Tiny Salutations

Tiny Salutations

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Christmas Part 1: Tips for an "Eco-friendly" Christmas

Our Christmas tree! (The black thing in the window is the solar panel!)
So it's past Christmas... I'm aware. I have been going back and forth between being completely incapacitated and playing catch up.  I'd like, however, to share our Christmas- the fun we had on the better days- and some tips on having a more environmentally conscientious holiday in the future. This will be a two part blog post.

So first, how can you include environmentalism in the holidays?

Well, it is abundantly clear that Christmas in the US is materialistic and over consumptive. There are a few ways to make it a little less environmentally damaging. 

Our tree with solar lights active (left) and L inspecting the tree (right)- he often clasps his hands behind him in thought, I love it!
Up close look at the solar rope lights
1. Solar powered lights. I love solar powered lights. I wish they were the only lights used everywhere. This year we used solar rope lights on our Christmas tree. Honestly the positioning of our tree made for less than optimal lighting, but given a better window we will have a brightly lit Christmas tree. They were much lower cost than I expected (only $10 at Harbor Freight!). We originally purchased them as a main component to the lighting in our tiny house.

Also as a side note, we did not have a Christmas tree stand. So we used a green bucket and kitty litter that was left over from a project (which we placed in small bags, because, well, we have a small child who loves trees.- you do the math). That stabilized it quite well until it has just suffered too much abuse from L, which from that point on it did have a slight lean. Good multipurpose uses though! 

We went to Bezy's Beautiful Grand Firs for the first time this year to get our Christmas tree. The prices were amazing ($10 U-cut, $20 they cut- for all trees), and we rather liked our tree this year.
More at the tree farm
2. Christmas tree farms. Now, the most environmentally friendly way to enjoy a Christmas tree is debatable. I personally think purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm is the best choice. Chopping down a tree? That's the most environmentally friendly? Yes, I think so. A fake tree is made of plastic, so even though you can reuse it, the cost of producing it is environmentally expensive. A local tree farm additionally keeps local farmers in business, which I think is important. I once read an article from a science journal (it's been a while, so no reference, although while skimming articles I found Hyvonen et. al. 2007 which mentioned such- use critical thinking as I admit I did not read the entire article, sorry), that stated that young trees capture more carbon. That means if you buy a Christmas tree from a tree farm, and they plant a new tree (as most local tree farms do), you could potentially decrease the carbon leading to climate change. Okay, in a small way, but that's where it starts... small ways.
This year's gift wrap was mostly recycled paper shopping bags.
This year's gift wrap was mostly recycled paper shopping bags.
3. Recycled gift wrap. Gift wrap has always made me cringe. You go out and buy several rolls of gift wrap to wrap presents. This is a product made just to cover something and then be thrown away, or hopefully at least recycled. I find this a waste. There are several ways you could usefully cover a present. 
Cloth. You could put your gifts in a reusable shopping bag or a cloth bag you make yourself for a smaller gift- a bag that can be used once the mystery of the gift is unveiled. Fabric scraps would lend themselves well to this purpose. 
Used paper. Last year I used newspaper. I had several copies of a local newspaper that regularly featured my photographs. I used pages that I didn't need to wrap gifts and some of those pages had pictures that made the wrapping unique and lovely. This year I used paper bags from the grocery store, as I usually do for birthdays and other gifts in our family. I think it created a nice effect and even got some compliments this year. Another good one would be wrapping with sketch paper that is decorated. Maybe your children want to decorate it for one-of-a-kind gift wrap for the grandparents? Or you can decorate them for stress relief during the holiday season (Am I right?!)
Get creative! There are lots of interesting ways you could find that may be unique.

This year's handmade ornament (doubles as a suncatcher)
Last year's "hand"made ornament (see what I did there? Ha!)
An ambitious hand print project for some gifts this year (ambitious in that paint is highly overwhelming to some autistic children- including this one). You can see here, even before starting the project, he is licking his lips, which is one of his repetitive behaviors in response to sensory overstimulation. We did it without any serious injuries to Mama though!
Photography turned greeting card
L making playdough from scratch for his cousin. He did it pretty much all by himself. I modeled it for him in a separate bowl. Another sensory overstimulating project.
L's cousin enjoying her homemade gift. She seemed to really like it!
4. Handmade gifts. Speaking of gifts, handmade gifts are good. For families like ours with little money, they are necessary, but they are more than that. There are a ton of resources that go into production of.... pretty much everything. 
That doesn't mean you can't give gifts. In fact, giving gifts is very important to me. Christmas to me is entirely about giving with no expectation of receiving and the smiles of children. I think for months about what to give each person. I think unusually hard about it. I recall stories people have fondly told me, such as childhood memories, and experiences we've shared, things people often had no clue I even remembered (I have an unusually good memory). Things like the painting I made of my Grandpa's late son in a scene they shared when he was little, or a Millennium Falcon similar to the one my Dad lost as a young adult, or a print of a painting my Great-grandpa-in-law comments each time he sees it that it is his favorite. This year I made some photo collages for some folks and I even spent hours selecting which photos would be just perfect for each person. When three people opened them together, they each said "Mine has the best photos" and couldn't get over how accurately I could read them to know what photos of our family they would like most. 
Okay, I got on a tangent. My point is this: most products are resource intensive in some way or other. Handmade gifts can be both more personal a gift and less resource intensive. That of course depends on the gift, but this is generally true. What are you good at? What have you wanted to try?

Vegan hot cocoa (vanilla cinnamon)
Vegan pumpkin bread
Vegan fudge (I think this was the raspberry chocolate)
5. Vegan foods. People eat a lot for the holidays. Most of it is not vegan. You can make nearly everything in a vegan version. I have been working on a vegan cookbook (the recipes are done- it just needs to be pretty). People often think that vegan means you will change a favorite recipe into an assault on the palate. Very untrue. There are some things that I find must-haves for Christmas, and I also love to try new things. You can make a wonderful vegan holiday meal. Obviously, meats are out- ham, turkey, chicken, prime rib. Once my Dad had all of those meats at one Christmas dinner, seriously.  Remember though, that not everything has to be all or nothing. It is better to be environmentally sustainable in a few ways than to reject it all together. I find that vegan meals are not always hard to come by, but vegan substitutes for favorites can be. I usually have to invent my recipes with guidance from traditional recipes as a starting place. This blog post is not meant to be a recipe list, but I will share a couple this year that were a hit. Remember to check all ingredients you buy before using, especially when feeding those with allergies!
Hot Cocoa- Fill one mug with almond or coconut milk. Microwave until hot (not boiling, but just warmer than drinking temperature- you could also use the stove for a bigger batch as we usually do). Add 2 tsp baking cocoa and 2 tsp raw sugar. There are several ways to flavor. For simple chocolate, leave as is. For mint cocoa, add 1-2 drops mint extract (this is really potent so be careful, do not pour!). For raspberry cocoa, add around 5 drops raspberry extract or to taste. For vanilla cinnamon cocoa, add 1-2 tsp vanilla extract or to taste and top with cinnamon powder. I usually add vanilla to any flavor though; I think vanilla is the secret ingredient to everything!
Easy peasy fudge- This is unbelievably good. And very simple. And quite malleable, so you can create many different flavors using this same basic recipe. When melting ingredients in this recipe, use 15 seconds intervals or so- it melts quickly! Melt one bar of baking chocolate (I used Baker's chocolate. I tried both sweet and semi-sweet, which both worked). This is more easily done in a microwave so as not to burn it, but you could use the stove too. Add one tub of vanilla frosting (I used 16 oz Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Vanilla Frosting). Melt frosting and baking chocolate bar together, stirring frequently between intervals. If you want simple chocolate fudge, you're done! Place it in the refrigerator to cool until solid. I made mint chocolate fudge and raspberry chocolate fudge. For mint chocolate fudge, add 1/2 tsp mint extract to melted frosting/chocolate mix, stir, and cool in refrigerator. For raspberry chocolate fudge, add 1 tsp raspberry extract to melted frosting/chocolate mix, stir, and cool in refrigerator.
Pumpkin Bread- My family agreed this was my best bread of this type so far. I think I am inclined to agree. Preheat oven at 350F. In a bowl, mix 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup raw sugar, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt (optionally omit), 1/4 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp cinnamon. Then, add 1 cup canned pumpkin, 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup applesauce, 2 tsp veggie or olive oil. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Lightly oil a bread baking pan. Pour bread dough into oiled pan. Bake for approximately on hour. I suggest checking at 10-15 minute intervals after 30 minutes to account for differences in oven efficiency.

Edit: I have one more to add!
6. Adopt an Animal- You can adopt an animal as a gift. Your adoption means that you are donating money to help save an endangered species. It generally comes with a certificate and at varying levels of donation other things such as a stuffed animal can be included. We do this for L every year for his birthday, and it proves to be one of this absolute favorites. He has his penguin adoption certificate on his wall and loves to point it out and tell us he "is helping to save the penguins". When I was a small child, I often asked Santa for a manatee adoption donation with Save the Manatee. I usually do this as a gift for baby showers as well, using the baby-to-be's name on the adoption certificate. We nearly always use Defender's of Wildlife for our animal adoptions. There are several others, World Wildlife Fund being a more popular choice.


So you can't wait until next Christmas right? I hope this has sparked some ideas!

And it will be even harder to wait for the next blog, Christmas Part 2, right?! Stay tuned! It should be soon! There was just too much for one blog post!