NaNaWriMo 2021

It is the 1st November which means one thing…

It’s National Novel Writing Month!!!

NaNoWrimo 2021 - Facebook Banner - Design by Andrea Floren

I was first introduced to NaNoWriMo about 5 years ago and since then every November there has been an attempt for me to write 50,000 in the month. This works out to roughly 1700 words a day – which may not sound like a lot but actually is quite challenging when your brain just can’t write words that day.

If you enjoy writing then I find that NaNo is a wonderful opportunity to really push yourself creatively, and it also allows you to create a writing habit. I have worked out over the years what my writing style is like, and also how I best focus when it comes to writing.

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organisation and honestly everyone I have spoken to and interacted with regarding NaNo have been absolutely lovely. They have so many resources to help you write, so that even if you have never written anything before you would feel completely prepared to take on a 50,000 word challenge. They have some really useless prep tips and writing exercises to use if you ever find yourself in a writing slump, and the forums allow you to connect with other people who are also attempting to write 50,000 words.

Before Covid struck, regional and local groups would hold face to face ‘write ins’ where you would meet up with a load of people and help encourage each other with the writing. I only managed to go to one of these write ins and thanks o their support and guidance – plus just the really lovely atmosphere of creativity and expression – I was able to write about 10,000 words in just one sitting! Unfortunately Covid has put an end to all of these, however local groups will still be running virtual write ins and social events throughout November so you can still take part in the social aspect of it all.

Personally, I absolutely love NaNoWriMo. Every year I am always so inspired by the talks they bring out, and to see so many others talk so passionately about their stories, that I am always super keen to take part. Last year though, 2020 really did a number on me mentally so while I still stayed informed about everything happening with NaNo, I didn’t take part in it. And I really did miss it. It feels really nice to have a challenge again that is so creative.

If you want more information and want to take part, their website is www.nanowrimo.org. As they are a charity they do ask for donations, but it is not mandatory. You can sign up and access all of their resources completely free of charge. The people who take part (and run it) are all super supportive, and just seem to be passionate about people writing and – most importantly – having fun while writing. Yes this is a challenge, but it is meant to be fun above all else. Who cares if you end up writing 50,000 words of absolute carnage story, so long as you had heaps of fun writing it!?

I hope I can see some of you guys there, but I also apologise if my posts get super sporadic! I shall do my best but…we shall see!

T xxx

Can vegans support zoos?

I want to have a discussion with you all, because it is something that I have been very interested in for some time. When I was at university I actually did a whole dissertation on whether zoos were good or bad for animal welfare. I went in thinking that there was no way that zoos could be a good thing, however through my research it actually turned out to be a very grey area of animal welfare. I am therefore very keen to see what all of your thoughts are on this subject.

Now this is by no means a comprehensive essay: My dissertation was 10,000 words and even that required a lot of editing down! But I wanted to bring to light some of the main arguments for and against zoos, and the issues that come with them. I have tried to include as many links as I can to articles and research, but as I say I cannot include every single piece of research that I have ever done on this subject. If you have any other interesting or useful reads, please do leave them in the comments below!

Animal welfare

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, any animal in captivity is covered by this act. Zoos and aquariums are also covered by the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 although this act was amended in 2002 to create more obligations on Local Councils when deciding whether or not to license a new zoo, as well as to ensure that animal welfare practices were more in line with the EU directives. In summary, the animals are to have a suitable environment, prevention and protection from harm, suitable food supplies and their living must be as close to the wild as reasonably possible to achieve.

The issue with legislation though is that it is a blanket. It has to cover so many different species, situations and objectives that it can fail when it comes to practically applying the rules contained within it. A study carried out in 2002 by Clubb and Mason found that elephants die far younger in captivity than they do in the wild. One suggestion is that these animals especially have very complex social structures, one that can be hard to recreate in a captive environment. Their social structures are also constantly changed by the zoo, either to keep groups small or to trade members for a new member to either increase chances of mating or to bring in new visitors to the zoo. Elephants are known to create lifelong bonds with the children and other members of their group, and to constantly have your social group changed undoubtedly has a negative impact on the animal’s emotional and mental well being. They are also huge creatures that are used to walking miles everyday – roughly the same distance from London to Oxford! There is no way any zoo are able to create an environment that really allows for this amount of exercise, and when they do not have the adequate amount of exercise, they can develop a number of physical conditions which they would not have had they been in the wild.

There is also the common knowledge that highly intelligent animals struggle to cope mentally within captivity: If you have not yet watched the 2013 movie Blackfish, I would highly recommend it. It shows very graphically what can happen when a highly intelligent animal is stuck in an stimulating and unrewarding environment. The film highlights very clearly that not only is animal welfare needed for the safety of the animals, but also for the safety of the staff, handlers and keepers who look after these animals. There are countless articles about zoochosis, whereby animals in captivity begin to show symptoms of mental and physical illness: This can include pacing, biting and headbutting the environment around them, heightened aggression towards keepers and other animals in the enclosure, swaying and over grooming to name a few. Some animals, such as great white sharks most infamously, do not even survive a year in captivity: The longets a great white was ever held in captivity was for 198 days.

However this tends to be most common in the larger (usually hunting) animals: bears, killer whales, elephants, big cats and primates. Prey animals, such as meerkats, giraffes and gazelle, tend to do quite well in captivity and are less documented in exhibiting signs of zoochosis. The logical conclusion to this information is that prey animals undoubtedly live longer in captivity because they are not being constantly hunted by bigger animals: they do not need to run and hide at every noise, they do not need to be on alert while eating. For many captive prey animals, the ones born in captivity have probably never even seen a predator. Granted some of this nature will be innately woven into their DNA – to be skittish and scared and on edge at all times – however if you have never seen a lion before, would you know to run? Are these animals still suffering? Of course there is a lack of research surrounding this area and the affect it can have on every animal, but it does make you wonder and is something to be contemplated.

Conservation

A paper by William Conway suggested that while conservation efforts were needed, regulation still is not universal enough to ensure that every single zoo does the same level of work and to the same standard. Every country has their own legislation in place to ensure that zoos carry out a degree of conservation work, however this varied largely across the world. Conway suggests that work needs to be done to create a more cohesive world wide plan, since zoos rely so heavily on other zoos for their animals.

London Zoo, for example, spend a large amount of their profits carrying out conservation efforts, with Woburn Safari Park carrying out multiple conservation projects at their own zoo as well as fundraising to support the efforts of conservation charities abroad. A large part of conservation though is understanding the animals and their natural behaviour and this may not always be possible to monitor in the wild. Zoos allow scientists to observe animals around the clock, to check on their psychical and mental characteristics so that this information can be published to other zoos and experts, and better conservation efforts can be made to suit the needs of the animal in question. Conservation methods can be made to be specific and measurable for that exact animal species in question, rather than trying to use a blanket method for a number of different species.

Education and awareness

This is probably the biggest reason why zoos exist, especially nowadays. I remember going on many a school trip to London Zoo and getting to spend all day hearing about the animals and their different characteristics. As a massive animal lover, there is something truly magical about seeing these amazing creatures in real life. I imagine for some people, it gives a real life animal to put to the horrible stories of deforestation, poaching and climate change that we see on the news. It is one thing to see images of a poacher standing proudly over their kill of a wild lion, but quite another to see that same lion standing before you in a zoo. You see the animals that we as humans are affecting and impacting with our actions and it can really drill home to you the changes that need to be made worldwide to protect them.

A large part of zoos (and I know in some of them they do this anyway) should be to show the impact that we humans are having on these animals. Yes these animals should be in the wild, however these are why animals cannot survive in the wild anymore: orangutans are losing their habitats to deforestation and rhinos are being poached to extinction for the belief that their horns hold medicinal remedies. More awareness needs to be raised around these issues, and it is up to zoos to not only educate the general public to take action, but to also step up and demand better protections are granted to these animals so that they do not end up in zoos as the only means for these animals to actually survive. In 2020 alone, roughly 50 species of animals went extinct (not including the 100s of species of plant life which also went extinct), and the number of animals classed as endangered rose by 16,000 in the last year alone. There are now around 40,000 endangered species around the world, and for many people the only time to ever see these endangered species in the flesh will be at a zoo.

Animal trade

This links very closely to conservation and animal welfare, because unfortunately the trading of animals amongst zoos is necessary for conservation efforts: The European Endangered Species Programme is made up of a number of zoos across Europe, who all work together to increase managed breeding within their endangered species. It is quite obvious therefore that animals are constantly being traded between each zoo, especially when you think that without trade between these zoos, the risk of inbreeding heightens with every new generation born – and this is clearly not going to be helpful for conservation plans.

Now I think we all know that the animals are not transported in first class accommodation: of course there are laws in place to say what an animal must be transported in, but I doubt they are in a luxurious plane all to themselves with entertainment and food available whenever they wish. They’re not on Qatar Air right? Unfortunately that is just a reality of the industry, and way more work needs to be done to ensure that these practises are improved and sustained for the future. But as with all of these things it is a work in progress and it will take more than this blog to kick the whole world into implementing change.

Is the trade industry necessary? For conservation plans, yes, undoubtedly it is. Without these trades, managed breeding programmes would not be able to exist past the first new generation as the risk of inbreeding becomes far greater and harder to manage in one zoo on their own. However, would the entire EEP even exist if better measures were put in place world wide to stop the unsustainable killing, deforestation and poaching of these animals in the wild? Another debate for another time but it is something that needs to b e weighed up when discussing this issue.

Economic/tourism implications

Something that also needs to be considered is the economic impact that zoos have on a city. London Zoo alone have roughly 1.25 million visitors every year and with a day ticket costing around £35.00, that is an obscene amount of money being raised. That doesn’t even include the amount of revenue brought in for the food and drink, plus donations from supporters. The taxes that they pay must be in figures that the likes of us may never even imagine. Zoos are also a massive tourist draw, with people travelling all over the world to see different animals. San Diego zoo on its own is an entire day out – look at the size of this place! Every country in the world relies heavily on tourism to bring people into their country and to show off their what their country has to offer, and a massive part of that may be their world renowned zoos.

This also doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of people it takes to run a zoo and the amount of jobs that a zoo creates: Aside from the actual keepers and handlers, you also need to account for chefs, waiting staff, retail assistants, security, account teams, corporate managers, HR staff, garment makers for the clothes on sale and the toys which can be bought, the graphic designers for the zoo signs and information boards and the architects and labourers who build the exhibits and the enclosures. Millions of people world wide are employed by zoos, so to get rid of them completely would mean millions of people lose their livelihood. Even I worked at a zoo while I was studying at uni, as a part time waitress, and I was just one of a team of 50 people. Zoos are a massive industry and for many keepers, I imagine their entire life has been in training to work at a zoo, to care for these exotic animals that very few people ever have the chance to see let alone care for.

My thoughts?

Personally, I am still so conflicted. I know that zoos are important and I think it would be incredibly damaging to abruptly close down an entire industry. I also believe that zoos are beneficial for some animals and actually provide a better quality of life than they would have had in the wild. But that does not mean I am happy that these animals can’t live in the wild. In an ideal world, these animals would all be left to live, thrive and enjoy their environment without us humans barging in to take from them. I try my best to always advocate for animal welfare, but it would be naive of me to ignore the impact that zoos have on this work. The donations they provide to other charities that carry out real groundwork in other countries is fundamental in helping create change.

Now would I chose to go to the zoo if I had a day off and nothing to do? Probably not. But if my nephew or my family wanted us to take a trip to the zoo as part of a family day out? I would go, not only so that I could spend time with my loved ones and see these beautiful and majestic creatures up close, but also because again it is the education and awareness that zoos can create that can inspire new people to take a stand to protect an animal they have just fallen in love with. I hope one day every animal can be at peace and at home in the wild, but until then I want to support conservation and education efforts.

As I said, this is by no means meant to be comprehensive, and it is only meant to provide you with a basic overview of some to the main issues surrounding zoos and the work that they do. But I hope it has at least inspired a thought in you, and has inspired you to do more research into what you as an animal lover can do to help protect them – both in captivity and in the wild.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, and if you guys have any other interesting articles to read, then please do leave those in the comments as well!

T xxx

Ben and Jerry’s Vegan: Save our Swirled Now

It has been 28 degrees (Celsius) here in England for the past week, and let me tell you that us British are NOT PREPARED for such prolonged heat. It happens so rarely in England and without any warning, so naturally we all just sort of freak out a bit when it gets to anything over 25 degrees. To anyone reading this who lives in a tropical or normally very hot country who may be thinking that 25 degrees is not very hot at all, please do remember that England rains 90% of the year and when it is not raining it is either completely grey or snowing. Heat is a strange occurrence that we still have not got to grips with.

I, however, love the heat. As someone who normally runs about 5 degrees colder than everyone else around her, I love being able to wear a t-shirt and not freeze instantly. If I am being honest, 25 is the perfect temperature for me. Mainly because it means i can eat ice cream for lunch and no one says anything because they too are melting.

Ben and Jerry’s are probably the best ice cream makers in the world. I don’t even think that’s an opinion anymore. They are so universally loved that you cannot think of ice cream without thinking of Ben and Jerry’s. And while I am STILL holding my breathe for a vegan phish food to be released, their vegan options are still a really good choice if you want something a bit more exciting than simply chocolate or vanilla.

The Save our Swirled Now flavour is their social justice campaign flavour to bring to light the issues surrounding climate change. So not only are they selling you ice cream, but they are also bringing your attention to a very real issue that needs very real and urgent support. The packaging is 100% plant based recyclable, and all ingredients are fair trade. For more information on the whole campaign and to read more on climate change, see these links:

The Ben and Jerry’s official Page

WWF Climate Change Fund

Earth Day page

National Geographic info page

There are hundred of articles out there about climate change and what we can do – individually and as a society – to reduce our impact on the environment, but these are the best starting point to see the facts and figures.

As to the overall flavour of the ice cream…it’s nice. It is quite sickly – due to the coconut, the caramel and the chocolate chunks – so you can’t eat more than a few spoonfuls in one go. But it does have a very nice balance of the flavours, and it is very refreshing on these hot summer days: With some fruit and maybe a little bit of whipped cream you’d have the perfect summer treat. The chocolate chunks also add a lovely crunchy texture to the ice cream, but just be careful you don’t crack a tooth on the very large chunks. I am not a fan of vanilla, so it is actually really good to have a flavour that is a bit more exciting than vanilla without being just pure chocolate.

But honestly, when my food also comes with a side of environmental activism, I am 100% a fan! The price of most Ben and Jerry’s Ice creams seems to be about £5.50 which is actually such a rip off when the non-vegan versions are only £3. Is it worth that money? For some flavours yes, but not so much for this. But would I pay that extra £2.50 to help support global activism and outreach tasks across the globe, and all I have to do is eat some ice cream? Absolutely.

Overall: As a flavour, 5/10. As a way to make an eco-conscious purchase, 9/10.

T xxx

Why perfection is a myth

Following on my previous post, I wanted to take another little opportunity to reiterate that veganism is not an all or nothing lifestyle. That just because you are vegan does not mean that you also have to try and right every other wrong in the world. The idea of the ‘perfect person’ is a myth and it is not something I would ever tell people to try and aspire to be.

I have met so many vegans who burn themselves out because they try to do too much. The reality is, the world is a very messed up place and there will always be someone in need of help. I have nothing but admiration for those people who do try to help everyone they meet and to fight for every cause under the sun, but I also see these people burn out so quickly and get so bogged down in the badness that they don’t ever stop to just enjoy even the smallest things.

I try to help the homeless as much as possible, but I also do not earn that much money and at the end of the day I still have my own bills to pay, my own pets to support and my own roof to support. I give food when I can and spare change when I have it, but I will never advocate for anyone to bankrupt themselves just to help others. Because that doesn’t help solve the larger situation nor is it a long term solution for the homelessness crisis.

I try not to support big corporation businesses, but if the only place available for me to meet my friends for a coffee is a Starbucks then so be it. I make sure to always have a reusable mug in my bag or to use my own metal straws. But no matter how good a person you are you will never be able to do everything, and I think it is so damaging to have that perfectionist mindset.

As I have mentioned previously, one of the most damaging parts of the vegan community is the idea that veganism is about being perfect. That if you cannot be perfect then you might as well not even bother being vegan. The reality is though that everyone has their own life outside of their vegan one: We all have hectic jobs and busy family lives and complex social circles that we are constantly trying to juggle. So yes, you may want to only go to a locally owned, completely plant based bistro, but if your family want to go to a chain because it’s the only place that offers an option for everyone, then it doesn’t mean you are a ‘bad vegan’. If you work somewhere which involves working with a lot of paper or plastic, then you are not a ‘bad environmentalist’.

Over the years I have tried my best to help as many as possible in the best way that I can. I cannot financially support every homeless person I see, but I can donate old clothes to homeless shelters, and share resources with my wider community in the hope of inspiring them to also assist. I donate to charities that can provide long lasting support to those in need and I try to always educate myself on how these situations come to be. It can be anything from drugs, to mental health issues to just bad luck and tough times. I do my best to signpost people to charities or resources that could help them get back on their feet and to move forward with their lives.

I also cannot save every single animal from torture. At least not over night. If the most I can do is simply not eat meat and dairy and eggs, then that is still a powerful statement to make. I share resources on my social media, on this blog and in my general discussions with people that I meet who ask me about why I’m vegan and sometimes those little acts can inspire someone else to start refusing meat products or to swap their dairy for nut milk. In the grand scheme of things I am not on the picket lines protesting against factory farming, but I am still doing what I am able to do in my current situation.

And I think that is the most important thing to remember when it comes to any type of activism, is that you can only do what you can do. In many cases you simply sharing resources or information online is more than enough. One of your followers could see that picture of a baby cow being torn away from it’s mother and change their diet there and then. They could then forward it onto to other people who also decide to change their diet and to stop supporting the meat industry and it snowballs from there. All because you shared one little picture. Sometimes it can be so hard to see the far reaching influence that we as individuals have, even though there is literally an entire career market based on being an influencer. If someone can convince you that you need to try this new make up product, what’s to say you can’t convince someone else to give up eggs?

Veganism is about living a life that causes as little pain as is possible. No matter what you do, you will never be perfect and someone who obsessed over ‘Perfection’ for the majority of my teens and twenties, let me tell you it is never achievable. There will always be an injustice somewhere int he world that will need righting and so you will never achieve that utopia you chase after. Sometimes, when I get so depressed at the state of the world and the issues that are so prevalent within my society, I stop and I just sit for a moment. I try to remember that even if I was the only vegan in the entire world, by not eating beef I saved at least one cow’s life. By not eating eggs, I have saved at least one female hen from a life of demand. By not eating dairy, one baby cow gets to stay with their mom. And if I never achieve anything else in my life, I know that at least I have done that.

If you ever need a reminder of the impact that you as one person can have, even by simply changing your eating habits, see this calculator. Even the smallest of acts matter and over time those tiny acts can have massive impacts across the world. Veganism is going from strength to strength and the number of people changing to a vegan lifestyle are doubling every month, let alone every year. Below is my impact and…ignoring everything else, 1915 animals are alive today because of me. My goal in life has always been to save animals, so I am pretty bloomin’ chuffed!

Above all things I want people to remember to look after themselves. If you don’t look after yourself, you will not be able to do as much as you want to do and it will inevitably lead to you to feeling nothing but disappointment and sadness. Their is a wonderful phrase which says that when you are on an aeroplane, the first thing they say to you if there is an emergency is to put your own mask on first. Once you have your own mask on, you can then help everyone around you. It is a phrase that I have been hearing more and more, especially with 2020 and the whole COVID19 malarkey, and yet it is such a true statement. You need to look after you first, and everything else will come together easier.

I made this blog as a little way to share my vegan journey, and if I happen to help a few people come to grips with the lifestyle then I consider this a success. I want this blog to be a place of open and free discussion, so if you have questions, or resources or thought that you just want to share, my comments and emails are always open to you.

Stay safe everyone, and I shall see you all soon!

T xxx

Should vegans get vaccinations?

I have been seeing a lot of stuff going around online lately about whether vegans can have vaccinations and still call themselves vegans. It is an issue that is very much up for debate, even if you are not vegan. Personally, I will always advocate for modern medicine as much as possible and it is something that I feel very strongly about. I do not think it makes you any less of a vegan or any less of an animal activist if you require modern medicine or vaccinations throughout your life time.

One of the biggest issues I have with the vegan community sometimes is the thought that veganism is an all or nothing approach: If you cannot be 100% vegan in every single aspect of your life, then you are not truly a vegan. And it really really REALLY bugs me. It is an impossible standard to try to achieve and it can be hugely damaging to people who are just starting their vegan journey.

Obviously you need to do your own research in vaccinations and medicine and make your own mind up about it all. But for me, I will never and have never advocated that vegans should not take modern medicine or should not take vaccinations. It is a reality of life that you will, at some point, require medication – even if it is just painkillers for a headache or some cough medicine for a cold. While animal testing is – unfortunately – a very big aspect of modern life for the sake of medicine, it is one of those areas that is constantly progressing too. There is constant research being carried out to find alternatives to animal testing and I truly believe that soon animal testing will not be necessary.

That being said, this change – as with all changes in the world – happens gradually., and i think it is even more damaging to the cause to think that the issues within society around animal exploitation can be changed overnight. These issues will take years, possibly even decades, to fully eradicate and it would be naive and dangerous to ignore the reality of this. If you need medicine to cope with day to day life (such as if you are asthmatic, have allergies, depression or mental health issues that need medication to regulate) then I will always encourage you to take that medicine. You need to look after yourself first. If the vegan community does not look after themselves first, then who will be there to fight for the animals and to challenge the practices currently in place? It does not make you a hypocrite, especially if you depend on medication to just get you through the day.

The vaccination for COVID19 is being rolled out very quickly now and I for one cannot wait to get the vaccine. Yes, I know that thousands of animals had to suffer in order for this vaccination to be allowed for commercial use, but once we have all been vaccinated we can get back to demonstrations, talks and protests to continue fighting that fight for the animals. If anything, the fact that animals are the only way to test medicine is a huge issue: If we had multiple alternatives that were correctly funded, researched and utilised within the medical industry, then vaccines and medication could be rolled out way faster and in much larger numbers due to the fact that we are not relying on only one method of testing to green-light any of the products.

Society is constantly evolving, and there have been huge steps forward for animal rights in the last five years. Imagine what we could do in the next five years?! The idea that veganism and activism requires a certain degree of perfection is damaging, illogical and – quite frankly – idiotic. NO ONE can ever be perfect in any aspect of their lives and I think it is horrible to try and force the vegan community to aim for that. You can only do what you can do: The entire ethos behind veganism is to live a life which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. It is about doing as much as possible with what you have, and in some cases that may be something as small as sharing petitions on social media or simply following a plant based diet.

You need to look after you, and in the modern world in which we live that includes taking modern medicine when you need it. I for one will definitely be getting the vaccine (and any other vaccines and medicine that is required of me throughout my life) as it will keep my body healthy and allow me to continue doing the activism work which I am so very passionate about.

Some further reading if you are interested in learning more about this topic:

There are hundreds of resources out there, so if you find any that you find very helpful or informative please do leave a comment below with a link.

Stay safe everyone, and look after yourselves and each other.

T xxx

2020 favourites

As we near the end of the year and also the end of my first full year of Taylor Tries, I thought it would be fun to go back through and list what my overall winners of this year were. Then next year, I can go through the list and see what has changed!

Best Cheese: Vitalite – shredded or slices, both are fantastic!

Best Burgers: Linda McCartney’s Pulled pork burgers

Best Cookies: Oreo fudge brownie

Best Sausage Roll: Wenzels – full review to follow!

Best Pizza: M&S Three Cheese vegan pizza

Best Dessert: M&S Chocolate cherry pots

Best sausages: Richmond

Best restaurant: Wagamamas – Fingers crossed in 2021 we can be reunited once more!

Best home recipe: Mac and Cheese

What have been some of your favourite finds this year? Veganuary beckons in the New Year so no doubt I will have tons of new stuff to review for you all.

Happy New Year everyone! Thank you to every single one of you lovely people who has stopped by this year and followed my little blog. I appreciate you all so much and am so thankful that so many people have joined me on this little venture. I hope 2021 brings you happiness and more luck than 2020 has…stay safe everyone and I shall see you all next year!

T xxx

How to have a sustainable Christmas

Christmas has just jumped up on us hasn’t it?! Usually you have all of November to prepare for Christmas and to ease into the festive spirit after Halloween, but as the UK spent all of November in lockdown, I emerged from my lockdown to endless Christmas tunes, Santa figures everywhere and far too much red and green decorations.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas: cosy pj sets, lots of food, time off to totally relax with my family and friends, wrapping up presents so they look all cute. But Christmas is also quite a wasteful time of the year, largely in part to the amount of wrapping and packaging that comes along with it all. I have tried my best to make sustainable choices this year, and thought I’d share with you guys some of my ideas that I have found really helpful over the Christmas period.

1. No wrapping paper

Most wrapping papers contain a plastic backing or covering on them and so cannot be recycled.I no longer buy wrapping paper. All of my presents have been wrapped with brown paper and I then also buy some ribbon or string to tie around presents to make them somewhat presentable. I have also seen some examples of people who buy a stamp to decorate the brown paper whoever they wish. Other alternatives is to wrap presents with newspaper, or even to wrap them with another gift: If you have bought someone a pretty scarf, you can use this scarf to wrap up another one of their gifts. You could also use reusable canvas bags or gift bags, so that once the present has been given the person then also has a useful bag to use moving forward.

2. Shop second hand

This can be hard, as I appreciate that not every single area of the country will have affordable charity stores, but even just buying a few good books or DVDs or CDs, or a nice new jumper for the winter from goodwill or a charity shop can make a big difference. Normally these places are cheaper than buying brand new in store (although with some charities this is not always the case) and you can also find some really cool, vintage style pieces that the recipient will no doubt love. It also helps you get used to not buying into fast fashion and helps you look out for more sustainable shopping options.

3. Shop locally/small

As with the above, this is not always easy. Places like Etsy have a lot of options available, but can sometimes be really expensive for what they are. That being said, if you know of someone on your Facebook or local area who makes candles or embroidery kits or can paint really pretty portraits, why not support them? Not only will you be getting some lovely handmade gifts to give people, you will also be helping to support a local and small business, all of whom have probably had a very tough 2020.

4. Make your own

Now you do not have to be overly creative in order to do this sort of gift. For example, if you know that your mom’s favourite hobby is sitting down with a good book and a big mug of tea, why not create a ‘Christmas Hamper’ for her which includes a few charity store books, a selection of different teas and maybe a fair of really fluffy and snugly socks. Not only is this way more personal for the person getting the gift, it can also be a lot of fun hunting out tiny little bits that you know the recipient will really appreciate. In previous years I have also made ‘Activity Jars’, where I fill up a jar with a load of different activities to do so the recipient can use it throughout the year if they are stuck for something to do. Get creative and see what you can come up with!

5. Buy sustainable gifts

One of the easiest ways is to buy people useful things that they already use every day. Items such as reusable coffee mugs, metal straws, wax food wrapping, canvas bags and refillable or insulated water bottles are all really good gift ideas that also support sustainability. Most people will use these items on a daily basis already, so buying them a sustainable version will mean they get a useful gift that they can use the whole year round.

Have you guys found anything else that helps with a sustainable holiday season? Let me know in the comments and I shall make sure to try them all out this year! Now to actually begin my own shopping…

T xxx

Mental Health and lockdown

This is slightly different to what I usually talk about, but I feel it is important and needs to be addressed. Mental health, to me, is just as – if not more – important as physical health, and 2020 has been a year that has truly tested us collectively. From the threat of a global pandemic, to world-wide lockdowns, to the constant fight for many social justice issues across the globe, it has been a very trying time. I am someone who has always had issue with what I like to refer to as ‘The Mean Reds’.

Shikhaa Talks: The Mean Reds
Made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

They have been particularly bad during this year. Now I am a very logical person, so I know that there are very real reasons to be afraid right now: Covid is very much a real threat and even though it’s been nearly a whole year since it was discovered, we still don’t seem to be making much progress in finding out how to fight/combat/deal with it. I also hate that this is the first time in a long time where I feel like so much of my life is no longer under my control. I cannot simply go wherever I please, travel where I please, see who I please. I haven’t been able to hug my parents or my best friend in nearly a whole year, and there is no guarantee when it will be safe to do so again.

Now I am in no way qualified to give anyone advice about how to deal with their own mental health, and if you are struggling to manage it on your own I beg of you to go and speak to a professional. Some very useful links are:

www.mind.org.uk
Anxiety UK
Beat Eating Disorders
CALM
No Panic
Samaritans


Some of the coping methods I have found though that really help my own mental health though are as follows. I have used these over the years and find that when done regularly they really do help me keep my head on straight and keep my mental health in check.

Journalling

My biggest thing is journalling. Having somewhere to just completely brain dump all of your thoughts and feelings can be such a helpful exercise. I just use a standard notebook and just word vomit onto the pages. I very rarely go back through my journal to read past entries, as I have found it never helps and just reminds of me of things that I was otherwise trying to not dwell on. But it has also been helpful to sort out my thoughts and my plans, letting me have somewhere completely private and non-judging where I can say whatever I like and to stop all of my thoughts rushing around my head.

Exercise

In the winter this can be hard to keep up with, but even just going for a nice long walk in the evenings can work wonders. It can be good to do something that allows you to move your body and also get you out of your head for a bit. For me, my go to exercises are running, yoga or barre workouts. They don’t have to be very long runs or a really bendy yoga flow, just taking ten or fifteen minutes to move your body and to completely focus on something else for that time. I find that when I do take that little bit of time to just really get into my exercise, I come away with a clearer head and a calmer outlook. Mainly because I’ve usually forgotten about all of the tiny little things I was worrying about before I started!

Being creative

Right so I cannot draw. Nor paint. And really my sewing skills are lacking. But there is something very freeing about completely losing yourself in a creative act. For me, writing has always been my outlet, and even if it is just a couple thousand words, it gives me a way to stretch my imagination and also gives me something concrete at the end of the day that I alone have created. Even my paintings, which look like a four year old could have painted them with their teeth, are a fun way to spend an afternoon where I can just have a bit of fun and make something completely my own.

Connect with people

This is even more important in 2020 than ever before when it can so easily feel like we are all way more isolated from one another. But that is the joy of modern technology: I can call anyone, at any time, and usually get through to them. I can phone my Mom and hear about how her gardening is going, or call my friend to hear about her work dramas. I can play online video games with friends and send my friends funny pictures of my pets. While 2020 has felt like a somewhat lonely year, it has been very helpful for me to have the reminder that we are all feeling this. The entire world has had to sort of stand still for the year, and everyone is finding something about that situation that stresses them out. It’s what makes us human and it is sometimes a nice reminder that you are definitely not alone in any of this.

What do you guys do to look after your mental health? Are there any methods you’ve found that really help you get through the Mean Reds? Let me know in the comments as I am always up for trying something new.

T xxx