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family day out on the cutty sark explorer trail - photo of my hand holding out the brochure which doubles as a kid's guide to emboss at stamping stations throughout the ship

Family Day Out at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich

Since returning to our life in London at the end of September, we hadn’t really had much quality time as a family. After getting home from Valencia, my husband got sinusitis and then I ended up in hospital for a few days with asthma – something I’ve only developed in adult life. For at least two weeks I hadn’t been outside my house or the hospital. So we were really looking forward to having a family day out, courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich, on what turned out to be a glorious, hot Saturday afternoon in October.

We live a short bus ride away from Greenwich, a leafy riverside historic area on the outskirts of London. It is a place dear to our heart, as a couple and as a family.  When my husband and I were dating, we often went there for long, relaxed champagne picnics in Greenwich Park during the summer and in the winter we’d eat plates of whitebait in pubs by the river. We even considered getting married there at one point.

Since becoming a family of three, it has turned out to be an excellent family destination for us as well.  Not only are there plenty of museums and large public spaces, but there are lots of fun restaurants and independent boutiques.  We also like the central market where you can buy handcrafted artisan goods and street food – with lots of vegan options.  Greenwich Park is marvellously big and while younger children enjoy visiting the deer enclosure in the flower garden, older children love straddling the prime meridian line (Greenwich Mean Time) at the observatory on the hill.  Parents and couples will enjoy the beautiful views of Canary Wharf across the river.

Greenwich is easily accessible from Central London via bus, train, riverboat and the Docklands Light Railway.

Sitting at the heart of the waterfront is the Cutty Sark, the world’s sole surviving tea clipper.

It was one of the fastest tea clippers in existence. 

Built in 1869 to carry tea from China to London when the tea business was lucrative and speed was important, the Cutty Sark had a few years of glory before being replaced by steamboats and she was relegated to carrying wool from Australia to the UK.  In 1922 she was found and restored by a retired sea captain and had a few more useful years as a training ship until 1954 when she was laid in dry dock permanently and put on public display. Since then the boat has survived two fires, but after a lengthy restoration she perched atop a stunning architecturally designed glass dry dock which looks like a cresting wave.

When at the ticket desk, be sure to ask for a Cutty Sark explorer trail guide for each child you visit with.  The booklet is free and has a page for each main section of the ship with activities and an area to emboss at designated stamping stations throughout the boat.  My daughter really enjoyed doing this and although there are plenty of fun activities for kids on board it helped provide a bit of focus as we visited each area of the ship.

Those whose little ones under 4 who really love the ship (my 3 year old daughter is asking if we can go back to “the big ship” as I sit here writing this) can join the regular Toddler Time sessions held in the gallery under the Cutty Sark on Wednesdays during term times.  (See the bottom of this post for full details, prices and times.)

Copy of the cutty sark explorer trail guide for kids - a blue paper pamphlet with cool graphicsa copy of the cutty sark Explorer trail guide beside the explorer trail stamp embosser, in front of some carved ship figureheadsmy daughter embossing her cutty sark explorer trail guide

You enter the ship by walking across a ramp and through a hole cut into the hull of the ship.  You walk straight into the main cargo hold of the ship, where once 1,305,812 lbs of tea and later 4,289 bales of wool would have been transported from the other side of the world back to London.  There are loads of interactive stations and activities for kids and informative panels with facts about the ship for older kids and grown ups. There is even a theatre seating area where you can watch a short film about the history of the Cutty Sark.

entering the ship's hull where it is dark and full of TV screens showing the tea industrya tea history timeline stencilled onto reproduction tea crates

She was brave…there’s no way I’d be smelling and touching those “mystery” boxes!

My 3 year old daughter touching and smelling

There are beautiful antique pieces  on display, like model ships and the original ship’s bell (which was stolen but later returned).

a model ship in a glass casethe original ship's bell in brass, engraved with

There are also a couple of interactive toy models of the ship which children are free to play with.

child and parent playing with toy model ship inside ship's hull

The officer and crew quarters have been beautifully restored.  Some of them you can just peek into, like this one with a ghostly projection and voice of a crew member writing a letter to his family, and others which visitors are free to try out.  Those bunks were awfully small!

holographic ship's crew member writing a letter and speaking out loud

Ever the chef, I had to photograph the galley – the ship’s kitchen!

the original ship's galley filled with dirty plates and soup tureens

There is something quite surreal and a bit magical about being on a tall ship riding a crystal wave which captures the movement and reflection from the sky above, ever-headed towards the modern towers of the finance industry in Canary Wharf in the distance. Perhaps a fitting destination, given how significant a business tea was in the 19th century – it was a key source of tax revenue for the British Empire.

A side view of the Cutty Sark tea clipper in Greenwich. There is a view of the towers of Canary Wharf in the background.artistic photo of a row of ship's ropes on pulleys

If you’re feeling particularly energetic after you complete your visit on board the ship, you can even walk to the Isle of Dogs in East London via the Edwardian era Greenwich Pedestrian Tunnel. There is something a bit Jules Verne-esque about the small brick, domed entrance to the tunnel which leads under the River Thames.

entrance to the greenwich pedestrian tunnel with the river thames and the shard in the backgroundarty photo of the ship's rigging with the town of greenwich in the backgroundme walking down a set of stairs holding on to a rope bannisterarty photo of the ship's rigging and the skyphoto of me in a black turtleneck and denim skirt and canvas slip on shoes on the deck of the cutty sark in front of the rigging and pulleys

After you’ve toured the ship itself, a gangway and a set of modern stairs (or a lift) leads you down to the modern gallery area under the ship itself.  I should say at this point that almost every area of the ship itself, aside from a couple of the original crew quarters are all accessible via lift for those who require it.

Under the ship is a small cafe where you can have a cup of coffee and cake, or even afternoon tea while admiring the beautifully polished underside of the Cutty Sark.

the tearoom underneath the cutty sark ship's hull in a big modern gallery spacearty photo of the ship's hull - all polished copper

Keep walking down the gallery and after passing a number of fun interactive displays, you can go up a viewing platform (only accessible via stairs I seem to recall, though I could be wrong about that) to get this amazing view.

the ship's hull, taken from underneath, showing the architectural ribbing of the dry dock supports and the crystal glass

At the far end of the gallery is a collection of ship figureheads, including the original “Cutty Sark”, seen in white below, holding a horse’s tail.  The figurehead now on the ship itself is a reproduction.

In case you were wondering about the unusual name of the ship, Cutty Sark comes from Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter, about a farmer called Tam who is chased by the witch Nannie who is dressed only in a ‘cutty sark’ – an ancient Scottish name for a short undergarment or chemise.

A number of carved figureheads from shipsthe cutty sark taken from underneath the crystal glass dry dock

We greatly enjoyed our visit aboard the Cutty Sark and as it has been designated as a toddler-approved museum by my daughter I’ll certainly be taking her to the Toddler Time sessions after term time starts up again so we can see this beautiful ship again.

Toddler Time at the Cutty Sark is held rain or shine (with songs, stories and playtime). The timings are 10.00-11.30am and 1.20-2.50pm. The cost is £5 per adult, but under 4’s are free (obviously accompanied by a parent!) but if a parent signs up to an annual membership for £44, you can go for free to as many sessions as you wish.

This post is a sponsored collaboration with Royal Museums Greenwich.

an open porthole in the ship's cargo hull

Resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutty_Sark, https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/nannie-cutty-sark-figurehead#k8rUo4yTzSq73zLE.99

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How to Conserve Energy in the Bedroom

We’ve just moved our bedroom into the new loft space we had added to our house and with the new Velux windows and French doors, as well as improved insulation, we’ve noticed a huge difference in the temperature management of our house this summer and we’re hoping that will carry through into the colder months. It’s made us really conscious of our energy usage and while we will be saying no thank you to getting a smart meter, we will be trying to implement small, sensible measures to cut down on our energy usage. 

Here are some tips which I’ve asked SleepHelp.org to prepare to help you with practical tips to reduce your energy use in both summer and winter.

If you sleep eight hours every night, you’ll end up spending nearly one-third of your life in the bedroom. And yet, it’s easy to forget about energy conservation in a room where you’re usually unconscious. However, there are many things you can do to cut down on energy use while you sleep.

Check the Seal Around Windows and Doors

Windows and outside doors can be areas of significant heat loss so give the seals a good once-over every few months. Keep an extra tube of caulking on hand to seal any draughts you notice when the weather changes.

Start Temperature Management Early

You have to start thinking about temperature management before it gets too hot or cold in the bedroom. During the summer, block out light and heat with blackout curtains, heavy drapes, or blinds. In the winter, keep them closed when it’s coldest outside to prevent heat loss. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever have your curtains open, but you’ll need to keep them closed in order to strategically to cut down on energy use.

Unplug and Consolidate Your Electronics

Even though you’re not using the television, it may be in standby mode which still uses power. Try using extension cords to plug all your electronic devices, including lamps and speakers, into a single power strip. At night and when they’re not in use, turn the power strip off. Flipping one switch is easier than walking around the room and unplugging every device.

Open the Windows and Doors

This one’s really only feasible during the summer, but it can cut down on your air conditioner use. If possible, open your windows and doors to let the cool evening breeze move through your house. Not only has fresh air been shown to help you sleep better and improve next-day performance, it brings the temperature down without the use of your air conditioner.

Adjust Your Bed for the Season

Your mattress and bedding are a big part of your comfort while you sleep. Today, more than ever, there are more organic and environmentally-friendly mattress options. You also can read our article on choosing the right natural mattress here.  Try to choose one that works with your climate to provide good temperature regulation. For example, plant-based memory foam mattresses usually keep heat and moisture against the body so, in general, they’re warmer. Innersprings and hybrids tend to allow more airflow and, therefore, are cooler. You can use your bedding to your advantage as well. Natural fabrics like linen and cotton have good breathability for summer and warm, soft flannel  bedding will help contain heat in the winter.  A wool blanket thrown overtop the duvet will help trap the heat and keep you cosy and toasty warm on cool autumn and winter nights too.

Install a Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans may use electricity, but less than an air conditioner. They can be used in a couple different ways to help manage the temperature in your bedroom. Most of the time, the blades pull air up from the ground where it’s cooler. In this case, they keep the cool air circulating through the room. If your windows are open, they can also help pull air into the room. In cooler months, you can switch the direction of the blades, which will circulate warm air back to the ground. While you don’t want to have your fan on high in the winter, blowing warm air to the ground can heat your room up faster. (My family does this and I can promise, it really does work!)

With lights off and curtains closed, you’re ready to cut your energy use in the bedroom. Some of the other changes may require a little more time, but they’re worth it to lower your carbon footprint and reduce your energy bills.


 

This article was a non-paid collaboration written by Amy Highland, a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

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Five Reasons for Choosing Organic (And One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics)

I started writing about organic eating in 2011 and since that time, this blog has grown to incorporate green, natural living and eco-travel.  In the intervening 7 years, organic food has become much more prevalent, with more people choosing to buy organic on a regular basis.  Which is great, but sometimes when a movement becomes widespread, it becomes a bit like white noise.  We forget WHY we initially made the choice to switch to organic and our intentions become less resolute.  And some folks probably never really knew why they started buying organic foods in the first place, other than for vague reasons about it being “healthier”.

In short, by buying organic food, personal care products, home products and clothing, you are making a decision to consciously support sustainable agricultural land use (as well as a positive impact on the natural lands which surround it – for the wild birds, bees, flora and fauna), improved animal husbandry welfare (including no routine use of antibiotics which is important as we sit on the cusp of the post-antibiotic era), no use of artificial colours or preservatives which is better for your body and you’re also buying products made from natural materials which will more easily break down into compost at the end of their useful life, rather than spending the next 500 years in landfill.  So many great reasons to make this conscientious decision to buy organic as often as you are able.

What first inspired me to create this blog was my desire and passion to share with others why I choose to buy organic food, clothing and home items as often as I can. And I haven’t done that in a while, so I thought I’d remind my readers (and myself!) my main evidence-based reasons for choosing – and continuing – to buy organic.

Learn More – GO! Organic Festival (8-9 September 2018)

If you live in the UK and you’d like to explore more about organic living, my first suggestion is that join me at the Battersea Park on 8-9 September 2018 and celebrate everything organic at the GO! Organic Festival.  They’ve very kindly partnered with me to sponsor this article and to offer you the opportunity to win a free pair of tickets (see below). I’ll be there, so let me know in the comments below if you’re coming too! Buy your tickets HERE.

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There will be loads of organic food and drink (including beers & wines), celebrity chefs, pop up vendors and a marketplace with lots of my favourite organic companies including skincare companies, clothing and homewares.  (One of my favs, Greenfibres will be there too, you can check out my review of their pillows HERE.) There’s also a MainStage with a great line up of music.

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Oh, and if you have kids, can I just say that Andy (yes, CBeebies Andy, THAT Andy) and Mr Bloom will be there too!  There will also be facepainting, etc. In other words, it’s a very family friendly day out.

You can win a free pair of tickets by entering our Rafflecopter giveaway HERE.

In the meanwhile, start supporting your local farmers markets and natural foods shops, and when you do buy a packaged product, learn to read the label. You don’t need to change everything in a day, but the more you learn about why some people choose to buy organic foods, clothing and personal care products.  If you’re a bit skeptical about  why its important to buy organic and would like to learn more about why I “became organic”, then I invite you to keep on reading…

Why Did I Choose Organic?

I sometimes hear really intelligent people say that buying organic isn’t necessary because it’s just a marketing ploy to charge more, and that makes me sad. (I hear this a lot in the vegan community, and we should really know better.) Because while these folks are partly right that there is a marketing element to the organic label certifications and branding, that’s not why I choose to buy non-sprayed,  non-GMO foods, clothing and home products.  In fact, on many occasions the organic products I’m buying aren’t labelled organic at all.  I just talk to the farmer or producer and find out what farming and production methods they’re using.  I encourage you to do the same. I like supporting local farmers wherever possible, but I also have good reasons for making sure that I’m choosing organic products (and supporting organic producers, including those who go to the effort of obtaining pricy and demanding organic certification standards).
The US National Academy of Sciences reports that 90% of the chemicals applied to the foods we eat have not been tested for their long-term health effects before being deemed as “safe.” Furthermore, the US FDA only tests 1% of foods for pesticide residue.

“The most dangerous and toxic pesticides require special testing methods, which are rarely if ever employed by the FDA.”

Here are my top 5 evidence-based reasons for living an organic lifestyle.

1. Genetically Modified Foods

I’m not afraid of the boogey man or Franken-whatever – that’s not why I don’t eat GMO foods.  The point of most widely available GMO foods – especially the big ones like corn, wheat, canola and soya – is that they are branded as “Roundup Ready” and as such, the plants are designed to be resistant to higher levels of glyphosate so that more weed-killer can be used for a higher product yield – levels of toxins which would kill a conventional plant. Glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup and it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical which the WHO has listed as a probable carcinogen, in particular linked to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and to which there is increasing evidence and current legal debate that it causes genetic damage.

So when you see “soya”, “soy”, “canola”, “corn”, “fructose”, “glucose fructose”, avoid buying those foods unless they are labelled as organic or non-GMO. (Foods labelled as non-GMO, GMO-free and Non-GMO Project Verified foods aren’t necessarily free from Roundup (glyphosate) and other harsh weed-killing toxins like Dicamba (also produced by Monsanto), but they will have lower levels of those poisons. I won’t lie – I do occasionally buy those types of non-GMO foods, but it’s better to buy organic as often as possible.  I tend to apply a 90/10 rule at home – 90% organic, whole foods (I prefer to eat whole foods for my own health reasons – you don’t need to do that) and 10% fun foods (my fun foods are always vegan and always GMO-free, organic where possible). It’s nearly impossible to guarantee eating GMO-free when you go out to restaurants unless you eat somewhere like Chipotle, the first national chain restaurant to cook with all non-GMO ingredients. Just do your best.

If you want to know more about practical ways to avoid GMO foods, check out Mama Natural’s blog post on how to avoid GMO’s. You can also check out my previous article on the subject.

If you don’t have the time for reading all those articles and you don’t have time to read labels at the supermarket, the easy solution is – just buy and eat organic food.  

Organic food cannot be genetically modified, so it’s an easy cheat to avoid having those toxins in your food.

2. The Health of Agricultural Workers

There are over 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides used in the agricultural industry worldwide (1 billion of that is in the US) and with woefully inadequate hazard assessments taking place, especially when chemicals are combined, each year 25 million agricultural workers experience unintentional pesticide poisoning.

(Note, I’m not even touching on how those chemicals affect the environment, animals, the bees and bird life.)

Personally, I care about the health of all those agricultural workers and their families and I don’t wish to contribute to risking their lives so I can have a cheap bag of Doritos or whatever.

annie-spratt-427331-unsplash

3. Groundwater Becomes Poisoned

The US Department of Agriculture has found that the groundwater which provides drinking water for around 50,000,000 people in the US has been contaminated by pesticides and chemicals from the agricultural industry.

“According to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel, it is estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests. The bulk of pesticides (99.%) is left to impact the environment.”

But maybe you’re not a statistics person.  Maybe you need to see an example of the kind of thing I mean, so please check out the video below showing the issues with the Costa Rica pineapple industry.

4. Because Pesticides Get EVERYWHERE

Even household dust (in addition to food and water) is now contaminated with pesticides, particularly in rural agricultural areas. Studies have found that children between 3 and 6 years of age received MOST of their dermal and non-dietary oral doses of pesticides from playing with toys and while playing on carpets which contributed the largest portion of their exposure.

That means the dust from the air settling on the toys of our kids  – on the objects we use everyday – is toxic.

That bit of dust that’s settled on Sophie the Giraffe or my daughter’s favourite blankie is toxic.

Do you find that as shocking and distressing as I do?

This means the more of us who buy and support organic, the more farmers will be able to make the viable economic decision to farm using sustainable, organic methods and this will mean gradually, fewer and fewer pesticides in the air, especially in agricultural areas where this issue is most prevalent.

kelly-sikkema-711697-unsplash

5. Increased Nutrient Values

In the past when I researched this topic, there didn’t seem to be much evidence that organic foods had much more nutritional value than conventionally grown goods, aside from increased phytonutrient content.  But more high quality studies and reviews have shown that foods grown in well-nourished soil, using organic, sustainable practices have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

As an example, five servings of organically grown vegetables  can provide an adequate daily level of vitamin C, where the same number of servings of conventionally grown vegetables do not.

Organic produce, on average, contains:

  • 21.1% more iron
  • 27% more vitamin C
  • 29.3 more magnesium
  • 13.6% more phosphorous

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One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics

There is one aspect to buying organic food which does get my back up.  And its not the perceived increase in cost. When I go into the supermarket, all the organic produce seems to have extra layers of plastic. (You can watch my Real Food Organic Groceries on a Budget video here to see what I mean.)  I appreciate the supermarkets need to differentiate the conventional produce from the organic for pricing reasons, but surely they could do that with produce stickers rather than having to add so much plastic. This isn’t an issue when I can make it to the farmer’s market or when I order my organic fruit and veg box from Ocado (email me at ourlittleorganiclifeblog@gmail.com to get a voucher to save £20 off your first order) or from Abel and Cole or Riverford Organics (my downstairs neighbour uses Riverford on a weekly basis and I’m always so jealous of the gorgeous produce she gets each week).

However, the good news is that supermarkets here in the UK (where I currently live) are soon going to have to become more accountable for their plastic usage in the coming years so thankfully this should become less of an issue in future.

Resources: 

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/
3.  https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/a20453119/top-reasons-to-choose-organic-foods/
Nielson EG, Lee LK. Agricultural Economics Report Number 576.US Department of Agriculture; Washington: 1987. The magnitude and cost of groundwater contamination from agricultural chemicals: a national perspective.

Identifying populations potentially exposed to agricultural pesticides using remote sensing and a Geographic Information System.

Ward MH, Nuckols JR, Weigel SJ, Maxwell SK, Cantor KP, Miller RS
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jan; 108(1):5-12.
4. Biologically based pesticide dose estimates for children in an agricultural community.
Fenske RA, Kissel JC, Lu C, Kalman DA, Simcox NJ, Allen EH, Keifer MC
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jun; 108(6):515-20.

Organophosphate urinary metabolite levels during pregnancy and after delivery in women living in an agricultural community.

Bradman A, Eskenazi B, Barr DB, Bravo R, Castorina R, Chevrier J, Kogut K, Harnly ME, McKone TE
Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Dec; 113(12):1802-7.
5. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/107555301750164244

Photo Credits:

Farmer photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Baby photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Kale salad photo by Deryn Macey on Unsplash
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The Natural Mama’s Beach Holiday Travel Essentials Guide

There’s no better way to get excited about your upcoming summer holiday than by going shopping for all your beach essentials.  Even the most eco-conscious of us aren’t immune to this pleasure, but some of us – quite rightly – temper that excitement with our concern for the environment and the health of ourselves and our children. So here’s some greener and healthier ways to join in with the summer joy of planning for your beach holiday.

Sun Protection

Sun protection of one kind or another is so important, especially for children.  Gettinghd_101323492_01
just 5 blistering sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer by up to 80%. So make sure you have a variety of ways to protect your skin.  Many drugstore sunscreens are full of parabens, oxybenzone and other chemicals linked to various types of hormone-disrupting cancers. But there’s no need to worry – there are plenty of options open to you. You can wear a beach cover up which covers the arms and chest well – and there are plenty of good second hand ones about, like this one which I’ve featured from the Oxfam online shop (click here to check out their full range of colours and options).

You should also invest in a good ocean-safe, reef-safe SPF sun cream each summer.  Some people make their own suncreams with coconut oil and essential oils, and if that’s your thing, go for it, but be aware there’s always the risk that you end up making a basting oil for your skin rather than a sun protectant.  While many oils and essential oils do have a natural SPF quality to them, there is no way you can guarantee that level of protection is still in the base ingredient product you’ve purchased without expensive testing. Instead, buy a non-nano, paraben-free, oxybenzone-free sun protection product which is as natural as possible. Suncreams like this new one from Weleda which I purchased at my local health food store last week are a great option.

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If Weleda is difficult to find in your area, consider the Thinkbaby and Thinksport sunscreens which I tried out on two separate occasions earlier this summer when visiting friends and I had to borrow some sun protection.  Thinksport do SPF 50 creams, but also a great SPF 30 face and body stick which is easy to apply to your face – kind of like a mini deodorant stick.  It’s a clean range of products which is easy to find in Canada, the US and the UK, and it’s been designed for serious athletes – so it will definitely be able to withstand your beach holiday demands! Plan ahead and make sure you have enough for your trip – you don’t want to end up like I did on my trip to Italy, having to buy horrible overpriced chemical-filled sunscreen at the pharmacy (you don’t want to know how much sun protection costs in Europe).

For kids I also recommend getting UPF 50 sun protection suits for the beach. When paired with a good wide-brimmed hat, it means you don’t have to worry about when they spend a bit too long in the sunshine – as they inevitably will.  I do buy these suits and shirts second hand for my daughter but do keep in mind that the sun protection factor in second hand suits might not be as high as it will be in a new suit.

Swimwear

You can get some great bathing suits and bikinis second hand like these ones at the Oxfam online shop (just give them a good boil wash after buying them). I’m a bit busty, however, so have never had luck finding second hand bikini tops that fit me.  In fact, finding any gorgeous bikini tops that will fit over a D cup is actually quite difficult. I wasIMG_20180723_124900.jpg gifted this beautiful black Boho Chic bikini from Hunkemoeller (I saw their gorgeous lingerie and swimwear boutiques all over Germany last month). It fits me so well – in fact this model ran a bit on the generous size, so I had return my first bikini top (thank you free returns!) and go a cup size smaller than my usual Panache bra cup size which looks amazing on me.  It ties at the top and the back , so you don’t need to worry about whether the band will be too tight or too loose, and the metal U bar in the front, allows the front of the bra to open easily for topless sunbathing (or easy breastfeeding, if you’re still nursing your child). They also had a variety of styles of bikini bottoms, so I was able to find the right cut to suit my derrière. (That’s not me below, btw!)

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After Sun

Don’t overthink this one.  Buy some pure organic aloe gel (like this one from Amazon which comes in a handy 200ml size).  Avoid those livid green and totally transparent Aloe-based concoctions you see at the supermarket and pharmacy – they have a lot of other stuff in them other than healing aloe. You can mix the aloe gel with a few drops of a good quality lavender essential oil (I use Young Living – see why here) to boost the skin soothing quality of the aloe. If you do get a bit too much sun, just rub in some of this into your skin and it will help cool you off and start to nourish your sun-damaged skin. Just keep reapplying as your skin sucks it in (and it will, depending on the severity of the burn).

Beach Bag

Don’t forget a beach bag to schlep around all your stuff. You don’t need to invest in something really134253_7 expensive – if you’re travelling on your own or with your partner, a small canvas shopping tote will work. If you’re travelling with kids the best thing are those big tacky re-usable supermarket bags which are fantastic for this purpose because they’re waterproof and hold tons of stuff like flippers, goggles, snorkels, sand-encrusted swim shoes, gazillions of towels, etc.

But I know that if you’re going back and forth to the beach club, you might want something a bit more chic than a massive orange Sainsbury’s bag proudly branding it’s elephant design emblazoned on the side. I’ve decided to splurge and treat myself to this black & white one from Hunkemoller UK to match my new bikini. It reminded me of some of the gorgeous bags I’ve seen in Anthropologie.  (I remember the days of disposable income. They’re long gone, but I do remember them!)

Sunglasses

For Pete’s sake, don’t forget a pair of sunglasses or you’ll be squinting in agony for the next two weeks. On my way back from Canada in June, I treated myself to a new pair of Oakley matte tortoiseshell Latch sunglasses at the duty free shop. (Yeah, I’ve given myself a few treats lately – what’s up with that?) I had been planning to get the folding Ray Ban Wayfarers, but discovered that they come in a leather case, which kind of didn’t flow with the whole vegan vibe.

Water Bottle

It’s pretty easy most places to access clean drinking water, so unless you’re travelling somewhere at particular risk for waterborne pathogens, just take your water bottle with you and for each member of your family so you can stay hydrated throughout the day.  Even if you go to a resort, its great having your own reusable cup bottle with you, so you can have the bar staff refill it with water for you from their filtered water systems.  I love my Yeti bottle because I can attach it to my bag with a carabiner – and yes, I bought it second hand.

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It’s also a great idea to take a reusable coffee cup (like a Keep Cup) or an insulated wine tumbler (yes, there is such a thing) so you don’t have to use plastic cups for your wine or cocktails, and they’ll stay cooler for longer in the sun. (Amazon have a wide range of insulated wine tumblers at various price points, and Yeti do a cool one too).

Sun Hat

Sun hats are such a personal thing, I’m not even going to show you an example here.  I have a great soft brushed cotton baseball cap I love from ethical clothing company Absolutely Bear which I wear for day trips and hiking all the time, but I probably won’t wear it on the beach on my trip to Spain, as I might want something which channels a bit more of a Sophia Loren vibe.  But whatever suits your style.

One thing I will say is, just take a sun hat.  Something foldable might be wise, so you can pack it in your luggage.  I have a gorgeous Panama style hat which I love, but it isn’t the easiest to travel with because I have to wear it for the whole flight, or make sure it doesn’t get crunched up in the overhead luggage compartment.

Sun hats are such a great and easy way to keep the sun off your face without worrying about whether your SPF cream has worn off and panda eyes are developing.  And as the (not so) proud wearer of many, many panda eyes in the past, may I say I have expert knowledge that it is worth avoiding.   (No make up will really cover those puppies up.) Just wear the hat.

Reading Material

It’s really important to have enough reading material on your trip.  On shorter trips I’ll usually just take a library book, but I also have started to enjoy borrowing my husband’s Kindle and I absolutely love Amazon Audible, so I can listen to audio books on my phone while on the plane and so I can keep an eye on my daughter on the beach. (Getting lost in a book isn’t really possible when you’re looking after children near the sea, lakes or the pool.) Here’s the link I used to get a free 90 day trial of Audible so you can see if it’s the kind of thing you would enjoy too – at the very least it will last you your holiday! They’re often read by the author or by someone with a delicious reading voice, like Mariella Frostrup. I recently listened to Swing Time by Zadie Smith and can highly recommend it.

And have a great holiday!  For more tips, check out my posts on eco travel, how to pack light and travelling with kids. Have I forgotten anything?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Resources/References:

Sun Protection – https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/just-five-sunburns-increase-your-cancer-risk/, https://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/index.html

Photo Credit: Hunkemoeller bikini shot – from https://www.hunkemoller.co.uk/uk_en/47-boho-chic-bikini-bottoms-black-123295.html, Hunkemoeller beach bag shot – from https://www.hunkemoller.co.uk/uk_en/47-doutzen-beach-bag-black-134253.html

 

 

 

Featured post

Small Space Composting

I try really hard to be as green as possible, but when it comes to composting, I’ve not been able to get beyond buying those green biodegradable compost bags at the supermarket and tossing them into the big brown compost bin provided by the local council a few times a week. Basically I’m letting someone else do my composting for me, and then when I want compost for my plants at home, I go buy the expensive bagged up stuff from the garden centre. (So ridiculous!) So I asked fellow green blogger Kayla Kamp if she’d write something for me on composting, which is one of her areas of expertise. If you’re anything like me and are a beginner at composting and/or you live in a small urban space, the idea of composting can be a challenge. (Rotting food, worms, ewwww.) So my challenge to Kayla was to write something for people like me – beginners who don’t have a lot of outdoor space (or even any outdoor space at all).

I know I’m looking forward to learning more about composting and if you want to learn more too, Kayla blogs over at Ever Change Productions with the idea that we should create more and consume less. For the past 6 years, she’s been striving to inspire others to make use of their waste. Learn more about her story here.

Why You Should Compost – Even Without a Garden

With more people than ever moving into smaller spaces, it’s becoming increasingly important to share the good news that small space composting is possible!

A few years ago I got the composting bug. It seemed like a great way to reduce food waste and to take the next step in my young environmentalist journey. However, there was one small problem – I lived in an apartment.

I did have a little patch of grass that I used for a minuscule container garden, but I knew with all the composting myths that starting a compost bin would be out of the question. Plus, I didn’t have the skills to build a bin or the money for a composting tumbler. But once I get an idea in my head, it holds on tight, so I set out to find a way to a small space composting solution. For cheap.

Optimal Bin Size & Why It’s Important

Before we get too much further into this, let’s go over some composting basics.

The optimal bin size for a home compost pile is 3 square feet (1 square metre). Anything smaller might not heat up high enough to breakdown all the materials or it might lose heat and slow down the process. Air naturally penetrates a pile 18 to 24 inches (45 to 70 cm), which makes a 3 square foot (1 square metre) bin a manageable size.

A larger pile tends to hold too much water, which may create an anaerobic environment. It’s also much harder to turn, so it might be too much for some to manage without special equipment.

Today, there are some pretty creative ways to compost even if you don’t have access to that outdoor space.

What to Compost

Deciding what to compost depends on what composting set-up you use. For example, a common backyard bin needs a certain amount of carbon to nitrogen ratio to decompose efficiently. These are often referred to as greens and browns, but if you use a Bokashi fermenting process, you’ll only need nitrogen-rich ingredients. Worms need both carbon for bedding and nitrogen for food. But there are certain foods they can’t eat and certain bedding materials cause the bin to heat up as they break down.

Carbon, often referred to as browns, are the dry materials and nitrogen are the green, fresh materials. In a common outdoor compost bin, greens provide protein and moisture for organisms. The browns allow airflow throughout the pile and provides energy for organisms. To start off your pile it’s safe to add the same amount of brown material as you do green. The ideal ratio is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

Piles with too much nitrogen tend to smell sour, because the excess nitrogen converts into an ammonia gas. Carbon-rich piles break down slowly because there’s not enough nitrogen for the microbe population to thrive. See this list of comprehensive composting materials for inspiration.

Small Space Composting Options When You Have No Garden

If you don’t have a backyard, you might think small space composting isn’t an option. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Depending on whether you have a balcony, there are a few composting options that don’t require a yard or garden.

Worm Bins

Some people might prefer a wormless composting system, but plllleeeease give the worms a chance. They’re such hard workers and really easy to manage. If you manage the bin correctly, they won’t even bother you. They’re as happy as can be, just to hang out and eat without saying a word.

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is perfect for composting indoors. All you need is small plastic tote. I’ve even made a vermicomposting system using three cat litter buckets. You can read more about my vermicomposting system here.

If you decide to go this route, here is an affiliate link to Uncle Jim’s worm farm. They have great customer service and products. I will get a small percentage from each sale at no additional cost to you.

Pros

-Fits in small spaces
-Doesn’t need to heat up
-Doesn’t require turning
-Worms do all the work
-You get to play with worms! (This could also be a con, depending on your point of
view)

Cons

– Materials you can compost are limited
– They can’t eat some foods and some bedding materials will heat up the bin

Electrical Composter

Now this might blow your mind; it certainly did mine, but there is something called an electric composter. And if you have a serious aversion to any to the creepy crawliness of composting, then this might the answer for you. Seriously, this thing is so low maintenance. With a few hours and pushing a couple of buttons, you can have finished compost.

Pros

– You have finished compost in hours
– Perfect for people who don’t have much to compost
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Can’t compost many scraps at a time
– Requires electricity
– Fairly expensive composting system
– Doesn’t have as many nutrients as traditional compost

Bokashi Buckets

Bokashi Buckets don’t follow other composting rules. Most of these other methods use aerobic decomposition. The bokashi system uses anaerobic, meaning it doesn’t use air to complete its decomposition cycles. The anaerobic component of bokashi buckets, means it doesn’t compost all the way. Instead, it ferments. At the end of the cycle, you have to bury the fermented ingredients, which might not be ideal for apartment dwellers. You can learn more about the bokashi bucket here.

Pros

– Fits in a small space
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Doesn’t produce finished compost
– Requires burial to finish the composting process

Composting Options When You Have a Small Garden

If you have a rental home, duplex or even some apartments, you might be lucky enough to have a small yard. Although, the former options are totally open to you, you might have a couple more composting options.

Like I mentioned before, the optimal compost bin is only 3 feet (1 metre) wide. Before you set up any kind of composting bin, be sure to ask your landlord. There are tons of benefits for compost in the short term, but the long term benefits far outweigh any benefits of synthetic fertilizer.

Compost Bin

The optimal compost bin is 3 feet by 3 feet (1 square metre). You can build your own compost bin with unlimited materials, such as scrap wood, fence panels, even garden fence wire.

If you have the space, a compost bin is the best option because it’s the optimum size.

Other systems have other ways of dealing the lack of proper space, but a compost
bin is the perfect set-up.

Pros

– Can be made with any kind of structure
– Efficient compost

Cons

– Requires more space than some other systems
– Requires proper turning and water maintenance

Compost Tumbler

If a compost bin is out of the question because of space or other reasons, a compost tumbler is a good substitute. The tumbler requires similar conditions to a standard
compost bin.

Pros

– Easier to turn
– Doesn’t require a lot of space
– Doesn’t require permanent alterations in your yard

Cons

– More expensive than a compost bin

Green Cone

A green cone uses solar power to speed up the composting process and is able to compost 2 pounds of food per day. Not only does it compost more food in a shorter time frame, but also it can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta.

The Green Cone Composter has a basket installed below the ground, which forms the base for an above ground double-walled solar chamber with an access lid. The Green Cone Composter stands 26 inches above ground level and extends 18 inches below ground level. Access is through an 8-inch diameter hole in the top of the solar chamber, which is sealed by a hinged lid with a security catch.

Learn more about the Green Cone Composter here.

Pros

– Composts food quickly
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Composts up to 2 pounds of food per day
– Can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy
products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta

Cons

– Requires a yard
– Requires a hole in the yard

Small space composting is possible! If you’ve been looking for a sign to start composting, this is it! If you’re not quite sure, which of these composting options are best for you, take this free composting quiz. I’ll be checking back on this post, so feel free to leave any questions you have below.

Featured post

9 Hidden Treasures of Naples & The Amalfi Coast

A trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast makes an exceptionally special holiday, either as a family vacation or as a romantic holiday – even as a honeymoon. And while you don’t see too many children around – particularly the Amalfi Coast towns – its also a very child friendly place to visit, so you shouldn’t hesitate to travel there with a child.

1. Naples

Naples itself is an absolute gem of a city, despite its rough reputation. We started our journey to the Amalfi Coast by flying into Naples and staying overnight there, allowing some time to explore the city. We stayed at one of the city’s elegant old seafront hotels which still served afternoon cocktails and our grand room had excellent views of Mt Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples.

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This city’s architecture is haunting in its faded grandeur and there’s no better way to get your bearings than to take one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off City Sightseeing bus tours which has routes that take you far further than you’d ever venture on your own and you can see some some of the grand, crumbling old villas and spectacular vistas up in the hills above Naples.

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Its actually quite hard to go wrong eating in Naples, we found, as nearly every small restaurant offered excellent homemade pizzas, pastas and seafood (we went shortly before I became vegan) and it was all very inexpensive. Just follow the locals. There is an element of roughness to Naples but in all honesty, we found it to be the best food we had on our trip and the people were so friendly.

2. Positano

We based ourselves in Atrani, just a few minutes walk from Amalfi which made an exceptional base for exploring the rest of the coastline via the frequent, reliable and cheap ferry services. Positano is spectacular, although much pricier than Atrani or Amalfi. The shopping in Positano is great too with lots of (tasteful) lemon-themed souvenirs and its also home to my favourite beachwear company, Antica Sartoria.

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The beach is quite sharp and rocky so I recommend taking a pair of swim shoes with you to save your feet being shredded.

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Positano is definitely a great place for lounging around, people watching and enjoying an Aperol Spritz or two, while admiring the architecture and walking up winding streets to check out the beautiful ceramics and handicraft shops.

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3. Atrani

Our balcony had a spectacular view of the town – pretty much the same view as the cover of the Lonely Planet guide. We rented an apartment so we could keep our 15 month old daughter to her usual routines. Most of the restaurant food we tried was okay but felt like a bit of a letdown after the food in Naples, so we mostly cooked our own food in the apartment, shopping in the little local shop for our ingredients. The basil leaves (as shown below) looked nothing like the basil we buy here in the UK, but tasted amazing and the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (my pre-vegan days) were both so simple and delicious, so we mostly lived on insalata Caprese and the local pasta, scialatelli. The central square in Atrani is quite peaceful and picturesque – we were there one evening as it was being set up for a wedding. All the locals in the apartments above the square hung out beautiful linens off their balconies to make the square look more wedding-ey and rose petals were strewn everywhere. We lingered for a bit to gawk at the wedding preparations as our daughter ate freshly cut up ripe red strawberries – the local cafe owner was always giving her little cups of these as a treat. As evening drew in, hundreds of little candles were placed everywhere on the ancient steps and as it looked like guests were arriving, we disappeared to our temporary home, far enough away to have a quiet night. While there is nothing specifically to “see” or “do” in Atrani, it is simply a beautiful and peaceful spot where we would happily return in future.

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4. Ravello

Ravello is a town with an unworldly feel about it – like a Hollywood imagining of Italy, its so perfect. Perched high in the mountains above Amalfi and Atrani, it is accessible by a terrifying bus ride which feels like it takes a ridiculously long time considering its only around 7 kilometres away. The winding mountain roads mean the journey is roughly half an hour, but is completely worth the effort. The beautiful unspoilt town is famous for its carved cameos, but there are many other artisan shops there as well, although you get the feeling much of the town really is there for tourists. We went on a Tuesday, which was market day. The market itself is fairly unremarkable – practical things for the locals to buy, a bit like a travelling Poundland – but there are also lots of food producers and we would have bought some fresh fruits and vegetables if we weren’t planning to hike back down to the coast. I think Ravello would be a beautiful place to stay for a night or two as the town is immaculate and the views from some of the small private resorts just outside the town are breathtaking.

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5. Valley of the Dragons (Valle del Dragone)

The Valley of the Dragons is an amazing walking route (perhaps more of a hike really) between Ravello, way up in the mountains all the way down to Atrani. We chose to walk down the valley rather than up, which I recommend you do, but the walk was simply spectacular. We packed our 15 month old daughter into the Ergobaby carrier and strapped her onto my husband’s back and after a morning walking around Ravello, we gently made our way down the path, through the splendid lemon groves (covered in black netting) where many of the famous Amalfi lemons are grown, and down into the labyrinth of ancient streets of Atrani. Take a simple picnic (a sandwich or protein bar and lots of water) with you if you can and stop somewhere under a lemon tree on your way down to enjoy the view. Although there are lovely stairs for the first part of the journey down the hill out of Ravello, most of the route is dusty and there aren’t really any designated picnic or resting spaces. But it’s fairly relaxed and you won’t see many people on your walk, so just take your time, enjoy the beauty of the place and stop where you need to. I’d recommend this only for hikers with good mobility as it is quite steep and fairly rough and rocky in places.

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6. Amalfi

There are three things you must do in Amalfi.

You must rent a beach chair on one of the private club beaches along the waterfront. There is a public beach, but its not a very sandy beach, and it can get hot in summer, so I suggest spending the €10 to rent a beach chair and have access to clean loos, changing rooms and a waiter to bring drinks and snacks to you at your convenience.

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In the late afternoon, head up to the Piazza Duomo, near the fountain and head into pasticceria Andrea Pansa to buy a box of sfogliatelli. These heavenly pastries (again, so NOT vegan!) come in lemon and orange flavour and are a local specialty. We sometimes ate them in the square with a cup of coffee, but often would take a couple back to our apartment to have after dinner.

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Finally, take the time to check out the beautiful Amalfi Cathedral (Duomo). It costs around €3 to go inside. I didn’t take photos because I don’t really like taking photographs inside churches, but the inside of the church and its garden is absolutely spectacular (showing that Amalfi was once an extremely wealthy town) and it’s worth putting aside around 45 min or for this visit.

7. Capri

You don’t absolutely have to go to Capri. But why not see the spectacle while you’re there? Its not part of the Amalfi Coast, rather Campania state, like Naples. The food is all horribly overpriced and not particularly outstanding. But there is a charming old Hollywood style glamour there, reminiscent of Monte Carlo, with a slight hedonistic atmosphere, so if you like that 1950’s glamour vibe (think big Sophia Loren hats) then make the time to go. Unlike the other destinations we travelled to along the coast, we plumped for a more expensive boat trip this time, but they took the time to go around the island and pause at the beauty spots for photographs, which we felt was worth it. You can just get a cheap ferry there, however, if your budget is limited. I’d recommend that if you are on a tighter budget that you also take a picnic lunch with you to eat on a park bench somewhere, as you’re going to spend around €10 on a cup of coffee, and restaurants are prohibitively expensive, although that being said, we did splurge on a nice lunch out.

The ferries arrive in at Marina Grande and there is a funicular which takes you up to Capri Town.

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I enjoyed seeing the local designer clothing shops which were utterly unique compared to the usual designer chains (which you can also find plenty of in the town).  The highest concentration of shops is along the Via Camerelle.

Our favourite part of our visit was actually getting away from the main part of the town and just wandering amongst the old streets with glamorous villas and gardens tucked in behind.

8. Salerno

Salerno isn’t strictly speaking on the Amalfi Coast but its easy and inexpensive to get there via ferry boat and I think makes for a fun change from the constant near-perfect imagery you experience in the Amalfi towns. Salerno is a bit gritty and not really so much focused on tourists, but it has a vibrant buzz and it feels like a real place where real people live.  As ever, take a ferry there. Once you get past the tired marina, you’re welcomed by a lovely seafront garden promenade.

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There are lots of lovely places to stop for delicious food, wine and gelato, and the city has a vibrant historic centre with crumbling old architecture, laundry hanging across alleyways, palm trees and all the lovely typical Southern Italy stuff you expect. Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday and the city really was quite closed for business, except for one outstanding seafood restaurant we found by accident in a square which we could probably never find again if we tried! (Actually I did write down the details in a journal somewhere which I have misplaced and when I find it, I’ll update this post with the address.)  You just rock up at a table and they bring you plate after plate after plate of food – no menu, no ordering.  I think the whole meal with wine came to no more than €45 for the two of us and our daughter just nibbled off our plates.

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Make some time to visit the Norman built Salerno Cathedral dedicated to St Matteo, which is considered by many to be the most beautiful medieval church in Italy.

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The church is guarded by these lions at the Porti dei Leoni at the grand 12th century entrance to the cathedral. I feel for the poor mama lion on the left!

9. Sorrento

Sorrento is the sunny, cheerful buzzy gateway to the Amalfi Coast. We stopped here for one night before heading back to our flight home from Naples. We arrived via the harbour to this glorious welcoming view.

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We chose to make the steep, winding walk up the hill with our luggage (we are light packers) and our daughter’s stroller (what were we thinking?) but there is also a set of stairs taking you straight up to the town. And there were also taxis to take you up the hill too, obviously.

Once you get to the top, this lemon bright almost kitschy town awaits with lots of coffee shops, touristy alleys selling all things lemon-related you could imagine – tea towels, soap, limoncello, magnets. But there are also some artisan shops selling the beautiful marquetry music boxes for which Sorrento is so famous. We didn’t buy anything but really enjoyed the whole vibe of the town.

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We stayed at the Plaza Sorrento which has some eco-credentials (I have no idea what those were meant to be as it seemed fairly conventional to me) and it was very clean, comfortable and conveniently located with a lovely rooftop bar and pool with spectacular views. They also set up a lovely little cot for our daughter to sleep in. I think I’ll finish by saying that we ate a lot of gelato on that trip. A lot. Every. Single. Day. But this gelato below at Gelateria Zini was by far and away the best we had – all made by the owner and sold with passion by the owner who let us try lots of her amazing flavours.

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So where next? We are off to Canada and then Europe again this summer to spend some time in France and Germany (and possibly Switzerland), but after that we are thinking somewhere a bit further afar. Depending on finances we might go on our current dream holiday to Costa Rica but have also been looking at some cheap Thailand Holiday Packages for 2018/2019. If you’d like to learn more about how we travel, check out our other articles for eco-friendly travel tips.

This post was a collaboration with Destination2.co.uk 

Featured post

Stuff You Should Never Put Down the Drain

Those living in rural areas with their own septic tanks have probably always been pretty conscientious about what they flush down the loo. If only because when something goes wrong, it’s pretty expensive to fix and you’re the sucka who’s gotta pay for it. But those of us in cities and towns whose waste just goes into the sewer system are generally pretty relaxed about what goes down the drain. Wet wipes, nappies, tampons, condoms, cooking fats and oils and coffee grounds.

I’ve always been fairly conscientious about using household cleaning products that won’t harm the water table after being poured down the drain, but lately I have become incredibly aware of other more…tangible problems in our sewers and waterways, as last September (2017) barely a couple of miles from my home there was a huge disgusting fatberg found in the sewers of Whitechapel which weighed over 130 tonnes and was over 250 metres long.

“A fatberg smells like rotting meat mixed with the odour of a smelly toilet.” – Thames Water Sewer Network Manager, Alex Saunders

So it got me thinking about not only what we shouldn’t be putting down the drain, but what can we do to make sure that these items aren’t only not clogging up the sewers, but not impacting landfill either, nor contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. UKDN have produced a list of the Drainage Dirty Dozen – items you shouldn’t be putting down your drain – and there’s a fantastic poster you can download, print and pop into your loo or kitchen. Its particularly handy if you run a cafe, community centre or other business where you can’t personally monitor what is going down your drains. As you’ll see from the list, there are quite a lot of things you really shouldn’t be putting down the drain, but here are my top 5 swaps you can make to reduce the impact you’re having on our environment and on your local sewer system.

1. Wet Wipes

The Problem: Okay, these are the nasties which, combined with grease and fats in the sewers, are mainly responsible for the creation of fatbergs and similar deposits. As a parent, think about how many wet wipes you use with your child. Even the “flushable” ones are bad. I used disposable Water Wipes with my daughter when we were out and about, as they were chemical-free and safe for her skin. But they weren’t any better in terms of environmental impact when it came to their disposal. I’m pretty sure that I always wrapped them up inside the dirty nappy before disposing of them in the bin, but I’ll bet there were at least a couple of times when I wasn’t thinking and tossed them down the loo.

The Solution: When my daughter was a baby, we used only DIY wet wipes at home and if I knew then what I knew now about wipes, I’d have bought a small wet bag and used them on the go as well as they’re so easy. You can make them to fit any budget – if you’re on a tight budget you can make them by ripping up old flannels and following my recipe in the video below. If you have a bigger budget, these Norwex baby body cloths are great and as they’re embedded with antibacterial silver, they limit bacterial growth so you only need to run them under the tap before and after use (then throw them in a 60 degree wash when you get home).

2. Nappies

The Problem: I have to admit it boggles my mind how on earth nappies are getting down the drain. Surely nappies are too big to flush? Nevertheless, they seem to be getting down there, so obviously someone is flushing them. The obvious answer here is…don’t flush your nappies down the loo. But the overall environmental impact of nappies is pretty harsh. Its estimated that in the UK 8 million nappies are being thrown away per day. Each one of those 8 million nappies per day takes around 500 years to degrade in landfill. I’ll let you do the math and think about the environmental consequences of that.

The Solution: One way you can minimise the risk of nappies ending up in landfill or sewers is by swapping to cloth nappy use – full or part time. By using cloth nappies you’ll also make a savings of around £500 per child. Most nurseries I’ve spoken to are really happy to use cloth nappies if you kit them out properly, so even if you’re not a stay at home parent, you can still use cloth nappies easily and benefit from their environmental and cost savings. We used AppleCheeks nappies as we found they worked best and had the best range of sizes, but there are lots of brands out there to fit all budgets and you can try out the different brands before committing to purchasing by visiting a nappy library. There are even brands out there producing hybrid cloth nappies which, while still creating some disposable waste, make travelling with cloth nappies totally possible. You can also do what we did, which is use cloth at home and in the local area, but eco-disposable brands (like Bambo and Naty) when travelling.

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3. Tampons

The Problem: We’ve all done it. (Well, those of us who use tampons, sorry boys!) We’ve all been in a public loo without a sanitary waste bin and just flushed our tampon. Its so easy to do…and they’re soooooo small. What harm can they do? Tampons are designed not to break down when they get wet (that’s how they, urm, do their job so well) and let alone worrying about the sewer, they’re probably going to clog your drain – very quickly. So even in North American and the UK, with our more robust plumbing, its still a big no no.

The Solution: Tampons are a cocktail of glyphosate, dioxin and chlorine, which is not

which of the following do you flush or pour down your bathroom drains?
really anything you want up your Queen Victoria. There are natural and organic brands of tampons available, but OMG when I made the swap to a menstrual cup, it was awesome! No irritation from constantly changing tampons all day, no worries about leaks and I could just go about my day without actually constantly remembering I was having my period. They’re made from medical grade silicone and so they’re easy to clean and sterilise between uses month to month. There are two sizes – size 1 for those of you who haven’t popped out babies and size 2 for ‘post childbirth’ women or women over 30. If you’re a really heavy bleeder, you can always pop on a pair of period pants which will absorb up to 1.5 tampons worth of blood (and yes, they also work). What I like about menstrual cups and period pants is that they are both better, easier and more comfortable and easier than the conventional solution. And of course cheaper. A good menstrual cup costs about $35/£19 and will last you for 10 years. (The 3rd solution is “mama cloth” which is homemade cloth sanitary pads you can get on Amazon and Etsy. Don’t bother unless you like feeling awkward, uncomfortable, a bit smelly and constantly worrying about leaks. Then go for it.)

4. Medications

The Problem: When we don’t finish medications (prescription or otherwise) we really don’t want them sitting around – especially if we have kids or vulnerable people in the house who could accidentally ingest them. If you flush your unused or expired medication or crush it up and pour it down the drain, those chemicals will leach back into your drinking water and the environment. Rather shockingly, the US FDA actually suggests that you SHOULD flush dangerous medications down the toilet (granted, its better than a child accidentally ingesting it) but really this is shockingly poor advice, as those drugs are going to affect the water table and even relatively safe drugs like the oral contraceptive pill will add hormones to the water which aren’t filtered out when water is prepared for consumption by treatment plants.

The Solution: The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee sensibly advises

UKDN_HYEFAOTF_Infographic_Final
that you should always dispose of unwanted medication at your local pharmacy or police department as they will have access to medical waste disposal units. You should be aware that pharmacies are required by law to take back unwanted medicines from patients and it is their responsibility to arrange for safe disposal. For minor health conditions you may wish to look at more natural alternatives rather than pharmaceutical solutions for every small ache and pain. A great solution to ensure you’re putting your money where it needs to go when looking at natural health solutions is by reading PubMed research papers where there you can find plenty of high quality research providing evidence (or lack thereof) on natural remedies. My one caveat to this is that gold standard research is expensive and in many cases, the people with the money to spend on research (pharmaceutical and chemical companies which sponsor and fund many academic research projects), don’t necessarily wish to investigate low cost or free natural alternatives to their own products. Just because a natural alternative doesn’t have evidence supporting it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work (although it may not) – it means that the study may have been flawed (the wrong subspecies of botanical used, etc.) or that there hasn’t been any study conducted at all. Don’t worry though, there are usually plenty of natural options with good supporting gold standard evidence in their favour and this is where I would recommend someone puts their focus.

5. Grease, Oil & Cooking Fat

The Problem: Okay, so back to fatbergs. Its also not the big mega fatbergs you need to

UKDN_DYPTFDTS_Infographic_Final
worry about – you also need to worry about smaller fatbergs forming in the sewer pipes underneath your property…which YOU are liable for (see here for details about which pipes are and aren’t your responsibility). Okay, so we don’t want local domestic fatbergs and we don’t want big urban fatbergs. But what are they? Can’t we just melt them with the hairdryer or something? Well, no, because they’re not just fat and baby wipes stuck together. Here comes the science! Fatbergs are more of a hard soap-like compound. They’re formed when the fats you pour down the drain go into the sewers and break down into their component parts of fatty acids and glycerol and bind to calcium (created from the corrosion of concrete amongst other things – or if you live in London where ISN’T calcium present?) which is found in the sewers. They then form stalactites and have to be ‘mined’ away like the Whitechapel ones have been.

The Solution: I have two solutions for you. The first is to not cook with so much fat. Do you really need to deep fry everything? Honestly despite what the popular media is saying about fat being the new broccoli or whatever, fat in its refined form (oils and other forms where it has been extracted from its whole food state) is not that good for you and is a pro-inflammatory food. I’ll admit that yes a bit of olive oil makes food taste lovely, but if you’re using more than a couple of teaspoons which are absorbed into the food you’re cooking then maybe you need to give pause for thought. But if you insist on making grandma’s deep fried apple fritter recipe and have a load of leftover oil or you’ve cooked a Sunday roast and there’s leftover ooky fat at the base of your roasting tray, you’re going to have to dispose of it in your household garbage and not by pouring it down the sink…or (like I see some London housewives doing) by taking it outside into the street and pouring it straight down into the storm drains!

This post is a collaboration with UKDN, the UK’s market leader in the wastewater industry.

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How to Make Golden Milk

I’ll admit that golden milk isn’t my drink of choice when it comes to flavour as I’m not the biggest fan of turmeric (outside of a curry). But this antioxidant powerhouse of a drink provides a range of fantastic health benefits for its anti-inflammatory properties. I suggest that if you’re using powdered turmeric, that you make sure you are using a fresh, organic brand which will have higher levels of the active phytonutrient curcumin.

It might seem a bit gross adding a bit of pepper like I have here, but the addition of the piperine (the active phytochemical in the black pepper) by freshly grinding some pepper into your drink, will boost the bioavailability of the curcumin by up to 2000%.

I’ve also added cinnamon and a fine dusting of nutmeg for added flavour (I think these make the golden milk more tasty) and provide added anti-inflammatory benefits, but if you don’t like cinnamon or nutmeg, you can leave these out.

Here’s how I make mine:

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Place your turmeric juice or powdered turmeric into a saucepan with the plant milk and gently simmer for around 10 minutes.
  2. Before serving, sprinkle on some freshly ground pepper and stir in the sweetener. Then strain it into a glass or mug and drink whilst warm. Grate nutmeg on top.

If you want to find out about the effectiveness of curcumin, I encourage you to read the resources referenced below. Enjoy!

Resources

  1. Prasad, S., Tyagi, A. and Aggarwal, B. (2014). Recent Developments in Delivery, Bioavailability, Absorption and Metabolism of Curcumin: the Golden Pigment from Golden Spice. Cancer Research and Treatment, 46(1), pp.2-18. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3918523/ [Accessed 21 May 2018].
  2. Whfoods.com. (2018). Turmeric. [online] Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78 [Accessed 21 May 2018].
Featured post

5 Healthy Plant Based Breakfasts

Its been over a year and a half since I moved to a plant based diet and I can’t tell you how much I’ve looked forward to every meal since that day. With the abundance of vegan processed foods on the market these days, its certainly easier than ever to eat a fairly junky plant based diet, so just like everyone else, even vegans need to be conscientious about healthy eating. I certainly adhere to an 80/20 rule. I eat whole, plant based foods 80% of the time, leaving 20% of the time for the occasional bit of whatever-the-heck-I-fancy food (although always vegan)! Here are a few of my favourite healthy plant-based breakfasts.

All the recipes below contain fairtrade organic ingredients and this article has been sponsored by Atlist, a fantastic new platform to help you with all the ethical shopping inspiration you could ever want.  Find out more about Atlist or sign up here.

Strawberry Smoothie

1. Smoothies

Smoothies are a great way to cram in lots of antioxidants and vitamins into your diet. I recommend buying organic fruits where possible, as while the vitamin content of conventional produce is similar to non-organic, antioxidants are found in much higher concentrations in organic produce. Although the addition of a frozen banana will give an excellent milkshake-like texture to your smoothie, frozen avocado will do the same whilst adding healthy fats and it won’t affect your blood sugar as much. Add as many frozen berries as you care to, along with a splash of plant-based milk and a spoonful of your favourite nut butter, for some protein. Smoothies are also a great place to hide a scoop of protein powder too. My favourite recipe is:

  • 200 ml cashew milk
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (or a teaspoon of your favourite nut butter)
  • half a frozen banana (or half a frozen avocado)
  • large handful of frozen strawberries
  • heaped teaspoon of inositol powder (to help lower blood sugar)

Blend all that up in a high speed blender for 1 minute until you have a thick, creamy strawberry milkshake-like appearance and enjoy!

Scrambled tofu & sourdough

cof

2. Toast & Scrambled Tofu

Learning how to make scrambled tofu made the transition to a plant-based diet much easier for me, as I used to enjoy scrambled eggs from time to time as a weekend breakfast. You’ll need to crumble half a block of extra firm tofu (I recommend fermented tofu if you can find it) into a bowl and add 1/3 tsp of turmeric powder, 1 tsp olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Stir it all up and let it sit for a few minutes while the turmeric really stains the tofu. Then toss it into the frying pan and heat it up and serve it with your toast of choice – I like sourdough. You can also add some Indian black salt for a more authentic eggy flavour. The turmeric adds a great source of antioxidants to this dish, but if you add some black pepper to your eggs just before serving, you’ll increase that even further because the pipeline in the pepper boosts the bioavailability of the curcumin in the turmeric by up to 2000%.

overnight-sweet-potato-oats

3. Overnight Oats

Overnight oats will rock your world if you’re always busy and never have time to make breakfast in the morning. Everyone’s worried about carbs these days, but there’s no reason to fear oats as they contain beta-glucans which help prevent our blood sugar from spiking when we eat them. And of course oats are a great source of fibre, with regular consumption being associated with smaller waistlines and a reduced risk of obesity.

Get yourself a good mason jar – something with a lid that won’t fall off in your handbag. Buy a big bag of organic Scottish style porridge oats (they work better than the jumbo oats) and fill your freezer with your favourite frozen berry. There! Now you have no excuse not to eat breakfast ever again.

The easiest overnight oat recipe I can suggest is to take your mason jar and fill the bottom 1/3 with a layer of frozen berries, then add 1/3 oats (you can add some dried fruit and nuts here if you like) and then top the final 1/3 of the jar with more frozen berries. Now grab your favourite plant milk (I make my own because its so cheap and easy to do so – get the recipe here) and fill the mason jar just until you cover the top of the oat layer. Put the top on the jar, stick it in the fridge and forget about it until tomorrow morning when you go to work. Of course, the beauty of this recipe is that you can add whatever you like – dried fruits, spices, coconut yogurt and even a dab of almond butter. There are no rules! Pinterest is filled with delicious overnight oat recipes to inspire you and I can highly recommend apple pie overnight oats!

blueberry chia pudding

4. Coconut yogurt with berries, nuts & seeds

Some people really just aren’t breakfast people, and if that sounds like you, this may be your ideal breakfast. Even if you’re not too organised about preparing food ahead of time, you can grab a pot of coconut yogurt on the go, along with a box of blueberries and a bag of your favourite raw, unsalted nuts, and just graze away all morning long. If, like me, you try to prepare your own food and don’t want to buy too much packaged stuff, just load up a mason jar with fresh berries (maybe a few slices of banana) and drizzle with a couple tablespoons of coconut yogurt and sprinkle with a few chopped up lightly toasted almonds or raw walnuts. Throw in some chia seeds for some extra omega 3’s and fibre too. If you don’t like buying out of season fruit, you could buy bags of frozen berries (like I do) and prepare it all in a mason jar the night before. Berries are a really low glycemic index food and are packed with antioxidants, so this breakfast is great for anyone trying to keep their blood sugar balanced (just make sure you stick to berries and avoid adding other high glycemic index (GI) fruits like banana, mango or pineapple).

smashed avocado on toast

5. Smashed Avocado on Toast

Seriously, who doesn’t love avocado toast? (Well, my husband actually.) But I’m fairly certain that everyone else in the world has the potential to love smashed avocados on toast. Avocados are full of healthy fats like omega 3’s and oleic acid, vitamin K and they are a low glycemic index food as well as a good source of fibre. If, like me, you live in an area where the quality of the avocados isn’t very dependable, you can now buy bags of frozen halved avocados, which is helpful for portion control too. (I recommend Mexican hass avocados if you can get ahold of them. ) You can bring out the required number of avocado halves, thaw them overnight, give them a good smash (using a bowl & fork – nothing fancy) with a pinch of sea salt and maybe some dried chilli flakes if that’s your thing (it’s my thing) followed by a squeeze of lime juice and roughly pile it onto a slice of toast – it’s particularly good on Poilane bread if you can get your hands on a loaf of that, but any sourdough will do. A sprinkle of dukkah is a delicious addition too.

Sources: World’s Healthiest Foods, Science News, NutritionFacts

Photo Credit: Avocado on Toast image by Maggie Lynch, Overnight Oats image by Jourdan Bourke, Photo by Rezel Apacionado on Unsplash

Featured post

10 Ways to Make Your Holiday Eco-Friendly

Travel is a big part of life in our family and we try to incorporate many of the environmental sustainability principles we use at home when we go on holiday. Here are my top 10 tips for planning an eco friendly holiday.

1) Use a dedicated eco travel agency or holiday provider

There are a number of holiday travel providers which specialise in eco friendly holidays and destinations. Its great that businesses like this exist to help get you to remote or difficult to get to eco-luxury destinations, but to be honest, if you have the time to do a little planning, there’s no absolutely reason that you need to use one of these services, especially if you are travelling on a budget or if you want to travel to a conventional destination or resort. Remember when you get to your destination there will also be small, independent travel/tour providers who can help get you to out of the way locations and you won’t be paying a middleman if you book with them directly. The local tourist bureau can recommend reputable companies – I used to run just such a business myself and the local tourist bureau sent us and the other local eco-tour providers lots of business.

2) Travel Independently if Possible

Its much easier to do eco travel when travelling independently, but I appreciate that resort-based travel can be much easier for some people, especially solo and more mature travellers, people in high stress jobs and those with physical disabilities (though lots of people with physical disabilities are able to enjoy independent travel with a little forward planning). You can apply lots of your sustainability principles from home when you’re staying at a resort, but its never going to be as ‘green’ as travelling independently. For instance, at a resort, there will always be upsetting amounts of food waste and you don’t know whether the items you place in the waste bin are actually being recycled or just sent to landfill (or eventually ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is now twice the size of Texas). If you’re travelling with kids its much easier to do independent travel (as opposed to resort travel) and you can read my article on Travelling with Kids to find out more. Whether you choose to travel independently or with a package holiday, you can still use some of the tools below to travel more sustainably.

3) Plan Well with the Right Tools

We find it exciting planning our holidays, and I highly recommend using Lonely Planet guides. Click here to find out more if you’re itching to get planning that next holiday. Lonely Planet guides are all written by authors who have long-term knowledge and experience of living in the areas they’re writing about and I find they are really sensitive in meeting the needs of those who like visiting local markets, hiking nature trails, trying new foods and exploring out of the way beauty spots…as well as all the usual fun and trivial stuff which is all part of the joy of travelling too. You can buy the classic guidebooks, ebooks and even just PDFs of particular chapters you want.

I also find Trip Advisor incredibly helpful too as a free resource to research things to do at destinations. I’m a top contributor, so if you’d like to read some of my reviews, you can check out my profile and explore destinations you’d like to visit by clicking here.

4) Travel Green

Try to think about how you can reduce your carbon footprint with your mode of transport while you’re travelling. Sometimes you do just need to use a car, but often its cheaper, faster and more convenient using public transport like Eurail (which includes Eurostar) which we’ll be using to get to France and Germany this summer. Right now Eurail has 37% off their global passes – their biggest sale ever – so its a great time to think about booking your summer holiday on a budget. Click below if you’d like to find out more.

When flying, it may be cheaper to include stopovers, but its more environmentally friendly to fly nonstop (and less of a hassle generally) because take-offs and landings are what use the most fuel. So you’ll need to balance your budget limitations against how environmentally conscious you would like to be. Some airlines offer carbon offset programmes.

Remember that depending on the type of holiday you’re booking, you can also use cycling as a mode of transport which is good for your health and which will reduce your carbon footprint. It may not work for the whole trip, but even if just for a day or two it can be fun and bicycle rental is generally pretty inexpensive too.

There are also lots of places where you can even travel by ferry boat as a mode of public transportation and this can be really fun. We’ve done this in both Italy and Greece.

If you do need to rent a car, try to rent a hybrid car if its available. City buses, subways and trams are often much quicker than going by car and you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot.

5) Prep a Travel Kit

I have a little kit of travel gear that I take with me when I travel and this helps me avoid creating too much waste when I’m on holiday. I have a lightweight hooded rainproof coat from LL Bean that folds down to a size not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes and I keep this permanently in the backpack I travel with, along with a lightweight plastic Keep Cup (for coffee and takeaway cold drinks), a stainless steel straw, my eco-lunchbox, a couple of lightweight produce bags, a cloth grocery bag that folds down super tiny, some Norwex travel cloths (which I use for everything from napkins to wiping snotty noses to sanitising surfaces in dubious hotel rooms – they have silver integrated into them so after a good rinse in boiling or hot water and allowing them to dry, they self-clean, as bacteria can’t reproduce on silver), a mini first aid kit and a teeny-tiny Thieves cleaning spray. Your travel kit has stuff that you need to help avoid using too many takeaway coffee cups, plastic bottles, plastic cups, straws, paper napkins, kleenex, plastic rain ponchos, disposable wet wipes, plastic shopping bags and plastic takeaway boxes while you’re on holiday. These are the things that really add up, so by reducing these you can make a difference.

Think about when you go to a conventional resort – every time you order a drink you are presented with a new plastic cup and a couple of new plastic straws and you see stacks and stacks of used plastic cups and straws at every beach chair, every day. Its a bit sickening actually. If you have your own plastic or stainless steel takeaway cup (I recommend plastic or metal in this instance because you won’t be allowed to use glass around poolside areas) you can just hand this to the bar staff and have them refill it, using your own stainless steel straw (or no straw at all). Just this one change alone will make a significant environmental impact, so if you’re new to this whole world of trying to reduce your environmental impact, do this one thing as an easy start.

6) Eat Local

Research the local cuisines and foods and spend your money on those when you go on your holiday. If you’re staying at an apartment like an Airbnb (find out more here) then try to find local shops and farmers markets with locally grown or prepared foods to stock your apartment, or if you’re staying at a hotel, then research some restaurants which prepare traditional dishes made from local ingredients. Again, Lonely Planet guides and Trip Advisor are great at helping to research these types of details in advance. By eating locally grown foods, there will be less food miles, less carbon emissions associated with the foods you’re eating and you’ll be contributing more significantly to the local economy by supporting local farmers and growers and small business owners.

7) Choose Low Impact Activities

Okay, so if Disneyland is your destination, this might be harder to do. And its okay if you want to go to Disneyland – we’re not about judging here. But most places will have some kind of activity to do that won’t be so hard on the environment – like kayak adventures, bike rentals, hiking trails, finding non-touristy beaches (just – obviously – clean up after yourself when you leave) or visiting a local archaeological site. This is going to contribute to local economies more than hanging out at big chain restaurants/bars, spending the day on herbicide-saturated golf courses or going to theme parks (although I understand that all those things might be fun to do from time to time). By the way, that’s me below, back in the day, climbing my favourite route and below that I’m on a canoeing trip with my BFF last summer!

8) Buy Reef-Friendly Sunscreen

Not only is most sunscreen bad for your skin (remember all those chemicals you slather on your skin are absorbed and have to be processed by your liver), but they’re bad for the environment too. Sunscreen is responsible for damaging coral reefs. Thankfully, as a starting point, Hawaii has made the forward step of becoming the first US state to ban sunscreens which are harmful to coral reefs. Hawaiian Airlines has even partnered with RAW Elements sunscreen company to hand out complimentary samples of their products to passengers. That is cool.

I’m not a proponent of the no-sunscreen approach (because cancer, right) and am wary of homemade sunscreens as you can’t be certain of how old the products you’re using are and how much of the SPF is still active, but there’s no reason to slather harmful and toxic SPF products on yourself and your kids unless you are really faced with no other alternative (and yes, I’ve run out of sunscreen on holiday and had to do this). I haven’t tried RAW Elements yet, but they’re a good, clean brand with a plastic packaging free option and I intend to try them out this summer so I can report back to you.

Its not just sunscreen either – try to pack toiletries which have less environmental impact when they enter the water table. Natural soaps like Dr Bronners 18-in-1 or Moroccan Beldi soap and natural face oils, body lotions and deodorants are a good idea too.

9) This One is For the Girls

Yeah, this is a weird one for a travel blog to write about and it doesn’t apply to you guys, but read on, because frankly, this matters. Girls, your tampons are going to clog up the incredibly delicate plumbing systems in most countries that aren’t the US, Canada or UK. Okay? And your pads are going to take literally hundreds of years to break down in local landfill – or worse, the ocean. So make sure you have a menstrual cup and/or some period pants (both on heavy days) so you’re not causing any unnecessary environmental damage to the place you’re visiting. Make sure you use clean or freshly boiled water to clean your menstrual cup – at home I wash mine in the sink, but am a bit more conscientious when travelling somewhere where there may be more microbes in the water system. Period pants are an easy option too. I have a pair by Modibodi available in UK, NZ and Australia but my readers in the US and Canada can get theirs from Thinx.

10) Take a Water Bottle

Water bottle plastic waste is a serious issue and I don’t really trust that many places will recycle the bottles after we place them in the bin. Recycle bins can be difficult to find when travelling in remote locations. And if you don’t think that plastic water bottles are a problem…check out this lovely river in Guatemala (the beautiful country where I honeymooned, by the way).

Okay, so clearly we’re not going to drink from the taps in Guatemala or a lot of other places in the world where our stomachs could be affected by pathogenic microbes, so what can we do? Clearly safety is the ultimate priority and the answer is NOT just to bring your water bottle from home and cross your fingers you’ll be fine. There are companies which have developed non-chemical built in micro-filters which eliminates 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria (such as Salmonella, Cholera and E. coli) and 99.9% of protozoa (including Cryptosporidium and Giardia). They can weigh as little as just 2.7 ounces and the filter can purify up to 500 litres of safe drinking water from lakes, rivers, streams and tap water before they need changing. I’m currently doing research on which one I like best and will make a specific brand recommendation once I’ve tried them all out.

Thanks for reading what I have to say about eco travel. I’ve included two affiliate links in this post – to Lonely Planet publications and to Trip Advisor, both of which I’ve loved and used for years, long before becoming an affiliate. If you’ve enjoyed my content, please use these links to have a look at the products and make any purchases you’d like to. You’ll be able to take advantage of special rates you can get through my affiliate links and I’ll receive a small commission to help me pay for my blog. Thanks so much for your support!

Photo Credit: Lonely Planet Guides by Valerie and Valise

Featured post

How to Fall in Love with Your Mountain Bike

She was called The Bobcat and it was 1985. My grandfather hauled her, all shiny and new – silver with neon lime and orange lettering – out of the back of his pickup truck and it was love at first sight. I rode The Bobcat up and down the dirt trails and backroads of Nova Scotia until about 1990 when I got too big for her and my mother gave her away to a neighbourhood kid. She was my first mountain bike.

Since then I’ve been a pretty avid cyclist – always mountain bikes. (I once tried using a street bike when we rented some in Amsterdam on holiday. It was embarrassing, I had no idea how to use a back brake and totally lost my temper.) But all through high school I cycled about 11 miles a day after school and I continued cycling until my mid 30’s when I moved to an area of London where my husband and I had 3 of our mountain bikes stolen in succession. So we gave up on owning bikes for a while and the only times since then I’ve cycled has been on holidays and trips to Canada where I could honestly spend days exploring the trails of Kejimkujik National Park. But now we live in a leafy, green suburb (still in London) and have just our daughter her first bike. So its time to get the family cycling again. Its something we’ve been thinking about since our trip to Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland last year. It was an amazing place to hike, but we’ve been itching to get back there on our bikes.

The key to learning to ride your mountain bike is to ease yourself into it. You can do this and you will love it. I promise. You will get on that bike and you will just want to cycle for miles. And the next day you will ache. Badly. So start slow. Make the process a gentle one. Maybe just ride through the local park or around your neighbourhood (around 1/2 mile) for the first day, then make it a full mile the next day, and slowly ease yourself into longer rides. Make sure you can easily do a 3-5 mile ride before you start taking on any trails and always start with the easy (green) trails. It goes without saying, but make sure you have your phone with you so you can call for help if you do have an accident whilst out on the trail. These are just a few basic starter tips based on my knowledge and experience cycling in Canada, the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and here in the UK. Helpfully, Halfords have published a beginner’s guide to cycling which includes a great list of cycling trails throughout the UK, and rather helpfully they are graded for difficulty.

Getting Started

You honestly don’t need a lot of fancy kit to get started.

Essentially, you need a good quality bike that is well suited to your height and build, some comfortable clothes (nothing too loose in the legs, so it won’t get caught up in the gears) and a safe helmet. I survived with only these items for a long time. When you have the right bike, it makes all the difference in the world, so its worth spending just that little bit more money to get a comfortable one with good quality gears and Shimano brakes. I’m on the shorter side at 5’4″ so I prefer lighter and smaller 27.5″ wheels on my bike, and these are great for winding trail routes, however someone taller might prefer 29″ wheels.

Over the years I have found that there are a few other bits and pieces that can be helpful to have and I’ve listed them below:

Bike & Helmet

Obviously you need the bike, and the helmet is a no-brainer in this day and age.

Cycling Gloves

If you’re a bit of a weenie, like me, you might find cycling gloves will help you avoid getting painful blisters and callous build up on the palms of your hands and on your fingers. If you fall they’ll also help protect your hands from getting grazed.

Mudguards

I’ve never NOT had mudguards on a mountain bike. Why would you not have them unless you like having a vertical line of heavy mud spatter up your back and in your hair.

Lights & Reflectors

If you plan to ride at night or in the evening, you’ll need some lights. I don’t ever ride at night so I don’t have these – just a set of front and back reflectors.

Glare-Free Wraparound Sunglasses

When you’re riding in the daytime you’ll want some glare-free sunglasses. I’ve always worn a pair of Oakley wraparounds that I only wear for climbing and cycling. Sadly they don’t make that model anymore, but there’s plenty of new brightly coloured models to choose from if you don’t mind rocking the Dog The Bounty Hunter look. Actually I’m joking (kind of) as there are loads of tasteful options to choose from and the optical laser quality testing that Oakley performs on their lenses is second to none. Eye health and good vision is incredibly important to me which is why I feel passionate about this topic. I found a YouTube video on it here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. However, if Oakley is out of your budget, there are definitely lots of more budget-friendly wraparound sunglasses on the market.

Visibility Jacket or Vest

In terms of clothing, I have over the years bought cycling shorts, cropped cycling leggings, long cycling leggings and special cycling jerseys. But honestly I don’t think that most of it is all that necessary unless you’re commuting long distances with your bike, on a cycling holiday or taking up cycling at a really serious level. (Technical clothing is helpful for wicking away sweat, and can be comfortable, but for novice riders, a pair of jersey leggings and a t-shirt will do just as well.) I do think, however, that a bright yellow visibility jacket or vest is really good to have because you want to be sure, even during the day, that cars can see you.

Water Bottle or Hydration Pack

I’ve always been a fan of the old fashioned water bottle stuck in a little wire holder which is attached to the frame of the bike, but you can get hydration packs which will hold a lot more water for longer rides. I am intrigued by these systems and may well make the investment at some point. Again, this is only something you need when you’re on a cycling holiday or out for whole day rides. Not necessary for a morning pedal through Wimbledon Common.

Make Some Memories

A GoPro. Because there is nothing your friends and family will love more than watching infinite replays of your 4 hour cycling trail video. Well, maybe not, but you know, I’m a bit of a camera bore myself, and when you’ve done an amazing ride and you come out of the forest to a glorious sunset view of a lake or canyon or a secret waterfall, I can promise you, you will enjoy having a secret replay of it just for yourself, come January when your bike is tucked away in the shed and there’s snow outside on the ground. So meanwhile, start making those memories. (And you don’t need a GoPro to do that!) Get outside, hop on your bike, whether its Kielder, Kejimkujik…or even just Wimbledon Common, and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

This post was sponsored by Halfords, the UK’s leading cycling retailer.

Featured post

Balance Festival

Just so you know…this post isn’t sponsored and I wasn’t gifted any tickets to the event or items (although there’s lots of free samples of yummy goodies to be had at the festival)! I just enjoyed myself, so thought I’d share. 

If you’re in London and looking for something to do this weekend, why not stop by the Balance Festival at the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch. I went with a friend today and we took the kids and had a great day out.

I thought I’d mention some of my favourite vendors we chatted to today. They had no idea I was a blogger, so extra points for just being lovely, generous folks…especially the vegan brownie people who tolerated my daughter eating basically all their brownie samples.

And kudos to whoever hired the DJs. The chill out vibe was awesome and my daughter was dancing like a reckless hippy to all of it. Especially the Avocado & Chill station.

1. First we stopped at Escape & Bake, a healthy bakery who bake delicious refined sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free treats. Lots of the treats (maybe all, I’m not sure) were vegan and I bought a delicious millionaire’s shortbread.

2. Then we stopped by Soupologie who had hot soup machines pouring out cups of delicious vegan soups. I had the squash soup which I think had turmeric in it and it was delicious. They also have a new range of drinks made with fresh juice, probiotics and apple cider vinegar – the strawberry basil was delicious and I can highly recommend it. Though in honesty, I have a great juicer and a bottle of Bragg’s at home so will probably do my own DIY version as a daily drink. But these are great for on the go when you don’t want to buy anything sugary.

3. There were a lot of cold-pressed juice vendors at the fair. I mean a lot. And the juices were all pretty nice. I know that because I sampled ALL OF THEM. But I think my favourite was Daily Dose who had really beautiful blends with nutritious phytonutrient powerhouses added in like turmeric and ginger. Their strawberry juice was amazing. They also do little shots of more therapeutic blends. What makes them special is that they make their juices from wonky fruit and veg right here in London – in Battersea, while most of the other companies are having theirs made in Eastern Europe and shipped here. There was also a company called Revolicious which makes pre-made smoothies which I admit I don’t entirely understand, as someone who makes their own smoothies everyday. But they were super delicious.

4. We stopped for bags of snacks crisp type treats at Emily’s Crisps and Ape snacks, both of which I know because I’ve had them in my Vegan Kind box before. The Emily’s Crisps are nice, although still deep fried , but my absolute favourite are the Ape Snacks which I could probably live on. They were kind enough to give my daughter a bag of their coconut puffs and me a bag of the coconut snacks with sesame seeds which I love. They totally satisfy my sweet tooth cravings for some reason, despite not being that sweet. Hippeas were there too and I also really enjoy their snacks too. But not as much as Ape. Love those guys and their addictive little balls/dics of coconut deliciousness.

5. Califia Farms were there, although I didn’t talk to them. Their stand was pretty busy. But I am addicted to their Cold Brew Coffee made with almond milk and make a concerted effort NOT to buy it every week at the supermarket. After hearing so many cool things about Califia Farms from my fav YouTube channel Happy Healthy Vegan, I was so stoked when they first came to the UK. At first I found them at Whole Foods and it was something stupid like £6.99 for a bottle of almond milk, but now its a far more reasonable £2 (they have a much higher nut content than other brands and are carrageenan-free) at Sainsbury’s and probably Ocado too.

6. The lady at Urban Fruit gave my doe eyed daughter a bag of dried strawberries – little knowing they are her favourite on the go snack. So thanks Urban Fruit people! She ate them while having a chill out session by the DJ.

7. I stopped by Riverford Farms as I have been thinking about switching to a veg box delivery to make the whole plastic-free thing just a little bit easier. I was impressed that for £21 they do a mega huge weekly organic veg box, although they do smaller and cheaper boxes. They are also giving away a lovely cookbook to folks who sign up at the stall this weekend. I didn’t sign up right away, as I have enough cookbooks, but the vendor gave my daughter a cob of popcorn which we made up in the popcorn maker at home and which she is eating right now while watching The Good Dinosaur. It was really good popcorn. (I was allowed to try one piece. Just one.)

8. Having drank my last portion of vanilla protein powder this morning, I was totally out and am trying out all the vegan brands I can. Free Soul isn’t a vegan brand but they do a vegan line and its all clean ingredients. Its normally quite pricy at £24.95 a bag (as they told me) but they had a show special of £15 a bag, so frankly I wish I’d bought two. Meanwhile, as I was chatting to the ladies at this stand, my daughter was next door with her little friend cramming down all the vegan brownie samples at Superfood Bakery who sell brownie, cookie and pancake mixes – all clean ingredients and gluten free.

9. Finally in terms of non-food items, there were so many activities to do at the festival. I wasn’t able to take advantage of them because I had my daughter with me, but there were yoga classes and there was a TRX session in full swing as we went by and I must admit, I really really wanted to try out that workout as it looked pretty intense. But instead I put my name in to win something or other from one of the great workout clothing brands there – Every Second Counts and I really want one of their running sets, frankly. And lots of skincare and make up companies designed for people who like to be fully made up when they exercise I guess. If that’s your thing.

10. We finished off the show by stopping by at Optiat, a company which uses used coffee beans from London coffee shops to make a delicious-smelling range of body products. I bought some vanilla coffee bean body scrub. I mean, why did people stop making vanilla scented body products in 1998? I love vanilla and am so excited to have this. I’m kind of all stocked up on face care at the moment but am going to try their coffee face serum at some point. I also made one last spur of the moment purchase, getting this lovely glass flask from Noble Leaf to make tea with loose tea leaves. Perfect for taking to school and student clinic.

I lie. I forgot about the vegan Baileys. We stopped and I did try the vegan Baileys. And it was delicious.

Anyway, the event is on for the rest of the weekend, so stop by for a couple of hours, load up on free samples of yummies, chat to some of the lovely vendors and stock up on healthy goodies. And if you’re not in London, but in the Netherlands in September, they’ll be holding a second Balance Festival there. Just check out their website for details.



 

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How to Make Your Own Cashew Milk

I like making my own cashew milk because its rich and creamy and it tends not to split in coffee or tea. I won’t lie and say I never buy store bought plant milks (because I do), but I try not to do so all the time because commercial manufacturers do add rather a lot of extra unnecessary additives. (However, as with cow’s milk, they do fortify these milks as well, so remember to adequately supplement your diet if you decide to eschew the commercial plant milks entirely.)  Of all the homemade plant milks I’ve made, cashew milk is my most successful one and everyone who has tasted it has loved it. It passes my “milk and cookies test” meaning it is delicious served neat in a glass with a cookie for dunking.

Nutrition-wise, cashews are one of the lowest fat nuts with around 82% of their fat being unsaturated, and of that, 66% is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, like the kind you find in olive oil. It has been found that when added to a low-fat diet, monounsaturated fats can help reduce high triglyceride levels in diabetes patients.  (Triglycerides are the form in which fats are carried in our blood and are what block our insulin receptors from activating and prevent glucose from entering our cells, thus keeping blood glucose levels high and contributing to the diabetes process.)

Cashews are also a great source of copper and a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and zinc. Its also great news that regular nut eaters tend to be slimmer than non nut-eaters and are also at a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, gallstones and Type 2 Diabetes. Just stick to your portion sizes of roughly 1/3 c of nuts per day.

I make my cashew milk quite extra thick and creamy, but if you want a thinner drink, just add more fresh filtered water in 50ml increments until you get the consistency you like. I also recommend buying cashew pieces because its often cheaper than buying whole cashew pieces. If you’re buying in bulk, make sure you store your cashews in the fridge (for up to 6 months) or the freezer (for up to a year).

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cashew nuts*
  • 6 cups fresh filtered water
  • medjool date*
  • Pinch of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (optional)

Equipment

Method

1. Soak your cashew nuts overnight (or for at least 4 hours) in 2 cups of fresh filtered water with the medjool date and a pinch of salt. You’ll be amazed at how plump and moist the nuts will become after even just a few hours of soaking.

2. After soaking, drain the pre-soaked nuts (and de-pitted medjool date) and add them all to a high speed blender with 4 cups of fresh filtered water. You can now add a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of vanilla. This is optional, but I highly recommend it because of how delicious it makes the end product! Blend this mixture on a high speed for 1-2 minutes, depending on how powerful your blender is.

3. Strain the mixture through your nut milk bag* and store in a jar or milk bottle in the fridge. It will keep for up to 3 days.

Tip: You can save any remaining strained nut pulp by freezing it and adding it to cookies or other baked goods at a later date, however if you have a high speed blender, you’re unlikely to have much or any pulp leftover.

cashewsSources: World’s Healthiest FoodsJournal of Biological ChemistryLivestrong, “How Not to Die” by Dr Michael Greger MD



*I’ve popped in a few affiliate links into this post, directly with Nutri Ninja (worldwide) and Amazon (UK), so if you’d like to support what I do here at Our Little Organic Life, then please do shop via these links – you don’t pay any more and I get a small commission. Thanks!

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How to Pack a Travel Capsule Wardrobe

As an experienced traveller, you quickly learn that there’s little to be gained by dragging around too much luggage. Packing light is a skill that is learned with time and practice, but I’d like to share some of my tips to help you slim down your luggage and make your trip more comfortable. Once you know how to do this, you will have a small but versatile wardrobe and you won’t feel deprived of options.

What you pack specifically depends on where you’re going, what you will do when you get there and how long you’ll be away. But to start with, get out all the things you think you will need and then ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really need to bring this?
  2. How often will I use this?
  3. Can I carry all my luggage on my own if need be?

The Guidelines I Recommend

Colours

Its tempting to just pack all your favourite stuff, but you’ll be much happier if your wardrobe coordinates, so try to pick a wardrobe from one colour family. (For me that tends to be neutrals – black, white, grey and blue – but that could just as easily be coral and turquoise if you’re that kind of a gal.)

Fabric

Choose fabrics which will deal well with being compacted into a tight suitcase or packing cubes and which will easily release wrinkles. As with colour, make sure the textiles all will work well together.

Cut & Style

Try to make sure that the cut of clothing is simple, that it suits your personal style and above all is comfortable and suitable for all the activities you’ll be doing at your destination.

How Many Pieces Should I Bring?

As a general rule, I pack 12-15 main items of clothing for any trip 5 or more days in length. This will be reduced to around 5-6 pieces if I’m just away for a long weekend. Its summer now, so here’s what I’ll be taking with me to Canada next month. I choose to buy most of my clothes second hand from eBay, Frenchy’s (a chain of second hand shops in Atlantic Canada), and here in the UK from charity shops, Shpock and Preloved*.

Shoes

I always bring one pair of very comfortable walking shoes wherever I travel. This summer it will be my Vivo Barefoot vegan trainers* which roll up super tight for tight packing and have ultra thin puncture resistant soles.

vivobarefoot primus vegan trainers

anthracite birkenstock mayari vegan

As its summer, I’ll also bring a pair of comfortable but stylish sandals which will look good but also stand
up to hours of walking. I have tried bringing heels with me on holiday but its always an utter waste of space unless I’m on a business trip. Thank goodness Birkenstock now make vegan sandals which aren’t just horrible moulded plastic (like they used to be) and look good with shorts and dresses alike. You’d never think these beautiful Mayor Birko-Flor in Anthracite were vegan, and they’re what I’ll be wearing this summer.

1-2 pairs shorts

I bought these Gap shorts second hand on Shpock from a local lady. They were exactly the colours and cut I was after. I wear shorts a lot during the summer, so I’ll probably bring 2 pairs with me on this occasion.

 

1 pair jeans

Cropped jeans are the perfect length for warmer weather trips and just what I need when the weather gets a bit chillier in the evenings. If you’re looking to buy a pair of really comfy jeans in a jegging style (that doesn’t look like a jegging), Hue jeans are what you’re after. My mom bought me this pair last summer when I was visiting her in Canada and I didn’t stop wearing them until the end of September – they are so flattering! – and you can buy them in the UK now*.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 07.43.53

1 pair leggings

For me, a pair of good quality soft cotton black leggings that are comfortable and high waisted with a comfortable waist band are an essential for travel at any time of year. I usually wear them on the plane for long flights because they’re comfy and feel a bit like you’re wearing pyjamas. And of course, they can double as a pair of pyjamas when worn with a t-shirt. In the summer I might wear cropped leggings rather than full length ones. Sadly these seem to be difficult to buy second hand. I choose black because they’ll go with a neutral wardrobe, they’re more forgiving to the figure and also more forgiving to getting a bit dirty while travelling.

3 -5 t-shirts

Three is a good number to bring, but bring 5 if you know you’ll have limited access to a washing machine during your travels. I’ll usually make sure at least one is 3/4 length sleeve for a more versatile look. These organic ones are the Maple design from Absolutely Bear.

black t shirt and white t shirt

1 casual shirt

I usually opt for some sort of crisp white, chambray blue cotton or linen shirt that I always wear with the sleeves rolled up. I can wear it with a pair of jeans for a smart casual look in cities or when visiting museums, or I can wear it open like a jacket over a t-shirt with a pair of shorts for a preppy summer look.

1 fleece

I’ve had my black North Face zip up fleece for probably 15 years and I love it so much and its still in ace shape. Its great for hiking when you don’t know what’s going to happen with the temperature and you want to layer. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily replace it with another microfibre whenever it does reach the end of its life (because, you know, fish) but to be honest it looks like its not going anywhere soon.

1 jumper (sweater)

absolutely bear grey jumper lyndhurst

If you’re going somewhere a little too smart for a fleece its good to bring a jumper (sweater for my fellow North Americans) instead. I have a favourite second hand grey one which has another year or so of life in it, but I love the jumpers from Absolutely Bear since my husband bought his back in January. (I’ve been wearing their organic Maple t-shirt for years now.) They’re beautiful quality, designed here in London, ethically made and give 10% of their profits to charity.

1 dress or skirt

For me, there will inevitably be some occasion to look moderately smart when travelling as my husband likes going out to a nice meal or two. As such I’m not so minimalist that I would veto a touch of elegance in my life. I’ll either bring a simple black jersey maxi dress or my knee length Gap denim skirt which I bought second hand, but I’ve not decided yet.

Swimsuit & swim shoes

Obviously this applies only if I’m going to a location where I’ll be swimming…which is usually most places I travel. I just bring one suit. I’ll also bring a pair of swim shoes because often the best and most beautiful places to swim have ouchy rocks, pebbles or coral and I have weenie soft feet. They’re also an essential for kayaking, my favourite summer hobby, and I’ve never regretted packing them.

Hat & Accessories

I’m not much of a hat person so I’ll probably just bring my old Roots baseball cap because ultimately my only need for a hat is just so I don’t get a sunburn. The one accessory I cannot do without is a pair of sunglasses. I believe in wearing good quality sunglasses for the sake of your eye health and have always worn a pair of Ray Ban Aviators, but will be making the switch to a pair of more travel savvy folding Wayfarers. I also should mention that I don’t travel with jewellery. I always wear my wedding ring (although not always my engagement ring depending on where we are travelling – if its somewhere with a higher crime rate or in poorer communities where it may appear ostentatious) and a plain silver bangle that I always wear, but that’s it. Travelling with jewellery just provides one more thing to worry about losing or have stolen.

Luggage

I recommend having a bag which holds somewhere between 25 and 45 litres. Personally I pop my clothes along with my LL Bean toiletries bag and my laptop into my 25 litre Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack (see video below) and I’m fine, however I may upgrade to their 45 litre carry on (which also conveniently has backpack straps) for longer trips and to allow room for my camera gear.

There are a few affiliate links in this post marked with an asterisk*, but mostly just links I’ve popped in for products I like and have no association with. The affiliate links are companies whose products I know and have years of experience using as a plain old regular customer. I’d never try to flog you something I don’t have experience of using myself. When you buy through these links you are supporting my blog and you’re not paying any more than you normally would on those sites. Thanks!

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zero waste tips for renovating your home

Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home

We recently had a major piece of work done on our home – the addition of a new floor upstairs – and I was absolutely shocked at how eco-unfriendly and wasteful the whole process was. We did our best to ensure that the existing building materials which were still in good condition, such as the slate roof tiles, were reused, recycled or repurposed. It wasn’t a great experience, and when it was all over we came to the clear conclusion that we will be personally be managing any future property improvements ourselves.

But that got me thinking, can you create a luxurious, comfortable home while still saving both environmental and financial resources? Surely there must be companies out there willing to make an effort to reduce the waste in building or renovating a home? And finally, at the end of your project, there must be some creative ways to repurpose unwanted kitchen and bathroom goods rather than sending them to landfill sites?

Here are some ways you can update your home while still keeping your eco cred:

1. Buy a Second Hand Kitchen or Bathroom

We inherited our cheapo white standard IKEA kitchen when we bought our home several years ago. We’ve updated the room by having a pantry built (to match the white finish of the cabinet units), we had the wooden countertops refinished, installed some attractive handmade Spanish tiles and then painted the room a pleasant shade of pale blue. Its a very simple but functional kitchen. In my heart of hearts, I still don’t like the shiny white cabinets though.

I recently saw a piece on the news about a couple of companies which make birch plywood doors designed to fit standard IKEA kitchens like mine. I think they look really cool and appeal to my Canadian/Scandi aesthetic. It could mean just replacing cupboard doors and handles for a kitchen like mine, rather than ripping out all the cupboard units unnecessarily.

But some kitchens are really and truly badly laid out and I know how frustrating that is. You really do need a whole new kitchen when this is the case. If you’re building a home from scratch or doing major renovations to a property, you’ll also be shopping for a whole new kitchen. But the good news is that you don’t need to actually buy a new kitchen – it just needs to be ‘new to you’. You can now buy beautiful kitchens and bathrooms second hand.

There are a few ways of doing this. You can go onto a second hand website like Craigslist (US, Canada & UK), Gumtree (UK), or Kijiji (Canada) or even eBay. You’ll be really surprised with the beautiful high spec kitchens and bathrooms, barely a few years old which you can find for sale second hand.

You can even get a free kitchen (or give your old kitchen or bathroom away rather than having it sent to a landfill site) on Freecycle.

And for those who will not compromise on having their perfect Shaker style kitchen or white Carrara marble counter tops, there are also companies like the Used Kitchen Exchange (UK) which sell both used and ex-display kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms for a fraction of the price of buying them new. You’ll also get the reassurance of 14 day purchase protection.

This family-run business has a number of environmental, social and business awards behind them and all the kitchens they sell have been pre-surveyed for quality. There is a visualisation service so you can see how the kitchen will work in your space and there’s also the possibility of selling them your old high spec kitchen which they will professionally remove (saving the main hassle when you’re selling it yourself).

Photo of Shaker style kitchen

2. Refinish, Repair & Restore, Don’t Replace!

Wooden floors, kitchen work surfaces, banisters, mantles and furniture can all be refinished. Our downstairs neighbour recently had her old gap-py and yellowing pine floor boards sanded down and the gaps between the floor boards filled in, and it looks amazing now – a luxurious Scandi-look pale smoked finish.

All the beautiful natural chalk paints on offer these days can paint over a multitude of sins in your home. I hear great things about UK-based Frenchic and of course you can get Annie Sloan just about anywhere these days (though not as confident in her eco cred as much as Frenchic). They do paints for furniture, walls, trim as well as waxes and something you paint on for a crackle effect if you like that kind of look.

A friend in Canada (well, my BFF really) updated the upholstery on a dozen or so of the old vinyl covered chairs from her in-laws’ long-gone Greek diner from the 50’s and ended up with the most beautiful, sturdy teenage-boy-proof chairs that were both a labour of love and have some family history to them.

Exquisite walnut floor boards or oak stairs could be hiding underneath that horrible carpet from the 80’s and lovingly restoring them may take a little time and effort but will respect the heritage of your home and could save you a lot of money.

Damaged surfaces such as chipped countertops, scratched wood floors, cracked tiles and furniture can all be repaired. I recently read an article in Good Housekeeping singing the praises of a company called Magicman. Their technicians can repair wood, stone, marble, uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass, rectifying chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and more, on site, nationwide throughout the UK. I haven’t tried them yet, but have a burnt elm Ercol table which could use a little love.

chair-1400315_1920

3. Buy Reclaimed

When shopping for the wooden floors for our new loft bedroom, I was delighted to see that its pretty easy to get a hold of beautiful reclaimed flooring these days. You can always go to a salvage yard to get rough flooring and refinish it yourself, but if you aren’t that brave (like me) you can get it through one of a number of reclaimed wood flooring specialists – just Google ‘reclaimed wood flooring’ and you’ll be surprised by the variety on offer with nationwide delivery.

floor-1866663_1920

4. Recycle, Reuse & Repurpose

And finally, when you have your lovely new home updated, what do you do with what’s left over that you haven’t been able to sell or give away?

If you have an old unwanted carpet, check out Carpet Recycling UK for ideas on how to dispose of it. It can be:

  • Given away on Freecycle.
  • Donated to a furniture reuse network
  • Used in your allotment or community garden (to keep weeds at bay on paths and in plots). Wool carpets have a high nitrogen content which helps to increase growth and growth rates too!
  • Donated to a local animal rescue shelter for kennel mats (especially to keep animals warm in winter).
  • Laid down on your loft/attic floor for some added insulation – it will help retain heat and lower heating bills!
  • Used as a pond liner in your garden.

For a full list of specialist carpet recyclers go to Find A Recycler Near Me.

And all the other leftover bits? What do I do with those? Well, I asked my friends in the Zero Waste community what they’ve done…

  • Sinks and some parts of old kitchen cupboards can be used to make mud kitchens in the garden – lots of kindergartens and preschools want to build mud kitchens and may be happy for the donation.
  • Tiles can be broken up and used as drainage for potted plants.
  • Old bath tubs can be used for raised bed gardens in allotments – great for ‘fussy’ vegetables like asparagus. They can also be used as garden ponds.
  • Old glass shower doors can be used for cold frames in the garden or to cover alpine troughs in winter.
  • Wooden kitchen worktops can be turned into bread boards.
  • Kitchen worktops can be made from old recycled wooden doors.
  • Kitchen cupboards can be downcycled for use in garages, greenhouses and/or potting sheds.
  • Old paint can be given to a community repaint scheme or there may be a donation point at your local recycling centre for paint to be re-used rather than recycled.
  • Anything else you don’t know what to do with? Check the Recycle Now website for ideas.

cafe-436082_1920

This article was in part sponsored by Used Kitchen Exchange

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Travelling with Kids

I don’t write as much about travel as I would like to. I usually plan to do amazing YouTube travel videos which never get edited or posted and I take lots of photos which I think would be great here on the site…but rarely does a travel post I’ve planned or started ever materialise. Which is a shame, because my husband and I travel A LOT and we’ve learned tons about travelling with kids. So that’s what I am going to share with you today. (If you’d like some general zero waste travel tips, check out this post I wrote a couple years ago.)

1. Planning & booking your trip

My husband and I love planning our trips. We think about where we want to go and then read lots about it (not just Lonely Planet* guides, but relevant novels, poetry, historical literature, etc. about the area) and really draw the process out with a sort of childish delight. If you have no children you can spend hours doing this during weekly date nights, but if you have a child, like we do now, all I can say is good luck. (I’ve been trying to read a Costa Rica guide for like a year now.) Once you’ve decided where you want to go and when, try to find a child-free hour when you can book your trip with a clear head, free from distractions. Your flight schedule, free time from work and school, and accommodation availability all have to align and stupid mistakes are so easy to make at this stage. I’m not being patronising here, but this is one area where multi-tasking is fairly risky.

If you’ve booked a package holiday, life should be simple – you’ll get collected as per whatever arrangement your package holiday company has made and you get taken straight to your hotel. We do very little package holiday travel (although we have done so occasionally) and have found its not always the best when travelling with small kids.

Its easy to get lured into the belief that you’ll have loads of kids clubs to watch your kids all the time and you don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning. The reality is that unless your kids are older, they’re often too small for kids clubs and you end up having a screaming hot baby/toddler with you on the beach/poolside while everyone glares at you. When dinnertime comes you can either eat ridiculously early at 5 or 6 o’clock or wait until later and take your cranky/hyper kids with you to dinner at 7.30 or 8 and watch in horror as spaghetti is flung onto the lady at the next table (it happened). Or you can book a babysitter every night and have a peaceful dinner with your partner, but that gets pretty expensive pretty quickly. You’ll probably also be sharing a room with your kid(s) and bedtime can be just…um, awesome when you’re away from your usual environment and routines. Evenings with your partner will be spent huddled on the balcony, whispering and playing Uno whilst sneaking up all-inclusive cocktails from downstairs, and being extra quiet while your kid(s) try to get to sleep. But don’t worry, they’ll start getting used to the new routine just by the time you’re packing to leave and go home. So yeah, I’m not really recommending the package holiday that much. Maybe once they’re teenagers?

I do have one caveat to this. If you can afford to book a villa at a resort, you can get many of the advantages of having an apartment with a kitchenette and separate bedrooms, with the conveniences of being on a resort (including access to resort babysitters and kids clubs for older kids, etc). I’ve not done this, but my friend Katie swears by it and for her family of 4, its the preferred way to travel. Its definitely not an inexpensive way to go, but I wanted to share as many options as possible.

Another friend of mine travelled in a minivan from Glasgow to the Peloponnese with her husband and 3 children (all under age 6) and they stayed at a range of types of accommodation ranging from bizarre British guest houses to luxury spa resorts, but they enjoyed the private apartments and houses they rented the most. It gave them more freedom to enjoy their destination and a more relaxed experience while travelling with their young children.

Personally, I prefer independent travel because I happen to like going to local shops and markets and experimenting with the local foods, and in some small way, ‘living like a local’…or at least pretending to.

If you are doing independent travel (which is what we highly recommend when travelling with babies and smaller children), you can rent your own house or apartment with Airbnb. This can range from fairly basic and simple accommodation to extreme luxury. It provides all the reassurance of booking a hotel, but you get your own house or apartment wherever you want to be. This is great because you can keep your home schedule (nap times, meal times, etc…) with your children and you can make meals and packed lunches that you know they will eat and best of all you can pack your little ones off into their own beds before having a leisurely evening with your partner with the full run of the house/apartment and its garden, pool, hot tub, etc.

I’m not affiliated with Airbnb, but feel free to click here and you can save £25 or $31 off your first booking.

Make sure you read all the reviews for the Airbnb accommodation you’re considering. Make sure its suitable and safe for children. Often they will be able to provide travel cots so you don’t need to schlep one around with you – just make sure you check in advance if your hosts can provide this for you. You can even arrange for a cleaner to come in periodically at some properties, for an extra charge.

If your accommodation is fairly far away from the airport where you’ll be landing and your flight gets in late at night, it might be advisable to just book a hotel near the airport and crash that first night you get in and worry about picking up car rentals* or travelling long distances by car/train/boat the next morning. This is what we do. It keeps the continuity of domestic bliss – travel-related frustrations are a prime time trigger for spats and domestic arguments.


We like using Lonely Planet* guides when we travel, and highly recommend them for researching interesting things to do in the area where you plan to travel. Most libraries have them, so you don’t necessarily even need to buy them. Trip Advisor* can also be very helpful.

2. Packing

Pack Light – You’ll know best how to pack for your family and for what you plan to do when you get to your destination, but I do recommend that you pack fairly light. You’ll all usually end up wearing the same 3-4 outfits over and over and if you’re staying at an Airbnb you’ll likely have your own washing machine (and perhaps dryer) so you can wash your clothes as often as you need to.

Layering – Bring clothes you can layer. I’ve gone to ‘cold’ destinations to find I was boiling in an unseasonal heatwave and have gone to sunny destinations where it was colder than London (and I only had a beachy sort of wardrobe packed).

Two Pairs of shoes (max) – Keep shoes to a minimum. I often waste suitcase weight/space on shoes that we simply never end up wearing. You’ll have much better memories of your holiday if you and the kids all have comfortable shoes that keep your feet pain-free after lots of walking around and sight-seeing.

Compact Toiletries – I do travel with all the toiletries and make up I need, but my rule is that it all has to fit inside my size medium LL Bean toiletries bag. (As a former Vermonter, I do love my LL Bean!) My husband has one too for all his toiletries and shaving gear. I did lots of online research and read lots of reviews on these toiletries bags before deciding on this one. Some people have had theirs for 15 years plus and they are still in top shape. They also unzip and have a little built in hanger so you can hang them off a towel hook and keep everything tidy (and above toddler reach). I’ve recommended these to so many people, I should be getting a commission on these things! When my daughter gets older, she’ll get her own, but meanwhile she just shares with one of us because all she really has is a toothbrush, a tangle teaser, some Owie* for bumps and bruises (which you can order wholesale here), a couple of bandaids and a small bottle of Calpol (just in case).

By packing light, you’ll have room to bring all the things that really matter – enough eco-disposable or cloth nappies (if your little one is still in them) and any food items you know that you or your kids couldn’t do without. I’m vegan, so I always pack a few chocolate chip Cliff bars so I know that I have something protein-filled to snack on, some Ningxia Red* packets (to provide antioxidant support after the radiation exposure on the flight) and I also bring a small box of UHT plant based milk, for my tea/coffee on that first morning we are at our destination. My daughter is a huge fan of strawberry Yoyos, a natural version of a Fruit Rollup they sell here in the UK. They come in paper & card packaging so aren’t the most zero waste of snacks, but they aren’t too bad and they travel well in both hot and cold climates. This is also your chance to pack the ‘right shape of pasta’ or whatever your kid’s particular non-negotiable foible is. (For us, its porridge oats which are milled to our daughter’s exacting specifications – not too flaky, not too jumbo.) Don’t overdo it, but just be prepared.

3. Getting to the Airport

If you live in an urban area near your airport (and don’t have a kind family member to drop you off) its probably just easier to order a cab to collect you, but make sure its a very reputable firm you trust to show up on time. I’ve had local car companies let me down before. Companies which specialise in airport cars are more reliable in my experience and you can pre-pay for them. Give yourself more time at the airport than you think you will need – if you have an extra 45 minutes hanging out past security, big deal. Go to Starbucks or Pret (with your reusable cup) and have a coffee, or peruse the duty free shops. Whatever floats your boat. Its so much better to be a bit early.

You can also pre-book airport parking which is usually a really cheap option if you do it far enough in advance, but be aware that the transport vans which take you from the car park to the airport terminal are sometimes not too spacious (think tiny babies in bulky car seats) and don’t have safe booster seats for toddlers travelling – its a short distance, but still usually is about 10-15 minutes of driving from the offsite car park to the terminal and its often on a stretch of busy road.

If we have an early flight from Gatwick we pre-book an overnight at the Premier Inn at the North Terminal. (I’m not a budget hotel gal, but this chain is so so clean and comfortable in my experience.) They have a SleepParkFly package* which includes up to 15 nights of free parking when you stay overnight there (with free meet & greet parking upon your return), so the cost of staying over is negligible (often the whole package is cheaper than the standard car parking package) and your car is waiting for you at the airport when you get back. Check if your local airport budget hotel does something similar. For us its amazing waking up and simply walking our sleepy toddler across the zebra crossing to the airport entrance – no early morning panic.

There is also the option of taking public transport which I find is just all too much for me when throwing a child and luggage for three people into the mix. But if you know your public transport is reliable, there’s no planned delays or works on the line, and it will get you there quickly without too many changes – then go for it.

Oh yeah…and before you leave for the airport, just make sure you have your kid’s stroller packed. I’m not kidding…this has happened to us before and we ended up having to find a stroller rental shop at our destination.

4. Flying to your destination

This can be really hard, especially if you’re flying with your little one(s) on your own, as I often do. When my daughter was a baby, I’d simply nurse her during take off and she’d fall into a deep sleep which would last most of the flight. Now that she’s three, its a bit harder to keep her happy on long flights. Some kids seem to get locked in to the inflight entertainment or an iPad, but that can often frustrate my little one and it makes her edgy, cranky and eventually ends in total melt down. We’ve found that old school entertainment like magic painting books (only water required!), a few dinosaur toys,  and some crayons and colouring books work well. I don’t usually buy disposable literature, but its become a bit of a tradition (and a treat) for my daughter to get a Cebeebies magazine at the airport before each flight and it is worth every penny for the hours of entertainment it provides. It also includes a couple of toys which won’t induce a lifelong trauma when they inevitably get lost. (But if you know that the iPad or Kids Kindle will make your flight a harmonious one, then just go for it – just put it away when you get to your destination and don’t let it dominate the whole holiday.)

There won’t be any food served on budget airlines, so I usually go to Pret a Manger or Leon at the airport and stock up on some yummy sandwiches and snacks to keep everybody happy during the flight. I love starting my flight off with a coconut cappuccino!

If I’m really super organised I’ll have prepped a meal at home, at least for our daughter. I pack it in our eco-lunchbox which is also handy to have at our destination for making snack boxes to take down to the beach or on day trips. (Even if you’re staying at a hotel, you can load it up at the breakfast buffet to create a snack box for your toddler who will inevitably want to eat at the most inconvenient time imaginable.) Its never been something I consider a mistake to bring or a waste of space and it saves us a lot of money buying expensive, junky snack food while we’re out.

We also try to keep things reasonably zero waste, so I usually choose to have no in-flight meal for my daughter and myself (my husband always gets one) if its a flight under 7 hours. I find the amount of waste produced by in-flight meals really distressing and its not like the food is that great anyway. Just pack lots of yummy things from home supplemented by a few special treats picked up at the airport (if that’s your idea of a treat). My daughter loves the reassurance of having food that mommy has made and it makes the trip far more peaceful for her and for us. As long as any liquid or soupy consistency foods are kept under 100ml in containers which hold no more than 100ml maximum, you’ll be fine. Bring water bottles for everybody and fill them up at the filtered water fountain after you pass security. This way you won’t have to drink the plastic bottled water on the plane – at least until you exhaust your own supplies.

For babies drinking formula, you should be fine getting those past security. Be aware that you are entitled to bring a reasonable amount of formula to meet your baby’s requirements for the journey and the 100ml limit does not apply here. If you are travelling with a formula fed infant, you’ll find it far more comfortable to bring enough of your own supplies with you in your checked luggage rather than relying on buying formula at your destination. Babies can be so funny about tastes and brands and although the formulas being sold in other countries are likely to be safe and fine, you might not be able to read the ingredient list, and you’re really best off having an adequate supply of the product you know brought from your home country. For more details, check out this article from Hipp Organics which sets out all your rights and has some good advice.

When it comes to pumped breastmilk, you never know what stupidheads you might encounter though, and many a mama has had to dump her precious stash. Although the rules vary from country to country, in the UK, US and Canada you are entitled to pack breastmilk in your hand luggage. Here are the UK, US and Canadian rules for travelling with pumped breastmilk in your hand luggage, as they vary on quantities allowed and how the milk will be screened by security.

5. Once you get there

If you’ve gone for the Airbnb or private home rental route rather than a resort or hotel, sometimes your host will meet you at the property, but most hosts simply install a key safe and will email you the necessary security codes to access the keys. (Write these down somewhere just in case your phone battery dies or you lose your phone.) Your little one(s) might be exhausted when they get to the property (or hyper and overtired). It might be a good idea to encourage a nap or some quiet down-time while you unpack and get yourself situated into the property.

This is a good opportunity to look at the information folder your host will have left you and see if there is a local supermarket they recommend. Otherwise, you should be able to find one on Google. Personally, I love grocery shopping in foreign countries, seeing what the local foods are like and trying all the local vegan brands. I always pack a couple of lightweight reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags in case we’re lucky enough to come a farmers market.

We don’t like to over-schedule or over-plan when travelling with young children. Its actually no fun for anyone if you try to cram too many activities into each day, as you’ll end up dragging screaming, overtired children out of museums or attractions you’ve spent a fortune to see. But you also don’t want to find you’ve left your destination without having done any of the activities or having seen any of the sights you wanted to. We sketch out a rough schedule (we’re talking back of an envelope here) of the things we want to do and build in a few relaxation days or unplanned days. This allows for spontaneity and in the mornings we can wake up and check the weather before deciding to spend the day at the beach or going on a hike or seeing a cultural site. You definitely can do all these things with kids, but just don’t push it. Remember its their holiday too. We always plan in a special day of stuff just for our daughter, even on short breaks. It often ends up being our favourite day of the holiday.

Let snacktimes and mealtimes happen as usual – pack enough food, snacks and water for yourself and the kids for day trips or outings and if it looks like the kiddos are getting sleepy, try to allow time for a bit of a snooze – in the buggy, on a picnic blanket in the shade after lunch or in the car while you’re driving. Remember, they’re little, and seeing all new things and their little brains are working hard assimilating a lot of new information and maybe even hearing a new language. They deserve a little down time and you’ll probably even find its good for you too.

There are a couple of affiliate links here to help support me keeping this blog going.  They’re marked with an asterisk  By using my affiliate links you don’t pay any more and I get a small commission. I’ve also included an Airbnb discount code for you, but most of the links are just stuff I wanted to help guide you to find easily.  Nothing is sponsored, gifted or guided by a particular brand’s influence – its all just stuff I like and use.