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

Europe drowning in plastic waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Plastic bottles at a Chinese recycling plantNow that China has closed its doors, from January 1, 2018, to (plastic) waste for recycling from Europe (and elsewhere) the countries of Europe are beginning to drown in (plastic) waste and many are now looking for other developing countries, such as Vietnam, to take this waste for recycling, Britain among them.

Instead of actually reducing waste, especially, though not restricted to, plastic waste, and secondly building our own facilities for recycling the countries are, yet again, looking for places with lower environmental standards to where to dump the waste rather than doing the other.

Obviously, considering the high environmental legislations in the home countries it would be too expensive for the capitalists to do it at home and hence other countries, with lower and fewer environmental laws and legilations have to be found where our waste can poison the unsuspecting workers. Couldn't possibly have those recycling plants properly operated in our own countries now, could we. But that is exactly what we should be doing.

Before even thinking about recycling we should, properly, work on reducing the amount of waste, plastic and otherwise, that we generate and that is where all, but for starters industry and legislators, come in.

Now that China declines to take any more of our garbage we should be doing our own recycling, after reducing as much as we can, of our waste and by doing so lead the way and we would also create jobs.

When, however, we talk about recycling then recycling it really should be rather than, as in the case of most glass recyclables, downcyling said glass into a road aggregate akin to sand. That is not recycling.

As far as single-use plastic is concerned this needs to be eliminated once and for all as it cannot, properly, be recycled, at least not into decent objects and while there is nothing, per se, wrong with good solid, for lack of a better word, plastic that will and can be in use for a long time, we should phase out plastic more and more over time till we are almost, once again, free of the stuff.

As far as other waste, including and especially E-waste is concerned, industry has to come into play and design to once again – yes, we were there once already – to make products that actually last not just for a year or three but for decades and more. Oh, yes, sorry, I forgot that that does not give huge profits to the capitalist shareholders.

Instead of solving the problem at home our respective governments are looking for other developing – we used to call those Third World – countries which we can contaminate, and their unsuspecting residents, with our waste, by having them recycle the stuff that we don't want to recycle at home, in bad conditions. The new colonialism.

We should be doing the recycling – after looking at all the other options of reuse and so on prior to recycling – at home, in good conditions for the workers and the environment, as dictated by law. This would also create jobs, from collecting, to sorting, to the actual recycling. But, alas, that cannot be as that would be expensive.

© 2018

Bitcoin's impact on the Planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bitcoin mining uses more electricity than 159 countries

bitcoinThe surge of interest in Bitcoin has triggered not only skyrocketing prices and endless debate on whether it's bubble, but also an enormous increase in electricity consumption all over the world. And, what is important as far as the Planet and climate change are concerned is that most of this electricity is generated using non-renewable fossil fuel.

According to Digiconomist's Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, as of November 20th Bitcoin's current estimated annual electricity consumption is 29.05 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). The figure represents 0.13 percent of global electricity consumption.

According to the UK energy comparison site Power Compare, Bitcoin mining is currently using more electricity than 159 individual countries.

If Bitcoin miners were one country, it would be ranked 61st in the world based on electricity consumption, comparable to Morocco or Slovakia.

Apparently, if it keeps increasing at this rate, Bitcoin mining will consume the entire world's electricity by February 2020, according to Power Compare reports.

Currently Ireland currently uses an estimated 25 billion kWh of electricity annually, so global Bitcoin mining consumption is 16 percent more than the country consumes. Britain consumes an estimated 309 billion kWh of electricity a year, so global Bitcoin mining consumption is only equivalent to 9.4 percent of the UK total.

However, how alarming this all may sound the majority of analyst expect the Bitcoin bubble to burst in the very near future and, aside from leaving a lot of people with egg on their faces and a big hole in their finances, the power consumption will drop to an insignificant level then.

What it, however, does show is what impact online activities doe have on the global power consumption and it also shows how, in so many levels, we have to change the way that we use, or better consume, power, often unnecessarily.

We only need to look at our high-streets, and such places, where the lights are on in the shops almost all through the night, at times even when there is no one about (bar burglars maybe) who could remotely looking into the shop windows to see the goods on display.

© 2018

Simple, frugal and eco living with children

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Simple, frugal and eco living with childrenMany people think that simple, frugal and especially eco-friendly living with children is an impossibility, as kids cost so much money in what they need.

But what do they really need? The greatest, the most important, need a child has is love and care and that should come free. Other things are, sort of, optional extras. And once again, without apology though, I have to warn people that some of my suggestions may be seen as controversial.

Clothes: As few as necessary, and those should, ideally, be secondhand, otherwise let them go naked, at home, and such, where this is possible, especially the boys that haven't reached puberty as yet (or bare bottom, if it is a little too cold). This is a common practice in many countries and cultures, especially in China and Asia, for the boys particularly, and it seems to benefit them no end physically and mentally.

But I don't want skid marks on the furniture, such as armchairs and sofa, you say. Well then either have them use the dog shelf or wash their behinds after they have done their ablutions, as it is done in China and India. Also better for their behinds than toilet paper.

Why not go the whole hog, so to speak, and start the practice of family nudism, at least at home. It also saves on adult clothes. Family nudism equals true minimalism as far as clothes – especially for the kids – are concerned and is good for Planet and wallet.

I have yet to encounter any boy, at least of prepubescent age, who does not take to more or less permanent nudity like a duck to water. You might be hard pressed to get and keep clothes on him even when required.

Underpants: None for the boys. Underpants are now – finally – even by and especially the medical profession considered as extremely bad for the male.

Swimming trunks (costume): If and where possible let them play in the water and swim bare.

Shoes: some, otherwise barefoot and that – even – outdoors as much as possible.

As I said, I can be very controversial.

Sodas: No. not at all, not even as a “treat”. Have them drink tap water instead, as well as milk and fruit juices (unsweetened). And maybe, also, tea and other infusions (herbal teas).

Toys: Some good quality ones – maybe wooden ones – building blocks and others, toys that do not use batteries, and also and especially teach them how to make their own toys and entertainment. It is amazing what entertainment kids can get from some sticks and stones and other things that cost nothing.

Create games (and toys) with them that use and are made from waste materials. There are some Chinese games that could use, for instance, plastic bottle tops as game pieces (counters). I shall be featuring them in the near future after I have created some example by way of reuse and upcycling. So, maybe, look out for that article for some ideas.

Then there are the outdoor games such as Tipcat, which in Pakistan is called Gulli-Danda (elsewhere it goes under different names but is the same) and where 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.

Get wood offcuts from a lumberyard, or such, and make your own version of Lincoln Logs, for instance, or just simply wooden building blocks. The kids will have more fun with them than with commercially made ones, that's for sure, and you save money, and save stuff from going to the landfill.

Pizzas & other takeouts: Don't. Cook good wholesome food at home and involve the kids in the cooking activities, at the same time teaching them to cook. There are enough recipes to be found online that copy takeouts and which, as you have done them yourself, are by far healthier as you know what has gone into them and where and how they were prepared and cooked.

Fakeouts are so much better and are easily made at home and can be better than the real thing without going to the expense even of getting all the right ingredients. Chinese takeout foods such as Chow Mein, for instance, which, by the way, is not a dish actually found in China but which was invented and created in the Chinese diaspora and is very popular also among the diaspora Chinese. Same as the pizza is not Italian at all. You do not need soba noodles, for instance, for Chow Mein, and pizza can be made much better at home with homemade dough and your own choice of toppings.

Those are but a few ideas here as to simple, frugal and “green” living with children and they can add to some real savings in the financial as well as the environmental footprint department.

© 2018

European countries fall to Nazism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

5568One European country after the other, especially EU member states, fall back towards fascism and Nazism. A worrying, but to some extent understandable, trend. Understandable because of the forced migration and the forced acceptance of migrants.

A while back more or less far left parties entered parliament in Poland and right-wing parties have been in power for a number of years already in Hungary. The two countries that make up the former Czechoslovakia also have far-right parties in parliament or in control.

In Germany in the 2017 election the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), a right-wing party has entered parliament and is, to some extent, “responsible” for the problems, still in December 2017, of a government proper being formed. The funny thing – though not of the hilarious kind – is that most who voted for the AfD were working class who, apparently, did not read the party's manifesto.

Now, in December 2017, in Austria we have seen a far-right party actually becoming the coalition partner of another conservative right-wing party, taking, in fact the three major posts in government, including the interior ministry.

In countries that were once part of the so-called Warsaw Pact the worrying trend is that those more or less openly fascist parties are singing from a 1930s hymn sheet, including the song about putting Gypsies into labor camps or, as in Bulgaria, talking openly, at least some politicians do, about euthanazing Gypsies.

In Poland at the end of November 2017 thousands of “nationalists” called openly for Jews to leave the country, a fact that was reported in some of the western media. What they may have suggested that they might like to do to the Gypsies in Poland was not mentioned and I dare not even ask nor think about it. I am sure than we can all imagine what it is they would want to do.

© 2018