December 16, 2010

Five Easy Ways to Reduce Waste This Holiday Season

Hello Sew Greeners! I'm sure you're all in the midst of your busy holiday preparations. I know I am.

We all know this season can be stressful in a whole slew of different ways. One of the things about the season that stresses me out is trying not to lose touch with my sustainable living goals as the madness of the holiday season ramps up. My husband always reminds me to go easy on myself because the world doesn't necessarily make it easy for us all to do the right thing. Nevertheless, here's my list of five easy ways I've reduced the amount of waste my festive season generates. Please feel free to post your own tips in the comments!

1. Give the Gift of Nothing.

Nothing tangible, that is. One of the best gifts my best friend Kat ever gave to me was agreeing to read one book of my choosing. She put no other limits on it, saying I could choose fiction or non-fiction, heavy or light, trashy or deep. Whatever I chose, she promised to read from cover to cover. After much thought I asked her to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. That book changed the way I felt about food and inspired me to make small changes in how I ate every day, and I thought it might do the same for her. It did! Seeing her start to patronize local farmers' markets and even can her own spaghetti sauce and apple sauce in the fall, was amazing and exciting for me. The gift lasted for months! And if you choose a book that's available through the local library system, no one needs to buy anything!

2. Give To Someone Who Really Needs It.

This year my brother, sister-in-law, husband and I all agreed to give to charity instead of giving each other gifts. I'd initially suggested that we all donate to one charity, but my brother had the genius idea of choosing a different charity for each person, so we could have the fun of picking something uniquely suited to each of us. And it keeps up the all-important surprise factor.

One word of advice about this kind of gift giving. If you're going to pitch this to family members or friends, I'd encourage you to do it as early in the season as possible. Some people buy gifts early, and nothing breeds resentment like you swooping in with your awesome non-gift gift ideas when they have something wrapped up and stowed away for yo already.

3. If You Do Give a Gift, Use Reusable Wrappings.

I've been an enemy of wrapping paper for years, and this has led to me sewing my own fabric gift bags. These are the easiest things to sew, and a great beginner project. All you need is a rectangle of fabric. Hem one side and then fold the wrong sides together and sew up the other three sides. Turn it right side out and pop your gift in there. You can tie it closed with reusable ribbon or twine and attach a gift card to the ribbon. It takes almost no time and the bags can be used over and over again. I always buy Christmassy fabric when I see it in the fabric section at second hand stores, regardless of the time of year (you'd be surprised what shows up in July!) I take it home and wash it and stash it away for gift giving season. I also try to keep some of my bags every year so I don't have to make all new ones the following year. but people seem to like to keep them to give their own gifts in, which is fine too!

(My aforementioned friend Kat posted my more detailed fabric gift bag tutorial on her blog if you need a bit more coaching!)

4. Buy Local Everything.

Most people have to buy holiday specific things this time of year, whether they're giving piles of gifts or not. As tempting as it is to order everything off the internet, buying from a local store or local craft sales or local artists or local farmers, means that you control how much packaging your gift comes wrapped in. You can also ask questions about how things are made and shipped, and as a bonus you're supporting your local economy and the people in your community who depend on it. One of our local farmers' markets has a special Christmas market every year where you can buy both gifts (soap, jewelry, quilts etc) and food. I came home this year with a big bag of locally grown carrots, beets, Jerusalem artichokes, honey, and cranberries.

5. Clean Out Your Pantry.

This one only really occurred to me the other day. I had done a hurried, frazzled grocery shopping trip and came home feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff I still need to do as the holidays approach. When I started putting my purchases in the fridge and pantry, I realized that not only did I have minimal space in the fridge and pantry, I also had no idea what was taking up all that space in the first place. I got so agitated my husband had to put everything away for me.

The following day I got up early and went to work a few hours before I normally begin my days. This, plus skipping my lunch, allowed me to come home three hours earlier than normal. I spent those three hours cleaning out the fridge and pantry cupboard. I dug deep and found that I had bulk items in the pantry that I'd forgotten about. Everything got organized and put into my collection of glass jars. Now I am completely aware of what's available to me as I start my holiday food prep. There will be no over-buying and wasting of food. Plus I know what I need to use up and I can do that before it goes stale. And it had the added bonus of making me feel so much calmer about my kitchen in general. Win, win.


December 9, 2010

Gifts for your favorite bike commuter

Here in the U.S., over-commercialized gift-giving season is in full swing! I thought I would share some unique gifts for the bicyclist in your life (even if that's YOU!). (None of these organizations/individuals even know that I am writing about them, and I have not received-somewhat regretfully-any payment from them for my comments.)

You could always start with the not-so-subtle hint on the Christmas stocking pictured above, made by etsy seller PursuitsofHappiness.

Once you get that bicycle, perhaps you'd like to add a bicycle cargo trailer. (Another not-so-subtle hint: I really want one of these!). They're on sale over at the Bike Shop Hub. I've ordered other items from Bike Shop Hub and always received prompt and efficient service.

If you're more of the DIY type, head over to Planet Green for some plans to make your own trailer.

This fall, I treated myself to an Ortlieb bicycle briefcase, fully pictured and reviewed at Ecovelo. I pretty much agree with their review, with the one caveat that the bike rack hardware can get a little uncomfortable when one is carrying the briefcase across a college campus.

You could also follow in the footsteps of Jody at that which rolls and make your own panniers out of kitty litter buckets. I love the concept, but I would look even funnier carrying that across a college campus.

(picture from Cyclelicious.)

Along with constant reminders to shop or else our economy will go to hell in a handbasket, this time of year brings cold, snow, and ice to many regions in the U.S. Yes, Virginia, you can bike in the winter. My compadres over at RocBike have lots of tips. In addition to the link provided above, type "winter biking" into the search engine there and you will get lots more tips and tales.

One item that many RocBikers have found useful in this time of shortened daylight is the DownLow Glow. (I wouldn't mind one of these in my stocking either.) You will definitely be visible in midwinter darkness with these mounted on your bike.

For the first time this year, I have studded tires for my bike. Now, I haven't actually had the time to put them on the bike, even though we have about a foot and a half of snow on the ground, but this weekend it will happen! I was sold on studded tires by Adam Durand and Jack Bradigan Spula, also of RocBike fame.

I purchased mine, but apparently you can make your own. Who knew?

One more winter bike necessity that would make a great gift are fenders. They keep that stuff on the road from ending up on your back.

For more DIY ideas, try the bicycle repair stand at Instructables. Or, head over to Cyclelicious for a whole bunch of ideas, including a sew-your-own bicycle cap, shoe covers from old conference bags (I for one have way too many of those), and a bicycle Ipod charger.

Happy whatever-you-celebrate! (Me, I mostly celebrate the end of the academic semester!)

December 3, 2010

The 3 R's - Part 3

I posted in June on reducing and in September on reusing. Now it's time for a post on recycling. I always think that reusing and recycling aren't all that far apart, but I guess the difference is that reusing means using something again for the same purpose, while recycling is making it into something entirely new. Which brings me to:

This is a great little store located in the heart of Osborne Village in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Owner Andee sells awesome handmade goods, many crafted in Winnipeg, and some created in the back of her store. She has a MySpace page, and Etsy site, and a blog, but none of these do her store justice. Which is a shame because she's doing something really unique and wonderful in this city.

She's a fibre freak (since I don't really know her except from shopping in her store, I hope she won't mind me calling her that) who is constantly creating new things from old. Clothes, bags, belts and accessories - all from recycled fabrics and yarn. Plus she crochets. And her inspiration is her mom. How nice is that?

Christmas is just a few weeks away and I always feel stressed out and heavy at this time of year. But supporting local crafters and artisans takes the edge of those feelings. It also helps me not have a meltdown over all those knitting projects that aren't quite done!

Wishing you joy and peace and lots of craftiness.

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah to those that celebrate! And happy December to those that don't!

I create a little craft tutorial on my blog for a Jewish star garland using origami stars. I used found origami paper, but I think these would be awesome to make from old magazines or newspapers destined for the recycling bin. You can view the image in more detail on flickr .