Tuesday, 30 September 2008
It's our birthday tomorrow - The Green Parent will be six years old - hurrah! You can read a bit about how and why we started the magazine on our website. Well I figured that with celebrations in the air I'd write about how to host a magical eco-friendly party.
The heat is on
Everyone wants to host a great birthday party for their kids, but the pressure to provide a spectacular party with equally spectacular party bags full of plastic toys and sweets creates a lot of waste, as well as a lot of hyperactive energy. Wrapping paper, boxes, disposable plastic cups, plates, plastic toys that will never get used… all these things get thrown away - it’s enough to send an eco-minded parent quite crazy.
What's the alternative? There is another way, and with small changes and a little creative thought, you can create a wonderful and inspiring celebration for your children without harming the planet. There are many added benefits to holding an eco-friendly party for kids. Children can learn so much about the impact of their choices while having fun helping to plan their ethical party with you. There is great joy to be had in educating kids in the joy of helping others and protecting our planet. The key is to combine green choices with the themes that your child will love, and involving them in the whole process of creating a party that will inspire them, their friends and their parents to think of the planet, not just the party. 1. Venue: Have the party at home, or if you don’t have space, think about using a local park or village hall where you can provide your own food and drinks. If you have the space to hold the party at home the birthday child will enjoy inviting all their friends to share their familiar environment.
2. Invitations: Send out recycled card invitations if possible. Make your own by cutting out shapes from recycled card and encouraging the birthday child to decorate them. Remember to include the date, time, venue and RSVP details. Otherwise, send an email with all the important details - a little impersonal but much more eco-conscious.
3. Gifts: How to avoid the onslaught of tons of plastic junk that will end up in the bin? That can be a tricky one. If any of the party guest’s parents makes enquiries about gifts, you might tactfully suggest something that your child needs, e.g. paints, paintbrushes, crayons, colouring books, books, jigsaw puzzles. If your child is older and interested in this idea, you might consider asking other parents to make a donation to an environmental charity on his/her behalf. You don’t want to ruin your child’s birthday so tread carefully with this one!
4. Food: Make your own party snacks. It’s a great way to prevent kids going bonkers after ingesting lots of artificial colours and flavourings, not to mention the sugar overdose. There are books on making children’s party food in most libraries if you lack ideas, and here are some suggestions: sandwiches, cut-up fruit arranged into a platter, homemade dips, such as humous and guacamole with vegetable sticks, small squares of homemade pizza, cheese straws and popcorn. For drinks you could serve diluted organic fruit juice, or make a fruity punch.
5. The cake: There are lots of good books on the subject of cake making, but it’s even more rewarding to use your imagination. By making your own cake you can control what’s in it by using organic flour, eggs, etc. and you can really customize it for your child. There are a growing number of books offering ideas for wheat, sugar and dairy- free cakes. I love some of Nomi Shannon's ideas in The Raw Gourmet or for baked cakes try How it All Vegan.
6. Activities: Depending on the ages of the children, you might include an eco-friendly activity in the party, like planting a tree in honour of the birthday child or going for a nature walk. Or stimulate their creativity by offering watercolour painting or providing a dressing-up box and encouraging them to dress-up, Older children will enjoy making their own personal pizzas, decorating T-shirts or making a dream catcher. Story-telling is also a magical shared experience.
7. The party bags: Gone are the days of a slice of cake in a serviette. If you can't manage to ditch the concept of party bags altogether (it takes a strong woman!) there are some options other than the plastic bags and plastic favours that are so widely available. There are a number of eco-friendly and ethical party bag suppliers offering recycled or reusable bags filled with fairtrade chocolate and fairtrade or recycled gifts.
8. Waste: It is best to use ordinary crockery for parties and avoid disposable items altogether as these just use up resources in the manufacture and again in their disposal. If you really can’t face all the washing up after the party, there are some other, less eco-friendly options. You can get disposable plates, cups and cutlery that are biodegradable and made from renewable resources.
9. Clearing up the mess: What can you recycle or re-use? Wrapping paper, gift bags, unwanted gifts. See what you can salvage?
And a couple more ideas because us adults like to have parties too!
10. Food: To save you time and effort ask friends to bring a little food with them - you could specify homemade, organic or local only.
11. Drink: Organic wine and beer are widely available now, both from specialist retailers and supermarkets. It may be a bit more expensive, but it tastes better and is healthier for the soil. Wine carrying the fairtrade mark is also growing in popularity. Drinking this means that you are protecting worker's rights and welfare in the developing world. Make sure that you provide plenty of tempting non-alcoholic drinks too - I really like the new Blueberry Sparkle from Organico but a homemade hedgerow fruit punch would be lovely too.
12. A helping hand: If you are looking for an eco consultant to manage a big bash or a small intimate do, a wedding or a launch for example then I have to recommend the fab folk over at Eco Events Ltd. They are pioneering eco experts that are hoping to green the world, one party at a time. Happy partying!
Monday, 29 September 2008
This morning the new moon moved into Libra, signifying a time of balance and deep listening within relationships. It is a time of love and therefore a great chance to honour a relationship that you are already in or an opportunity to find love if not. As Libra is about balance this forms part of our practice over the coming weeks. You could try asking yourself - is there balance in my life? Where do things feel unbalanced? in what areas of my life are my energy levels out of sync? how can I achieve greater harmony?
Time for clearing
As ever, the new moon is a good time for clearing away and letting go - of unwanted possessions, long-held beliefs that are holding you back, draining relationships etc - clear out all that is not needed. I found myself at a Meditation with Crystals evening last week and almost all of the practices that we did focused on deep cleansing of old beliefs and behaviours. After a series of really powerful meditations we started work with this beautiful stone called Apophyllite, a stone that allows one to see the truth and act on it, that releases trapped emotions and calms the spirit. During the session I had this vision of white doves circling down through my body in a spiral from my crown chakra in a blaze of pure white light. It felt so joyful. That's the stone and energy that I'm working with over the next few weeks. Yay!
Next week sees the start of Children's Book Week on 6th October. I thought I'd post about some of my favourite green reads for children.
1. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
This was first published in 1971 and as well as being a great example of Seuss' intermiable rhyming style and fantastical illustrations, it is a book with a serious ecological message.
2. One World by Michael Foreman
This beautifully illustrated picture book addresses the problem of ocean pollution using the tiny ecosystem of a rockpool to illustrate its point.
3. Brother Eagle, Sister Sky by Chief Seattle
This book contains the powerful message from Chief Seattle of the Northwest Indian Nations speaking to the American government, 150 years ago. He believed that all life was sacred. Reading it makes me cry.
4. Spirit of the Forest - Tree Tales from Around the World by Eric Maddern
A beautiful cultural book about tree folklore from Wales to Nepal. A magical spellbinging collection.
5. Willie's Garden by Myra McGee
An inspiring tale of how one boy grows all his own fruit and vegetables, and keeps finding room for more!
6. Dear Greenpeace by Simon James
A whimsical collection of letters, which presents an introduction to this environmental charity in a humorous and enlightening manner.
7. The Flower by John Light
A mesmerising and yet slightly eerie picture book about the importance and vitality of plantlife on our planet.
8. Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass
I really like the character Herb - he's a great gentle advocate for vegetarianism - he even practices NVC!
9. Big Mama Makes the World by Phllis Root
The creation story with a difference. I love this warm, joyful book with a central character that is both larger than life and down-to-earth.
10. The Song of the Trees by Kenneth Steven and Lily Moon
A beautiful story of redemption about a young girl who refuses to leave her beloved trees. A picture book with a deeper message.
There are many more of course - this is just an off-the-top-of my head list, which doesn't include the fantastic non-fiction books about environmental issues for children. Maybe I'll write about those another day...
Buying local, seasonal food is really important to me. Growing my own or foraging for wild edibles is even better. At this time of the year, the hedgerow is bursting with bountiful treats. Here's a selection of things we have enjoyed recently and which are coming up in the next few weeks:
Elderberries: These rich purple-black berries offer a range of benefits during the colder months. They can be used to make a fruity wine, a soothing tonic or a delicious herbal tea - simply dry some berries and steep a handful in near boiling water for ten minutes. Strain and enjoy.
Hazelnuts: These tasty nuts are just forming on the trees in Sussex and will be ready in a few weeks time. The squirrels love them and often strip the branches before I get there. Hopefully I'll manage to secure a few this year as they are so nutritious and rich in good fatty acids. Health benefits are lost in cooking. Traditionally 31st October was known as Nut-crack Night in Ancient Britain, with revellery, feasting and fortune telling. Young lovers would burn hazelnuts on the fire and they way they burnt foretold the nature of their relationship; sparky or calm.
Crab Apples: There are still some of these tart little beauties to be found - I have to beat my neighbours to the one wild tree bearing fruit in our area though. If I get some I combine them with blackberries to make pies or crumble, although Hugh, of Fearnley Whittingstall fame, makes them into a rather tasty sounding jelly.
Chestnuts: I have seen a few chestnuts in the last few days - they are not fat and juicy yet but give them a couple of weeks or so and they should be perfect. Gather in their prickly shells and take home to roast by the fire.
Damsons and Bullaces: The crop seems quite small this year, but trees should still bear fruit up to November. A bowl full of damsons, wild relative of the plum, made a truly sublime crumble, when added to a larger haul of blackberries last week.
Hawes: The bright red berries of the Hawthorn tree which can be eaten raw (they have quite a mealy taste) or cooked in a hedgerow jam with other berries.
Hips: I love rose hips - they are so colourful and jolly. I make them into a rosehip syrup which is said to be good for coughs and colds, although I would think that the sugar content negates the Vitamin C in the berries.
Fungi: All sorts of varieties are prolific at this time of the year but I'm afraid I don't really trust myself fungi foraging. I have only ever found and eaten Parasol mushrooms, which were lovely and I keep promising myself a day out with an expert. Maybe this year is the year!
I received an email from Andrew Davey at the weekend, a thirteen year old entrepreneur who has launched his own green search engine called Ecosmartsearch.com. Apparently a computer screen displaying a black image only uses 59 watts, in comparison to 74 watts to display a page with a white background. This means that we can save 15 watts per page load, and its Google powered so you get exactly the same results as google, just in black and green, rather than white and blue. It takes a bit of getting used to but after a while starts to feel a bit punk, and that's no bad thing. Andrew was inspired by an expert in green computing, Mark Ontkush, who calculate that we could save about 3000 Megawatt hours a year of energy, or $75,000, just by switching a few colour codes. Andrew says, "I want to be a entrepreneur and become better at website design. I came up with the idea of a eco-friendly search engine as I could make money, become better at website design and help stop global warming. I'm very proud of myself for what I’ve done as I don't think many people of my age have made a proper website and got it onto the web." And proud he should be!
Thursday, 25 September 2008
A friend asked me about water bottles today and having discovered a couple of great products over the last couple of weeks, I thought I'd post about it.
Firstly, the reasons to choose tap water over bottled mineral:
• Bottled water has to be transported to stores across the country from source, resulting in thousands of water miles and an accompanying increase in fossil fuel consumption.
• 2.7 million tonnes of plastic are required to produce the world's water bottles every year.
• Dumping a plastic water bottle in landfill is no solution, they take around 1000 years to biodegrade.
What's the alternative?
The Tap water bottle comes in two sizes - 'executive' 400ml or 'biggie' 1 litre bottle. Using one of these helps to save 1000s of bottles of water over its lifetime offering clear financial and environmental savings. It is made from Tritan plastic, which is guaranteed free from Bisphenol A, found in many other plastic bottles and linked to increased risk of cancer and early onset puberty. The base and top are made from stainless steel.
A non-plastic option
For longevity I have chosen the Kleen Kanteen range for our family made from durable, toxin free, non-leaching, recyclable, stainless steel. These products are made in China although the US based company assures it customers that the factory is audited four times a year to ensure respect for workers' wellbeing and the environment. I guess the product that I have from Eco St is then shipped to the UK, adding up to make a pretty hefty round the world trip for a little metal bottle. I need to crunch some figures to find out whether this is still an environmentally sound decision, but I am confident of its health benefits. Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks also have a baby's and children's version of these stainless steel bottles.
And lastly, best of all has to be this idea from No Impact Man - a glass jar - cup and water bottle rolled into one!
Just off the coast of Portugal strange things are afoot. The world's first commercial wave power farm is up and running with the energy being captured by a huge red device - that looks slightly snake-like when viewed from the air. The project promises to produce clean green energy for around 1,500 homes at peak output and project managers aim to increase this using greater numbers of snakes as the project progresses. Friends of the Earth believe that similar technology employed in the UK could be significant in reducing the UK's dependence on fossil fuels. And in fact Wavehub is the name given to a project planned off the coast of Cornwall but work is not scheduled to start until Spring 2010.
Figured I should probably let you know what chocolate I am eating (see last post). Well, it's my new favourite brand - The Organic Seed and Bean Company. They produce a range of devilishly dark bars delicately flavoured with additions such as rose oil and lavender essential oil. Normally I'm of the opinion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Dark chocolate is absolutely fine all on it's own - stop adding weird flavours like lime, ginger, anchovy etc. But these bars manage the additions so smoothly it's impossible to dislike even the more ambitious ones - Mandarin and Ginger par example. All their products are organic and fairtrade. Which is more than offered by the organic chocolate giant that is owned by Cadburys and available in a shop near you, pushing small artisan producers off the shelves.
In recognition of World Heart Day on 28th Sept I thought I would post about having a healthy heart. Our hearts are the organ of emotion and stress management and are just as important and require the same level of care as other more visible parts of our body to ensure good health and wellbeing.
Hugging for Health
According to herbalist, James Green, boys are hugged 60-80% less than girls when growing up and this cultural inheritance plays into adulthood with many men being more emotionally reserved and less spontaneously affectionate than women. But the good news is that hugging and communicating through physical touch nourishes the heart muscle. And childhood wounds can be healed through lots of physical affection in adulthood.
Ambrosia of the heart
Tears are shed a s a health response to life's stimulations and are to be encouraged. Too many of us ( and especially men, though I don't wish to generalise) subscribe to the belief that it's weak to cry. Crying helps us to release held emotions and stress. In fact studies have suggested that suppressing tears can cause illness and diseases of the heart. Cardiac disease statistics show that cultural expectations of men have taken their toll; this now needs to change and crying in response to stress, grief, joy and empathy must be embraced as a manly response.
What you eat
In addition to reclaiming emotions, diet plays an important part in heart health. Eat unadulterated, whole foods whenever possible. Plenty of fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables and lots of water are vital. Avoid excess salt, sugars, additives and processed foods. But rather than cutting things from your diet, which can aggravate our pleasure-seeking monkey minds, try adding good stuff to your life instead. Want to give up coffee/smoking/alcohol? Indulge in something that's good for alongside and make it part of your daily routine. Always have a drink when you get home from work? Have a fresh fruit smoothie and a drink aswell. Keep adding the good stuff at the rate of about one new thing a week. Think a daily walk, cycle ride, time to read a book/meditate, hot bath etc. Eventually unwanted habits will start to drop off the radar and you'll be a more healthful, energetic, happier version of yourself.
Go for garlic
And lastly, garlic and other alliums, such as onions, support heart health - try and include them in every meal. Except perhaps breakfast, unless you're a bit weird, like me.
By the way, I wrote this with a bar of chocolate besides me on one side and a pint of water and lemon juice on the other. Am hoping that if I practice what I preach, the chocolate might slip off into the ether. Maybe I'll replace it with a little bowl of sprouts or something - mmm!
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Got a favourite family walk that you can get to on foot or using public transport? Car Free Walks is an info site for environmentally friendly walkers. The aim is to build up a database of walks that can be reached using public transport. This will provide free information for people who want to reduce their environmental impact by using their car less frequently. The website already features over 100 car-free walks across England, Scotland and Wales, with more being added each week. Visitors to the website can search for walks near to towns or cities, by county or by the type of walk. Each walk has an outline of the route, points of interest along the way, and a map showing key points to help with navigation. The website also links to information about public transport to and from the walk. It's easy to submit your favourite car-free walk - simply register and post the details. One criterion is that it must be possible to reach the start and finish of the walk using trains or buses. The site also offers tips for car-free walking. So share your knowledge of the local countryside and help other walkers go carbon neutral!
Monday, 22 September 2008
Needed a little afternoon pick-me-up for continued productivity and my mind had started wandering in the direction of coffee and/or chocolate (I know, I know!). Decided to do a yoga workout for half an hour instead and feel much better now. Cravings have gone as well. Anyway, just came back into the office and here on my desk is a beautiful grey feather. I am the only one here so don't know how it got there but it's good.
Friday, 19 September 2008
With Car Free Day approaching it seems appropriate to share some of the thoughts on lung health from holistic practitioners at the Vale Practice in London.
Breath is something we take completely for granted. Controlled by the respiratory centre of the brain, the primary role of breathing is gas exchange: our cells need oxygen and their waste product, carbon dioxide, needs to be expelled. But as we age we become less efficient at this vital function, as tension, pollution, stress and sedentary lifestyles take their toll. Here’s a guide to understanding your lungs and assisting them back to full efficiency!
Release your ribs Osteopath Julia Finlay says: ‘People get into poor breathing habits as they get older. In particular, people may become “upper rib breathers", where they use a lot of muscular effort to lift their upper chests but don't use their diaphragms properly or expand their lower rib cage. This can contribute to abdominal problems in the form of poor digestion, constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. It can even lead to hyperventilation and contribute to panic attacks.
‘To improve your breathing, concentrate first on breathing out through your mouth slowly for a count of 7 and try to relax completely while exhaling. To begin with you may find a straw helps you do this. Practice this daily for 30 breaths. As you get better at breathing out you can begin to think about breathing in through your nose, deep into your tummy - your abdomen should go out when you breathe in. At this point, you can begin to breathe in for a count of 4, making your lower ribs and tummy expand, and then out for a count of 7. Try and rest briefly between inhaling and exhaling. Practice during the day when you get the chance. As your breathing improves you should begin to feel better within yourself and cope much better with stress. You will also be breathing much more efficiently ,which will improve your energy levels.
‘If you have ever been an asthma sufferer you may find that your lungs and chest are permanently very tight. Osteopathic treatment can help reduce these side effects and may even help you reduce the need for medication in the long term. It can also help establish good breathing by removing restrictions in the body that may have given rise to these problems in the first place.’ Upper body tension can also be relieved with massage. ‘You wouldn't have thought massage would be any good for the lungs,’ says JuileAnn Gillit, massage therapist 'I mean, how do you massage a lung? It's on the inside of the thoracic cage. But in order for the lungs to expand, the thoracic cage first has to expand. Not only are there plenty of massage strokes and stretches that can effectively be applied to the muscles used both in quiet, normal breathing and forced respiration - the deep breathing associated with asthmatics or experienced after a run - but the relaxing element of most massages will also encourage overall body restoration and repair, including the lungs.’ A healthy lungful Traditional Chinese Medicine links healthy lung funciton to a strong immune system, among other things. Individuals who fall foul of frequent colds and viruses, who suffer dryness in the nasal and bronchial passages or excess mucus, could be suffering from a lung imbalance says Vale Practice acupuncturist Angelo D’Alberto. He explains: ‘Lungs get their vital force (qi) from the air we breathe and mix it with the qi our bodies take from the food we eat and then distribute it to the surface of our body - the mucus membranes and interior surfaces of our lungs. These surfaces are designed to protect us from viruses, bacteria and anything else trying to invade our bodies or attack our immune system. ‘Lung vitality shows itself in three ways: it connects directly with passages through the nose, the mucous membranes connected with the skin and also through how much mucous our bodies produce. A person with healthy lungs maintains a light, moist protective coating alongside nourished energized skin.’ Let your feelings out Emotional stress can also affect your lungs. Says Angelo: ‘Grief and sadness are directly linked to the lungs. When we suffer something sad our bodies natural reaction is to cry, which uses our lungs, expressing our emotions and letting go of them. The same with sighing, which is our way of breathing out the problem. If we hold on to our grief our lungs contract and hold on to the emotion. As the lungs suppress these emotions they cannot function normally and become congested, causing problems. Likewise with stress, where our bodies protect us by shallow breathing. The lungs are muscles which need exercise- if we stop using part of our lungs they stop working and also become blocked and congested with toxins. This is also why it is so important to live an active life - getting some form of exercise and fresh air every day - for lung vitality.’ Acupuncture is a powerful remedy for all imbalances, improving the flow of energy through your lungs and the rest of your system. Diet can also help: to promote healthy lungs include foods such as red peppers and chilli, also horseradish, cabbage, radish, garlic and turnips. Beta carotene-rich foods such as orange and green vegetables support the mucous membranes - the ultimate protective surface of the body. Green vegetables help to build up the cell walls which filter out some of the toxins and chemicals we invite into our lungs from living in polluted London! Simple, daily practices Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation have long been known to improve our lung function, as well as tone and energise the body, inside and out. The deep, restful breathing achieved through meditation or these quiet, rhythmic exercise forms has been shown to reduce anxiety, as well as improve sleep and concentration. Of course, if your daily vices include smoking there is nothing better you can do for your lungs than give it up! Hypnotherapy is one of the easiest ways to stop smoking. Says hypnotherapist Jane Crowe: ‘It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been smoking or how many. When the time is right you can take control back from the Younger You who made the choice to start smoking. A one-off two hour session will help you break the link with the past, ‘switch off’ the habit and regain control of that aspect of your behaviour. Aromatherapy aids respiration Last but not least, use the power of smell to restore your lungs. Benzoin Resin has an affinity with the lungs. Try putting a few drops into a base oil and rub into the chest, or in a bowl of hot water to inhale. It is a thick resin which clears away congestion and blockages. Eucalyptus is also great at opening the airways, especially when blocked by sinusitis or influenza. It is also antibacterial and can help fight harmful bacteria in the lungs when inhaled, as can Lavender. Rosemary also opens up the airways and calms breathing. It is especially effective in asthma attacks as a steam inhalation. It can also be made as a tea: brew some sprigs of rosemary for 10 minutes and then drink.
We have just received some samples from Frugi's beautiful new Autumn/Winter collection and the quality is remarkable. The organic cotton that they use for all of their yummy items is so soft to the touch and the fabric is thick, hardwearing and perfect for autumnal days. We love the berry and earth inspired colour pallet including green tea, apple and blackberry hues. The lined cargo trousers, which cost £27 are a real find being both super soft and comfy, yet v. practical for romping in the woods and exploring. Another favourite is the reversible snuggle fleece in choc chip and tulip wood. Oh, and Frugi do lovely items for babies too. Plus if you are after a bargain, they have a sale of all their summer items at the moment, up to 70% off!
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Next Tuesday we celebrate Mabon, the Autumn Equinox - a time of balance and the transition from the light half to the dark half of the year. We will begin our journey to winter, as the nights draw in, the leaves change colour and animals prepare for hibernation or migration. This is the final harvest, a chance to gather apples, grapes, blackberries and hops and in that sense it is a celebration focused on feasting and community as well as preserving and preparing for the winter months ahead. As the wheel of the year turns we are reminded of the need for fallow periods, for times of rest and regeneration. We need this space in order to fully learn from and embrace life's lessons. Here are some of the ways in which you can mark this occasion:
• Take some time out alone to meditate on the year so far - where you have come from and the journey that you have travelled over the spring and summer months. Celebrate your achievements.
• Gather your family together for a seasonal Mabon meal - using home or locally grown produce to create simple, nourishing fare.
• Go foraging for wild food such as blackberries and mushrooms. Take an expert or a field guide with you when fungi foraging.
• Create a seasonal tableaux for a windowsill or tabletop, focusing on the delights of this time of year - use branches with colourful leaves, berries, teasels, nuts etc set in a vase against a backdrop of rich coloured material. Populate the area with gnomes or fairy folk for a magical scene!
• Mabon is also about death and loss as the earth turns fallow and the leaves drop from the trees. Take time to talk about those you have lost and what they meant to you. Celebrate their lives.
Equinox blessings to all.
Saturday sees the start of British Food Fortnight from 20th to 5th Oct. In celebration of local food here are a few juicy facts:
1. There are more than 2000 varieties of apple grown in Britain.
2. Britain's seasonal climate produces one of the greatest varieties of vegetables in the world and each season's crop gives us all the nutrients, minerals and trace elements that our bodies need at particular times of the year.
3. There are 350 types of potato grown in the UK, each with its own unique taste, texture and flavour
4. There are now over 500 regular farmer's markets around the country, where you can buy food direct from the producers and often from within a 30 mile radius.
It's a good time of year for British food - the harvest brings lots of producers and consumers together for food festivals up and down the country. Check out what's happening near you.
Next Monday, 22nd September, it's World Car Free Day and motorists are encouraged to leave their cars at home in favour of bikes, trains, buses and feet. The event focuses on alternatives to car travel and the need for more and better public transport and pedestrianised areas. According to the ETA, 37% of British drivers feel that there is no practical alternative to driving whilst another 11% have already taken steps to reduce their mileage due to financial and environmental concerns. Other studies show that nearly two thirds of us find traffic in cities unbearable with suggestions ranging from increased public transport in city and suburban environments to a complete ban on car traffic in city centres on certain days of the week. Meanwhile the number of cars on the roads and the amount of urban traffic is steadily increasing, adversely affecting the wellbeing of city and town dwellers, with increase in noise, pollution and stress. However, on Monday we can make a positive change and choose an alternative method of transport. Over 4 million of us commute a distance of less than 3 miles by car every day. Let's get creative; pull out those bikes, dust off those walking boots or get on the bus for an altogether different experience!
In Brighton on Sunday (always have to be a little bit different those Brighton folk eh?) people will be invited to take to the streets for dancing, music, activities and entertainment, organised by Transition Brighton and Hove. Visitors can hop on a rickshaw for a free ride, create artworks by cycling through paint, picnic in the street or go on a health walk through the city centre. Sound too cool to be true - it's not, and there's loads more stuff planned too.
Leytonstone have adopted the same approach and are planning a car-free extravaganza on Sunday with Geno Washington and Ram Jam band rocking the streets, along with a french market and a chance to try out all kinds of weird and wonderful two wheeled contraptions.
Fancy a free massage? Head to Camden tomorrow for Car Free Friday where you'll find green police on stilts, friendly folk giving away pedometers, the Bike Doctor on hand for cycling advice and maintenance and the chance of a free commuter massage.
On Monday, you can bike for your breakfast at the BlendaVenda stall in Hounslow. Cyclists can use pedal power to create a free smoothie or flex their vocal cords as well as their leg muscles on a bike powered karaoke unit. Lots of free green transport guides and advice on hand too.
Meanwhile in Devon, prizes of £50 worth of vouchers are being offered for the most creative method of travelling to work. Last year, the prize was won by Mark Bailey who used a mini canoe, mini bicycle and the bus to commute to work.
In Harrogate, travellers on 24th Sept will be offered a free day's bus pass to encourage citizens to see how the service has improved recently. At 11am Toddle Through Town is for all those parents and toddlers who want to get involved. There will also be free rickshaw rides and a community bike ride through the town at 5pm.
Thought I should let you know about some great offers from ethical companies that we have in the current edition of The Green Parent:
10% off at The Organic Baby Boutique - code: GP08
10% off at Dam Tam organic clothing for kids - code: GP1008
20% off Denes Natural pet food - code: TGP001
15% off fairtrade toys and bags at Fair Connections
10% of ethical toys at Laughing Bear - code GRE10
5% off gorgeous traditional and ethical playthings at Ninny Noodle Noo - code: greenparent
10% off wonderful Storybox magazines for children - code LtUK9WT6qk
10% off all ethical products for babies and children at Babipur - code: GP811
10% off all innovative products at Ecoutlet - code: green10
20% off all Tattybumpkin togs - code: GPAUT - they even do adult stuff now too!
10% off baby signing kit - code Green
10% off soft snuggly baby carrier - code: Green Parent
15% off beautiful ethical furniture at Myakka - code GRPT88
I am very excited indeed - the new book from Ben Law, The Woodland Year has just dropped into my lap, from the lovely folk at Permanent Publications. Billed as Britain's greatest living woodsman, Ben Law brings us tempting recipes including Prickly Nut Wood Soup (ingredients sourced from around Ben's home), coppice crafts such as beautiful willow fencing and inspiring photography in this month by month guide to life in the woods. Ben built his own house in Prickly Nut Wood in Lodsworth West Sussex and makes his living from working on the land. In The Woodland Year he shares this knowledge and experience both through personal stories and practical advice, recipes and species information. I feel like disappearing into the woods myself for the day to digest some of this sumptuous tome but have work to do so this indulgence must wait 'til later.
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The Roundhouse near Brithdir Mawr community in Pembrokeshire, Wales has finally been granted planning permission after years of battling with the authorities. This is one of the greenest buildings in the UK. Built in 1997 by Tony Wrench and Jane Faith, it is perfectly camouflaged within its natural surroundings in the woods on the edge of ecological community Brithdir Mawr, which I visited in May this year. It is a magical spot and I am so pleased to be able to report that this beautiful dwelling is allowed to stay. It is a real inspiration and Tony and Jane welcome around two groups a week to visit the site and learn more about how to build roundhouses and live in harmony with Mother Earth.
I try to take a walk every morning as it really sets me up for the day ahead. If I have managed an hour of solitude striding through the gorgeous Sussex countryside I know I am going to be more productive at work, more effective at home and a calmer, more playful mother with my children. This morning I slipped out of the house before anyone else was awake and walked until I came to my favourite spot. Just down a country lane, between two huge gnarled oak trees is an old wooden gate leading into a field. The field is backed by trees on the cusp of changing colour and I feel completely alone and at peace here. I like to climb up onto the gate and watch the sun rise over the hills. This morning the sun was almost orange as it rose and the moon was still full, transparent and silver, behind me. I sat on the gate, watched rabbits bounce across the field and as I breathed in and exhaled, it was as though I was breathing in union with Source. After a while I felt ready to come home and embrace the day ahead and the tumbling, excitable children that light up my day and leave me feeling exhausted by bedtime. Onwards....
Monday, 15 September 2008
One of the most sterling members of our team, the big guy who would sit up all night with Jez during deadline, hour after hour, keeping him awake and his lap warm, and still be ready for a walk in the woods at dawn, died this weekend. We think that he was hit by a car in the small hours of Saturday morning, on one of the quietest roads in East Sussex. Tony is already sorely missed - although a wild and independent spirit, he used to take up residence every night at the end of the bed, revealing the softer side of his nature. Here he is curled up in a box one night keeping Jez company as he worked late. I feel like we've lost more than a pet and I just can't believe he's gone...
While we were away our local town launched its own currency - the Lewes pound. This currency is bought and spent locally to benefit the local economy and can be used in any shops that carry the Lewes pound sign, which is most of the independent shops in the town, including all the traders at the monthly farmer's market, the fabulous herbal dispensary and eco store, Barefoot Herbs, and organic cotton clothing pioneers Gossypium. Within a few days almost all the 10,000 notes printed have sold out and local brewery Harveys have created a special brew to celebrate, called appropriately Quids In. Organised by a team from the local Transition Town group, the Lewes Pound is expected to have far reaching benefits; including economic, social and environmental. In supporting local businesses and goods we can start to reduce the need for transport and minimise our carbon footprint. Socially this new currency is expected to increase customer loyalty, encourage stronger links between customer and shopkeeper and support people looking for new ways to make a sustainable living. Elsewhere in the UK, the Totnes pound is now in its third phase of development and indeed Rob Hopkins, who launched the new currency in Devon, was also responsible for guiding the Lewes currency into being, alongside the New Economics Foundation.
We went to the Weald Woodfair this weekend, which was great, not least because I LOVE trees. As always there was a good community spirit and some fab stuff going on especially for families such as creating your own tree spirits, bushcraft skills, cooking prehistoric style and making apple bird feeders. There was also a space for budding potters to create their own pots, plaques etc and have them fired on site as iron age people would have done. We ate acorn flour patties sweetened with blackberries and elderberries and tried roasted crab apple. Alongside all this activity was another element to the event with a field of incredibly talented craftspeople selling their wares from huge oak tables to beautiful; bowls crafted from a single piece of wood. And Ben Law was there too; home building, woodland dwelling guru - unfortunately I didn't get to speak with him but met lots of other passionate people, leaving me feeling inspired and excited about the autumn months and forging a deeper connection with the earth.
Just had to post a quick one on this new adventure story and interactive pack produced by Splodge Publishing. It's a magical story with a powerful message and comes with a range of beautiful tactile gifts such as feathers and a rainstick to help children explore each of their their senses. Our young testers were delighted by the inclusion of a liquorice stick to taste and a read-along CD. Oh, and to celebrate the launch they are offering a weekend for a family at a Bushcraft camp next year to the winner of a nature poetry competition. All in all an unusual and beautiful gift for young and old alike - anyone looking to find and ignite their spark!
We decided to take a last minute, spontaneous holiday to the Isle of Wight for a few blustery days in a 1950s caravan and it was very lovely, most relaxing and refreshing. On arrival we discovered not only a seriously cool caravan complete with retro boardgames, rock n' roll tunes and all the little cubbyholes to explore but the owner Helen had laid out scones, jam and Babycham for us to enjoy - who'd have thought how yum that was! We even enjoyed a bit of heady autumnal sunshine whilst playing on the beach at Alum Bay on our last day. One of the highlights, after a day exploring Blackgang Chine, which hasn't changed since my childhood (yay!) was dinner at a cafe on the beach at St. Helen's at sunset - we felt very blessed. Other discoveries included The Garlic Farm - one of my favourite foods and a whole farm and shop devoted to it. Godshill Organics is a huge exciting organic shop on the edge of heaving tourist village Godshill. And Ventnor Botanic Garden is beautiful, well kept and home to a few red squirrels. It was also a breath of fresh free air after a mistaken trip to The Needles Pleasure Park - money making machine extraordinare. All in all - v restorative and good to back in the Green Parent office with a new issue out this week!
Friday, 5 September 2008
This weekend promises to be a food lovers paradise with the Soil Association's Organic Food Festival taking over Bristol's waterside from 6-7th September. With tastings, talks, cookery demonstrations to inspire parents, children are also well catered for with a giant cardboard structure from cardboard toys folks, Paperpod, in the gardening area, a food trail, more tasting and cookery workshops. Elsewhere London Vegan Festival will take over Kensington Town Hall on Sunday and visitors can expect to learn how a vegan diet can reduce harmful emissions that affect climate change. Younger visitors will be treated to storytelling, puppet shows and workshops. On Monday a lecture held by Compassion in World Farming is taking place at Savoy Place in London about the impact of meat production and consumption on our planet. Given by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and joint winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, this looks to be a fascinating talk with discussion welcomed afterwards.
Well, I just got sent a femmecup in the post this morning - thanks to their PR people! I am intrigued - it is almost identical to my beloved mooncup but a smaller version. The press info that comes with this silicone menstrual cup says that we use 3 billion disposable sanitary protection items a year in the UK. And of course these are flushed away, adding to marine pollution or dumped in landfill sites. Choosing reusable products like a menstrual cup, sea sponges or washable pads means pretty much zero waste; a mooncup lasts for ten years, the femmecup lasts for five. Femmecup's website is all yoga and ladies drinking wine, with lots of information including the fact that women have been using this sort of protection since 1896. In addition to switching to reusable products I recommend keeping a moon diary as well; recording your cycle helps you to get in touch with your body and provides a useful indicator of health and wellbeing. I like to mark moods on mine as well so that I have a better idea of what sort of frame of mind I'll be in on any given day. Then I can organise parties/meetings/duvet days accordingly!
Apparently all this rain hasn't been much fun for the insect population of our fair isles either, with low numbers of dragonflies, hoverflies, ladybirds, bees and moths recorded during August this year. Cold blooded creatures need the warmth of the sun to raise their body temperature and allow their muscles to work. A cold wet day means that they are unable to function properly and a succession of days like this can prove fatal. This also means that fewer flowers are being pollinated resulting in a smaller harvest. According to the Met Office the rain is unlikely to let up for the next few days. But plans for a wild event at Notcutts Garden Centre in Norwich, Norfolk are set to go ahead this weekend where families can meet the crew from conservation charity, Buglife, and find out more about wildlife gardening to benefit bugs. Those who can't make it might like to try these downloadable bug activities instead.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
Just wanted to put up a quick post on Living Ethically who have just revamped their information portal on all things green and ethical. They have pages of articles and a shopping directory stuffed with companies offering ethical goodies. There's also a whole range of special offers with many online retailers offering a 10-% discount to new customers through the site.
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
I have just discovered this new ethical clothing shop based in Farnham in Surrey, called Purity and they have a fabulous sale on at the moment. Many items like this gorgeous dress (in organic cotton voile and dyed with vegetable dyes £28) have been reduced by 50% - wow! They also have great reductions on their organic children's clothing ranges too. If you live near Farnham you can pop in to the shop at 20 Downing Street to check out their new autumn collection and maybe pick up a bargain or two while you're there.
We are officially in the middle of National Lunchbox Week so I have decided make this week's challenge about packed lunches. A standard lunchbox these days contains heaps of waste as every item tends to be individually wrapped from tetrapak juice cartons to plastic an foil wrapped bars. In fact, estimates show that each child generates nearly 70lbs of waste a year. Multiply that by the number of us eating packed lunches around the country every day and that's a lot of rubbish. But there is a way to change this and to pack delicious lunches that don't require any packaging. Enter Mrs Green of My Zero Waste and the US based WasteFreeLunches pioneers. I have ideas for a number of other ways that we can reduce our carbon footprint at lunchtime. Why not try one, two, or all of these over the next week to make your family's lunches a more virtuous version of their former self.
1) Switch to a reusable bottle and fill with cold water from the tap, or occasionally some locally grown juice or cordial. You can even make your own though I haven't found a way to do this yet without using sugar.
2) Ditch cling film, aluminium foil and waxed paper and instead get creative. Reuse the bags from inside cereal packs as sandwich bags. Use a yoghurt pot or margarine tub as a pot for pasta or rice salads.
3) Choose fruit with its own natural wrapping that is unlikely to get damaged in a lunch box, like apples, pears and plums. Or knit some wrap! Squishable berries, grapes etc can be stored in a washable container.
4) There have been warnings about hazardous levels of lead in children's vinyl lunchbags (the soft plasticy character type bags). Avoid these and opt for a tupperware box, ice cream carton or sturdy paper bag instead, which can be used again. I love the tiffin tins that some specialist stores sell - they make great lunchboxes. Alternatively check out these new Laptop Lunchboxes which provide all the containers, some with lids so extra packaging is not necessary.
5) Avoid individually wrapped items and opt for bulk items such as dried fruit, nuts and crisps. Decant a small amount into reusable pots each day for lunch. This helps to save money too, especially if you eschew things like those little children's snack bars and make your own. I'll post a recipe later.
So go forth and green up those lunchboxes! Let us know how you get on and please share ideas for greening up your lunchtime meals.