30 September 2012

Secret Knitting - Revealed!

You may remember way back at the end of July, I'd pulled out my crochet hooks for a secret WI knitting project. Finally after months of work (and several more squares) we've been able to reveal the surprise.

We've taken one secret location:

And combined it with a fabulous bundle of colourful patchwork!

So early Saturday morning when a band of hardy souls made a bracing 5km sponsored walk which culminated at the top of the old Sutton Manor Colliery, they were greeted by the following sight: a massive piece of guerrilla knitting to help raise money for Willowbrook Hospice.

At the last count I heard, we had about 350 squares created by everyone, from practised pros to newbie knitters. Many were knit by our WI members, but plenty of locals joined in too - and impressively we had squares sent from as far away as Scotland! The scarf was two squares deep, but we still managed to wrap the scarf around Dream an impressive five times!

I really enjoyed being involved in this project - especially the 'knit & natter' working parties where we stitched all the squares together! It was a brilliant opportunity to chat, get to know people and create something unique & original. And though I still can't knit, I'm please to say several of our members have new  knit and crochet skills!

If you live locally and missed the unveiling, I hear our patchwork Dream scarf will soon be on temporary display at the World of Glass.

27 September 2012

Shiny Somethings

I've been struggling with writers block the last couple of weeks, so thought I try an easy Shiny Somethings to get me started.

1.   The iPad

It would seem I've accidentally bought myself an iPad. There was some logic: I really struggle to drag the netbook around so the iPad would let me write in Starbucks or at my in-laws house more easily. Normally I wouldn't buy an Apple, but the android tablets I tried couldn't cope with the Blogger website. I'm still not convinced by it to be honest, most of the apps I'm interested in are already on my phone. So far about the only things I've used it for are answering some email and playing Tiny Monsters (as you can see).

2.   iPad Cover

In fact I pretty much hated the iPad until I bought the official leather iPad Smart Cover. Now here's an example of gorgeous design! Combining beauty and function: the covers protect the screen, improve the functionality and all without hiding the iPad's sleek design. The slim aluminium hinge snaps into place without even a thought, through the clever use of magnets. I can't imagine how many prototypes they went through to get something so seamless and fuss free. When using the iPad, the Smart Cover folds into a triangle which doubles as a vertical stand or a horizontal prop to make typing easier. Finally when you're all done, cover the screen and more clever magnets turn the device off. While I'm not sure I'd recommend the iPad, I can't recommend the Apple Smart Covers highly enough! Normally £59 for the leather finish, I found a few discounted to just £39 in HMV!

3.   Safe & Sound from The Hunger Games

A bit late to the game as usual, I only just discovered this song from The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. A collaboration between Taylor Swift and folk singers The Civil Wars, it has a lovely haunting Appalachian melody. I'll admit I'm already a fan of Taylor Swift, but I'm tempted by many of the song off the District 12 and Beyond Album. So far I've resisted buying it as I am easily influenced by music and have more than enough melancholy of my own at the moment - but I think I'll add it to my Christmas list.

4.  Walkers Sensations Japanese Teriyaki Rice Crackers & Coated Peanuts

Though a bit expensive, these pretty much got me through all the IVF injections. I realised my needle anxiety was worse if I was hungry, so I became a snacking machine over the last couple of months (and boy does my waistline show it!)  Unfortunately most of my favourite snacks are made from wheat or potatoes, which gradually make me feel quite ill. Luckily Mr Goldfish spotted these Walker Sensations, they are brilliant! They have a lot of flavour, but didn't make me feel heavy and nauseous.

If you'd like to share your own Shiny Somethings, feel free to leave a link in the comments below!

23 September 2012

A Whole Year of Step Down Sundays!

I can hardly believe it, but this week marks a whole years worth of Step Down Sundays! We've made some big steps like when I decided not to take internal flights and some very small steps like when I repaired my favourite blanket. I've tried some extreme things like giving up shampoo and some really easy things like using reusable shopping bags.

I can't say every Step Down has been a success and we have slipped back on several of them, but despite this I think it's achieved its goal. The fact we've been made constantly aware of our choices means our low-carbon pledge has always been at the front of our minds. While I'm not sure our carbon footprint has been changed dramatically, hopefully we are changing the way we think.

Life has been a bit stressful over the last few weeks, so I've decided to take a short break from Step Down Sundays to recharge my batteries. Hopefully I'll be back soon with fresh new ideas to reduce our carbon-footprint this Christmas!

If you'd like to flick through our previous posts, you can find them all here in the Step Down archive.

*And just so this post isn't a complete skive, for this week's Step Down Sunday I mended a blown seam on Mr. Goldfish's work trousers while at the WI Book Club. No rest for the wicked!

20 September 2012

Letting Go

With only enough embryos for a single transfer, this negative pregnancy test marks the completion of our first IVF cycle - it's probably also our last IVF cycle. While I reserve the right to change my mind over the next few months, I don't think we'll try again. Infertility is an intensely personal experience, and each couple has to make the right decision for them. While I can understand why other couples try multiple cycles of IVF, I don't think it's the right choice for us.

A friend of mine thought of her first round of IVF as a trial run to make sure everything worked properly. I found this approach comforting, but unfortunately we finally discovered there were problems.

The chances of IVF working are always slim - with something like 30-40% chance on any one cycle - but a single IVF cycle will hopefully include multiple embryo transfers. Unfortunately I didn't respond well to the medications, so could only harvest a few eggs. This meant we had just one transfer and thus our chances drop even lower. While many point out that a second cycle of IVF has just as much chance of working as our first did...I'm not sure we'd have tried in the first place knowing our chances were so poor.

It doesn't help that I've never been entirely comfortable with our decision to try IVF; I have financial and spiritual concerns that I never properly resolved. I also can't ignore how much time I've spent in hospitals over the last year. In addition to my general poor health, the ruptured ectopic pregnancy came close to killing me and just a few months later we spent weeks worrying I might have thyroid cancer. And there's also a strong probability that I'll still need thyroid surgery within the next year. It's hard to justify even more medical interventions, especially when you see the effect the stress is having on my body. Just yesterday I had to apologise to my hairdresser, as I'm losing so much of my hair that it was covering her hands and combs.

There's also a sense of timing involved in our decision. For the last three years we've always had a healthy supply of prenatal vitamins and pregnancy tests in the house - and as the end of the two week wait approached I realised these supplies were at their end. I was on my last box of tablets and had one final pregnancy test. It was like we'd reached the natural end of our journey.

So now we're trying to decide what we'll do instead. Every decision we've made the last six years was with our future family in mind, now that's not achievable we have to find something else to fill our lives (previously I'd have suggested travelling around the world, but unfortunately that doesn't fit with our recent low-carbon commitment). But suddenly there are no strings, we could move anywhere in the country. In many ways I want to run away, our family is so child focussed that there's not much room for those without -so it feels like family will be a constant source of shocking insensitivity or unwanted pity. It's our challenge to find a way of protecting ourselves and coping with this, be it with a physical change of location or simply a behavioural one.

That said we'll not completely give up just yet. We can try naturally for a few more months, hoping that the IVF drugs may have given my system a bit of a kick start...but we're letting go of our dream.

So where would you go or what would you do, if you needed to build you life over again from scratch?

This was originally written for the Emma's Diary Blog

16 September 2012

Step Down Sunday - Coffee Shops

We've always taken the approach that Step Down Sunday isn't exclusively about reducing our carbon footprint, instead we try to balance ethical and environmental concerns.

Once you've looked into companies' ethics, you can feel completely overwhelmed. Ethical Consumer is a brilliant resource for those looking to make responsible purchases, but you still need to read their analysis thoroughly. For example, even though I'm vegetarian, I won't penalise a company for serving the meat sandwiches their customers want. So rather than blindly following boycotts, it's important to work out what you want to say.
Coffee shops are a prime example of this. The UK high street has three main contenders - Costa Coffee, Cafe Nero & Starbucks. Costa Coffee is owned by a UK company and serves Rainforest Alliance Coffee, but that is a limited proportion - usually 30%. Cafe Nero mentions fairtrade coffee on their website, but doesn't actually sell any. Starbucks on the other hand uses 100% fair trade coffee in all their standard espresso drinks.

Starbucks however loses a lot of support due to their American employment practices. While I in no way support those practises, but it strikes me that their UK business is a different beast. Starbuck's only uses fair trade as standard in their UK shops, so I think we should support that effort. When Starbucks looks at their annual report, I want it to show that fair trade coffee (and treating their employees reasonably) really paid off, so they'll consider adopting the practise around the world!

There will still be logicistical problems, I'd guess the UK market is less than 1/50th of the US market, yet Starbucks is already the world's biggest purchaser of fairtrade coffee. They'll need to find a lot more suppliers if they want to serve fairtrade coffee across America, but that's a problem I'd love to see them solve.

Obviously not the perfect answer, Ethical Consumer would recommend you go with Costa Coffee instead, but personally I don't think boycotting in the UK will improve Starbucks employment practises in the United States. However I think we can make a huge impact on how profitable fairtrade coffee is seen to be by all three of the big name coffee shops!

Step Down Sunday
Have you made any Steps Down this week?

If you'd like the code for the Step Down Sunday badge or to learn more about it, go to the Step Down Sunday page.

14 September 2012


One of the hardest things at the moment is continuity. Over the last couple of weeks I've attended a Quaker Clerking course and yesterday's BlogCamp, and they are moments when life seems normal and fine. I know what I'm supposed to do, and by acting as if everything is fine - everything is fine. I've walked out of both feeling empowered; that there are things I need and want to do...

But when I get home that all seems to vanish. When faced with blog posts, emails, phone calls or even twitter...I just can't bring myself to engage and interact. It's like my mind retreats leaving me a bit lost.

For weeks I've been hiding from the silence. First by burying myself in books, and when my concentration fled I worked my way through years of Can I Has Cheezburger, Failbook, and FML posts (Warning: swearing & adult "humour" in some cases). Anything to drown out the empty buzzing in my head.

It even seems to be compounding now. I can't cope with writing Step Down Sundays, which means I don't have opportunity to write the easier Shiny Somethings, which then prevents me from writing about anything else. And the weight of all these things I should be writing - makes it harder to find a place to start.

I probably need to take a break from the Step Down Sundays until I have space in my head again for other things, but it's just two weeks until Step Down Sunday's 1st birthday. While I haven't written every week over the last month, it feels like it would be a failure to take a break at this point.

I guess that's what I mean by continuity, just how difficult it is to carry things through from day to day.

9 September 2012

Step Down at Woodbrooke

Step Down SundayI’m afraid there’s not been enough room in my head the last couple of weeks for blog posts, but rather than miss another Step Down Sunday I thought I might just share a few things from my recent weekend away.

Several months ago I booked on a Clerking course at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. Unfortunately travel ended up being a real bug bear. Originally I was going to travel on the train, but it was a three day residential course which meant I needed to travel with medical bedding as well as luggage. Travelling with that much stuff is nearly impossible at the best of times, but I’d also been instructed to avoid strenuous activity in case I was pregnant. The only solution seemed to be Mr Goldfish driving me down, but driving to Birmingham and back twice over one weekend was going to double the trip’s carbon footprint.

In the end we compromised. We couldn’t avoid the car journey, but we could pay an additional £40 so Mr Goldfish could stay at Woodbrooke too. Poor man had a rather boring weekend while I was in meetings, but at least we had more opportunity to digest our bad news than if we’d spent the weekend apart.

As part of the Quaker commitment to low-carbon living, Woodbrooke is also working to reduce their carbon footprint. The original Grade II building has been converted from the former Cadbury residence to into educational centre and bed & breakfast. The rooms aren't especially fancy, but they are cosy and welcoming. We ended up in one of the top floor family rooms, which was a lovely - if unusual space. I didn't have too much trouble, but Mr Goldfish smacked his head on the low beams and ceilings several times.
One of the Steps Down we noticed was the four minute shower timer in the bathroom. I think Mr Goldfish took it as a daily challenge to finish before the hour glass ran out. (I'm just waiting for him to suggest one for home!)
They also use BeeKind soaps and shampoos by Gilchrist & Soames which contain no parabens, phthalates, petrol-derived ingredients, or artificial colours or dyes. Instead using honey, naturally derived glycerin and other green ingredients presented in simple recyclable packaging.
They've also converted most of the lighting to florescent or energy efficient bulbs. In communal spaces this is combined with sensors, which when activated turn the lights on for just three minutes. (I was impressed by the responsiveness of the lights. They turned on quickly and you never felt like you were feeling your way through the dark.)

In addition to offering vegetarian and vegan options, the dining hall also uses vegetables grown on the site. I had a lovely vegan chickpea, lentil and courgette dish that used yellow courgette grown in the Woodbrooke garden.
Finally for any new construction they are using sustainable materials and eco-friendly techniques. They recently completed a large garden lounge (extension pictured above), which uses Porotherm blocks, underfloor heating, a wood-burning stove, maximum insulation and special glass to reduce heat loss. It's a fantastic space which allows guests to relax and socialise.

So while we made only a small compromise to reduce our carbon-footprint this week, it was lovely to see the changes others in our community are making to achieve the same goal.

Step Down Sunday
Have you made any Steps Down this week?

If you'd like the code for the Step Down Sunday badge or to learn more about it, go to the Step Down Sunday page.