Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cyber Monday: green sites & sales

Now that Thanksgiving and the craziness of Black Friday is over, only Cyber Monday is left in the weekend of outrageous savings.  If you are inclined to do some online shopping for your holiday gifts, check out these websites that feature green products, some at special discounts and some others with just unique gifts for that special someone.

Check out these Cyber Monday deals on eco-friendly products from dog bowls to reusable shopping bags:
CSN Stores  is an online retailer with over 200 stores featuring everything from bar stools to lots of green products.  Simply look up eco-friendly or green, and the search will show you tons of choices.  I will be reviewing their products and services soon, so watch for that post in the near future. 
Here are a few more:  always seem to have great deals, and they feature lots of green products as well (such as Green Toys).  

For unique gifts:
Red Envelope offers special discounts from today thru Tuesday, November 30th.
Uncommon Goods have unique, unusual, and funny gifts.
Etsy is offering Cyber Monday deals.  This site sells handmade or vintage arts & crafts.  
Kir Devries is a site that features "impeccably crafted, eco-friendly and fair trade products that have been hand selected especially for you!".  They are also having some great deals this Monday.

I mentioned Green Toys in my last post because they are made of recycled plastic milk jugs.  Here are a few deals going on with their products that feature a firetruck or tools.
Pottery Barn Kids is also featuring lots of products on sale this weekend, who also sell Green Toys.

LL Bean (featuring eco-friendly products) offer free shipping thru december 20.
Patagonia offers E-gift cards which are sent via email than the traditional plastic gift card.

I'm sure there are many online shopping sites that I've missed, but I hope I at least gave you a few green ideas with savings.
Next post: homemade holiday gifts.  
Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Green Gift Ideas

Black Friday is creeping up on us and as we get our strategery for the shopping extravaganza, why not think of a few ways to make this holiday gift-giving a little greener.  Here are a few ideas on how to make every penny count and put some smiles on people's faces when they open their gifts this year.

Think of quality over quantity:
Try to think of practical gifts that the recipient could actually use and that are long-lasting.  And if you're unsure of what to get that person, give a gift card or cash instead.  Gift cards aren't very eco-friendly because they're made of plastic and end up in the landfill, but I believe it's better than giving something that someone will throw away anyway.  Think of what your recipient is into, or if you don't know the person very well you could give a gift card to a grocery store or gas station, or even a phone card if the person makes lots of international calls. 

Gifts of service:
If you're budget is tight this year, you could offer your time or service as a gift.  Here are a few ideas: baby sitting, cutting someone's lawn, flowers from your garden every month, fruit or vegetables from your garden, dog-walking, or a homemade dinner.  Sometimes your time is worth more than anything you could buy from the store.

Gifts of experience:
If you know someone that has everything, why not give them something different, such as a cleaning service, gift card to a local restaurant or movie theatre, or even a cooking class.  Or maybe a bowling gift certificate, a concert, or anything else the recipient might be into.  It won't clutter up their house and there's nothing to throw away, regift or recycle. 

Photo gifts:
These are my favorite gifts to give because nothing could be more personal than a picture of you with the recipient.  And what grandparent doesn't love to get photos of their grandkids.  Photo books, calendars personalized with your photos, and special frames that can be engraved are great ways to share special moments with loved ones. 

Gift Baskets:
This is another favorite of mine because you can get creative with a theme and specialize it to that particular person.  A movie theme basket: put a couple of DVDs or netflix membership in a popcorn bowl with some popcorn, toppings, and candy, of course.  Cooking basket: pick a cuisine and have fun with it.  For example, an Italian theme: pasta bowls, seasonings, herbs, pasta, and maybe a cookbook.  For the avid reader/writer: a gift card to a local book store, a special bookmark, and a journal with a special pen.  Tea/Coffee basket: give a wooden tray along with a special mug and/or reusable mug, spoon, beverage of choice, cloth napkin and maybe a favorite magazine.

Gifts for children:
Think long-lasting, not trendy.  Puzzles, boardgames, playing cards, craft kits, books, clothes, a hula hoop, or dress-up outfits will last at least a year, if not longer, and won't clutter up your house with a million little pieces that you'll suck up with the vacuum.  Check out "green toys" at pottery barn kids.  These toys are made of recycled plastic milk jugs and are BPA free so they are safe and non-toxic for kids to put in their mouth (plus, they're made in the USA).  Wooden toys are also very eco-friendly and long-lasting.  And also try to avoid buying toys with lots of packaging.  Finally, try to buy gifts that don't require batteries.  The parents will appreciate it as well. :)

Buy Local:
Support your local businesses and economy by shopping within your community.  Local craft fairs have unique and beautiful gifts for that special someone.  Antique shops are great because it's something that's being reused and could add charm to someone's home.  One idea is to make a gift basket of local things from your area for those friends and family that live in a different state. 

This final idea isn't popular with everyone but maybe a certain someone on your list is into a particular cause that they'd appreciate you supporting, such as an animal shelter, food bank, toy drive, or environmental organization.  This is also good for those who have everything and just don't want anything else to clutter up their home. 

So that's it.  Hopefully it gives you a few ideas before you head out to face the crowds at the malls, or shop online in your PJs.  Whichever way you choose to shop, I hope you find a few green gifts for your list.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

eco-friendly holiday cards

I have to be honest with you, I am not ready for Christmas yet.  This year has gone by so fast that I can't get over the fact that it's almost Thanksgiving.  I usually have my Christmas cards ready to be mailed by Halloween with most of my presents already crossed off the list.  I am nowhere near that this year.

Last year I gave people the choice of receiving their card via email or by snail mail and was surprised to see how many people chose the former.  I know not everyone is as sentimental as I am and throw away their cards as soon as the Christmas tree is taken down, so I figured why create more waste for them (and the planet).

Here are some eco-friendly options for holiday cards this year:
Recycled cards:
Hallmark, Snapfish, Target and Kidbean all offer different options for holiday cards made from recycled paper.

Make your own:
Use recycled paper and consider only sending them to those who will appreciate the time and effort it takes to make it.

Donate the $ instead:
Why not use the money you were planning on using for the holiday cards instead on a worthy cause like the local food bank or a school in need of supplies.  Send an e-card letting everyone know what charity you're supporting and invite them to contribute as well.

There are plenty of options out there to send cards via email that offer animated, funny, traditional, or photo cards to your friends and family.  American Greetings, Smilebox, Hallmark, and Blue Mountain are just a few.  Sites like flickr and Shutterfly offer holiday albums you can share if you don't want to do a simple card.  And if anyone on your list really wants a printed photo of you, they have the option to print it at home.

Cards that grow:
And finally, there are the cards you can grow when you're done displaying them.  Green Field Paper is a company that makes recycled seed-embedded cards that use soy ink and grow flowers.  Perfect for those who don't like to keep the cards and there's no guilt about the waste!

Reuse and recycle:
You can reuse old holiday cards to make gift bags, gift tags, ornaments, or as a placemat.  You can also send your used cards to St. Jude's Ranch where they can make new cards out of them.  And when you're done with the cards that you get in the mail this year, don't forget to RECYCLE!

So many options and so little time!  Have fun deciding on which way to spread the holiday cheer.  :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holiday Decor

It's the most wonderful time of the year... although, you wouldn't know it by the very mild weather we're having in mid-November.  For the next six weeks, my blog will be dedicated to the holidays.  I'll cover decorating, holiday cards, gift wrap, gift ideas (including homemade), and what to do with it all when it's over.   (For those scrooges who would rather not deal with the holidays, tune in at the beginning of 2011 for more non-holiday eco-tips.)

This week: Holiday Decor
Soon, Thanksgiving will be upon us and we can break out the holiday decorating bins to deck the halls.  But how to do this in an eco-friendly way?

First, reuse the same decorations year after year.  There are people who choose a different theme each year for their tree, which means new ornaments, ribbons, etc. to purchase.  Not only does this get expensive, but you need more space to store all of these decorations.  However, more people seem to have traditions of using the same ornaments for sentimental value and to pass on to their children.  We still use ornaments I had growing up and the kids get a kick out of it (since it's hard for them to imagine their parents were EVER little kids).

I was given a handmade artificial wreath several years ago that I use every year.  It's decorated beautifully and it saves me from having to get a real one to keep alive.  I can barely keep a potted plant alive so having to maintain a real wreath makes me anxious.  The same goes for garland.  I use the artificial kind only because it's easier to maintain and have gotten many years out of them.

Second, the Christmas tree.  Artificial vs. real:
Artificial trees are bad for the environment because of the chemicals used to produce them as well as the toxins they release in the air.  They also use fuel to transport these trees to the stores, usually made in China.  If you have an artificial tree you want to get rid of, please donate it or freecycle it instead of throwing it away since they are not biodegradable and will last forever in the landfill.

Real trees, on the other hand, are grown on local tree farms (renewable resource), specifically to get cut down every November/December and are replanted every year so there is no detriment to the environment.  They add oxygen to the atmosphere and are biodegradable.  There are gadgets to keep the trees watered, so it makes it simple and easy for me to keep it alive for the month it's up in the house. And then when the holidays are over, you can leave it on your curb which they will turn into mulch to reuse in the environment.

Next, lights:
LED lights last longer than traditional incandescent string lights and they use less energy.  They don't get as hot either, which means less risk of fire.  This weekend at Home Depot, they are offering a $3 coupon for new LED lights for every string light you bring to recycle there, broken or not.  (The offers ends today, Sunday, so take advantage of this great deal.)  Make sure you put your lights on a timer, or at least remember to turn them out at a certain time at night. Keeping the lights on all night wastes energy and makes your bills higher.

Lastly, homemade decor:
Consider making your own holiday decorations.  You can use pine cones that you find outside and can put them in a nice bowl either spray-painted festive colors, or just leave plain and add branches from evergreens.  Make your own wreath and garland, if you have a green thumb.  Have your kids make some decorations to help spruce up the home during the holidays.  (Remember, glitter and snowflakes are easy & add extra sparkle.)  Homemade ornaments are also fun and much cheaper to make than buy.  Plus, you'll make memories your family will cherish for years to come.
Check out this link to Family Fun's ideas for homemade crafts for kids.  
And this one for homemade ornaments:

Hope all of this information will get you started to having a wonderful and green holiday.  And check out my eco-mami facebook page to get 25 days of Christmas eco-tips starting in December.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Public Transportation: long way to go in U.S.

I live in the suburbs.  We moved here for the scenery, fresh air, and open spaces.  The compromise we've had to make is that we are 10 miles from any modern conveniences, such as the gas station, grocery store, and preschool.  We've also succumbed to the suburban lifestyle of shuttling our kids to sports and afterschool activities.  This makes using public transportation next to impossible, besides the fact that it's nowhere to be found out here in the sticks.  There are no walking or bike paths on the rural road I live off of and the only buses you see are for school.

Having lived and traveled in Europe and South America, I've seen that public transportation is used as the primary mode of getting around.  They bike, walk, take the bus or train to wherever they need to go.  They use their cars for weekend and family excursions.  The reasons for this are many, for example, the medieval roads are too narrow for cars larger than a 2 person capacity so that strikes out large families or non-European tourists.

Another reason is that cars aren't seen as a status symbol.  In the U.S., depending on where you live, taking the bus is for the underprivileged folks or college students.  Our cars tell so much about our lives and personalities.  Do I even have to mention the mini-van?

Most importantly though, cars are the most convenient way for Americans to get around.  No schedules to wait on, no delayed trains or buses, no walking to and from the station.  In Europe and South America  their trains and buses run more efficiently and take you everywhere so taking public transportation isn't as complicated as it can be for us.

I went down to the city the past two weekends and found taking the metro extremely inconvenient and nerve-wracking.  After last year's deadly crash and recent terror threats, it's hard not to think of something awful happening while you're on the train.  It also took me twice as long to get to the city as it would have if I drove.  Granted, it was the weekend and the trains don't come as often, and one weekend had record crowds traveling on the train, but it's not something I'm willing to do again any time soon.

Unfortunately, for most of us our time is too precious to wait for the bus or train so getting in our very own little capsule of transport is easier to get from point A to point B.  There are some American cities that have it together, like Chicago or New York, but it needs to improve everywhere for it to become more attractive to everyone.  If you can't get an environmentalist to take public transportation, imagine the work you need to do for everyone else to want to get around this way.

In a few years, the metro will be extended a little further out in the suburbs and maybe it'll be a better experience.  But for now, don't expect to see me on the metro too often.  I'd love to be able to promote public transportation in this area, but for us suburbanites it's just too much of a pain in the ass.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote for Earth!

This week being election week, I thought it appropriate to blog about an issue that is oddly divided among party lines: Global Warming.  Living in the outskirts of Washington, DC, it is hard not to be involved somewhat in politics.  Almost everyone has issues that they adamantly believe in and mine, obviously, is the environment.  According to this USA Today article, more Democrats believe in climate change than Republicans.
Shockingly, though, I never thought that this was a political issue since we all live on the same planet.  We'd all benefit from making changes even if we're not around to see all of the changes come to full fruition.

Since the first Earth Day back in 1970, there have been major changes made to how we deal with the environment.  From the Clean Air Act, to the Clean Water Act, to getting emissions checked on your car, all of these things are done to make our world a better place.  Cleaner air and water, what's not to like about that?

But now to think about global warming and whether or not it's a valid thing according to which scientist you believe, it gets a little trickier.  Republicans, for the most part, believe it isn't real or it isn't man-made and that the earth goes through cyclical changes in climate.  Democrats believe that it IS man-made and that cutting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), coal power plant emissions, and other greenhouse gases could actually help reduce what causes global warming.

Either way, everyone on this earth benefits if we make a few simple changes.  There's no arguing that we're running out of landfill space, putting all kinds of toxic chemicals into our ecosystems which eventually end up in our bodies, as well as so many other environmental issues, but global warming/climate change is the mostly argued theory in recent history.

Despite what the USA Today article suggests, however, there is a Republican-based group, REP (Republicans for Environmental Protection: that advocates environmental issues.  Recently, I heard someone joke that NPR was trying not to be seen as a liberal station even though their giveaway was an organic reusable cloth bag at their recent fundraising drive.  Why does the environment have to be a liberal issue?  Isn't it a human issue?

So hopefully, regardless of your political party preference, I hope that this blog can give you ideas on how to make this planet a little more pleasant to live on for now and future generations.  And you can vote on a greener lifestyle.  :)