Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The year that was 2019

An unusual year all round.

January to March: Most of this period was spent in Singapore where I was officially an "academic visitor" with my own small but adequate flat. I had access to a dining hall with the widest choice of food, which resulted in my putting on five kg by the time of my return.

April to July: Returned to the husband, now fully retired. Felt a bit remiss that I was not around for his numerous retirement celebrations. But as I had been writing about since Sociology 205 (Sociology of the Family): a spouse's retirement has a huge impact on the stay-at-home spouse.

I decided to forgo employment to help us transition through this period and I think there was a lot that we had to learn.

We've enjoyed many walks around the park -- brisk walks to lose some weight -- and I am delighted to see how he who was 'limping' has now acquired a more healthy gait and weight. I've also lost those five kg. We spent quite a lot of time planting, and later harvesting, food as well.

Salads and other vegetables from our own vegetable boxes were very satisfying.

Sadly I was now suffering my second frozen shoulder. I put it down to sleeping awkwardly on my long flight to Singapore. And so followed a series of visits to the GP and physiotherapist.

For some time it was too painful to cut and sew and the shop was left pretty bare. In between painful episodes, I sometimes managed to blitz a batch of hankies, and then they were gone rather quickly.

August/September: Back to teach at a Midlands university despite the pain, which was then more or less constant. A commitment is a commitment. But prior to this I managed to hurt the ankle on the same side as my frozen shoulder. Pavements around here are dreadful.

Due to the left side of my body being quite immobile, getting in and out of the bath for my morning shower was a challenge. I managed to take a fall in the bath after its weekly clean. Did the cleaner leave it a bit slippy? Who knows? (I was in student accommodation.)

As I went down, swishing left … right … left … right ..., my prayer was "Please don't let me bump my head. I don't want to lose consciousness and be found naked."

Clearly and thankfully I survived to tell the tale. Bruised all over, and potentially susceptible to a third frozen shoulder (!), I dusted myself off (metaphorically) and went off to teach … after my next-door neighbour and colleague applied an anti-inflammatory something on my right shoulder (which I could not reach with my frozen left shoulder).

A couple of weeks later the husband whatsapped in the early morning hours to say we had been burgled. Passports taken. Jewellery left by my late mother, gold and silver coins left by his late father, gone. They had entered through the front door, discovered the safe and removed the bolts that anchored it to the floor.

Husband and son were sleeping upstairs. Husband thought it was the son mucking about when he heard noise, until he heard an almighty crash -- the safe being dropped? -- and got up to tell off the son and found son soundly asleep. Alarm bells. Police. 

It took me some time to process all this, actually. I was busy marking essays. The tears and anger did not come till weeks after.

October to December: coming to terms with the burglary, sorting out insurance to replace missing items, acquiring new passports, repairing damage. Cutting and sewing and packaging and despatching hankies.

We hosted my nephew from the States, the one who couriers fabric for me. He and his wife were travelling with their ten-month-old baby. We had to install a travel cot for this visit.

Let's just say when we heard the baby cry, it was a glorious feeling to know that we did not have to dash out of bed to settle him. He was someone else's problem!

January 2020: I will be teaching two full days a week at a London university. Despatching speed might be lower. I hope all my wonderful customers continue to be understanding. Thank you for all your support and lovely messages this year.

A very successful and healthy 2020 to all!


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve 2019

I'm feeling pretty relaxed now, and at the same time a bit excited. It's Christmas eve!!

Just finished my annual felting project. I like to have a new bauble every year for the tree. Since I was gifted a felting kit a couple of years ago, I'd made a 'bauble' without bling to mark the passing of years.

This year I left it very late and decided to do a baby Jesus, not on a sphere but like a little 'hanging pillow' -- I don't really know what else to call it. And did.

Woke up this morning thinking: that old scarf of my husband's -- the one where the silk had become 'hole-ly' and the stitches to the wool part had become ragged and loose -- I could perhaps use that for my project. And did.

Last year, I managed sort of felt a camel shape from a decoration bought from The Leprosy Mission (TLM). This year I looked for a clipart. Is it simple enough for me to transfer to felt? And it was.


 I did the baby Jesus side. Then I started felting 202 .... Ah! I was one year too early. Ripped it out and did '2019'.

But how should I join the two sides together? I did not want to stitch as it is supposed to be a felting project. I decided to experiment with felting the two bits together with more roving (wool).

I'm quite pleased with the result although the bauble is too large to hang on the tree. Husband said to put it at the top of the tree. So that is where it is sitting (standing? lying?).

Having a quiet Christmas this year instead of an 'open house'. Only family this year. 

As I said at church two Sundays ago: it is mind-blowing to think the God who created the earth could come to seek us out (his creation) as a man, washing his disciples' feet and so on. My own previous religious background was to burn huge amounts of joss-sticks, hell bank notes and making food offerings to appease the gods: 'gods' that needed to be 'fed' with food and water.

What if I didn't make enough of such offerings? Would I miss going to heaven with five bank notes or seven joss-sticks too few? These 'gods' were unreachable.

But the Jesus whose birth we celebrate tomorrow, he was Immanuel: God with us.


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

W/rapping Plastic Use

A few customers have taken me to task for using plastic when despatching orders. Let me explain.

Some items are sold as 'Gift Packs' and so come in a presentation pack. They also contain instructions for use in the case of Pocket Pouches (how to fold the hankies back into the pouch).

Sometimes, especially when the weather is wet, I wrap the whole order in re-purposed plastic. This is plastic salvaged from a dry-cleaning business. You see, when the paper envelopes are damaged and orders get wet, I also get complaints from customers.

At other times this plastic is used to ensure that your orders do not exceed the one-inch depth as the postage jumps from 79pence to £2.95 (yes!) when it exceeds that depth. I trust that you will agree that if I am charging £1.20 for shipping, it is not fair for me to ship it at £2.95.

If orders are not tied down this way and items move during transit to more than one inch, the recipient has to pay the difference (£2.95 - £0.79) plus a surcharge to collect the item. Ludicrous, I know, but that's the Royal Mail for you.

From the latter part of 2018 I have avoided the use of plastic in all new products. So they are 'secured' with a band of brown kraft paper and sticky labels.

Large Hankie Gift Pack

I am also trying to reduce the use of re-purposed plastic by using cut-up envelopes to maintain the depth of orders.

I have some legacy jiffy bags with recycled plastic. I use these sometimes if it reduces the weight and postage, or if the weather is wet.

So I hope that you would be kind and understanding in terms of my use of plastic at despatch.

In reality, it is SO MUCH EASIER, if everything is packed in plastic bags and I charge a standard high postage (probably £5.00 at today's prices) without having to worry about the weather! I now spend a lot of time doing the shipping, a cost which is often not adequately reflected in what I charge for shipping (postage + shipping materials + time to pick, pack and despatch).

Thank you for your kind understanding.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Diesel cars and wood-burners Update

"So generous was the Northern Irish scheme to businesses, offering £160 for every £100 they spent on wood chips, that firms used it to heat disused warehouses and long-empty offices, knowing the more they spent on wood chips the greater their profit would be.
Some users of the scheme kept heating systems running flat out night and day because they made such a profit from the subsidy scheme."

Update 26th January 2017: Wood stove fad is blamed for pollution

I have spent quite a bit of my younger life in cities full of diesel cars. The fumes from these cars made me quite ill. As such I could not understand why the UK government was giving incentives to drivers of diesel engines.

"Diesel was supposed to be the answer to the high carbon emissions of the transport sector, a lower emitting fuel that was a mature technology – unlike electric or hydrogen cars. In the early 2000s the Blair government threw its weight behind the sector by changing ‘road tax’ (vehicle excise duty) to a CO2-based system, which favoured diesel cars as they generally had lower CO2 emissions than petrol versions.

It inspired British car makers to invest heavily in a manufacturing process that most countries outside Europe have ignored. In 1994 the UK car fleet was only 7.4% diesel. By 2013 there were 10.1m diesel cars in the UK, 34.5% of the total.

But studies have since shown that diesel cars’ emissions of other pollutants can have serious impacts on the health of people exposed to them."

Source: The Guardian

What about wood-burners? Again I lived with my frugal mum who used charcoal to cook for much of the time we shared our flat. Those choking fumes are not so great when it is not for the occasional open-air barbecue.

Now living in Greater London where we are never cold enough to require a real fire and, as I also understand, there is a ban on polluting wood and coal-based fires, why has the wood-burner been touted as an 'eco alternative'?

I could not get my head around it.

On one hand I am telling people to stop using paper tissue made from wood, and on the other we were told that burning wood in wood-burners was eco-friendly. ??? How? It just did not add up. But fearful of being told that I was stupid, or worse, being trolled, I had kept my opinion to myself all this time.

Now we are told about this new 'inconvenient truth':

"But the cold truth is that — at odds with its perceived green credentials — the wood-burning craze is posing a real danger to the environment, and to our health.
Air quality experts say the stoves contribute to an ever-thickening cloud of smog engulfing our towns and cities, which is increasing the risk of cancer, lung disease, heart attack, stroke and even dementia.

Exacerbating the problem is the seemingly innocent habit people have of throwing open the doors of the stove to recreate the effects of an open fire or to warm up a room more quickly — thereby flooding the air with a deadly cocktail of noxious gases and toxic wood smoke particles.

Wood smoke is a cocktail of gases and dangerous microscopic particles. Some of these blobs of soot, called PM2.5s, are 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair and can get deep into our lungs. They’re so tiny that experts think they may even be able to get through the lungs and into other organs."

Source: The Daily Mail 

We want to care for the environment. But let us not be too hasty in trying to resolve one issue without considering its impact on the rest of the situation. Or, as social anthropologists would say, we need a holistic approach.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

GDPR - why your inbox is being inundated

Dear Organic-Ally customers and supporters

I imagine that, like me, you are getting loads of emails from retailers that you had bought from ages and ages ago asking for permission to continue to send you emails.

The irony is some of these have not bothered you for some time but because of new legislation coming in on the 25th May, they are obliged -- or are taking the opportunity -- to ask anyone who is still on their database whether or not it is OK to contact you (but they  already have!) and please could you confirm by ticking a box or clicking on a button??

I am really stuck. I don't actually collect and store any sensitive information from my customers. I don't store credit card details. Third-party providers take care of this. Then once a year, before Christmas, I turn to PayPal and Nochex (payment service providers) for email addresses. As such, these are actual customers who had made a purchase in the previous year. (I do not harvest data by pretending to send out a newsletter every few weeks.)

I then load these data onto another third-party newsletter provider (ReachMail), compare this list with the previous lists, remove those that have unsubscribed as well as those whose emails had bounced, and then send out my latest Christmas newsletter.

I do this once a year. This is my own rule. Now I have to break my own rule to send another email to customers still on the list when I have promised not to bother them during the year!

Sending an email now is a breach of trust where my customers are concerned. If I persist in only sending out a Christmas email (ie later this year), then I'm in breach of the law.

What do I do?

Afterthought: I believe the new legislation is to prevent spam mail under the guise that sensitive data, if you store any, may be hacked. But I am very sure that spam emails will continue and it is small businesses like mine that will have to bear the brunt of additional red tape.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Project Bak Choy: grow new leaves from scraps

This post is long overdue. I am starting on a second round of reviving bak choy. So I hope you enjoy this.

Step 1
Buy some healthy looking bak choy from a (Chinese) supermarket. Lop off the leaves about 1½ inches from the bottom. Immerse in little containers like these. If it's terribly cold, I use water that is just warm to the touch. Put them on a window sill or somewhere with lots of light. And warmth where possible.

In the picture above, you can see bak choy in different stages of regeneration. The green leaves traps energy from the sun and soon you will find roots, or root nodules, at the bottom of the stumps. Be patient. It may take more than a week to root. Meanwhile, refresh the water at least once every two days. You will find some bits getting sodden and looking like it's 'rotting'. Remove those bits, clean up the plants under running water and return them to the containers with fresh water.

Step 2
When the roots are visible and clearly thriving, maybe after two to three weeks, pot them in any convenient containers with good drainage. I use indoor compost as it is less likely to result in flies buzzing around the house.

Here I've used plastic containers salvaged from ready meals (prawn laksa or pad thai, usually). I have re-used padding materials ('wozzits') from deliveries to keep pots light and to let the water drain. Make sure that it is the 'wozzits' that do not absorb water. I later learned that the plastic shelf that comes from laksa and pad thai is the perfect thing to ensure good drainage. In which case, return the drainage shelf to the plastic container and only put compost on top of this. The clear plastic lets you see how much water is actually lurking at the bottom. Water as necessary.

Step 3
These plants are quite thirsty. So water as much as necessary. Probably once a day, or maybe even twice a day. You can tell from the waxiness of the leaves as to whether they are in need of a drink. 

Sit back, relax and enjoy the greenery cleaning up your room. I feel energized when working in my 'sun room' as the green leaves throw out lots of oxygen in the day.

I subsequently invested in proper pots so that they fit easily on the window sill. When it gets too hot I move the pots onto the floor. Having one long pot is easier than moving 15 little containers.

Notice how the middle plant is taller than the rest.

Step 4
Start harvesting the leaves when they reach about the same size as when you first brought the original bak choy home. IMPORTANT: DO NOT REMOVE all the leaves from the same plant. You must leave some leaves so that the plant can regenerate again. Take only those healthy leaves for eating (after cooking). Discard those leaves that have browned around the edges.

Continue to look after the plants, giving them lots of water and sunshine. They grow taller and new leaves will sprout higher up the stems.
I think I must have regenerated the same set of bak choy at least six or seven times. Then they started sprouting little yellow flowers.

See how tall they have grown here. I think the leaves started looking less healthy: more leaves than vegetables. But then the flowers came in. Profusely. So I also collected the lot to beautify my room. BE WARNED!! The petals shed very quickly. Put them on a cloth or something that will make it easy to dispose of the shed petals.

That's it, really. From ordinary bak choy I managed to regenerate new growth from scraps that I used to throw away, invested in some compost and got several meals out of them, and then the bonus of these pretty flowers. I scrapped the project when I had to go away last summer because no one else in the house would bother to look after it. 

Try it yourself and tell me how you get on. Share your tips too! It's a bit of fun, but it brings out the nurturing side of us. Trust me!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Epiphany (?): Why people of a certain age need exercise

A friend complained about aches and pains and that all his doctor told him was to exercise. "I'm in too much blooming pain to exercise!"

My GP too has been telling me to exercise from some six/seven/eight years ago when he decided that I was suffering from early-onset arthritis.

Last year I suffered a frozen shoulder from which I am still recovering. I also suffered a pain in my thigh. Said to the GP, "If a pain in my upper arm was caused by a problem in my shoulder joint, does a pain in my thigh means problems in my hip joint?" He nodded.

Bah! I thought. His advice? "Exercise."

For some strange reason, I decided to do 'lunges', left and right, morning and evening. After several weeks, the pain eased.

In July I resigned my membership at the gym at which I did aqua aerobics three times a week where possible. Started walking briskly round a nearby park instead. There is also an open gym and I do a few minutes on each piece of equipment.

While walking round the park I saw a trainer making someone do squats with arms folded. I added squats to my lunges. At first I could barely managed six or seven, then I increased to ten, twenty, twenty-five. Now I do one for each year of my life, but divided over two sessions, morning and evening, with the lunges and squats.

Then while watching Shirley Ballas on Strictly Come Dancing kick her feet to her bum (demonstrating Charleston?) I decided that I will do some of that as well. Let's just say it was not possible for my heel to hit my bum no matter how hard I kicked when I first tried it.

From there I used my hand to catch on to my ankle (same side) and balanced on the standing leg. Then I pretended to be a figure skater and held the free arm aloft. And then what do you know? I see a picture of the soon-to-be her royal highness doing this:

Image result for meghan markle yoga

Clearly my ankle is not yet in the same position as the above. But what I felt after a good stretch like that, holding this position for as long as I could, was blood flow and muscles gaining strength, it seemed. The stretches became easier and I am able to vary the angle and amount of stretch. The focus needed to balance also helped the breathing (or the breathing helped the focus, whatever).

Is this a dance or yoga pose? Does it matter?

One sister had been warning me against taking up yoga because there is a spiritual element to yoga and she thinks that Christians should avoid any practice where there is a risk of spiritual input apart from what is taught in the Bible. Another sister, a church-goer, is pretty flexible from years of yoga training.

And me? Through discovering a helpful stretch I decided that just because someone had given it a name and loaded a lot of spiritual meaning onto it, it does not mean that this system has the monopoly of stretches and exercises.

My husband does not work on most Fridays, usually. What does he do, usually? He sits in front of Bloomberg TV -- as if watching business news would make any difference to our lives -- and ... falls asleep. Last Friday he had to clear out a few things and then build up something else. And he was full of energy instead of being 'tired'. He even said he felt energized.

The key? Adrenaline.

I realized that exercise is important not because it would/might make us look like Meghan Markle. Sure the stretches help the joints no end. Trying to achieve balance also strengthens muscles. More fundamental than that, exercise is important because it gives our adrenal glands a reason to fire up. Fight or flight.

As I get older, my body needs to fire up those adrenal glands even more than when I spent every spare minute in school playing basketball. Otherwise my blood would struggle to reach those organs that need the oxygen, right? Disclaimer: I am not an expert in any way on the human body.

So I think of Freda from my church: aged 99 and often seen bouncing around the shopping centres around here, taking advantage of her freedom pass to travel on the bus and Tube. She does not walk. She walks briskly, and very upright.

My exercise regime twice a day: squats (= half number of years), 5 lunges x two directions; the pose above, whatever it is called, held for at least a minute on each side (best done by your bed so you have something to hold on to should you lose balance), stretching more and more, lifting the ankles as high as possible without falling over.

I started with doing very little, listening to my body. I think the pain in my thigh has gone. I can easily squat at book and supermarket shelves, and stand up with no pain. And that, is a result.

Tell me how you get on.