Green Holiday Gifts Ideas

Need some help with your holiday gift list? Why not think green this holiday season? Even if your gift recipient isn't very eco-conscious, you can still give a gift that they'll find useful and that you can feel good about.

Here are some green gift ideas:

Experiences. Sometimes the best gift you can give is your time. You can plan a sporty adventure like cross-country skiing or rock climbing, take someone to a concert, sporting event or show, or offer to teach something you're an expert at (cooking, knitting, computers, etc.).

Provide a service. Offer to green clean their home, babysit for a day, or cook them an organic dinner.

Classes. Give your foodie friend the gift of a cooking class or the fitness fanatic in your life a session of their favorite yoga class. If your loved one is really into a sport like tennis or golf, buy them a one-on-one consult with a pro to help them improve their game.

Charitable donation in the person's name.

CSA Farm Share. Give the gift of local, seasonal food that comes straight from the farm. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is basically a membership to a farm that includes a parcel of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. Find a CSA near you at www.localharvest.org/csa.

National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. For $80 this pass provides up to four adults access to federal recreation sites that charge an entrance fee for a year. Learn more at www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm.

State Parks Pass. Many states offer some sort of pass that grants access to most or all state parks.

Plants. Give an air-cleaning plant (some of the most effective are philodendron, English ivy, spider plants, dracaena, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and peace lily) or herbs in decorative pots.

Clothing and accessories made of organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp.

Sheets or towels made of organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp.

Cast Iron Skillet. This durable and versatile cooking tool can be a great replacement for questionable non-stick cookware.

Food containers made of glass, ceramic, porcelain, Pyrex, bamboo, or stainless steel to replace plastic containers which may be unsafe.

Home Water Filter. Filtered tap water is purer than bottled water, not to mention less expensive and better for the environment.

Fair-Trade, Organic, Shade-Grown Coffee. Eco-friendly coffee, a reusable coffee filter, and/or reusable coffee mugs would make a great gift basket for the coffee lover in your life.

Organic, Fair-Trade Chocolate

Biodynamic Wine

Organic Beer

Organic bath and beauty products made without synthetic fragrances, dyes, parabens, or pthalates.

Jewelry, accessories, artwork or housewares made from recycled materials and/or made by local artisans.

Kids' books with a eco-conscious message.

Eco-Friendly Toys


Once you've selected your green gift, opt for wrapping paper made of recycled paper. Even better, wrap gifts in materials you already have on hand like fabric or the newspaper comics.



A Green Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. With it comes the start of the holiday season, full of gatherings with family and friends, beautiful décor, and fun gift shopping. As much as I love getting into the holiday spirit, I want to be sure to avoid those post-holiday blues that come from overeating and overspending. Plus, the holiday season is no friend to Mother Earth . . . from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day household waste increases by over 25%.

By taking just a few simple steps anyone can have a fun, budget-friendly, healthy and eco-friendly holiday season. Start by greening up your Thanksgiving traditions. Doing so will leave less of a dent on your diet and your wallet and may even make it more meaningful for you and your family.

First, let's consider travel – a major part of the holidays for many folks. Remember, buses and trains have less of an impact on your wallet and the environment than air travel. You could even avoid the travel crowds and forge a new tradition by celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends that live in your area rather than traveling far. If you are going to be traveling, remember to turn down the thermostat and turn off the lights to save energy while you’re gone.

If you are the brave soul hosting, start off on the right, green foot with your invitations. You can call to invite guests, use an online resource such as Evite or Facebook, or print invitations on recycled paper.

What's the first thought we have company coming? Gotta clean! If you haven't done so already, swap those expensive, smelly, chemical-laden cleaning products for cheap, non-toxic, earth-friendly solutions you can make right at home. With a few simple products, like vinegar, baking soda, and peroxide, you can get your house just as clean as with traditional cleaning products. You’ll save money, keep plastic bottles out of landfills, and avoid harsh chemicals that can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritations. Click here for details.

For decoration, utilize materials you already have on hand or purchase items you can use again. Bringing the outside in (think pine cones, plant or flower clippings, gourds, leaves, and living plants) is a great way to decorate for little or no money. Plus, Thanksgiving craft making is a wonderful activity the whole family can do together.

Whatever décor you decide on, steer clear of traditional paraffin candles. Despite how nice they may look or smell, these candles and the smoke and soot they produce can contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax, scented with essential oil, with non-lead wicks.

When it comes to the food opt for organic and local. Doing so helps ensure that you're getting the freshest, most nutritious food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Plus, you'll be supporting your local economy. You can find farmers’ markets, farms, and community-supported agriculture programs in your area at localharvest.org. For help planning your meal around what’s in season check out the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org.

You can make your meal healthier and less costly by swapping out meat with more veggies. Even a slight reduction in meat consumption can have a significant impact. Click here to learn more about how giving up meat just once a week can make a significant difference in your health and your carbon footprint.

Buying food in bulk will reduce packaging waste and save you money, but you don't want to overbuy and waste food. You can cut down on waste by planning ahead and calculating how much food you will actually need. This list of approximate food and drink portions should help:

Turkey - 1 pound per person
Stuffing - ¼ pound per person
Casserole (side dish) - ¼ pound per person
Green beans or Brussels sprouts - ¼ pound per person
Cranberry Sauce or Chutney - 3 tablespoons per person
Pie (9-inch) - 1/8 slice per person

Keeping track of how much was consumed can help you better plan for future holiday meals.

For drinks, consider serving biodynamic wine. Don't be thrown off by the label. Biodynamic , or sustainable, wine-making is nothing more than a return to European vineyard traditions like natural fertilizers and pest management and planting cover crops. Biodynamic wine is a better quality wine with higher levels of resveratrol, the heart-healthy antioxidant found in wine, making biodynamic wine better for your health as well as the planet. There is a growing number of biodynamic wines available and many are quite reasonably priced. Click here to learn more about biodynamic wine.

When it comes to any type of party, the worst environmental offender is usually all the disposable plates, cups, utensils, napkins, and tablecloths. Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times! Instead of buying paper or plastic tableware, offer reusable options. If you don't have enough at home, you can always check out thrift stores for an eclectic mix of tableware. Other options are reusable plastic cutlery and compostable paper plates.

When it's time to clean up, fill the dishwasher to capacity before running it and use unheated air to dry dishes to save electricity and water. Make sure to give away and/or freeze any leftovers, compost food scraps, and make recycling easy for guests by placing clearly labeled recycling bins in a convenient location everyone can reach.

Finally, no matter how inviting that couch may look after the big meal, don't just plop yourself down for the rest of the day. You'll feel so much better if you get outside for some fresh air and exercise. Go for a walk, play baseball or football, jump in the leaves, or hit the local park. You'll take full advantage of this precious time with family and friends, burn some calories, and cut down on home energy usage.

May you have a happy, healthy, and green holiday season!




Getting Your Whole Family Outside This Fall

Fall is most definitely in the air. As Carol Bishop Hipps put it, it's “the mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”

I hope you all take the time go out and enjoy this most splendid season. Getting outside and into nature is an important part of keeping everyone in your family happy and healthy. In fact, a University of Illinois study found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were able to raise their attentiveness scores simply by taking a walk outside. Not surprisingly, walks in natural settings had an even more significant impact than walking on city streets.

Being in nature can benefit your whole family's mental, emotional, and physical well-being, so here are some ideas to get you and your whole family outside this fall.

Visit a farm. Check out LocalHarvest.org for farms near you.

Try a hay or corn maze.

Go apple picking or search for the perfect pumpkin. Check out pickyourown.org to find a pick-your-own farm near you.

Go on a hay ride.

Jump in the leaves.

Create artwork from the leaves, acorns, and pine cones available in your yard or a nearby park. Click here for fall craft ideas and directions.

Round up the neighborhood for a game of touch or flag football.

Play outdoor games like freeze tag, Red Rover, hopscotch and Kick The Can.

Fly a kite.

Visit a local park.

Plant a tree. Many people don't realize that planting isn't just a springtime activity. The fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs as well as flower bulbs like daffodils, crocus, and tulips.

Visit the zoo. Fall (and even winter) is a great time to visit the zoo. Summer's heat keeps many animals hidden in their cool, shady spots. Cooler temperatures mean more animals roaming about for easy viewing.

Visit state and national parks in your area. Many offer great family-friendly activities.

Go on a nature expedition at a local park, in your yard, or around your neighborhood. Bring along binoculars, a magnifying class, and a journal (young children can draw pictures of what they see) and teach your kids how to observe, enjoy and appreciate nature without disturbing it.

Make a nature journal. Have your kids decorate a notebook they can carry with them to note what they observe when they're outside. Even young kids can keep a nature journal by drawing what they see.

Explore the wonderful world of bugs. Check your local library for books about bugs and then head outside with a magnifying glass to see what you can find and identify.

Learn about birds. Check out some library books or use the online bird guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Then get outside with some binoculars and that nature journal and see what you can find.

Set up an outdoor scavenger hunt. The Love The Outdoors website offers a great guide to setting up your own scavenger hunt for kids, along with a few sample lists to get you started.

Have a picnic (even if it's in your own yard).

Start an outdoor hobby together. The options are limitless – biking, fishing, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, horseback riding, etc.

Build a fort. Use these simple directions from wikiHow or get fancy with these instructions from This Old House.

Go letterboxing. Letterboxing is an outdoor activity that dates back to the 1800s. It combines elements of orienteering, hiking, art, and puzzle solving. Participants search for letterboxes hidden in public places, such as parks, by following clues from a catalog or web site. These letterboxes usually contain a notebook and a rubber stamp. Finders stamp their personal journal with that stamp to record their find and then leave their personal stamp in the letterbox's log book. Your own local parks and recreation department may have a program or you can check out one of the many web sites available to help you get started. If you'd prefer a more high tech treasure hunt involving gps tracking, try Geocaching.

Learn about the solar system. Kidsastronomy.com has several great resources you can check out before heading outside to connect the constellations together.



Eating Green

What does it mean to “eat green”? Eating green means eating whole, nutritious, minimally-processed foods that are healthy for you and the environment. Two important considerations for eating green are how the food is grown and where it comes from. Does that mean that everything you eat must come from a local, organic farm? Obviously not, but eating green is actually quite simple. Here’s what you should take into consideration.

Is it organic? The arguments for eating organic are plentiful: Organic foods are free of not only pesticides, but hydrogenated fats, artificial colors and sweeteners, and preservatives as well. Organic foods are not genetically modified, when the long term health effects of GM foods are still unknown. They taste better and studies show they are more nutritious and richer in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids than non-organic food. And when it comes to the environment, organic farmers avoid the pesticides and herbicides that contaminate groundwater, erode soil, and damage local ecosystems. Now on the flip side: Who can afford to only buy organic food and are all conventional foods really so bad? Knowing which organic food is worth the extra cost can be confusing. Fortunately the Environmental Working Group offers a great resource with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides, along with a list of the 15 cleanest fruits and vegetables. According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and instead eating the least contaminated produce. You can print out a wallet-size list or download the iPhone app at ewg.org/foodnews.

Is it local? Purchasing from local farmers is a great way to get fresh, healthy food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Find farms and farmer's markets in your area at localharvest.org. What if the farm you like isn’t certified organic? Earning organic certification is a lengthy and costly process that not all farmers can afford. Instead you can ask your local farmer if they use organic practices or, if they’re not organic, if they use non-synthetic pesticides and/or practice minimal spraying. If they answer yes to any of these questions, then you're likely buying from a conscientious farmer who’s producing good quality, minimally-processed food.

Is it in season? Even if you don’t get to the farmers’ market, you can still make an effort to purchase local produce at the grocery store. To buy local means to buy in season. Yes you can buy pretty much any type of fruit or vegetable any time of year, but what sacrifices in quality and impact to the environment do you have to make? By purchasing local foods when they are in season, you avoid the environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles and you’ll get fresher tasting fruits and vegetables. You can better plan your meals around what’s in season with the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org.

How else can you green up your diet? You can cut down on your waistline and your food budget, while doing the environment a good turn, by swapping one or two meat-based meals a week with a vegetarian or seafood dish. One of your best options for fish is Wild Alaskan Salmon. Because it is wild-caught, it's purer in flavor than farm-raised salmon (which is fed pigment and antibiotics) and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Another great option is canned sardines. Unlike tuna, sardines aren't in danger of being over-fished and are low in mercury.

Finally, one cost-efficient way to eat green is to simply cook at home and pack a lunch (in reusable containers) as often as you can. By preparing your own food you'll be better able to avoid preservatives, cut down on packaging (think of all those ketchup packets and napkins in take-out bags), and save money. Now that is eating green.