LEDs following trends

A few years ago I was dismayed to see low energy bulbs, including LEDs being sold on the same shelf in John Lewis as the uber trendy and very energy wasteful retro filaments. These are often hung many at a time for effect, none giving much light out just a lot of heat. Aesthetics were winning completely over function.

However I have just seen that Creative-Cables UK (whom I got got great copper coloured cords from last year) are now stocking curved filament LED bulbs combining both aesthetic and if not function, at least the energy requirement is so much less that the originals would be. Check them out!

Making our house a home

It has been two years since we moved into this house. The builders were still hammering down flooring and brushing away plaster dust but I thought it would be the only way to get them out if we came in. Little did I think it would then take 2 years to paint the walls. And to be honest there are still some to do. But at least it means we are now not so embarrassed to have people over. One, possibly quite obvious lesson learnt, is that to make a house a home it needs people. For some that could just be family, yet for me it means friends, wider family, potential new friends. We sat here for too long avoiding inviting people over because of the plaster board look that we had got so used to. What paint on the walls means, other than less plaster dust and a sense of care, is you can then put pictures up.

We love our pictures and have been collecting them from wherever we have been. Displaying them well is always a bit of a headache though until I read about using newspaper cutouts as templates and voila it seemed to go much more smoothly. Fewer holes made in our beautifully painted walls, fewer compromises agreed on because of just how easy it was to keep moving things around until they were just right.

It’s odd what makes a house a home. People, pictures, colour, a space to show memories and to make more. Certainly not things and hardly an exhaustive list. Yet perhaps one more – time. I honestly believe a home breathes, lives and thus changes over time. Our home will never be ‘finished’, in the same way our family and characters will change and never be done until its time to say a final good bye.

Taking back control

I went to a gathering today and I got cross about climate change. I seem to do that quite often. And then I went to another gathering at the same event and the speaker talked about frustration from feeling powerlessness. Bang. 1 and 1 made 2. I do feel absolutely ineffective as a person in stopping, halting even adapting to what is already happening and what will come. I know the science, I’ve changed all my light bulbs, I tried to be a vegetarian etc etc etc and it has made absolutely no difference to anything other than my son lambasting me for being so different from everyone else.

And then there was a suggestion – take back control. In terms of the planet that’s larger than me. But I’m starting to realise for some things it’s just too late. Carbon emissions are so high now that the worst scenarios mapped out in 2006 are probably going to happen. Of course we need to reduce things for beyond 2100. But I don’t have to be surprised by them. Rather than concentrating on my global frustration I need to make sure I am resilient for what is going to come right here whete I am. That means being part of a community, nurturing good self worth, having a variety of skills, recognising the minute changes to my immediate ecosystem so that I don’t get a shock when they all add up to a big change.

At the same festival an academic has started a project where he asks you to record a small area of space that you see regularly. My little island is shown in the photo. The project could be described as a combination of mindfulness and scientific study. I’ve done it perhaps 4 times since the festival. Not enough to claim it is a habit, but I do feel the peace of the activity, the recognition of playing my part and a rising connection with my immediate surroundings in a positive frame of mind. In fact they are all positive and rooted in emotion rather than rational, macro ideals. I’ll write more about the activity on my other blog on #Burmieston. 

 I can only hope that at Burmieston we will create a space for all our guests to feel some connection and thus respect for our planet.

Changing my Christmas beliefs, values and behaviours 

It’s Christmas Eve and shops will be heaving as people search for any last minute presents they they ‘need’ to get for someone they forgot or someone they have ‘under-bought’ for. My husband and I had the conversation last night as one of our son’s presents hasn’t arrived – do we get him something else just in case? Is there enough? 
Of course there is enough – he’s only 7 for goodness sake!
And yet there’s the constant niggling that perhaps there isn’t. I have been learning a bit recently about values that become beliefs, that in turn produce behaviours. It’s a common enough theory in psychology. The values you learn between birth and 7 influence most, if not all, of your behaviours for the rest of your life. So what is it that makes me want to buy, buy, buy and conversely get, get, get for those around me at Christmas?Well let’s take a step back. A couple of years ago we decided to donate to the Phillipines’ relief fund instead of giving anyone presents. We also said we were happy not to receive any. I then expected to lie back in the dappled light of righteousness and a job well done. Instead I couldn’t shake this awful feeling that I had done wrong by my friends and family, and desperately missed the presents that could have been. Why? It certainly wasn’t a logical reaction. 

My theory is that the need to give and receive presents is rooted in the Christmas story: 3 wise men (i.e they knew what they were doing) travel from afar to give expensive gifts to the New born King. So for at least 2000 years the giving of gifts is a mark of respect and an indication of the value of that person. The more expensive and lavish the gift, the more value that person has to the gifter. That’s quite a premise, repeated over and over every year in every Nativity scene and each time the story is told. 

Since I was raised in a version of a Christian tradition, have my behaviours reflected this story? I think so. From a small girl, getting and giving the ‘right’ present has been an important indicator of how much I am loved and I love. Putting it starkly like that makes me realise how illogical and silly that belief and behaviour is. It’s a belief that drives all of our mental Black Fridays, Red Tuesdays and Pink Mondays and puts us and our planet all under unnecessary stress.

It will take time for me and my family to change our behaviour around Christmas and subsequently around birthdays, but the change is already happening. They key is to realise permanently changing any behaviour will only happen if you understand why you do it in the first place.

If you are thinking about why you behave in certain ways every Christmas, maybe look at what your beliefs are behind them. Self awareness is the first step to making lasting positive change for yourself and the planet.

Merry Christmas and all the best for a peaceful and self aware 2016


New vs old vs made to look old

Being more aware of the story of stuff (if I may briefly steal that great strapline but don watch the cartoon sometime) is key to reducing our impact on our immediate surroundings, as well as the bigger picture. This is particularly true when it comes to furniture – those statement pieces that we rest on, sit on, work around and store more stuff in and on. With all of these jobs they need to look pretty too! So it’s an important choice because it can make your life more comfortable, tidier etc etc. So no pressure then!

I like old pieces, things that already have a story. They look like they have character, well made so able to survive my young son and teenage dog. My kitchen storage is a 1950’s metal and wood dresser and my main kitchen work unit is old solid wood too. I don’t necessarily mean antiques. That word conjures up tiny narrow spindly legs, delicate ivory inlays and voices shouting “Don’t touch!”. Of course that isn’t true across the board but I like my furniture to be able to take life’s knocks – at this stage of my life anyway.

JPEG image-A565EC97D2D9-1

Yet common to antiques and other old furniture they are generally made really well, with drawer bottoms that don’t fall out and doors that you couldn’t put a fist through and are strong enough to hang a mirror from. They also probably won’t be full of glue and thus emitting VOCs into the air you breate while you sleep, or eat or watch TV. From a carbon emissions perspective it seems obvious they are at least carbon neutral – it’s not being made for me. Today Greener Scotland is highlighting Emily Rose Vintage and her work on giving an edge to older items that may not have immediately appealed to the current aesthetic. It’s part of Zero Waste Scotland’s Design Doctor (#designdoc) campaign.

JPEG image-636587D9DE95-1

Using vintage wood has certinaly been trendy – so much so you can now buy wallpaper to give the same effect and even new wood or MDF made to look like it. I don’t really understand why you would? Why not just use the original stuff? Salvo and BRE Ltd are looking into this exact question by asking businesses if they would be interested in buying from a ‘real wood’ label for restaurants, hotels and shops.

I think the people they need to be asking or influencing are the designers, those who are asked to put the interiors together. I found over and over again that so many will just go for the cheapest option to get the look right – for a business. It’s not always the same in a home, pounds and cents seem to matter less that the whole story. I was even told by a kitchen designer yesterday not to bother being green in a business kitchen build. But profit isn’t all that business is about? I don’t want mine to be but it’s a topic I’m going to have to keep thinking about and researching to get my arguments straight!

Guest Post on Moral Fibres – Beating the Environmental Guilt

I have been following the upbeat and jaunty blog Moral Fibres for a few months now. My initial enjoyment of the very clever and apt blog name has continued with Wendy’s interesting perspective on her green life. She very kindly let me write a guest blog for her so please have a read over on her site

Moral Fibres – Beating the Environmental Guilt

Pushing the boat out

Today we shall receive delivery of two pieces of ‘green’ technology. No they aren’t solar panels – even though I wish they were with the recent feed in tariff news! Nor is it any other type of energy creation equipment. Instead they are both to reduce resource use. My builder thinks I am mad. And in general I’m sure most people would assume these are extra capital costs that we just don’t need. I can see his point if you are looking at pure finance. But I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit – let me tell you more.

I see the renovation of the Steading as an opportunity to do things differently. We are constrained to some degree by the existing walls and shape of the derelict building but in many ways that is just aesthetics and luckily an aesthetic I really love. So it means what would usually constitute the insides of the building could be anything. I wanted to start on the bathrooms. I read a very interesting article about how bad modern bathrooms for our health and in design so I went all gung ho to look for composting loos we could install instead. I think they have real potential, particularly in warm regions (that includes most of England and certainly Ireland) where things actually decompose fast enough for most of the year. Yet the more I looked into it and looked at my own very cold compost heap, the less I was convinced. Also this isn’t for loos for our use – this is for the paying public, who won’t all be as excusing or as patient as I think I am. When my builder and architect balked at the idea (due to the practicalities) my conviction wavered even further. And then I found out it would be over £1000 per loo. Yes unfortunately the money swayed me. Yet I couldn’t ignore what I had read.

So what do we have up here? Quite a bit of rain. And we have nearly a new build. And we pump our own water. So our first delivery is a rain water harvester. Back in my days of ‘normal’ employment, there was quite a lot of talk about rainwater harvesting, leading to the Environment Agency’s study on the carbon intensity of different systems. The basic premise is that they use more carbon than using mains water because of the carbon intensity of the storage tanks and the extra pumping involved. It’s a very interesting and at the time unexpected outcome and worth taking all their elements into consideration. It also has a much wider policy imperative, which I can only hope policy makers took and still take into account. It’s a prime example of how actual knowledge outweighs instinct when it comes to carbon emissions.

In our situation I think it’s still worth doing because:

  • we don’t have mains water so we would have to pump the water anyway, but we will have to accept the carbon in the tank.
  • The roof area of the Steading is pretty big. By collecting the water we will be stopping the runoff into the burn (Scottish word for a stream) that becomes a raging torrent whenever there is any significant rainfall. As the climate changes these significant rainfall events are going to become more common meaning higher soil erosion around the burn. In my thinking, the local landscape doesn’t need an extra 4000 litres of water.
  • The rainwater is going to be used to flush the loos. This will reduce the groundwater we take from our borehole – extending the longevity of our clean drinking water and the filters we have to have on it.
  • The water will be pumped to a header tank that will then gravity feed the various loos, not using any more electricity.

We had to check with SSEPD (the electricity infrastructure company) that the pump wouldn’t interfere with supply which revealed that actually the pump is pretty low in it’s energy use and will only be used when the header tank is quite low so certainly not more than once a day.

As with so many ‘green’ dilemmas, there is no clear cut answer. I suppose that’s why they are dilemmas. I’ve made a decision based on our local circumstances and fingers crossed it’s the best one.

The burn in spate with Inja looking on
The burn in spate with Inja looking on