5 ways to stay connected

With the whole world in lock down and almost everyone encouraged to stay home, it’s easy to feel disconnected from one another. The physical barriers separating us may feel daunting, but if you’re privileged enough to access the internet, there are lots of ways to reach out to those you love.

Whether you’re teaching elderly relatives how to use Zoom, or dialling in for video calls with your coworkers only dressed from the waist up, we’re all adapting to this new landscape. WiFi is allowing us to stay with our families, whether we’re isolating from down the street or across continents.

Perhaps you’re now juggling a job, childcare and looking after the vulnerable members of your family. Maybe, like me, you’re having to explore other ways to make a living and volunteering in the meantime. Or, you might be working in a key role to keep your community ticking over, looking after others throughout this pandemic.

Whatever your story, I hope you stay safe and can find some moments of calm in this strange, paused existence. It might feel as though the sky is falling down, but we’ll make it through.

Here are some of the things brightening my days at the moment:

1. Birdsong of the Day with Lucy Hodson
If you’re feeling cooped up and miss those long walks outside, this self-confessed ‘nature nerd’ is the perfect remedy. There is nothing more satisfying than watching her poke a puffball mushroom. Not only are her captions entertaining (‘flirty butts’), but you’ll learn a lot from this kooky conservationist. Although her outdoor explorations have become more localised as the restrictions have tightened, she’s still finding plenty of wildlife on her doorstep. Follow her if you’d like to get into the spirit of Spring and identify those whistles outside your window.

Follow: Lucy_Lapwing on Instagram

2. The High Low podcast with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes
The joyous duo are back from a hiatus with a bumper edition (1hr 51mins), discussing the revival of the baked potato and how to embrace ‘full ferality.’ They are proactively helping the NHS charity’s Covid-19 appeal by donating 90% of their merch sales to the cause. However, expect their usual eloquence and silliness, putting a delightful spin on the lockdown by describing it as a ‘lock-in,’ and making a trivial but oddly touching list of all the things they’ll do when life returns to normal.

Follow: The High Low on Twitter
Listen to: The High Low podcast

3. The Scummy Mummies aka Helen Thorn and Ellie Gibson
You don’t have to be a mum to enjoy the antics of these two. The comedy pair regularly make me snort, with a parody of Joe Wicks’ daily PE lesson (hello Joan Wicks), jumping on the bandwagon on a hot cross bun recipe, and daily updates of ‘blissful’ family life. Their playful skits, which sold out at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Fest, reveal a less-than-perfect reality to make us feel better about not writing a novel in our ‘incubation’ period. Expect sweet moments like the panting Spiderman cheering up the neighbours stuck indoors.

Follow: Scummy Mummies on Instagram
Listen to: Scummy Mummies podcast

4. For Fox Sake Pub Quiz by Sophia Pavelle
Another one for the animal-lovers, this weekly quiz on Instagram Live is becoming a bit of a sensation. If you want to test out your knowledge, tune in on Wednesdays at 8pm (British Summertime is GMT +1). With competitors such as legendary naturalist Chris Packham, you’ll need to bring your ‘A-Game,’ and then some. She is also making her own bee-friendly DIY projects for the garden and posting glorious wildlife photos which will add a splash of colour to your feed.

Follow: SophiePavs on Instagram
Quiz: Every Wednesday at 8pm (BST) on her Instagram

5. How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, featuring Mo Gawdat
This particular episode gave me a boost when I needed it most. I had just discovered I’d been laid off, my twin’s wedding was cancelled and we were agonizing over whether we should/could travel back to the UK as the borders closed (we didn’t). Mo Gawdat, former chief business officer at Google X, developed an algorithm for finding happiness so it’s fitting I found some after listening to him. His perspective of discovering ‘committed acceptance’ before taking action made me feel a bit less woozy in the face of all this uncertainty.

Follow: Elizabday on Instagram
Listen to: Special episode of How to Fail
Read: Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy, by Mo Gawdat
Read: How to Fail, by Elizabeth Day

There are loads more rays of sunshine, such as the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast by the witty QI elves, the free 30-day Yoga with Adriene, and of course, Desert Island Discs with Lauren Laverne. On my Netflix wishlist, I have Mae Martin’s Feel Good, Ozark and La Casa de Papel (aka Money Heist) to watch.

What is making your days brighter? Comment below and let’s connect!

Four reasons to buy local

With empty shelves and a flurry of shoppers stockpiling seeds, the global pandemic has made many of us confront where our food comes from. With limited ingredients, trying out new recipes and making use of the scraps that we would have discarded before is not just a hobby, it’s a necessity. ‘Rationing’ has reentered our vernacular and it seems more important than ever to decrease our food waste and be more economical.

Have you become a dab hand in the kitchen and learned how to make pastry or pasta from scratch? Maybe you’re being extra resourceful and making some interesting new dishes – barbecued banana skins anyone? Perhaps the only batch of eggs you could buy was a tray of 30, so you’re doling some out to your neighbours. However you’re dealing with it, here are four reasons why you should buy local:

  1. Reconnect with your local community

With job uncertainty rife, supporting your neighbours and buying local produce will mean you’re helping to keep small businesses alive. If you live near any farms, there are likely to be egg and milk deliveries available. On your daily exercise route, maybe you pass a stall selling honey, jam, pickles or flowers. Perhaps your friends are brewers and can help stock up your supplies. Bakers will need help shifting their freshly baked goods too, so keep them in business and buy yourself a loaf or a sweet treat if you can afford it.

Here in Monteverde, we regularly have farmers on bikes coming by with fresh vegetables, seafood and meat. It may cost slightly more than the supermarket discounts, but building connections with the local producers around us is worth it, not to mention the free delivery to our door!

2. Try something new

If your usual staples such as pasta and flour are missing from the supermarket aisles, why not see this as an opportunity to discover new ways of shopping? Although most of us are limited to one shopping trip a week, perhaps there are smaller shops nearby that would benefit from your custom. They might even have those ingredients that you are after!

With a little bit of research beforehand, you could try shopping at places that cater for different cuisines. Online recipes can show you how to cook with a variety of ingredients, so you could learn how to make Pad Thai from scratch, or rustle up an authentic Indian curry. Use this time to get creative!

I’ve been enjoying Nadiya Hussain’s resourceful recipes on her Instagram, and can vouch for her scrap soup and barbecued banana peel. The BBC Good Food site is great for those with bare cupboards, sharing recipes for flour-free cakes, egg-free desserts and easy to cook breads. Their 3-ingredient peanut butter cookies are a winner. Jack Monroe is a life-saver if you’re counting pennies or have some tin cans knocking about in your larder. If you’re new to cooking or need some inspiration, they’ll help you find your way in the kitchen.

3. Better for you and the environment

One of the benefits of buying locally sourced produce is that will be fresher since it hasn’t travelled as far, and doesn’t need to be wrapped in excessive plastic. If there is a small greengrocers open near you with fresh fruit and vegetables, you can stock up on your greens to help boost your immune system. Only buy as much as you need for a week so that others can buy their five-a-day too. There have been reports of increased food waste from people panic-buying and hoarding perishables – don’t be that person.

Remember to maintain your distance from other shoppers, especially when queuing up to pay. You’re more likely to contract the virus from the people around you than you are from touching produce in the store, so try to stay 2m apart. That said, always make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before eating. For more advice, check out the WHO website.

4. Learn more about the process

For many consumers, the food industry is a bit of a mystery. With modern life so fast and food so available, it is sometimes easy to overlook the steps in getting the food to your plate. The recent boom in buying seeds in the UK suggests that people are willing to grow their own food when faced with a crisis, and getting back in touch with nature is something positive. However, you’re unlikely to be able to grow everything you need right away, so in the meantime, help those on your doorstep that do this for a living.

As local farmers wait for their crops to be ready for harvest, perhaps you can volunteer to help them (respecting social distancing of course). If physically helping isn’t possible, buying produce directly or through local outlets will also support your local farmers.

Despite our school closing down for the rest of the term, we’re planting a mixture of vegetables that will take between one and three months to grow. The exercise and fresh air is something to break our quarantine, and it will provide food down the line for us to share with the community.

Let me know what foodie creations you’ve been making recently, or if you’ve rediscovered some local sellers in your community.

Chillout House

Walking past the striped hammocks and passing through the sliding glass doors, your eyes are first drawn to a hand painted white swinging chair. Then, you notice a growing tree placed in the centre of the room, and nearby stools carved from standing logs.

A painted sloth reclines dozily, and there are colourful chalked Costa Rican phrases (Que tuanis) above reception. A selection of cosy corners invite any visitor to throw down their bags and lay down for a quick siesta.

The hostel is surrounded by cloud forests

Chillout House is a hostel known for its recycling, encouraging its guests to separate their waste responsibly, but it also showcases a myriad of ways to lovingly restore items to surpass their former glory.

You’ll find the owner, Edith, buzzing around and fixing up her next creative project. From her hanging pineapple plants to her modernist lamp shades made from white rice containers, she is never short of ideas on how to spruce up her place.

A tea tree

Having spent two weeks at her hostel, it was clear that Edith epitomises the word ‘strong.’ Not only did she build the place with her own bare hands and a bucketload of grit, you’ll often find her dead lifting weights on the balcony.

The hostel used to be Edith’s family home. When she divorced, she lost everything except the bare bones of her house. Needing to work, she moved to La Fortuna to help one of her brothers at his restaurant. There, she began to formulate ideas for her own business.

After two years of hard graft and discovering her entrepreneurial spirit, in 2015 she decided to turn her house, which was being looked after by a friend, into a hostel.

Made by hand with love

Initially, her idea was met with disbelief. Some said that the location was too far from central Santa Elena despite it being only a fifteen minute walk.

Still, her new venture was difficult to envisage at that point. The place was empty and she had no furniture except for her own bed and a small bedside table. She said that her family weren’t totally on board at first, and instead she received pity rather than encouragement.

Yet, little by little, she began to acquire the things she needed. She asked around for any donations and told me that her neighbours couldn’t understand why she wanted their old pots and pans. Over time, she gained chairs, a fridge, then some beds.

This bed was transformed into a breakfast bar

When she was ready to open her doors to guests, her family still needed some convincing. Looking at the rooms, her daughters said that there weren’t enough home comforts to make it work.

However, the first group of guests were delighted. The growing reviews of her hostel were positive, earning her a high score and commendations on TripAdvisor. Where Edith saw flaws and improvements to be made, her guests saw quirky and creative solutions full to the brim with character.

Edith learnt how to upcycle through necessity

That is what makes the Chillout House so special. It is Edith and her family. Wherever you look, it is evident that a lot of heart has gone into forging the place as it is today.

I look forward to returning soon to see how the place evolves further, and saying hello to the adorable Alaska.

Alaska will be on hand for cuddles throughout your stay

Edith continues to be a trailblazer and you can find her new pop-up restaurant Qiao Pierde in Santa Elena (next to Restaurante Mar y Tierra). Currently serving crepes, it will soon offer the biggest burger in town!

If you would like to stay at the Chillout House, you can book through Booking.com, Hostelworld or Agoda.

Address: Barrio Valle Bonito, Calle #1 Monteverde Chillout House, Calle 1, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, Santa Elena, Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Price: varies depending on room and season, but around $15/night. This is great value for money compared to other places we’ve stayed in Monteverde.

Breakfast: various options available for 3,500 Colones each, including a continental breakfast, typical Costa Rican breakfast or a wrap. I highly recommend the pancakes and fruit option.

Kitchen: There is a fully stocked kitchen with a shared fridge and individual shelves for storing groceries if you wish to cook yourself.

Other services: laundry for $4/kg. Edith or her daughter Betsy can help you book ziplining tours, horseback adventures, night tours, or arrange your transport to the nature and wildlife reserves nearby. They can also book buses for onward travel.

Breakfast made by Edith

How to get involved in a beach clean

This summer, an interesting trend has emerged on my Instagram feed. Every day, I’m confronted with images of rubbish on beaches and clogging up waterways. Yet it’s not as bleak as it sounds – scores of volunteers up and down the country have been sweeping the shores and cleaning up tonne bags of trash.

Kiko Matthews is on a mission to engage communities around the UK to tackle the problems caused by single-use plastic. Her ‘Kik Plastic’ campaign is an ambitious one with 78 beach cleans scheduled. To make the challenge more difficult, she is cycling the whole way round and is set to total 7,200km by the end of her eco-awareness tour.

Kicking it all off in Margate on 5th May 2019, she has steadily travelled northwards come rain or shine, attracting well over a thousand volunteers to help clean our beaches. While collecting, they have retrieved ghost nets, polystyrene, engine parts, rubber tubing, discarded cans and crisp packets.

In Malin Head, Ireland, she even stumbled across a washed up Minke whale. Kiko suspects that like many oceanic species inhabiting our waters, the baby whale may have ingested plastic at its peril. Highlighting the impact that sea pollution is making is an important part of the journey, along with promoting community spirit and what can be achieved when we come together.

She’s currently in Scotland, so find out where you can join her as she works her way back down the east coast over the next month. Among other locations, she’ll be hitting John o’ Groats on 6th July, Skegness on 21st July, Aldeburgh on 25th July, before finishing up in London on 28th July.

Throughout her efforts, volunteers have been turning up at beaches to help comb the shoreline. Although lots of assistants have turned up at various places, there has been a noticeable shortage from some demographics. So if you’re a guy, or aged between 14-30 years old, go along to represent and help fill some bags!

You can follow Kiko’s journey on Instagram and cheer her on as she continues her battle against beach litter. Even better, get inspired and lead your own beach clean to start making a difference!

Read: Is it illegal to take shells home?

The surprising uses of bamboo

Bamboo is springing up everywhere as the new sustainable alternative for plastic products. From bamboo straws, paintbrushes and bags, bamboo is enjoying a revival in the mainstream economy. Yet bamboo is nothing new – it was used as the main construction material for many ancient civilisations, but now it is being considered for wider applications.

Its uses are endless, from edible bamboo shoots, to furniture, musical instruments, jewellery, scaffolding, bridges, and even making beer. It has been used for medicinal purposes since the 6th Century and is well known for its antioxidant qualities.

Bamboo is eco-friendly on many fronts: it is a fast-growing resource that is straight forward to grow almost anywhere, with between 1,200-1,500 species having been unearthed around the world.

The ease and speed of growing bamboo makes it a renewable material, and it doesn’t require any pesticides to flourish. Some species are ready to be harvested every three to five years, and it rarely needs replanting as it produces new shoots.

Here are four ways you can start using bamboo in your everyday life:

1. Bamboo cups
If you need a hit of caffeine to start your day, why not buy a bamboo cup to have yours on the go? Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll avoid using a single-use cup that takes fifty years to biodegrade. In contrast, because the bamboo cups are made from a mixture of natural bamboo, resin and cornstarch, they only take about a year to disappear. As an additional incentive, most coffee shops will give you a discount for bringing your own cup if you need a refill while you’re out. I bought one locally from ChicMic and my morning cup has never tasted so good.

2. Bamboo clothing
If you like soft, breathable clothes that keep you fresh, look no further. Bamboo clothing has antibacterial and hypoallergenic qualities, and is super absorbent to keep you dry. If you’re active, bamboo clothing is thermal regulating and designed to maintain your optimum temperature, whether the conditions are hot or cold. Compared to cotton, the texture of bamboo clothing is softer, and has the added benefit of staying cleaner for longer. If that wasn’t enough reasons to switch to bamboo, it uses just a third of the amount of water needed to grow cotton. Check out BambooClothes.com for more information, or to update your wardrobe.

3. Bamboo deodorant
If you have made changes to your lifestyle but feel your bathroom routine needs refreshing, you could try using a bamboo deodorant. It’s moisture-absorbing qualities and natural antibacterial defenses make it the perfect combatant to ensure you stay confident throughout the day. While antiperspirants stop you from sweating, they also contain aluminium which is not a sustainable material (transforming Bauxite requires a significant amount of energy). If you want a product that is both environmentally friendly and does the job, you can try the Biossance natural deodorant.

4. Bamboo toothbrushes
In the eco-revolution, the bathroom remains one area where disposable plastic continues to reign. From razor handles, body wash containers and earbuds, single-use plastic is often overlooked. Well, not anymore. The essential items are getting an update, with bamboo handle toothbrushes leading the way. With the aforementioned antibacterial resistance, bamboo makes the perfect sustainable alternative to plastic, and is biodegradable when you need to replace it. To find your new toothbrush, check out this review of the best bamboo toothbrushes around.

Who knew bamboo could be so versatile? If you are ready to make some small changes, give bamboo a shot.

Is it illegal to take shells home?

The short answer is that it depends on the type of shell, its size, where you collect it, and whether there is a living creature still calling that shell home.

The issue of shell collecting has become contentious in the past thirty years since the first laws arrived. It may seem like an unenforceable law for a seemingly innocent act – beach combing for washed up shells seems rather innocent compared to smuggling animal body parts across borders.

Some governmental environmental agencies allow collectors with a permit, or will state which shells are not to be collected, such as the Philippines with this handy visual guide. However, if you are caught removing any live shellfish/molluscs, or endangered/rare species, you could be in hot water and face prosecution.

In fact, beach combing has caused some international tensions in the past. Russian diplomats complained that Chinese tourists were ‘stealing’ the colourful glass pebbles of Ussuri Bay. There was a sign claiming that removing them was ‘strictly forbidden,’ but it was only written in Russian.

Nature parks, such as Batemans Marine Park in Australia, limits the amount of shells that can be collected and stipulates that it must be for non-commercial use. It is worth noting that taking anything is prohibited in marine conservation zones. These areas protect the vulnerable species living there from human interference.

Some environmental agencies have taken this precaution a step further, and have legally banned tourists from taking any shells with them, regardless of size, quantity or species.

Anything that is recovered in customs when you return to the airport (at either end) could be confiscated if not declared, and you may face a fine for seized goods and breaking potential biosecurity restrictions.

While it is unlikely that the police will conduct bag searches on the edges of the shore, or empty out buckets in the search for contraband sea goodies, be warned that one woman in Florida was caught. She was discovered to have bags of conches, many of which were still alive, along with forty rare Queen conches in her possession. She was jailed for 15 days and fined $500.

Next time you see an enticing shell on the beach, it may be better to admire it then leave it where it is for others to do the same.

Read CITES checklist (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to see whether the international trading standards allow you to take anything home.

If in doubt, it is best to leave it.