When it hurts like a hot turd

When the ideas or the words aren’t flowing, my favourite way to procrastinate is to read about writing. According to Hemingway ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ Charles Bukowski advises ‘Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.’

Those words always makes me feel infinitely better; if it’s agony for the greats, imagine the pain for struggling mortals.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to dealing with writer’s block. The first is to just buckle down and write. Sit in front of the computer and allow whatever puerile thing you have to say find it’s way onto the screen; it might not be useable but it’ll help loosen your writing muscle.

The second recommends stepping away. Your ideas may be half formed and need time to percolate and bubble up to the surface. They’re more likely to do this when you’re completely absorbed in something other than writing. Ideally something full-bodied and in-the-moment (dancing, surfing, cooking). But something meditative like going for a walk or cleaning the house can also work. As can mundane things like dealing with admin or filing. The point is to stop writing for a while.
quote-anne-lamott

 

During dry spells, I also try be mindful of that old adage that everything in life has a rhythm. There are peaks and troughs, things wax and wane. I sit tight and try keep the faith that the wheel will turn (and hope inspiration doesn’t come knocking in the middle of dinner and bedtime mayhem, as it’s wont to do).

 

They’ll de-vibe my vibe, still, these 5 eco-documentaries are on my list

Few of us need convincing that our planet is in peril (well, except….there’s that guy in the White House). The picture is often painted in broad strokes though. We have a notion that catastrophes are taking place — temperatures are rising, icecaps melting, flora and fauna are becoming extinct — but we may not know the specifics of what is causing it.

If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of climate issues, or drill down into the particulars (which behaviours are causing what destruction), there’s no shortage of documentaries out there.

Eco-documentaries are heavy going; it’s dire to contemplate the path we’re on, and most focus on the doom and gloom rather than the positive shifts taking place. But, sometimes, they give us a much-needed kick in the ass — we may be haunted by an image or stunned by a statistic, or suddenly make the connection between A and B — which in turn compels us to do that one small thing or make that one tiny change. And hopefully it snowballs from there.

Not light viewing, but these are on my list……

What’s on yours?
What are your must-sees?

Coffee With: Rhian Berning

Next up in our ‘Coffee With’ series, wonderfully uplifting words from Rhian Berning, founder of Eco Atlas.


Rhian Berning pic

Why do you do what you do?
I am so in love with our small blue planet and the deeply interconnected life on it, from the praying mantis to the rolling whales, from rainstorms to mossy forest floors, and all the diverse people that together form part of the intricate web of life.

Yet I’ve had a deep feeling and knowing for as long as I can remember that we really can do better as a species, that we’ve taken a wrong turn down our evolutionary  pathway, based on greed and short term benefits, and we’re rapidly unravelling the very living systems on which we depend.

I find it exciting that there are better, more innovative ways of doing things, that there are people doing them and that their stories need to be told because, added together, all those positive actions become a powerful wave of change that can turn our current trajectory. That’s why I do what I do. Eco Atlas is all about telling the good news stories, empowering people with information and connecting active citizens with the businesses that meet their needs for a better future.

If you weren’t an environmental activist, what would you be?
President. Ha ha, just kidding, although I am itching to have the ability to create more proactive positive change and I think the world would do well with more of the incredible, inspiring women we know in positions of power.  But realistically….I love working with children – their interface with each other and the world around them, their purity, their curious minds, their sense of wonder for our complex world and their ability to find solutions is inspiring and needs to be nurtured and stimulated.

The 3 books that have had the biggest impact on you?
Revolution by Russell Brand
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My Year of Meat by Ruth Ozeki
(okay that was 4)

A quote you love?
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ― Arundhati Roy

Your perfect getaway – forest treehouse or beach shack?
Well we live on the edge of beautiful indigenous forest so I get my forest fix. Our ultimate getaway is most definitely a beach shack, we are all at our happiest when we are salty, sun kissed and barefoot.

Your favourite way to recharge?
Lying in a hammock with a good book at one of the many isolated cottages we love to frequent, with access to pure nature and no cell reception, watching my children soaking up the landscape.

Top of your bucket list?
When I had just finished varsity I headed up Africa on my own traveling by train, bus, minibus and boat and it was the freest and most connected to my continent I have ever felt. My time staying with the Masai as the only mzungu and experiencing the balanced rhythm of village life was especially formative. I would love to head off with my children and husband and explore our own beautiful country and continent slowly, slowly.

Advice you’d give your 16 year old self?
Follow your intuition, don’t worry about what other people think, remember to be here now and seize the day, do what makes you happy, a swim in the sea is a cure for many things, remember to breathe, treasure your children when they are young.

Your favourite ‘wild’ place in the city?
In the Mother City it would have to be in the dappled light of a Keurboom tree on the soft grassy banks of Silvermine Dam. In my hometown of Plett it would be any of my favourite wild hideouts in Nature’s Valley.

Humanity in a hundred years — where do you think we’ll be? 
That is a very topical question! Stephen Hawking reckons that if we have not found an alternative planet within the next 100 years it’s not looking so good for us humans here on Planet Earth. I am more hopeful that enough of us will swing the status quo and innovate, regenerate and grow a verdant, abundant,stronger and better system that is in sync with all life on Earth.

Your source of strength when the going gets tough?
The effervescent, contagious laughter of my children that gives our whole family a good belly laugh round the supper table.

For you, winning at life is ……….
Being happy and healthy, living simply and sustainably and having a positive impact on the world around you.

What you’d still love to accomplish in this life?
Inspire people to realize their own power to make better choices for people and planet until we reach a tipping point – a critical mass for enduring good with highly functioning regenerative systems that positively feedback into the interconnected web of life.

Why I quit Plastic Free July

Straws!
I flunked Plastic Free July. Quite spectacularly. I tripped up on the first morning (yep, didn’t even make it to lunch time), again in the afternoon and a few times soon after that.

I felt like a right tool as there’d been some build-up on my social media (a bolshy ‘Coming atcha Plastic Free July’ on my Instagram just a few days earlier). I picked myself up, dusted myself off and dived back in. Only to be scuppered by a wretched fizzer after my son’s swimming lesson and a moment of weakness, an inability to resist my favourite (plastic covered!) magazine.

More beating myself up. And a healthy dollop of apprehension about our upcoming holiday (one where we’ll be on the move, staying with people and completely out of our routine).

So I decided to throw in the towel. At first it felt like copping out; like I was diluting my efforts for the sake of convenience. But it just wasn’t working and it was time for a recalibration.

Challenges such as Plastic Free July are not meant to be easy. I guess that’s the point – to challenge and even frustrate you, and, in this case, to create awareness around just how pervasive plastic is. Some people get it right, not just in July but Every Damn Day (check out the Zero Waste Home and Trash is for Tossers sites). We need the trailblazers and the purists — they show us what’s possible; their invaluable tips and tricks pave the way for the rest of us.  We may not succeed in completely emulating them, but it’s somewhere to start and we can do what we can, when we can.

My strategy moving forward? Pick a thing – one thing – and hone in on it until it becomes ingrained. Plastic shopping bags – it was a process but now I’m done with them; it’s overs cadovers; the reusable bags are now an effortless part of my routine. Ditto the glass water bottles.

Next up – straws! Sometimes we get it right and remember to say those three magic words (‘No straws, please’), sometimes we don’t. We’ll just keep at it, until, eventually, we remember every (or most) times.

Plastic toothbrushes and cosmetic bottles? I’ll get round to ditching them too, eventually.

Also, it’s important to keep some perspective. Slip up? Move on quickly and focus on what you have done. I’d done some wonderful prepping in June — sourced and started using my closest bulk store, invested in reusable produce bags and stocked up on my glass jars, so, in a way, Plastic Free July did it’s thing on me. I just didn’t want to be lugging around all that guilt every time my kids asked for a mint.

I feel wonderfully unburdened. I can ditch the guilt — and the plastic!

 

Coffee With: Hayley McLellan

I’m super excited about ‘Coffee With’, a new series of Q&A’s with local eco-warriors committed to making the world just a little greener and wilder.

Plastic Free July is a few days away, so it seems fitting that our first Q&A is with Hayley McLellan, environmental campaigner and founder of Rethink the Bag. Here’s a little about the woman on a mission to get the plastic bag banned in South Africa.

Hayley Mclellan

Why do you do what you do?
Over my years of being involved with animal care and behaviour, the creatures inspired me to seek to know more about our natural world. In knowing more I found that I naturally cared so much more. By caring in this deeper manner, I found myself moved to take personal actions for a healthier environment.

Being a custodian of our earth can feel so overwhelming in our everyday life full of its challenges, and defend it is exactly what each of us should be doing. It motivates me to communicate simple ways ordinary people can feel empowered to make small changes in their daily living yet still affect big change.

If you weren’t an environmental campaigner, what would you be?
I strongly feel I would be involved in the world of dance as I had enjoyed this my entire youth. When I began my (accidental) environmental career, in the late 80’s, I turned down an opportunity to audition for a dance company. It was a real moment of “sliding doors” for me in which I found myself enamoured with the offer of becoming a dolphin trainer, and chose to walk through that door. The rest is history. I still attend many dance shows and dream about what could have been though.

The 3 books that have had the biggest impact on you? 
There have been so many, but these spring to mind:
The Natural Way
by Mark and Mary-Ann Shearer
Blessed Unrest  Paul Hawken
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

A quote you love?
‘Life is tough, suffering is optional’

Your perfect getaway – forest treehouse or beach shack?
Tough! Forest treehouse.

Your favourite way to recharge?
An after work stroll along the Sea Point promenade, easily accessible every day!

Top of your bucket list?
Travel to Alaska.

Advice you’d give your 16 year old self?
30 year olds are not old and one day, anytime in your 40’s, you will still feel 30ish!

Your favourite ‘wild’ place in the city?
Hiking a mountain trail or Kirstenbosch Gardens.

Humanity in a hundred years — where do you think we’ll be?
After reading Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest many years ago, I felt uplifted in that there are so many incredible and effective environmental and humanitarian movements taking place globally. In all of the everyday bad news and turmoil, I find this author’s insights very encouraging, especially related to the work that I engage with daily.

Ecoanxiety officially exists and one of the ways I deal with this occasional malady is to keep sight of what’s going right with the world. I believe that tipping points will continue to occur that will create a humanity that focuses on value-centric living which equates to more win, win, win in terms of people, planet, profit.

Your source of strength when the going gets tough?
Home to our family farm in northern KZN. There is truly nowhere else that feeds my soul the way being there does.

For you, winning at life is ……….
Experiencing and witnessing harmonious relationships between people and nature; A South Africa that acknowledges equal opportunities for all, poverty alleviation and a booming economy.

What you’d still love to accomplish in this life?
No brainer! A plastic shopping bag free South Africa!

*You can read about Hayley’s work at the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Rethink the Bag Campaign here.

Get EcoBricking!

Ever wondered what to do with those pesky bits of unrecyclable plastic so they don’t end up in landfill? EcoBrick them!

EcoBricks

Ian Dommisse of EcoBrick Exchange gave me the scoop on what exactly EcoBricks are and how to make them. Here’s the lowdown:

What are EcoBricks?
Essentially, it’s a technology to replace traditional building bricks. EcoBricks are 2 liter plastic bottles stuffed with unrecyclable plastic. The concept was born in Guatemala after a major flood created an urgent need to rebuild houses. The bricks are not load bearing, so they need to sit as a fill within a concrete or steel structure, making them particularly well-suited for insulation purposes or for use in multi-storey structures.

Bright and cheerful, the bricks are used to make raised garden beds, benches, furniture and other structures such as play centres. A recent project includes the building of a Learn and Play Centre in Port Elizabeth – a collaborative (and super inspiring!) project which you can read about here.

How are they made?
Once you have a stash of unrecyclable plastic — sweet wrappers, plastic bags, food packaging, foil, photos, cling wrap, polystyrene, toothpaste and cosmetic tubes, plastic straws, elastics, and small plastic toys (Stikeez!) — you’re good to go:

  • Clean the plastic and begin compressing it into a 2 liter coke (or other) bottle
  • Use a stick to pack each layer as tightly as you can; it needs to be firm. You shouldn’t be able to squish it with one hand, or more than around one tenth of its weight
  • It’s best to use bottles of the same size and to keep them out the sun
  • Once your brick/s are done, you can take them to one of the drop-off points around the country. Keep an eye on the EcoBrick Exchange website for a growing list, but for now, here’s where you can drop-off:

Cape Town
– Montebello Design Centre (Newlands)
– Gugu S’thebe (Langa)
– Health Connection (Fish Hoek)
– The Daily Grinder (Simon’s Town)
– Foragers (Scarborough)
Port Elizabeth
– The Re-trade Project (Walmer)
Johannesburg
– Wecreate (Maboneng)
Pretoria
– Mamelodi West Community Hall

Building communities
EcoBricking is a novel way to reduce litter and divert waste from our toxic, heaving landfills, which are fast running out of airspace. But it doesn’t just have environmental benefits. EcoBrick Exchange, the NGO spearheading the technology, run various projects for government, schools, NGO’s and corporates, and most programmes have a job creation component built in. The response from across South Africa has been amazing; communities have been mobilised to get EcoBricking — protecting the environment and learning new skills in the process.

It’s an informal, untested technology so there’s been some red tape in getting projects off the ground – but its gaining momentum and EcoBrick Exchange are continually experimenting with new technologies (such as wobble blocks) and refining their various programmes.

Learn more and get involved!
To see some of the beautiful creations yourself you can visit the Guga S’thebe Arts and Cultural Centre in Langa, the site of many workshops and a storage facility for the bricks.

To hear about upcoming workshops and events, keep an eye on the EcoBrick Facebook page here.

And if you’d like to get your school involved or open up a drop off point please email the EcoBrick team at info@ecobrickexchange.org with your idea in the subject line.

EcoBrick Tower
A tower of EcoBricks!
How to make an EcoBrick ppt
Handy EcoBricking graphic

 

 

That old chestnut

It’s a conversation my farm boy and I have a lot. It came up in our cramped Beijing and Hong Kong quarters; again in our quaint London terrace, and now more than ever it seems, when we’re lucky enough to sneak away for a country getaway.

A night away at Old Mac Daddy in Elgin is enough to send anyone’s hankering-for-a-patch-of-land into overdrive. Country life as the antidote to the stresses and strains wrought by the city? A quixotic idea perhaps, but one I see lingering.

It was bitingly cold, the air was pristine and the light golden. One night in our funky airstream trailer felt like a week it was so restorative; still, it wasn’t enough and we’ll definitely be back, for longer next time.

5 reasons to stick to seasonal

bowl of orangesWhen we lived in Hong Kong I found the expat supermarkets mind boggling. Talk about being spoilt for choice. Not much grows in this high-density concrete jungle yet browse the aisles of their supermarkets and there’s very little you can’t find. In season, out of season, every delicacy from every corner of the globe.

As wonderful as it is to live in the southern hemisphere and eat berries in winter, it’s far from a carbon neutral experience. Many miles are covered and many fossil fuels burnt to get those berries to you – plus untold amounts of pesticides sprayed to ensure they arrive looking pert and fresh.

Eating what’s in season, I’m learning more and more, has few (if any) downsides and scores of upsides. Here, in a nutshell, are just some of them:

  • Grown in the right conditions, seasonal food can be picked when ripe and is therefore fresher, juicier and a whole lot more flavourful
  • The journey from soil to plate is short and low on air miles
  • You’ll be supporting the local economy by buying from local farmers, growers and artisanal food producers
  • Variety. And getting back in tune with our natural cycles and rhythms. We were designed to eat certain foods at certain times of year. For example, watermelon and juicy fruit to hydrate in the hot summer months and leafy greens to strengthen our immunity before the winter months.
  • Supplies are high so it’s cheaper!

Still not convinced? Read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral for inspiration and great seasonal cooking tips.

And check back here soon for my Cape Town seasonal eating chart.

#BrownIsTheNewGreen

My Dad smoked when we were kids and I remember one birthday conspiring with my mom and sisters to get him his dream present, a carton of Camel Filter cigarettes. We were properly chuffed with ourselves. Looking at photos of our parties around the same time, I can’t help but chuckle at the bottles of coke strewn across the table.

These days smokers are pariahs who’ve been banished outdoors and few of us willingly ply our kids with sugar. There’ve been shifts in thinking and we’ve learnt a few lessons.

I imagine our own kids, when they’re adults, are going to be mind-blown by our frivolous attitude towards water. They’ll scarcely believe we watered our gardens and flushed our loos with precious drinking water. Or grew tropical plants in a Mediterranean climate. Perhaps the image of us cavorting in our pools will trigger the same smug disapproval we have when we imagine our mums smoking while pregnant or chauffeuring us sans carseats.

Cape Town is up shit creek after reportedly the worst drought in a century. Stage 4 water restrictions come into effect on 1st June and social media is in overdrive – with sobering official warnings, photos of our depleted dams, and countless water saving tips, much of it quite useful.

If there’s one upside of the drought it’s the conversations we’ve been forced to have, and the solutions we’ve had to implement.​ A mere 8 months ago, as a family, we were quite oblivious, and as a result careless, irrigating with Council water and luxuriating in regular baths. Now, it seems, there’s a new normal as people retrofit their homes and adapt to the water shortages.

But will it stick?

I wonder where we’ll be in say three to five years time, or after a few soggy winters. Reverted to our old ways with our immaculate lawns and sparkling swimming pools? Or will we have wisened up.

South Africa is a water scarce country, the 30th driest in the world. Our exploding population and changing weather patterns are putting huge strain on all our resources, not just our water.

Fan out further still, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of humanity’s demands on our straining little planet. The Water Project estimates that nearly 1 billion people on the planet do not have access to safe, clean water, yet for most of us reading this, contemplating life without water has an end-of-days feeling; it’s a very unsettling thought.

Can we even conceive of what will happen if we open the taps one day and they’ve run dry?

Ways of being

succulentThe anthropologist in me is always fascinated by alternate ways of seeing and doing. A writing assignment on waste management a few years ago was something of a turning point for me, as it brought home just how destructive our lifestyle of excess and waste is. It kickstarted a desire to tread a little lighter; to learn how to do things a bit differently.Since then, I’ve stumbled upon minimalism, the zero waste movement, urban farming, permaculture – whole new worlds are being opened up. These schools of thought all feed into each other, offering alternatives to our consumer-mad society, and I’m dabbling in them all as I figure out what resonates, what sticks, and what’ll get us closer to living just a bit greener and wilder in our sliver of suburbia.

In her food forest in the heart of the suburbs, Saskia Schelling of Urban Farmstead grows an abundance of fruit and veggies; it’s a thriving model of permaculture. Here she sheds some light on what permaculture is:

What is permaculture?
“For me that’s like asking ‘What is Life?’ ​The term Permaculture – Permanent Agriculture or Permanent Culture – was​ coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, then later taken on by Geoff Lawton and others.

Permaculture is a highly effective way to design for a future of abundance, not just of food, but in every sense of the word. ​It’s often defined as ‘the ​conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems and human living environments, which have the diversity, stability, and the strength of natural eco-systems.’

What this means is that ​permaculture design mimic​s​ nature in every sense – the natural laws, the organising principles and the patterns and interconnections that naturally occur in ecosystems.

Permaculture isn’t just about growing great organic veggies –  although of course it does encompass these things. Neither is it a ‘plug and paste’ solution (ie one solution fits all environments).

The power of observation​
The permaculture principles, one of which is Observation, need to be applied to each and every site. You ​need to observe the soil ph, the natural biomes, the plants, azimuths, contours, ​people, land uses, natural vegetation, and insects.

Part of the beauty is that the actual design and solutions appear out of the process. If you follow all the design steps systematically, the design seems to present itself miraculously. The layers and layers of ‘data’ gathered through observation are overlaid and this, together with the visions and wishes of the stakeholders, informs the mainframe design.

For example, after mapping and observation, it’ll become obvious that a soggy, marshy part of a property is not the best place to erect a house – instead, it may be the perfect place to build a dam perhaps, or plant water-loving plants.

Nothing in isolation
Permaculture also takes into account the economic, social and environmental aspects of a habitat. ​ It’s ​principles ​can be used​ to shift stale or ​stagnant working environments into healthy, vibrant, flowing, productive ones. It serves as a basis from which to make holistic, viable decisions, whether in corporate or private arenas.

The ​are three permaculture ethics which are key to healthy interactions with the earth and with each other. They are Care for the land; Care for the people; and Share the Surplus.

To read about Saskia’s super inspiring story and find out about upcoming workshops, see here. And to learn more about Permaculture in South Africa, have a look at Love Green Permaculture.