Weekly writing prompt: Seed

Write 100 words about a seed. Will it be a metaphor or a real seed? Will it be the verb “to seed” or the noun, like a physical seed you plant in the ground? So many possibilities!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompt: Catastrophe

Catastrophe is an unequivocal hyperbole with only one meaning (although I’m open to being surprised and learning something on that front). This week, write 100 words about a catastrophe. Your character might have a tendency to catastrophize (to imagine the worst, perhaps they are anxious), or they might have lived through a real catastrophe. Or maybe they are just a drama queen and spilled wine on a rug. What can you imagine?

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Seven ways to become an Ebay bargain ninja!

Ebay is one of the best places to find secondhand and preloved bargains. Buying secondhand reduces waste and carbon. It used to be easy to find the secondhand and preloved stuff on Ebay but now it’s a bit harder. This article will give you the seven best tips to become a bargain ninja and find exactly what you want on Ebay (if it can possibly be found).

First, if you’re looking for something generic (e.g. “black skirt”), make sure you’re only searching for things that are “used” not “new”. Otherwise you’ll be presented with a million mis-priced badly-made “new” items from abroad with 30-45 days delivery. If you’re looking for something branded, this shouldn’t be an issue as 99% of real brands don’t sell on Ebay, and Ebay is very good at clamping down on fakes.

Ebay doesn’t actually work to give you the search results in the best order for finding what you want, and hasn’t for about ten years, since they changed the way they showed their results. Back in the early days of Ebay, items were automatically sorted by “time: ending soonest” so if something was about to end, you’d see it right away and be able to jump on a bargain.

Now, however, they automatically sort by “best match” which is usually neither best nor a match for your search term. I did complain to them when they changed this and I got a patronizing mansplaining nonsense reply which basically said “we don’t care what customers think we’re doing this anyway”. The default sorting of the search results is basically the worst way to try to Ebay. It’s disorganized and means you’ll miss items that might be exactly what you want at the price you want to pay. There are two MUCH better ways to sort search results and I suggest you do one at a time.

Buy it now

Filter the results so you’re only looking at “buy it now” then sort by newly-listed. Things that have only just been listed sometimes are available at a lower price than the rest of the “buy it now” items. As people buy secondhand items, they disappear from sale, so seeing the newest listings is the best way to find the good stuff before someone else gets it.

Auction

Filter by “auction” then sort by “time: ending soonest”. Things that are available at auction sometimes get to the end of their allotted time and no one (or only one person) has bid on it. Snap it up when it has only a minute or two left to run (this is called sniping, by the way, and some people think it’s bad form, but HONESTLY it’s a f**king auction site not an etiquette party, there are no points awarded for letting someone else win your child’s Christmas present).

Don’t waste your time bidding on things with more than an hour left to run unless you’re going to be in bed or at work when the item ends. Everything before that last hour is effectively meaningless posturing because the real price the item will end at won’t become apparent until the very end of the auction.

Bidding far in advance is also a bad plan for another reason: Artificial inflation of the price from fake bids. Basically, some unscrupulous sellers on Ebay will get their friends or family to bid against you on the item to try and get you to increase your bid. Ebay has taken steps to clamp down on this over the years but it’s still happening.

Save your searches.

This can speed up finding the items you’re looking for when you’re spending more than the one day looking for something. Just hit the “save search” button. If you can’t see it, be sure you’re logged in properly. However, if you want the gift to be a surprise, don’t do this on a shared computer (probably best not to let your children have access to your Ebay account anyway).

Vary your search terms

Be sure to change your search terms. Just because you know an item by a specific name doesn’t mean that’s what other people call it.

A prime example of this is any branded handbag or shoe. You might know a specific pair of shoes as Irregular Choice Cookies for Santa, but someone who bought them secondhand or threw out the box might only know they are Irregular Choice shoes (or not even know the brand name). Also, they might have listed the size in European sizes or UK sizes.

So in this case, start with a narrow search for exactly what you want. “Irregular Choice Cookies for Santa size 39”. This will show you any exact matches. If nothing comes up, widen your search. A search for “Irregular Choice size 40” (without the name of the shoe’s style) would give you a long set of results to trawl through, but it means you’ll catch all the shoes which have been correctly listed as Irregular Choice under your EU shoe size. IC shoes are sold in EU sizes so this is the most logical second search. Then, if that shows nothing, change the term to “Irregular Choice size 6”, which is the UK size closest to a 39.

Lastly, if you still can’t find them, try describing them by their most distinctive feature. “Cake heel shoes” might give you something. By this point, however, you are unlikely to find anything, so the best move is to save your search and try again later or tomorrow. Using this search method, you can find pretty much anything you want, no matter how rare or unusual, on Ebay. However, it is very time-consuming.

Time your searches

The vast majority of people list their items at the weekend, so Friday evening until Sunday evening is when you are most likely to find newly-listed items and items that are about to end. If you only want to spend a couple of hours on Ebay looking for something, Sunday night between 4pm and 8pm is when most items end. This all means that if you pick the right time, you will have more choice and potentially get the item for a better price. However, the flip side of this is, more people are buying on Ebay between Friday and Sunday night, so you may have to compete harder if you’re buying something at auction.

Check out the seller’s other items

If you’ve lost out or if you’re looking for a complete set of something (e.g. Teletubbies dolls), click on the seller’s username (not his feedback number) then hit “view other items” or “visit their store” and scroll through their other items for sale. They might have more varieties of the thing you’re looking for (they might have nothing). Don’t spend time doing this before you bid on a last-minute item or before grabbing a buy it now bargain, however, or you could miss out on the original item!

Pay promptly

Always pay sellers as soon as possible so they can send you the item quickly and leave you positive feedback. Customarily, sellers should leave feedback first because your part in a transaction is over as soon as you’ve paid. I don’t waste time leaving feedback for sellers unless I’ve received feedback from them first because some sellers don’t bother and it’s annoying. If you’re always returning items or if you open Paypal disputes for stupid reasons, sellers can and will blacklist you from shopping with them in the future. Remember, there are plenty of online seller forums and groups where Ebay sellers can talk to each other, and they will share your username with each other if you’re a bad customer. You should treat Ebay sellers with the same respect you’d use in a charity shop or other face-to-face setting dealing with real people.

This is part of a series on buying ethical Christmas presents. Find the others here:

How to find ethical gifts for children and teens

Complete guide to buying designer clothes from charity shops

Complete guide to buying designer clothes from charity shops

Have you ever wished you could find designer goods in charity shops? This guide covers how to do just that! From an environmental standpoint, the more things we reuse and recycle, the better it is for the resources of the planet. And buying a secondhand vintage designer piece is also better for your wallet!

With such a big fashion revival right now, secondhand designer clothes have never been so on-trend! Keep reading to find out how to identify designer clothes in charity shops, how to avoid fake designer clothes, how to assess the condition of the piece and why you should only buy things that fit/suit you.

Find something that you actually like/suits you

This is rule number one, and I learned this the hard way. Don’t just buy a designer item for the label. Remember, no one will see that label except you. But a designer item because it is a work of art. A stunning reminder of the very best of fashion. A piece that inspires you to be something bigger than the boxes other people try to put you in. Because that’s the point of good fashion. Don’t be a fashion victim. Buy something you love. Buy something that flatters your shape and size. Enjoy your vintage fashion.

When we moved to China, I had to pack our lives into two big suitcases (one each) and a carry-on each. We were such inexperienced travellers that we didn’t know about sending your belongings around the world as freight (thank God we didn’t, I dread to think what rubbish we would have kept) and we didn’t know about paying for extra bags.

My designer collection now only includes items that I completely adore, which still fit me (sniffle, my favourite Vivienne Westwood shoes had to go when they started being painful to wear because I’d worn them too much), and which make me happy. But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in 2006, when I first started investing in designer pieces, I bought some minor disasters. My worst buy by a long shot was my Givenchy silk suit. It was £20 on Ebay which seemed like the bargain of the century. Except it wasn’t. First, it was a size 10 and I was an 8. Now, that shouldn’t have been a problem as it was vintage (80s at least) and everyone knows sizes have changed since then. However, when I actually tried it on, the skirt’s waistline was so low on my waist that my shirts barely tucked into it and left an unsightly silhouette around my boobs as they rode up over the course of a work day. The jacket, on the other hand, didn’t have a flattering neckline (this neckline was wayyy too wide to look good on my DD-cup boobs) and instead of making me look pulled-together, it just looked awkward and shapeless.

But by far the worst problem with it was the colour. In the Ebay pictures it had looked a beautiful deep grey-blue colour, but when it arrived, it was pale grey. None of my shirts or shoes matched it.

Did I send it back? No. I was 24 and too determined to hold onto something because of the label. I kept that bloody suit for 6 more years and only got rid of it when we moved to China, at which point, you’ll be glad to hear I at least sold it for the price I paid.

Another early disaster was my Armani jacket. I’d thought it was black. It was brown. And from a time in the 80s when shoulder pads were the same size as the wingspan of a jumbo jet. The waistline was… generous. The silhouette was very androgynous. And, again, a size 10. I looked lost in it. This year it would have been so on-trend it would have been a massive classic as oversized blazers are the biggest thing ever at the moment. But fifteen years ago, I had a jacket I was (mostly) embarrassed to wear. Did that stop me from wearing it? NOPE.

I’m stubborn.

If you don’t remember 2006, it was one of a few years in the early 2000s when Victoriana was the big trend in workwear. Everything suit-based was fitted. Skirts had fishtail hems and generally came down past the knee. And since we were still living with the hangover from the 90s to some extent, no one in the 2000s wore anything that looked like workwear outside of a formal office setting. It wasn’t like today, where you can chuck a blazer over a pair of skinny jeans (we didn’t have skinny jeans yet) and go out.

My big mistake of the following year was not understanding that designer sportswear is never, ever going to be a classic piece. And that designer brands all have sub-brands which are more affordable but not “proper” high fashion. I had this gorgeous Armani Jeans tracksuit (this wasn’t a shell suit, don’t worry), which comprised a hoodie and jogging bottoms in pale blue. I loved them and wore them on slouch days for about two years, but those sports lines are never made to be as durable as the expensive main clothing lines so buy them, enjoy them, but don’t expect them to last.

How to identify a designer item

Familiarise yourself with the names and logos of the brands you are looking for. This will make it quick and easy to recognise labels. Be aware that some brands have changed their labels/logos over time so if you’re looking at true vintage stuff, the label might be a little (or very) different. However, be aware this could also be the sign of a fake.

Avoid the really obvious fakes

You won’t always be able to avoid fakes, the thing about a really good fake is it’s indistinguishable from the real deal. However, you can learn to spot signs that something isn’t as it seems, especially if the item costs more than you wanted to pay for a secondhand charity shop item.

I’d avoid any secondhand Louis Vuitton bags and purses unless you can get it verified independently. Those Louis Vuitton brown bags with LV all over them are literally everywhere. I could easily pick up about a hundred fakes in the markets in Italy for the price of one genuine bag without batting an eyelid and they were rife in China, too. I actually tune those bags out now if I see them, and when I see people with them, I’m more likely to think you bought a fake than that you paid full price for one, unless you’re obviously dressed at the same price as your bag. The multicoloured LV bags suffer from the same issue. I feel very sorry for Louis Vuitton as a brand as the sheer amount of fakes is shocking.

If you see something like this (or a high street brand with a very similar design to a well-known fashion piece) my advice is to steer clear. Copyright infringement in fashion is rife everywhere, and you can actually get into legal trouble in some countries if you’re walking around with a fake item (notably, Italy, where many of the fakes are being sold, and where the police are trained to spot them).

Fakes are less well made and made from cheap imitation materials, so they damage easily and don’t last very long compared to the real deal. People bringing these things back from a holiday then tire of them and give them to charity shops, so always check inside.

Here are some tips for avoiding fakes:

Check the lining. Usually in a genuine product, the lining is attached in a way so you see almost none of the inside stitching. This is true of coats, skirts and bags.

Look at the stitching around the edge of the product. Is it neat, even and straight? A true designer piece will not have any mistakes in the stitching.

Check for loose threads and “imperfections” in the piece. Loose threads on any item, a weird black blob on a leather bag, purse, or belt, or a place where the edging doesn’t quite match are all giveaways that this piece isn’t genuine.

Smell it. For leather goods, if it’s supposed to be real leather, it should smell like quality leather. If it smells like plastic (a sort of oily smell), nothing at all, or very strongly of tanning dyes, it’s a fake.

Look at the sheen. If it’s supposed to be real silk, the sheen is slightly less shiny than satin (which is usually part-silk, part polyester, cheaper to produce, and used more often on fakes) and definitely less shiny than polyester. Silk is usually quite thin and delicate, and may show damage more readily than other fabrics, so take extra care buying anything made of this fabric.

Don’t rely on labels that say “100% silk”, or “100% leather”, or “made in Italy” (the amount of marketplace items I saw in China that said “made in Italy” on the label was unbelievable. Italy is NOT importing designer goods to Chinese markets, I’m sorry to break it to you). Always use your senses to check for yourself, because the best fakes won’t put their real materials on the label. Why would they? They’ve lied about the brand already!

Assess the condition of the piece

Check for bobbles, especially around the armpits, where you also might find stains. Some people have ways of getting stains out. I don’t buy anything with stains because I find it a bit disgusting. Bobbles, however, are just areas of fabric that have rubbed against each other too much. They can be removed with a cheap bobble remover.

Many high-end items are dry-clean only. However, charity shops often have a protocol dictating that they have to steam clean every fabric item that comes into them. Check the piece for steamer damage and washing machine damage (in case someone got confused and put it through a wash at any point in its life).

You’re looking for shrinkage. This usually manifests as lining poking out at the bottom of sleeves/hems on skirts, items being a little mis-shapen or tight in some areas while the correct size in other areas. If any shrinkage of the fabric has occurred, I don’t recommend buying the item because it won’t hang correctly or flatter your form.

Check the labels.

Always take a good look at every label on the piece. There should be a brand label in the neck (or back of the waist in skirts/trousers) and a care label somewhere else in the piece. If the brand label is cut down the middle, this is “seconds” quality, which means it didn’t pass its final inspection at the factory.

With a cut label, it’s still a genuine piece, but it may have mistakes. The tolerance for mistakes depends on the brand. Some brands will reject a piece if the stitching is more than 1mm away from where it’s supposed to be. Other brands will might have a 3mm or 5mm tolerance for where the stitching should be. Items with holes or snags that were caused during the production process may also be classed as seconds by one brand, where another might send items with such severe faults straight to destruction, never to be seen by a consumer. Some companies don’t have seconds at all.

Seconds tend to have a much lower resale value later down the line, even if they’re a second of a very rare item, because it’s understood that the quality isn’t the same. However, they can still be worth buying as long as you’re happy with the item and it fits and flatters you, as you can get a great bargain compared to buying a first-quality piece.

If a piece has no label at all, it probably isn’t even “seconds” quality. Whether you decide to buy it anyway or not is up to you. I would probably look for a better quality piece.

Which areas of the UK are likely to have designer clothes in their charity shops?

I don’t know every area in Britain so comment on this article if you have suggestions, to help out other readers! Basically, you’re looking for a reasonably affluent residential area that doesn’t have a (proportionally) huge tourist/student footfall. This is because you want a shop that gets a good supply of designer stuff but without so many shoppers snapping it all up.

You also want an area that doesn’t have grabby charity shop managers. I’ve known a couple of managers and several volunteers at various shops in York tell me that they get the first pick on the best stuff, leaving none for the actual customers!

Google Maps Reviews of the shops in question are a good way to spot which ones often have designer wear and also which ones are selling overpriced Primark tat.

These reviews are also a good way to get the measure of the manager at any given shop. If they’re only responding to positive reviews, or if they’re arguing with negative reviewers (or accusing reviewers of lying or not being genuine customers), you know they’re a bad sort and that it’s not worth wasting time visiting their shop. If they’re not responding at all, you know they’re probably busy running their shop.

Northern Ireland: Holywood

Scotland: Edinburgh Morningside area or Leith (gentrification, y’all).

The North: Hebden Bridge, Harrogate.

Midlands: Lichfield, Ashbourne.

South East: Aylesbury, Ascot.

South West: Chipping Norton, Bath.

London: Kensington. The charity shops here are absolutely designer central. There are some outstanding ones in walking distance around South Ken underground station. I’ve also heard similar about Covent Garden but I haven’t seen it myself.


This is part of a series on buying ethical Christmas gifts. Here are the others:

How to buy ethical Christmas gifts for children and teens

Seven ways to become an eBay bargain ninja

Weekly writing prompt challenge: Due

The word “due” evokes a sense of time, for me. It goes hand-in-hand with “late”. Or “overdue”. When I worked as a librarian, overdue books were quite common. I particularly hated when children had overdue books. I don’t think children should be able to incur library fines. How are they supposed to pay them? Another way I often hear “due” is in the context of pregnancy. “When is the baby due?” I suppose that one is playing on my mind a lot right now!

So this week, write 100 words about “due”.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

How to find ethical Christmas gifts for children and teens

With all the problems our planet currently faces, more and more parents are looking for Christmas gifts that have been produced ethically. But what does that actually mean? And how do you go about finding them?

My criteria for “ethical” was a) not mass-produced plastic b) not transported halfway around the world to reach Europe c) not ridiculously expensive.

Obviously, there are more issues at play than this, and if you want to delve even deeper, you might want to read the FAQs (and even email companies) for any store before shopping with them. While I was researching this, however, I uncovered a range of bigger, long-term issues with Christmas (beyond the trendy “hot topics” people are currently worrying about) that need to be considered by anyone trying to be ethical and sustainable at Christmas.

How did we get into such a mess with Christmas?

Many people think that an old-fashioned Christmas as idealized in Victorian tales is an ethical Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Victorian Empire (as it was) was built off the backs of some of the most appalling harm any group of people have ever inflicted on anyone else. The end of the Victorian era came with the Universal Suffrage movement — most working class men in Britain didn’t have the vote at this point and had no say over who controlled the country or their lives. Working safety standards were non-existent.

Friedrich Engels wrote “the condition of the working class in England” to try and convey to his native Germany just how appalling the exploitation was in Britain when he visited. Child labour still persisted throughout the Victorian era, and the “abolition of child labour” people often quote as happening in 1833, was the Factory Act 1833, which literally only banned the employment of under 9’s in factories. The second date oft-quoted, 1842, was the Mines Act 1842, which prohibited women and girls from working in mines, and boys under 10.

And that was just what the British ruling classes were doing to their own people, who they at least vaguely accepted were human. Out in the colonies, the exploitation of children and adults was even more appalling, and never protected under law (despite attempts during the interwar years of the 20th century), including in Ireland (where conditions under British rule were horrific). Thankfully Ireland was never especially industrialized so wasn’t subjected to the factories but children as young as five were still exploited as chimney sweeps to make those roaring Christmas fires happen, and used extensively in agriculture.

The British, of course, were not the only nation doing this. Central Africa is still suffering from Belgium’s despicable damage to the Congo. Parts of East Asia have been left to pick up the pieces after the French colonized “Indo-China”, including Cambodia, which might just be the most impoverished country I have ever visited. It’s funny how human rights never seem to reach the places where they would have the most impact.

My point is, a lot of the ethical problems we have today began with the behaviour of various powers during the industrial revolution, despite what smug elderly people might remember about their own childhood in the relatively safe bubble of the postwar twentieth century. You can’t just “go back to how things were” because how things were was just as bad as how they are now (but without glitter and plastic).

These problems were then exacerbated by the sickening capitalism of the cold war, during which America basically pushed people into becoming good little consumers to support the “free nation”. Buy, buy, buy. Cartoons showing characters awakening with billions of gifts. Threats of social exclusion if you’re the adult who said no to too many gifts (How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Only by giving everyone lots of trappings of capitalism could the Grinch show himself to be a good person. Never mind that he was saving everyone from excessively sickening consumerism.

That wasn’t the American way. And it’s subtly been slotted into so much media such as films, books, games, toys and TV shows that most of us have grown up not questioning this narrative. Because, even though most people on this planet don’t live in America, their rampant evangelical consumerism has bled into every country around the world and now third world nations have swathes of people desperate to go to America and be a success (i.e. someone who owns lots of stuff).

Don’t believe me? Go visit Cambodia. They hardly even use their own currency because US dollars are seen as better. Visitors are treated like bottomless cash cows ready for milking by children forced to work long hours to pull on visitors’ heart strings for a dollar per postcard. Which is NOT the going rate for postcards even in the first world. America’s need to infect the world with consumerism, to get one over on the USSR, has compounded the problem quite significantly. According to UNICEF, one in six children worldwide are victims of child labour, and I strongly disagree that any five-year-old can ever consent to this.

America has twisted the narrative from the cynical “possession is 9/10 of the law” into “owning lots and lots of useless crap makes you powerful”. Look at pretty much any modern pop music song and you’ll see it. Ariana Grande’s 7 Rings is a prime example. Our whole culture worldwide is still designed to make us believe this narrative!

People are boycotting China all the time but why does no one boycott America? Because it’s not politically correct!

Flip your thinking on Christmas!

Basically, if you want an ethical Christmas, the best way to do it is to flip your thinking away from the idea of a “traditional” Christmas completely. You may have already done this. If not, keep reading. Do I do all of these things all of the time? No. Do I live in a yurt woven from wild sheep’s wool that naturally fell from the sheep? Nope. But if everyone does exactly what they’re comfortable with, we can all make a difference instead of having an all-or-nothing mindset. So pick the things from this article that you feel comfortable doing and do those.

A note on this: Something like this isn’t going to hit the mark for your children if, after 8-12 years of Christmas being an overload of too many gifts, you suddenly change the entire format without telling them. Get your children on board by sitting them down and talking to them.

You could say something like, “You know the environment is having problems? Well we’ve decided to help it out by doing Christmas differently this year. We’re still going to have tons of fun, but not because we’ve spent loads of time unwrapping so much stuff.” You could talk through (age-appropriate) news articles or videos with them, to show them the extent of the problem.

Get them invested in this whole thing well before the big day by asking them if they have any ideas for how they might like to make Christmas more sustainable or ethical at home. They may already have done something on this at school, or talked to their friends about it, and not know how to bring it up with you!

The main thing that will make or break a sustainable, pared-down Christmas is your attitude. If you’re constantly miserable about it all, disengaged from your children and spending all day on your phone, your children will notice and feel like they’ve not had a special day. Likewise if the adults in the house are ranting about how crap it all is, children will feel like this year’s Christmas isn’t good enough.

We often use gifts as a substitute for spending time and attention on people we care about. If you take away some (or most) of the gifts, you need to replace them with the real deal – your input. This will obviously be a harder habit to unpick with older children and teens, especially if they are used to spending all day on screens. Don’t try to do too much at once.

Ditch the stocking

Children don’t need to wake up on Christmas morning to a stocking full of presents to know you love them. Half those “stocking fillers” are crap that gets discarded within minutes anyway in favour of the better gift. Children are natural foragers, and Christmas stockings teach them that when you get given something, you should occupy yourself with it only until something better comes along. Is that a life lesson I want my kids to learn? Absolutely not!

You could still put together a stocking but maybe only put one small gift inside it. Stockings don’t need to be full. The whole “Christmas stocking” thing is ridiculous, anyway. They’re not stockings, they’re giant socks that you can’t wear.

If you are going down the stocking route and don’t already have a stocking, instead of buying one of those garish polyester (i.e. plastic) stockings from the Pound Shop, you could use a long sock per child (football socks or hockey socks from the school uniform would be a good size) and put a gift in there.

Mainly, the child needs something to do when they wake up at 5am and you haven’t got up yet and aren’t planning to for a few more hours. So put something in the stocking that will keep them busy. A treasure hunt, perhaps, so they have to search the house for clues? Or a game they can play? Printing out some Christmas-themed word searches or crosswords might work for children old enough to read and write. Or cram a small book in there for them to read or a small colouring book. None of these things will use up plastic and they are cheap and easy to make at home if you want to avoid buying things.

One gift-giver = one gift

Children don’t need more than one present from each adult. One meaningful present, or one much-wanted present, that’s going to last a long time and be used often, is far better than a billion unwanted presents. In the nicest possible way, all they’re learning from those billion unwanted presents is how to grin and lie and say thank you when you don’t like a gift. Instead of looking for lots of wooden toys handmade in Austria, the waste would be less if you just bought that one plastic slide your kid has been hankering after. Think about what they really want and what it would mean to them to get it.

Avoid expensive “advent calendars”

Children don’t need a new advent calendar every year and they absolutely don’t need those big ones full of plastic junk. I am persistently horrified by the bloating that has happened to advent calendars over the years. I think I hit my limit when companies like Benefit released advent calendars with make up products in, aimed at teens and young adults. Where does all that makeup go by mid-February? The back of a drawer, never to be used again. And those calendars cost upwards of £50. What was the point?

Here’s how I did my DIY advent calendar for children (coming soon). You could make something similar or buy an unpainted wooden set of drawers ONCE, keep it year after year, and put little treats in the drawers, or activities, or riddles, or a cracker joke (you know, the jokes that adults think are awful but kids have never heard them before so find them hilarious).

An unwanted ethical gift is still a waste of resources

If your child doesn’t actually want that lovely wooden rocking horse handmade in a yurt in south Wales, they won’t play with it. If they don’t use it, it was a waste of resources. All physical objects (and data) use some environment up. That’s conservation of matter, a basic concept of physics. Don’t waste it.

Ask your child what they really want, then don’t pussyfoot around getting them something different or similar unless the thing they want is beyond your budget.

How about a no-gift gift?

We have gotten into a habit of thinking Christmas gifts need to be physical objects, due to the history outlined above, but what if you helped your child think outside the box and come up with something else they want? A meal at their favourite eatery? A trip to somewhere they love? You could write a little pretend “voucher” for this and put that in an envelope for them to open on Christmas day then plan together how you’re going to use it. Gifts are supposed to represent love and affection, not be a symbol of how much money adults can spend on children.

Shop ethically

Hopefully if you’ve reached this part, you’ve seen that buying ethically is only part of the bigger picture when it comes to achieving a more sustainable and ethical Christmas while staying true to its real meaning. As I’ve said above, I do buy a plastic toy when it’s what my kids want because it’s better to give them one valued present than a million things they don’t use.

However, if an ethical gift is what your child wants to receive, here are stores to consider buying from for your ethical, environmentally-friendly Christmas:

Traidcraft: www.traidcraftshop.co.uk

Ethical Superstore: www.ethicalsuperstore.com/

Good Gifts: https://www.goodgifts.org

These are all nice places to buy gifts, however my only concern with them is the distance these items have traveled. Companies marketing their goods primarily as fair trade rather than ecological or sustainable are generally not as concerned with the environmental cost of moving those goods from Africa or other countries to the UK and Europe. They all ensure fair pay for the people who have made the items, and that the items aren’t made by child labour, but ultimately, many of the goods are still travelling a very long distance to reach the UK.

An alternative is to look for recycled gifts:

Envirotoy: envirotoy.co.uk

Bebeco: https://www.bebeco.co.uk/100-recycled-toys-652-c.asp

Natural Baby Shower (bizarre note, despite their website URL, they’re neither based in Ireland nor do they ship here, but great if you’re in the UK): https://www.naturalbabyshower.ie/pages/dispatch-delivery

However, some of these companies are also in the habit of disguising certain aspects of their business practice which some consumers might find distasteful. For example, many of the “unique recycled toys” I’ve seen for sale in niche and mainstream stores are made by Green Toys, a US company. While their mission to turn milk bottles into recycled toys is laudable, shipping these goods to stockists and consumers worldwide isn’t necessarily very environmentally friendly.

Whether that would be a dealbreaker for you depends on how comfortable you are with these kinds of complications. At the end of the day, nearly every solution to the problem will bring a bit of carbon into your life, and some stuff (i.e. packaging) you’d rather avoid. Personally, I would buy from them if they were the right place to get what my child wanted. For example, if he wanted a fire truck for Christmas, and they sell a fire truck (they do), we’re onto a winner. But I won’t mindlessly shop with any company just for the sake of “feeling green” when the production methods, packaging, and delivery miles still have to be accounted for, whether stuff has travelled 2 miles or 2000 miles.

An even more environmentally-friendly option is to buy from local charity shops or secondhand on Facebook marketplace or Ebay (you can filter Ebay so you only find used items). The chance of finding something your child asked for might be low if it’s an on-trend item, but if you search for the item early enough in the year, you might get lucky.

Tips for snagging a secondhand Ebay bargain

It might take weeks or even months to hunt down that special something on Ebay but if you’re pragmatic and willing to regularly check the site for your item, you’ll eventually get it. Follow these tips so you never miss that bargain (article goes live on Saturday)!

Charity shopping

Finding something specific at a charity shop can be hard, but if you go in with a loose idea of what you’re looking for, you can almost certainly find something similar. For example, my husband collects Forgotten Realms books. Many of these are out of print and go for a lot of money on Amazon. These are easy to spot in a charity shop because they have a characteristic logo that’s visible on the spine and front of the book.

Another example is board games. These can often be found in the toys section of charity shops. If you have a teen who is into “proper” board games (Settlers of Catan, Hero Quest etc), you can potentially find all sorts of fantastic finds at great prices, because these are one of the few items left in charity shops where the volunteers don’t price them over the odds. Of course, the downside of buying a secondhand board game from a charity shop is that it’s unlikely to have all its pieces. Check this before wrapping the gift, then either look on Ebay for spare parts or, if it’s the tokens etc that are missing, make your own.

If your teen is hankering after something designer from a particular brand, check out your local “high-end” charity shops. Most areas have one or two charity shops with a reputation for getting designer donations. Or consider giving your teen money and taking them on a charity shopping spree (scout out which shops have the best goods ahead of time if you want to make this a streamlined experience). For suggestions on where to get designer stuff, check out my upcoming article on buying designer clothes from charity shops (article goes live on Friday).

Doing your Christmas shopping on Facebook marketplace

This is more hit-and-miss for me, because Donegal doesn’t exactly have a thriving Facebook marketplace and Facebook is an abysmal failure at showing me local items, preferring instead to randomly mix in results from Dublin (but never Derry which would obviously be infinitely easier to travel to).

What I have learned is there are a lot of sellers on there who are wary of time wasters, especially when it comes to free stuff. To avoid this, sellers list things for odd prices like €1 or £1. Sellers also expect you to mind your manners. They are much more likely to deal with you favourably if you say please/thank you. Always check where the item is before messaging the seller to save both of you lots of time and effort. If it’s further afield and you can’t collect, expect to pay full postage costs.

However, some sellers are scammers or timewasters and you need to take reasonable steps to stay safe shopping this way because it’s the least secure way of buying anything. Never give them your bank details and don’t fall for the line about “oh I’ve just moved for work/uni but I’ll post it to you”. If they’re saying that, it’s a scam and they aren’t ever going to post it to you because they basically don’t have the item. When you get there, check (in a well-lit place) that the item is what they say it is (ALWAYS OPEN THE BOX), and that you’re happy with the condition of the item. You have very few rights to redress if you get scammed in a private sale, so Facebook Marketplace is my least favourite way of sourcing secondhand items but some people swear by it.

Check out car boot sales

Some people might think this is a dated way to shop, but either buying your child something from a car boot or even taking them to one to pick their own gift could be another great way to find something for their Christmas gift. If you’re like me, you might end up buying more than you intended, though!

Same rules apply to car boots as Facebook marketplace – always open the box to check what’s inside before parting with cash.

Weekly writing prompt challenge: Duck

This week, write 100 words about “duck”. It could be the bird, the verb or something else entirely (in Staffordshire, for example, “duck” is an affectionate term for someone, akin to “mate” in other parts of England).

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Dishwasher full of weird red stuff? Fix it!

Two years ago, I was staying with some friends who, incidentally, had our old dishwasher. It was a cheap slimline model which perfectly suited my husband and I as a couple with no kids (I think these days I’d go for a full-size model as we now cook with more plates and bigger pans).

I opened it up and was surprised to see that all the inside of the dishwasher, all the parts that should be white, were covered in this weird red stuff. It looked like the whole dishwasher was coated in those tea stains you get at the bottom of cups, it was the same reddish-brown colour but all over the dishwasher (except the metal bits). In the 6 years I’d known this dishwasher, I’d never seen anything like this before.

It turns out there is a special type of mould that affects dishwashers in one very specific situation. I was stunned to learn what had happened! My friends’ plates were too clean when they put them in the dishwasher! Can you believe that could be a problem?

So, yeah… The red stuff was a mould that grows in dishwashers if the dishes you put in them aren’t dirty enough. Here’s why:

When the dishwasher tablets don’t have enough to clean, they make the inside of your dishwasher more alkaline. This red-brown mould thrives in the damp, alkaline environment and is an absolute nuisance to remove once it sets in.

I found out how to get rid of the red mould in the dishwasher and here’s how I did it:

I started by doing the trusty “run the dishwasher through an empty load with a cup of white vinegar standing in the top rack”.

It didn’t work.

I was stunned. This always works.

The mould wasn’t shifting.

The first thing to know is that you can’t wipe this stuff off with a cloth. You need a hard scrubbing brush.

The second thing to know is that soaps and bleach are alkaline, like dishwasher tablets. If you try cleaning this stuff with any of those, you are basically feeding it, and it won’t go away.

So what you need is lemon juice or white vinegar. These are acids, which you might remember from high school science (or your biochem PhD… I’m not assuming anything, here) are the opposite of alkalines. When you have a mould that thrives in alkaline conditions, you need an acid.

However, it can’t be a strong acid because it could damage the dishwasher. So don’t use max strength toilet cleaner, even though it’s tempting to want to fight the mould explosion with something nuclear (or, more to the point, ionic).

Dip your hard scrubbing brush into your bowl of neat lemon juice or white vinegar and literally scrape the red mouldy stuff off each part of the dishwasher it has affected.

To accelerate the process, you can add salt (not bicarb) to the mixture for more scrubbing power.

Given how badly affected the dishwasher was, this took about an hour to scrub off every last bit of red mould, and I still couldn’t perfectly remove it from all the corners, but I was 8 months pregnant and very, very tired (also: nesting. I mean, who actually visits friends then obsessively cleans their dishwasher? Basically just pregnant people). I think partly I did it out of guilt, too, that this had been my dishwasher and I felt a bit responsible for it still. I didn’t want them to think I’d left them with a duff dishwasher.

Then run the dishwasher through an empty cycle with a cup of white vinegar, as above, and do this every week for a month to be sure the mould is really gone. Long-term, though, you need to stop washing your plates in the sink before dishwashering them. They need to be a bit dirty.

So that’s how to get rid of the red stuff coating your dishwasher shelves. It’s not a quick or easy fix, unfortunately, but if you find yourself in this situation, it’s absolutely worth doing.

You might be tempted to leave it as it looks more like a red staining than a mould growth, but here’s some of the health hazards of mould in your dishwasher:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Exhaustion and excessive tiredness
  • Constant upset stomach (mimics IBS)

Mould can also be an irritant, especially if you have sensitive skin like I do. And you need to take care when cleaning your dishwasher out for the same reason. When mould is disturbed it can produce spores (which is how it reproduces).

Inhaling mould spores can cause an allergic reaction, with symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, a skin rash, and it can also trigger asthma attacks (source: NHS website). So be sure to wear a mask if you’re working with a very mouldy dishwasher (I wish I’d done this) and wash your hands and arms thoroughly after working on your mouldy dishwasher, to remove any mould residue or spores that might have landed on your skin during the cleaning process.

Mould can be toxic and people have died from household mould exposure, so once you’ve identified mould in your dishwasher, you should absolutely take steps to get rid of it!

The other problem with mould is that it can spread really quickly. What was a bit of a brown stain (maybe you thought it was a tea stain) in the filter or blades of your dishwasher one week can completely overtake your whole dishwasher in as little as a few weeks! So keeping on top of a good dishwasher cleaning schedule is really important when you start to notice it getting a bit dirty!

Weekly writing prompt challenge: Roll

Another open-ended one this week to engage your writing muscles. Write 100 words about “roll”. Any interpretation of the word is fair game. You could write about roll as verb, adjective, noun, or maybe even a proper noun, if you have a Dave Roll in your book, or are writing about a Rolls Royce.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

40 things you can clean in a dishwasher

Got a dishwasher? Did you ever think its powerful cleaning capabilities could be used on other things than plates, cups and pots? Here are 40 things you can clean in a dishwasher:

Bin lids

Put them on the bottom shelf at the highest temperature for maximum cleaning.

Small plastic rubbish bins

If you have those little bathroom or bedroom bins (the 8 or 10 litre ones, or smaller), you can wash it in the dishwasher, if it fits. Just check the dishwasher’s cleaning blades still spin once it’s in.

Your kitchen compost collector

If yours is anything like mine, it gets completely disgusting with mold. Run it through the dishwasher regularly to sanitise it.

Fridge shelves

If the glass shelves of your refrigerator fit, you can clean them in the dishwasher regularly to keep them spotless.

Fridge drawers

For some reason, my vegetable drawers in the bottom of the refrigerator regularly get food residue on them. It’s easy to clean them up by placing them in the dishwasher, on either the bottom or top rack. Remove the dishwasher’s cutlery holder if you need a bit more space to fit these in!

Hobs

Those metal things that hold your pan off the heat on a gas cooker can usually be done in the dishwasher carefully. Check your manfacturer’s manual if you’re concerned about damaging your hobs. I’m more concerned with having a hygienic home and removing that impossible-to-shift grease that builds up. If that means the finish on the hobs gets a little less pretty, I can live with that. Put them through with half a tablet for peace of mind, and don’t do them more often than twice a year.

Grill tray

See the advice about hobs. The shiny metal part goes into the dishwasher no problem, but the grease-catching tray may rust if it’s not made to withstand intensive cleaning.

Oven rack

The shiny metal oven rack on which you put oven trays and casserole dishes can go in the dishwasher too. Position it on the bottom shelf carefully and check the dishwasher’s blades still spin. Don’t put cheap flimsy replacement oven racks in unless you don’t mind them getting a little rusty. Only use half a dishwasher tablet for oven racks.

Plastic laundry pegs (bag them first)

If your pegs have cobwebs or algae build-up on them, or just dirt from being outdoors, put them in a mesh bag and leave on the top shelf of the dishwasher to get them clean!

Safety child plugs

Those plastic plugs that stop toddlers sticking their fingers in electrical sockets? If they get dropped in treacle or paint, don’t worry, it’s easy to run them through the dishwasher. Just place under a cup to stop them moving around or getting lost.

Some lampshades

If your lampshade is plastic, you may be able to clean it in the dishwasher (carefully). I’d only use half a tablet and I’d also put the temperature to its lowest setting (such as a “quick wash” at about 50 degrees celsius. In theory, a lampshade should be able to stand higher temperatures (because they are next to light bulbs) but with modern energy-saving bulbs, some lampshades might not be up to the standards they used to be.

Glass mirrors (be careful)

Some glass mirrors can go in the dishwasher, but they need to be a) a sealed unit that can dry out b) non-electrical (don’t ever put illuminated mirrors in the dishwasher) and c) The backing needs to be protected. You can do this by covering the back with foil. I’d only do this as a last resort to try and fix a VERY dirty mirror (e.g. it has crayon or paint on it) as the best way to clean normal household dirt/dust off a mirror is using window cleaning spray such as Windowlene or Windex. There is a chance this could still ruin the mirror’s backing so do take care!

Glass from picture frames

Again, take a LOT of care and only put the glass in (not the frame). These can be laid flat on the top shelf. Small picture frames might not be heavy enough to stay put so I’d avoid putting in any that are lighter than an egg cup as I wouldn’t like to clean broken glass out of the bottom of the dishwasher. A better way to clean very delicate glass picture frames for ordinary household dirt/dust is to use window cleaning spray (see mirrors, above).

Toothbrush holder

Does the bottom of your toothbrush holder get a white or faintly yellow residue building up sometimes? Sort it out by chucking it in the dishwasher on the top rack with your cups.

Plastic cars

If your toddler has been feeding biscuits to his plastic cars, run them through the dishwasher to get them squeaky clean. Don’t put toys with very small parts (such as Matchbox-sized diecast cars with tyres) in the dishwasher.

Lego

Put dirty, sticky and chocolate-covered Lego (and derivatives) into a mesh bag such as the ones for washing powder tablets and put on the top shelf of the dishwasher or in the cutlery compartment if yours has an open area where you could put this.

Mega Bloks/Duplo

Bigger than Lego, I’d still put these in a mesh bag if they’ll fit, or place each individual block under a cup on the top shelf to get them clean.

Breast pump (cleanable/non-electric parts)

This can go in with your usual wash. Don’t put the tubing in. The basic rule is: if you can clean it in a sterilizer, you can safely put it in the dishwasher. Regarding hygiene, I would probably wait until your baby is about 6 months old before using the dishwasher, as before that, you need to use the sterilizer to properly obliterate the bacteria that your baby has no immunity to, yet.

Vases

Some vases can go in the dishwasher, if they’re either crystal/cut glass or glazed/fired pottery (such as Emma Bridgewater). Don’t run them through too often, but if a plant died in your vase while you were on holiday, this is a great way to properly clean it out.

Glazed pottery ornaments

Be very careful, especially if these are expensive. Small ornaments can be quite light and might get washed around the dishwasher, potentially damaging them. You need to be sure they are held down e.g. under a cup or in a (dishwasher-safe) net bag that’s anchored to something. I’ve had good results using the dishwasher to clean up cheap second-hand Jasperware I bought on ebay.

Plastic phone cases

If your phone case is plastic (not fabric or leather etc) you can spruce it up in the dishwasher. I put mine in the top rack, laid flat, and I put a cup on top to stop it escaping.

Dummies/pacifiers

These can go in your normal household dishwasher load. I hold them down by putting them under a mug so they don’t get washed around the dishwasher and end up in the bottom and dirty.

Children’s potty

If you’re toilet training your little angel, you might want to freshen up the potty every so often instead of rinsing it out all the time. Pop it in the dishwasher on a high temperature (follow the directions for the toilet brush, below, and remember the potty and toilet brush can go in together safely).

Toilet brush

Gross, right? Some people swear by it! I’m not entirely brave enough to try this one as I’d be scared of getting poo on my cups in the next wash, but if you’re going to try this, be sure to rinse off any brown bits in the toilet and put this through the dishwasher on a separate wash to anything you eat off. Use a wash temperature that’s over 65 degrees celsius to be sure to kill any bacteria (this is usually the 70 degrees celsius intensive wash option and has a picture of a pot with a lid).

Dish brush

All scrubbing brushes can work well in the dishwasher. Just don’t put them in with lots of pots and pans covered in thick sauces or other food residue, or the bristles will catch the residue. These could work well going into the dishwasher at the same time as the lint filter of your tumble dryer (see below).

Washing machine’s powder drawer

Have you ever pulled out your washing machine’s powder drawer? Were you horrified to discover that it was mouldy at the back? Maybe yours just has a build-up of powder/detergent residue in the compartments? Put the drawer in your dishwasher and watch it magically become clean! Be sure not to do this if you use a highly foaming detergent (most washing machines don’t) or you may end up with a dishwasher full of bubbles.

Tumble dryer’s lint filter

Put it on the top shelf of the dishwasher after removing as much lint as you can, to get rid of fabric dust and other ingrained yack. The dishwasher will clean it like any other fine-meshed sieve. Don’t put any papery filters in the dishwasher, or they will pulp!

Vacuum cleaner’s dust collection compartment (if no electrics in this bit)

If you need to get rid of all the dust in your bagless vacuum cleaner, put the dust collection compartment in the dishwasher; it will be sparkling in no time! Avoid putting paper-based vacuum filters in the dishwasher as they may turn to pulp.

Crocs

They’re plastic, so if you’re trying to remove ingrained dirt from your Crocs, you can run them through the dishwasher (not at the same time as your dinner plates, you don’t want cross-contamination). Remove any of those charms that you can stick to them, you wouldn’t want them getting lost!

Garden trowel

If it’s quality stainless steel or plastic, it can go in the dishwasher. Be wary of wooden handles, however, as these can be damaged if they’re left in water for too long (just like wooden spoons)

Empty plant pots

It’s easy to clean out your old plant pots (plastic or ceramic) ready to re-use for next year, just plonk them in the dishwasher together (in a separate load to your kitchen ware), add a tablet and hit “start”.

Beauty blender

Put it under a mug so it doesn’t wash away. Don’t put it in with an exceptionally dirty load of stuff because it’ll absorb the grease and grime instead of being cleaned.

Artists’ painting pallettes

Water and oil-based paint should come out in the dishwasher (dishwasher tablets are designed to cut through grease, after all). Acrylic is a bit trickier and cleaning dried-on acrylic paint in the dishwasher is less likely to produce a perfect result as acrylic paint is plastic-based.

Food trays (not ones which are cushioned)

These can go in your usual dishwasher load if there’s room.

Empty glass jars for recycling

Remove the labels first, or you’ll be scraping them out of your dishwasher filter later. If you want to reuse the jars for another project, running them through the dishwasher is a great way to clean them up. On the other hand, if you’re just putting them out to recycle, a quick rinse in the sink is far less effort.

Plastic fly swatter

The water jets in the dishwasher can get into all the crevices and get rid of those disgusting dead flies.

Paint roller drip tray

The dishwasher can remove water-based paint such as Rust-o-leum Chalky Paint but it can’t remove gloss or emulsions as these are usually designed to be resistant to water.

Paint roller handles (but not the fluffy part)

If they’ve gotten dusty or are otherwise manky from being left on a shelf for months, run them through the dishwasher.

Blender jug

Only if the jug separates from any electrical components, nothing electrical can go in the dishwasher. I find it’s particularly useful for cleaning the lid of my Kitchen Ninja (the rest of it can’t go in) which has the most awkward shape and is really uncomfortable to clean in the sink.

Hairdryer diffuser

Remove the diffuser attachment from the rest of the hairdryer and put it in the cup rack to get rid of product build-up

Hairbrushes (non-cushioned ones)

Plastic vent brushes, most combs, Tangle Teezer-type brushes (not travel ones) can all go in the dishwasher to get them effortlessly clean.

And some important exceptions:

Take care putting anything metal in the dishwasher. Cutlery is usually treated and alloyed to make it resistant to cleaning products and rust. Many other metal items are not. Metal oven cooking trays seem particularly susceptible to this.

Avoid putting anything electrical in the dishwasher. If your blender jug is like the Kitchen Ninja where the electrics are all attached to the jug, it cannot get wet so it can’t go in the dishwasher.

Never, ever, ever put anything aluminium in the dishwasher. This includes those continental coffee pots that heat coffee on the hob. I ruined a brand new one of these recently by trying to wash it in the dishwasher before using it. The inside is blackened and no amount of scrubbing gets it clean. Sigh.

Got any more ideas for things you’ve cleaned using your dishwasher? Let me (and everyone else) know in the comments!

Caution

Follow these tips at your own risk. The author takes no responsibility for damage to items washed in your dishwasher. Results could vary based on make/model/age/state of the things you’re trying to wash. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions.