Waste Warriors

Waste Warriors

A single mason jar — that’s how much trash Bea Johnson, her husband Scott and their teenage sons Max and Leo produce in a year. Dubbed ‘the priestess of waste-free living’, Bea, a French native who transplanted to California, has inspired millions around the world to adopt her zero waste lifestyle, in which she sends virtually nothing to landfill.

Recycling — a sticking plaster?
It’s no secret that our addiction to single-use plastic is wreaking havoc with our environment. Recycling is often touted as the solution to our trash woes. But given that it’s not always clear where or how an item should be recycled, it’s far from a long-term solution. As Bea points out, “Once that piece of plastic leaves your home, you’ve lost control of it.” Plus, she adds, “Recycling uses a lot of energy!”

(South Africans are not great recyclers anyway. Of the approximately 108 million tons of waste we generate annually, only about 10% is recycled. The remaining 90% ends up in our landfills — toxic garbage dumps which are fast running out of airspace).

Recycling helps, but more important is to generate less waste in the first place.

So, while the rest of us put bags of trash out on the curb every week, how does Bea whittle her annual waste down to a single jar?

By following, in strict order, the 5R’s, which have become something of a mantra for aspiring zero wasters — Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (compost). For tons of tips on how to follow the 5R’s, check out Bea’s Zero Waste Home site where she spells it all out clearly and comprehensively.

Sounds daunting, right? But Bea is on a mission to blast through misconceptions that zero waste living is expensive and unattainable. “By buying bulk and eliminating packaging, you can save at least 15% of your monthly grocery bill,” she advises.

Once you start refusing what you don’t need and reducing what you do, you naturally accumulate less, she explains.

Plastic free groceries
What a plastic free grocery shop looks like, complete with reusable shopping bags. Photo credit: ZeroWasteHome.com
SAMSUNG
Bea’s super organised package-free pantry. Photo credit: ZeroWasteHome.com
Bea's bathroom essentials
Bea’s bathroom essentials. Her and her family brush their teeth with bicarbonate of soda and nothing else. Photo credit: ZeroWasteHome.com

Bea is living proof that by declaring war on waste you needn’t compromise on style. With her endlessly versatile 15-piece capsule wardrobe — check out One Dress, 22 ways and 50 ways to wear a men’s shirt — Bea exudes an enviable Parisian chic. Her clutter-free home is a gorgeous, calm, light filled space that looks like it belongs in the pages of a décor magazine.

Bea's minimalist home
Bea’s minimalist home in California. “My family buys way less than before. In the past, if we went somewhere, we bought souvenirs. If my mother-in-law visited, we went shopping. We were constantly adding to our household’s inventory. Now, we’re happy with the amount of things we have in our home and we don’t add to it,” she says. Photo credit Connie Mirbach.

Bea Johnson in South Africa
Bea toured South Africa last May, giving the country’s burgeoning zero waste movement a major boost. Inspired by the 5R’s, Colleen Black of Life Lived Simply has been living waste free since early 2015. If you’re curious about how to dispose of your contact lens containers, what to do with your EcoBricks or where to get beeswax wraps, the Zero Waste Journey in South Africa Facebook group, founded and managed by Colleen, is a trove of ideas and solutions. It’s becoming the go-to online hub for South Africans wanting to live greener and tread lighter.

Colleen with her jar
Colleen Black with her single jar of trash

Opting out of the consumer madness that characterises modern life can be liberating. But those paving the way counsel that you can’t overhaul your life in a day. It’s a journey, one that requires patience.

Jade Khoury of Low Impact Living, an organisation that run eco-awareness workshops, has been living waste-free for many years. Her advice? Take it slow, and have fun doing it. “It didn’t happen overnight. It took a few years,” she says.

Jade Khoury
“Evaluate where your packaging accumulates — say stationary, or take away food for example — and tackle one thing at a time. Our brains are wired for comfort, so it has to be attainable, otherwise you’ll find a million excuses not to do it,” says Jade.

And, something echoed by eco-warriors everywhere — don’t beat yourself up when you fail, which is inevitable. “Be compassionate with yourself. Find solutions that are fun and creative, rather than feeling guilty, or deprived,” Jade advises. “If you slip up, see it as an opportunity to side-step that issue next time.”

It sounds like it’s worth persevering. That paring down your life in this way is not just gentler on the planet, it’s transformative, spilling over into every corner of your life.

“There are so many perks to this life,” says Jade. “It’s healthier. You remove a lot of the toxins and (heavily-packaged) junk food from your life. By choosing to cut out packaging, your start shopping differently, more directly. And that brings up a lot of opportunity for conversation and human connection, a sense of community.”

“The best thing about this lifestyle is the simplicity,” enthuses Bea. “The less you have, the less you need to clean, dust, maintain and eventually repair or discard. It’s made me grateful for everything we do have, and it feeds my creativity daily, as I’m always searching for solutions. We’ve discovered a lifestyle based on experiences rather than things. A life of being rather than having. And that’s what makes life richer.”

Bea and her family
Bea with her family. “Because of the money we’ve saved from the zero waste lifestyle, we’ve been able to afford things we couldn’t do before. We’ve gone snorkelling, ice-climbing, swum with humpback whales, gone skydiving. My kids have travelled to 20 countries. It’s brought us closer as a family.” Photo Credit: Stephanie Rausser.

Need local inspo?
Check out these South African Instagrammers showing us how it’s done. Left to right:
Shannon Goodman — @journeytozero_
Alex Radlinger — @zerowastejourneycapetown
Khaya Alexander — @wastelessafrica

Also check out:
Nude Foods — Plastic Free Grocery, Cape Town.
Wild & Waste-Free Co-Op — For your zero waste starter kit. Glencairn, Cape Town.
Faithful to Nature  Online Organic Shop (you can apply a plastic-free filter).
Shop Zero — Zero Waste, Plastic Free Lifestyle Store. Woodstock, Cape Town.

*Featured image credit: Connie Mirbach

Let them drink champagne

Let them drink champagne

Cape Town has basked in a string of ‘Best City’ accolades in recent years, but we’re about to become known for something else — the first major city in the world to run out of water. Day Zero, the day the taps are turned off, has been brought forward to 12 April.

Predictably in times of heightened stress and anxiety, there’s been much finger pointing as we scramble to apportion blame. Rumours are swirling that the City was forewarned about this likelihood years ago and failed to act. There’s anger over the City’s unwillingness (inability?) to tap into other water sources (desalination and aquifers) and squabbling over what the different statistics mean (is it the worst drought in 100 years?).

At first it felt like we might be plunged into something resembling a dystopian novel, but with Day Zero looming, we’re getting proactive. Stinky loos, parched lawns and empty pools aside, Capetonians are devising novel ways to stick to the allocated 50 litres a day. Those with the resources are rigging up boreholes and going off grid (though there’s much uncertainty about the legality of this), enhancing their grey water systems, buying machines that make water out of air, and stockpiling boxes of 5l water bottles. There’s been this been-there-done-that post giving us some much needed perspective (it’s okay, we’ll survive, we’ll come out stronger).

Because of course we’re not the first city to be severely water stressed. California has been in a ‘mega-drought’ for years and Australia had its own ‘Millenial Drought’ in the early 2000’s. Droughts are becoming so frequent it’s predicted the next World War will be fought over water.

What sets us apart, as always, are the disparities. It’s a bleak prospect, queuing for water, wearing dirty clothes, being unwashed. But there’s this thing that happens in South Africa, which is that most of the time we’re ostriches, but in times of crisis we’re reminded how the majority of the population live.  When the rug is pulled out from under us, and our creature comforts are threatened, we remember just how fortunate we are. An estate dweller in my nice car, plotting how we’ll leave the city if things go belly up, I’m as guilty of sealing myself off from the realities of life in South Africa as the next person.

Let’s hope this becomes reminiscent of load shedding, where we retrofitted our homes, but then just as quickly Eskom turned the lights back on. Perhaps the soothsayers are right, and we will see flooding in March. We may just scrape through and avoid Day Zero, but our attitudes to water will have been irrevocably changed.  And absolute worst case for most of us reading this — rather than it being some vague notion out there, we will actually have to live the knowledge of what it’s like to be without water, and perhaps there are blessings in that.

 

A Depth Year

A Depth Year

I love this, from the Raptitude blog. Such a simple but inspired idea:

http://www.raptitude.com/2017/12/go-deeper-not-wider/

I read it after a splurge at the bookstore, where I treated myself to three new memoirs, despite having loads of unfinished books on my shelf. It motivated me to set a goal for 2018 — to not buy any books till I’ve ploughed through my existing stack. It’s going to be an interesting one.

A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam

A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam

‘Just where you are — that’s the place to start.’
— Pema Chodron

The single biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year in trying to live more sustainably? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With this in mind, my ploy for 2018 — don’t get down about the state of our planet (it’s so easy to sink into that). Instead, relish the journey and celebrate the changes we make, however miniscule.

I’ve absorbed a huge amount this year, sometimes the mind boggles. Here are some of the standout words, images and voices that have uplifted, inspired, provoked serious thought, or left me haunted…

Carl Sagan’s timeless and beautiful Pale Blue Dot.

 

George Monbiot’s incisive writing. A political and environmental activist, he gets to the crux of where we might be going wrong, with his thoughts on our materialism particularly powerful. Have a read here and here (it’ll make you not want to buy anything ever again!).

 

Steve Cutt’s animations. These are bleak and will most definitely haunt your day, but so cleverly done:

 

The high priestesses of the Zero Waste movement
Whittling down our annual household waste to a single glass jar is most likely unattainable for most of us, but for inspiration, tips and some good old eye candy, check out the sites of Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home and Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers.

Locally, there are some serious movers and shakers spearheading the zero waste movement:

  • Colleen Black of a Life Lived Simply
  • Jade Khoury of the Wild and Waste Free Co-op
  • And the bright young things on Instagram showing us how it’s done:
    @journeytozero_
    @zerowastejourneycapetown
    @wastelessafrica
    @shopzero.sa

 

2017 also saw the opening of Nude Foods in Cape Town, a plastic free grocery store. Can’t wait to check it out.

Zero waste is going to be where it’s at in 2018!

Who or what has inspired you to tread just a little lighter this year?

 

A pared down Christmas

A pared down Christmas

Christmas madness has taken hold, and this year, as with every year, the thought of trawling crowded malls has filled me with dread. So I’ve given them a wide berth and trawled the Christmas markets instead. Bustling and festive, the whole experience is just so much more laid back, and the cherry on top —  you get to support local artisans. Ceramicists, artisanal food producers, jewellers, burgeoning designers, there’s a whole lot of quirkiness on offer; products with so much more soul (and smaller carbon footprints!) than their mass-produced mall counterparts.

It’s one of the reasons I love this inspired idea by Airloom and the Mohair Millshop —  two companies championing local craftsmanship. I’d far rather get one thing I love than a bunch of pressies I don’t want or need. It’s so much gentler on the environment. Have a squizz at their buy-local Secret Santa competition here.

I’m a big fan of the Scandi-inspired, clean lines of Airloom decor — having recently treated myself to a clock and two lamps which revived two previously dull corners of my home.

If you think of other creative ways to forgo the consumer madness in favour of a more minimalist, pared back Christmas, let me know!

Scatterlings

Scatterlings

*{A retrospective — to a post written in early 2014, soon after we moved back to South Africa after nearly 9 years in Asia and the UK. It’s fascinating to read it 4 years down the line, something I’ll be chatting about more in my upcoming Newsletter}*

Six months after moving back to South Africa, I still wake in a cold sweat and question the sanity of having left our comfortable life in Blighty. After all, South Africa is not for the faint-hearted. It’s beauty astounds you one minute and the inequalities make you despair the next. Extremes underpin so much of life here, and the issues that compel people to leave – crime, corruption, poor service delivery – are real.

My relationship with this country has blown hot and cold in the nearly two decades that I’ve come and gone. The first time I emigrated, to Australia, I was relieved to bid farewell to a place whose politics I despised. I grew up mixed race during apartheid and though privileged, I struggled with identity in such a racialised society. I found it hard to relate to life in homogenous, regulated Australia though and came running back after less than two years.

Six years later I followed my boyfriend (now husband) to Beijing where he’d been offered a job, and by then, I’d fallen head over heels for Cape Town. But still, I couldn’t resist one last adventure and so off we flitted, totally unarmed for the culture shock that lay ahead.

My memories of Beijing are so surreal I often pore over photo albums just to convince myself I didn’t imagine the whole thing. Cycling round the streets in an apocalyptic smog, undecipherable neon signs everywhere, with a swarming mass of people who spoke a language (cultural and linguistic) so very different from my own. I made the most amazing friends, and discovered so much (the Sichuan food cravings haven’t gone away and random Mandarin words still pop into my head).

It was a hugely enriching experience and despite constant homesickness, we got hooked on expat life, moving from Beijing to London via the unique, pulsating city of Hong Kong. And got married and had two kids somewhere in between all the packing and unpacking of suitcases.

What was it, eight years later, that made us come back? Perhaps the smogginess of Asia and the sogginess of Britain wore us down. Perhaps we became jaded from having to reinvent ourselves with every move. Maybe it was the grind of raising young kids with little help far from home. Or the yearning for unfathomably big blue skies, waking to the squawk of a hadeda, and the comfort of being with people who know you, your history, warts and all.

Being back, there have been a few crises of confidence in the future of our country. Some minor niggles – a brief panic over load shedding (that never took place), and generally adapting to the less sophisticated infrastructure. Some not so minor – the Pistorius trial dominating the news, Nkandla. And a major niggle – stories of crime affecting those close to us.

Socially, we haven’t just slipped back into our old lives. Not that we imagined friends would be clamouring round fighting to get a piece of us, but things have changed and people have moved on. Much of this is a stage-of-life thing, where people have turned inward to focus on raising their families. We’ve done the same. Nonetheless, we’re having to carve out a new space for ourselves.

One of the hardest things to reconcile is the disparity in the lives of the haves and the have-nots. This uncomfortable truth cannot easily be ignored. The short stretch of road on my daily school run is like a microcosm of life here, where wealth and desperate poverty coexist. Moments after you pass an exclusive gated community cosseting the privileged minority, you’re left contemplating life behind the high walls of one of the country’s most notorious prisons.

This being my first Cape winter in eight years, I realise how much I’ve missed the stormy north-wester and pelting rain that makes everything sparkly green. Rugged up on the sofa, there is also the lurking thought that many are not warm and dry. And so it goes. Gratitude, and guilt, back and forth, round and round.

It’s these issues that have made me flip-flop constantly over whether to stay away or return and the reason why, even after our tickets home were booked, I was still on the lookout for reassurance that we were doing the right thing. I was heartened when the moving company commented on a surge in families returning to Cape Town; encouraged by local media reporting on a ‘brain gain’ with many expats returning.

My feelings, I think, echo those of many in the South African diaspora. Their longing for home is palpable, even while they bash the country from afar and make gloomy predictions about it imploding.

But here we are, and as the months go by I’m less focused on fortifying our house, fretting instead about whether the boys will get into good schools and where to find paraphernalia for Easter bonnets or stokies for winter.

My kids are thriving under these African skies and I love admiring their mozzie-bitten ankles, bruised shins and sun kissed skin. I feel totally energized after time spent with fellow South Africans who love this place and refuse to focus only on the negative. On voting day this year I felt a sense of belonging I’ve not had anywhere else. There was an air of optimism that was uplifting.

Ultimately, it’s not about this place trumping that place, or choosing the right place. It’s about home, and where that is for you. And despite my fickleness towards this beautiful, spirited country, it is undeniably my home, and the only place in this wide world I’ve felt like sinking roots deep into the earth.

 

The Worm Whisperer

The Worm Whisperer

A friend recently asked how to get started with worm farming and, honestly, I couldn’t answer, as my brother set it all up for me. If there’s a guy who knows a thing or two about worms, it’s him. Being knee-deep in worm muck is his happy place.

He helped me put together this handy how-to for anyone keen to get started. Be warned though – it’s addictive. Once you harvest that first batch of black gold, there’s no turning back, you’ll never throw your food waste in the bin again. Here we go…

What your worms will need

  • Like us, worms need oxygen to breathe, which they do through their skin.
  • Darkness. Too much exposure to light slows down the decomposition process; it might drive them away or even kill them.
  • Organic waste (balanced between ‘greens’ such as fruit and vegetable waste and ‘browns’ such as egg cartons).
  • A temperature of anywhere between 10 – 35 degrees celsius. They tolerate cold better than heat, so your bin should never be in direct sunlight.

Choosing a bin
A number of options are available — from fancy shop bought systems to a plastic tub with holes punched into the lid. Plastic bins are probably easiest and most convenient because they’re durable, lightweight and easy to come by (though try use food grade plastics to prevent chemicals leaching into your compost). One drawback of plastic — the air flow isn’t good so you’ll need to manage your feeding schedule carefully to prevent anaerobic conditions being created.

Wooden bins provide the best aeration for your system (again, look out for pressure/chemical treated woods). Other options such as cinder blocks or bricks work well too but are cumbersome and fairly permanent.

Setting up your bin

  1. Create a bedding of organic matter — torn up egg cartons, toilet rolls, shredded newspaper (avoid the glossy stuff) or store bought coconut coir. Soil directly from your garden will be too heavy for the worms and probably contaminate the bin.
  2. Add some food. You can include anything organic that will decompose — fruit and vegetable peels and scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and tea bags. Don’t include meat, dairy or bones as this will attract pests.
  3. Let the bin stand for at least a week before introducing any worms.
  4. Start SLOW. People have a tendency to over feed in the beginning, but only add new food when most of the previous batch has been eaten. After a month or so you’ll get a feel for how quickly your worms can process waste.
  5. If you opt for plastic bins, a popular choice are stackable meat trays, as this allows you to grow your worm system as you go. Here’s how you do it:
    • Start with three (same-sized) trays. The bottom one will be for collecting any liquid run-off that comes out your bin. You can install a tap to help remove it.
    • The next level would be your feeding tray. This is where most of your worms will be, happily eating, growing and breeding.
    • If you want, add a third tray on top. This acts as a lid to keep out light and a means of separating your worms from your compost when the middle tray is full. The middle and top tray should have holes (about 6-8mm) drilled into the base to allow the worms to migrate to the top tray when the middle one is full.

Some Do’s

  1. Food waste releases moisture when it decomposes but a light sprinkle with a watering can will help ensure the entire bin is moist. But don’t over do it, you don’t want it soaked, as this will reduce oxygen in the system.
  2. Feeding: little and often is best. Anything from once a week to daily, depending on your level of involvement.
  3. Place the bin in a sheltered space, preferably covered, so it doesn’t get wet. Cover food scraps with shredded newspaper (hand-torn is fine); this helps keep fruit flies at bay.
  4. If you can, freeze your food scraps beforehand (allow to fully thaw before feeding); this will kill any fruit fly eggs and accelerate the decomposition process.
  5. If you add lots of egg shells, dry them out either in the sun or oven and crush them before adding. It’s not vital but will give your final product a better looking finish!

Some don’ts

  1. Check up on them too often. Constant disturbances will slow down their eating habits
  2. Place in direct sun
  3. Feed too much citrus, as it’s too acidic
  4. Feed pineapple and papaya seeds, as they can kill your worms. Rather save these for your traditional compost pile.

Troubleshooting

  1. Peek in your bin regularly (but not everyday). You should see rotting food and lots of worms wriggling about. It should be moist, and there might be other little critters crawling around. Common bin friends are springtails, mites (only a problem in excessive numbers), spiders, woodlice, the odd slug, small (not large) beetles, and centipedes (these can prey on worms but shouldn’t be a problem if you spot just one or two).
  2. Your worm bin is healthy if there is no smelly odour
  3. Conversely, it’s unhealthy if it smells bad! In this case it’s probably been fed too much and has gone anaerobic. Stop feeding the bin. Remove any uneaten food and gently turn your bedding in a few spots, adding torn egg cartons to neutralise it. After a week or so your bin should return to normal.

Sourcing your worms
Most good nurseries stock them. A small bucket of just worms (ie no soil or bin) will set you back about R350. If you’re impatient to get started or have some cash to spare, you could buy a ready-to-go system – ie the worms, already in soil, in a worm bin. That’ll set you back anything from R1,200 to R2,000.

Or, simply google ‘worms for sale in South Africa’ — suppliers change their prices depending on availability, so shop around for the best prices.

black gold
After months and months of cold composting we recently harvested two huge buckets of the most beautiful, dense, rich, organic compost, pictured above. Unlike hot composting, where you can harvest after a couple of weeks, with cold composting, it’s a much longer game, but still totally worth it.

Head over here for a step-by-step guide to hot composting. Here for the differences between a worm bin, a bokashi system and a regular compost bin. And here for a post on why composting is like therapy for me.

Wild and waste-free!

Wild and waste-free!

 

If you’re keen to whittle down your waste but unsure where to start, get yourself to the sleepy, scenic suburb of Glencairn on Saturdays. The Wild & Waste-free Food & Lifestyle Co-op stocks the essentials to get you up and running  — stainless steel and bamboo straws, reusable produce bags, unpackaged soaps and body products and toxic-free household cleaners (which you can decant into your own containers).

All those glass jars you’ve been stockpiling? Take them along and stock up on nuts, grains, seeds and pulses, gluten-free pasta and dried fruit (I also spotted cassava flour and baobab). There’s locally & ethically sourced fresh produce and flowers, honey (not on-tap, but in large recycled jars), and a smattering of delicious snacks like samosas and date balls.

Unless you live in the Deep South, it’s quite a drive, but make a morning of it! Combine it with a stroll on Fish Hoek beach, a Scratch Patch outing, a day at Boulders or a mooch around Simon’s Town. Even if you go just to kickstart your waste free journey, or need motivation to keep going, it’s well worth the trip.

The Co-op is in its Pilot Phase with many of the vendors on hand if you want the scoop on how their products are made. Hugely passionate Jade Khoury, the force behind the Co-op, is also around to help and inspire.

We’re looking forward to hearing more from Jade soon! Watch this space…

unpackaged soap
I love my lotions and potions, but it’s time to consolidate and experiment with less toxic, unpackaged products. Not sure I’ll ever be a one-bar-for-everything kind of girl, but shower gels and packaged soaps? So over them!
household cleaners
I recently loaded my trolley with bottles of Handy Andy, bleach and other effective but noxious household cleaners, and just knew it was time for them to go. Much as I love sparking, gleaming surfaces, I’m keen on the idea of just one cleaner in a reusable spray bottle to tackle the grease, grit and grime. Will let you know how this works out!
toothpaste
I do love the tingle of toothpaste, but I’m going to give this my best shot, as I love the idea of re-using this little jar, instead of tubes and tubes (and tubes!) of store-bought paste.

You can check out the Wild & Waste-free Co-op Facebook page here.

On raising heathens

On raising heathens

Lately, I’ve been fielding lots of questions about religion from my kids; I’ve bumbled them all. My 4 year old, from the back seat of the car on the school run ‘But why did those people want to kill Jesus?’

And my 7 year old, who’s been combing through a Children’s Bible he got for his first birthday. ‘Jesus couldn’t really walk on water, could he?’ Like his Dad (and unlike me), he is ruled by logic. If it doesn’t make sense, it just doesn’t hold up. Then, after a recent school outing to a Mosque, ‘Am I a Christian or a Muslim?’

We could’ve sent our boys to the secular school across the road (boy, would that have been easier) but instead we schlepp across town so they can go to a traditional school with sound Christian values. I’m not a Christian, and my husband, like most of the people I know, is what I’d call a cultural Christian — born into a Christian family but not necessarily a Christian at heart, or a practicing Christian.

I did go to a Convent primary school and a Christian high school. To this day hymns (particularly those solemn Catholic ones) move me to tears, and I love going to Church. I think Jesus’s message was beautiful, but I’m also drawn to Buddhism. Without knowing why, I’ve always had a statue of the Buddha in my bedroom; it’s only recently, since I’ve delved deeper into Buddhist doctrine, that I understand why. For me, it speaks directly to the pitfalls of our frenzied, modern world, and gives practical tools for finding calm in the storm. The Baha’i Faith, my mom’s religion, has some wonderful beliefs too, like equality of the sexes,  harmony of science and religion, the unity of humankind.

It’s easy to be cynical about organised religion — after all, wars have been fought in its name, and some religious institutions are corrupt and rife with hypocrisy. But religion (or is it faith, I tend to confound the two) is a beautiful way to make sense of an uncertain world. Often it provides solace where nothing else can.  If, in your heart you believe in a particular faith and all its teachings, how comforting that must be.

Beyond being spiritual creatures, humans crave a sense of belonging. Religion, with it’s associated rituals and cultural practices, provides just that. Christmas is a time of family and togetherness, whether you’re thinking about those pressies under the tree or reflecting on the birth of Jesus. Likewise with Easter — for many, it’s as much about holidays and gorging on chocolate and Easter egg hunts than it is about remembering the death of Christ. It can be a sacred time, or one devoid of any religious beliefs; either way, it’s a time for the tribe to gather, and it gives you a sense of your place in the world.

But, back to those questions. What on earth do you teach a curious young soul about religion, if you don’t have one yourself? If, like many people who don’t belong to an organised religion like to say —  you’re ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Kids need guidance, some kind of compass with which to navigate the world, and they like certainty. But maybe it’s okay for them to know that there aren’t any solid answers; religion is a deeply personal journey, one they’ll have to take themselves. Their faith, if they have one, may be continually tested, but that’s part of the unpredictability and beauty of the human experience.

I told my 7 year old he doesn’t have to decide now; there are many religions in the world, and they all teach us important things. I wish I’d have remembered my favourite quote about religion, which beautifully encapsulates what I’d like to teach my kids, whether or not they’re baptised (they’re not), or we go to Church (we don’t):

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
-Dalai Lama

Notes from a Luddite

Notes from a Luddite

If someone had told you, back in the eighties, when we were tearing around (unsupervised) on our BMX’s, that when we were adults, we’d be addicted to hand-held (incessantly beeping) electronic devices that would connect us to each other 24/7, you’d have scarcely believed it. The words digital detox would have been a tough one to wrap your head around.

And yet I’ve just emerged from a 10 day screen hiatus; it was just the re-jig I needed. It’s not so much that I was spending too much time on social media — more that the constant distraction would derail me from whatever I was doing, or meant to be doing.

After mindlessly scrolling through my feeds, I’d be left feeling unsatiated and no richer for having done it (often I’d feel creepy and stalkerish for checking out the posts of people I scarcely knew, or didn’t know at all – the old-school equivalent of reading someone’s diary).

Facebook feeds can also be discombobulating. Scrolling from hot bods in bikinis, to a horrific crime story; cute faces of babies interspersed with pleas to sign petitions. It’s a melange of news/fake news, exhibitionism, trivia, entertainment, political insights and opinions that can boggle the mind.

Also — and perhaps most importantly — I was setting a very bad example for my kids. Monkey see, monkey do right? There are a glut of studies revealing how technology stunts our kids growth and development; the results are bleak. My boys are still young so I haven’t even begun to navigate the real minefield of technology. I hear it gets trickier, and riskier. Social media, gaming and cyber bullying? Lordy!

Steve Jobs was apparently a low-tech parent; he famously commented that he doesn’t let his kids use iPads. I’ve read many tech engineers are similar, sending their children to tech-free schools and restricting their usage at home. The fact that the inventors of those little tyrants in our pockets give them a wide berth surely gives us pause for thought.

The dialogue around technology’s hold over our lives is not likely to subside — it’s here to stay, so we need to find ways to exist peacefully with it. And of course, screens aren’t all bad. Curling up on a winter’s day watching David Attenborough with my kids — bliss. Listening to my husband and boys scream at the screen during rugby matches? Heartwarming. Flicking on Paw Patrol when I desperately need to send an email or am craving some alone time? Sanity saver. iPads on planes and trains? Only fair on the other passengers. And it’s pretty darn fantastic being able to connect with friends, family and like-minded peeps any time of any day.

My approach these days after my (very productive!) detox — dip in and out, every now and then — don’t hover too long or get sucked in too deep. Keep it sporadic rather than regular. Enjoy the modern miracle that is the interweb, but keep it firmly reigned in.