Sunday 8 April 2012

Happy Easter

Taking a wee break from posting at the moment, but will be back in few days. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday weekend.

Reb x

Thursday 23 February 2012

Bottle Out

When I was in Berlin about five years ago with my sister, we were surprised to find that nearly all of the beers and lagers sold in supermarkets were in plastic bottles. Was this a response to on street waste? I've no idea to be fair, the areas we frequented were ridiculously well kept, but that could have been down to all number of things. However, we noted at the time how much safer plastic would be at things like festivals and open air events. 

And it seems that way of thinking is starting to infiltrate the NI consciousness. Bottle Out is an initiative in the Holylands and wider Belfast area to raise awareness about and to reduce the number of broken glass bottles in communities and on the streets. This pilot programme in Belfast aims to engage all concerned, including the local council, our local hospitals, the PSNI, vintners & breweries and students, to look at alternatives to glass bottles. Trish Morgan from the City Church heads up the campaign, which takes into account the social and natural environmental factors involved, stating: 

"Its a fine line asking for breweries to consider alternative packaging one of the reasons is about safety which could be at odds with environment as that would currently be plastic pcts. My issue is the brewreries are not showing any interest to change due to cost factor! So by drawing down proven data from A&E at The Royal belfast Im hoping stats will get government on board to help break the current impasse." 

Recent advances in PET technology means that the plastic bottles available today are a vast improvement on those common in the late 1990s, when they were promoted, though not especially popular, on the European and Australasian music festival scene; they now afford a much longer shelf life to the beer (around 6 months) and are far easier to recycle. You still don't really see this in the UK/ROI though, despite the fact that they are common for soft drinks. The debate between glass and plastic is one that divides a lot of environmentally conscious people. Plastic obviously has the advantage of not being so easily broken, reducing its hazard potential to children, animals and sanitation workers, as well as other individuals in cases where bottles are used as weapons. It also has the potential to be recycled into more products than glass, which is limited mostly to other glass products and insulation materials. But it would be wrong to assume that plastic is always a viable environmental alternative to glass. It's not. It still uses a lot of chemicals in production and deteriorates in quality after multiple recycling processes. So perhaps the answer lies in encouraging re-usable options for glass - keeping the bottles off the streets and helping the environment along the way. I've always thought that a joint producer and consumer responsibility action plan is needed. If producers and retailers were to offer incentives for the return of glass bottles, would that encourage your average hard up student to return them? For example, a loyalty card could be topped up on the return of bottles to the local off licence or supermarket, with credit offset against the price of the bottle to the manufacturer. Obviously this wouldn't be much per bottle, but when returned in bulk and credit built up, it could shave a few pound off a carry out once in a while (and not enough to be accused of encouraging irresponsible drinking).

But as ever, the elephant in the room is always going to be the ongoing social issues in the Holy Lands that need to be addressed. I lived in the Holy Lands off and on in the early 2000s. I have to admit that we had the tendency to be right bastards when we wanted to. Trouble is, the Holy Lands is widely regarded as a mid week doss point for so many people - home is still a bus journey away, where one takes laundry and goes to vote. As a result there's a reduced need to take pride in the area (though I must stress that this is not across the board and plenty of students who live in the Holy Lands are just trying to enjoy university life and keep their heads down). It's not helped that in recent years the area was exploited by careless development - while it may be better now, when I lived there the sanitation provisions were woefully inadequate, with not nearly enough bins for the number of people crammed into the converted houses, meaning that rubbish build up and rats was a big issue. There would be periods during the summer when areas would be ignored by rubbish collectors, while bins were set on fire and the paltry Kerbie box for recycling was not nearly enough (nor was it likely to stay put/in one piece). QUB and Jordanstown Students Union representatives work with community groups to try and reduce the impact and conflict during heavy drinking periods such as St Paddy's day and Halloween, and there have been some improvements, but there is still a long way to go. 

I'll not pretend to have all the answers in this respect, or even do the issue a disservice by trying to skim over ideas in this article, but if you have an interest in helping out in the area over the upcoming St Patrick's Day celebrations you can contact Trish at Bottle Out at, or either of the student's unions: 


Tuesday 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Just a very quick post today,  mostly to share this recipe with you and tell you about an upcoming event. This really isn't recommended for children on account the booze, instead, arrange into Martini Glasses for an elegant end to a romantic meal for two (recipe serves 4, but you can always keep some). It makes use of store ingredients, which are so handy at this stage in the winter, and as it's made in advance it means you're not slaving over anything too intricate and can enjoy your meal. The best thing about this, is the pumpkin isn't the main flavour component, it's just a base, so if amaretto isn't your thing you can try different flavour liqueurs such as cherry, coconut etc, garnishing with matching bits and pieces.

Chocolate, Pumpkin and Amaretto Mousse 

500g of tinned pumpkin
50ml of Amaretto Liqueur
50ml of Creme de Cacao
50g of Caster Sugar
1 tablespoon of Cocoa Powder
5 large egg whites
Some Amaretto Biscuits

In a bowl mix the sugar, shifted cocoa powder and pumpkin until smooth. Add the Amaretto and Chocolate Liqueur, stirring rapidly to ensure that mixture is not too runny or curdled (it should resemble the consistency of a thick lentil or pea soup at this stage). If it seems a little too runny, you could always add more coca powder or some icing sugar to stiffen.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until white and stiff. Once done, fold into your pumpkin mix. Do this slowly and methodically, as rapid mixing will knock some much needed air out. In some glasses, crumble a few amaretto biscuits, them add the mousse. Chill for 4-6 hours, or overnight if you have time. Once done, sprinkle over some chopped almonds and grated dark chocolate (even use a heart stencil if you want to be really soppy).

So if this recipe has got your sweet tooth going and you are in the Belfast area, The Lawrence Street Workshop will be celebrating International Cake Day on Saturday, inviting people to bring cake and taste cake. The event will run at workshop, just off Botanic Avenue, from 4pm to 7pm and is open to all ages, with prizes for some of the most inventive cakes. Click on the Facebook link below for some details.

Image: nuttakit /

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Whale of a time

Family film Big Miracle opens in the UK this week, and consequently, a wave of conservation awareness is on the horizon. Big Miracle tells the real life story of a family of grey whales trapped under the ice in Alaska in the 1980s and the WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Charity) is hoping that the film, starring Drew Barrymore and Kristen Bell, will help raise the profile of national and global wildlife efforts regarding these water dwelling mammals. 

Under threat today due to more than just ice, man made hazards such as hunting and intensive fishing practices detrimental to the natural habitat and breeding grounds of whales and dolphins, are just some of the issues that the WDCS deals with on a day to day basis. The charity's UK branch is proactive in the rescue and protection of beached whales, such as this pilot whale (above) stranded off the coast of Scotland last summer, highlighting the welfare of whales in captivity and a number of political campaigns to ensure that development off UK coastlines takes into account marine life.

They also work in partnership with the Scottish Heritage fund to provide children's education via their Wildlife Centres, in addition to providing a comprehensive Kids Zone section on their website. Currently children are being asked to take part in the origami challenge, helping the charity create a huge petition made up of origami whales and dolphins as a protest against captivity in Europe, and children can also adopt their very own whale by visiting   


If you have a few minutes spare this week, follow the charity @WHALES_org on Twitter and help spread the word, or visit the Facebook Page here

Sunday 5 February 2012

Advanced Look: Belfast Children's Festival

After a years absence in which their (lack of) presence was well and truly felt, Young at Art's Belfast Children's Festival is back next month with a week long program of events designed to suit a range of ages. From 9th to 16th March (a little earlier than previous years, perhaps due to last years reduced activities) the festival will include the usual mix of educational and creative shows, projects and exhibitions, many of which promote the same sort of values I try to include on EcoLifeNI.

The program dropped through my letter box earlier this week, so I just thought I'd do a quick look ahead to some of the things that will be on my radar. Including my own, nearly three year old offspring, and the niece (five) and the nephew (one), this festival should be an interesting one in terms what events are suitable for which children. The Bethster is now a little too old for the Baby Rave, but we'll be taking the boys down to that, held in the Waterfront Hall on the 10th and 11th and with this years theme being Ska (one of my sister's most hated of musical genres) it should make for an interesting session of music, dance and activity.

I'll also be hoping to catch a few more plays and performance based events; the wee man has finally gotten to the age where we can attend these sort of things without worrying about him wandering off or loosing interest. So, that said, I'm currently looking at Wobble (An Cultúrlann, Wednesday 14th) a theatre experience designed specifically for under 4s and Dot (The Baby Grand, Thursday 15th), a visual performance based around shapes and colours. For the older Ms, there's Once Upon a Time (Assembly Rooms, Thursday 15th) a interactive theatre events based around fining a missing story and A Giant is coming (also in the Assembly Rooms at various times from Friday 9th to Wednesday 14th), which features installations and live performances about what it means to be a 'giant'. This event is held as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad event 'Land of Giants'.

As with previous years, the performances have a small charge normally ranging between £3-£5 and more details can be found on via the Young at Art website at the end of the article. However, despite tough funding times for the arts community, the festival is still managing to include a few free events on their program. Linking up with World Book Day there are a fair few literature based events that are free of charge, from the Tea and Tales/Sos Agus Scealta running throughout the week at the The Assembly Rooms, and a big favourite of ours from two years past, The Cardboard Cities (see video) will be making a welcome return.

Cardboard cities - a tour from caragh on Vimeo.

The Children's Festival really is a gem in the crown of  Belfast's yearly cultural program and it is so great to see it back this year. You can find more information on times and tickets, as well as advice for people involved in child development and care, by visiting

Sunday 8 January 2012

Just a Little Green...

Well, Christmas done and dusted, New Year out of the way, time to get back on the old posting horse. And what better way to start January, the month traditionally associated with fresh starts, detox, resolutions and revised healthy eating, than to take a look at the Little Green Allotments in Lisburn.

These private allotments, located on the top of Whitemountain (three miles out of Lisburn itself) make the most of organic soil, great views and a thriving local flora and fauna, and are ideal for individuals looking to grown their own and even voluntary groups and clubs, with plots and packages ranging from standard size: 20 ft x 30 ft £280/pa, larger plot size: 20ft x 40 ft £300/pa and corporate packages/voluntary sector packages. If you've ever fancied getting in on the allotment malarkey, but are exhausted by the wait for local authority plots, then the cost can be reduced by clubbing in with a few friends.

Little Green will also be starting up their Food and Craft Market from February to October this year and are currently looking for traders to take up stalls. This indoor and outdoor market is looking for people who can bring unique, fun, quirky and delicious stalls to market, at a cost of £15 per table. It starts on Saturday 4th February (10am to 1pm) and anyone interested in getting involved in the first one, should get in touch by 28th January. Each monthly market will also have a theme, so if your talent or craft relates to any of those listed below, you can make a point of getting in touch. 

FEB: Valentines Saturday 4th 2012
MAR: Mothers Day Saturday 3rd 2012
APR: Easter Saturday 7th 2012
MAY: Europe Saturday 5th 2012 
JUN: Fathers Day Saturday 2nd 2012 
JUL: Independence Day Saturday 7th 2012 
AUG: National Relaxation Day Saturday 4th 2012 
SEP: Comic book Day Saturday 1st 2012 
(October's Halloween date TBC)

Places are filling up fast and a short online booking form is available on request by contacting Grainne Philips and for more information, as a trader, grower or potential market goer, check out the Little Green website and Facebook pages below. The market is free entry.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

I'm Dreaming of Vintage Christmas

I haven't been able to get on ebay for the past couple of weeks; neither my home computer running on Firefox or my netbook on Chrome have been able to find the or .com versions, so when I started looking for vintage clothing ideas for a Christmas outfit, I've really had to expand my horizons beyond the default setting. Is anyone else having this problem or is it just me? It's a shame it also means that I can't link to Belfast staple Rusty Zip who sell online goods via ebay.

I'm by no means a fashionista. I like clothes and love fashion as an art, but I don't have the money or the inclination to shop regularly, and more often than not when I do I go for something second hand or nicked from my sister.

50's Red and Blue Check Dress
But here's a few outfits I've spotted that I thought I'd share. These are authentic vintage rather than inspired by classic designs, meaning that for the most part they'll be unique and looking for a second life.

I've also a few tips for making the most of second hand and older items of clothing that might come in useful.

Smells and Odours: First up if the clothing you've bought comes with a stale moth ball odour, do not immediately reach for the spray-on fabric freshener. Older and more delicate fabrics are unlikely to take kindly to this, with staining and even damage in some cases. Obviously wash according to instruction if you wish, but in terms of adding a little extra scent, rely on good old fashioned dried flowers and pot pouire. A bag of tied scented foliage is good for drawers, but can also be left in a bowl at the bottom of the wardrobe. Failing that a magic tree car air freshener isn't a bad idea either and can be hung.
Casual Jumper

Repairing Minor Damage: If shopping in store and you notice damage on an item of clothing, bring it to the attention of the sales person and you are more than likely to get a few quid of the item if you are prepared to repair. Basic skills like patching and darning are essential and if you don't know how to, you can check out videos on YouTube or ask a friend of relative who can to teach you. My personal tip for invisible, neat and lasting stitching would be to make sure you are using the right kind of needle and thread. Have a collection of various shades and colors, but also make sure that they suit the fabric you are repairing. If you are not sure what goes with what, ask someone at your local craft shop or haberdashery; I've always found them to be invaluable when it comes to inside knowledge. Also, invest in tube of fabric glue for any last minute solutions to loose beas, sequins etc, they can always be repaired properly later and it never hurts to have an old button stash somewhere in your home.

Reworked Men's Italian Jacket
Cleaning atnd Storage: This is a prime means of making sure all clothes, but especially older items, last longer and in good condition. Excess washing can make fabric breakdown, so only wash if you need to (this saves energy too). If something has a mark or stain on it, but is otherwise good for a few more wears, then attend to the stain only. What you use of course pertains to the fabric in question and you can get plenty of recommended stain pens by checking online, but a sponge and some water is often all you need for every day marks. You can also buy in a lint roller for dust and hairs, but remember a few strips of sticky tape can be just as effective. Clean your shoes regularly by hand though -  letting all kinds a shite build up just makes then harder to do later, and it can cover up small scuffs and holes so they aren't immediately noticeable, thus giving them time to develop into something more serious. If shiny finish shoes develop stubborn black scrape marks, these can normally be fixed with a little nail varnish remover on a cotton bud.
When it comes to storage, hang up clothes that are meant to hang and fold clothes tht are meant to fold. It's simple enough but it means that many clothes retain their natural shape. For more tips on making clothes last longer, I'd recommend checking out this article on the Wise Bread site.

Revamp: Finally, if you're looking for something special for a Christmas party, but can't see anything exactly right, then consider putting revamp skills to use. Adding a few bits and pieces to an existing item can turn it into something completely new. Gok Wan's Roadshow has been doing great things in showing people how to do simply upgrades on clothes and accessories. Even if you're not a fan of make-over shows, I suggest checking them out on 4OD for some handy tips. And if you are local to NI, keep an eye out on the Rethink, Revamp and Restyle Workshops for classes

Pear Tree Christmas Apron