The problem with consumerism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

consumerism1We do this not because it is the only way to meet our needs but because we live in an economy which requires us to consume more every year or it implodes and can't meet anyone's needs.

At the moment the entire global economy seems to be built on the model of digging things up from one hole in the ground on one side of the Earth, transporting them around the world, using them for a few days, and then sticking them into a hole in the ground on the other side of the world.

We have, by now, more or less, been programed to perform in exactly that model, and all so that the economy can keep growing without manufacturers having to come up with new products really. And that is aside from all of the, mostly unnecessary, packaging.

Consumerism has so much become part of the (new) capitalist model that it is destroying the Planet right before our eyes but we either, because of having been programed in that way already, are not prepared to go another way, cannot see another way, or, and that is more often than not the case, feel powerless to do anything about it.

It has been said that capitalism carries the seed of war in itself like clouds carry rain, but to that we should add that it also carries the seed of planetary destruction in itself in the same way.

So, what is the answer? Simply put it is that we need a new system. The capitalist economic model of perpetual growth via predestined and pre-programed obsolescence can no longer – in fact it never could – function on a finite Planet.

Is socialism the answer? Maybe, then maybe not, as it would very much depend on the model that is being applied. The socialism and communism that we have, mostly, seen in the past – with a few exceptions – have not been proper socialism or communism but state capitalism and whether it is private capitalism or state capitalism, it still is capitalism.

Though, having said that, due to lack of resources mostly, many of the socialist countries, such as the German Democratic Republic, however, produced consumer goods that were made to last, in the main, such as, per example, the RG28 kitchen machine, made in the GDR, that still, after 40 years, is doing its duty in many a kitchen. The reason? It is made well and repairable, even by a user with some tinkering ability.

It has to be said, also, that until about the 1980s most products, also in the West, were made more or less in a similar way in that they could be easily repaired and the repair economy also existed. Today, if repair is possible, it is made so expensive that the real option for most people is to toss the old and buy new. The system is designed in that way nowadays and that deliberately. It is called built-in obsolescence. In other words the system is designed in such a way – and the products – that after a given time they either break down and cannot be repaired, or repair being too expensive or, in the case of computers, are no longer hardware compatible with software, and thus have to be replaced. This is how the current economic model functions and that means that we, the consumer, have to buy the same product, with some modifications, over and over again.

In fact it is not a problem with consumerism that we have, although there is an element of that in it as well, but a problem with the economic system which is designed to grow through us, the consumer, having to, as said above, the same product, with some modifications, over and over again, because of (1) that the products are made to break down and (2) that they have also been designed not to be repairable or repair being too costly.

By means of this model the economy grows, but to the detriment of the Planet as well as our finances. And does the economy actually really grow when this is the case? While, on the outside, it may appear to do so in all honesty, as we have to buy the same thing over and over again, it does not really make for real and honest growth. Just for well massaged figures, so to speak.

Unfortunately, as long as the system is skewed like this we have very little choice, unless we can afford it, to buy in the way we are being forced to do. The alternative, though much more expensive, is to buy well-made, ideally made in our own respective countries, products. Products that are made to last and that can be repaired and hand-made goods. But who has that kind of money as that does not come cheap?

Well-made, and especially hand-made, is not cheap because a great deal of work time goes into making each and every product, and this even more so with hand-made than with just well-made. That is the difference between mass-produced goods produced outsources in countries such as China and others. Already mass-produced goods in our own countries are more expensive and that is due to labor costs, and years ago that would have also been due to quality, though that is no longer necessarily the case.

Most consumer goods, nowadays, are produced as consumables, to be used once or a couple of times and then discarded, because they are either outdated, worn out, broken and too expensive to repair, etc., and we have to buy new. That is, however, the way the system is skewed against, us, the consumer and the Planet. It is all about quick profit for the corporations at any and all expense in human and environmental costs. That is why the system needs replacing, not just changing or “repairing”. It can't be repaired because it is not broken; it was designed this way.

© 2018

Philanthropy is a scam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Philanthropy is a scamCapitalists are fooling the world with the hoax of Philanthropy

Philanthropy is a scam as it allows the (super) rich to influence global affairs and gain political power with no consequences. We can see time and again in the case of George Soros and his “foundations” and NGOs supported by the OSI when it comes to projects for Roma in Eastern Europe (none in the West need to apply) which he uses to gain access to and political power in those countries, such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, etc.

Capitalists use philanthropy as a tool that links charity, capitalism and development by investing in “fixing” complex historical problems in poor countries (and communities) to expand privatization and their agenda being only limited by their own resources.

They intervene in public life but are not accountable to the public, are privately governed but publicly subsidized, reinforcing the problem of plutocracy, the exercise of power derived from wealth

NGOs and foundations make it seem as if capitalism were the solution and not the cause of the world's problems especially the disparity between the poor and the rich.

Neoliberal practices are imported that ultimately harm locals who are pushed out of their own land or pay higher prices for public services.

For example supposed philanthropic projects in Congo involving Bill Gates, Monsanto and Howard Buffet proved to be devastating as local farmers will be forced to use GMO seeds and fertilizers only benefiting private companies. A model that is being replicated all over the world.

Will this kind of “charity” fix the system that allowed capitalists to become so rich? Don't for a moment believe that. It will not fix the system; it will perpetuate it. They need to have the poor, be it Roma – and that case also Antigypsyism – or others in order to be able to perpetuate their operations. They have no intention to fix anything in the situation of, say, the Gypsy People for if they would fix the problem then there would be no need for them to continue to operate in that field.

Philanthropy, just like much of the “charity” work today, has become an industry that can only continue to exist and gather funds, most of which end up in certain people's pockets, if the situations on the ground are not alleviated too much. Very much in the vein of “Mother” Theresa (of Calcutta) and her attitude to the poor and the sick. Her real attitude, I am referring to, and not the one presented to the world.

Philanthropy and many other NGO work has become an industry and poverty is being made profitable be that in regards to the homeless, the Gypsy, refugees, and so on. That is why only that much is being done and no more. A little like Margaret Thatcher when she said that for wages to be kept low the country needed a million plus unemployed, the charity industry needs the poor and marginalized and can't do too much otherwise it would lose its reason to exist.

© 2018

Uses for empty plastic containers in your garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

HarvestingTubs1Plastic bottles to garden cloches: It all, obviously, depends on the size of the bottles but I, personally, use everything from 1 liter (over 3inch pots) to bigger ones – for seed raising. The large one gallon water bottles that, after events in parks and such, are so often tossed out, I use as cloches for bigger plants in the garden itself.

The standard PET bottles of one and even two liter, with their bottoms cut off, fit nicely into the rim of or just over the standard 3inch pots and leaving the top intact and thus removable gives a chance to, when needed, give to air to the mini-greenhouses thus created.

Milk jugs can also be used in the garden as cloches, and they even, as they are opaque, are better for the plants to some extent, as they prevent scorching.

Plastic buckets: The buckets that I am talking about here are those in which various products come for the catering trade, whether it be mayonnaise, oil, or marinated herrings. Most are about a gallon in size, some are bigger, some also smaller, and they make for great bucket garden planters but, obviously, as well can be used as buckets for any number of tasks in and around the garden, as many do have handles, some steel wire, some plastic.

Uses for empty plastic containers in your garden1I have seen several market gardens where all the produce is grown in such buckets and so why should we not make use of those rather than have them go for, if they do, recycling or, as is mostly the case, to landfill. A couple of good sized holes drilled into bottom and the sides around the bottom for drainage and ready you are.

While it is true that many of those containers can be recycled they are not in some areas, or not all, even if they are put into the recycling bins. Thus us finding ways of reusing them is the better option. It also saves us gardeners money.

Harvesting containers: Plastic milk jugs of the 4pt and 6pt size, with a section cut out but the handle left in place and intact, make for great little daily harvesting “buckets”. They also can be carriers for small hand tools for the gardener. If you would want to you could slide one or even two of those onto a belt and then be able to work hands-free.

Harvesting or deadheading tub: This is made from the bottom section of a 4pt plastic milk jug (British) and for a belt loop a length of plastic from another jug was riveted to it. Costs were just a little time and a couple of rivets. (see main photo).

Harder plastic bottles such as those from cleaning products can be made into soil scoops, funnels, and many other things useful in the garden (and also around the home).

Those, together with lotion bottles, also can be upcycled and converted into holsters, whether belt-worn or just as pocket protectors, for carrying the likes of secateurs (pruning shears), trowels, as well as sharpening stone(s) for scythe. But the uses are only limited by your imagination.

Personally I am always looking for new ways to repurpose and upcycle such container for use in the garden, around the home, etc., as in fact with much of the waste products that I come across. One just has to think laterally a great deal and sometimes get inspiration from homeware and gardening equipment catalogs. That is how the idea for the harvesting tub from plastic milk jugs came about.

The same I did with various upcycled milk jugs that are on my kitchen windowsill and hold all manner of things such as the dish brushes, etc. The idea came from plastic homeware items from a catalog. I don't buy if I can make it myself, is my motto, and thus such things can be rescued. Problem is only that there is only that many that you can actually reuse yourself, even if you make cloches for the plants in your garden. OK, I guess it depends on the size of your garden.

Waterers: PET and other plastic bottles can also be made into garden waterers, stuck into (spout down), or embedded in, the soil (bottom cut off for the former) and filled (and refilled) with water (as needed). Obviously the bottle needs some holes in it so the water can trickle out.

Whether in the home, the workshop, the garden, or even the home/office, there are reuse and upcycling possibilities for plastic bottles and other plastic containers galore and the possible uses would be enough to fill a book at least.

So, let's reduce the plastic waste that there is by making use of those items that come our way rather than even sending them for recycling. A bit like with glass jars that can be used for storage and such it means what you can reuse and upcycle you do not have to buy. A win-win situation for you and the Planet.

© 2018

Buying for the landfill

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cobaltWith a great number of products the wear out is pre-programed. This deliberate limited lifespan is called “planned obsolescence”. There are some tech people who actually claim that many electronic devices and also white goods have a chip “implanted” that starts counting down a set time span after the device has begun to be used which shuts it down after that set time. But may that as it be (or not be). Fact is that there appears to be a predestined limited lifespan of our devices in order for the companies to be able to be selling us the same products again, and again, after a short space of time rather than, as used to be the case when products were made to last (almost indefinitely with care) and were repairable, having to bring out better versions or other products, in order to stay in business.

It would appear that the producers of light bulbs decided that the lifespan of the original ones was too long – almost indefinite – and that that would have to change. They seem to have been the first with this lightbulb moment for the capitalists. So they changed the design of the elements and, voila, it would only work for a limited time. In the same vein as when the new owner (a West German capitalist) of once people-owned glass-works in the GDR that made unbreakable (yes, they even had the patent for it) glass he immediately had all the machines removed with the words: “I am not going to make something that does not break.”

As a result of this capitalist model we have the modern “throw away society” because the manufacturers of those products also make it (almost) impossible to open the devices and repair them. That is also part of the plan. And in addition to that they now “sell” us a supposed sustainability of those products – that we have to toss after they no longer work – as they are, so they tell us, fully recyclable.

Whether it is light bulbs, nylon tights, printers, mobile telephones – most of those, and many, many other products, already have their expiry date preplanned. The consumer shall be induced to rather buy a new product than to have the old one repaired. Often, as indicated, this is (almost) impossible and where it is possible to costs can be several times higher than the purchase cost of a new one.

The deliberate foreshortening of the lifespan of an industrial products in order to keep the economy in motion is called “planned obsolescence”. Already in 1928 an advertising magazine wrote candidly: “A product that does not wear out is a tragedy for business.”

In the 1920s a cartel was set up to limit the lifespan of light bulbs and from then on everything went slowly downhill bar for say in the GDR where products were made not to wear out. Why? Because of scarcity of resources and because it was not a capitalist state.

Even after the light bulb story many products were still well-made and repairable, to some extent even by the user in the DIY-mode. Things begun to change after the Second World War. It was here that companies made big money due to military contracts but after those profits began to fall off. Realizing that this was due to the fact that the products they supplied to the military ended up destroyed in action they came up with the idea (no, not of another war, though that was not far behind either) to find ways to limit the lifespan of products other than what would be called “consumables”.

Slowly, however, people in general are getting fed up with this model and are beginning to demand – once again – products that last. The manufacturers, though, are responding rather with the “sustainability” model I mentioned earlier, that is to say the claim that their products are entirely recyclable and thus the consumer does not have to worry about buying new then the previous one breaks as everything goes back into the loop. That is not the point though, is it.

Whether or not the everything in a product is recyclable and even if everything goes back into the loop of making new products the impact on the environment, not to speak of our pocketbooks, is not elevated really. Recycling of electronic goods, and recycling in general, is a dirty business which is why most countries have outsourced it to countries where the environmental codes are lower to non-existent and where there are also no protections for the workers in this industry.

With China now refusing to take much of our recyclables the nations of the so-called West are in a quandary as what to do and are looking – no, not so much at reducing waste and making long-lasting products – to other, poorer countries where they can dump their recyclables.

However, nothing is going to change unless either the political model changes and capitalism is tossed on the landfill itself, the landfill of history, or consumers vote with their feet and wallets. What must become obsolete are not products but the system that created this willful “planned obsolescence” and the idea of infinite perpetual economic growth on a finite Planet with finite resources.

And while we are at limited resources let me, just for a second, touch upon the batteries, the rechargeable Lithium-ion ones, that our devices devour rather also quite often. The rare earths required for this, including cobalt, and others, are not just mined in a way that ravages the Planet and which are polluting, but which also ravage children who work as slaves, often literally, in those mines (and the factories making the batteries). But then, oh well, seems to be the attitude of so many, it is not in our countries and it is far away.

© 2018

US trade war with EU

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

US trade war with EUThe recently announced punitive tariffs by the US President Donald Trump on imports of steel and other goods and products is primarily aimed, no doubt, at countries of the European Union, including Great Britain. Also the, though prior to Trump's watch, issues with Volkswagen and other German automobile manufacturers was the beginning of such a trade war considering that, aside from Japanese cars German ones are the most sold ones in the country.

What the POTUS does not seem to realize, and that is the very problem with Donald Trump in that he does not seem to realize much of what the real political world is like, is that a trade war has also other protagonists and also that the world stock markets might not like this idea. He seems to forget that running a country is different to running a company. Not that he has been very successful with many of them either.

Unlike his assertion that trade wars are good they are the opposite and the US may be shooting itself in the foot with such actions. It is quite easy for European and other countries to boycott American products in retaliation.

The best answer to the US' trade war against, primarily, the EU should be to get back together with the Russian Federation and literally give the US the middle finger, for the EU sanctions against Russia were, more or less, imposed on the EU by America. There are two sides who can play a game such as this.

Yes, the US has military stationed in EU countries but even Donald Trump would not be that stupid to use them should the EU retaliate in the trade ware department. Just saying.

© 2018

Bioplastics and biodegradable packaging

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

bioplasticsA more sustainable solution? Maybe and then again maybe not.

Plastic packaging is all over the media at the moment and that in an incredibly negative light. Consumers have growing concerns about how plastic packaging is managed at end of life, and are worried about leakage into the ocean. This has brought in a focus on what can be done about plastic waste.

The most obvious option is to reduce the amount of plastic packaging, but simply from a cost point of view this has already been on the agenda for brands and retailers for many years. What we are mostly left with now is packaging that has been carefully designed for its function - but not always with end of life considerations.

So, what is the solution? Most logically, several steps must be taken:

1. Reduction of amount of packaging where possible;

2. Rationalization of polymer types used in packaging to simplify the sorting and recycling process;

3. Design packaging with understanding of how it will be handled at end of life;

4. More recycling infrastructure, funded and ultimately subsidized through Extended

Producer Responsibility schemes; and

5. Consumer engagement to ensure as much packaging as possible is captured for recycling

What could the role of bioplastics and biodegradable packaging be in all of this? Should we completely switch all packaging so that it is made from “bioplastics” and which is “biodegradable” so that it will disappear once disposed of and will be made from renewable resources?

The short answer to this is “no”. Bioplastics will certainly have a part to play in the future and in some instances today, but we need to make sure the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of such materials is more beneficial than oil based plastics. Oil is not going away anytime soon, and while we are still refining huge quantities for fuel, should we not make use of the plastic that can be produced from its by-products?

As for biodegradable packaging, this is a minefield of confusing messages and lack of transparency. Packaging that will readily degrade in a home composting system, or in the ocean, is great in theory, but ensuring it can do that and deliver product protection is not easy. Many food products need protection from oxygen and moisture, and material that easily breaks down cannot always achieve this. There is a balance to be found to produce polymers that will maintain integrity during product lifetime (which many include many months in warehouses or on shelves) but will readily degrade once the packaging is no longer needed.

Then you come to packaging that is compostable, but only in an industrial composting facility. This then brings same challenges as any other material that is collected for recycling, if not more, because the consumer now must understand a whole new category of packaging which needs its own special disposal route. For example, imagine the confusion if some drinks bottles needed to go in the regular plastic recycling bin while others went in the composting collection. In some closed, controlled systems this may work, but we must be mindful of how material is handled at end of life.

So in some instances a biopolymer or biodegradable pack may have a more positive environmental impact, but very careful consideration is needed before using these materials. It should not be assumed that just because “bio” is in the name, it is better for the planet.

Plastics are wonderful materials, which when used correctly can have massive positive impacts on our lives. There is no better time than now to think hard about the various options, whether that be designing for end of life, improving recycling infrastructure, or replacing current materials with biodegradable or compostable ones. The answer is not always straightforward.

The problem is that many so-called “bioplastics” are not as readily biodegradable and especially not compostable as they are claimed to be. In a marine environment they will not degrade and compost but simply break down, just as “ordinary” plastic packaging material, into microplastic particles which end up in marine life and the food chain.

As said above plastic can be very useful indeed and there is, if I may put it like that, good and bad plastic. There the the (good) products that we can use for many, many decades and which are made of a single kind of plastic that can, at the end of the product's life, be recycled – in theory at least, whether it happens is another story – and then there are the bad plastic products, which include many of the packaging materials that are either non-recyclable or very hard to recycle because, often, they are made of more than one plastic and often, in the case of foils, several different plastics laminated together.

The Tupperware box, the reusable plastic water bottle, such as De Dopper, and the reusable plastic coffee cup, such as KeepCup, are actually your friend, and the Planet's friend, and not the enemy, as are many other kinds of plastics. Not all plastic is bad. It all depends on the type and the use. The current hype about plastic being bad is totally out of context. The problem is what we do with the plastic and the real culprit is us and the single-use plastic products.

It would be better if we would, to some extent, go back to (more) natural materials but for many applications there simply is not another option.

© 2018

Uses for plastic containers

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

New uses for plastic containersPlastic packaging and plastic containers are everywhere, they are ubiquitous, and most end up in the landfill for recycling does not always happen in the way that we are being told. In fact, quite often it does not happen. Now that China has closed its doors to plastic (and other) recyclables from the Europe and America the problem is going to get bigger still.

We can also not expect that the uses of plastics, for packaging especially, is going to go away soon and even so-called bio-plastics, biodegradable and even – supposedly – compostable plastics are still plastics and most will only compost, when it comes to the latter, in commercial hot composting facilities and not in Nature per se, and not even on your domestic compost heap or in a composter in your garden.

So, what do we do? Aside from reducing where we can we must look at reusing and upcycling wherever possible. As far as plastic containers are concerned they come in many shapes and sizes and thus to many reuse and upcycling possibilities.

There are the humble milk jugs in a variety of sizes. In the UK they are pint, two pint, four pint and six pint sizes while in the US they happen do be different and also come in gallon size. They all, as far as I am concerned, have reuse potential and I have made a variety of things from them, including a belt-wearable berry picking/dead heading container for gardening (see photo).

Milk jugs, of all sizes, can also be used as planters, for seed starting as well as for growing plants. Larger plastic jugs, like those used in commercial catering and also for other purposes, often small to large jerrycan size and style, can be reused, repurposed and upcycled also into planters.

The same goes for plastic buckets in which many products come when purchased in bulk, or for commercial catering, for instance, such as mayonnaise, oil, etc. Those buckets, often gallon and greater in size, make great planters in the garden. Drill holes into the bottoms, and, maybe the sides, of the emptied and cleaned containers, and then use them for growing vegetables or invasive plants, such as mint. You can also use the plastic buckets to organize and haul garden materials and compost, sort laundry, or store household items.

But they can also be made into other useful items, such as storage drawers, and smaller ones can be used for dividers in desk drawers and such. The only limitation, probably, is set by your imagination or lack thereof.

From plastic lotion containers (bottles) holsters and pocket protectors can easily be made for safely carrying tools, such as, say secateurs. They can either be fitted with “straps” so they can be worn on the belt, or shoulder straps, or they can just simply be put into the pocket. The tool is safely encased in the holster and thus will not damage the clothes or the wearer.

Other bottles from strong plastic, such as those from cleaning fluids, for instance, can become holsters for scythe sharpening stones, the name for which I rather not mention here as nowadays it is considered a cuss word, as it has four letters, begins with a “c” and ends in a “t”. But, honestly, that is the real word for such a holster.

Many other items of plastic packaging also, no doubt, have reuse, repurposing and upcyling potential and I am sure we can all create a whole list of ideas in this department. Often all that is required is the correct mindset, imagination and inspiration.

I strongly believe that there is even potential, as far as plastic containers (and such) are concerned, for upcyling business ventures if people can be brought to understand to buy into the concept – literally as well.

© 2018

Zip ties and their many uses

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Zip ties and their many uses on the farm, homestead, the garden and elsewherezip-tiesZip ties, or as they are called in England, cable ties, are, even though they are plastic and some people do have a problem with plastic, are often a godsend when it comes to temporarily or even, more or less, permanently fixing something, be this in the home, on the farm, the homestead, the garden or elsewhere. The uses literally are legion.

While, as said, those little (and not so little) ties are plastic and thus (probably) not all that green but they are so very useful for so many things, be it for temporary or even permanent fixing of things.

These simple strips, typically made of plastic, come in many lengths and feature a special ratcheting design, some even can be reused in that they have a “reversible” catch. When you insert the pointed end into a slot at the opposite end, it latches firmly in place and creates a loop that can be tightened (but not loosened – unless the special kind) to whatever size you need. You can combine multiple zip ties to create much longer zip ties.

The potential uses for zip ties are almost limitless and all I can give you here are a few example of their uses around the farm, the garden, the homestead and the home. As far as I am concerned zip ties are so useful that I even pick up any unused ones that people, who have been using them somewhere, have dropped. Weird, I know, but then that's what I am like; waste not want not.

The uses for those – predominately – plastic strips, those cable- or zip ties are legion and, more or less, I should guess, endless, on the farm, in the garden, in the home, and elsewhere.

Installing wire mesh fencing: When installing mesh wire fencing, it doesn't get much easier than securing the wire in place with large zip ties. The evenly spaced gaps in the mesh wire ensures that you can slide the ties through wherever necessary, securing them around metal stakes to hold the wire upright. They work equally well for installing deer netting.

Guiding grape vines and other climbers: Simply attach the vines to the trellis of wires or fence on which you want them to grow up on with zip ties. It could not be easier. Eventually, the vines will curl their tendrils around the wires and be able to support themselves, but in the meantime, the ties effectively hold the vines in place.

The same applies to all kinds of vines, not just grape vines, and delicate plants that need support can also be helped with zip ties.

Repairing fruit tree branches: Unfortunately, it's fairly common for fruit trees to overestimate how much fruit their branches can support and branches can crack under the weight of a heavy crop. However, as long as the branch is not fully broken, it is possible to support it with a stake and allow the tree to heal the crack. Zip ties are an important part of the process, perfect for holding everything in position. This may even work, though I have not tried it, with tree saplings that have been accidentally broken though not completely off.

Securing tarps: Need to tie down a tarp to keep something dry? Loop some zip ties through the grommets on the tarp and secure it in place. It does not get easier than that now, does it.

Pole bean teepee (pole beans = runner beans in Britain): When installing bean poles and turning them into the teepee shape there is no easier way than using some cable ties and, voila, ready is the thing. While it is possible to do it with string, or wire, doing it on one's own with the latter two can be a little bit of a problem, time-consuming and fiddly. Not so with cable ties.

Bicycles: Here they have their first uses, obviously, to hold cables and such in place, but there are also things on the bike that can be temporarily or permanently tied down with cable ties.

Shower curtains: Want to put up a shower curtain (think tarp but hanging down) onto a pole and there are no hooks or rings. Zip ties through the grommets and over the pole and voila, there it hangs ready for use.

This is but a very small list of the uses for zip ties around farm, homestead, home, etc., and one could, I should guess, fill a small book with them at least and after publication of such book another hundred uses would come up. So, maybe, a book I won't write about it.

© 2018

Sycamore tree and Sycamore wood

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Acer-Pseudoplatanus-2When we are talking here about the Sycamore we are talking about Acer pseudoplantanus, the “European” Sycamore and not the American one, which is Platanus occidentalis.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplantanus) (in the USA called Sycamore maple) is a very underrated and undervalued tree and wood in Britain where it is continuously referred to as a non-native species and some call for its eradication.

While it is true that in the UK, Sycamore frequently suffers from sooty bark disease (further citation) to all intents and purposes, however, is – fingers tightly crossed it remains that way – otherwise very resilient. Sooty bark is, however, fatal for the tree once it has been affected. Having said that, however, it would appear that Britain has just managed, probably, to import a plant disease, Xylella fastidiosa, from the European Union that, unfortunately, does attack Sycamore, along with Oak and Bird Cherry.

In my opinion Sycamore if one of the best woods for treen, and that not only because of its high antibacterial and antiviral properties, though it may be rather plain and lack interesting grain feature rater, in comparison to other hardwoods.

On the European mainland, especially in Germany, where it is called “Mountain Maple”, Sycamore is regarded as a noble timer tree and highly valued.

With Ash Dieback (ADB) making itself rather felt in woodlands across Britain UK forestry bodies are looking abroad for foreign replacement completely disregarding the Sycamore and, still more often than not, rejecting any suggestion of looking at that tree, which does so well, bar for sooty bark, in the UK where it tends to grow like a weed, with the comment that it is not a native tree. But Southern Beech, and other suggested replacements, also from the USA, obviously are. I rest my case here, as it is getting rather heavy (the case that is).

Personally, but then this is me, and I love Sycamore, I cannot see why the Forestry Commission and the Royal Forestry Society, and others, are looking at American maples, for instance, as a possible replacement for Ash, when we already have a, more or less, perfect specimen of the maple family in our midst that also likes living and multiplying here. Anyone who has seen how that tree multiplies will know what I mean.

German forestry sources refer, as said earlier, to Acer pseudoplantanus as a noble timer tree, or even as Edelholz, meaning precious wood, and there, apparently, it tends to only grow in mountainous regions and not so well in the lower areas. Maybe they need some British Sycamore seed... just jesting. So why the permanent rejection of Sycamore in Britain as a “non-native” tree, especially considering that it once, before the last ice age, apparently, was native here but did not return on its own steam.

© 2018

Recycling helps us avoid tackling Climate Change

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Climate change and environmental destruction are contentious and disputed topics.

Recycling helps us avoid tackling Climate ChangeIn the US, for instance, there is a powerful faction of Republican politicians who flat-out deny that climate change even exists. In Britain, the former Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, under David Cameron, is also a climate change skeptic, oddly enough. The current one, under Theresa May, does not appear to be much better in that department either. And it has become worse in the USA under Donald Trump. That is not to say that it was good under Obama.

These denials go against science: carbon emissions have increased by 35 per cent since 1990, and climate change is responsible for over 300,000 deaths a year, a figure that could rise to half a million people by 2030.Or so, at least, we are being told. It is blindingly obvious that we are heading towards environmental destruction and any failure to admit this is negligent and dangerous.

The climate is changing though – and I am swaying that rather carefully – whether all is down to CO2 emissions is another thing altogether. I would actually say that the entire thing of focusing on “carbon emissions” is also making us fail to look at other culprits, for which we, as humans, are also responsible, such as pollution, exploitations of soil and forests, etc., ad infinitum. Ever since they but the word carbon in front of emissions we have failed to look at the other contributing factors that used to go by the name of pollution, from air pollution, to pollution of soil, water and land. But that kind of pollution cannot be traded in the form of carbon certificates, those modern day indulgences.

The international system has set numerous targets to resolve the crisis, such as the UN Millennium Development Goals on the environment, but they are rarely, if ever, met. The many environment summits which regularly take place also fail to produce tangible results, with the big powers failing to agree on terms. On top of that they emit more pollution than almost anything else as those leaders keep jetting around the globe, together with entourage and journalists in tow. And let's not even talk of all those eco-organizations whose people also do this.

On the micro level, people tend to make quite an effort. We are often told to monitor our carbon footprint and in many countries, recycling has become normalized, a part of people's daily routine. These micro-level changes are theoretically somewhat reducing our environmental crisis. Or so we are led to believe.

A greener approach is encouraged by the governments, for both businesses and ordinary citizens. Despite this, the environment is not really improving. When we take our small green steps, we tend to assume that we are solving the problem, and that we do not have to worry about it anymore. This veneer of “action” misleads us and essentially pulls the wool over our eyes, stopping us from asking deeper questions about the environment and what truly contributes to climate change and wider environmental degradation.

We recycle our waste, but do not link it to the consumer society we live in. The media and advertising industries are constantly telling us to buy things we don't need, yet we rarely, if ever, link this to climate change. Our efforts to recycle nullify us and prevent deeper thought. In addition to that there is “greensumption”, the believe that we make a change when we buy “green” products. Hello!! We are still consuming and in that department often things that are greenwashed rather than anything else.

Debates surrounding the environment seldom link the problem to capitalism, and they are too often seen as separate issues. Capitalism is the elephant in the room.

Our capitalist world encourages and ingrains a consumerist mentality that is driving us to environmental ruin. It has been estimated that if everyone consumed at the same rate as your average American, then the world would only be able to support 1.4 billion people.

Capitalism, however, needs that kind of mentality to exist in order for corporations to thrive, and doing the recycling is not going to change our consumerist habits. Therefore what is really needed is a change of system not a change of habits. That, though, the powers-that-be (but really shouldn't be) are hardly going to tell us now, are they.

It is precisely this ideology that is behind the extraction of resources meant to facilitate our lifestyles. The environmental damage done by extractive industries far outweighs what we can achieve as individuals on a micro-level.

The United Nations Environment Program a while ago released a report highlighting how environmental damage caused by Shell in Ogoniland, Nigeria, could take more than 30 years to be reversed. Still, we don't make the link between what happens in places like Ogoniland and our consumer lifestyles at home. There is a huge disconnect there and environmental NGOs are often closely linked to big business, so they can't act as whistleblowers anymore. In other words, very few can do so, nowadays and it is up to us, the people, to make a noise.

Extractive industries have a huge influence in the policy making sphere, particularly in the US. It has been estimated that 94% of US Chamber of Commerce contributions went to climate denier candidates, with the oil and gas industries' lobby worth almost $1.5 billion per year.

It is, therefore, not difficult to see who is shaping policy and why our environmental crisis has only worsened in recent decades. As long as there are powerful interest groups influencing the EU and the US governments, it is unrealistic to expect international conventions to ever make a difference.

Big business has more say than local groups, such as indigenous people, who often have a powerful environmental message to share, but who are persistently ignored. It is beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones at the forefront of trying to avert it.

There is definitely merit in reducing our individual environmental footprints, but in the grand scheme of things, it is unlikely to make any difference to the Planet's environmental outlook; at least, not as long as capitalism reigns supreme.

Encouraging micro-level changes and giving money to green NGOs merely serves as a smokescreen to prevent real in-depth analysis. It almost facilitates a system whereby corporate-made environmental degradation can continue, while we keep on recycling and forget about the problem.

In order to truly make a change we must begin to ask deeper questions about the society in which we live in and start trying to operate outside of the status quo capitalist framework. Thus we must change the system and no, social democracy will not make one iota of a difference here either the politicians in this often refer to themselves as democratic socialists.

But, as long as we are going to be lulled to sleep by the recycling message, and to believe that we can make a great and significant difference if we but separate our waste properly, etc., we will never get the idea to call for a change of system. Unless, however, the system is changed we – and our children and children's children – are not going to have a Planet on which to live. It is as simple but also as crass as that.

See for this also my article “Fighting climate change and poverty in the Third World at the same time?

© 2018

Child slaves working for the cobalt in your batteries

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cobaltSome just might like to refer to them as child laborers but when four, eight and eleven year old children being beaten and whipped if they don't produce enough, spill some of the ore, and such like, then they are not laborers but slaves.

In the photo eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock.

And what are they slaving for? So that you can drive an electric car, have a new smartphone every six months, and so forth. They are working for the western world's green energy crusade.

I have said more than once but will say it again and that is that the electric car, and especially its batteries, is not sustainable and it certainly is not ethical, and that includes the Tesla storage batteries for solar and wind home use.

Also with the demand and the cost of cobalt rising astronomically the price of the batteries is not going to come down making for electric cars as cheap as ICE-powered cars; the opposite rather and at what cost other than just the price.

But it is not only cobalt that child slaves are extracting from the earth. Other elements too, and in addition to that child slaves are also involved in large numbers in the “recycling” of E-waste to extract materials for use in smartphones and other electronic devices. The latter is also a very dirty and unhealthy business. But, hey, it's cheaper to use child slaves in foreign countries than to have the recycling, for instance, done at home under stricter conditions.

An army of children, some just four years old, working in the vast polluted mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where toxic red dust burns their eyes, and they run the risk of skin disease and a deadly lung condition. Here, for a wage of just 8p a day, the children are made to check the rocks for the tell-tale chocolate- brown streaks of cobalt – the prized ingredient essential for the batteries that power electric cars.

It is feared that thousands more children could be about to be dragged into this hellish daily existence after the historic pledge made by Britain – and other countries – to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 (or even before, as in the case of some other nations) and switch to electric vehicles.

Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state. It is the world's biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the Planet's reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labor and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.

The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).

While the race to change from ICE-powered vehicles to electric ones may herald a future of clean energy, free from pollution but such ideals mean nothing for the children condemned to a life of hellish misery in the race to achieve his target.

We need to rethink how we drive and so on and also how we use energy and in which form.

© 2018

Make toys with and for your kids instead of buying toys

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cup&ball_game1-1In order to present your child with a toy they will be excited about, you do not necessarily need to rush to a toy store and spend hours wandering between the shelves and a great deal of money. It is quite easy to make wonderful toys at home from available materials. Even better still if you and your child make those toys together.

Make toys with and for your kids instead of buying toys for them. There are toys, simple and not so simple ones, that you can make together and there are also the ones that you may have to or wish to make – on your own – for them.

Slingshot (catapult): While in some people's mind this might be rather controversial I will still mention it. I have yet to come across a child, especially a boy, who would not relish having one of those beanflippers and, as long as he is taught not to do the wrong things with it, a catapult (slingshot) is a fine toy and gift. It is also one of those that you and the child can make together.

Wooden blocks: Offcuts from carpenter workshops and such can be made, with little work, into a set of wooden (building) blocks for children to play with. No need to spend money buying those things at often great cost. It is also possible from such offcuts to make “Lincoln Logs”, for instance. Such toys will give years of happiness in play and construction as they are ageless – in more than one way – and the play is only limited by imagination.

Wooden cars, etc.: Can also be – with some skills – quite easily made from such wood offcuts and can be very simple or quite elaborate. The skill level here has to be somewhat higher than for wooden blocks and it may also require a little more in the way of tools.

Tip cat: Very simple to make and will give hours and hours of fun (and exercise). Mostly intended for use outdoors. Pakistan this toy and game is called Gulli-Danda (elsewhere it goes under different names but is the same) and there it is played a little like cricket with teams. Very easy to make and lots of fun. Tipcat can also be played alone and is still great fun.

When we were children a carved tipcat was always in the pocket to play the game as, generally, a suitable stick was always to be be found and, as we always carried a pocketknife, cut to size. However, a special one could be made and used instead.

Stick gun: “Oh, what is he on about now?”, I can now hear some readers ask. Which child has not, wandering in a park of wood, picked up a stick that resembled a gun in some way and played with it? Most will, I am sure. This, though, is a deliberately chosen piece of wood (stick) and fashioned to create a stick gun he will keep to play with and may even cherish. They can now be found on sale – yes, you wouldn't believe it – at stores such as Habitat at around $15 each for a “pistol”. Yes, the world has apparently gone stupid.

Bullroarer: The bullroarer, rhombus, or turndun, is an ancient ritual musical instrument and a device historically used for communicating over great distances. It dates to the Paleolithic period, being found in Ukraine dating from 18,000 BC.

In ancient Greece it was a sacred instrument used in the Dionysian Mysteries and is still used in rituals worldwide.

Along with the didgeridoo, it was a prominent musical technology among the Australian Aborigines, used in ceremonies across the continent.

A bullroarer consists of a (weighted) airfoil (a rectangular thin slat of wood about 15 cm (6 in) to 60 cm (24 in) long and about 1.25 cm (0.5 in) to 5 cm (2 in) wide) attached to a long cord. Typically, the wood slat is trimmed down to a sharp edge around the edges, and serrations along the length of the wooden slat may or may not be used, depending on the cultural traditions of the region in question.

The cord is given a slight initial twist, and the roarer is then swung in a large circle in a horizontal plane, or in a smaller circle in a vertical plane. The aerodynamics of the roarer will keep it spinning about its axis even after the initial twist has unwound. The cord winds fully first in one direction and then the other, alternating.

Having said all that it is easy to make, does not have to be that large, and can be a fun toy for a child of (almost) any age. Scrap wood from woodworking projects or from a wood yard, often free at some places, would do nicely.

Tic Tac Toe: This game that, when played on paper often referred to as Naughts and Crosses, can, with a mat or board, made from waste materials, such as bottle caps of two different colors and, once again, cost nothing.

Whirligig: This is a very old and simple children's toy that have been around for the gods only know how long. Probably made with a wooden disc in the very distant past it was later made with a (large) button.

You can make it in ten minutes, but your children will be playing with it for hours. Used to be made from a large button, as said, and could very well be done from, say, a plastic milk jug lid.

Cup & ball toy: Here is one of those where you can make use of those ubiquitous single use cups, or it can also be made from other stuff, such as the plastic cup lids of liquid detergent bottles (as in the the case of the “model” in the picture).

There are a great many different toys and kinds of toys that you can make for and with your child, often even and especially from waste materials. The only limit is the imagination. You have to still have a child-like imagination often to see the potential of this or that in order to turn it into a toy, or several different things into the one toy. Toy cars and other toys from empty plastic bottles, those from the stronger plastic and not the PET, come to mind, for instance.

The children in many places in Africa, Asia and South America make amazing toys from waste materials and this could also be something done by us and our children.

We all know that all too often an expensive toy is being played with for a short time and then ends up in the toy box never, or rarely, to see again the light of day.

Another thing, and I am sure that someone can come up with a reuse solution, is using the bottle caps of various sizes and colors, with which to make things, as in toys (and also other things). Clip It ( is fine and good but the clips, in my opinion, are rather expensive and I am sure that parents and children, together, might come up with their own solutions.

© 2018

Learn a new skill every week

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

OK, a little late as a New Year's resolution but...

self-reliance-skillsFor anyone wanting to become more self-reliant – notice that I rarely use the word self-sufficient, as true self-sufficiency just is not possible – skills are what count and not a huge amount of supplies, even not in the event of an Apocalypse and such. It is skills that will see you through when everything else fails and has failed. And, for goodness sake, don't believe the idiots trying to sell you silver and gold coins as something that will get you buy in such events. Then again it is not – just – for those events you should learn skills and perfect your skills.

If you would try to learn one new skill per week then that would make fifty-two per year and even if it is not one every week but one every fortnight or even if only one a month, but then thoroughly. Skills – and knowledge – are what is going to get you and yours through a crisis or simply making your life better where you are by being able to do things that otherwise you may have to pay for.

It is true that you can and will unlike become a master every skill that you may need but at least you can become a master in a couple and proficient in a fair number more.

One of the most important skills, and so many no longer seem to be capable of it, is cooking from scratch. I know to many reader that would be obvious but for some people simply boiling an egg seems rocket science nowadays let alone cooking anything else that isn't just ready to go into the microwave. Some cookery programs not so long ago actually stated with teaching people how to – no, not a joke – boil water, followed then by how to boil an egg. When people need to be taught how to boil a saucepan with water then the world definitely has lost the plot and relearning of skill definitely is called for.

Another important skill, if I may call it that way, is, in my opinion, making do and mending, and just simply making do with what one has, and making things one may need from scratch and scrap. Into that category should also fall reusing, repurposing and upcycling of waste materials, such as glass jars, tin cans, plastic bottles, etc. While some of it should come natural, with some imagination, it would appear that many today, however, need instructions for anything in that department, though.

Obviously, there are many skills that you may want to have and learn but starting easy is the best option and the skills themselves are legion so listing all of them would fill a book, without even going into detail.

Woodworking on a number of levels, from making simple items, over carving spoons and other treen, to making furniture if a valuable skill set to have but it is not learned over night.

Textile crafts: Now this encompasses anything really from mending clothes up to and including of making your own clothes and even your own cloth. It also includes crochet and knitting.

Metal working: This could be anything from sheet metal working – a great way of converting tin cans into something new – to full blacksmithing and anything and everything in between.

Leather working: This is another one of those skills that you may, more or less, definitely want to learn as the making of leather items are not only useful for you as useful things but those items can also become an income. In the main it is akin to sewing only with a difference but if you can sew running stitch then you can also work in leather. Theoretically the stitch is a different one but, personally, I just use the running stitch, then reversed, and the process repeated.

This list could go on ad infinitum (almost) as there are so many skills that would and could be worth learning and learning to do them is one thing, mastering them an entirely different story, though. So, let's go and try to learn as many skills as possible and then go onto trying to master them as far as possible.

© 2018

Marriott Hotels to remove plastic straws from UK hotels

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Plastic-strawsSome good news from one of the big hotel chains. Maybe some other places could follow suit? Chance would be a fine thing, I know.

Marriott International says it is to stop the use of plastic straws at its UK properties, amid growing concern over the levels of plastic pollution.

The group said that it is removing plastic straws from over 60 of its UK hotels, including London properties Marriott County Hall London, Le Meridien Piccadilly, W London Leicester Square and Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel.

Teams “have been requested to begin removing plastic straws from circulation with immediate effect”.

Customers requesting straws going forward will be offered biodegradable or paper straws.

Commenting on the move Michel Miserez, area vice president, United Kingdom and Ireland, Marriott International, said: “Our UK hotels used 300,000 straws last year. By removing plastic straws from our hotels in the UK we are making a small but significant step in playing our part in reducing the volume of plastic that damages our environment and wildlife.

“Marriott International has a global responsibility and unique opportunity to be a force for good in all aspects of our business. We recognise that how we do business is as important as the business that we do. Incorporating environmental and social initiatives like this one into our business is the right thing to do.”

In October last year Marriott launched a new sustainability and social impact platform, designed to foster business growth while balancing the needs of associates, customers, owners, the environment and communities. More information can be found at

© 2018

Let them get dirty

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Let them get dirtyWarning! I am going to be controversial again...

Mud and dirt is good for your children but if you don't like washing their dirty clothes – even their play clothes – all the time then let them get dirty naked. It is good for them and boosts their immune system no end, especially both together. Nudity for children, especially boys, also ads additional metal health benefits due to the stimulation of the skin (so say some experts).

It turns out that both getting dirty and being naked as much as possible is the best way to boost the immune system of children no end. Being naked stimulates, in addition to all the other benefits, nerves and also being in that state releases various hormones that are beneficial during development but also equally good for the adult.

Let them dirty get nakedWhen I was a child we could get dirty as much as possible – and by the gods did we ever – without having to worry about our parents and elders chiding us about our dirty clothes. We, at least the boys, wore none. It was easier, so our parents' and elders' reckoning to wash us than to continuously having to wash our clothes. It was also a great deal cheaper as we needed fewer clothes.

While this was at a time when we did not have much in the way of clothes anyway, and not much of anything really, and washing them was not always as easy as it is for most folks today, the fact that both dirt and nudity were good for us made up for it all. Not that we minded being naked (and dirty) one bit; in fact we hated the very idea of wearing clothes.

I have yet to encounter a young child, especially a boy, who would not prefer being naked over being dressed, especially when that permits him to get as dirty as he likes without getting told off for it by his parents or carers. Naked he can splash in the muddy waters and roll in dirt and mud as much as he likes, and wipe his hands not on his clothes but on himself. All that is needed at the end is to hose him down (literally).

Dirty kids equal healthy kids

Emerging research points out that the backyard garden just may be the cure for what ails us. But then that is, basically, already something that our grandparents and great-grandparents knew. Many a grandmother will have said: “A little dirt does not hurt”. And right she was. In fact, it turns out it is actually good for kids (and us all).

While in today's Western culture, children with soiled feet and grass-stained knees are hurriedly rushed to the bathtub and slathered with antibacterial soap, the loss of our connection to the garden and its dirt means a loss of connection to all the good microbes that live inside it. Too much bathing, showering and such is not good for the children and their immune system either.

Our industrialized world has become squeaky clean – and chronically ill. Many children today are prevented from going outside to play, whether to keep them clean or due to an inflammatory condition, such as allergies, asthma or eczema. Many of these ailments can be traced to a lack of good dirt in our own bodies. The problem, as it seems, may actually turn out to be the solution.

Worldwide studies based on children's lifestyles are proving that early exposure to a healthy microbiome – the community of bacteria living in your body – is a key factor to a strong immune system later in life.

The so-called anti-bacterial soaps, etc., are also seen, now, finally, as a problem rather than a benefit as they destroy all bacteria, including those that we actually need, and especially the young body in order to build a strong immune system.

Grandmothers all around the world used to say: “A little dirt does not hurt” and it turns out that not only does a little dirt not hurt but actually is good for us all and exposing – literally – the whole body to it, and those bacteria that it contains, is better still. This is probably one of the reasons why nudist children are less prone to all those ailments than children who do not come from families who live a natural life in the nude, the way that we all were made.

© 2018

Plogging... or picking litter while you jog

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Plogging SwedenPlogging is a new concept in and from Sweden that hopefully is going to make its way to other places as well. Plogging is the Swedish word, or better the English translation for it, for just picking up trash while you are out jogging.

It is also super easy. Just bring a plastic bag with you on your next run, walk, hike or trailrun and just pick any trash you might find a long you way, so it it not just for joggers.

If everyone going out for a walk, walking the dog (yes, and please pick up your dog's mess as well), would do this there would be a great deal less litter in our parks, countryside, towns and villages. Fair enough, if people would actually not throw their littler away outside but dispose of it properly there would be less still.

In the Summer of 2017 the 1st official plog run in Örebro and about 15 persons turned up at Naturens Hus. They split up into 3 groups and headed out in different directions. An hour later they all met up again to put all the trash they found in larger plastic bags.

All in all they collected around 10-12 kg of trash during that plog and found everything from cigarettes, napkins, plastic containers to broken bottles. And that while that is a area of Örebro that is considered one of the cleanest places in town.

In the large local park with which I am concerned a number of responsible dog walkers not only pick up their dog's waste but also pick litter on their rounds, while there are other people who simply walk in the park who do this too.

As I said earlier, if everyone would do just a little of that when walking or hiking, etc., things would begin to look a great deal better and a lot less little would find its way into water courses and the sea. Better still, as mentioned, if people would actually start to learn to be responsible and take better care of their litter things would be much better still.

It is not the fault of the plastic bottle that it ends up in the river nor the fault of the plastic bag that it ends up in a tree. The fault lies with inconsiderate and lazy people who cannot be bothered to dispose off their trash in the proper manner.

© 2018

Flour sack dresses from the Flour Mills

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Flour sack dresses from the Flour MillsIn times gone by, amidst widespread poverty, the Flour Mills realized that some women were using sacks to make clothes for their children. In response, the Flour Mills started using flowered and patterned fabric.

With the introduction of this new cloth into the home, thrifty women everywhere began to reuse the cloth for a variety of home uses – dish towels, diapers, and more. The bags began to become very popular for clothing items.

This is almost 100 years ago and instead of improving the reuse things have gotten worse. But, what the Flour Mills did then every manufacturer could do for packaging. Firstly using things that can be reused and secondly to already create the idea of a secondary use of the materials. But, let's for the moment get back to the lour sacks and textiles made from them.

As the recycling trend looked like it was going to stay, the manufacturers began to print their cloth bags – or feedsacks – in an ever wider variety of patterns and colors, including those more suitable for boys and their shirts and nightshirts.

Over time, the popularity of the feedsack as clothing fabric increased beyond anyone's wildest expectations, fueled by both ingenuity and scarcity.

By the time WWII dominated the lives of Americans, and cloth for fabric was in short supply due to its use in the construction of uniforms, it was estimated that over three and a half million women and children were wearing garments created from feedsacks.

Images of the times help to remind us that large swaths of the country were once so poor that making clothes for children, out of flour sacks, was simply a part of life in those times. The manufacturers even gave instructions for how to remove the ink of their logos and such.

The family in the photo show their children wearing the Feed Sack dresses and shirts. People back then certainly knew how to try to use and reuse everything they had and not be wasteful.

Feed sacks continued to grab the attention of women during the Depression and World War II. In the 1950s, though, cheaper paper sacks became available, and thus the gradual decline for these bright, beautiful and functional fabrics began.

The start of the 1960's saw sack manufacturers trying to tempt customers back with cartoon- printed fabrics, from Buck Rogers to Cinderella. There was even a television advertising campaign intended to prick the conscience of the American housewife, but it failed to generate a significant upsurge in sales. Today it is only the Amish who still use cotton sacks for their dry goods.

The world has changed in so many ways since back then, yet having a mindset for making the best use of what you have available to you is a trait that, rightly, does and should carry on.

As I said earlier in this essay we need designers and manufacturers, of packaging especially, to design a second life into their packaging. It can be done as the flour sacks and feed sacks and other examples show.

Some of the makers of mustard, in both Germany and France, still do this in that the glasses in which the mustard comes, without even having to give it a second thought, are meant to be retained as drinking glasses. In Germany they are often small beer tankards which those of French mustard are the kind of glasses that would be used in homes for the vin de pays. It is hardly rocket science as it was done before and thus could easily be done again and, with giving people templates and ideas to go with it, encouraging them to reuse, it more than likely would work and work well.

In those days when people used the flour and feed sacks – made from cotton then – times were hard and money in short supply and they did not just use and reuse that kind of material but everything that they could reuse, including glass jars for drinking vessels – aside of other uses too. Though the poor working class did that well before the Great Depression and from that, we more than likely have the term of “having a jar” as to having a drink.

If we really want to be serious about reducing waste it requires industry and design as well as us as consumers to think and rethink our ways and we, as consumers, if there is not other way finding ways to make use of as much as the stuff that comes our way as possible. Consider also that (1) you have paid for the packaging in your purchase price thus you might as well reuse it and make something out of it if and where you can and (2) you have to pay for the disposal of it and the less you have to dispose ideally the less you have to pay.

© 2018

Tiny homes

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

So-called “tiny homes” – and my God, tiny they often are – are all the craze in the “Western” world, it would seem, right now, in the second decade of the 21st century, and many families with children even downsize to those small and tiny dwellings which, in many cases may not be a bad idea. There are even, though primarily at present only intended for homeless (single) people, tiny homes villages – communities – springing up in some places with communal buildings, launderette, etc.

At the same time, however, almost everyone seems to be up in arms about the fact that Roma families in Eastern Europe “have to live” in small homes where all the kids, sometimes together with the parents, sleep in one bed and there are but a few rooms, if not just one, in the house.

A little like when the Gypsy caves in Sacramonte and Quadix were condemned by the authorities as “unfit for human habitation”, the Gitanos forced into apartment complexes, which did not suit their lives, and the caves then sold off to non-Gypsies as holiday homes and some even for permanent use. Just saying.

I am not against small homes, the opposite rather, as I can also clutter up a large one, and I think that many homes, in the USA and elsewhere, have gotten way too big and their footprint, both literal and environmental, also.

Most people, however, still see it the way that if you have a small house and your children have to share a room or, oh dear, they may have to share a bed or even the bed with the parents then you are poor, very poor, and, oh no, this can't possibly be, especially not when it is working class families or Gypsies. This goes especially for countries such as the USA, Britain, and some other places. Some of those tiny homes today, however, are taking tiny to the extreme. Small, even one-roomed, cabin kind of house is one thing but some of those are about the size of a sheepherder's wagon.

In those tiny homes into which many people downsize, even entire families with two or three kids, this is, shall I say once again, the norm, namely the family bed, with all sharing. But, hey, those are the modern well-educated folks and that's OK.

I am all for smaller homes and, yes, even, like in China and other places in Asia, for the family bed but what I cannot stand is the way that some people who live in small homes, whether out of choice or often not, and the whole family sleeping in the same bed, being told that they live in homes that are too small for them, and so on.

I am even and especially for the small homes communities – as some of those tiny homes are really a little too tiny that are in use there – for co-housing of larger extended families and intentional communities where the homes are mostly for living and communal kitchens and other common areas are also available. They would reduce the footprint in all aspects greatly. They are a great idea and far too many homes today are far too big.

My peeve is only with that the world seems to measure with two different kinds of scales here. When it comes to the hipsters and such like then downsizing to tiny homes is being applauded, even when this is with children. However, people who, to some extent by force of circumstances, are living in small homes, such as many Rom (Gypsies) then they are being castigated for living in such small homes.

Small homes are the way to go, I very much believe, and therefore rather than condemning the Rom (Gypsies) and their small homes maybe people could learn from them and, at the same time, help those Rom to better small homes. How would that be?

The family bed (more about the family bed in another article) is also very hip today among many of the “modern” families while not so long ago the very idea was being held as an anathema and people where the co-sleeping of parents and children is common were portrayed as backwards, such as in many Asian countries. In China this is still very common today for everyone to pile into the same bed of an evening, even among the urban dwellers, and for many a Chinese mother having their children sleep in separate beds, let alone in rooms away from the parents would be an anathema and a cause for mental anguish.

© 2018

Wayward socks and gloves

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

wayward socksFor some unknown reason washing machines seem to eat individual socks and, at times, it seems, also individual gloves, but they do seem to have a penchant for socks, and then a poor orphaned, wayward, sock or glove is left to fend all for itself. So, what do we do? We mix and don't match, that's what we do. Or that's what we should be doing.

I come across lost and never looked for again gloves, mostly single ones, as well as other clothing such as children's socks, again mostly single ones, but also others, in the municipal park here on a regular basis. Generally I do take them home, wash them and, in the case of gloves and socks, I try to, somehow, match them and make new unmatched pairs.

In fact, a number of years ago I wrote about turning odd gloves into unmatched pairs and that idea of mine was – shall we call it what it was – stolen by an enterprise online that then commercialized it by asking people to send odd gloves that they found to them for them, the “enterprise”, to “match” them up with others for sale.

When it comes to wayward socks at home – or when one sock is damaged beyond repair while the other one is still OK – why sort of not matching two of those up and wearing them should not be the way to go. Mismatched has, to some extent, it would seem, become fashionable even, at least among some. This can also be a way of rescuing found socks, especially for toddlers and children, and create unmatched pairs for them. Waste not want not.

When it comes to holy (not as in sacred but as in having holes) socks, nowadays, darning them is (almost) impossible due to the materials being used in the manufacture, with the exception of high quality expensive ones, maybe, and hand-knitted ones. So, let's pair up the unmatched and use those that are gone (beyond repair although often repair is not even possible) for other purposes before tossing them out. Worn out socks that are not repairable can be used as application cloths for shoe polish and even for polishing shoes, as dusters, and many other uses.

© 2018

Be happy with the little that you have

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Be happy with the little that you haveBe happy with the little that you have. There are people who have nothing and still manage to smile.

Many of us want more, more and still more while, in fact, we have all that we really need, at least in comparison to others who have nothing but who, more often that not, are happier than those who perpetually seek for more.

I have, and so have many others, found that it is also those very same poor who will share with you the little they have – without a second thought – while those who have much will not share even a little. “It's all mine and you can go and (enter your own expletive here, if you so wish)”.

It is, and I am not happy to admit that, not always easy to be prepared to share, especially not if you have grown up poor and are afraid to lose again what you have now. But being happy with the little that I have now I, basically, am and I, but then that is me, do not desire to have more than I need. What for?

Though, alas, I do have to admit that I have, at times, I bought far too much in the way of clothing, from charity shops though, I hasten to add, and now have more than I will, probably, ever be able to make use of. But those purchases were all very cheap but good quality and some, though theoretically secondhand, had never been worn and thus I do not, really, regret purchasing them. Whether I'll ever get to wear all of the stuff I do not know. On the positive side though I will not have to buy any clothes, bar the essentials, for a long time to come (if I don't put on weight, that is).

In order to be able to make many things myself I must say that I do own quite a few tools, some new, some old, and I do like to upcycle a lot of stuff (hence the tools) including pallets. If I can make something I need (and want), or repurpose or upcycle for that purpose, then I will do just that. My philosophy always has been that and that is what I grew up with, having little as a child.

Our toys where those that were handmade for us by others, that we made ourselves from natural materials or trash, or those that we found. Our clothes, if we wore any at all, were hand-me-downs, often from other people's children, and some where even homemade. Still, we were happy for we were being loved and cared for. We had fun with those toys we had and even greater fun making them, and fun not having to wear any clothes for much of the time. I believe that it does not take much to be happy, even with little in materials things, as long as the emotional needs are met. And I guess that why so many who have little to nothing but have community are happier than those who have so much in material things.

© 2018

Making art and craft every day keeps the doctor away!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Making art every day keeps the doctor away!Art and craft comes in many forms and shapes, so to speak, from (creative & expressive) writing – including so-called journaling – to knitting, crochet, woodcarving and woodworking, and everything else in between.

Your health and personal well-being, according to studies, can benefit when you make time to be creative? And, apparently, it is true! Whether you write, draw, scrapbook, or create quilts, do woodcarving, or whatever in the arts and crafts department; when you engage in something creative, your mind and body benefits.

Expressive Writing fort instance, whether it is just journaling – that is what once was called keeping a diary and done by a so-called diarist – will eanble you in other areas to better be able to put your thoughts on paper, even if the paper is but virtual.

Writing has been found to grant practicioners a host of long term benefits including, but not limited to:

  • Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor Improved immune system functioning Reduced blood pressure

  • Reduced absenteeism from work

  • Quicker re-employment after job loss

  • Improved working memory

The Science of Google's 20% Rule

Some may have heard of Google's 20% rule, some maybe not (and I must say I didn't until I came across it), which allows employees to spend 20% of their time on side projects they are passionate about. What seems on the surface to be a huge sink in productivity actually saw huge boosts for both the company and their employees.

Side projects, it turns out, boosts work performance and productivity.

A study conducted by San Francisco State psychology professor Dr. Kevin Eschleman and his colleagues measured the effect of creative hobbies on over 400 employees. They found those who had a creative hobby were more likely to be helpful and creative on the job as well as more relaxed and in control.

The finding from the research indicate that organizations may benefit from encouraging employees to consider creative activities in their efforts to recover from work.

Creative activities are likely to provide valuable experiences of mastery and control, but may also provide employees experiences of discovery that uniquely influence performance-related outcomes.

Creative Therapies

There is now a whole emerging field of people who employ the arts to help people heal. It is called Creative Arts Therapies, and according to the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations (NCCATA), it encompasses a wide range of modes of expression including art, dance/movement, drama, music, poetry, and psychodrama. One could, obviously, also be sarcastic here and say that there is always someone – or quite a number of people – who find a way of making money from “strange professions”.

Creative Arts Therapists are human service professionals who use arts modalities and creative processes for the purpose of ameliorating disability and illness and optimizing health and wellness. Treatment outcomes include, for example, improving communication and expression, and increasing physical, emotional, cognitive and/or social functioning.

When you undertake these activities, whether for yourself or with the guidance of a Creative Art Therapist, you stand to benefit by making art.

In a world full of distractions and stress, it can be difficult to find time to be creative but considering the outcomes time should be made available and not just for us adults but also and especially for children (and young people). Their lives have become far too structured and stressful and, aside from unstructured play, letting them get into creative activities, more or less on their own, could be of great benefit.

© 2018