Friday, 29 February 2008

Boiling Frogs

Apparently, if you put a frog in boiling water it’ll frantically try to escape, but if you put it into a pan of tepid water it’ll feel comfortable and as the water heats up, will fall into a tranquil state, gradually allowing itself to be boiled to death without even noticing.

We humans, as intelligent as we may be, are acting like frogs!

When we first arrived (evolved) on this planet it was nice and lukewarm; a good, comfortable place to be. Everything we needed was provided for us. It seems to me that as we developed our intelligence so our ‘wants’ developed too; we were no longer satisfied to just cover our ‘needs’. We chopped down forests and woodland and killed more animals than we actually needed for food in order to satisfy our gluttonous demands and, perhaps worse, as entertainment, making many extinct along the way.

Eventually the alpha humans' greed and laziness led them to oppressing those who were easily manipulated. Instead of leading the pack, they tyrannised them. A few lived well at the expense of many. Eventually those alpha humans became dissatisfied with their lot, wanting even more and looked abroad, to far off lands, for more slaves to do their bidding.

But never happy with their lot, always seeking more, they then wanted machines to do the work. That way they could produce more and use their persuasive power to have the rest of the people want more, too. Soon factories were built, spewing out toxic waste both into the air and waterways, but still the majority had to work long hours, either in hazardous factory conditions or as servants in the homes of the rich.

The situation hasn’t really changed much.

We still have a few living in luxury while the rest of us sell our services in order to afford the products that the few would have us believe will make our lives as rich and meaningful as theirs. Buy this, buy that, buy, buy, buy – it’s the only way to be happy. The wealthy still have servants: nannies, au pairs, gardeners, body guards, personal shoppers, cleaners, dog walkers, etc. Just yesterday DD2 saw a celebrity in Selfridges with her bag carrier! These people are often paid nothing more than the minimum wage.

The water’s becoming dangerously hot now. How long is it before the pan boils?

While recycling is a good thing, avoiding products that need to be recycled is even better, as is buying items made under fair and safe conditions. Unfortunately it’s often small manufacturers that produce ethical goods and, price wise, they can’t compete with the ‘big fish’ and even if they can, producing products in an environmentally friendly manner often costs more.

But even most of us who are on a low income can afford to be ethical when we open our purses as long as we’re willing to give up the unnecessary luxuries that we’re told we need in order to be happy. Would I rather pay £5 a litre more for eco-friendly paint or buy a couple of CDs? As much as I enjoy music, the survival of the planet means more to me. Don't get me wrong, I do buy the occasional CD but if I can only choose one...

Only we, the ‘little people’ - the majority - can stop the pan from boiling. We can vote with our actions rather than at the polling booth. By ceasing to buy goods and services that aren’t both ecologically and humanely ethical, eventually they’ll disappear and be replaced with what the market’s calling for. It won’t happen over night, and shouldn’t, either. We can’t just switch from an economy based on growth to one based on sustainability without adjustments needing to be made and adjustment takes time. But we must start.

Nobody’s saying we should go back to living in mud huts and cooking self hunted meat over open fires, but we can develop a new way of living; one that’s both comfortable, healthy and ecologically sound.

Sharon J


[Photo credit: ozoni11 at]

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Thursday, 28 February 2008

Home Schooling in England

Because we’ve moved around a lot – by choice I may add, not by necessity – my daughters have been to a number of schools. Some people have inferred that I’m a bad mother for dragging my kids “from pillar to post” but when asked, they’ll tell you that they’ve lived an adventurous life with lots of experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have had, met lots of people and had a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, preconceptions of how things ought to be aren’t always right. People – families – we’re all different.

Sadly, after moving back to England, both girls were badly bullied at school. No doubt because they were Scandinavian and therefore different and we all know it doesn’t take make to stand out from the crowd and become a victim. That the lads were drawn to them didn’t help; I doubt the girls liked that much.

DD1 eventually moved back to Norway to live with her dad and DD2 was miserable. I could see she was becoming depressed and a young teen shouldn’t have to live like that. After speaking to various members of staff and listening to empty promises I finally made the decision to take her out of school and give her a home education.

Plenty of people were against it; the people from the local education authority certainly were and although most friends understood and supported my decision, a few were clearly perplexed. “Drag her to school kicking and screaming – don’t let her have her own way” I was told. Well I’m sorry but I don’t treat my children that way; there’s no respect in that.

The LEA threatened me with court action for keeping her away from school but I knew my rights. The law of England and Wales states clearly that “all children of school age shall receive sufficient full-time education in school or otherwise.” They had to admit defeat; there was nothing they could do about it. I promised that they would be allowed to monitor her education to ensure that she was indeed being educated and in return they were willing to provide us with a qualified tutor who would visit DD2 for an hour, four times a week, something that was in fact very generous of them; most local authorities don’t do this.

Contrary to what some people believed, she wasn’t being lazy or just ‘trying to get her own way’. She knuckled down and got on with her work. We bought curriculum books to follow so that she’d have a chance of passing her GSCEs and eventually gain entrance to higher education, and we made up projects of our own. Our own local surroundings gave us lots of opportunities for geography and history projects; we have canals that date back to 1791; we live in a historic railway town; we have a park just a few minutes walk away with a well stocked lake (both fish and birds), a woodland walk, formal gardens and more. Lots could be learned about the environment just by walking around the town and I’m sure she learned a whole bunch of stuff that she would never have learned at school.

To our frustration, when the time came for her to sit her GCSEs, we were told that because she was home educated, she wouldn’t be allowed a mark higher than a ‘C’ as she could only sit what’s called the foundation tier rather than the higher tier. She was devastated. She’d worked hard and knew she could manage ‘A’ passes. I tried discussing it with them, practically begged them; her tutor tried talking to them (she also believed DD2 could achieve grade ‘A’) but they were adamant; that was the way things were.

She did get her ‘C’ passes in Math, English Language, and English Lit, the three exams she sat, but she wasn’t sure whether that would be good enough to get her onto the college course she wanted. Her dream was to be a photographer but for that she’d need at least two ‘B’ grade passes. We went along to the college, spoke to the head of the department and luckily, after a long chat with DD2, he said that he believed she had potential and didn’t want to see it wasted so would accept her on the course. I could have kissed him.

She’s now in her final college year and is planning to go to Uni although she is considering taking a gap year. She's very stressed at the moment, what with college, holding down a part-time job and helping me so I do understand her reasons. People also grow tired of ‘school’ and sometimes need a break. But whatever she chooses, those who insisted she’d never make anything of herself, that she was just being lazy, and so forth were definitely wrong!

Home schooling appears to be more widespread in the US than it is here but if your child is unhappy in mainstream education, maybe home education would be the better alternative. Stick to your guns and don’t let the LEA or anybody else intimidate you. Everybody doesn’t fit the standard mould (does anybody?) and only you know what’s best for your child.

Sharon J xx

I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education ~ Mark Twain


More information on home schooling can be found on the DirectGov website

[Photo credit: banafsh3 at]

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Wednesday, 27 February 2008


Picture courtesy Stoke Worms

No, I haven’t gone and contracted a bout of worms, I’ve bought a wormery. So now I’m going to start vermicomposting.

Basically, a wormery is made up of a base unit on which several deep trays sit, topped with a lid. You start filling the first tray with peelings, old fruit and veg, left over cooked food (but not meat or anything spicy or salty), old tissues and kitchen roll, shredded newspaper, bits of moistened cardboard, tea bags, coffee grounds, pasta, cereal, bread, cake, biscuits, hair (both human and animal) and even the contents of your vacuum cleaner bag. The only things you can’t put in (and we’re talking organic matter here, obviously) are citrus fruit and peelings, onions and anything that’s spicy, salty or has vinegar on. Oh, and poo, unless it's from a herbivore! That’s still a lot of stuff that would otherwise be chucked out with the rubbish that’s then turned into compost and plant food instead.

The worms live in the tray that you’re ‘feeding’ at the time and as they munch their way through it, it comes out of the other end as worm casts which is a nutrient rich compost. What’s more, because you need to keep everything moist (not soaking wet – you don’t want to drown the worms), the moisture seeps through and gathers in the bottom compartment as fertiliser. There’s a tap on the front so getting it out isn’t a problem and apparently it’s excellent for both indoor and outdoor plants.

I bought mine from this eBay seller at the bargain price of £30 including P&P. He also has a website here. They come in different sizes and styles from the smallest that are suitable for one person to huge ones for big families. I have a 60 litre version which, I’m told, is appropriate for my needs. It even comes complete with dendrobaena worms, worm food and their bedding so they'll be nice and comfy as they get used to their new environment.

I have a composter but I never use it because it’s at the end of the garden and I really don’t like having to walk through mud to get to it. It also breaks down veeeeery slowly so is mostly full up. The wormery, however, is now sited on a round table that was otherwise doing nothing, right beside my back door. I have an empty ice-cream pot (big 3 litre one) standing on the worktop that I shall put peelings etc in during the day and then every evening I’ll empty it into the wormery. Easy peasy!

Because they’re odour free (so I’m told – I’ll come back to this subject once mine’s been running a while), even those living in flats could have one as long as they have a balcony. And I believe there are even indoor types available, although I haven’t looked for them.

Hopefully I’ll see a decrease in the amount of rubbish that goes into the bin now and I should soon have some lovely compost to use in my pots and fertiliser to feed the plants with. Can’t go wrong really, can I? Or can I? I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sharon J xx


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Global Warming? I Don’t Think So!

During the early hours of this morning, at about 1am, we had an earthquake. Apparently the epicentre was in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire but we felt it pretty violently here in South Cheshire. The house felt as thought it was shaking from side to side, the ceiling lamps were swinging and even the dog started barking. The wild birds all woke up and have been singing their hearts out since. Poor things probably fell off of their branches!

I was upstairs at the time and at first I thought something had exploded downstairs. The boiler perhaps. I rushed down only to find everything was as it should be and realised that it must have been an earthquake. I’ve felt a few before but never one of that magnitude. According to the BBC, it was on a scale of 5.3 making it the biggest earthquake in the UK for nearly 25 years.

Does it have something to do with global warming? People on forums and stuff are saying it does but I’m not so sure. Earthquakes have been happening all over the UK for a long time and certainly since they started being investigated and recorded in 1889. They do tend to be more prevalent on the western side of England and Scotland with Wales getting their fair share too, though. Ireland, oddly enough, has only had one in that time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the planet IS suffering due to our human selfishness but I don’t think this earthquake is proof of that; it’s just that some people like to attribute everything to climate change. I guess it gives them something to tut-tut about.

Sharon J

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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Mountain Life


Did you know that I once lived up a mountain? I don’t know how high up the house was but the road certainly didn’t go any further and it was possible to walk from our place to the top without too much trouble.

We weren’t there long, but it was an experience I wouldn’t be without. The house itself was a bit of a shack – you could look between the floorboards from the second floor and watch what was going on downstairs, the only heating was a wood burner in the living room, and when the wind blew it felt as if it would fall down. No wonder we found the midnight thunder storm exciting! It did have hot water and a shower though which helped a lot.

The house we lived in

It’s more redeeming feature was, without a shadow of doubt, the view. From the living room and patio it looked out through a valley between two other mountains, out towards the sea (you had to climb a bit further up the mountain to actually see as far as the sea) and it was spectacular. Like something I’d never imagined! Living in Norway I’d seen some pretty amazing views before but having that right outside my house every morning was incredible. What’s more, every morning at around 9.30 an eagle used to fly across the valley. I’d never seen a wild eagle before so you can imagine how mind-blowing that was to watch. Strangely enough, I never saw it fly back the other way.

There was one bus a day from our mountain and into the nearest village. It was the school bus really but anybody could catch a ride. Being as I didn’t have a car at the time, you'll understand that organisation was essential if I wasn’t going to run out of essential supplies. Luckily, a lady I’d befriended – and who I’m still friends with today – used to offer to drive me down with her but that wasn’t too often. We used to enjoy a lot of time together though. Her house was about a 20 minute walk from mine (houses were few and far between up there) but that didn’t matter – the walk was always enjoyable whether at 2 in the afternoon or 2 at night.

A local farmer used to come up with his horse and cart a couple of times a week and took the kids out for a ride. They were always welcome at the farm, too. DD2 learned to ride there.

Strangely enough, during my short spell on that mountain I made more friends than I have in six years in the street I live in now. I wonder why that is? Any suggestions? The people of Bontveit were open, honest and hard-working; they had a real respect and understand of nature and the part they played in it. There was no place for misplaced sympathy – sheep had to be slaughtered and if the dog was too ill to live, the shot gun came out. But the sheep roamed freely on the mountainside while they lived and the dog was treated with the greatest respect.

Living there was, my friends, truly living the simple life. It was a very happy time for all of us.

Sharon J xx

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Monday, 25 February 2008

Trees as Gifts


Apparently, it was once popular in the United States to commemorate the birth of a child by planting a tree. It was a tradition derived from the Native Americans who believed that as the child grew the tree would also grow, representing maturity and responsibility. They also believed that as trees live for many years, a tree for a baby would ensure the child a long, healthy life.

That was many moons ago though and these days, as we all know, it’s popular in just about any Western culture to spend as much money as possible on something mass produced.

I’m not saying that baby blankets, little sleep suits, or even silver plated boxes in which to keep babies first tooth aren’t useful gifts but with the lack of trees in this country, planting a tree sounds like a very good idea to me, not only the celebrate babies birth but as birthday and Christmas gifts, too.

I once dedicated a tree in a newly planted forest to a friend’s grandchild for his first birthday. He had everything he needed and there was no point buying more toys or clothes. A tree, however, will help make the air that he breathes much cleaner and become home to a plethora of creatures that are otherwise struggling to find new habitats.

Having spent 18 years in a country where 37% of the surface area is forest, most of that in the lowlands, I miss the forests more than I can say. Here in England we have just 340,000 hectares of forest and 80% of those are less than 20 hectares in size. When you think that Hyde Park’s size is 234 hectares, you can understand just how small most of our forests are. Miniscule! And London comprises 160,000 hectares so we're talking total forest area that's just over twice the size of London.

During the post-war period and right up until the mid 70s it was popular for gardeners to fell large trees that grew in their gardens to make way for manicured lawns and perfectly planted flower beds. I can remember my granddad doing just that and being sad that the squirrels and birds would no longer have somewhere to live out there. Luckily, that trend has turned and more gardeners are planting trees, albeit smaller, more manageable trees, but there’s still no doubt that we need more trees!

DD2 having fun in a tree

If you’d like to give a tree as a gift the following sites can help:

  • The Carbon Neutral Company - tree dedication in a choice of forests starts at just £10.

  • Treegifts – a tree and baby rattle sent directly to the recipient’s home for planting. Best make sure they have room for it first!

  • Getting Personal – trees are planted where they’re needed most, such as along hedgerows, in woodlands and nature reserves. £19.95.

  • The Woodland Trust – help save ancient forests or create new areas of broadleaf woodland. £10.00.

I’d love my great-grandchildren to be able to grow up with woodland close by. A few hours spent walking in the woods is the best de-stresser I know about - how wonderful to be close to nature! In fact, from now on, every time I fly I'm going to buy at least one tree to help offset my footprint. I don't fly often and they're usually short haul flights to Norway which apparently produce 0.3 tonnes of carbon which can be offset by half a tree. I guess that means buying a tree is a good thing. If I were flying to Hong Kong I'd need just over two trees to be carbon neutral. I'm not really sure how this carbon neutral lark works though; I must look it up.

Sharon J xx

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. - Chinese proverb


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Sunday, 24 February 2008


I’m concerned about my health. When I came out of hospital three weeks ago I was feeling much stronger and even DD2 remarked that I seemed to be far more active than I’d been for a long time. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

I’ve now lost weight again and just putting one foot in front of the other is leaving me feeling exhausted. In fact, I think I’m worse than I’ve ever been. When I say that I’m now merely a skeleton covered in skin, I’m honestly not exaggerating. You know those pictures you’ve seen of serious anorexics? Well that’s me. There’s no fat left anywhere and very little muscle. 49 kilos (about 7 1/2 stones) at 5' 9" and big boned! Is it surprising I have no energy to do anything?

For those who don’t know, I’m an intravenous feeder – my nutrition is given in liquid form that’s pumped straight into my blood during the night. While I was in hospital I was having a lipid based feed every night but now that I’m home I’m back on my old regime of two lipid bags a week and five glucose based bags. I’m absolutely certain now that this regime isn’t right for me. If it were, I wouldn’t be deteriorating again.

I have clinic in three weeks but it clashes with the delivery of my medical supplies, including my feed, so it’ll need to be changed. That’ll mean I’ll have to wait either one or three weeks longer (clinic is on Tuesday – my supplies are delivered every other Tuesday). I’m not sure I can wait that long. I mean, how much weight can I lose before there’s nothing left to lose? I’ll have to phone Clinovia – the healthcare company that deal with my supplies – tomorrow and see if they have any suggestions. Maybe they can deliver very early before the ambulance taxi picks me up to take me to clinic.

Needless to say, I’m in bed again today. Just going to the bathroom leaves me knocked out so there’s no hope of me getting anything done in the house. It looks a tip! DD2 washed up a couple of days ago but didn’t wash the stew pan. There’s nasty stuff growing in there now. I really have to get down there at some point and do something about that.

I was hoping to make Tacos for dinner today. No chance. As much as I hate to say it, it’s going to have to be a take-away.

Sharon J xx

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Saturday, 23 February 2008

Dog Gone!


“A Dog is For Life, Not Just for Christmas”

We’ve all heard that familiar phrase, coined, I believe, by the Dogs’ Trust. While I agree that nobody should buy a pup (or adult dog, for that matter) as a Christmas present without carefully thinking it through beforehand, I have to contest the idea that a dog must ALWAYS be for life. After all, there are times when owning a dog just isn’t suitable anymore.

This has recently happened to me.

I’ve had my own dog since my 9th birthday when my parents bought me a gorgeous black Poodle. With the exception of a few years where dog ownership wasn’t suitable, I’ve since had at least one dog in my life. My dogs have always been properly trained in that they haven’t defecated in the house, haven’t stolen food, wait nicely while their feed bowels are being filled and, after the initial greeting, haven’t leapt all over visitors every time they move. Neither have they fought with one another. I’ve trained dogs in competition obedience and agility, and would say I have pretty good knowledge of canine husbandry.

However, about a year ago I decided to get a companion for our little Jack Russell/Lakeland cross, Poppy. Off we went to the dog’s home and found a lovely little mongrel that apparently had to be rehomed because she’d kept chasing her previous owner’s racing pigeons. She was a bright little thing, and soon learned the basic rules of the house although it was apparent that she hadn’t been used to living indoors. There was one problem though – she didn’t like Poppy.


Zara attacked Poppy whenever she had the chance and visits to the vet became frequent. Her poor little scarred face was starting to look pitiful. No matter what I did – and I sought advice from every place I could think of – the problem continued. Eventually it got worse. Zara was clearly jealous of Poppy and this was causing her stress. She starting peeing on the living room and kitchen floors and, given the chance, on my bed! The fight became more violent until eventually Poppy was afraid to come downstairs and spent most of her time sitting on the landing. Zara would throw herself at visitors, insisting on sitting on their laps (even though she was too big for that) so most visits were spent commanding Zara “down”. Putting her in the kitchen didn’t help; she’d just bark continuously and that, living in a terraced house, wouldn’t have gone down well with the neighbours. The same happened if she was put in the garden.

I tried my hardest to make things work but after almost a year I’ve had to accept defeat. The situation had become too stressful for us all, not least Zara herself. She would have to be rehomed. I put adverts in shops, on the Net, on Freecycle and in the local newspaper. Nobody wanted her. Sadly, today she was returned to the dog’s home. It was the last resort, but it had to be done.

It’s strange that she isn’t here now but it’s also far more peaceful.

I hope she finds the right home soon.

Sharon J xx

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Friday, 22 February 2008

Just Another Day


Yesterday was a pretty non-productive day. I was tired, felt weak and didn’t do very much at all. I finished reading a book, watched some TV and took in the fortnightly grocery delivery. After putting that lot away, with help from DD2, I put on a wash and then sat down with some sewing. Hand sewing relaxes me so although I’m doing it's as a housekeeping task it's something I really enjoy and certainly isn't a chore. Before going to bed I hung the washing on the clothes horse so that it would be dry by morning. Only it wasn't. Well, the tea clothes and dish clothes were but not the towels, they need a bit longer.

I’ve almost finished the side panels of the curtains now so I'll soon be starting on the ruffled bit that will go at the top. I’ve made them from a duvet cover that I bought at Ikea. It was just the right colour and pattern and there’s plenty of fabric left to make other things with. Maybe a table cloth, maybe I’ll recover the chair pads; I haven’t quite decided yet. I should also get a little side curtain for the back porch door out of it too. And there are two pillow cases along with the cover so perhaps I’ll make some napkins or some basket linings. Considering the whole set - single duvet cover and two pillowcases - cost just £5.99, I’m sure you’ll agree that I’ve got plenty of value for my money.

I’m hoping today will be a bit more productive but I can never tell. I can feel full of energy one minute then totally sapped the next. I really do need to press on and sort out my wardrobe and chest of drawers though so I’m hoping I can at least do part of that today.

It's very windy out today and the sky is lead grey.

Sharon xx

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Thursday, 21 February 2008

Water Saving Tips

Two babes saving water! The one at the front is my son who's now 30!! The little girl's identity shall remain a mystery (must preserve her dignity)

With only 1% of the earth’s total water supply being available for drinking and other household use, water is one of the most precious commodities we have and yet every day we waste gallons upon gallons of it. We also waste money when we let it run straight down the plughole without first being used for something worthwhile. If you can keep an eye on your water meter, once you start making a conscious effort to save water you'll soon see just how much water you've wasted in the past. Unfortunately I can't easily get to mine, but I know I've saved loads recently so if my water bill isn't adjusted accordingly, I shall be wanting to know why.

The following are a few ways in which we can save water:

  • Turn the tap off while you brush your teeth. Leaving the faucet running can waste as much as 9 litres of water.

  • Only use your washing machine/dishwasher when you have a full load. Washing clothes in a half full machine can waste as much as 90 litres of water. A half full dishwasher will waste around 40 litres.

  • Use the shower instead of the bath. One person can save 400 litres of water each week this way. If you have to wait for the shower to warm up, fill a bucket with the cold water and use it on your garden or for cleaning. If you don’t have a choice, only fill the bath half full.

  • Repair dripping taps. Even a small drip can waste as much as 4 litres of water a day.

  • When you wash your hands, turn the tap off after wetting them. Use the soap, lather up and then turn the tap back on to rinse.

  • When it rains, collect water in a bucket and use it for watering your indoor plants.

  • Only flush the toilet when necessary. Some people prefer to keep the guest toilet flushed but leave the family loo until necessary. As the saying goes: If it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow.

  • Fitting a water saving device in your toilet cistern can save around 3 litres of water per flush.

  • Use a rinsing bowl when washing up rather than putting each item under a running tap.

  • Don’t boil more water in the kettle than you need. If you’re only making one cup of tea, boil just enough water for that one cup.

  • During summer especially, keep water in the fridge so that you don’t need to let water run in order to get to the cold stuff.

  • Water that’s left after boiling vegetables and eggs can be left to cool and used to water plants both indoors and out. Water from eggs is especially useful as it contains lots of beneficial nutrients released from the shell.

  • Use a broom and bucket for washing down the patio rather than a steady flow of water from the hose.

  • Using mulch on the garden will help the soil retain moisture so that you won’t need to water the garden as often. It also helps to let your lawn grow longer as it’ll need less watering that way and will also stay greener than a close cut lawn.

  • Installing a water butt will allow you to collect rain water instead of drinking water on your garden.

  • Water the garden in the evening while it’s cool, never during a sunny day.

  • If you have a fish tank, use the dirty water on your houseplants. It’s full of nitrogen and phosphorus so makes a great fertiliser for green plants (not so good for flowering plants, though)

No doubt there are plenty of other ways of saving water and not all of these ways will suit everybody. As much as we try to be kind to the environment, none of us are perfect and that’s ok. We just need to find the ways in which we can save water that fit our personal circumstances. For example, I can’t keep using veg water and the likes on the garden every time I cook in summer because cooking a meal is enough to leave me exhausted without having to go out watering plants every time, too. I do it occasionally, when I can. I can’t fit a water saving device to my toilet cistern either because I have… errm… ‘special needs’ when it comes to that area and always need to flush twice anyway.

What’s important is that you do what you can and without feeling under pressure to always do more. I’ve been asked so many times, “what’s the point in doing x if you’re not doing z?” and the only answer is: “because every little helps!”

Sharon xx

"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little" ~ Edmund Burke, philosopher.

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Home, Not Just a House


I’m currently in the process of redesigning my kitchen and as a result, a few people have asked me why I would bother investing time and money in a property that I do not own. The answer is simple: this is my home.

I’ve lived in 18 different houses/flats (that apartments for those of you in the US that aren’t up to speed on UK terms) since leaving the family home and several of them I’ve owned (well, the bank owned them – I paid the mortgage). One, our family built ourselves. But while they were a place where we could find shelter, feel safe and be ourselves, until they were made into a home they were still just properties regardless of whether I owned them or not. I don’t see a home as something you necessarily have to own in order to want it to fulfil your requirements and feel like the sanctuary that it should be and therefore I’m perfectly happy to invest my time and what little money I have, into transforming this house into home, a place that suits my lifestyle.

Due to my dodgy health, unless unforeseen circumstances force a change, this is the place where I’ll be spending most of my time for the next 20 or so years, at least. Doesn’t it stand to reason that I’d want it to be comfortable and practical, regardless of whose name’s on the deeds? It’s not a private let, so unless I default on the rent or start acting in a decidedly anti-social way, I have a secure tenancy here for as long as I wish. The housing association that I rent through have given me the go ahead to do more or less as I please so there’s really nothing stopping me.

It’s that old chestnut again, isn’t it? That thing about only things that you possess being of any real value to you. I don’t want to own my own house. As things are, if anything goes wrong I can pick up the phone and have the housing association’s people come round and make the necessary repairs. I don’t have to worry about buildings insurance or unforeseen problems that aren’t covered – I’ve been there before and I’d rather not have that hassle again. Ok, so the housing doesn’t always act as quickly as I’d like, but things do get done and at no cost to me. I don’t even have to mow my own front lawn, which is a bonus!

Our House
(this is an old photo so the car's long gone to the scrap heap and has been replaced by a black Renault that's now far too big for my needs. It's a motability car though and will be replaced by something smaller very soon)

Renting this house is, for me, part of keeping life simple. I don’t want a ball and chain around my neck and I’ve found that the properties I’ve previously bought have often become just that. I couldn’t just up and leave when I felt the time was right – I had to sell the house first! And to sell the house I had to make it attractive to potential buyers, which usually meant changing the way I’d decorated it, which meant throwing more money at it, which again meant I might not even be able to afford to move after all! No, even though I’m staying put this time, this is an all round better alternative for me.

I shall continue with my kitchen plans, and when that’s finished I’ll gradually go through the whole house, simplifying things so that they’re more suited to my lifestyle. Then it’ll be the garden’s turn and maybe I’ll even be able to grow a few edible bits and pieces out there if I'm feeling stronger and more capable of doing some gardening by then.

Each of us know what's best for us; no two people's circumstances are the same. We can't use our own situation as a base for judging how others should live their lives. This house is my home and I intend to love it as such.

Sharon xx

A good home must be made, not bought ~ Joyce Maynard


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Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Washing Day


Like me, my mum’s been using commercial washing detergent and fabric softener for donkey’s years. It does the job so why not? Well, for one, it’s far more expensive than the alternative and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s harmful to the environment.

As a consumer, and I’ll admit, one that for too long didn’t give enough thought to the impact my spending habits were having on the environment, I used to buy commercial washing powders. Anything that was on special offer would do. The same applied to fabric softener. Then I started thinking about the effect this was having on the waterways, and with water being a precious commodity, I decided it was time to think differently about the way I do our laundry.

The main problem is that we’re not properly informed about the ingredients of these products and what harm they might do and even when you try to find out, it’s actually quite difficult. What, for example, does “Ingredients include surfactants (anionic and nonionic) and enzymes.” Mean? What’s more, the companies that produce detergents aren’t even required by law to list their ingredients! Why? Because they’re a secret! They don’t want other manufacturers copying their formulations!

What is clear is that most washing powders contain “Alkyl benzene sulfonates”. These are what are generally described as “anionic surfacants”. They do biodegrade albeit slowly BUT, in order to produce them, carginogens and reproductive toxins (benzene is an example) are released and find their way into the environment. Another compound used in detergents is “Alkyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanols”, otherwise known as synthetic surfacants. These are real little buggers! They biodegrade slowly and research here in England has found that even trace elements can activate estrogen receptors which can alter the activity of certain genes. They’ve been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer and to feminise male fish! Nasty! In fact, these chemicals are actually used in spermicides, and that says a lot!

Then there’s that whiter than white wash. For this, you’ll need a detergent that contains optical brighteners. These don’t improve the quality of the wash in any way, they simply trick the eye by converting UV light wavelengths to visible light. Your whites aren’t actually whiter at all, but for them to look that way, the fish in our waterways are suffering and bacterial mutations are developing. Oh dear. Things really aren’t looking too good, are they?

When it comes to fabric softener, the artificial fragrances used are generally made from petroleum, many of which simply do not degrade but hang around in the environment, affecting both fish and mammals. If you have a family member with a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, you’ll probably already know how much of a problem they can be.

So what’s the answer? Should we all walk around in dirty clothes, sleep in dirty bed linen and dry ourselves on dirty towels? No, of course not. What we have to do is look for alternatives, something that isn’t harmful – or at least not as harmful – to the environment.

My solution has been to use a combination of 50% soda crystals/50% soap flakes instead of washing detergent and white vinegar instead of fabric softener. And no, you won’t end up smelling like a fish and chip shop (my mum’s first reaction)! Neither soap flakes or soda crystals contain enzymes, phosphates, bleaches or other harmful ingredients and were the only products used at the turn of the last century, long before the manufacture of synthetic surfactants and what-have-ya were developed. And believe me, they do the job just as well, if not even better than, commercial detergents. As for white vinegar, it won’t leave your clothes smelling of ylang-ylang, lavender or passion flower, but your clothes will smell fresh and clean. And that’s the main aim, isn’t is? And no, your towels won’t be left feeling like an emery board either. Just give them a good shake before you hang them up to dry, shake them again before you fold them and they’ll be far more absorbent than if you use fabric conditioner and soft enough for comfort. And if you do want your laundry to smell pretty, you can always add a few drops of essential oil to the vinegar (makes sure it's essential oil though, and not a synthetic fragrance oil as these will leave marks on your clothes).

What's more, this combination is much cheaper than using washing powder and conditioner.

Anyway, mum called today to tell me she’d done her first wash using this formula and was more than pleased with the results. Dad is incontinent so his underwear is usually quite a state when they’re put in the machine, as are many of the bed sheets and towels, but they’d all come out looking much better than they had before. That's one more lady doing keeping her laundry looking clean and smelling fresh, saving money at the same time and doing her bit to save our planet from the impact of the commercial nasties :-)

Remember, caring about the environment is ultimately caring about yourself and your family.

Sharon xx

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Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Ridding The Clutter


Today I've made a start on the, for me, enormous task of decluttering my bedroom. It was in such a mess that it was making me miserable. A bedroom should be a haven whereas mine resembled an unkempt tat shop storage room.

Because I have a lot of medical related items that need to be stored close at hand (and believe me, when I say a lot, I mean a LOT), there never seems to be anywhere to put anything. I’ve rearranged things before but still the clutter mounts up. Today I decided that things had to go.

My energy levels have been quite good today so I was able to press on and get quite a bit sorted. I’ve thrown several carrier bags of cosmetics (why do I have years old lipsticks and sticky old nail varnishes?) and lots of other tat. At least half of my jewellery (that’s costume jewellery, not valuable stuff as in gold that I could sell) has been rehomed in the charity shop bag and I’ve filled three bin bags full of other rubbish. Why on earth was all this cluttering up my bedroom in the first place?

I’m not finished though. I haven’t even started on the wardrobe, chest of drawers and the pile of toot that I keep beside my bed. I can see The British Heart Foundation are going to do well out of me by the time I’m finished. For a start, most of the clothes I have are size 16-18 and I’m now a size 12. And although I don’t intend to stay this size (my goal is a size 16 again – I felt happy that way), it’ll be a loooong time before I could even think about wearing any of them again and I'm going to need other clothes in the meantime. There's no question about it, I need to be ruthless. No matter how lovely I think a dress is, it’s going to have to go! I’ll scour the charity shops and eBay for some spring/summer clothes that are practical and comfortable, but I WILL NOT CLUTTER UP MY LIFE WITH THINGS I DON’T USE ANYMORE!!! What do I want with a dozen 'posh' dresses when I rarely go anywhere dressy anyway? Clutter causes me stress and life already has enough pressures without adding extra, unnecessary stress to it.

As William Morris said, if you don’t find something useful or particular beautiful to look at, you don’t need it. That, from now on, will be my mantra when decluttering.

The Rising Sun, Wistaston, Crewe

Today is DD2’s 19th birthday so we’ll be going for a pub meal this evening. There’s a lovely pub called The Rising Sun just a five minutes drive from us but it’s out of town and has a real country feel to it. The food isn’t the cheapest so that won’t help much towards my promise to be more thrifty but I’ve found that the cheaper pub restaurants around here just don’t cut it anymore when it comes to the quality of the food. I’ve been disappointed too many times so I’d rather spend an extra few quid and get something we can really enjoy. Anything else is just false economy. And a birthday does only come round once a year!

Sharon xx

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Monday, 18 February 2008

The First Step

My name's Sharon. I was born and raised in East London by working class parents who were part of what was then, a close knit community. At 19 I left to live in Norway, returning to England 18 years later as a very different person having grown into an adult with influences that were very different to those I’d experienced at “home”. By that time I had a long-term partner and three children with me. After a brief spell in Eastbourne on the South Coast we moved up to Manchester in the North West before finally settling in Crewe, South Cheshire, minus the long-term partner.

During that time I changed. I kind of lost my way I suppose. Our Scandinavian way of living didn’t sit well with the people around us and I allowed myself to be swayed into a lifestyle I wasn’t entirely happy with. More than anything, it was because I thought it would help the kids feel more accepted. I was wrong.

What I’ve since realised (I was going to write learned but it’s something I’ve known all along, I’d just forgotten it along the way), is that the only way you can be truly happy is by being who you are and living in a way that suits YOU. That wasn’t something I was doing. And it wasn’t just my lifestyle that had changed, my personality was changing along with it too! I no longer knew who I was and that just isn’t the way to a happy, harmonious life.

Then something happened. I became seriously ill and almost died. That made me take stock of my life. I still wasn’t sure where I was heading or what I really wanted but I knew that what I had wasn’t it. I fumbled around, fell down a few times, but after almost five years of trial and error I’ve finally found my way. I want simplicity back in my life. No, change that. I NEED simplicity back in my life.

Because I’m now disabled to a certain degree, I know I’ll no longer be able to live the spontaneous life of upping and spending nights with the kids and dogs in the woods, or moving to another place just because we want a new adventure, but there was always a level of unpretentious plain simplicity to my life. I didn’t put any unnecessary demands on myself and possessions were of little importance. I took care of the things I had and needed, but I had no desire to own a big car, fancy furniture, the latest gadgets and so on. Holidays were impromptu occasions, usually spent in a tent or a caravan in the woods or by a remote beach somewhere. The idea of going on expensive holidays to far-flung places just didn’t enter our minds. I can't remember ever even having considered one. We didn’t need or want them. We were happy.

Now that I’ve finally found my way again, I’d like to share my path into a simpler life with you. I know my life isn’t going to change overnight or even in a month or a year – it took eleven years for it to get this bad, after all - but gradually I’ll turn things around until my life is again one that makes me feel content and fortunate to still be here to enjoy it. If you’d like to follow me on my journey, that would be lovely. Maybe you’d even like to share a journey of your own?

Sharon xx

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." ~ Lewis Caroll

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