Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Funnies

I love this video of a bloke who spends over £80 on beauty products which the saleswoman promised would make him feel more youthful, energised and better-looking. Two weeks later he shows "before and after" photos of himself to passers-by who all agree he looks no different. So he returns to the store and loudly demands his money back. The reactions of the staff and other shoppers are priceless.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buy Nothing Day

Happy Buy Nothing Day 2008! According to the BND website:

It's a simple idea, which challenges consumer culture by asking us to switch off from shopping for a day. Its a global stand off from consumerism - celebrated as a holiday by some and street party for others! Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

As we enter the headlong rush towards Christmas, it sometimes seems like every celebration is an excuse for a huge orgy of consumption these days. So I really love the idea of a celebration specifically and solely about non-consumption. I will be observing BND 2008 by working on my home-made Christmas presents and spending time at home with my family. We might paint some Warhammer fantasy miniatures together. We might play some multi-player Wii games. If the weather is nice we might head to the park. I'll probably send some Buy Nothing Day e-cards (they're free, natch).

What are you going to do for Buy Nothing Day 2008?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tumble Dryer

tumble dryerMy broken tumble dryer has been repaired. Hurrah! I think it did me no harm at all to do without it for a while. It's good to have a reminder that the old ways of doing things still work. And certainly I got lazy and used the dryer when I could really have hung things on the line instead. But by golly, it's good to have it back.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Funnies

Buy Nothing Day 2008 is coming soon. If you're not sure what BND is all about or whether you want to participate, watch this short animation by Friends of the Earth

Cartoon strip by Throbgoblins. Click the panel to read the whole strip.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

One Week to Buy Nothing Day

In one week's time it will be Buy Nothing Day again. It's a day where you challenge yourself to switch off from shopping and tune into life.

The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from consumerism and live without shopping. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

It's time to plan what you are going to do for Buy Nothing Day 2008. Check out the BND website for an event to join, such as the Food For Free Freeconomy Feast in Bristol, the Big Green Giveaway in Birmingham, or the Go Green Fair in Southampton. Or you could organise your own event in your local town, there are hints and tips on the Toolkit page at the BND website. Or you could spend some time with people you like doing something fun that doesn't involve buying stuff. How radical is that?

What are you going to do? Leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sprouts - Not Just for Christmas

In the summer I long to eat salad and vegetables, fish and cold chicken. But when the cold weather comes I welcome the swede and leeks, roast meats, pies and casseroles, and yes, sprouts. It seems to confuse Ed when I serve sprouts. He said "It's not Christmas yet is it?" But sprouts are not just for Christmas. Steamed and served with a knob of butter and plenty of black pepper (or better still, ground nutmeg), they're divine. I had mine with a nice gammon steak and some boiled potatoes.

The next day I used the leftover vegetables and some proper corned beef from the butcher to make bubble and squeak for my lunch the next day. And that's the best bit of all. Ed doesn't realise, but that's the real reason I served him sprouts the night before.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Make a Christmas Gift

Ellie and Tom in Tudor costumesHow are you doing with the Make a Christmas Gift Challenge? I have to confess, I haven't yet started on dad's waistcoat. I did do a lot of sewing though. I made historical costumes for two of my children. Their school organises historical days each year, and sends home a description of what sorts of clothes the children should wear on the day to get into the feel. The teachers dress up too, it's always great fun. Last year everyone was1 Vikings, and the year before it was WWII. This year they were Tudors.

Dad, if you could email me or phone me with your chest measurement. That's all I need to know to make you a waistcoat. I promise I'll get stuck in straight away. I enjoyed making the kids' costumes and I'm in the mood to do more garment sewing.

22 of you voted already to say you have started making Christmas gifts, so I'm definitely behind the field but I'm determined to catch up. If you haven't already voted, why not? You can find the poll in the right-hand sidebar.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

R.I.P. Hugg

Two days ago Hugg died. Hugg used to be one of my favourite websites - run by the fabulous Treehugger, it was like Digg for green stories. I used to submit Bean Sprouts stories to Hugg to get a few more hits here, and a few of them made the front page. I never made the front page of Digg. And I also read Hugg to get a heads-up on upcoming green stories. It rocked.

But really Hugg had been sick for a long time. It started to die about a year ago, when Treehugger relaunched it with much fanfare. Except new Hugg was a bit like new coke. It sucked. It wasn't half as good as old Hugg. The readership of Hugg dwindled. The amount of traffic it brought to Bean Sprouts dropped to about nothing. The number of good stories on there dropped to only slightly more than nothing. And I gave up on it. So it's not really a surprise that Treehugger gave up on it too.

R.I.P. Hugg. We really need something to replace you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

poppyToday is the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War. On Sunday I attended a remembrance service at Poynton church. My 7-year-old son, Sam, was there with his beaver scout unit, dressed in his uniform and marching in the parade. Inside the church a young local man who had just returned from Afghanistan spoke about his experiences. As we all stood by the war memorial for the two minute's silence at 11am, I watched the cub scouts shivering in their shorts and wondered what they made of it all. I think perhaps in a world where they are mostly pestered by their parents to wrap up warm, they must at least have understood that this was something important. Important enough that hundreds of people gathered on a sleety November day to shiver together with heads bowed.

I stood in remembrance services as a child myself. I knew what they were about. Well, sort of. They were about The War (we still say "The War", as if there was only one war. As if war is now over. As if). They were about the Men Who Died (and the men who lived, and the women who died and lived). Ah, forget it, I didn't really understand at all. When I stand in remembrance services now I look at my sons shivering in their scout uniforms, standing next to boys who look hardly older in their army uniforms, some with medals already on their chests. And I shiver too.

But I still don't understand. I haven't been to war. Nobody I know personally has been to war whilst I've been alive. I try to imagine what it would be like if my children joined the services and went somewhere like Afghanistan or Iraq. I understand more now than when I was a child, but I still don't really understand.

I hope I never understand. I hope my kids never go to the front. I hope we will soon bring our boys home from Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope we learn to quit meddling with other parts of the world - we only ever make things worse in the long run. I hope we use our brave servicemen and women to defend our own country if need be and to do peacekeeping services around the world, but not to make war. I hope we equip them properly for that job, and repay them properly for their service, take care of their families properly and take care of them if they are injured. I hope Britain never starts a war again, and I hope we never again join the cause of a nation that starts a war. This I hope, and I pray.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie mixtureI made pumpkin pie today, as I do every year from the scrapings of our Hallowe'en pumpkins. This year I used ready-made shortcrust pastry for a change. After all, the pastry isn't the best thing about the pie, it's really just a shell to hold the spicy pumpkin-flavoured custard. So why take a lot of effort over it if you don't want to?

Delia Smith got a lot of stick a little while ago for teaching people how to cheat at cooking. I don't understand why though. I'll take Delia over ten of your Gordon Ramsays any day. I understood what Delia meant, and I think it showed a deep understanding of the difference between good food and bad food. Take instant powdered mashed potato for example. It's a travesty. It's not food at all. It's some sort of fake food substitute. Here are the ingredients (I found them on the web):
Potato (82%), Full Cream Milk Powder (15%), Salt, Emulsifier: Mono and Di Glycerides of Fatty Acids, Antioxidant: Ascorbyl Palmitate, Natural Colour: Curcumin

It can't do you any good to eat it and it doesn't even taste nice. But frozen mashed potato is a different kettle of fish. The ingredients are:
Potato, Milk, Butter (2%), Salt, White Pepper.

I don't know how you make mashed potato, but that's exactly how I do it. And that's what Delia was trying to say. Use your brain. Distinguish good food from bad food. You don't have to make everything from scratch. Even top chefs don't do that. I know how to make butter from scratch but I only do it once in a while, for fun (or by accident). Most of the time I buy my butter like everyone else, top chefs included. I know how to make bread from scratch. Is it cheating if I buy a loaf instead? How about if I buy it from a farmer's market instead of from a supermarket? Is that less cheating? Why?

What matters is not that you make every damn thing from scratch every time, but only that you know good food from bad, and that you choose the good food most of the time. If having access to ready made pastry means you make apple pie at home from apples, sugar and cinnamon, rather than buying Mr Kipling's apple pies (ingredients: Wheat Flour, Apple (21%), Sugar, Vegetable Oil, Glucose Syrup, Dextrose, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Modified Maize Starch, Humectant (Vegetable Glycerine), Salt, Acidity Regulator (Malic Acid), Raising Agents (Disodium Dihydrogen Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Metabisulphite), Gelling Agent (Sodium Alginate), Adipic Acid, Milk Protein, Flavouring) then I think ready-made pastry is a really good thing.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Remember, Remember

Mel holding Tic TacEleanor reminded me last night to shut Tic Tac, our cat, indoors all night. It was Bonfire Night here in England and animals can be traumatised by all the bangs and flashes.

It was good advice and I intended to follow it. But I had felt flu-ey all day, and I fell asleep (or perhaps "passed-out" would be more truthful) at about 5pm and slept through until 7.30am. So I never did lock the cat flap last night.

This morning when I woke up Tic Tac was not about. This was worrying as he is the most intensely sociable cat I have ever known. He is always there when the family is assembled, trying to join in the activity and the conversation and generally thinking that he's a human being. I went out into the garden and called his name over and over. And Ed walked up and down the crescent looking for him, to no avail.

Then when I was ushering the kids into the car to take them to school, I heard something. With difficulty I persuaded the kids to be silent and we could clearly make out the sound of a cat mewing. We tracked down the sound to our garage. Ed had accidentally locked him in when he locked up his motorbike for the night (I told you the cat follows us around and tries to join in with everything we do).

So Tic Tac had been locked inside for Bonfire Night after all. Perhaps the angel of cats was looking after him when I was too poorly to do it myself.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Portrait of Tom

Tom portraitMy sister Steph has gone home. We always have a great time when she's here. This time we spent a lot of time celebrating Hallowe'en - decorating the house, carving pumpkins, organising costumes and face-painting for everyone, children and grown-ups. We made mock pumpkin soup and stuffed squash. We got together with our other sister, Lindsey and her husband Andrew and had a lot of fun. We also painted some of Tom's Warhammer miniatures - his latest hobby is fantasy wargaming.

But mainly we did art. Steph taught me to use soft chalk pastels. I'd never used them at all before she arrived. I did a number of drawings with the pastels under Steph's guidance, but I'm happiest with this one of Tom. In fact, I've framed it and hung it in the living room.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Funnies

George Carlin on saving the planet.

Cartoon by Marc Roberts at Throbgoblins. Click on the panel to read the whole strip.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

November Challenge - Make a Christmas Gift

Mel SewingAssumption #1 - Sometimes you get to Christmas and wish you had given hand-made gifts instead of buying everything from Argos (or wherever)

Assumption #2 - One year you decided to give only hand-made gifts for Christmas, and ended up with a nervous breakdown because you couldn't possibly do it all in time

Assumption #3 - At least once you decided to make someone a hand-made gift for Christmas but didn't get it finished in time. In fact you never got it finished at all

So, this year is going to be different. I'm going to give at least one hand-made gift this Christmas, but no more than three. And they're not going to be huge and time-consuming. They're going to be of a size and scale that is achievable without me being committed to a mental institution. And I'm going to start now. This week. That's November's challenge.

I have already agreed with my dad that I am going to make him a waistcoat for Christmas. he and I picked the pattern together, and bought the fabric and all the notions. All I need are his measurements. So dad, I'll be emailing you a list of the dimensions I need. If you can't do them yourself, you'll have to ask one of your friends to measure you. Once I've got the measurements I'm going to get stuck in, and it will be finished in plenty of time. I've made garments many times before, so I know how long it will take to do. It's not so quick and easy that dad might feel I hadn't spent any time or effort on his gift. But it's not so big and time-consuming that I won't have it finished in time (like dad's quilt which is still half-quilted). It's just the right size for a hand-made Christmas gift project.

If you'd like to join in, choose a realistic gift to make for someone this Christmas, and get started as soon as possible. Tell me what you have decided to make, and keep me posted about your progress. And don't forget to vote in the poll in the right-hand sidebar to say when you've done it.