31 October 2018

The enormous satisfaction of making stuff

At this start of this month, I made a small pot plant cover. It was for Anna's friend, and while we loved the plant we'd bought her, we didn't like the pot colour so much.

The plant is a zebra plant.


So, inspired by a knitted pot cover I'd seen on Etsy, I gave it a crack, although I hadn't done any knitting for thirty years. After the first ninety minutes, I unraveled everything I'd done and started again. An hour later I'd finished.

The wool was old balls I had stashed away.
The finished product

Sounds painful, doesn't it? In fact it was BLISSFUL. I loved the challenge and the creativity and the dredging up of long-forgotten skills and memories. I remembered how my mother knit fast and how she held her needles, and how I'd always wanted to hold the needles like that but couldn't do it. So I mimicked her in my memory - and lo and behold, I can now hold my needles like that, too!

I was absorbed in what I was doing and energised by it.

I was channeling my inner Laura Ingalls.


I sew, too - mostly to mend or make children's dance costumes, and I'm very basic about it - my old machine can't even do a zigzag stitch, but it marches forward or backward very powerfully. I'm always thrilled at my achievement. I have saved many garments from the dump and saved a lot of money on having to buy new things.

The old girl keeps going - my mother bought this second hand from a church fair about forty years ago.

A pair of school uniform shorts that no longer has a hole in the pocket.

What have we lost?

It was so recently in human history that a family had the capacity to make most things they needed. People were resourceful and skilled. My knitting experience made me think that all that work wasn't just drudgery - I think that deep energy and pride I felt was what they must have felt, too, at least sometimes.

I was stunned in June this year by the craftsmanship on display at the Pitts Rivers Museum in Oxford. Sidenote: if you are interested in ethnolographic treasures, go there. Definitely go there.

The Inuit clothing captivated me the most - possibly because my cold tolerance is so pathetic. They made needles from bone. They sewed this gorgeous, life-protecting clothing with the tiniest stitches.  Such skill! The bottom photo is of a parka cape made from seal intestines. It is exquisite.

A cosy outfit on display at the Pitts Rivers Museum.

A waterproof cape made of seal intestine, Pitts Rivers Museum.

It's sad, then, that we now spend our evenings in front of a screen instead of creating with our hands and minds. The skills will be lost in a few generations. Not long ago every girl learnt how to sew and knit when she was small - those years when the brain picks things up so very easily. Now I know mothers who cannot sew on a button.

It's sexist, isn't it? Girls learned to sew, boys learned to build stuff. I would LOVE to know how to build things and may yet do a woodworking course. But the old process was efficient - each gender concentrated on one set of skills.

I should point out that my husband can sew and knit (not that he does). He told me how to cast off the knitting when I was finished because I'd forgotten that bit. I ignored him and made a hash of it. Next time around I watched a YouTube video - and he was right.

In my further defense, the top photo of this blog shows the plant in a hexagonal shelf beautifully made by my daughter at school and now on her bedroom wall. I should do a woodworking class with her, because that girl is full of ideas of things she wants to make.


The wonderful thing is that we have it all: we have all the information we need to make anything on YouTube! Let's use it!

4 October 2018

Carbon capture: Keep doing these easy things!

So often we hear about what we should be doing to heal the planet, and it's hard to know what makes the most difference. So I was delighted to read recently that a few things many of us are already doing really do make a difference.

The Drawdown project drew together experts from around the globe to quantify what behaviours and technologies have the potential to actually draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, essentially leading to reversed global warming. Some of the things they rank as important are already part of daily life for many of us. So pat yourself on the back and read on!

You can also check out their website here, which contains a lot of the information in the Drawdown book.

1. Plants: grow and let grow

"No other mechanism known to humankind is as effective in addressing global warming as capturing carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis." Drawdown, page 54.

Taken by my 12-year-old (she has started a photography blog here and an Instagram one here). Thanks to Hamilton Gardens for this spectacular spring display in their Indian Char Bagh Garden!

Tending your garden or pasture, growing plants or letting them continue to grow is a huge help. It needs to be done a way that adds carbon to the soil and nurtures soil microorganisms. Forests do this naturally, but as gardeners we need to add compost and mulch to the soil, and avoid much digging or tilling. Instead, just pile stuff on top like nature does.

"When soil is tilled and exposed to the air, the life within it decays quickly and carbon is emitted. Professor Rattan Lal estimates that at least 50 percent of the carbon in the earth's soils has been released into the atmosphere over the past centuries." Drawdown, page 55.

Cover crops are brilliant for this, too - see here for what Kings Seeds has to offer. These are extremely easy-sprout seeds that you scatter onto the soil after you've yanked out your crops. They grow fast, out-compete weeds, and add goodness to the soil. It's better than the weeds that will otherwise invade bare soil!

Our soils are massive carbon stores, so we really need to look after them. It's useful to remember that carbon-rich soil grows much healthier plants that also extract carbon from the atmosphere. It's a win-win!

You can read more about the carbon-locking magic of plants and soil in the regenerative agriculture section of Drawdown. The principles of fixing more carbon in soils and crops also appear in many of the books other suggested approaches.

Many of us approve of a mulched garden.

2. Love, restore and protect the NZ bush (or forest wherever you are)

Out of all the solutions to reverse global warming, Drawdown ranks temperate forests such as ours as number 12.

I often walk past this tree and think about how it hosts an entire city of life.

Protect and restore them; they are a massive carbon sink.

"Protecting loss of forest is always better than trying to bring forest back and cure razed land. Because a restored forest never fully recovers its original biodiversity, structure, and complexity, and because it takes decades to sequester the amount of carbon lost in one fell swoop of deforestation, restoration is no replacement for protection." Drawdown, page 129.

Gosh, all that PLUS the beauty, birds, bats and everything else that's good about our bush!

3. Cut food waste

I know we hear a lot these days about how important it is not to waste food for environmental reasons. But stunningly, Drawdown rates this as the number THREE way to reverse global warming. That's one heck of a recommendation!

The reasons to do it are:
1. Rotting food releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas (not if it's properly composted, though).
2. Food uses up greenhouse gases in its production, transport and packaging. If you waste it, you waste all those emissions, and need to generate more to replace it.

Some cities have fantastic schemes to reduce food waste. Hamilton's is Kaivolution. Support these places! Donate! And be grateful you have a fridge and freezer, and know how to make soups and stews with your odd bits of this and that.

The Love Food, Hate Waste website has great tips and recipes.

Icky fact: My chickens think that if I flush a cockroach down the toilet, it's a great waste of their favourite food. Their love for them has made me hate cockroaches just a little bit less.

4. Recycling

I have been recycling paper for about 25 years! Hardly anyone bothered back then, but it may not surprise you to learn that I am an early adopter of environmentally friendly behaviours. Now, of course, recycling is available to almost all of us, so it was reassuring to read that Drawdown rated it in its top 80.

Around of half of all the paper use in the world gets recycled, says the book (page 167)*. It can be recycled five to seven times! Compared to making paper from virgin materials, recycled paper uses less water, spares forests, uses fewer bleaches and chemicals, and produces far fewer greenhouse gases.

The only paper I ever buy is for our printer, which we use sparingly. As a result of the book, I've started to buy recycled paper for it. It's $15 a ream instead of $10. I can cope with that.

Other household recycling gets an energy tick, too. Forging recycled aluminium products uses 95% less energy than creating them from virgin materials. Recycling also means that the virgin ingredients don't need to be extracted from the earth.

Paper recycling box in the bottom of our pantry.

Clearly, recycling is a very poor cousin to not using the stuff in the first place. Recycling produces greenhouse gases of its own (but less than creating virgin products). It's good to know, though, that if you generate waste, recycling is really worth doing.

I used to compost as much of our paper as possible, and it is good for the compost heap (although we never put anything glossy or too colourful in there). Since reading Drawdown, though, I put more of it in the recycling bin and less in the compost.

*South Korea recycled 90% of its paper in 2009! That country popped up repeatedly on the all-star list of countries carrying out good environmental practice.

5. Eat lower on the food chain

Eat less meat. Sigh ... I am eating more meat, recently, for migraine control reasons. Eating less meat is ranked as the number four way to reverse global warming.

The case is compelling: "A groundbreaking 2016 study ... [showed that] ... business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70% through adopting a vegan diet and 63% for a vegetarian diet." Drawdown, page 39.

It's also worth noting that another way to reduce emissions is simply to eat less! Eating too much essentially wastes all the emissions that went into making the food and, quite frankly, makes us fat and unhealthy, neither of which are planet-healthy ways of being.

6. Turn off the tap at home

Water waste turns out to be surprisingly energy-hungry.

"Using water at home - to shower, do laundry, soak plants - consumes energy. It takes energy to clean and transport water, to heat it if need be, and to handle wastewater after use."

The big two fixes are low-flush toilets and water-efficient washing machines. (I think I have mentioned before how much I want a composting toilet - no water use! I like the look of this bambooloo.)

Old-fashioned actions work after all

There's nothing mind-blowing here - these approaches are all fairly ho-hum these days. But they matter, and that encourages me. I hope you feel as pleased as I do to make a difference!

Soon I'll be writing about what totally surprised me in Drawdown. I couldn't believe the things that will make a huge difference! One involves mammoths, kind of. Count me in ...

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