Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”

—Richard Wagner

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Green(er) Christmas

This post may be coming a little late in the season to be useful for others, but keep it in mind for next year - please??

Some of the most wasteful Christmas traditions involve sending paper Christmas cards and using wrapping paper for gifts. Seeing someone haul out a new, empty garbage bag to stuff full of paper, bows and boxes drives me nuts (did you know that wrapping paper is recyclable?? Unless it's laminated, metallic, or has an extraordinary amount of tape on it - so why the trash bag?). I've decided to make some changes, starting with wrapping paper.

I never buy wrapping paper (or anything else for that matter) at full price. In the past I would always stock up on paper, gift bags, Christmas cards, etc at the end-of-season sales. That's going to stop - this year I'm not going to buy any new wrapping paper and instead either reuse paper from gifts my family has received or use another much more eco-friendly option - fabric! I got this idea from another person who bought a bunch of Christmas-themed fabric at the end-of-season last year and is now cutting it to size with pinking shears (which keeps the ends from fraying) and then tying the gifts closed with re-useable colorful cord or other ties. After the gifts are open you can give the recipients the option of keeping the fabric or giving it back to you for reuse next year. Over time you should come up with enough different sizes and shapes of fabric that you will be self-sustaining and not need to add to your stockpile anymore.

I'm hoping to take this a step further and try the Japanese art of Furoshiki or "cloth wrapping". It looks like a wonderful idea and elminates the need for a closure at all. I found a couple of videos on YouTube - check out demo 1 and demo 2, as well as this schematic if you just want to jump in and try it without watching someone else do it first!

This follows the idea of wrapping an item in a scarf or decorative towel - then the wrapping becomes part of the gift. Another idea I've used is reusing the wooden crates that Clementines come in and making that the base for a gift basket - I've done this a few times and loved the results. Or using the Sunday comics or other colorful ads or magazine pages to wrap small gifts. And what about making Magazine Bows for an additional festive touch?

The other change I'm making is going to be Christmas cards. I've noticed that the cards I enjoy the most are the ones that include a little newsy "Christmas update" letter - I love getting all the year's news in one place and I really appreciate the effort people make to put those letters together. My second favorites are the photo cards - there isn't any personalization but it's fun to see the pictures of the pets and kids in their holiday best. My least favorite are the cards that are just signed - no note or anything else to indicate they meant this card for me and not Uncle Tom or Aunt Betsy. Why bother? It seems silly and I feel like they should just save their postage for such a cursory effort.

So, with this in mind, I'm planning on sending e-cards to most of the people on my list - they will get the pictures I am sending in my paper cards, but most of these people are just going to look at the card and picture, smile and then after Christmas it will all go in the garbage. The other people - close friends and family - will get the paper cards and real photo. I know they will appreciate the extra effort and will probably put the photo in an album.

So, what to do with the cards you do receive?

  • Send them to a school or charity that can re-use them in art projects or even in making new cards as a fundraiser.
  • Cut off the front, attach it to some card stock and make your own cards for next year
  • Cut off the front and use it as a Christmas postcard - uses less postage too!
  • Cut out pretty shapes or images from the card and use them as gift tags
  • Cut out shapes attach a yarn loop and they become child-friendly Christmas ornaments
If you must buy cards at least look for cards or wrapping paper that are printed on recycled paper. Here are some sources for those products, courtesy of

RedStamp - cool card designs by different artists. Click Eco-Friendly under the type of card you want; some are even made from (sustainable) wood (prices vary).

Green Field Paper Co. - a bit pricey, but you can actually plant its Grow-A-Note cards after the holidays are over (about $4/card).

Pleasantrees - its recycled paper cards in traditional-ish designs (nothing too artsy-fartsy) come with free personalization, plus it plants three trees with every order (about $2/card).

BuyGiftPaper - not the schmanciest site, but it offers long rolls of solid and patterned recycled wrap ($14/roll).

Smith & Hawken - 30 feet of recycled, classic-looking, holiday-themed gift wrap ($9/roll).

Fish Lips Paper Designs - fun sheets of wrap, printed on recycled paper ($4/2 sheets).

Meaningful, one-size-fits-all gifts don’t have to cost a lot of money and you don't have to necessarily even wrap them - learn someone’s favorite tune on the piano, promise a month’s worth of back rubs, or issue a snow-shoveling voucher. Who wouldn't love that?

Lastly, light-emitting diode (LED) holiday lights use 90 percent less power than the old incandescent kind (even though I love those "old-fashioned" lights :-(. It’s also easy to forget to turn those lights off if you decorate outside; use a timer so you don’t let them burn longer than three hours. Lights left on all day can drive your energy consumption up eightfold!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Not a Garbage Can

Another factoid from my Living Green: 365 Ways to Make a Difference calendar:

"Your toilet is not a wastebasket, and it’s wisest not to use it that way. Disposable diapers and tampon applicators are among the many items that sewage treatment doesn’t treat. All too often, they pass through the system and wind up in waterways and on beaches."

I hate to admit my ignorance here, but I had NO idea. I thought if you were on city water/sewer (vs a well and septic) you were OK! Whatever you put in the toilet went magically away to the water treatment plant and was filtered out, the water treated and back to our water facets it went.

Of course I know better than to toss a disposable diaper in the toilet, but now I'll be more conscientious about, um, other items!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chicago Politics - WWALD?

Just what would Abe Lincoln do? Think? Say? Or would he be curled up in a ball hiding in the corner just thinking about what politics in Chicago has become.

You may have heard that the Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, was arrested today (this afternoon he was released on $4500 bond) and faces corruption charges involving the newly vacated Obama senate seat, the Chicago Cubs and Children's Memorial Hospital.

It seems especially ironic that in the wake of Obama's victory and path to the presidency, which was built on his image as a man of integrity, honesty and change, we have Blagojevich who is trying to enrich himself by alledgedly trying to sell the vacant senate seat to the highest bidder? He is looking for the best deal and if no one gives him that well, then he'll just appoint himself.

I sat next to a man on the train ride home today and noticed he had printed and was reading the lengthy criminal complaint outlining just what Blagojevich had alledgedly said/done. Turns out he works for the Chicago Tribune himself and his brother-in-law is the one that broke this case. I congratulated him and then peered over his shoulder to read some of what the Governor, and even his wife, alledgedly said. It was disgusting, appalling and down right low class, some of the things they said and demands they made. I can't believe those words were coming out of the mouths of the Governor and First Lady of Illinois; incidentally, after reading the affadavit I use the word "lady" very loosely.

My first brush with Chicago politics and all the ugliness and dirt that can come with it was six years ago when my former employer was indicted by the FBI and is now in prison. He was said to be extremely politically connected in Chicago and the word was the vigor with which he was prosecuted was in order to make him an example. But he never cracked, talked or gave up any of his friends - or cronies as the paper said. I lived through all of that craziness and if nothing else I walked away realizing that you really can't (shouldn't) believe everything you read in the paper. I saw first hand how various situations ended up as carefully crafted (and sensationalistic) headlines. Never again will I read something and assume it is so; there are always two sides to the story.

However, with this one, I find it hard to believe there is anything that can redeem the Governor and his behavior, especially in light of the fact that his predecessor, former Governor George Ryan, himself is currently six and a half years for his racketeering and fraud gubernatorial missteps. Is that not enough to strike fear into one's heart and make them cross their "t's" and dot their "i's" knowing that they are also under the same type of scrutiny? The words "narcissist" and "sociopath" have been used to describe our Governor and now I understand why.

Ironically, just last week there were some stories about a push to have Ryan's sentence commuted; yes he is 74, and yes his wife is ailing and this and that. But I don't feel sorry for him - he did the crime so do the time. Look on the bright side Mr. Ryan; soon you may have another former Illinois governor to keep you company.


“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”