so intensely that I overheat. Plus I exercise 5 days a week. I am not one of those women who “glow” after exercise—I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, my hair dripping wet and my face a tomato. I like to think this is a testament to how hard I push myself. The real truth as to why I am a sweaty person is that I refuse to use an antiperspirant.  Our bodies are designed to sweat. It is our way of cooling off as well as a way to get rid of toxins. Our skin is our largest organ and I believe should be free to do its thing. And that thing is sweat. But I don’t want to have the stink that often accompanies the sweat. So I have spent many years trying to invent the perfect deodorant.

I do not want to use something that contains aluminum as it has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. I do not want lots of unpronounceable chemicals being rubbed under my arms so near to breast tissue. I have tried many variations of spray ons that started with vodka as a base (alcohol kills germs) and adding essential oils that are anti-bacterial like lavender or ones that are supposed to help with sweating like sage. Most have worked well in winter or as long as I didn’t exert myself. They often had to be reapplied mid day. But now, my friends I have invented the one, the only, Goat Be Gone that I think will be the answer. It works hard and lasts through storytelling and exercise. I sweat but don’t oversweat. And I don’t stink. Not even after 30 minutes of Tae-Bo.

Goat Be Gone
¼ cup plus 1 tsp arrowroot power
1 TB baking soda
4-5 TB coconut butter—enough to make a paste
10 drops sage oil
10 drops lavender oil
5 drops tea tree oil
5 drops lemon oil

Just gradually mix in the coconut butter (which is antibacterial as well) and add in the oils. Mix well and put into a recycled jar that has been cleaned out with alcohol to sterilize it. Rub a pea sized amount into each pit in the morning and you’ll be fresh as a daisy all day. Because you use so little it lasts for ages. I was lucky as these are all things I have in my cupboards. So easy and cheap to make.

Make some Goat Be Gone today and protect your body and stop the stink!