I have given up “single-use” plastic for Lent. The challenge on the face of it sounds quite simple. Attempt to use no single-use plastic during Lent. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, coffee cup lids, plastic packaging, basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then sent to landfill.
Simple sounding, hard to do. I have spent years worrying about my environmental footprint but the plastic it creeps up on you. It is everywhere. And there is a mass of non-biodegradable plastic rubbish in the Pacific three times the size of Britain. I’d like to stop adding to it.
Recently I had been getting uneasy about amount of plastic in my daily life. The coffee you buy on the way to the meeting, the cellophane wrapper on bunch of flowers, the plastic bag you use because you have forgotten to bring one of the many tote bags you own. And then in January Emily talked to us at Borough Belles WI about her plastic challenge last year and I started thinking about what life would be like without plastic. I found it surprisingly challenging. Food packaging accounts for most of our plastic waste and I want to know if it possible to live without it. After I talked to a friend about the challenge she said she had counted using 13 different types of single-use plastic before getting to work that morning.
I think Lent is a great time for making changes to our lives. Despite not being religious, I like the idea of a period of self-denial at this time of year and think living without something for a short while helps to make you think differently about it. Lent challenges are often really well made goals (much more specific than New Year’s Resolutions, time-bound and manageable). I think also the time frame is perfect for successful behaviour change: it is not so long that it drags out, long enough to become habit-forming and get you into a new routine rhythm. Over recent years, I’ve picked challenges that are linked to environmental habits – last year I went back to full-time vegetarianism, this year no single use plastic.
Giving up single-use plastic for Lent is a way of getting me think about all the single-use plastic I consume everyday without thinking about it. Packaging that I use for 5 minutes but lasts forever. Plastic is particularly damaging in our seas – up to a million marine animals a year are killed by plastic rubbish.
Apparently one reason people are successful with habit change during Lent is because they are striving to make the change for something that has personal meaning to him or her. Existential energy is about those things that give your life meaning, becoming a better person and those things are passionate about. When we strive after these things, we often feel more energized and more motivated to meet the goals we have set for ourselves. Avoiding single-use plastic will mean I will have to do lots of other things I want to do – cook from scratch, shop more locally and ethically, prepare and plan days better, make toiletries and kitchen cleaning products. I’m interested to see whether this challenge gives me more motivation that usual.
This isn’t about telling anyone else what to do. This is an experiment for me to encourage me to change my habits and put into practice all the advice I have read over the years about eco-living. I am not interested in feeling deprived, I’m much more interested in approaching this in a joyful and liberated fashion. I think cutting out plastic will mean that I will have to cook more from scratch, make things and be inventive. Cutting out plastic will mean no quick fixes and I want to rise to the challenge. For me, Lent is about trying to find alternative solutions.
So I am not using single-use plastic for Lent to help me think about plastic in a different and more mindful way. If you would like to follow my plastic free adventure – I have set up a Tumblr account to monitor my progress which you can find here and I’m sure some plastic-free living posts will creep on here throughout the next 40 days!
Since January I have been taking part in 100 happy days. It is a project where you post a picture about something that makes you happy for 100 days. I was inspired to start after seeing happy days pictures pop up over Instagram and was particularly inspired by Domestikate‘s lovely photos. So I started in depths of January as way of capturing things I notice which make me happy or lift my mood.
Apparently over 70% of people who take part don’t finish (eek!) but on the days people post something improves their mindset. I’ve been thinking of ways to build a bit more gratitude-type thinking into everyday so this seemed a perfect experiment. You can follow my pics on Instagram and Flickr and you can sign up yourself here.
I’ve never taken part in project 52 or 365 projects on Flickr because they felt like a big commitment but posting one picture, everyday for 100 days, felt easier and I was motivated to join in. I thought everyone has the time to be happy. I also think there is something interesting in posting everyday – habit forming, repetition helps you develop creative practice of any type. The moments you will capture will be fleeting but it means you will have to stop and look. To notice the ordinary things in the world around you that make you happy and be present. I’m interested to see whether my pictures get better or if there are any patterns in what I capture.
41 days later – I’m really enjoying it. I like posting once a day, there have been a few days when I’ve remembered close to midnight but still posted. My rules have been to post something that genuinely puts a spring in my step and not to over-think it or worry about the artistic merits of the photo. It isn’t about massively trying to improve my photography. But just a way to be more mindful and present for 100 days. Over last few years I’ve become interested in gratitude and impacts on wellbeing. Grateful people on the whole are happier, less stressed, less depressed, more altruistic, and more happy with their health and wellbeing. I struggle with gratitude as a word because it feels like a negative and like something I should be feeling rather than something positive. I prefer Sophie’s interpretation of being thankful and have really enjoyed her weekly updates.
Anyway, this long preamble is a way of reintroducing reasons to be cheerful. These are the things this week which have put a smile on my face…
:: The Farmer’s Market at the Horniman. The Horniman is pretty much my favourite place in South East London these days. Saturday mornings are about buying veggies, bread, enjoying my favourite view across London and a quick chat with the pygmy goats. These are a new addition and such cute critters. And we all know how much I love a goat.
:: Blue skies-there have been some beautiful days when the sun finally made an appearance and the rain that seems to have been steadily falling forever has finally stopped. They are still few and far between but I’m hoping for more.
:: Hellebores – Spring is coming and my mum’s garden is full of different colours of spring flowers. I love hellebores big time.
:: Flow magazine - such a treat to read something so gentle, beautiful and inspiring.
:: Trip planning – the anticipation and planning is half the fun.
:: Reading on my Kindle.
:: Clean kitchen to cook in. I’m digging stirfrys of tofu and greens at the moment.
:: Friday night cocktails. Welcome to the weekend.
I started writing Reasons to be cheerful posts to remind myself of all the fun, good things I see, read and find out about every week.
Annabel. Fuzzy heads, powered by Nordic Bakery coffee and cake. Catching up, shooting the breeze, sharing stories, dreams of dogs, ideas that might become real, might not. Just do it. Laughing. Croque Madames, juice and tea.
Talk of Kangaroos, imaginative play, resolutions, children books, why it’s brilliant children can think differently from adults, pygmy goats, hydration, South East Asia, palaeontology popstars singing songs about animals, focus, travelling inflatable planetariums, seasnakes, rainbow cakes, learning to play the ukulele, spacesuit silver rucksacks, trifle. Making business cards with made up job titles – rollerskating waitress, astronaut. Be more present.
Blue skies. Hyde Park. Clouds drifting overhead, surrounded by rollerskaters, feeling the sun on my face, reading and sighing over the beauty in Flow magazine. Watching huge bubbles drift over the lake and not burst when they touch the water. Feels like spring is here and life is waking up after winter. See your worries disappear like bubbles.
Walking down Marylebone High Street, window shopping. Daunt books. Wanderlust. Books full of places I’ve been and more to see. Sacred places. Places to see before you die. Berlin street style. Anticipation. Excitement. Conrad shop. Play. Colouring books for adults of gardens, cities, heart throbs, atlas poster on your wall to colour in. Swoon.
Home on East London Line. Mind buzzing. Soothed by youth lagoon on my headphones.
A snapshot of my day.
Judging a cake competition is definitely harder than it looks. At the Bermondsey Street Festival, as well as admiring dogs I also judged the Bermondsey Bake-Off with a teacher from a nearby school. I have for a while wanted to enter a type of Flower and Produce show in my bid to become even more like Jill Archer. So for a brief while I got to practice my best WI president smile and have to look like I know what I’m doing. We sampled all the cakes and thought about our feedback before awarding our prizes.
Tasting the cakes was surprisingly hard work but really fun. Lucky I had watched the Bake Off – I definitely could put some of the phrases I had learnt on that to good use. Nice crumb! We were lucky the standards of the cake was so high – one of the winners was a cake in the shape of The Shard!
The lovely photos are by NeverEatWobblyJelly. Thanks Em!
Buying the flat has been brilliant and has quickly felt like home. I decided that I should learn some DIY skills to go along with my new homeownership and Lara’s DIY adventure was born. I have LOVED learning new things and when I first got my keys I became obsessed with many shades of greys for my walls. I started reading interiors magazines and looking up options of eco-paint. I have made many boards on Pinterest and even started a more physical scrapbook with pictures of interiors and colours. I found it incredibly therapeutic when I was buying the flat to spend evenings cutting and sticking with my scrapbook.
So this year, DIY has been my challenge. I have tried unblocking sinks with a plunger and mended skirting boards using tutorials on YouTube. YouTube has been a fantastic resource in finding out how to do things from prepare and paint a room, fill holes and taking the trap off the kitchen sink.
I was going to sign up for a course at the lovely Good Life Centre but instead I discovered that B&Q offered short courses which were really affordable. For the princely sum of £10, I learnt how to put up a floating shelf, use brackets and hang mirrors on the walls. It was the first time I used a drill and it was SO.MUCH.FUN. Much more than I thought. Maybe it is because it was in a demonstration centre but you got to practice doing the same thing again and again without worrying about damaging it. The guy who ran the course was very patient and gave lots of helpful tips about drills, raw plugs and spirit levels. I’m still a bit scared about drilling into my actual walls but am determined to do it in 2014. I went with a couple of work friends and afterwards we went for tea & cake in Nonsuch Park. We felt quite smug and elated after putting up things successful.
There is still more to do in the flat and am sure there always will be. I’m learning new skills talking to electricians, plumbers and roofers and I’m enjoying putting my own stamp on my home. Obviously there are things that haven’t gone as well as I had hoped but you can learn new things with the benefit of hindsight. Like it’s important to buy good quality masking tape – cheap stuff is a false economy and peels over the walls by the time you want to paint it!
Ta-Dah! My first shelf on the wall. And it’s level!
The adventure continues…
This is one of my posts wrapping up 2013 using Project Reverb prompts.
2014 has been starting slowly which is fitting as slow is really my word of the year. (Although more about that anon!) After a stressful end to the year with restructuring and job applications taking up much of November and December, Christmas arrived with a flurry of lovely things. I celebrating keeping my job with lunchtime margarita and visit to see the flowers at the Nelson Mandela statue at the South Bank.
There were lovely outings, treats and parties the week before Christmas. A raucous night at The Pogues at Brixton Academy, gasping at laser harps and space pictures at Robin Ince and Brian Cox’s Christmas Show, singing along at the Choir with No Name’s Christmas Concert which was incredibly moving, Christmas crafting at Borough Belles Christmas party, parties of fizz, karaoke and even my first snowball.
Then there was trip home for twinkly lights, a small person delighted with a felt crown for Christmas and much playing. A party on boxing day with baked camembert to catch up with lots of friends. And then there were quiet days of sewing, knitting, reading and walks. I watched Casablana (sniff, sniff), Agatha Christie’s and Ben and James versus camels programme.
Then back to London for trips to Horniman, domestic sorting and cleaning. I enjoyed going to see the Elizbethan Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and War Games at Museum of Childhood.
And then it was back to work and coming out of hibernation reluctantly. I’ve decided to spend the next few days on the blog rounding off 2013 so that by end of January I’m fully caught up with myself. A bit of clearing the decks to send me well on my way into 2014.
“Can we buy these oranges Daddy?
No, Lara, we don’t buy things from South Africa…”
I am 8 and in the supermarket with my Dad and he talks to me about why we are boycotting South African food. For me as I’m sure for many people, Nelson Mandela and the ANC will always been wrapped up with childhood memories of growing up in the eighties. It was through my parent’s support of the anti-apartheid campaigns that I learnt about social justice, political prisoners, understood that individual choices we make can have a big impact and what political campaigning looked like.
Protest was part of the backdrop in the 80s. The music we listened to and sang along to in the car were often protest songs – Peter Gabriel, Sting, Paul Simon’s Graceland, Bob Marley, Neil Young or featuring African artists like Youssou N’Dour or Ladysmith Black Mambazo. We watched the big protest concerts from Wembley including the Amnesty International concert, Live Aid and Nelson Mandela’s birthday concerts and rewatched back on videos. (My parents always mystified by my obsession with Midge Ure and Ultravox). I read teenage fiction about human rights and I remembering watching Cry Freedom for the first time.
I always felt a special infinity for Mandela because he was released from prison in the early hours of my tenth birthday. I remember my mum coming to wake me and tell me with excitement. I wore my Dad’s old ANC t-shirt with its powerful fist and black, green and yellow flag until it was threadbare throughout my university days.
With the news of his death, there is so much to say and a desire to almost say nothing at all. I hummed and hawed before writing this as frankly everyone across the world is commenting on it. But while you don’t want to take part in a global display of grief or get mawkish, it has been impossible to not feel moved.
Nelson Mandela was an extraordinary leader and the world does feel poorer without him in it. He has inspired millions globally to fight for social justice and speak out. I love the fact that he didn’t disappoint after he came out of prison. The pressure upon him must have been immense but whatever the moment or issue he handled it with dignity, authority and charisma. Although the problems in South African are far from over and the ANC may have failed to live up to expectations, Mandela didn’t. He remained outspoken – challenging Tony Blair on Iraq War and Thabo Mbeki on HIV/AIDs. For me, one of the most poignant moments in the replayed footage has been when he held a press conference to tell the world that his son had died of AIDS. It was so brave.
I love so many of his quotes and soundbites but I don’t want to over-romantise him or look back with nostalgia. Apartheid was a brutal regime that many governments worldwide were complicit in propping up. I find it very difficult that Robbin Island is a tourist attraction years later.
But there are lots of things about Nelson Mandela which are amazing.
It is amazing that a man imprisoned for 27 years, doing hard labour in a South African jail and contracted TB while in prison lived to be 95.
It is more amazing that when a lot of people he loved had been murdered, imprisoned, tortured or intimidated that he could forgive. That he had such humility in the face of such pain and at great personal cost – the birthdays he didn’t attend, the relatives who died while he was in prison.
It is incredible that after being released at 72, he decided to sit down with his enemy and set up the truth and reconciliation committee to help build a better future for his country.
But it is still outrageous that he was there. It is still outrageous that he had to fight so hard for equality. I love Mark Steele’s moving post because it reminds us that Nelson Mandela was a fighter. Tributes have emphasized his goodness, kindness and most important his forgiveness but he was unbelievably brave – took on the establishment in a way that few people dare to do. While my pacifist heart finds it challenging that Mandela gave up on passive resistance and nonviolence, I understand why. In the 80s he united the left and his release from prison was a moment when campaigners round the world beat the establishment which is a rare thing indeed. I haven’t witnessed any other such moments in my lifetime and not sure I will again.
So rather than remind people that Mrs Thatcher called the ANC a terrorist organization and didn’t support sanctions or that David Cameron went on an expenses paid trip to South Africa by anti-sanctions lobbyist group, I think there is something poetic in the fact that everyone is falling over themselves to make statements and mourn him. I love the fact that the political establishment has paid tribute to him and that lots of things from the 80s now seem unbelieveable. For example that it seems unthinkable that the large bust of Mandela at the South Bank was immediately vandalized in 1985 when it was first put up and eventually set on fire. I love that a black revolutionary socialist jailbird has become such an important global figure for social justice and peace.
I have really enjoyed a range of radio tributes such as Fergal Keane’s programme Mandela: In his own words looking over his letters and diaries; From Our Own Correspondent Mandela tribute and listening again to Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Desert Island Discs and The Reunion. If you have a tissue handy it is also really worth watching Peter Gabriel’s message and The Elders tribute to him; lovely and moving tributes from range of amazing leaders.
I will leave you a performance of Peter Gabriel performing Biko at an Amnesty International Concert. It is a record I love. It reminds me of my family and what we hold dear. It is one of the songs which taught me about South Africa and has reminded me over the years how incredible people like Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela really are. It reminds me that it is possible to love people who you have never met because of what they stand for and what they do.
I remembering watching a performance of Simple Minds and Peter Gabriel performing Biko at the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday concert at home with my Mum when I was 8. It was two years before Nelson Mandela was released and I remember us raising our arms in sympathy with the people in the crowd. It seemed fitting on Thursday evening that when I heard the news I called my mum and then watched this same performance on YouTube and the song went round my head all day on Friday. This performance still gives me goosebumps and makes me want to raise my arm in an ANC salute.
“You can put out a candle but you can’t put out a fire. Once the flames begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.”
“Brave: What was the bravest thing you did in 2013?”
When I read this morning’s prompt I felt a wave of panic. I’m not brave. I haven’t done anything brave this year. All day I thought about what it means to be brave. To be fearless. Show great courage. Act with spirit. Triumph in the face of adversity.
Bravery to me is showing courage when things are hard, choosing the path less travelled, saying the things that other people would rather you didn’t, speaking truth to power, thinking for yourself about what matters to you and how you act in a way which is in line with your values.
I could have written about a range of things that I often associate with being brave. Often I think that brave things have to be big heroic things (buying a flat, leaving a relationship, travelling) or intrepid things that scare me (kayaking on open sea, climbing mountains, walking/sleeping in rainforests with snakes). I am quite good at doing stuff that scares me and lots of things do. In recent years I have pushed myself to do things that make my stomach churn and say yes to opportunities. I thought about whether appearing on Channel 5 as part of the WI was my brave moment of 2013 which was terrifying but brilliant because of the support and feedback I received from our members.
I also thought that actually there are lots of examples of being brave every day – it is the little things that you do and how you choose to do them which is where you can be truly brave. The way you handle yourself in a meeting, speak at an event to a room of strangers, stick up for the bus driver when a crazy person is swearing at them, the way you try to inspire your team to do a good job and remember the work we do touches people’s lives.
But I felt like I had already written about my flat, Channel 5 and I didn’t want to write about work yesterday. It didn’t feel compelling enough as a topic to summarise my year. I signed up to Project Reverb to really think about the year, dig deep and also to write honestly.
So this is my bravest moment. I went to my friend’s father funeral on my own.
My friend’s Dad died suddenly and I wasn’t sure what to do or say. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years mainly because we both had been crazy busy. I had sent her a few messages while her Dad wasn’t well but it all happened so fast we hadn’t had a chance to speak. On the day itself I was very anxious about it, worried about my friend and her family, worried about travel arrangements. I was incredibly nervous about intruding on a family occasion, getting something wrong or getting in the way.
I remember arriving at the crematorium far too early and sitting in the remembrance garden. It was such a beautiful day and the red roses were in full bloom. I didn’t know anyone gathered outside but just stood quietly and filed into the back of the hall. I was relieved when I caught my friend’s eye before it started so she knew I was there. The service was lovely but incredibly sad and I was glad that I went. All the anxiety beforehand was worth the fact that my friend knew that I was there to support and love her.
Sometimes when things are hard, people remain silent and try to ignore it happening or they respond in cliches. I have always been so grateful when friends have supported me through tough times – when my friends crossed London to give me a hug when my mum was really sick, helped me pack boxes and move house through a breakup or put me on a train to London when I needed to get to my family urgently. It is what friends do. I’m glad that I didn’t just send a card and go to work that day. I am glad I showed up. It reminded me that the years count, I might not see someone everyday but with friends that doesn’t matter. The love runs deep.
When I was writing this I thought about two additional things. Doing something brave opens you up to new possibilities and experiences both positive and negative. It can make you feel vulnerable because you are taking a risk but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. At the moment I feel like Brene Brown is stalking me, she is referenced everywhere but her amazing TedTalk basically confirms that letting yourself be seen, embracing vulnerability and loving with an open and whole heart will help the world become a better place. Living bravely means doing things that might make you uncomfortable, anxious and vulnerable but this in turn teaches us how to live with joy and gratitude. It also reminds me of one of my favourite Thich Nhat Hanh quotes:
“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
Although he is writing about being in the present moment, I think it is also applies to this context. Going to the funeral was my way of offering my presence and love to my friend at a moment of need. That feels brave to me.
Top Image: Brave
“Twenty years ago yesterday, we released our debut album and to celebrate we are going to play the next song”
Silence in the crowd falls as the quiet strumming guitar kicks in – so familiar but still a shock to the system to hear it live. I sharply breathe in and grip my friend’s hand a bit tighter. I hadn’t expected this to be played tonight and it is beautiful.
“Oh Angel, don’t take those sleeping pills…..It’s just time that they kill….”
The ice cold vocal hovers above the swirling guitars and for a moment I am transported back to being 15 listening to Suede in my bedroom. Tears slide down my face and I turn round to look at the crowd. Everyone seems to be equally frozen, spellbound for that moment in time while we are intently listening.
A moment of dreamy beauty; languid, sad, remote yet incredibly familiar at the same time.
“You’re a water sign, I’m an air sign…”
I love resolutions.
I tend to always make some at the beginning of the year and revise throughout the year. I don’t always do them whole-heartedly but I find thinking about them a good way to think about what is important to me at that point in time which serves as a reminder later on. I remember reading The Happiness Project a couple of years ago and thinking about how simple goal setting and reward structures are useful for helping add extra sparkle to everyday. This year I fancy taking stock before the new year and I think Project Reverb is a good way to process this year and think about what next year might hold for me.
The first prompt is ‘Where did you start 2013? Give us some background on this year.’
2013 started watching fireworks over the rooftops of London with my mum in my cosy flat. We had been out and about in London, then I made an ottolenghi dinner and we drank fizz listening to music on my Hi-Fi. It was the first New Year’s I had hosted in my own home and I loved it. When the fireworks started we hung out of windows looking at Canary Wharf and then Crystal Palace tower. I was bit drunk and full of love for London.
I was uncertain (and a bit scared) about what 2013 would hold for me – I hoped I would buy a flat and I knew I would re-applying for my job which filled me with a certain amount of dread. In the face of these rather BIG changes I knew that I wanted more time doing my thing and doing normal everyday domestic things.
I had been house-hunting for a couple of months and I was going to see a flat the next day. On New Year’s Day in the rain we pounded the streets of South East London looking at road after road, assessing what it was like, wondering if I’d like living there. It was quite relentless and very wet. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure I’d find my home in London. Two weeks later, I went to view a flat. The minute I walked it, I just knew it was the right place for me.
The day I got my keys was a strange day. After a stressful week with the flat looking like it was going to fall through until the last possible minute, I picked up the keys in a daze and stumbled into this empty flat on my own and had a small squeak. That evening, one of my best friends crossed London to give me a hug, look at my empty flat with me some more and drink fizz in the pub with me. I remember showing her proudly the view of quite industrial South East London but to me it had (and still does) a certain romance and magic to it.
Not everything this year has been easy but I have learnt so much about myself – I have surprised myself about what I can achieve when I put my mind to it. I’m no longer afraid of silence, space and of being alone. In fact, I really like it and love spending time pottering in my flat. I was so worried I was going to find moving scary and freak me out but actually it has all been fine. I’m ending the year still with plumbing issues, mice and a hundred and one things to do but I have time to fix them. This is my place in London and I’m so grateful for it.
I often don’t think I’m good at decisions, I procrastinate and worry. I think about things from every possible angle and talk it through. I’m not a natural starter-finisher but sometimes though it is the best possible thing to commit to one place and see it through. The same words have come back to me all year – faith, hope, thankful, family, community, space, home, and sanctuary.