Archive for November, 2010

In Thanksgivings past, my family never had any type of tradition where we go around the table and state what we’re thankful for. Frankly, I think something like that is cheesy, impersonal, repetitive, and annoying, not to mention heavily stereotyped. But this year, we really felt some sort of tradition has been missing. So here’s what we decided to do. Instead of stating one thing we’re thankful for, we decided to start a time capsule of thanks. Here’s how it works: we took  scraps of plastic we would normally throw out (they will last a whole lot longer than scraps of paper), and each wrote some sort of artistic representation of thanks on it, also with the date. Poems, drawings, pictures, song lyrics, anything with a little more substance than the typical “I’m thankful for _____” is fair game. I wrote a haiku, for example. After sharing what we wrote (only if desired), we rolled them up like little scrolls and wrapped them with old pieces of twist ties (again, something that would eventually get thrown out) and dropped them in a bottle that we would normally have recycled. Each year, we will contribute more thankful musings and will slowly fill the bottle. It makes a nice decorative item, and will gradually be more colorful and exciting as it gathers more and more scraps of colorful plastic scrolls. And, it’s a continual visual reminder of all the things we have to be thankful for, without the cheesiness of going around the table to state a lame one-word answer, all while putting to better use something we would have sent to a landfill.


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Like it or not, the holiday season is in full swing. As much as I hate getting started with Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving, I know others do, and advertisers are pushing hard for us to spend more money, buy more stuff, and start earlier every year. This year, I’m excited to try a new challenge for myself: the hundred dollar holiday. Inspired by an article  by Bill McKibben I read here, I’m working on making this holiday season more meaningful, less stressful, less about the stuff I give/get and more about enjoying time with my family.

I’ve always been a rather creative person, and I do lots of sewing, so this year, I’m giving homemade gifts. Not only homemade, but I’ve also tried to make my homemade items using fabric I already have or by cutting up other items I don’t need or use anymore. I have to say I have made some beautiful things that I’m really looking forward to giving. I plan on posting pictures of everything I made, but after I give them. My status so far: I’ve made gifts for everyone in my immediate family (mom, dad, 2 sisters, niece, 2 nephews) with the exception of one person (husband), and my total spent is about $30.

Here are some great ideas of ways you can simplify:

Cards: We all give and receive lots of cards. And let’s face it–e-cards are just lame. Why not send something a little more meaningful than just a piece of processed paper that will end up in the recycling bin later? Grow-a-note cards are plantable cards with wildflower seeds infused in the paper. You’ll have to wait until the weather warms up, but what a great way to send a card that can have another use than just filling up a landfill.

Services: One of my favorite all-time gifts received was an index card good for 12 hours of massage time. Best. Husband. Ever. Best. Gift. Ever. That is all. Cards like this are fun to give, fun to receive, and can build and strengthen relationships. Maybe a voucher for cooking a favorite family meal together, an offer to do a chore for someone else, to babysit for another family member, or the ever-popular back rub. Get creative!

Donations: Why not give to those who need it more than the people in your family? Make a donation in honor of your family member. Communities all over are trying to meet more needs than ever, and a great way to help would be to make a donation. Local food pantries are always in need of money or donations. Or you can branch out further from home. Organizations like Oxfam America will let you give a meaningful, yet tangible donation that will directly impact a specific family. And it’s just plain cool to say you gave someone a goat for Christmas.

Repurposing: I do considerable amounts of sewing, and a favorite thing I’m finding I like to do is sneak something from a family member to make it into something better and give it back to them. For example, I made a beautiful fabric wall hanging for my mom made out of leftover fabric scraps she had after making some curtains, some sheets she was getting rid of, and other fabric odds and ends of hers and mine. And now I know she’ll like it because it is all made out of stuff she already likes and it will match her curtains! And it’ll be really fun to present her with old things of hers remade into something new. The creativity here is absolutely endless. A fabric gameboard with milk jug cap pieces. Strips of old plastic grocery bags are really fun to crochet or knit with. Coasters made of opld fabric scraps. A heating pad made from an old placemat. the possibilities are truly endless. For those feeling intimidated by the words “get creative,” here’s a great site that’s full of easy-to-do ideas to get the creativity flowing.

Wrapping: Try to use reusable wrapping as much as possible, or start a challenge of who can use the same wrapping from year to year. Or hide your gifts all over the place and have a scavenger hunt for people to find their gifts with written clues. We waste a ton of time, energy, and resources just to throw away all that beautiful stuff in just a few minutes, and there are definitely less-impact and still meaningful (and fun!) ways to reduce our waste.

Anyway, the purpose here is not only to be greener in our holiday habits, but to also simplify. We all deserve a truly meaningful, joyous Christmas season free of stress, commercialism, and hype. And it will bring your family closer together, enable everyone to enjoy it even more, and will help you feel empowered to rise above some of the guilt that comes with our environmentally-trashing habits Christmas gift-giving.

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Is what you're buying REALLY green?

I’m finding myself increasingly frustrated with all the green marketing going on to tap into this new mindset/trend of environmentally conscious consumerism. Phrases on packaging like “inspired by nature,” “made from natural ingredients,” or items with terribly toxic chemicals in them that just make a point to put a picture of a leaf on the label to make you think you’re buying something that’s better for the environment just make me want to puke. It’s completely misleading, and it really just ticks me off. “Inspired by nature”?!? Really? Isn’t everything inspired by our natural environment or “made from nature”? Even the most toxic chemicals in harsh cleaning agents were “made from natural ingredients” at some point. They all came from our planet somehow. They were just remade and recombined into something else that is now, considerably more unhealthy. That does NOT warrant a misleading label. These types of things make it even more difficult to be conscious of buying the best, most environmentally friendly products out there, and I find it sometimes takes some careful scrutiny to determine if the product I’m looking at is in fact as environmentally healthy as the label purports. It’s super important to read labels carefully to make sure you’re buying as responsibly as you think you are.

What’s also frustrating is the growing market of “green products” that, while free of chemicals and other toxics, come in tiny plastic containers with unnecessary packaging. These are often products that can be made at home in bulk while reusing the same containers over and over. This cuts down on plastic use, shipping costs, and saves you money too. The true idea of going green is getting OUT the consumerism rut. We can’t buy ourselves out of this mess–we need to start using and buying less, not just buying the same stuff in the same quantities from elsewhere.

In light of this, one of my own personal ongoing challenges has been to carefully consider all the products I use and see if there are better options other than just continuing my same buying habits. Do I absolutely NEED this? Can I use less of it? Can I make it at home?

Many times, I find I can make something at home with less environmental impact, less chemical toxins, and at least as good of quality as the commercial product I used to buy. I’ll be sharing various recipes I find, test, tweak, test, and tweak some more, and to get the ball rolling, here’s one of my tried-and-true cleaning products. For me, it’s my all-purpose-cleans-and-disinfects-everything mix.

In your old cleaner bottle, combine:

  • 1Tbsp. baking soda
  • ¼ Cup lemon juice
  • ½ Cup white vinegar
  • 25 drops tea tree essential oil
  • Fill the rest of the bottle with water

Notes: Make sure to thoroughly clean your old spray bottle before refilling with anything else. Put the baking soda in first, then lemon juice and wait for the fizzing to mostly stop before adding the rest of the ingredients. The tea tree oil is what makes this spray disinfecting; it’s naturally antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal.

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