Three Things #2

I am feeling very uninspired at the moment, hence the lack of blog posts. I could finally write up my travels from… ummm… two years ago(!), but that would involve resizing photos and I don’t wannaaaa. So I guess I’m both uninspired and unmotivated. Anyway, here’s a little filler in the form of a post I stole from Steph. So much excitement! You’re welcome.

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The picture isn’t relevant to the answers, but there are three birds so…

Three films I’ve watched more than 20 times 
1. The Lion King (thanks to my little brother who was obsessed as a kid)
2. Grease (same little brother. When he was 2-3 years old he literally refused to sleep unless he had watched Grease!)
3. Alice in Wonderland (the Disney version) – it only seems fair that I add this, since this was my childhood obsession. I wore out our video cassette of it, and I’m sure my mum was equally as sick of the sight of it as I was of Grease!

Three things I don’t do
1. Run – stole this one from Steph, but it’s true. Jan keeps trying to get me to go jogging with him. Hahaha, no!
2. Anywhere near as much housework as I should.
3. Iron. Ever.

Three things I’m always up for doing
1. Pub quiz
2. Reading
3. A day trip

Three good things that happened this month
1. Meeting up with friends (and meeting their babies)
2. I got to stroke a tiny puppy on the train to work the other week
3. I discovered that Manor in Basel sells self-raising flower and Bisto gravy granules. It’s the little things…

Three things I wish everyone knew so well it was ingrained in their bones
1. The difference between there, they’re and their.
2. Nobody’s life is perfect no matter how social media might make it look.
3. If you think that you’ll be happy once you achieve one specific thing (whether it’s losing X amount of weight, finding the perfect job, meeting someone you want to spend you life with, buying your dream home…), you’re wrong. Happiness comes from within. If you’re not happy now, then once you’ve achieved that thing you will just move on to the next thing that is absolutely, definitely all you need to make you happy.

Three things I’m tired of
1. Brexit – sound familiar?
2. Never-ending housework
3. Infertility

Three things I’ll never tire of
1. Tea
2. Pointing out every dog I see to Jan
3. Books, of course

Three things I like to photograph
1. Bees on flowers
2. Basel
3. Scenery

Three things I can’t resist
1. Chocolate… unfortunately
2. Adding new books to my wish list
3. Cute jewellery from Etsy

OK, that’s all. Over to you… tell me your three things for one of the categories in the comments.

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What I read in July 2019

Hello friends. Today is my birthday and also Show Us Your Books day… could there be a better gift? July was an excellent reading month for me… I managed to read 20 books, which is one fewer than in my best ever reading month. With so much to get through, I don’t want to ramble on too much, so I’ll just get on with it. Linking up with Jana and Steph, of course. TL;DR at the bottom if you just want to know which ones I recommend without reading the whole post.

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The first three weeks of the month were completely dominated by reading for Erin’s reading challenge, so the first ten reviews here are from that. If you want to know the categories, you can find them here.

Joyland by Stephen King. In 1973, Devin Jones gets a summer job at an amusement park called Joyland where he learns that a young girl was murdered on the haunted house ride a few years ago. Supposedly her ghost has been seen there since then. In between nursing a broken heart after being dumped by his first love and learning that he actually has a talent for entertaining kids, Devin decides to investigate the murder… or rather gets one of his friends to do all the work for him. He also befriends a single mother and her son, who is dying. This book is part ghost story, part murder mystery but mostly coming of age. It’s far from being my favourite Stephen King story but it’s a quick read and I was reminded, once again, that he certainly can write. Devin felt so real to me. A few things threw me though – were smoothies really that big in the 70s that someone would just casually invite someone in for one? I don’t think I’d even heard of a smoothie until about 2000, although I’m not from the US so maybe it was different there. Whatever. 3.5 stars.

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey. I bought this book last year then I realised it’s not a sequel to The Girl With All the Gifts, but more of a companion… or prequel, really. But when I realised it fit a category for Erin’s challenge I decided it was time to get over myself and just read it. I don’t really know what to say about this one because if you haven’t read The Girl With All the Gifts you really should go into that one without knowing what it’s all about. So maybe skip to the next review if that applies to you? So, in this one a group of soldiers venture out from London , tracking down caches left my a previous team to find out whether any of them have been left in an environment that’s inhospitable to the pathogen the causes the plague that’s struck society. They also occasionally stop to take samples from the “hungries” for analysis. Meanwhile there are all sorts of tensions within the team – one is a spy, half the crew seem to hate the other half and many of them are hiding secrets. The story mainly revolves around Dr Khan, who discovers she’s pregnant after the start of the mission, and a teenager named Stephen, her ward, who is some kind of genius, probably on the autistic spectrum (although diagnoses kind of went out the window when the world basically ended) and invented the cream that makes people invisible to those who are infected. I  didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as The Girl With All the Gifts. I missed Melanie – she was such a fantastic character. Some of the characters in this one are cliché (particularly the soldier-types who shoot first and ask questions afterwards) and I hated the way they treated Stephen. But other than that I really did enjoy being back in this world. The ending really tied things together for me and provided some resolution for the first book as well so I’m glad I read it. Technically it could probably be read as a standalone but I don’t think it would be as enjoyable without having read the other book first. 4 stars.

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Ceony Twill has just graduated from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined at the top of her class and is really annoyed to have been assigned an apprenticeship as a paper magician – she wanted to learn metal and once bonded to an element you can never control anything else. Yet the spells she learns under her new master, the kindly Thane, turn out to be more wonderful than she could ever have imagined – animating paper creatures so they come to life, creating paper snow that’s actually cold, reading fortunes. But then an Excisioner — a practitioner of the forbidden dark magic involving flesh — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will literally take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart. This could have been really good. The magic is fantastic – paper animals brought to life. I adored Fennel, the dog Thane makes from paper. But the writing and the whole world are just confusing. It’s supposed to be set in London but at one point the main character – born and raised in England – cooks biscuits and gravy. Biscuits in the UK are cookies and you certainly don’t eat them with gravy. Nothing about it sounded British! And it didn’t sound like it was taking place in the early 1900s either. There were a few “quaint” expressions that I suppose the author thought would make the book sounded dated but they really didn’t. It would have been a lot more convincing if it were set in modern day New York. A disappointing 2.5 stars.

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner. The daughter of a merchant and his beautiful wife, Coriander’s childhood in seventeenth century England is a happy one, until her mother dies and her father – a Royalist – is driven into hiding by her wicked stepmother and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. When the fanatical (and evil) Puritan minister Arise Fell locks her in a chest and leaves her to die, she is transported to fairyland where she discovers her mother was actually a fairy princess and her daughter has inherited some of her magic. Now it’s up to Coriander to use her new-found magic in order to save both herself and an inhabitant of the fairy world from the evil-doers of both worlds. is a cute book. I would have appreciated more detail on the fairytale world – maybe some explanation of must what was so special about the prince. But this is Coriander’s tale and her life is rooted in London. I did appreciate Coriander being the one to do the saving – no week girls relying on men-folk here! And I loved Hester. It was a pleasant surprise that Coriander’s step-sister was not portrayed as “wicked” but as much a victim of her mother as anyone else. 3.5 stars.

Lost Boy by Christina Henry. We all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t grow up. But that’s just one story. What about the other side? Peter brought Jamie to the island many years ago because there were no grown ups and they could play and do as they liked all day. He brought boys from the Other Place to join the fun. But it’s never been all fun and games on the island, where their neighbours are pirates and monsters, their toys are stones and knives and their games are violent – and often deadly. Peter promised they would all be young and happy forever. Peter lied. This is Jamie’s side of the story… better known to readers as Captain James Hook. This is a dark and twisted tale that takes just enough from the original story to make it seem like it *could* have happened like that. I thoroughly enjoyed this other side of the story retelling. 4 stars.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Eileen Dunlop is an unassuming yet disturbed young woman, trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen’s days are filled with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. All while she fills her time with shoplifting, obsessing over a prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When beautiful, bright Rebecca Saint John comes to work at the prison just before Christmas, Eileen is unable to resist what she thinks is the start of a wonderful friendship. Until her affection for Rebecca pulls her into complicity in a crime. I liked this book to start with. Eileen is a thoroughly unlikeable character – tightly wound, disturbed, you could even call her disgusting. She dresses in her dead mother’s clothes, has a really messed up relationship with her body, hates the idea of anyone knowing she has actual body functions and frequently neglects even the most basic hygiene. But for all that, she’s utterly fascinating. The writing is so good that you can’t help but read on even while wondering why you would possibly want to read about such an awful person and her mundane little life. But after a while things started to get repetitive and I found myself wishing the book would hurry up and get to whatever point it was trying to make. There were so many references to “the last time I would see him” or “if I had known that I wasn’t coming back” that I wanted to shout at her to just get on with it! The ending, when it finally came, was anti-climatic. If this hadn’t been short and for a challenge I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing it. 2.5 stars.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye.  Ashton Pelham-Martyn is the son of an English botanist, born on the road while his parents are travelling through India. His mother dies shortly after his birth. When he loses his father just a few years later, his nanny is supposed to take him back to his people, but circumstances intervene and result in her adopting him as her son and raising him as a Hindu, believing it’s the only way to keep him safe. When she dies, he finds out his true parentage. As a result, Ash ends up torn between his two identities, always able to see both sides of the picture, resulting in lots of trouble when he later joins the army. He then falls in love with a beautiful Indian princess, complicating matters even further. This book went on and on and on. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I liked parts of it. I enjoyed most of the childhood part and I was genuinely invested in Ash and Juli’s love story and wanted to know how things would work out for them, I also loved the character of Wally. In between there were parts that dragged. There was a lot of history, which makes sense given that the author most likely assumed the readers would know very little about India (probably true), but a lot of those sections read like a history book. Surely there must have been a better way to do it? At times it almost seemed like the author was trying to pack in everything she knew about Indian history just to prove that she did know it. I think the main problem is that it didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It’s definitely historical fiction (with too much of an emphasis on history, if you ask me) but is it a romance, a war book, the story of someone trying to find his place in a world where he doesn’t fully belong to any one group? It was supposed to be Ash’s story, but half the time it felt more like the story of the British occupation of India. It’s all of those in one and it’s just too much. There are also too many places. Ash must have been in every region of India at some point! (As well as England and Afghanistan). There are enjoyable parts and the writing is mostly good. If it wasn’t so long I would probably recommend it but honestly it’s not worth slogging through all the politics/history for the sake of the actual story. 3 stars.

Der vertauschte Mantel by Jean-Pierre Gattégno. André Jefferson is a French teacher at a secondary school in Paris, and he hates his job. He was meant for a completely different lifestyle, far away from the humdrum of everyday life. After all, his father was no less than Sir James Andrew Jefferson, British diplomat in Cairo and Alexandria. Such a shame a single financial scandal cost him all his riches and, ultimately, his life, leaving his only son stuck in a dead-end job, scouring second hand shops to be able to buy the expensive clothing brands he loves. Then, one evening, the mother of one of his pupils offers him the chance to earn some money. Lots of money. This book was so weird. The main character is obsessed with clothes. He goes on and on about brand names, what he’s wearing, what he was wearing on another occasion. And he keeps repeating himself. I can see why his colleagues didn’t like him – I didn’t either! He’s also totally naive. Someone offers him a huge amount of money to do something and it never occurs to him that the “something” could be criminal. Then when he agrees to help with the crime he’s surprised when the people involved continue to commit crimes. It picked up a bit towards the end but I can’t say I was sorry when it was over. Very much just okay. 2 stars.

Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor. Felicia is a young, unmarried and pregnant Irish girl who has come to England to look for her lover. Instead she is found by Mr Hilditch, a strange and lonely man, who at first seems to be trying to help, but gradually reveals that he has something else entirely in mind. This is well written and parts of it are creepy. Mr Hilditch made my skin crawl at times. But it’s verrrry slow and I was confused by some parts. The “twist” wasn’t particularly surprising, to me at least. Not bad, but not great either. 3 stars.

Schwarzer Regen by Karl Olsberg. It wasn’t a question of “if”, but “when”… and now it’s finally happened. A deadly attack on a major German city. One of the many victims is Ben, son of ex.police officer Lennard Pauly. While completing a surveillance mission, the private detective discovers something that makes him doubt the official explanation for the attack. While the whole country is being consumed with hate, violence and hostility towards foreigners, he sets out to find out the truth. So, first of all, when I read “major German city” I was not expecting it to be Karlsruhe. It was very strange reading about landmarks in a place where I have lived being blown up! As for the review… this book is is weird. Most of action happens at the beginning, then we have a confusing mishmash of characters who are bound by a very flimsy thread. There’s also a random mathematician character who has been looking at the writings of Nostradamus and sort of predicts the attack but gets the time and place slightly wrong, then reappears once more later in the book but is ultimately utterly pointless and I didn’t understand why he was even in the book. Parts of it are exciting but then the resolutions of the various threads are just incredibly disappointing. 2.5 stars.

Once I was done with Erin’s challenge, I moved onto the Reading Rush, a week long readathon with seven categories to complete. Each completed category earned you a badge on the website and you were allowed to use one book for several prompts, but there was also a bonus badge for reading seven books so obviously I wanted to go all out and have one book per category. Here’s what I read for that:

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Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez. Duke and Earl are just passing through Rockwood county in their pick-up truck when they stop at Gil’s diner for a quick bite to eat. They’re not planning on sticking around for long, but then owner Loretta offers them 100 dollars to help find out why zombie attacks are such a regular occurrence at the diner. Given that Duke is a werewolf and Earl’s a vampire that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right? But the shambling dead are just the tip of the iceberg. Someone’s out to drive Loretta from the diner, and is more than happy to raise a little hell on Earth if that’s what it takes. This is not exactly high literature, but it’s a fun and entertaining read. I liked Earl and Duke’s friendship. There are some sexist bits when it comes to describing how “hot” the girl causing all the problems is, but nonetheless I liked it for its sheer silliness. 3.5 stars.

Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery. For centuries, people have been trying to discover what lies at the centre of the Forbidden Lands. One of those is Alex’s father, the most famously failed explorer in the history of the Cusp, who has just escaped from hospital again, yelling ‘squiggles’. Now the evil Davidus Kyte and all his henchmen are after Alex, convinced he alone knows the meaning of the word ‘squiggles’. Alex really isn’t the type of boy for adventures, but with the help of a talking dog and a girl with unfeasibly sharp teeth, he just might have what it takes to cross the Forbidden Lands, escape the evil Davidus Kyte, and find out what lies beyond the Cusp. I enjoyed this. It’s fun and quirky, but with a surprisingly deep storyline underneath the silliness. 4 stars. Also, this was my 100th book of the year. Just thought I’d point that out.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan, an easygoing gorilla, lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when a newcomer arrives at the mall in the form of Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see his art and their home through new eyes. Ivan knows Ruby doesn’t belong at the mall, but how can he possibly change things for the better? Based on a true story, this book is heart-warming and heartbreaking in equal measure. Everyone should read it! 5 stars.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman. Olivia, or Vee, and her twin brother Aidan  are heading back to Earth after a virus wiped out the rest of their crew three years earlier. Nathan is part of a community heading in the opposite direction. But on their journey, Nathan’s ship is attacked. Olivia tries to save them, but most of the community are wiped out. The few survivors join Olivia and Aidan on their ship, where Nathan and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other, deeply, head-over-heels – like nothing they have ever experienced. But not everyone is pleased with this development. With people being murdered on board and suspicions and rumours flying, is a happily-ever-after even possible? For the most part I liked this book. I read it quickly and even though I worked out some of the twist I still thought it was well done. There are lots of little hints dropped throughout so you can work out what’s going on if you’re paying attention. But Nathan’s character really let it down. I really didn’t like him. Especially after a certain scene which is, quite frankly, abusive. I don’t care what he thought Vee she had done – that is never okay. Both he and Vee seemed really immature for their age – and in Vee’s case at least I could kind of understand it. She hadn’t really been around people since she was 15 so she didn’t really have a chance to mature and grow. The world building was… not great. There’s a lot of mentions of different planets, etc. but no real explanation of how they all fit into the overall scheme. And there’s something called “the Authority” that certain people are apparently working against, but you never really find out what exactly the Authority actually is. You also don’t find out until almost the end what Vee’s ship was doing out there before the rest of the crew get wiped out. It definitely feels like it’s been set up for a sequel. Supposedly this is a retelling of Othello. I can’t comment on that since I either never knew or have completely forgotten the plot of Othello. 3 stars.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Peter rescued Pax when he was just a kit, after the fox cub’s family were all killed . Now the country is at war and when his father enlists, Peter has no choice but to move in with his grandfather. But far worse than leaving home is the fact that he is forced to leave Pax behind. Before Peter spends even one night under his grandfather’s roof he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This book is very simple. For some reason I expected there to be more too it. I thought it would be really sad, but actually I only teared up at the ending. It was the perfect ending, but I still felt sad. I think kids will love it though – I certainly would have. 3.5 stars

Chocolat by Joanne Harris. When the exotic stranger Vianne Rocher arrives in the old French village of Lansquenet with her daughter, Father Reynaud immediately identifies her as a serious danger to his flock. Especially when she opens a chocolate boutique called “La Celeste Praline” directly across the square from the church at the beginning Lent, of all times. To make matters worse, Vianne is an unmarried mother, does not go to church and has a penchant for superstition. But she quickly begins to win over customers with her smiles, her intuition for everyone’s favourites, and her delightful confections. Her shop provides a place, too, for secrets to be whispered, grievances aired. She begins to shake up the rigid morality of the community. Vianne’s plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community. This was a reread for me, but it had been a while and I had forgotten some things. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time round. I love Joanne Harris’s writing. I wish I could be like Vianne and enjoy my life without caring what people think of me. Now I want to reread the other books as well before I try to get hold of the fourth book in the series, which has recently been released. Beware, this book will make you crave chocolate! 4 stars.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Even though Mark has just lost his job, the newly weds head off on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. Suddenly, they are faced with a choice… to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. This book should have been good, and it starts off well, but it’s sooo slow and bogged down by way too much irrelevant detail. I didn’t need to know every choice they could have had on their wedding menu or an intricate description of how to take a gun apart. It took me 6 days to read it because I kept putting it down. I also didn’t really like the main character – she annoyed me from the very start. There were a couple of more interesting parts in the middle but overall it’s just not a good thriller. Also, the main character is randomly pregnant which seemed totally irrelevant to the story, other than as a weird way of showing her relationship isn’t so perfect as she keeps putting off telling her husband. Every time she said “I’ll tell him after I do this thing” I wanted to slap her. Meh. 2 stars.

On the final day of the Reading Rush, having completed by last book, I decided to pick up another one to try and clear away the lingering taste of Something in the Water. I chose something quick and easy that I expected to be good, and managed to read half of it that night.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out – under any circumstances. The Stargirl arrives and everything changes. After 15 years of home schooling, the colourful Stargirl bursts into tenth grade, completed with ukulele, and commences scattering kindness like confetti, serenading people on their birthdays and cheering both teams at sporting events. But popularity is fickle, and suddenly Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl’s arrival and rise and fall, perfectly normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her. I wish everyone could be more like Stargirl – although a couple of things about her did disturb me. Turning up uninvited at a stranger’s funeral was a little creepy. It was nice that she wanted to do things for other people, but her parents should maybe have taught her at least a little about boundaries. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than someone singing happy birthday to me in front of my entire high school! Also, I kept thinking the characters were younger than they were supposed to be. The first time Leo mentioned driving I was shocked because in my head all the characters were about 13. I think 11 or 12 would be the perfect age to read it – I’m sure I would have given it 5 stars back then. But with no nostalgia factor it’s a 3.5 for me.

Finally, with all reading challenges done, I slotted in two “just because” books at the very end of the month.

Words in Deep Blue by Cathy Crowley. Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie are best friends. Or they were, until Rachel moved away. Before she left, she placed a note for Henry between the pages of his favourite book at his family’s used book store confessing her love for him. Henry never responded and continued going out with pretty, popular Amy, who only loves herself but is happy to tolerate Henry loving her too. Now Rachel is back and grieving for her brother Cal, who drowned in the sea that he loved. To make matters worse, she has to work with Henry. I expected this to be a 5 star book, but somehow it just wasn’t quite there. I really enjoyed the bookish aspect and the sibling relationships (Rachel/Cal and also Henry and his sister). And I cried, so obviously I felt something. I did really love it, but it was just missing that final extra spark that would make it a full 5 stars. I think the overall popular/pretty girl vs best friend storyline was just a tiny bit too predictable. 4 stars.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. When sixteen-year-old Grace gives up her baby for adoption, she decides its time to find out more about her own biological mother, and in doing so discovers she has two siblings. There’s Maya, her loud-mouthed younger sister. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. When her adopted family’s problems begin to surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where it is that she belongs. Then there’s Joaquin, their older brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that it’s best to keep his secrets and fears to himself, where they can’t hurt anyone but him. This is such an emotional book. All the siblings have their own problems and I really felt for each of them. Also, I that neither the adoptive parents nor the biological mum were painted as “bad guys”. Both Maya and Grace knew they were adopted and neither of them wanted to know where they came from because of any issues at home, and the bio mum wasn’t shown to have been in the wrong for giving up her children. Basically I loved it and think you should read it. 4.5 stars.

TL;DR: If you liked The Girl With All the Gifts you should read The Boy on the Bridge, but be aware that it’s not a sequel and doesn’t follow Melanie. Everyone – child and adult – needs to read The One and Only Ivan. Lost Boy is excellent and Gil’s All Fright Diner is a lot of fun but beware of sexism. Chocolat is just as good as I remembered. Fans of YA and books about books should definitely read Words in Deep Blue, and Far From the Tree was my second favourite book of the month so obviously I highly recommend it.

And that, finally, is that. If you haven’t read enough book reviews yet make sure to check out the link up. And even if you have had enough for one day make sure you check it out tomorrow!

July 2019 recap

Hello everyone. Happy first day of August! I’ve taken today off work because it’s the Swiss national holiday. I’m still trying to figure out how I want to do these monthly update posts, so this time I’m trying out a different style. Let me know what you think. Linking up with the lovely Kristen, of course. If you’re not following her blog yet, you really should!

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Renovation stuff

Pretty much everything was already done in our flat before the month started – the missing glass wall cover thing for the kitchen having arrived at the end of June. At the beginning of July they painted the stairwell, including our door frame (every time they wanted to do something there they rang the doorbell so I would open the door for them). Then on the 5th the construction manager and the architect came by to do a final inspection – even though we were still missing one radiator and the glass wall for the shower. The letter we got informing us about the inspection requested access to the entire flat so I spent the first week of July sorting out more things so that a) they could get to the windows/radiators and b) they wouldn’t see that we’d still been living like savages after the kitchen and bathrooms were complete. This meant unpacking the final box (which contained bathroom stuff), taking things back out onto the balcony, hoovering everywhere again (how was there still construction dust floating around?!). It doesn’t sound like that should have taken all week but I also had to work, do the usual household chores, make food every day. And it was hot for most of that week. Anyway. The spare room is back to pretty much normal, which means it still looks like a storage room with a bed. Before the renovation, I made Jan help me empty the final few boxes that had been in there so it would have been box free for the first time since we moved in if I hadn’t decided to pack away most of my picture books. I could still move them to the cellar but that feels too defeatist, like I’m accepting the fact that our chances of becoming parents are so remote that there’s no point in having anything relating to babies easily accessible. This week a man came to install the glass panel/door for the shower so finally the bathrooms are completely finished. The only thing missing now is that one radiator, but basically it’s done and I can finally shut up about the renovation 😉

Reading

I was participating in Erin’s book challenge so most of my reading revolved around the categories for that. You can see my list here. I then participated in the Reading Rush, because apparently one challenge in a month isn’t enough?! The list of books I read for that is here. If you want to know what I thought of the books you’ll have to wait until Tuesday for Show Us Your Books.

Cross stitch stuff

In my world summer means the start of birthday stitching season, with two people to make cards for in August (one right at the beginning) and another two in September – although this year might be the last time I make one for my little brother. He’s turning 13… at what point does a cross-stitched card from your older sister become uncool? I stitched one and a half cards for friends’ children in July… I really need to get that half one finished! I made a previously cross-stitched design into a card as well and sent that to a Post Pals sibling. Totally winning!

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Travel/days out

On the first Sunday in July we went to the zoo in Basel. I have no photos for you because we spontaneously decided to go in as we were walking past and my phone camera is terrible. It was fun to see the animals (they had baby beavers!) but I counted no less than three sets of twins and every person I saw with a toddler either also had an older child or a baby or was very heavily pregnant and I was so jealous that they had clearly not only been able to get and stay pregnant but apparently also plan to the extent that their children were close in age. I mean, obviously I don’t know their history but emotions don’t do logic. I should really have known better than to go to the zoo on a sunny weekend in the middle of summer!

As I’ve mentioned, today is Swiss national day, so last night we went to the Rhine Falls to see the fireworks display. We’ve been to the Basel one a few times and I just wanted to do something different. We got there early, which was good because there were a lot of people in the end and it meant we were able to get a great spot. It was definitely a cool setting for fireworks!

And that’s about it. We didn’t really do any travelling in July. I did spend a day in the office in Germany, as usual, but that definitely doesn’t count!

Miscellaneous/general life stuff

Jan was participating in the Basel Tattoo again as a member of the choir. I went to the parade on the first Saturday and then attended the Friday night concert. It wasn’t quite as good as in previous years – it seemed like there weren’t as many acts so some were repeated (the Red Hot Chilli Pipers performed three oo four times). But it was still entertaining and the Chinese lions were fantastic!

Basel Tattoo lions

Apart from that it was honestly a pretty boring month, at least I can’t really think of anything else I did. Work was busy again so I did a fair amount of overtime, but other than that I guess I pretty much just read. For this month I have a few plans with friends (yes, I do actually have a few of those in real life) plus August is my birthday month so maybe I’ll have more to say next time.

Meanwhile, why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to recently? And check out the link up, of course.

Plastic-free July in the office

Hello my lovelies! I thought it would be good to record another day in my life of trying to be plastic-free since the month is now half over (has my motivation lapsed?) and I also had to be in the office yesterday. Totally different situation to my usual days working from home.

I completely forgot to take photos of my morning routine – I’m not at my best at 5:30 a.m.! But you know the drill from last time anyway. Bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste in a plastic tube, refillable bottle of shower gel. And at this point I should admit to you that I caved and used my old shampoo in its plastic bottle the day before. I just couldn’t get on with the shampoo from the zero-waste supermarket… my hair was lank and felt greasy. No thanks! Jan has now bought me a lemon grass shampoo bar so we’ll see how I get on with that. Anyway…

1-water flask

I filled a flask with water before I left so I had something to drink on the two-hour train journey.

2-croissant

Breakfast at the train station… croissant in a paper bag. I also grabbed a napkin so I could place it on the counter while I paid.

3-baguette

I purchased lunch on arrival in my destination city. Baguette wrapped in some kind of waxed paper and placed in a paper bag.

4-water

At work we drink water from plastic bottles. German tap water is safe to drink, but the pipes for our building are old and not necessarily hygienic/safe. A company delivers the bottles then picks up the empties for recycling or reuse (I’m not sure which).

5-dinner

I finally got back to Basel at around 8 p.m., by which time I was way too tired to cook! So I stopped at the vegetarian restaurant by the train station. The straw in my drink is paper. Still single-use, wasteful and entirely unnecessary but not plastic. Did any of the food on my plate come in plastic packaging? I can’t guarantee that it didn’t (and I’d honestly be surprised if every ingredient they used was plastic free). Did I care? In that moment, no. I just wanted to eat and get home. (And yes, I’m aware that it’s exactly that kind of attitude that led to all the problems with plastic bags, straws, bottles, etc. in the first place!).

I then went home, brushed my teeth (plastic tube again), took my folic acid (plastic packaging – unavoidable) and very gratefully collapsed into my bed. Office days are long!

Half-yearly goal recap

(Alternative title: Help, the year is half over already!)

3-sky
The sky’s the limit…

Now that we’re six months (plus a week and a bit) into the year, I wanted to take a look at the goals I set for myself back in January and see how I’m doing with them so far. Maybe decide if I want to change anything or add some new ones for the rest of the year. When I made my goals, I split them up into categories so I’m going to do the same again.

Reading goals

  • Read 100 books (Good Reads challenge goal). Of these:
    • 10 should be non-fiction
    • 12 should be from the BBC Big Read list
    • 20 should have been on my to-read list before 2019 started

I have actually read 94 books already, so I think it’s fair to say I’m doing okay with this goal! I’m thinking of upping it to 150. Another 56 books by the end of the year seems reasonable. Of those 94 books…
– 1 was non-fiction (actually one and a half, but I don’t think the half counts…)
– 5 have been from the BBC Big Read list
– 28 were physically on my shelves (and therefore my to-read list) before 2019 began. I have also read some others that were on my Goodreads or ancient, pre-Goodreads handwritten to-read list but were only acquired in 2019. Having this as a goal has been a real motivator. Whenever I go into work, I try to pick a book that’s been around for a while to take with me… and being stuck on a train for ages also means I will actually start it if only due to a lack of alternatives.

Overall I’ve been doing pretty well on my reading goals… apart from that damn non-fiction one! I’m going to be trying much harder with that one for the rest of the year. And I will be taking Big Read books on the train with me from now on! I think should have enough trips to work before the ends of the year to be able to meet my goal of 12 books…

I’m also going to add one extra reading goal:

  • Re-read four books that I own and decide whether I actually want to keep them or not

In the past I’ve kept most of the books I read (with the exception of ones I really hated and a few that I forced myself to get rid of before we moved to Switzerland) but that means there are a lot of books on my shelves that probably aren’t really worth hanging onto. I decided to do this after re-reading a book that I couldn’t remember whether I had read or not and discovering that I actually had, it was just really forgettable. Since then I’ve re-read two books on purpose and ultimately decided they weren’t worth keeping (in fact, one turned out to be a Bookcrossing book so it really should have been re-released after reading anyway! Oops.) but now it’s been added on to the goals list it’s official ;-). Four seems like a reasonable amount to fit in between all the unread books I feel like I should be giving my attention to. I also want to re-read Good Omens before I watch the TV series (waiting for it to come onto the BBC) but I already know I will definitely not be getting rid of that one!

Cleaning goals

  • Deep clean once per month. To include:
    • Cleaning the bathrooms including mopping floors
    • Cleaning the kitchen including mopping floor and cleaning the oven (bolded because I will clean that damn oven regularly if it kills me! Gah.)
    • Changing bedding
    • Dusting
    • Hoovering, taking away recycling, etc. as needed (although I do those things regularly anyway)

YES… I have actually been doing this! I did skip a couple of months during the renovation, but I then did an extra, almost month-long deep clean in June as I attempted to get all the dust off everything. And my new oven has a cleaning setting, which mainly seems to involve burning all the dirt into oblivion? I dunno… but result! It also tells you when it wants to be cleaned, which is fun. I am hoping that I can keep up with it for the rest of the year, but we’ll see…

Healthy eating goals

  • Eat 5 or more portions of fruit and veg on at least 3 days per week
  • Have nuts/fruit as snacks instead of chocolate and crisps
  • A maximum of 2 cups of black tea per day
  • Drink at least 2 pint glasses of water per day

Umm… *whistles nonchalantly*. Well, I’ve done okay at some of these. I drink enough water on most days and I’ve only rarely gone over the 2 cups of black tea limit (when I was really tired). Snacking is so-so… I have cut down on crisps and started snacking on dried fruit/nut mixes more often but I still definitely eat too much chocolate. But when it comes to my 5 a day… nope. I’m lucky if I eat five portions one day a week. I probably average around three (often all three of them in one meal) but I have to confess that there are days that I only manage one portion. And there have even been days that I haven’t eaten a single one. Those days are rare but do happen. So I really must try harder with this one. I will continue for the rest of the year and try to dream up some ways of motivating myself to eat more fruit and veg. Maybe I need to make myself a star chart like a small child?

So overall an okay first half of the year. Let’s see if I can make the second half more than just okay.

Did you set yourself any goals for the year? How are you getting on with them?

June 2019 recap

Hello friends! Can you believe it’s July already? More than half the year gone, just like that. Next month is my birthday! Thinking about it makes me feel a little sick. Another year older and nothing to show for it. But that’s not what today’s post is about. It’s the first Thursday of the month, and that means I’m linking up with Kristen to talk about what’s new in my life (short answer: not much).

whats new with you

On the first day of June, we went to see a Swiss comedian called Emil (I don’t remember his last name, but it’s irrelevant anyway – he performs as just Emil). Some of it was funny, some of it I didn’t understand and some of the jokes might have been funny when he started out (he’s pretty old) but today they came across as… old-fashioned at best (think stereotypical gender stuff). A friend of Jan’s from one of his choirs joined us and stayed the night since she lives in Zurich. On the Sunday she wanted to take an early train, so we got up early too and had breakfast with her. Later we headed into town and ate ice cream shaped like flowers. And then my holiday was over and the Monday was back to work…. which you wouldn’t think would be a problem after two weeks off, but I really, really didn’t wanna. It ended up not being too bad though. I was in the office on the Friday and between the train journey there and back I managed to read an entire book. Woo. Then came the weekend, which was a long one thanks to Whit Monday.

We decided to make the most of the three day weekend and go away for a couple of days. Jan booked us a hotel in Interlaken and we decided on Jungfraujoch on the Saturday and then see what we felt like doing on the Sunday based on the weather. Jan booked train tickets from Interlaken Ost up to Jungfraujoch on the Saturday, choosing 10 a.m. as the time… except it turns out that was the time the train from Kleine Scheidegg left! So instead of leaving Basel at around 8 we had to be on a train at 5:59 a.m. Just let that sink in for a minute… It was a loooong day! At the top we had to acclimatise first – it’s high! 3,466 metres (11,371 ft) above sea level, to be exact. So we explored the things around the station – viewing platforms, ice tunnel with random sculptures. I felt dizzy at first and got out of breath climbing some stairs. The effects of altitude are real! We then decided to hike to the Mönchsjoch Hut. I was slooow, but I made it. We ate some lunch there before making the trek back. Our train back down left at 4:30 p.m., then we walked to our hotel, checked in and went out for dinner before falling into bed completely exhausted.

The forecast for the next day was mostly rain with a chance of thunderstorms. We had been thinking about taking a funicular up another mountain (to Harder Kulm) but there wouldn’t have been much of a view, so instead we took a train to Meiringen and made a second attempt to visit the Aare Gorge… and this time it was open! The rain stopped just as we got there and held off until we reached the other end, so that was nice. Some photos of the very impressive scenery:

Or next stop was the Reichenbach Falls – of Sherlock Holmes fame. We didn’t go all the way to the top – so we didn’t see the exact location of the crime – but we walked far enough up to get an idea. Then we headed back down and sought out a tea room where we could eat meringues (supposedly invented in Meiringen) and an éclair type thing called a Tatzelwurm, named after a mythological dragon-like creature that supposedly lived in the Aare Gorge. By the time we had finished, it was raining heavily so the best course of action seemed to be to take a train home.

The bank holiday Monday was mostly cloudy/rainy. I think we pretty much spent the day unpacking boxes and attempting to get the flat in order. I took advantage of the fact that most of the flats are currently still empty and did some hoovering (on a holiday… I’m such a rebel!). And then it was back to work again. Only a short week, but somehow it draaaagged!

Another weekend arrived, and we basically spent it unpacking boxes. The Saturday was photo an hour. I started late, but you can see what I did for most of the day here. We went into town and bought new pans to replace some of our crappy old IKEA ones. Decent pans… I feel like a real grown up now! Sunday was more of the unpacking, but by the end of it all the kitchen boxes were empty so that’s good. Jan also put the coat rack back up and reattached the shoe cabinet thing to the wall. Almost back to normal!

Week three of June was yet another short one for me – although not for Jan. Corpus Christi may be a holiday in some parts of Switzerland, but neither Basel nor Zurich has one. This time the holiday was on the Thursday, which always completely throws me off. I spent most of Wednesday thinking it was Friday and half of Friday thinking it was Monday! On Thursday, I took advantage of the fact that Basel did not have a holiday and went into town. I didn’t end up buying much though – some shower gel, chocolate raisins,  lunch. That’s about it. I just couldn’t be bothered. Instead I went home, finished a book and read the entirety of another one. Much better use of my time than shopping! I also did some laundry and ran/emptied the dishwasher in an attempt to be at least semi-productive. I also moved most of my picture books from the bookcase into an empty moving box to create more space on the bottom shelf. I’ve rearranged some books and got new ones so obviously most of that space is now full again but at least the bottom two shelves on the middle bookcase look a bit neater. The picture books will stay in the box until I either have a baby to share them with (then they will go on a bookcase in the baby’s room) or I get rid of enough other books to have room for them again.

books
Yes, that’s the *neater* version of the bottom shelf. You don’t want to know how it looked before…

Then came another weekend. Jan had a rehearsal with the Basel Tattoo Choir on the Saturday morning and then he was singing at a church service in the evening. Demonstrations in town resulted in tram chaos, so after trying for a while to get home from the rehearsal, he called me and asked me to gather the clothes he wanted to change into and bring them into town. I obliged and then, since I was in town anyway, went to a supermarket there to buy something for tea. We ate salmon with couscous, in case you’re wondering. What else did I do that day? Cleaned the kitchen. Read. That’s about it. On Sunday Jan had to sing at another church service, then afterwards I met him in town and we went for brunch at a vegetarian restaurant. Afterwards we wanted to check out the Pärkli Jam festival. Unfortunately it turned out all the bands had performed on Friday and Saturday. Sunday was just dance shows. We bought a drink anyway, watched for a while and then went home. Jan cleaned the living room window (very naughty on a Sunday) while I wrote some letters… one was a response to a letter I received in January. Worst. Pen pal. Ever. In the evening Jan was invited to dinner at a friend’s house – said friend is planning a project that Jan will be part of and wanted to discuss it. I had scrambled eggs on toast for tea, and discovered that the spring onion I added to it was only one eighth of a five-a-day portion. Who eats eight spring onions in one go? I had been tired all day so tried to get an early night but of course failed to fall asleep for ages. Grr.

Not much to say about the following week. On the Thursday I had to go into work because we were all going out for a meal in the evening to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary. I also had an appointment in the morning so I couldn’t leave as early as usual and ended up having to take a half day. I just love wasting my overtime to sit on a train [/sarcasm].

The final week of June brought with it a heatwave. It had been hot before that, but for that week we were on a red alert for high temperatures. Umm, yay? Keeping the flat cool enough to work was a challenge. I pretty much had the blinds closed at all times. On the Saturday we ventured out, visiting both zero-waste supermarkets in Basel. I call them supermarkets but neither is very big. We managed to buy washing powder plus a separate water softener, shower gel, shampoo, some vegetables, strawberries, eggs and a glass jar of yoghurt. We didn’t buy any of the staple foods (pasta, rice) since we already have loads. I decided I will go back but you definitely couldn’t do a full shop there! Back at home we didn’t do a lot. I think Jan watched some of the women’s football world cup. Then we ended up taking a two-hour nap. Sunday we didn’t do much. A few of my friends’ children have birthdays coming up so I stitched something for one boy’s card and then stitched and made a card for my cousin’s new baby.

Baby card

And that was my June. I’m still not sure how I feel about recapping my months in this format, so let me know what you think. Is the weekly run-down as boring as I think it is? Should I stick to just highlights and ignore the weekends where we did nothing much? (Does anybody care that I unpacked my kitchen stuff or went to a zero-waste supermarket?). Tell me your thoughts in the comments! And let me know what you’ve been up to lately as well. Also, definitely check out the link up to see what’s new with other people around the blogosphere.

First day of plastic reduction!

Hello! As I’ve already mentioned, this month I am teaming up with Steph to reduce the number of single-use plastic items I use. Today I am going to take you through a normal working day during plastic-free July. One of the things I committed to doing was to choose alternatives to plastic packaging wherever possible and, if I couldn’t find one and the item is non-essential, go without. However, I decided that if I already had things in plastic containers I would use them (I mean, I’m hardly going to throw them out and simply waiting until August to use them isn’t possible if they go off in July), so as I go along I will point out where I am using an item that’s made of or comes in plastic – even if it’s not single use, I will show you that it’s not plastic-free. The day in question is yesterday, the very first day of the challenge…

Monday, 1st July 2019

1-shower

It’s 6:30 a.m. (yawn!) and time for my shower. Jan and I visited both of the zero waste supermarkets in Basel on Saturday and bought this shower gel (right – labelled as soap because the bottle that went with the actual shower gel was too small) and shampoo. Now we have the bottles we can go back there and refill them. The shower gel is fine but I’ve yet to use the shampoo so once I do we’ll see how my hair feels about it…

2-breakfast

I’ve literally just started this challenge and I’m already failing! Breakfast is a slice of raisin toast… which comes in plastic packaging. Since I only committed not to buy any more plastic and this was purchased in June I’m safe 😉

3-tea

A cup of tea before it gets too hot. Did you know that many teabags contain plastic? It’s used to seal them shut. I found this post about common tea bands (in the UK) and whether they use plastic in their teabags. I have Tetley English Breakfast Tea. The company claims that their string and tag teabags are plastic free. Since mine have strings they should be fine. However, the box itself came wrapped in plastic (both plastic and box are long gone so I can’t show you). The milk is also in a plastic bottle.

4-toothbrush

Teeth brushing time! My toothbrush is bamboo (hurrah!) although the bristles are still plastic. Also, as you can see, my toothpaste is in a plastic tube. I did notice one of the zero-waste shops in Basel has alternatives so I want to try those at some point but I will use this tube up first. I also noticed the other day that this is made by Proctor and Gamble, who I’ve actually been boycotting for about 18 years so I’m doubly annoyed by this toothpaste! I’ve never bought Oral B before and I never will again.

Lunch break time and I took a quick trip to the supermarket but forgot to take my phone or camera to record all the plastic. At least I can show you what I purchased.

5-shopping

The margarine ran out yesterday so now I can’t have any more until August. But I can’t have toast either so it doesn’t matter. I’m not 100% sure what the butter is packed in – any guesses? Whatever it is it’s certainly less plastic than a margarine tub! The loose potatoes are clearly in my reusable bag, although the adhesive sticker from weighing them most likely contains plastic. Pesto in a glass jar inside a piece of cardboard. Apparently the inside of most jar lids is coated with plastic, but at least jars can be reused in theory. Tuna in a tin. Some (most?) tins are coated with plastic, apparently. I don’t know if this one is. The chocolate packaging is cardboard and some metallic foil. I wouldn’t usually buy Lindt chocolate but most of the others have plastic wrapping.

6-magazine

Picked up the mail on my way back upstairs. My cross stitch magazine arrived, and of course it’s packaged in plastic. I subscribe to two cross stitch magazines and both of them come wrapped in plastic every month. One subscription is up for renewal soon and I may just let it run out. I have plenty of magazines so it’s not like I’m going to run out of things to stitch any time soon…

7-soup

Now for lunch. It’s way too hot for soup, but I only have ten minutes left of my break so it’s all I have time for. I would have preferred salad or a sandwich but I can’t have either without single-use plastic packaging.  And speaking of lunch, Jan said if I was writing about my plastic-free efforts I should mention that he bought a reusable lunch box a few weeks ago and has been gradually figuring out which places close to his work are willing to refill it for him. He has also created a document on the internal portal so that other people working there also know where they can go to have the containers they’ve brought from home filled with food. There you go Jan, consider it mentioned. (Not that he will ever read this but whatever 🤷).

The dishwasher needs to be run. I bought these dishwasher tabs a couple of weeks ago and I specifically chose these “Held” ones because they’re made by Ecover and are supposedly environmentally friendly. Then I got them home, opened the packing and discovered that each individual tab is wrapped in plastic! So annoyed. I am using them for now since I have them, but as soon as they’re gone it will be back to Coop’s own “eco” brand, which have a dissolvable film. (The Migros eco ones also have a dissolvable film but the tabs are inside a plastic bag within the outer cardboard box – totally unnecessary!).

9-bathroom cleaner

Finally finished work (unrelated to plastic, but can I just point out that it’s 5:45 p.m. and I started work at 7:30 a.m…. my actual working hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.!). Now I need to do some cleaning. My bathroom cleaner is in a plastic bottle. The cloth is from a multi-pack and so came wrapped in plastic at some point.

Oh, while I’m in the bathroom I should show you this…

10-soap

Liquid soap. It’s been refilled multiple times, but the refills we’ve used in the past were also made from plastic. We still have one more full refill pack, but once that’s empty I shall try to find a new solution.

11-baby gifts

My cousin had a baby! Both of these gifts are in plastic. The one for a clothing has a zip so could be reused, but I obviously don’t know whether my cousin will actually do so. The rattle packaging is definitely single-use. Sigh.

Time to start dinner. It’s hotter than Hades (when will this heatwave end?) so we’re having baked potatoes for tea… the oven will heat up the kitchen but it’s still preferable to me actually standing by a hot stove.) We are having the potatoes with tinned tuna and bacon bits. The bacon bits use-by date is tomorrow (today when this post goes up) so they have to be used, despite being packaged in plastic. Most of the other the things I would normally eat with baked potatoes either come in plastic, require cooking, or both (hummus, cheese, chilli con carne…) so my options are limited.

13-folic acid

Before bed I take folic acid. You’re supposed to start taking it as soon as you decide to try for a baby and carry on until around week 12 of your pregnancy. I briefly stopped taking it when the midwife told me to at around 14 weeks, but two weeks later when I lost the boys I was advised to start taking it again immediately because it would hep get my iron levels back up. So basically I’ve been on folic acid almost non-stop since March 2015, and I will continue taking it until I either actually make it to 12 weeks pregnant again or we give up trying… I dread to think how  many of these plastic things I’ve already thrown away and how many more there will be in my future. (And that’s not even mentioning all the syringes, needles single-use plastic gloves, etc. at the clinic plus the needles I used to give myself injections, the packaging from the hormones I’ve had to take orally, etc. Infertility is not environmentally friendly!)

Other things I haven’t spoken about or photographed but did do: as I mentioned, we’re in the middle of a heatwave. I’ve been guzzling water all day. All from the tap and drunk from a glass. No plastic bottles in sight! I also took my reusable fabric bag shopping with me, as always. I only occasionally purchase a paper bag from the supermarket when I need one to take out the paper recycling in.

So, that was my first day. I hope this post has given you some insight into a few the unexpected (and not so unexpected) areas that plastic crops up and some ways of avoiding single-use plastics. As you can see, there are definitely many areas where I could improve! I could buy loose leaf tea in tins or cardboard packaging, find alternative cleaning products or make my own… as July goes on the list is sure to grow! Look out for more posts as I continue my month of being aware of plastic, and check out the #sustainablestephs hashtag on Instagram to connect with other people who are taking this challenge.