Any Other Sunday – Mother’s Day Blues and Blessings

I am writing this at 2.01am on a foggy, starless Mother’s Day morn. Well, it was 1am precisely one minute ago, but the clocks have jumped forward and an hour of my day is lost already, just like that. I am listening to Alexandre Desplat. I have his haunting “Lily’s Theme” (from Harry Potter, in case you were wondering) on repeat and have just finished reading Greta Thunberg’s speech from this evening’s Goldene Kamera ceremony in Berlin, where she was awarded a special Golden Camera for her climate activism.

We live in a strange world,” she told the audience. “Where we think we can buy or build our way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things.”

This Mother’s Day, I have asked my children not to buy me “stuff”. There is nothing I want or need, save a world that they will be safe to grow old in.

It’s hard though, isn’t it. To step off the commercialism train and actually say no. In capital letters. Loud. Loud enough so that EVERYONE can hear. To say that I don’t need another mug with “Best Mam” in floral script. Really. Or a bunch of intensively grown flowers that are 5 times the price they would be any other Sunday. It’s hard to stand your ground when you’re walking against a tide of gifts and giving and expressions of love. It’s hard too when everyone else in the country is doing that very thing, creating that very tide. Buying, giving, expressing. How do you get away from it?

Both my girls have been unwell this week, so we’ve been trapped at home, away from the temptation of shops full of “stuff”, making it easier to resist. And amidst the exhaustion that comes with caring for two poorly kids while still trying to keep the house vagely tidy and get some (any?) work done, I’ve reflected a lot on how blessed I actually am. Being a self-employed, home educating single mother is bloody hard work, there is no denying that. But where once there was the push and pull of the daily grind, the unrelenting sense of being tied to a job that left no space for the care of my children, tied to a school system that left no space for a poorly child to recover fully before being pushed back into the busy highway of targets and expectations, now there is space. All. The. Space. As much of it as we need. Space to learn that letting oneself heal, in however much time is required, is one of the most important things we can do for our emotional, as well as our physical well-being.

Yesterday I was due to be at the wonderful Star Bazaar. I’d been looking forward to it and had my stock packed and ready. But I spent most of my day on the sofa, with my youngest asleep on me, warm and snuffly, and nothing to do except listen to her breathing, and watch the rain through the trees. Then later, listening to my eldest telling me her Minecraft stories, her frustrations with life, what exciting facts she’d discovered today, her happy memories of Forest School. She calls it “Time”, when we get to sit together, and just be the two of us. I call it the best bit of being a mother. Listening. Cuddling.

It’s easy to feel blue when you’re stuck in the house, waiting for children to feel well again. Waiting to get out in the sunshine and do fun stuff again. It’s truly a test to anyone’s patience. But today, despite my frustrations at missing an event,  I’m remembering that Time and Space with these amazing girls will always be more important than stuff, this day or any other. Keep your “Mam” mugs, and your polyester teddy bears,and your extortionate cut flowers. I already have everything I need.

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My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

Wild Food (And Where To Find It.)

I can feel Spring in my bones. Standing at my back door in the sunshine, sheltering from the wind, and peering at the Angel of the North way off in the distance that will soon to be obscured by the leafy green of all the trees in between, I can almost feel the sap rising in me. My garden is full of new beginnings, colour popping up here and there. I have Calendula that have been flowering all winter. Wrong, I know. A glorious, bright orange reminder of climate destruction. Beautiful still, and cheering to the spirits. So too the bright blue of the Muscari that are flowering at the bottom of the garden. The buds of our sapling trees are getting plump too. The children are growing a magnificent Horse Chestnut, a magical Rowan, a mighty Oak. While Autumn is my most favourite season, Spring comes in a very close second.

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Of course, now that I’ve written all that, we will probably get snow, but even that can’t dampen my spirits today. I’m feeling like I’m finally back in my writing groove, have no less than 4 patchwork quilts on the table, and *whispers* have even had my paints out this week. My energy for creating is flowing again and I feel an overwhelming sense of relief that it wasn’t gone for good. Six months since my separation, and life is feeling easier, gentler, and hopeful.

This week I ate my first foraged meal – and it was delicious! The girls and I do a weekly home ed meet in a local nature park, and we enjoy watching the seasons change – this week we found heaps of wild garlic in leaf, and inspired by a fellow home ed mama, smallest and I gathered some up to take home for tea. With my sleeves pulled over my hands, I also gathered up some young Nettle shoots and some Cleavers (known as Sticky Willie in our family, always said with great hilarity!) and they went in the foraging bag too.

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Once home (an interesting bus ride, with a mildly overwhelming scent of garlic floating about us like a cloud), our foraged goodies were washed and chopped. I pan friend a 15p reduced to clear red onion, a handful of slightly wizened mushrooms, a couple of cloves of garlic, finely chopped in a spoonful of coconut oil, with some turmeric, salt and black pepper.

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When they were nicely browned, I added the greens, and kept the heat low until they were wilted. Then I added some grated Parmesan and some cooked pasta, and stirred it all in. I’d include a photo, but we were hungry, and it was gone before I had a chance to photograph it! We will have to make it again! It was really tasty and made me feel hopeful of the veg we want to grow in our garden this year. I’m wondering if I might add a small patch of wild garlic beside the nettle patch we’re cultivating for fiber experiments, and the dandelion patch we’re cultivating for guinea pig food (it’s their favorite!) though I’m not sure how to go about obtaining wild garlic bulbs, as it’s obviously not okay to remove them from the wild.  But I shall investigate and let you know!

For now, I’m going to take my coffee out into the garden, and sit a bit longer in the last of the daylight, enjoying the peace and dreaming about all the things we will grow and forage and eat this year, feeling grateful that we can.

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***Wild Garlic, found from March onwards in UK woodlands, is also known as Ransom, or Bear’s Garlic and both the leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, in salads, pesto, risotto and even as an extra layer of greens in a sandwich. The leaf shape and colour are however very similar to Lily of the Valley, which is poisonous when eaten, so it’s wise to make sure you’ve got the right stuff before you add it to anything you’re cooking. Wild garlic smells strongly of onions/garlic when picked and has a mild garlic flavour when eaten.  For a guide to responsible foraging, check out The Woodland Trust’s guide here.***

UPDATE: I was pleased to be asked to illustrate a wonderfully inspiring book about foraging, herbalism and connecting to nature through the seasons and if you’d like a copy, you can find it here: WILD ONES BOOK

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If not, please consider sharing this post on your social media platforms. Thanks and love, Kate.

Butter Me Up (Zero Waste Stylie)

I’m going to admit right now, I’m a bit of a butter snob. Even before the days of feeling at odds with plastic packaging, and trying to limit the things we buy in plastic, I’ve preferred a good, organic, salted butter over a tub of margarine. There really is nothing better than a piece of homemade bread, toasted, and then slathered (is that a word?) with melting butter. I’m feeling a peckish just thinking about it!

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But when money is tight, and the price of butter is more than it’s ever been in my adult life, it’s been one of those things that I’ve had to compromise on. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that.

Then last Christmas, when our local supermarket seemed to be overflowing with reduced to clear stuff, including some super cheap double cream (19p, what an absolute bargain!) I realized I could just make us a huge store of reduced to clear cream churned butter and then freeze it until we needed it. Light bulb moment! I was so happy! Toast with proper melty (and zero waste to boot!) butter was back on our family’s breakfast (lunch, supper) menu.

I don’t ever remember making butter when we were growing up, but I know it’s something that must have been done, back down the family lines. We had a set of wooden butter pats that lived in the utensil drawer of the house I grew up in my entire life – I have no idea where they came from, or where they ended up, but I remember them so clearly. Making butter is a simple (if energy consuming) task, and one that gives me the same sense of homesteading pride that growing potatoes or mending my clothes does.

Add into the equation that buying reduced to clear cream helps to save a little of the enormous amount of food that is thrown out by supermarkets every year, (plus those plastic pots are the perfect size to be recycled as plant pots for growing veg every spring), and I found that I’d turned a crappy too-poor-for-nice-things situation into something super positive.

Worldwide, we waste roughly a third of all food produced, every year.

It’s a pretty stark reality and one that blows my mind (and not in a good way) every time I read it. A third of all food produced EVERY YEAR, is wasted. By us. And while there is a growing movement of groups focused on saving food from landfill and redistributing it (check out The Magic Hat Cafe as a brilliant example of this, happening here in Newcastle upon Tyne), there is much that we can do to help bring these figures down.

So maybe next time you see some reduced to clear cream, you might be inspired to buy it up, save it from landfill and turn it into some luxurious, homemade butter?

I made this tiny 52 second video to show you how – and my proper Bero Cook Book style method is as follows:

To make your own butter at home you will need:

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Some double cream. NOT UHT!!

Either a mason jar or similar large jam/pickle jar, (well washed!) or a big bowl and an electric cake mixer.

Salt to taste.

Some grease-proof paper to wrap it up if you’re freezing it for later (doesn’t often last that long in our house!)

Pour your cream into a mason jar, seal the lid well, and shake. A lot. For a good long while. And then keep shaking. Have a bit of a dance. Get the kids to shake it about. Pass it around and keep shaking!

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If you’re making it in a bowl with electricity, whip it up like you’re making whipped cream, and then keep going. Either way, after a while, the fat (butter) will start to separate from the buttermilk, and you will see it change colour to a lovely pale yellow. Keep going. Eventually you will see all the little bits of butter clump together and become quite solid. When this happens, you can stop shaking/whipping.

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Strain the buttermilk off into a separate container, and use it to make the most divine scones or pancakes you’ve ever had. Take your clumped up gathering of butter, and wash it under cold water. You’ll probably work out your own way of doing this, but I kind of squidge it, wash, squidge it, wash, until as much of the buttermilk is gone.This is a really important part of the process as if you leave the buttermilk in the butter, it can go rancid quite quickly.

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And that’s it! It’s so easy, and can make a big difference not just to food wastage, but to your pocket. If you try this out, please do let me know in the comments how you got on!

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If not, please consider sharing this post on your social media platforms. Thanks and love, Kate.

The Song of The Feminine Eco Warrior, and Why You Are Enough.

I imagine your social media was as full of #internationalwomensday posts on Friday as mine was. Memes and inspirational quotes in great abundance on my Facebook news feed. I spent some of Friday out in nature, with some wonderful women, under flowering Blackthorn trees, their petals beneath our feet as we walked. This tree’s determination to bloom despite the freezing weather an inspiration. Then I spent yesterday afternoon celebrating women in equally good company, and doing something else I really bloody love. Singing. I joined in with one of Beccy Owen’s Pop Up Choirs and as usual, had an absolute ball.

The concept of a pop up choir may be new to you, so let me explain. A group of people, some of whom may never have sang in public before, indeed, some of whom (raises hand) may have believed their whole life they just *couldn’t* sing, rock up to a pre-disclosed location. With the leadership and encouragement of Beccy, we learn a song or two. Maybe learn a few harmonies because harmonies can made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and why not.  Perform new songs to bystanders. Dissolve into the crowd and head back to our homes, full of singing magic and pure, actual joy. And more than that, a feeling of having been part of something bigger.

Yesterday we sang our newly learnt songs in the bitter cold, under a crescent moon, our melodies interrupting the silence of the night, and in the power of the music, I reflected on these words.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.”

It’s a quote I have loved for such a long time, written by Marianne Williamson, whose book, A Woman’s Worth, I bought in Liverpool Lime Street in the Spring of 1999, while waiting for a train south. By the time I stepped off the train in Oxford, I’d read it cover to cover and was inspired and determined and ashamed, all at once. Ashamed that I had allowed my Light to frighten me into inaction. That was the year I joined my first Green movement, had my nose pierced and started dreaming up ideas of how to make a positive impact on this beautiful planet.

But in recent years, I’ve felt my Light fade around the edges a bit and the fear of “not enough” creep in. I let my concern over how others might perceive me get in the way of the business of shining my Light. And I stopped singing. Not that I ever sang out loud in public prior to joining in with the Pop Up Choir scene. Total “ooh, shine your Light!” hypocrite right there – I was one of those sing-in-secret/sing-in-the-shower types.  But what do you do when your Light is getting dim and you’ve let other people squash up your joy and you’re feeling like your contribution to the upkeep of the planet is just not adequate? Why, you do more of the stuff that you love, and you remember why you love it, and you commit to it, and own it, and reject wholeheartedly all those feelings of “not enough”. You allow yourself space to be. And to be joyful. Easier said than done, right?

But you know, it can be done. And by women all over the world, right now, rising up with a single song, held in harmony, and with one clear intent, it IS being done. The song is of healing, and nurture, and compassion. For the earth, for each other, for the living creatures that inhabit this place. And it’s getting louder and brighter.

Today, this day, right now, there are women across the world who are holding space, both for themselves and for others and bringing their Light to shine a path for the rest of us to follow. A path we can add our Light to. A path were everyone is enough, and every action makes a difference.

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Women like Marianne Williamson, who is running for US President 2020.
Women like Greta Thunberg, (above) who is leading an International Youth Movement for Climate Action. (Watch her here)
Women like you.
Women like me.

It’s easy, when confronted with the enormity of climate breakdown, to feel like just letting your Light go out. To let the feelings of “what’s the point” or “how can this be enough” or “it all needs to happen faster” overwhelm you. I feel it every day. And then I make a mental list of the small things I’m doing that make a difference, and the changes we’ve made and are making still. Of the resistance that is building. And I remind myself that all those changes, in flight with the changes that others are making, can rise – IS RISING like a great murmuration or like all the exquisite harmonies of a planet full of peaceful, determined warriors.

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Whether you are a peaceful protester, a zero waster, a buy-nothing-new-er, a fixer, fighting planned obsolesce and fast fashion with spanners and hammers and needles and thread, a tree planter or a rooftop veg grower – or a choir leader, helping all the voices join together as one – you are enough.

More than enough.

Keep going.

Don’t stop.

This #internationalwomensday, and all the other days, remember who you are, what you are capable of achieving, and let no-one and nothing squash or dim or extinguish that powerful Light. Own it. Sing about it. Believe it. #womenrising #embracethegoddess

Image of Greta Thunberg used with kind permission of the original photographer, Anders Hellberg, 2019

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If not, please consider sharing this post on your social media platforms. Thanks and love, Kate.

A Quiet Revolution Under my Kitchen Sink

If it’s not too personal a question to ask, what’s under your kitchen sink? If it’s anything like mine, probably dishwasher tablets, washing up liquid, dishcloths by the dozen, an ancient sink plunger maybe? A bottle of Brasso that, like me, you’ve maybe used twice, a million years ago? (Do I even own anything made of brass??) The emergency candle supply, and possibly, if you are the mother of small people who can smell chocolate at a hundred paces but will *never* think to look under the sink for it, a secret stash of Dairy Milk or my personal favourite, (which even if found, they will turn their noses up at) a Frys Peppermint Cream?

What *used* to be under my kitchen sink is quite a different story. A dozen, at least, (plastic) bottles of randomly coloured, chemically scented cleaning fluids. One for the kitchen surfaces, one for the windows, one for de-greasing the hob, one for the oven (never used, as my oven would attest, should you ever dare to look in it), descaler for the kettle, stuff to make the taps all super shiny, drain cleaner. Rubber gloves (because all those chemicals make me itch just thinking about them). And then the boxes of (plastic) scourers, ten-a-penny and made to be used once or twice and chucked in the bin. Dishwashing brushes and floor scrubbing brushes, made of brightly coloured plastic.

Some time ago, I decided that when the bottles of cleaning stuff were either all used up, or passed on to others who would use them, I’d just not buy any more, and look at alternatives. I found myself quickly returning to the homemade options I’d used long before my children had arrived. Soda crystals and vinegar are second to none for cutting through the grease of the average hob, get my fridge all sparkling, and do a grand job on my laminate flooring. A handful down the plughole with a kettle full of boiling water on top works wonders to keep your drains clear and smelling as nice as drains can smell. Citric acid does an amazing job to descale the kettle, can be bought in a cardboard box relatively cheaply, and is also the best loo cleaner (bar coca cola) that I’ve ever used.

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I also use a homemade citrus vinegar spray that is so easy to make and great for cleaning kitchen benches, doors, windows, tiles – it smells amazing too. If you can buy your vinegar in glass bottles, it’s plastic free too, though I still use a plastic spray bottle – a recycled one though! I make mine in a bit of a haphazard, chuck-it-all-in-and-hope-for-the-best kinda way, but will try and dissect my process for you below! If you haven’t time to read my method, have a quick peek at this 40 second video to get a rough idea!

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To make your homemade natural kitchen cleaner, you will need a bottle of vinegar, I use plain “white” vinegar, the super clear cheap stuff. Not sure how it will work with other types, but hey, go experiment. For me, at the moment, the cheaper the better. Next, get yourself a kilner jar or glass bottle like the one in this picture. I used the peel of some oranges, limes and lemons – if you don’t eat these things regularly, pop the peel in a bag in the freezer when you do use them, until you have enough. Then simply add the peel to the jar, add your vinegar, and place in a cool, dark space like an airing cupboard or even under the sink, shaking daily (or whenever you remember!) for around a month. Then strain into a spray bottle, putting the spent peels in your compost bin, and you have your own, homemade, stain removing, antibacterial cleaner.

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As for things like dishbrushes and scrubbers and sponges, there are so many plastic free alternatives out there. If you’re of a crafty persuasion, you could try knitting or crocheting your own dishcloths from cotton or bamboo yarn. Made this way, and boil washed in a pan on the stove top once in a while, you’ll find they can last for years and years before they need replacing, and can be put in the compost when their time comes. Wooden dishbrushes are now widely available too (mine are from Redecker, and they’re made to last a LONG time!) Plus you can buy washing up liquid from refill shops like The Paddock and Buy The Kilo if you’re in the North East – or check out your local Zero Waste facebook groups for a heads up on similar shops near you.

My biggest rediscovery in all this has been how little we actually need in terms of bottles of cleaning stuff in order to keep our kitchen clean – so it feels really easy to get busy with a bit of a kitchen revolution! Why don’t you assess the contents of that cupboard under your sink now and be part of the growing number of people who are working to reduce waste, reduce their consumption, and help save our planet.

Let me know in the comments how you get on with this if you give my cleaner recipe a try, and feel free to join my Facebook group to share other ideas for reducing plastic and general waste at home.

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If not, please consider sharing this post on your social media platforms. Thanks and love, Kate.