Patchwork Days

59357243_2695666093781237_2410115031225073664_o

I first learnt to cut and stitch patchwork sitting on the living room floor of family friend Barbara Thompson. Walking into her house, there was always the aroma of cooking spices, books, wool. The walls were covered in bookshelves, almost as though her house was built with stories, not bricks, and the books that didn’t fit on shelves sat in towering piles around her chair. Barbara’s chair was a high backed, old fashioned wing armchair, stuffed with cushions, and surrounded by crafting projects, yarn, bags of fibre, pots of knitting needles, crochet hooks and a pair of scissors for every job imaginable.. The sofa was covered

My first patchwork quilt began in her sitting room, from hand cut hexagons that she showed me how to piece together, one, then another, until I had a lap full of flower shapes, ready to stitch to each other. A myriad of colours, like a blanket made of rainbows. There was something about sewing scraps of fabric together to make a whole piece of cloth that sparked a light in me that has never yet blown out. I painstakingly hand stitched those multi coloured hexagons into a long enough length of patchwork to make a full length skirt for my best friend’s 18th birthday. It was a fancy dress party, and I went as Cinders in rags.

My first patchwork quilt, 1991.

When the party was over, the skirt, in the absence of a proper case, wrapped my steel strung acoustic guitar to protect it as I traveled to and from University. Eventually, it became a quilt – hand quilted, hand embroidered, batted with old sheets. It’s been 28 years since I finished it, and it has since wrapped both my babies and adorned the back of every sofa I’ve ever owned. Of course, it has now been joined by many more quilts, that layer up our beds in the cold winter evenings, and sit in piles next to the sofa, ready to be snuggled under when the draft from the back bay window becomes too chilly. My direction in quilting nods to my ancestors, who so often made their quilts from old clothes, creating new, colourful tops to lay over old, worn quilts. I have a wholecloth quilt that is especially warm, and which was stitched by some long ago ancestor on my mother’s side – the stitches tiny and neat, perhaps telling a story of the character of the woman who sewed them. It has the weight of a quilt that has other quilts inside it, but I have never yet felt able to unpick her stitches, and undo her work to find out. Some things are better left to quiet honour.

52053762_2561747113839803_1873281159023034368_o

Quilting has become a huge part of our livelihood this last year, and I am constantly amazed that something I feel so deeply for has become our bread and butter. Sometimes, as I’m crawling on the floor over layers of fabric, pinning and smoothing and hearing my knees groan, it’s not so much fun, but as a process of creating from waste, it could not be more perfect, and I love seeing a whole new piece of patched cloth appearing before me as I stitch. I have spent many hours these last years, cutting and piecing and stitching quilts to cover strangers and friends alike. I am grateful with every stitch I sew, and every patch I cut.

Memory quilt commissions have become increasingly popular, with families turning over to me their precious baby clothes and the clothes of loved ones gone, to be cut up and stitched back together as quilts full of stories.

67734752_2277581225682606_6388646999624777728_n

There’s always an internal struggle with this work – cutting up clothes that are more often than not in beautiful condition really feels challenging, but then they are stitched back up again into a usable, practical blanket, instead of a carrier bag full of too-small-to-fit-anymore clothes scurried away in a dark cupboard or loft. They bring such joy in their new form – being used again, full of stories and memories – that I always find myself able to let go of the difficult feelings, and embrace the beauty of the process. You can read about the first memory quilt I made here, and who I made it for.

It feels so satisfying to be writing about my quilting journey – and I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Last month, I entered a writing competition for the first time in my life. I sat at 3am, while my children slept, and wrote for The Green Parent Magazine about patchwork quilts, and the planet, and my babies, and how huge it would be if we could all make a return to bedding that isn’t made of plastic. It was an off-the-cuff, unplanned and un-spell-checked article that felt so good to write. I sent it off and promptly forgot all about it, but was delighted this week to find out that I won runner up, and had my article published on their website. You can read it here.

We are waking up to the idea that natural fibres in our clothes are generally a good idea – recycled/second hand clothes even better, and that man made, plastic fibres are really not okay. There’s a definite shift to consider the cloth we lay beside our skin in the clothes we choose. We are coming to terms with the human and planetary energy and resources that go into making our clothes. We are slowly, slowly rejecting fast fashion. We are considering repairing and mending clothes and turning our backs on the idea that clothes which are mended have negative social connotations. Yet the place we spend half our lives (if we’re lucky enough to get that much sleep!) gets little thought at all. Polyester, hollow-fibre quilts and pillows and acrylic fleece blankets are standard on our beds today, never mind the contents of our memory foam mattresses.

I’d like to see a return to the older ways of keeping warm at night. Quilts and blankets that can be layered up when it’s cold, or stored away when it’s warm. I’d like to see as much attention given in activism towards bedding as is given to fast fashion. I want to help join the dots in our connection with the energy and resources used to produce the blankets and sheets and duvets we sleep under, with all their health implications, and look for better, sustainable, affordable ways to bring positive change. I’d like to think that the quilts I’m making now will still be in use when I’m gone, and that the skills that Barbara Thompson passed to me will be passed on to my children, and maybe a whole host of other people too. And that together, we can all work together to stitch the stories of our days into blankets that will keep future generations warm at night, without a scrap of plastic in sight.

20190605_141157

Join the conversation by using #plasticfreesleep and #thephoenixgreen on your social media platforms.

Buy a handmade patchwork quilt that’s as unique as you, here.

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. 

Unpackaging Life

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog these last few weeks. I’ve been struggling to write about the tiny, small efforts we are making at home, because I haven’t felt particularly inspired by them, in the great whirl of Extinction Rebellion protests, and the darkening knowledge of what is happening across the planet. The realization that really, only declaring ecocide an international illegality, and holding to account those that perpetrate it, will turn the tables on our current planetary trajectory. Bamboo toothbrushes, turning off the lights when we leave rooms, composting our food scraps – it all feels like too little, too late. And yet I won’t stop doing all that and more, as if on autopilot. It just jars, angrily, grief stricken, with the knowledge that the greatest changes, the ones that could really make the difference, are still being fought for.

Two years ago, I was determined to open up a zero waste shop in Newcastle, visualizing the absolute transformation to our consumer power having such a shop could create. Despite my huge doubts, the most gargantuan ones being whether quiet, introverted me could bear to be customer facing again for all the hours of every day, and how playing shop keeper would impact on my health, my children’s home education, and my need to sew and paint and read and be quiet and alone regularly. Could I be tidy enough to keep the health and safety folk at bay, and not have multiple trip/fall hazards daily?  Could I be mathematically organised enough to balance the books and turn enough of a profit to keep everything afloat? As it turned out, the universe had different plans. The end of a thirteen year relationship with the father of my children, and the beginning of an adventure in single parenting, home education of two very different children with very different needs, making ends meet began. I have spent the last year rediscovering the me I had been before, and the me I have grown into. With no time or money for the zero waste shop of my dreams, I realized very quickly that it was never about one shop. That actually, there should be a package free shop in walking distance of everyone’s home – like the corner shops we used to rely on for so much years ago. So I began to promote and support the brave shopkeepers, earth keepers, pioneers, who were stepping up and making package free shopping a reality in their local areas. If I wasn’t able to do it myself, I could definitely support those who could.

This week, I took the girls to visit a zero waste shop for the first time. Despite a good number of plastic free shops springing up in the North East, we’d not been into any before. A distinct lack of disposable income has meant that travelling to any of the zero waste shops, let alone actually buying stuff there, hasn’t felt feasible. However, there is now a wonderful package free shop open directly in our path to a weekly home ed nature meet we attend, and so this week, we went in. The girls loved it, and really got, instantly, why it was such an important place, and the impact it would have.  My 12 year old was very keen to weigh and measure mango and banana chips – just enough for a snack each, and totally affordable because we were buying just what we needed and no more  – and both girls enjoyed a package free chocolate biscuit. I might have devoured a delicious package free ginger biscuit on the way to the bus stop too…

The children’s enthusiasm and excitement really did something to reverse the downward spiral my save-the-planet mindset has been on. And the shop itself, along with owner Lauren, really did cheer me. Good things are happening, despite the constant overwhelming feeling that we’re plunging into darker times. So many people are working hard to make a difference in their local community, and added altogether, that creates such a huge wave of change. I’m going to spend this week trying to ride the wave, and not let it carry me out to sea.

Something Good Newcastle can be found at 265 Jesmond Road, and is full of all the things you could imagine wanting plastic free. From breakfast cereal and pasta, to refillable shampoo and washing up liquid,  you can bring your own containers and only pay for what you need, instead of industry standard volumes. As a space, it has all the clean lines and good organisation that makes it easy to shop, and the huge front window brings in the light, and shines like a welcoming beacon into the dark of these early winter days. Go visit them if you live close, and if you don’t find your local zero waste shop – they’re popping up all over. Support them. Buy what you can with them. One day, they will be the norm again, and the huge supermarkets, with their vast volumes of waste, will have to step on the plastic-free train or be gone for good.

20191106_155807

 

“Our mission: we want it to be simple and affordable for anyone to make small, sustainable changes towards a low impact, low waste lifestyle. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to live and shop ethically.”

Lauren Wedderburn, Founder of Something Good

 

****************************

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. 

 

 

Winter Healing From The Elder Mother

When I first moved into the house I live in now, there was an elder sapling in my back garden, brought by birds, and shooting up rebelliously between honeysuckle and philadelphus. The garden was very different then – with only two previous owners, both strong independent women who loved to garden,  it had neat hedges, tidy lawns, and beautifully pruned fruit trees. The elder sapling was clearly not a planned addition.

After an attempt to turn the lawn into a wildflower meadow (not a success), I dug up the grass and planted potatoes, but left the elder to do it’s thing. Almost 18 years later, the landscape of my little plot of land is very different – I’d go so far as to say that it is wild. And just the way I like it. Wild women and wild gardens seem to sit very happily aside one another, for me at least. The honeysuckle and philadelphus are now dwarfed by pear, plum, and apple trees, and growing right through the middle of them, my strong and fruitful elder.

So many people told me to cut it back, chop it down, dig it out – that elder trees are a nuisance, invasive, have no value in the garden. But I remembered drinking elderflower champagne as a child, brewed in a bucket in the back garden by one of our neighbors from foraged flowers. The magical flowery perfume of it’s nose tingling fizz tickling my senses. And somewhere in my dna, a memory of all the mothers before me revering elder’s sacred branches, roots and berries.

20190907_134246

In Scotland, Elder, much like Rowan, has always been considered important for it’s protective qualities. Where rowan trees are often found protecting the front of the house, the elder belongs at the back, preventing negative energies from entering the home, and is especially valued where the tree has seeded itself. This year my garden has bloomed. My fruit trees are heavy with fruit for the first time in years. My herbs have all decided to grow once again. The elder tree has given me a saucepan full of berries, enough to make a healing, immune boosting, vit c laden syrup to see us through the dark days of winter, and I am feeling grateful and hopeful and protected by her.

Elderberry Syrup

There are heaps of recipes around for elderberry syrup, some with more of the extra added ingredients than actual elderberries. I like to imagine that the women in my ancestral line would have made this with whatever was to hand – foraged berries, local honey and probably not much more. In this recipe I have added star anise and cardamom for their healing power, ginger for it’s warming diaphoretic qualities, turmeric and cinnamon for their anti inflammatory properties, and all, actually, just because I happen to have them in my pantry. Some recipes include cloves, but I really don’t like the taste of cloves (reminds me of the trauma of tooth pain) so don’t include them. If you like cloves, add a couple. You can, however, make this just as well with only elderberries and honey and still feel the health benefits. My budget didn’t stretch to local honey, but this is the preferred option, as ingesting the local pollen held within regularly, can support your immune system against hayfever the following summer. If you are foraging your elderberries, consider taking them from areas that do not experience high levels of pollution. Make sure the berries you use are black and not green, and that you remove all the stems and stalks before you start.

20190907_134131

You will need:

A pan full of freshly picked elderberries. (Frozen ones work just fine too)

Water.

Honey.

(Optional) Ginger, sliced. Turmeric sliced if fresh, sprinkled if not. Cardamom. Cinnamon. Star Anise.

20190910_165728

Add berries, water and optional extras to a pan and bring to the boil, then simmer on a very low heat for half an hour or so. Mash it a bit from time to time to get all the juicy goodness out of the berries. Strain ( a muslin is great for this), stir in your honey, summer for another ten minutes or so to reduce the liquid down a bit and then pour into warm, sterilized bottles. If you’re a clarty cook like me, you’ll probably want to use a funnel or at least a spouty pyrex jug to prevent loosing half your syrup all over the kitchen bench, floor, sink. Ah, life lessons, hey?! Seal, and keep in a cool, dark place until you need it, then in the fridge until it’s all been drunk.

And that’s it! Take a spoonful once a day over winter, add to tea, pour over your porridge, drizzle over yogurt and feel the immune supporting goodness. if studies is your thing, read this one about how the humble elderberry can stop flu in it’s tracks…

20190910_170254

****************************************************************************

Elderberry Elixir

This is a work in progress and I’m not entirely sure it will work, but… it occurred to me while making my syrup that the act of heating must effectively destroy the Vitamin C within the berries, and so I started to think about how I could get around that. Elixir can be made by filling a mason jar halfway with berries, then topping up with brandy and honey, sealing, then leaving in the fridge for a month or so. I’m going to experiment with this as I wonder whether it can be done with *just* honey. I have zero tolerance for alcohol, and want a syrup my children can take, so will have a go and update here sometime before Christmas!

********************************************************************************

I’m so happy that my resident elder tree has provided me with enough fruit this year to create this healing syrup for me and my children. I’m hopeful for a winter season of good health and restful days for us all. Although Autumn is only just beginning to turn the leaves over, I am excited to be feeling my way into my favorite season, in a much healthier, happier place than I was this time last year, in all the ways that matter.

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. 

The Boy With The Lead Balloon, and The Girl Who Wouldn’t Fly…

934671_10151847678655820_269591568_n.jpg

Today we walked in the woods. Two buses from home, across the River in the Derwent Valley, under a grim, threatening sky we walked in the woods. We saw a deer, chatted to some rescue horses, tracked prints along the muddy path and paddled in a river full of all of yesterday’s torrential rain. We came home grubby and exhausted in that wonderful way when fresh air and a good walk have burned all your energy but you’re happy and full of endorphins and just need a bath, something tasty to eat, a nice cup of tea and bed.

With the children snuggled up for sleep, I made the mistake of reading the news. I don’t do that very often these days – choosing as much as I can to keep ourselves safe in our newfound bubble of positivety. One of the downfalls of social media however, is that the news finds you, whether you’re looking for it or not.

So Boris Johnson has successfully petitioned The Queen to prorogue parliament, essentially destroying what little democracy we thought we still had. I’m not sure I have anything useful to say about this deeply disturbing situation that doesn’t have swears or multiple exclamation marks through it. As if the political situation in this island nation could get any worse. Boris, in his infinite wisdom, has merely given the people one more thing to march for.

Meanwhile three and a half thousand miles across the Atlantic, a 16 year old Swedish girl stepped off a boat this evening in North Cove Marina, New York after 15 days on rough seas sailing out from Plymouth, to participate in the UN Climate Summit.

Greta Thunberg doesn’t fly. But her commitment and drive to engage the world in the conversation about climate devastation is making waves. On September 23rd she will be part of the UN Climate Summit and will be continuing her #fridaysforfuture #schoolstrike4climate outside the United Nations in Manhattan this Friday. Let’s hope they hear her voice. She’s certainly made a huge statement by sailing to the US instead of flying.

Whatever way we cut it, reducing or stopping flying altogether is one of the three main things (along with not having children and not eating meat) that can have some major impact on our carbon footprint. I haven’t flown since 2003 when I flew Newcastle to London to spend some time with one of my dearest friends who was heading off on her travels. She lives in Australia now, and I’ve often thought how wonderful it would be to visit her. I can’t say that I won’t ever fly again, but I vow to continue in our use of public transport to get around, and to supporting the voices of those who seek to bring positive change to our world, and not those who are trying to destroy it.

 

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. 

Sleepwalking into Ecocide.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I found myself deeply connected with stories of the Holocaust. I read all I could about it, I watched TV shows about it, I found poetry and art that spoke to me of the horrors that could never, ever be allowed to happen again. When I began my degree, more than 20 years ago now, one of our first projects was mask making – we made our masks as papier mache replicas of our own heads, and mine became a skull, with a crown of thorns, a yellow star and the words of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Shooting Stars” circling over and over again inside. Art has always been a way to process experiences and events for me, and it was a project which never left me – I can still recite the words of  that poem as it literally circles inside my brain. Yet while death and loss were a huge part of my early life, I had no personal connection that I was aware of at the time to the Holocaust. But I cried as I wrote the names of the death camps around the edges of my mashed up paper mask. Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sobbed in my room as I painted and scribed, for all that were lost. Tears still, as I write this, for all we have lost since, and all that has not changed.

20190808_135211 20190808_135852

A couple of years ago, while digging about in the family lines trying to untangle a mystery, I discovered that a great, great aunt on my mother’s side, who was rumored in family circles to have been involved in the French Resistance and subsequently interred by the Germans during the war, was at some point in her internment, held at Auschwitz.

She survived. She thrived. She lived a full and joyful life despite the horrors she must have witnessed. She was Catholic, Irish, born and raised in the North East of England – the death camps of the Second World War were a far cry from the lives the rest of her family lived. She rarely spoke of her wartime experiences, and the family would never have known that the tattoo of numbers on her left arm were a clue to her whereabouts during that time.

She died before I was born but her story often makes me wonder about the scientific research that suggests DNA carries memories down the ancestral line as a way to support the survival of a species. I think of the people, the stories, the places that hold a mysterious sense of connection that we cannot place – and the way the hairs on the back of our necks raise up in acknowledgement when we discover why: when we finally gather up the threads of our inherited truth. And I think about all the inherent knowledge that we carry, the natural instincts we have to protect our kin, to care for the land, to carry our stories on – written into our DNA but which modern culture has literally squashed right out of us. That instinctive compulsion that runs in our blood to protect the life forces that sustain us is crushed and frozen and eroded and ERASED by the pressures of modern day life. And our modern life is destroying the land and it’s inhabitants. We can no longer deny it. As the world burns around us, we are literally sleepwalking into ecocide.

20190808_122937

One woman who made it her life’s work to bring ecocide into not just the public conscience, but into actual International Law, was Polly Higgins. Polly, along with co-founder Jojo Mehta, created Stop Ecocide, a movement focused on protection of the Earth, driving the goal to have ecocide written into Law. Making ecocide illegal, forcing businesses and governments to consider the environmental impact of their decisions BEFORE they take them, and not after, and working from a place of “first do no harm”, could change the face of the planet forever.

I truly believe now, that turning the climate crisis around needs more than personal changes at home (think steel water bottle, family cloth, rejecting single use plastic) but absolute system change, right across the board. And more than that, it requires spaces for us to reconnect with our natural instincts, our inherited stories of connection to the land that sustains us, and our human need to protect and nurture. All these elements must be given the chance to work together, and *we* must be the ones to bring the change that will provide space we so desperately need to breathe our life forces into new (old) ways of living. With compassion for all life. With respect for all life.

20190503_144543_007

On the other side of my family tree, my father’s family were crofters in the Highlands, going back through the generations. Lately, I have been feeling the calling of my ancestors to make what little land I have, serve my family’s needs better. To sustain us in a healthier, kinder way. To use it to protect and nurture my little family in the most connected ways I can. And to honor the strong willed women behind me who fought to survive, by calling up their strength and their power, written in my blood, to keep fighting for new ways of living, flourishing, thriving on our dying planet. New journeys beginning as I answer the call. With a nod and a smile and a thankful blessing to Polly, for all that will come of her tireless work, and to Isabel, who lived where so many perished.

*************************************************************************************

Genocide, the act of intentionally destroying a group of people, was recognized in International Law in 1948, after Raphael Lemkin initiated the Genocide Convention.  Ecocide, defined as the purposeful damage to, destruction of or loss of eco systems as a result of human activity, has yet to be recognized in International Law.

Both can only be perpetrated if the masses look the other way.

And we are the masses. You and me. We always have been.

 

Become an Earth Protector.

Read more about Polly Higgins in Issue 17 of No Serial Number Magazine

 

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. 

Skill Sharing to Save The Planet

It’s been a few weeks since I last put pen to paper here and that’s because I’ve been busy creating a set of workshops, in partnership with The Paddock, to further the idea of sharing zero waste skills and the know-how of making plastic free alternatives with others. My workshops will be running on Wednesdays in July, at The Paddock, and I’m hoping attendees will really benefit from the opportunity not just to sit with like minded folk and create practical solutions to everyday single use items, but to be able to share their own experiences and solutions to the many challenges we face as we try to reduce the plastic and single use items in our daily lives.

Wednesday 3rd July 2019 – Cloth at Home. 12.30-2.30pm.
In this two-hour workshop we will be looking at how cloth can be used as a substitute for single use/disposable domestic/cosmetic items like tissues, food coverings, toilet roll, makeup wipes, sanitary products etc. During this workshop you will be provided with resources and guidance to make a set of cloth handkerchiefs and will leave with the skills to make more. Basic sewing skills an advantage, but not necessary as full support will be given to everyone that needs it.

57608754_2667493273265186_7192910901752627200_n

Wednesday 10th July 2019 – Make it Up, Wash it Clean. 12.30-2.30pm.
In this two-hour workshop, we will look at make-up wipes which are often single use/disposable, contain micro plastics. Even disposable cotton wool pads take up huge amounts of resources to then be used once and thrown away. All waste from make-up wipes can be avoided with re-usable, washable versions. During this workshop, you will crochet your own set of circular make up pads and leave with the resources and skills to make more. Basic crochet skills an advantage in this workshop, but support will be given if needed.

28870958_2041024432578743_8518964573875732480_n

Wednesday 17th July 2019 – Wrap it Up. 12.30-2.30pm.
In this two-hour workshop we will discuss the use of plastic in grocery/fruit and veg shops, and the rise of cloth produce bags as an alternative. Using recycled materials, you will stitch your own produce bag, and will leave with the skills to make more. Basic sewing skills an advantage, but not necessary as full support will be given to everyone that needs it.

cloth bags 2

Wednesday 24th July – Beeswax Wraps. 12.30-2.30pm.
In this two-hour workshop we will look at waste free ways to contain/cover/wrap food that will help you cut down the use of cling film/aluminium foil etc. Using recycled cotton, and local beeswax, you’ll make a set of your own beeswax wraps and will leave with the skills to make more. Please wear old clothes or bring a full-length apron in case of beeswax splashes!

18679132_10155407156070820_1182064039_n

If you would like to book a place please email me at thephoenixgreenstore@gmail.com, with the date/s you’d like to attend. Places are limited so get in touch as soon as you can. The cost per session is £25, and each attendee will receive all materials for the course, full instructions, and a few little extras too. I can’t wait to see you there!

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 Charm of Bees To Tell Our Tales.

20170804_153108

The summer that I turned 6 there were bees living under the floor of the wooden garage in the back garden of the house I grew up in. I can remember it so clearly. It was a proper, old fashioned garage, that would never been big enough for a modern car, but might have had enough space for a Sunbeam Talbot or a wooden paneled Morris Traveller. Built with the house in the late 1930s, it was a relic of a time when people kept everything that might have been useful, out of sight in the shed at the bottom of the garden. There was a dusty, cobweb laced net at the window. A brightly coloured wooden swing hung from one of the roof timbers. Rows of shelves with half empty tins of paint and rusting tools that had belonged to Mrs Lavery, who had lived there before us, sat gathering dust, adorned with spiderwebs and stray feathers. I’m fairly certain there were birds nesting in the roof. It was a really quiet, still space. The sort of space where you could imagine time standing still. The entrance to the bees nest was a gap in the floorboard over the threshold, just where the afternoon sun would stream in, and if I close my eyes, I can see the dust, dancing like fairy magic, and the shafts of light warming the floorboards, and the bees below. The shed is long gone now, but somewhere there, in the echoes of that space, my 6 year old self is sitting on the swing, the toes of my black patent leather school shoes only just touching the wooden floorboards, and watching with absolute fascination, a memory of bees coming and going about their business, their busy wings and gentle humming a meditation.

In Celtic mythology, bees were believed to carry messages between the human and spirit worlds, bestowing ancient wisdom on those they chose to live alongside. In Scotland, and perhaps elsewhere too, there is an old tradition of “telling the bees”. Imparting family knowledge, day to day business, and events of great significance to the resident colony meant the news would be spread far and wide, and kept the winged visitors in good spirits. In the Scottish folklore handed down through the generations, bees have always been welcomed.

So imagine our delight when this week we discovered that a family of Tree Bumblebees (Bombus Hypnorum) have decided to make their home in our garden. Smallest and I have already introduced ourselves to them, as is customary, and told them how welcome they are to stay. It’s so beautiful to see the same enchantment in my children’s faces, as they watch bees coming and going, that I felt all those very many years ago. Bees have always been a favorite in our family, and many over the years have been revived with sweet water to live another day. But these new additions to our garden have brought with them much to talk about! We have talked about collective nouns for bees, and discovered there are so many! From my favorite, which is a charm of bees, to an erst, a cluster, a hive, a swarm, a rabble, a grist and perhaps most appropriate, a hum of bees. We have discovered that Tree Bumblebees are not native, arriving in the UK a roughly 20 years or so ago, and that they have a tendency to make their homes in abandoned bird boxes, as is the case with our nesting colony. We are also hoping to find out what flowers they like, so we can plant more for them. We are hoping they come back again next year.

20190515_181915

Whilst it is wonderful to see bees nesting so close to our back door, they are a daily reminder of the plight of bee species across the UK, with so many in decline. Habitat loss, toxic pesticides, disease and of course the impact of the climate crisis all contribute. In the last 60 years, more than 90% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost, and along with changes in the use of land, including infringement of green belt land for urban use, destruction of hedgerows, the use of neonicotinoids and the impact of seasonal disruption to blossom, it is clear that the impact on bee populations has been devastating.

As if to prove the point, today we were in a local nature park, meeting home ed friends and enjoying the sunshine. I wanted to take some photographs for this blog post, specifically of bees on flowers. We were there for almost 4 hours, under trees in bloom, beside flowering rhododendron, magnolia, a bank of aquilegia and allium. I saw a handful of bees, but nowhere near the volume I was expecting. The stillness in a place where you would expect to see lots of bee activity was overwhelming.

The stark reality of a planet without pollinators is too difficult for many of us to really process. The impact on the human population will be astronomical. 75% of the world’s food crops depend at least in part on pollination, by insects such as bees. And the insects are dying in their millions. To save these vital species is to save, in part, ourselves. Because without them, we’re as good as dead too.

I can close my eyes and remember watching the bees of my childhood, flying in and out of a crack in the floor. I can walk out of my back door right now, and watch them foraging in the blossom of our apple tree. While there is still time, I can engage my children to do what we can to support our local bee populations, planting the flowers that will sustain them, and providing habitats for them to build their colonies. My grandchildren, and their children, may never have that privilege.

How you can help wild bee populations

The most important thing we can all do, is plant bee friendly plants, in a bee friendly way. The wild meadow look is very romantic and you can buy packets of random wild flowers to cast about your lawn, but in reality, bees like blocks of flowers – it helps them conserve their energy to have a bank of flowers they like all in one place. Have you ever noticed that when bees are foraging they will visit a single species of flower over and over again? Having lots of differing types of flower all mixed in together makes life harder for bees. My top tip is wild Oregano – our front garden is full of it, it’s hardy and will come back year after year with only the bare minimum of tending to. When it’s in bloom, it’s covered in happy bees too. Dandelions are great early sources of pollen and nectar in Spring, and lavender, thyme and heather all bring the bees out to forage in our garden.

Providing habitats is important. A bird box, a solitary bee hotel, letting hedges and grass go uncut for a while, leaving the edges of your garden to go a little wild, and planting native wild flowers all helps. Writing to your local council to ask them to leave grass verges uncut during the summer months, and to cease use of weedkiller in public spaces is something we will be doing – perhaps you could do this too? A quick email, a handwritten letter from your kids, or maybe if you’re a teacher, from the whole school?

You can get a bee saver kit from friends of The Earth by following this link to give you more support and ideas, as well as useful info on identifying your local bee populations.

One thing is for sure – the decline of the bees is happening because of human activity. And we need to work together to reverse it. Our survival depends upon theirs.

20190515_181938

 

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. 

Climate Cacophony (And Why We Must Find The Harmonies)

20190503_164246

I’ve been sitting looking at an empty screen for an hour, listening to the same song on repeat (Groceries: Mallrat, since you ask), pondering this post, and wondering how to begin it. The girls and I  had a long, blissfully exhausting day yesterday out by the river and among the trees with lovely friends. A mostly plant based supper that was so bloody delicious and had me rediscovering my love for pickled gherkins. A bit of allotment envy. Well, a lot of allotment envy a ctually! We had a late night walk to the train station, and sat awaiting for our train watching bats overhead, an owl swoop low over the train track, listening to the roar of the river, and the roosting birds chattering to each other. Nature all around us. Smallest called it a nature-friends day.  You could hear the night breathing all around us. When our train was cancelled and we had to wait an hour until the next one, we danced on the platform to keep warm. Such a beautiful day, and I came home with a desire, finally, to write this long overdue post. And so now I’m sitting, thinking, listening, and tapping words ever so quietly, so that they don’t wake my children.

The absolute euphoria and sheer empowerment of the Extinction Rebellion Occupation of London last week that resulted in the UK government declaring a climate emergency, and had thousands of people truly hearing the penny drop on impending ecological disaster has left me with a bit of an emotional hangover and a sense of “but what now??” I feel a certain dubiousness over the climate emergency declaration. Is the government just paying XR a bit of lip-service to shut us up and make us go away? How can we keep the momentum going when it’s so easy to fall into the despair of how hypocritical it feels to be standing shouting that governments and corporations must create space for change, when it can feel so hard to do that ourselves. How can we keep our voices raised in harmony, and not end up with a cacophony of different voices, all fueled by the same passion to protect the earth but shouting over each other so much that no-one can actually hear what we’re saying?

One of the moments of the XR actions in London that really resonated with me, and which has stayed in my consciousness since, was the evening that the rebels walked and sang together, a funeral procession through the streets of London, raising their voices as one with a Shetland song of Mourning. It captured for me the one-ness and togetherness that the actions of Extinction Rebellion stand for. When a campaign like this one starts to gain momentum and the message starts to permeate the rock solid walls that big business and governments have built around them; when voices rise, there is always the risk that the age old divide and conquer tactic will start to gain momentum too. The comments section of every article that I have read has been chocca block full of words written to inflame argument, and to detract from the main aims of the movement. To deny the urgency of the climate catastrophe we are living through, or to simply shame those who would seek to demand change – “so do you fly? Do you wear leather shoes? How can you be a proper activist if you’re not a tie-dye clad, pot smoking, vegan hippy-type?”

So let me tell you this. I am not a vegan. I’m not even a proper vegetarian. I’d like to be, and one day, perhaps I will be. I am also – saying it loudly for the people in the back – not plastic free or zero waste. I try as hard as anyone else, but our landfill bin is still collected every other week, and half our clothes, while mostly second hand, are still made of acrylic blends (can you get leggings that are not?) Right now, making ends meet as a single mum, and making sure we all eat well and the bills are paid comes higher on my list of priorities than cutting out meat and dairy from my diet or living in natural fibers, however much I yearn to do so. I recognize the importance of a plant based diet, but basically if it’s in the reduced to clear section of my local supermarket, I’ll serve it. Saying that, we eat little to no red meat, and very little chicken or fish these days, so I guess we’re almost there. One of the questions I get asked most when I’m at events is “So are you, like, totally plastic free then?” From behind the pang of shame that no, I’m definitely not plastic free – can anyone actually be that anyway? I push a smile and engage in a conversation about how it’s more about making the changes we can, and using our voices to demand that big business and government do the same.

I have often considered the challenge that being on a low income and/or time poor can bring to the zero waste/plastic free/plant-based lifestyles, and  how unattainable it can feel even if you are cash and time rich. There are many things I wish I could do right now that would have a greater impact. But equally, it’s important to recognize and honor the things we are doing and just keep doing them. Adding a new effort here, supporting friends to make changes where they can.

I feel like the work of XR over these last months have really highlighted some deep truths in and for me. One, and most importantly, the single actions of individuals will not be enough to turn the tide on climate devastation. Two, that these single actions are still half of the story, and we must  continue, we must keep doing *what we can*, and we must continue every day to inspire, in whatever ways we can, others to do the same. Peacefully, and without shame. Three, that we must resist the natural temptation to get drawn into divisive arguments, but meet such attempts with grace and peace and understanding. We are surely all at different places on the same path, travelling in the same direction. Four, that we must try, wherever we can, to consider the impact of shouting our message over the top of everyone else shouting their message, but rather to raise our voices in respectful harmony, that our words may be heard by many. One voice for the planet, one voice for our children, one voice to inspire and connect and engage.

20190503_144543_007

 

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.

Rock, Water, Tree. (For Our Children, And Their Earth.)

“People gonna rise like water, and turn this system round. In the voice of my great grand-daughter, climate justice now”

From the phoenix-like flames of Notre Dame, to the sound of hundreds of people joining in a traditional Scottish mourning song on the streets of London, and from hearing Greta Thunberg address the crowds at Marble Arch, to the death of Polly Higgins yesterday, the week has been overwhelmingly full of hope and grief, in equal measure.

I have watched from afar, feeling pride in my fellow humans who are standing up for my children and yours, for the rights of all life on earth and yes, for Earth herself. Feeling connection with the fire of the divine feminine rising as Notre Dame ablaze lit the night sky over Paris. Feeling sorrow for the loss of a woman whose legacy must surely be new powers that protect the planet. Feeling frustration that I can’t put my two feet and my heart and my voice to work in the rebellion taking place in London. Feeling awe and inspiration and hope listening to the young woman who has brought the fight for climate justice to the hearts and minds of school age children the world over. Feeling the hypocrite, that I still am not doing enough. Feeling fear for my children and theirs, and shame that I have been complicit in leaving them a planet destroyed by consumerism and greed. So much to feel. So much to despair and grieve over.

But the peaceful march on capitalism, on ecocide, on economics, and on the governments who can, if they choose, make positive change happen, is on the move, is growing, and is gaining support daily from people of all walks of life. I imagine, in the moments when I feel hope that these actions will produce long lasting positive results, a future where history records these brave Earth Protectors, these courageous Rebels, these inspiring leaders, in the same way as we look back now at human rights activists, civil rights activists, suffrage activists. Of all the emotions that are turning through me, hope is what I’m clinging on to like a life raft.

When hope is all you have, you have to make it count. Caroline Lucas, writing in today’s Guardian about Greta Thunberg’s UK visit said

“There is hope in a generation of people who are demanding from their leaders not just what seems politically possible but what is scientifically necessary to prevent total climate breakdown. That generation builds on longstanding struggles, particularly from environmental defenders who have risked – and given – their lives defending their land, water and rights against the power of fossil fuel firms who have stopped at nothing in their pursuit of the bottom line.”

We can grieve all that is lost, all that will be lost, but have hope that our collective actions will be enough to turn the system, the destruction, the loss around. The Earth that our great grandchildren will inherit deserves to be cared for, nurtured and protected. And only hope, and a whole lot of action, will get us to that point. We are literally holding the planet and it’s future in the palm of our hands.

Kate2019-1
Photo credit Victoria Clare Photography

The feeling that for me has been running up a close second to hope, has been outright frustration. Mostly at not being able to be part of the rebellion, but also at the desire so many people have to discredit the movement. I’ve been combating my frustration at not being a physical part of the rebellion by watching the live streams on social media, and sending supportive messages to those who are there, standing for me and my children. Indeed, while the mainstream media has largely ignored the last week of rebellion, social media has been key in keeping up to date with what’s been happening. At those who seek to challenge the Rebels because they probably flew once or twice in their lives, maybe the drove a car to the protest, or eat meat, or wear leather, or drink water out of single use plastic, or litter (or none of the above) I’ve been practicing deep breathing and sending out peaceful intention to them. And grumbling a fair bit too. It’s hard to remain peaceful when people are spreading lies, but important to put the extra effort into not getting drawn into their drama.

In terms of our personal actions at home, the children and I have started a plan to fill our garden with trees – growing them in pots until we have somewhere to plant them. We already have a Rowan, an eleven year old Horse Chestnut, a Corkscrew Hazel, a Birch, and a Sycamore. I’d like to have some more native species, and some fruiting trees too. I will share our progress as we grow more trees, and perhaps we might inspire you to grow some trees in pots in your garden too?

20190422_172612

Online we are changing our search engine too – Ecosia uses their ad revenue to plant trees. That must be a good thing, right? I’ll let you know how we get on – perhaps you already use it? Leave a comment below if you do.

There’s a hopefulness about trees that has always soothed me. A flexibility. As the roots are anchored into earth, so the branches, reaching skyward, must flex against the strength of the winds. Bend but not break. There is a determination with trees to grow whatever the circumstance. I remember a derelict house, not far from where I live now, that had a tree growing right through the middle of it. I have seen Rowan trees growing literally out of the side of mountains. When I was a teenager, my dad brought home four birch saplings from work. Work that day had been fixing someone’s gutters. The trees had been growing in the gutter – tiny wee saplings from seeds brought no doubt by a bird. Rather than throw them out, dad brought them home, and put them in pots in the garden. When I moved into my own home, one of the trees came with me, and now grows at the bottom of my garden, surrounded by winter flowering jasmine, clematis and ivy. It’s in the shadow of a huge sycamore, and ought not really to have had much chance of surviving, but it does, growing and reaching into the lighter spaces, despite it’s larger and more imposing neighbor.

When I think of all the people standing for our planet, from the oldest to the youngest, I see a forest of strongly rooted trees, all moving as one, flexing against the prevailing wind, supporting each other, full of determination and strength as fierce and hard as the bedrock beneath, so that not even the rising waters will drown out all the courageous spirits within. A legacy full of hope for all the great grandchildren to come.

20190422_172648

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. 

 

Taking The Streets to Save the World

The planet we spend our days walking on, living and breathing on, caring for our children on, is currently, right now, in the throes of a 6th mass extinction. The last mass extinction was 66 million years ago, and saw the end of the age of the dinosaurs, with 75% of all plant and animal species wiped out. This one may see the end of human dominance on planet earth. Some might argue that given the damage we’ve done, that may be no bad thing. One thing’s fairly certain – it won’t be an asteroid that’s to blame – it will be us.

Sounds pretty scary, right? If you’ve been following the science (and you should) you’ll know that we don’t have much time to make a difference. 11 years and counting. And while ditching single use plastic and mending our clothes can have an impact, until our global governments take a stand against coal, start planting more trees instead of chopping them down, and look at changes to legislation that will force big business to put planet and people ahead of profit, there will be no change, and we will sail headlong into climate disaster, ecological collapse, and planetary destruction.

20190414_184326

In October 2018, a group of dedicated planet protectors declared themselves in Rebellion against the UK and other worldwide governments. Tomorrow, they will take their non-violent, civil disobedience to the streets with three demands for Government, namely that they:

1) tell the truth about climate breakdown,

2) act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

and

3) create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Supported by Greta Thunberg, Emma Thompson, George Monbiot, Caroline Lucas and thousands of others, the group seek the immediate social and economic changes that are needed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees centigrade as highlighted by the latest IPCC report.

“Conventional approaches of voting, lobbying, petitions and protest have failed because powerful political and economic interests prevent change. Our strategy is therefore one of non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience – a rebellion”

54730769_353824728566975_8742400356140449792_o

You can find information on how to get involved at the Extinction Rebellion website, or via their social media. If  you are planning to be in London, head down to see our friends from No Serial Number Magazine at Waterloo Bridge, for some craft and creativity – don’t forget to bring a plant with you! If you can’t get to London, there are other ways to offer your support, check out the website or social media for more details.

The time is now, because time is running out. Fast.

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.