Category Archives: Links to External Articles

Soapbox: Digital Interruptions

How many of you have ever heard something like, “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you the following important information”? This is a phrase used by radio and television channels in some English-speaking countries to announce emergency conditions. When you hear that, you expect the message to be important enough to warrant the disruption. But most of us grew up (if we had any kind of guidance from parents) knowing that it was rude to interrupt; we learned to wait for an appropriate moment to introduce an opinion or a change in topic.

How many of us like having our concentration or focus ripped apart by someone or something breaking into our reveries or a conversation with a friend? If you’re deeply focused, it is jarring to be interrupted. Once is okay; a dozen times is beyond irritating.

Unfortunately, this bad habit has become a trending behaviour online: You’re watching a video on YouTube, and mid-sentence of the documentary or instructional video, or mid-action of whatever you’re watching, you are suddenly expected to switch focus to an annoying commercial (are they intentionally made abrasive to grab your attention?). Now don’t misunderstand me: I realize that the material on YouTube is free of charge, and someone needs to generate revenue to pay for it all; but does it need to be mid-sentence? Why not wait until an appropriate break in the video? It’s too much work to be digitally polite, apparently. [I just hit Alt + delete at the beginning of every video; it will skip ads with only a hiccup.] For me, this isn’t just an interruption; it’s a rude, deliberate attempt to distract me from my original focus. I don’t know about you, but such ads don’t leave me any desire to hear their message or give them my business; if anything, I’ll avoid their products.

Another digital interruption I’ve noticed on the rise on sites such as Pinterest is the bombarding of my home feed with inane pins: Last week it was Asian teeny bands, or today surfing ads, Cambodian royalty, gossip magazines and paparazzi pins – none of which have anything to do with either my interests or my recent activities. On Pinterest at the moment, my feed is stuffed with useless fluff. I wrote a complaint, and they cleared away the Asian bands, only to have them replaced with the above-mentioned idiocy. To actually find what I’m searching for, my focus is wrenched back and forth. Every. Other. Pin. Guess what? I won’t be on Pinterest as much any more. Facebook did the same thing; I’m not there, and have no intention of going back all that often (the only reason I keep my FB account is to keep in contact with international friends and family).

So what can we do? Do we have to accept this behaviour? No; but raising other people’s children costs time and energy. But it does work: Write a complaint; give feedback when requested or not; block such pins or links as spam (= “misleading and/or repetitive”). This same principle applies to content farms online (e.g. So Yummy, Troom Troom or 5-Minute Crafts): If you come across their videos and watch them, and notice something faked, dangerous, or repetitive (every one of their videos contain one or all of the above), don’t “dislike” or comment – that just tells the algorithm that someone saw it and that it elicited a response; click on the three dots near the video and report it. If you’d like to go farther down this particular rabbit hole, a good place to start is Ann Reardon’s informative videos about debunking fake videos; her husband is a journalist and writer, and puts his investigative skills to good use (if you want to skip her food testing and get straight to the investigation, click to 12:05 in the video).

The internet can be a wonderful place to learn, to do research, and to be entertained; but be aware of the growing trend of subtle manoeuvres by algorithms, digital echo chambers and flashy ads to manipulate your perceptions, opinions, and habits. Take time to act and move around wisely, even if it’s in cyberspace. Discernment may be an old-fashioned concept to some, but it’s a lifeline in the sea of churnalism in today’s world.

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History Undusted: The Dying Art of Sailors’ Shanties

Because the days of Sail are mostly long gone except for re-enactment vessels and small private vessels such as yachts, a great tradition is being lost to the winds of time:  The Sea Shanty.  Shanties were songs sung by sailors; they were sung not only for the entertainment factor, but the rhythms kept the crews in time as they hauled in anchors, drew up sails, tightened ropes, scrubbed the deck, and any number of other duties aboard their ship.  Specific shanties were used for the short haul, the Halyard, Windlass, Capstan, or the Foresheet, because those shanties had the best rhythm to get a particular job done.  Musicians try to keep the songs alive today, but they are a ghost of what they once were, and what they once meant and represented; they were the life blood of any Ship of the Line.

For sheet music, check out The Shanty Book, Part I, Sailor Shanties, by Richard Runiciman Terry.

For an interesting article on shanties, including various video clips with live performances to hear the rhythms and flavour of the shanties, please click here.  Take a few moments to enjoy the songs!  Some of the videos are the songs sung to a series of historical images to do with sailing, so they’re a two fer!

Originally posted on History Undusted, 20 September 2015

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From Trash to Treasure

When I’m working on the computer, sometimes I like to have music playing in the background; YouTube has a good selection of long-play pieces. Recently, I was listening to Lindsey Stirling, one of our favourite artists, and she did a video with members of the Landfill Harmonic (you can watch that video by clicking here).

If you haven’t heard of the Landfill Harmonic, it is a group of teenagers living on a rubbish dump in Paraguay; they have been formed into an orchestra – but in a place where a violin would be more expensive than a house and would likely be stolen, their instruments are trash. Literally. Not only have they found new skills through mastering the quirks of their individual instruments, but the project has given them a purpose – a voice that they would otherwise never have had. It keeps them out of gangs, and transports them, even if for only a little while, to another place in their hearts. It has the potential to turn the tide for the rising generation in their area, and that should be enough to inspire all of us to find the hidden treasures in the things and in the people around us. Most of all, it encourages me to never underestimate the power of vision and purpose in and on the human spirit!

Just click on the image below to see a short but inspiring clip about the orchestra:

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History Undusted: The Deaf Princess Nun

Princess Alice of BattenburgPrincess Alice of Battenberg, christened Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie (born 25 February 1885 at Windsor Castle, and died 5 December 1969 at Buckingham Palace), later Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was considered the most beautiful princess in Europe.  She was born completely deaf, yet learned to read lips at a young age and could speak several languages.  Alice grew up in Germany, and was the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.  In a time when royalty had little to do with the commoners, she was an unconventional royal who placed the importance of people over privilege and wealth.  She was devoted to helping others, and in the turmoil of her own personal life never lost sight of her devotion to God and her commitment to helping those less fortunate.

At the age of 17 she fell in love with Prince Andrew of Greece, and they were married in 1903.  They had four daughters and one son; their daughters went on to marry German princes, and their son Prince Philip married Elizabeth II, Queen of England; Alice was therefore the grandmother of the Princes Charles, Andrew, Edward and Princess Anne.  She and her family lived in Greece until political turmoil caused the royals to flee into exile in 1917, when they settled in a suburb of Paris.  Alice began working with charities helping Greek refugees, while her husband left her and the children for a life of debauchery and gambling in Monte Carlo.  She found strength in her Greek Orthodox faith, yet relied on the charity of wealthy relatives in that period of her life when she had no home to call her own, and no husband to help raise her children.  Understandably through the stress of circumstances, she had a nervous breakdown in 1930; dubiously diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was committed suddenly and against her will, by her own mother, to a mental institution in Switzerland, without even the chance to say goodbye to her children (Prince Philip, 9 at the time, returned from a picnic to find his mother gone).  She continually defended her sanity and tried to leave the asylum.  Finally in 1932 she was released, but in the interim her four daughters had married (she had thus been unable to attend their weddings), and Philip had been sent to England to live with his Mountbatten uncles and his grandmother, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven. As you can imagine, the stress of such treatment did wear on her mental stability, but she was used to being misunderstood, even within her own family, so she decided to get on with her own life.

Alice eventually returned to Athens, living in a small flat and devoting her life to helping the poor.  World War II was a personal dilemma for her as her four sons-in-law fought on the German side as Nazi officers, while her son was in the British Royal Navy; yet in her home she hid a Jewish family safely for the duration of the war.  She also remained in Athens for the duration of the war, rather than fleeing to relative safety in South Africa, as many of the Greek royal family members did at the time.  She worked for the Red Cross in soup kitchens, and used her royal status to fly out for medical supplies, as well as organized orphanages and a nursing circuit for the poor.  She continually frustrated well-meaning relatives who sent her food packages by giving the food to the poor, though she had little to live on herself. The German occupied forces assumed she was pro-German due to her ties to royal German commanders, and when a visiting German general asked her if he could do anything for her, she replied, “You can take your troops out of my country.” [For an interesting film on this period in Greek history, see “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” (2001), starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz.]

After the war ended, Alice went on to take the example of her aunt, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna (who had been formulating plans for the foundation of a religious order in 1908 when Alice met her in Russia at a family wedding), and founded a religious order, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, becoming a nun (though she still enjoyed smoking and playing cards) and establishing a convent and orphanage in a poverty-stricken part of Athens. Her habit consisted of a drab gray robe, white wimple, cord and rosary beads.

 

The Queen's Mother-in-Law

Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh with his mother, Princess Alice (taken late 1950s, early 1960s)

In 1967, following another Greek political coup, she travelled to England, where she lived with her son Prince Philip and her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace until her death in 1969.  Her final request was to be buried near her sainted aunt in Jerusalem; she was instead initially buried in the royal crypt at Windsor Castle, but in 1988 she was at last interred near her aunt in the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

In October of 1994 her two surviving children, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Princess George of Hanover, went to the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem to see their mother honoured as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” for having hidden Jews in her house in Athens during the Second World War.  Prince Philip said of his mother’s actions, “I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with a deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress.”  In 2010 the Princess was posthumously named a Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.

Information Sources:  Wikipedia; The Accidental Talmudist

 

 

Originally posted on History Undusted, September 2015

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Nature Undusted: Magnetic (Gravity) Hills

When I was growing up, I went to a place called Silver Dollar City (in Branson, Missouri) several times; it is a family amusement park with rides and various attractions. One of my favourite attractions was a house that played with your mind: It had water running up a drain, floors that tilted at different angles from room to room, and optical illusions that played with proportions and directions in your perceptions. You simply couldn’t trust what you felt or saw while in that house, and when you came out, it took a minute or two to right your bearings again.

But did you know that there are natural anomalies? Throughout the world, there are areas known as magnetic hills, magic roads or gravity hills. Due to the surrounding geography, the road or stream may appear to be going uphill, when in fact it’s going downhill; this makes water look like it’s flowing upward, or cars in neutral appear to be defying gravity by rolling uphill. It’s nothing more than an optical illusion, but such places attract visitors, the curious and the thrill-seekers.

Wikipedia has a list of over a hundred recognized places; chances are, there might be one near you.

To see the phenomena, click on this link to a short YouTube video about New Brunswick, Canada and the history of what was first known as “Fool’s Hill”.

Magnetic Hill

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Scandinavian ‘magic sticks’ – yeast logs & yeast rings

Here’s a great little piece of history “undusted”: Have you ever wondered what came before sourdough bread, or why it works? Yeast. And the history behind the symbiotic relationship between humans and that little single-celled microorganism is fascinating.

Medieval Mead and Beer

Likely one of the first organisms domesticated by man, yeast was kept at the ready using many different storage techniques throughout history. One of the oldest such known practices are the Ancient Egyptian yeast breads: delicately baked little loaves of yeasty goodness which, when crumbled into sweet liquid, would create a new yeast starter – for beer, or to leaven bread. For most of man & yeast’s history, bread yeast and beer yeast were the same. The user often had a clear preference, either for keeping the top yeast (barm) or the bottom yeast (lees). But this preference seems more random than geographic, as one farmer would prefer the top, his neighbor the bottom and some would save both – and the yeast would be used for anything that needed fermentation.

two unusual yeast wreaths

A yeast ring made out of sheep vertebrae, Gjærkrans HF-00244 (left photo: Hadeland Folkemuseum) and a teethy straw…

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Food History Undusted: Mac & Cheese

As I recently mentioned, we had problems with kitchen moths; the source has been found (dates) – the jar which contained them also isolated them; I played the jar like a maraca and sang “La Cucaracha” as we put them in the compost. We are now moth-free! Woo-hoo!

We really appreciate the advantages of storing everything in glass jars: It looks pretty, we can see exactly how much we have, what we have, and it’s inviting to be creative in meal planning. One of the pasta jars we have contains mini “Hörnli / Hoernli” – the Swiss word for “little horns” and what the rest of the world probably refers to as macaroni. The topic came up as a meal idea, and of course, being us, we got into the historical aspect. Where did it originally come from? Did it arrive in America with Italian immigrants or is it a hybrid dish?

Mac & Cheese History

This image above is nearly sacrilege for many people, myself included – I cannot imagine eating pasta from a can! But just after World War 2, manufacturing of canned goods, frozen meals and the like were coming into their stride as families pieced their lives back together and got on with the business of rebuilding the country and economy; televisions entered the home mainstream in the early 1950s (think black and white, rabbit ear antennas, no remote and 2 channels) – but that’s another topic. Product placement during television programmes and news was a major factor in influencing the purchasing power of the average consumer (product placement may have begun as early as 1873, when Jules Verne’s fame led shipping companies to lobby being mentioned by name in his upcoming novel,  “Around the World in 80 Days”).*

The oldest known reference to a dish that may be recognizable as the ancestor to the modern concoction is from the 13th century, from someone in the court of Charles II of Anjou who was familiar with the Neapolitan court; the dish was basically prepared with sheets of lasagne sliced into small squares, cooked in water and tossed with Parmesan cheese. The American version some might be more familiar with has two claims to ancestry: Either it began as a Connecticut church supper dish known as Macaroni Pudding, or it was brought over from Italy in the form of a recipe by Thomas Jefferson, who also brought back a pasta machine.

So, where was the noodle dish invented that we know today as “Macaroni and Cheese”? Switzerland, of course!

The dish, known as “Älplermagronen” (=”Alpine herders’ macaroni“) in the German-speaking areas and “Macaroni du Chalet” in the French-speaking areas, is made with those Hörnli, also known as “Magronen”, which were dubbed for the horns of the cattle, sheep and goats which the herders tend. The cheese was often a local product from the milk of those very animals, and the dry pasta was easy to hike up to their summer chalets where they slept on the Alps during the summer grazing seasons.

For a good, long read about the history of the pasta, click here for a “BBC Travel” article on the topic – and get a good taste of the Swiss Alps in the meal! And be honest – how many of you have a hankering for Mac & cheese after reading this? Click on the image below for an authentic recipe.

Alplermagronen - Betty Bossi

Image credit: Betty Bossi (the Swiss version of Betty Crocker)

 

*Information source: Wikipedia, William Butcher (translation and introduction). Around the World in Eighty Days, Oxford Worlds Classics, 1995, Introduction.

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The Quandry of Quarantine

T Rex Wahing Hands

There’s been a lot of talk about the Corona Virus; in fact, that seems to be the only topic in the news right now; and while I rarely go onto social media sites, I was curious about what’s circulating there, and so I went on yesterday. While I agree that misinformation and scare-mongering are never helpful (and those both seem to abound in social media, like a wildfire virus) I disagree with people’s faulty conclusion that there must, therefore, be no danger of coming into contact with the disease or with the disease itself.

My husband and I have been cautious, we’ve been washing our hands and keeping a distance between ourselves and others, but the fact is, we all come in contact with things that have been in contact with others every day: The coins you use, the door handles you turn, the shopping cart you push, the food packages stocked onto the shelves in the store by someone else. And despite all our precautions, we have been infected. We are now under self-imposed quarantine for two weeks.

Quarantine will be a topic for a lot of people; in Italy currently, that “lot” is 16 million or more. So what do you do with two weeks within your own walls? Nowadays, I can shop online – I can order groceries delivered to our door from local shops (if they’re not under lock-down, too); I can have electronics delivered overnight – faster than if I had to go to a shop (if the postman can still get out). But I think the most deciding factor in making it through quarantine well is on the level of mental health; however, some people are better-equipped for isolation than others. Indoor hobbies play a huge role in helping people pass the time. Those who have no hobbies, perhaps because they think they have no time for such things, will suddenly find themselves with LOTS of time on their hands. People like my husband, who have to move and exercise or they go a bit stir-crazy, will need to figure out creative ways of doing so within the confines placed on them. Even if you aren’t there yet, it may be helpful to figure out ways to make time pass meaningfully, because like it or not, Corona is in our lives for a while yet, and it will shape our societies, economics and personal constructs for some time to come.

So to help, I thought I’d give a few suggestions of what to do on a rainy day, or as in our case, quarantine:

  • Learn something. YouTube abounds with interesting videos on every topic under the sun. Here are a few of my favourite channels:
  • For entertainment, YouTube offers films, comedy (try “Dry Bar Comedy“), talk shows (e.g. Good Mythical Morning)
  • Do a puzzle. Either a physical one or a virtual puzzle.
  • Play an instrument – you might have enough time to polish your abilities.
  • Learn a new craft, or dust off one you already know how to do. Find an outlet for your results – often, a goal will help focus your efforts… either as a gift for a friend, or as a donation to a charity or cause (e.g. hats for cancer patients, or toys for animal shelters). I have an endless supply of ideas for crafts, so I’m all set. 😉
  • Read a good book. If you need ideas, check out this link! 🙂 Books that I like to read depend on my mood; I like anything by Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and Stephenie Meyer; the Descended series by Dana Pratola, and anything by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R Tolkien.
  • Watch a good film. Whether a DVD or something through an online source, there are hundreds of good possibilities out there.
  • Connect with people. That may sound odd as a suggestion for time spent in quarantine, but people are a phone number away. We have one friend here who is also in isolation, and she knows no one else in Switzerland yet; so we are on the phone daily right now, as a way for her to connect with someone outside of her four walls. We’ve called friends to make sure they’re okay (if need be, I can go out, as I have a supply of face masks). If you have other people in your home, play a game together.

I hope you never face quarantine, but if it happens, decide ahead of time to view it as an opportunity dropped into your lap; you’ll be better able to cope with it if you have a positive outlook on it, and you’ll be more equipped to take the bull by the horns and find a way to come out the other side a better person!

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History Undusted: Human Alarm Clocks

If you were living in the 19th century, before the age of reliable and affordable mechanical alarm clocks, how could you be ensured of getting up on time to get to work? Hire a knocker-up, of course. That’s if you lived in Britain or Ireland. Knockers-up were employed from the time of the Industrial Revolution; the last one retired in Bolton (a former mill town in Greater Manchester) in 1973. Also known as “human alarm clocks” they would use sticks, clubs, pebbles or pea shooters to knock on clients’ door and windows; some would move on after a few taps, while others wouldn’t move on until they were sure the client was up. I wonder who woke them up?

According to the Lancashire Mining Museum, there was a conundrum from the times that went like this:

We had a knocker-up, and our knocker-up had a knocker-up

And our knocker-up’s knocker-up didn’t knock our knocker up, up

So our knocker-up didn’t knock us up ‘Cos he’s not up.

The original problem employed knockers-up faced was how not to wake up their paying clients and several of their neighbours on either side for free; they hit upon (no pun intended) the idea of long poles or pea shooters to tap on the upper windows; clients obviously couldn’t sleep in a back room, or they’d never hear the knock. The fees charged depended on how far the knocker had to travel to reach the house and how early said knock needed to be.

In 1878, a Canadian reporter was told by Mrs Waters, of northern England, that she charged eighteenpence a week for those who needed waking before 4 a.m., and for those after 4 a.m., it was a shilling (twelvepence) a week. Those who had to be aroused from five to six o’clock paid from sixpence to threepence.

The miners of County Durham, Ireland, refined the requirements a bit: Built into the outer wall of their houses was a slate board, on which they would write their shift times in the mine; the company-hired knockers-up would then know when and when not to wake them up. These boards were known as wake-up slates or (far better, in my opinion), knocky-up boards.

Here are a few rare photographs of knockers-up knocking up:

HUMANA~3

Human Alarm Clock 2Human Alarm Clock

Knocker-up - old-leigh-marshs-row-twist-lane

And just so we’re clear, the American English phrase “to be knocked up” (pregnant) has nothing to do etymologically with the British occupation or the sundry adjectives that derived from it. The knockers-up were usually elderly men or women, or even policemen who supplemented their incomes by taking on the task of waking their clients. In fact, one policeman (as told during the inquest) saw no reason to abandon his post as a knocker-up when a man found him on his route and told him that he’d found a dead woman; she turned out to be Mary Nichols, the first victim of Jack the Ripper.

Original post, September 2015

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How to be Eco-Friendlier in 2020

First of all, Happy New Year! If you’ve made resolutions, take steps to keep them. One of my resolves this year is to be more eco-friendly in our household than we already are. One step I plan to take is making unpaper towels – if you don’t know what that is, read on!

We Swiss are very environmentally conscious; there’s a caricature, not far off the mark, that goes like this: When a Swiss has a tea, they then put the tea leaves in the compost, the string in the cloth collection, the tag in the cardboard collection, the staple in the metal collection, and the bag in the paper collection. We’re not that extreme – we drink tea without bags! [On a side note to tea bags: A news article recently highlighted a shocking find: One tea bag in a cup of hot water can produce BILLIONS of microparticles of plastic. No joke. I’ve started taking the teas we have and making my own loose-tea mix… I’ll buy loose tea from now on.]

But seriously, the amount of waste one produces in a year is horrendous. How each country deals with their own waste would probably shock you, too; many don’t burn it, or even bury it; they export it… to Asia, to Africa – whoever has the best price. How they deal with your rubbish is then out of your government’s hands – they’ve just flipped the problem onto someone else. How much of that rubbish ends up blown or dumped into the ocean. I don’t want to know, honestly – it would probably sicken me. Switzerland, as far as I have been able to find out, doesn’t practice export; we have incinerators that turn the rubbish into steam energy.

So the best solution is to begin solving the problem at home. Any movement that is successful starts with the individual – starts with changing the mindset of a culture one person at a time. I keep my eyes open for innovative ways to be more eco-friendly; I do a LOT of upcycling crafts, using most plastic (including magazine wraps, product packaging, plastic rings, produce nets, etc.), and everything else; my Pinterest boards will give you inspiration if you’re looking for ways to upcycle creatively. But if you’re not into crafts, there are still a lot of ways to become more environmentally friendly, and here are a few:

  • Plastic wrap replacements: Beeswax-infused cloth
  • Unpaper-Towels: Cloth towels in the kitchen – reusable, washable, no waste!
  • Drinking Straws: Purchase metal straws; they usually come with a small scrub brush, and are easy to clean. I keep a microfiber cloth on my drying rack to set smaller things on to dry. If you google metal drinking straws, you can either find a shop near you that sells them, or you can buy them online; just keep in mind shipping waste if online-shopping.
  • Cloth Napkins / Serviettes instead of paper napkins.
  • Water Conservation: Take shorter showers, turning off the water stream when you’re soaping or shampooing; turn off the sink water in between actually using it. If washing a lot of dishes, either fill your dishwasher space-efficiently and to capacity, or use a larger bowl, etc. to reuse soapy water in the sink; when it’s dirty, dump it and allow the bowl to refill as you wash more dishes. Fill your clothes washing machine to capacity – never wash only a few items at a time! I have a machine that tells me if a load is too heavy for a particular setting; I can choose anywhere between 3 and 9 kilos, and it will conserve water by the settings I choose.
  • Cleaning Chemicals: Either purchase refillable, natural cleaning liquids (remember, it all goes into the water canals) or make your own from vinegar and water and baking soda, adding lemon juice or a few drops of lemon essential oils for that clean aroma.
  • Room-to-Room Guide to a Zero Waste Home
  • Junk Mail: If you get unwanted mail, mark it “cancel” and “return to sender”. Just recycling it doesn’t solve the main issue, which is the flood of destroyed trees… Send the message to the perpetrators that it is unwanted.

Here are a few visuals to add food for thought; as with all things reduced to a j-peg, some of these make sense, while others don’t. Take them with a grain of salt, and be inspired to try helpful ideas out in your own home:

Eco-Friendly Tips to Save CashGlass vs PlasticGreen Your HouseHow Long Until It's GoneJunk MailPlastic BagsPlastic Spoons, ProcessReduce your wasteSingle Use SwapsTrees Saved

Turtles and Plastic Bags

Please let me know in the comments below what you do to be more eco-friendly and conserve the environment!  Have a great 2020 – and let’s make it one step closer to caring for the planet and the animals we share it with!

 

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