Posts Tagged 'christmas'

Pregaming for the Holidays: Making a List

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!  Mine was very relaxing.  I overheard my younger cousins discussing who was better at recycling and had hope for the world.  And nobody murdered me when I kept wondering aloud how many of the items we saw in our annual Reading Of The Seasonal Catalogs were made with child and/or slave labor.  This leads obliquely to my point:  Do you know who made what you want for Christmas?

While you’re looking for local/organic/fair trade/sustainiwhatever stuff for other people, take a look at your own wish list.  Are you asking for stuff that reflects your values?  Do you really want this stuff, or will it just get shoved in a drawer by February?  Instead of stuff, could people give you gifts of time- help with a project, dinner out, concert tickets? Are you dropping hints that you’d prefer handmade jewelry from a skilled local artisan/fair trade doodads/organic clothing to substitutes from a big box store?  Are these hints loud enough?

My immediate family has a highly effective system of a) asking each other what we want and b) including direct links in the reply emails, so there’s no hinting about it.  I’m trying to make sustainable choices.  A magazine I want comes in an online version- less expensive and less environmental impact.  I’m linking to books I want from BetterWorldBooks instead of Amazon this year, too- they fund literacy and have free shipping (and can typically beat Amazon’s prices, which they include on each page).  Found a few pretty things I want at etsy, of course.

But it’s not all so easy to make green choices when ‘wanting’ is involved.  I’m having a moral dilemma about the Slanket this year.  I would really like a thick blanket with sleeves. That would make me very happy.  But all I know is that while the Slanket started out being made in Maine as a family business, it’s now manufactured in China.  The business is still run in Maine, but I don’t really know much else about the process.  except they do donate a portion of the profits to charities, according to the website.  It’s all polyester fleece material.  So does it meet my supposedly high standards for gettin’ stuff?

Well.  Consider the alternatives.  The smaller, cheaper Snuggie (can’t find any info at all on how they’re made, and the low price point makes me pretty sure it’s not with unionized labor) is a definite no.  I could make one in an organic fabric- I have a sewing machine and I think I get the concept of sleeves.  But this does not reward the brilliant inventor of a sleeved blanket.  I could send Slanket $5 and make my own.  This convoluted option probably gets most of my principles in, but.  Seriously?  Dah.  Oh!  Slanket could make one in an organic fabric!  And tell us how their Chinese factory operates!  I’ll write them a letter to that effect, but it does not solve my immediate problem.

Anyway.  I will continue having this dilemma until Christmas, at which point I will or will not receive a Slanket.  And if I do, I’m betting living in it for a week will numb the environmental unease.  If I don’t get one, problem solved.

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Pregaming for the Holidays: Cards

People say Thanksgiving isn’t respected as a holiday anymore- what with the inflatable penguins in the stores from September these days- but I think it’s what you make of it.  And I’m making my Thanksgiving a time to write Christmas cards, to practice my eating and sitting around, and to make  presents.

I’m not writing a gift guide this year, because I’ve done it the past two and all that still applies.  Plus, I’m planning on making many of the presents I give this year, and that won’t be helpful for folks who can’t knit.  (For those who can, mittens!)  My only recommendation this year is, if you’re going to buy anything, shop at small businesses.  Local, if you have the time.  Check out etsy.com, if you don’t have time to browse in person.  Shop handmade, shop sustainable products- but whatever you’re looking for, put your Christmas money into supporting the small businesses that create ideas and jobs and support families.  I know regular jobs do too, but it’s a rough economy out there right now, and if you want to keep innovative artists and growing companies around, then support them with your dollars.

For now, though, I’ve been looking for Christmas cards, and I’ve got some recommendations if you’re looking as well.  Ten Thousand Villages carries cards and stationery made in Fair Trade agreements, and often from recycled or quickly renewable materials.   You can buy them online, if you don’t have a local shopThe Spotted Sparrow uses FSC certified and recycled papers to make neat cards- there are a series done on old book pages.  Smockpaper and byvik ink make beautiful letterpress cards, and use recycled papers to print on.  Etsy has a great search function, so find any other kinds of cards you like at their Paper Goods section.

Or, grab a potato and make your own?  It’s still cool if you’re not five anymore, I promise.

A Christmas Nightmare/Miracle

So I was in Target tonight- Friday nights are pretty bumpin’ these days as you see- and they’ve got the Christmas stuff out already.  It’s not even hidden behind the Halloween stuff.  I see no Thanksgiving stuff?  That’s weird, I guess I wasn’t looking.  Anyway I was going to be horrified about rampant consumerism eroding the true meaning of our cherished traditions but then I started looking for adorable penguin cards and forgot about being outraged (only had trees and doves on the recycled content ones, bah).

But!  They had out the LEDs!  I got some a couple years ago, but every other time I’ve tried to find them at Christmas they’ve already been sold out.  So I stocked up, and now I’ll tell you about it so you can beat the rush.  It’s cool, go ahead, I got the ones I want.

Of note:  Philips and some other companies have a whole bunch of different LED bulb types and colors for about $14.  Nets and Icicles and strands and ropes and stars and everything.  There is an off-brand version now, same amount of lights for only $7-cheapest I’ve ever seen them, plus they’ve got the UL and EnergyStar ratings.  All the brands of LEDs now have white lights in both the bluish color I don’t personally like and a new ‘warm white’ option.  I snagged 4 boxes.  My tree is gonna be so amazing.  Oh and I found a strand of solar LEDs to put on my balcony with the other solar lights.  Those were $15, but that’s a small price to pay to spread Christmas cheer to my parking lot.

Anyhoo, Target, has LEDs, get them while the getting’s good.  Is it seriously still September?  Really, Target? September?  Ah whatever worked for me.

LEDs All Over

This year, the Capitol Christmas Tree and all 56 trees representing states and territories in the White House display are lit entirely with LED lights for the first time.

I’ve got my LEDs up, too, and I’ve solved the blue problem by getting a string of multicolored twinkly lights:  instant efficient holiday cheer.  You can see that the blues are still pretty powerful, though.

colorful LEDs

More pictures (and the Restaurant Eve review!) to follow!

Oh, the monthly goal:  I am grateful for my gym membership in this season of delicious foods.

‘Tis the Season

It’s already the end of November?  When did that happen?  I would feel lazy if I remembered October at all, really, but this comes as a surprise. So, here you are:

Giving in 2008

It’s a good year for solemn gift guides.  Glitz and extravagance seem tasteless beside rising foreclosures and hunger in the US, plus who has the money to spare these days anyway?  But all this crisis makes it a great year to focus on the purpose and meaning of gifts-another silver lining in the garbage bag containing the international economy.  Basically, making it about money and stuff this year is finally tacky!  Gauche!  Passe! Sooo 2007!  Thoughtful is so In right now.

FIrst, the general approaches:

1.  How you buy it is as important as what you buy.  Start your shopping at thrift and consignment stores, handmade fairs or websites, and fair trade shops.   Etsy is an incredible handmade resource for items beautiful and practical- browse it, support small businesses, and I bet you’ll find something suited for every taste, from bizzaro to cutsy to classic.  You know the arguments for buying fair trade and used already.

2. Do you have friends with skills?  Commission them (the earlier the better) to make your relatives pottery or jewelry or scarves or whatever their specialty is.  Do you have skills?  Give your dad a year of cheerful IT help.

3.  Give time and attention, even if you don’t have giftable skills (or skills you want to gift…).  A year of monthly dinners together.  A year of regular phone calls to relatives far away (ones that actually care to hear from you, for sure).

4.  Do they already have everything?  Give to a charity they (and you) support in their name.  CharityNavigator.org sells gift cards that recipients can give to a charity of their choice on the site (they can research the efficiency and work of the charity at the same site, too).

5. Are you one of those aunts who always give the nieces scented candles/bodywash/bath froofy-do?  I am not here to judge you, but make the candles beeswax or soy wax and the bath gunk biodegradable, if you must continue in this vein.

Ahh.  Enough generalities, now specifically awesome gifts:

1.  Fair Trade Piggy Banks! Saving is cool again.  From Ten Thousand Villages, piggys and elephants and cats. From One World Projects, various pigs and owls. You can search for more online also, but check the creds of the Fair Trade projects you buy from.  In the same vein, with less adorableness, Elders: your young’uns may not understand what a 401K is if you start them one this year, but they’ll thank you with genuine feeling later.

2.  Coffee.  Specifically, coffee from Mesa de Los Santos, a Colombian farm that helped pioneer organic, shade grown, fairly traded coffee.  They’ve grown organic for over 100 years, built a school for their worker’s kids, and reforested their fields, earning a Bird-Friendly certification from the Smithsonian, USDA Organic certification, and a BioLatina badge.  There’s a personal connection, too: my GF is from a branch of the family that’s owned the farm for four generations.  As to the taste, I do not actually drink coffee- but I still enjoy this stuff black.  Still, don’t take my word for it:  reviews (and online ordering forms) are here and here and here.

3.  Gift certificates to local, organic restaurants.  Self-explanatory, no?  Give the gift of a night far away from your loved ones.

4. Potted plants or Garden Tools/Seeds/Composters.  Scale this one to the gardening level of the giftee.  Apartment-dweller or college kid?  Potted plant(s) (or tree!) with very specific instructions.  Do they have a few flower beds?  Vegetable seeds and maybe some books on growing your own food.  Do they always bring up how they grow their own tomatoes?  Up their ante with a compost bin and a thoughtful little charcoal-filtered kitchen bucket for food scraps.

5. Classes.  Vouchers or promises for fencing lessons, sewing classes, cooking classes, metalworking lessons, language tutoring, and basically any other skill you can think of are useful, and not just for delighting your curious and adventurous loved ones.  Sign them up alone or do it with them, for some quality time.  Added benefits: surely a trained cook will make you meals in gratitude?  Worth a shot (fencing lessons are less useful for this reciprocity principle).

Anyway, now you know what my family’s getting for Christmas.  I wish you a stressless holiday full of delicious smells and guilt-free giving.

PS. If none of this does it for you, check out these ideas from CNN/Oprah and HuffPo.

Update: Countdown

It’s 4 weeks from Christmas Day, and this is an intimidating number for me, given that my Halloween decorations are still up. Fortunately, Rockefeller Center is better prepared for the season than I am. They’re going sustainable, too- their Christmas tree is getting 5 miles of super-efficient LED lights, available in smaller lengths at stores near you. Plus they cut it down with a handsaw, instead of the gas-powered chainsaws. A handsaw! Seriously, this tree is gigantic, and the sweat equity puts some oomph in the season. And they’re going to turn it into lumber for Habitat for Humanity once the season is over.

The article contains a few more tidbits about changes Rockefeller Center is making to be green year-round, with the largest solar roof in New York City and plans for the installation of a green roof. This gives Rockefeller Plaza-based NBC’s fluffy “Green Week” (I posted about it here) much more respectability. And the solar panels are from GE- Jack Donaghy would be proud.

My tree won’t be up until Sunday, when I pick it up from the organic tree farm. I promise photos. Meanwhile, if you’re casting about for gift ideas (after my BHA Gift Guide! Surely you’re all set…) check out these plans from the New American Dream website for thoughtful, inexpensive, and ecohappy gifts. They also have link to “Simplify the Holidays” with a lot of other advice in it for making the holiday season more sustainable and less-consumer driven.

Solar on Parade

Solar DecathlonWell, it’s less a parade than a squat, but however you trumpet it the Solar Decathlon has it’s competition homes on display this week, through Saturday. You can tour the homes, which are built by students from the US and a few international teams. Awards are given for architecture and a bunch of other measures of efficiency and usability. The overall winner will be announced today, but the homes will be open for tours through Saturday. Lectures on how homeowners can take advantage of solar technologies and other “green renovations” are also going on all day Saturday. ICincinnati Solar House visited last weekend, and was most interested by the range of styles each team used in their home. Some looked like traditional ranch homes with a solar panel plunked on top, one appeared to have been eaten entirely by solar panels, and a few looked like shoe boxes with Colorado Solar Housefunny attachments. My favorites were from Colorado (left), Cincinnati (right), and Texas A&M: pictures of each home labeled by school are online, and team overviews and links to other team websites are also at the Decathlon homepage. Right now the team from Maryland is 1st in overall standings, but who knows what drama could occur by this evening! Anything under the sun, that’s what. The Decathlon homepage also includes tons of links to basic information (check under the “Teachers” heading) about solar and other renewable energies, and a link for “Consumers” if you’re interested in finding out ways to actually use some of the solutions on your own home. It’ll be a nice weekend, so check it out in person if you get a chance.

The lectures and informational materials are great, but they’re mostly directed at people with homes. For us renters, there are a few feasible, portable solar options. The Solio is a portable device charger with 4 (4!) color options, and the Eclipse line of bags will carry your stuff and charge it too- one of their bags was reviewed in Wired. I can’t personally recommend any of these products, but they sure look cool, and they get pretty good reviews. And Christmas/Eid/Diwali/Hanukkah/Festivus is sneaking up and all…


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