Festive Donations

Over the recent festive period I was inspired to minimalise more of my possessions. This was partly to reorganise for the new year, partly to declutter the new bedroom storage unit Kristina and I bought ourselves. This Hejne structure, found in Ikea, is the ideal feature of the minimalist lifestyle; nothing can be hidden and everything is neat and compact [my unit is furthest left in picture below]. Plus we got new colourful striped carpet just to give our room character.

Hejne Unit

Anyway, I made several trips in Witham to get rid of my unwanted, unused possessions; 

12th December 2014 – sold 5 PS3 games to The Trade Inn for £10 (at 12:10) and donated a PS1 console plus a host of games to the RSPCA Danaher Animal Home shop (at 12:15).

 PS3 gamesPS1

23rd December 2014 – donated two bags of bric-a-brac to the RSPCA Danaher Animal Home shop (at 13:30).

23 December


3rd January 2015 – donated another two bags of bric-a-brac to the RSPCA Danaher Animal Home shop (at 11:30).

 20150103_104803 20150103_103050

5th January 2015 – recycled some old shoes at a Salvation Army clothes collection point (early evening).


8th January 2015 – donated books to the free book stall at the Grove Shopping Centre (at 09:30). 

Book Sign 2 Books

I am proud that all my personal possessions live either in my wardrobe, on my six shelves or in one storage container. But I know there is still more to donate, freegle or otherwise recycle…

Eco Vacuuming

I enjoy vacuuming. It may be a compulsive cleaning habit or just a skill I improved growing up to help family around the home. It could be that it is a relatively fast activity, with obvious aesthetically appealing results. 

Regardless of motives, I vacuum often. This has meant I have used various models over time, some more effective and durable than others. But one feature always remained; they consume energy.
I was reminded of old-fashioned manual sweepers a while ago, so when I researched models still available I knew I had to get one.

So last Friday (2nd January) I purchased the Bissell Perfect Sweeper Pet from Argos for £39.99. Although this was the only Bissell model in stock at the time I feel it the most appropriate sweeper for my needs. It has six brushes [dual rotation] and one-hundred-and-thirty-two rubber blades designed to pick up pet [Cosmo] hair.

Sweeper Box

The major benefits of this ecological alternative to a common household item are;
• uses no electricity
• relatively cheap to buy and costs nothing to operate
• effective as a quick and thorough cleaning tool
• light and adjustable to manoeuvre and easy to store away
• holds a lifetime warranty
• easy and quick to empty into my composter
• relatively low noise pollution
• simple yet modern design 

Manual Sweeper

Although it is not suitable for cleaning the stairs [I use a dustpan and brush for that] I would recommend it to anyone who wants to conserve the environment whilst taking greater pride [and enjoyment] in a more ethical method of home floor cleanliness. Sweeping has become my addiction; I use it every day.

Positive Internet Usage: Year 2 Overview

I believe I have contributed more to my click-to-donate websites during my second year by focusing on a predetermined strategy. Starting with the most effective websites, my contributions for the year were as follows (comparisons with 2013; overall totals in brackets)*;

  1. Care2 (care2.com) – 11 clicks in under 5 minutes [2014 total – 358 clicks to support causes that include children, the rainforest, big cats, breast cancer, seals, animal rescue, primates, oceans, global warming, stopping violence, wolves (+29; 687)] [my 2014 butterfly credits (accumulated online currency) have generated the following gifts – offset 123 pounds of carbon dioxide (+81; 165), provide 35 days of safe drinking water for a child (+25; 45), plant 20 trees (+10; 30), raise 32 farm animals humanely (+29; 35), save a turtle hatchling (+0; 2), help a farmer grow a pound of organic cotton (+0; 2), provide life saving oral rehydration salts (+0: 2)], save 30 square feet of rainforest (+30; 30); provide 2 weeks of clean cooking (+2; 2)]
  2. Free Rice (freerice.com) – several core subjects such as English Vocabulary and Grammar, ranging from a minute to over an hour [2014 total – 136,000 grains of rice (-259,000; 531,000)]
  3. Care to Click (caretoclick.com) – 10 clicks in 3 minutes [2014 total – 90 clicks for cancer research (-103; 283), 91 clicks for child medical care (-101; 283), 470 litres of purified water for disaster victims (-500; 1440), 94 days of child education provided (-98; 286), 3,920 days of mobile phone energy offset (-3,960; 11,800), 376 days of vitamins provided (-401; 1,153), 97 clicks to help fight animal cruelty (-96; 290), 322 square feet of rainforest saved (-418; 1,062), 210 days of clean water provided for poverty-stricken populations (-180; 600) and 1,700 square feet of national wildlife refuge saved (-1,607; 5,007)]
  4. Ecology Fund (ecologyfund.com) – 3 clicks in a minute [2014 total – 31,030.2 square feet of land saved (+12,032.4; 50,028.2 = 1.15 acres) and approximately 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide removed (+400; 2,400)]

Last year’s strategy worked for Care2.com and EcologyFund.com so I will continue this. For FreeRice.com a shortage of time meant my donations were less frequent than every day. So I intend to spend approximately two minutes on average a day playing the game to make the task more manageable. Whilst CaretoClick.com I feel I can click more frequently, so I will aim for every day also.

My more ambitious aim for 2015 is to encourage others to commit to the same or similar click-to-donate internet usage. Kristina’s brother has already signed up to my group on FreeRice.com as a more meaningful way to utilise a gaming addiction.

There are many simple ways to support your favourite causes;

  1. For online activists join Care2.com and add me as a friend under the profile churchy1760.
  2. For gamers join my FreeRice.com group, Cosmo’s Rice Givers (named after my cat) at http://freerice.com/frog/join/1965169/409ec05ccc92f2a18c64aec2cfdcc1f4
  3. For shoppers join CaretoClick.com and add me as a friend at www.caretoclick.com/?referral_id=2005-b588cb0f4ec5b7895f5162c7b1a25ab5.
  4. For people with little time join the EcologyFund.com group CARE2 CLICKERS.

 Why not make 2015 the year to make a positive difference via the internet? Together we are more effective. Together we can change the world.

*as at 31st December 2014.

My Ethical Banking Portfolio

In three weeks’ time I would have banked with Halifax (a division of Bank of Scotland plc) for thirteen years.

Yesterday I ceased to be a customer.

Halifax Cards

I set up an alternative current account a year ago but due to interest accumulation and convenience it took until now to reorganise my banking portfolio.

I switched banks for one important reason; I want to bank with organisations that closely share my morals. I want to trust the money I invest is supporting good causes. I do not want my money to fund unethical activities and industries. I want to be proud of my banking choices.

I now have two bank accounts; a current account with the building society Nationwide and a savings account with Triodos Bank. According to Move Your Money and Ethical Consumer Magazine these two organisations score high ratings based on a range of ethical categories, including community contributions, conserving the environment and sustainable investments.

The other benefits of switching banks could include a reduction in the amount of accounts (and cards) held [which will aid management of personal finance and hopefully reduce the likelihood of debt], a reduction in the amount of paper and ink generated by taking the paper-free service most organisations now offer, and an array of financial rewards depending on the account.

Maybe it is impossible to invest in a Utopian banking organisation [the recent crisis of The Co-operative Bank shows although an ethical policy is difficult to follow it is still worth pursuing]. But today’s competitive market at least offers better options; ones that could dominate the future banking industry if supported by customers.

So remember, is your money preaching your ethics?

It could.

Amateur Dramatics: Show 3 Report

Last week [19-22 November] I performed in a revival of the 1965 play Oh, What A Lovely War at Witham Public Hall. It was my second adult acting role for the Witham Dramatic Club and despite some challenging moments I enjoyed each of the four show nights. The play reconstructs some of the historical events and songs of the first world war using satire [www.withamdramatic.co.uk/production.html].

 Johnny Jones English Soldier

The play was well received by impressive audiences; I estimate around four-hundred people attended, of which thirteen were family members or associated with my work (hopefully others came because of the many leaflets I handed out at work). I performed a total of twenty-one characters of different nationalities, including Johnny Jones, a juggler, stallholder, station announcer, various civilians, various soldiers (including a writer), a corporal, photographer, runner and a policeman. As a result I performed a number of accents, including Cockney English, German and French, and maintained a short hairstyle – which Kristina cut for me – as well as moustache.

French Soldier Civilian Civilian 2

Despite some very quick costume and scene changes I successfully delivered the lines and songs I learnt throughout the twenty-seven rehearsals I attended, which began early September. The authentic, rented costumes along with slides throughout highlighting the atrocities of the conflict reminded me of my anti-war feelings. As interesting as the 1969 film version was to watch I am proud to have worked with over twenty other club members in such an unconventional, yet reflective British production.

 English Soldier 2 French Soldier 2 English Soldier 3 

I also received several congratulatory cards during the week and after the final show’s party even took home some memorabilia, including three handmade props; a poppy, an umbrella (that I used as a rifle) and a pint of European beer.

Props and Cards Programme Profile

 Finally, I want to give a special thank you to my beautiful fiancée Kristina who supported me backstage throughout the week and continues to give me the confidence to pursue my creative ambitions.

My Third Marathon: Post-Race Report

On Sunday 19th October 2014 I completed my third marathon, the first held in the city of Chelmsford, Essex, in a chip time of 4 hours, 4 minutes and 49 seconds [page 12 on http://www.chiptiminguk.co.uk/ps/results/Chelmsford%20Marathon/35084. I ran on behalf of a local animal charity, the RSPCA Danaher Animal Home [www.rspcaessex.org.uk] in my Vibram FiveFinger barefoot shoes. Six members of my family accompanied me in support, who also joined to celebrate my fiancée’s birthday.

Pre Run 2

I reached the start line in Central Park with plenty of time for a light warm-up in the boggy conditions. I began as close to the front as possible when we started at 10:15 and completed my first mile in 8 minutes, 8 seconds. From there I kept my pace steady, never struggling to breathe. I let groups of runners constantly pass me as I concentrated on the placement of my feet, especially after treading on a hard object after two and half miles. I followed the multi-terrain route [www.chelmsfordmarathon.org.uk/course-map] through several parks towards the nearby village of Writtle before heading back to the start for the half way point, which I achieved in 1 hour, 55 minutes [a time I regularly gain in training runs].

During the mid-section of the marathon I gained renewed strength; I had a runner praise my blog I advertised on the back of my RSPCA vest, another who ran beside me for a little stretch who I gave water to and I ate two bananas on route for extra energy [another familiar training technique]. I also saw an old running partner and work colleague from my time at university, who gave me kind words of encouragement.

 David Run 12  David Run 1 David Run 5

Although I was frustrated with some confusing signage and mileage [highlighted by a local newspaper on http://www.essexchronicle.co.uk/Chelmsford-Marathon-course-long-Organisers-admit/story-23293872-detail/story.html and my eventual tiredness by mile twenty-three I finished in the top 35% overall and top 43% in my age-gender category after a sprint finish. My time fell between my other two marathons, which reflected my limited training. Still the rain stayed away so my family could enjoy a lovely picnic and I raised £150 for charity thanks to very generous work colleagues and family.

 David Medal

Sadly my observation that many runners struggled was confirmed by reports that although over1,900 runners signed up for the event only 1,020 started and 961 finished. It reminded me of my first marathon, where the second half of the race consisted of painful walking-jogging. It proves running a marathon is more than a disciplined journey on the race course but a faith in confidence to undergo a rather unique experience.

My Vegan Peach and Nectarine Cobblers

After purchasing a large number of out-of-date peach and nectarine punnets cheap – either 9 or 15 pence each – from my workplace I choose to utilise them in a vegan dessert. Although the Belle Tardie peaches, and Alba Red and Sweet Lady nectarines – the first two grown in Spain, the last in Italy – had best before dates of 19 and 20 September they were only recently becoming soft. This meant they were ideal to use in a set of cobblers this morning.

As guidance I used a recipe from the Food Network website (see http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nectarine-cobbler-recipe.html) and a host of resources (some of which I changed from the photograph to accommodate the large quantities of fruits).


My adapted method for the 28-peach dish was the following;

  1. Cut up peaches into small chunks [1500g] and add to a cooking pot with cold water poured in [600ml].
  2. Boil peaches on a high hob heat for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Drain a little water into a saucepan and pour the peaches and remaining water into oven dish. Pre Peaches
  4. Repeat step 2 and 3 with any excess peaches [1770g] and water into another oven dish.
  5. To make the topping mix 500g of plain flour, 200g of vegan margarine and 400ml of soya milk into a bowl until smooth. Topping
  6. Lay the topping evenly on the peaches.
  7. Place the dishes into a 170°C oven.

 Peach Pre-Cook 2 Peach Pre-Cook 1 

It took me an hour to prepare and an hour to cook.

Peach Result

The only changes from above for the 12-nectarine dish were the following;

  1. 1380g of chopped nectarines and using leftover peach water.                             Pre Necatrine
  2. 10-15 minutes in a smaller saucepan.
  3. No draining necessary.
  4. I used two small bread loaf tins instead of oven dishes.
  5. To make the topping mix 200g of plain flour, 90g of apple sauce and 100ml of cold water into a bowl until smooth. Then add a handful of ground cinnamon.Nectarine Pre Cook

It took half an hour to prepare and an hour to cook.

Nectarine Result  

Although the toppings were thin and the fruit moisture noticeable both were tasty; the former retained a bite, the latter retained a sweet syrupy taste. The peach cobbler was a little lighter than the chewier, tangier nectarine one. Both reminded me of canned fruit, only fresher. Dessert, hot or cold, is now sorted for the next week.