Monday, December 29, 2014

Green Gift Roundup 2014

This year's annual Green Gift Roundup has been slightly delayed, since we've been sort of celebrating the holiday in stages this year. His brother and sister-in-law, a firefighter and an EMT, both had to work on Christmas Day, so we went over the day before and exchanged gifts with them and his brother's three kids. On Christmas Day itself, we just hung out at home with his parents (I offered to take them out for a traditional Jewish Christmas of Chinese food and a movie, but his mom had a nice free-range turkey, so we ate a second Thanksgiving meal instead). Then, yesterday, we exchanged gifts with his sister and brother-in-law, who had just flown back from visiting his relatives out in California. We're actually still waiting to open stockings on Tuesday, which is the one day we'll be able to get all the cousins together in one place, but since I happened to have a little free time today while the rest of the family is out shopping, I decided I'd better blog now while I had the chance.

First, the raw numbers: I am pleased to report that I met my goal of increasing the percentage of gifts we gave that qualified as green. I started keeping track of this back in 2005, counting as green any gift that:
  • was secondhand;
  • was made from organic or recycled materials (including home-grown);
  • was Fair Trade-certified;
  • came from a local business; or
  • would help the recipients reduce waste, save energy, or conserve natural resources.
The percentage of our gifts that fit into these categories has fluctuated over the years, from a high of 71 percent in 2006 to a low of 33 percent in 2007. Over the past few years, however, the numbers have been heading upward—from 37 percent in 2011 to 52 percent in 2012 to 61 percent last year—and I was determined to keep the trend going. And I made it, with a record 72 percent of all our gifts meeting my green standards. Some of the more successful ones were:
  • A party dress, chocolate-brown satin with pink polka dots, for our oldest niece. Though we picked it up for 7 bucks at a local yard sale, it was in excellent condition, and nice enough to qualify for an "Oo!" from our niece when she opened it.
  • A Madeline Around the World Adventure Set for another niece. This is like a paper doll book, but sturdier: a travel trunk with a felt Madeline figure and lots of different felt outfits and accessories from around the world. It's no longer made new, but copies in used condition are selling for anywhere from $10 to $45 on eBay. We found this one, new in the box, for $3 at that same yard sale, and our niece declared she "really liked it." Score!
  • For my youngest nephew, a reversible jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is a different color and is labeled on one side with a letter and on the other side with a number from 1 to 26. So when the whole thing is put together, it not only makes the shape of a rabbit, but also spells out the alphabet or the first 26 numbers (depending on which way the rabbit is facing). This one came form a yard sale in Hopewell for $1. We actually thought we were getting two complete jigsaw puzzles, one rabbit and one giraffe, each with the same reversible letters and numbers on them, but the giraffe turned out to be missing two pieces. (We toyed with the idea of trying to reconstruct the missing ones, but we didn't manage to get it done in time for Christmas.) But although only one puzzle was complete, my sister reported that he really liked it, and backed it up with a picture of him playing with it at 5 in the morning.
  • Two Mushroom Mini Farms. I'm counting these as green because they're a form of organic gardening you can do at home, even in the wintertime. We found this kit at Home Depot and decided it would be perfect for my dad and Brian's brother, two of the toughest people on our list to shop for. Both of them are into gardening, but mushrooms are one crop you can't normally grow outdoors, so we figured this would give them a chance to try something new. It was a hit with both of them.
  • Last but not least, a homemade gift that requires no packaging at all: an MP3 file of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, recorded by yours truly on the same primitive sound setup I use for my podcasts. I shared it with all my relatives via Google Drive and also presented a copy to my mom on her new MP3 player (which was actually our old MP3 player, since we couldn't think of anyplace to shop for a new one that wasn't on my naughty list). This was my first ever attempt at recording an audiobook, so I was learning as I went, and the last two "staves" of the book definitely sound better than the first three. Nonetheless, Mom was really pleased with both the book and the player. (If there's enough interest from readers, I might look for a way make it available here on the blog as well.)
In addition to the gifts we gave to others, we also picked up a few green items for ourselves during our trip. Before all the relatives arrived, Brian and I made our annual jaunt out to two green businesses: the local Goodwill store, which has a better selection and much better organization than the one in our area, and Half Price Books, which sells "new and used books, music, movies and games starting at just 50 cents each." I got myself a new book, two used CDs, and a bargain-bin copy of four hidden object mystery games, all for about ten bucks. At Goodwill, I didn't find pants, which were what I really needed, but I picked up a couple of turtleneck sweaters for about $4 each, and Brian got a pair of jeans in his new, slimmer size for $7.

I also accepted my brother-in-law's invitation to scavenge his shelves of gardening reference books that he never uses. I picked up a copy of one volume called The Practical Gardener, which is all about how to adapt your growing methods to real-world conditions, and another called The Natural Garden Book, about the "Gaian gardening" method of working as much as possible with nature rather than trying to manipulate it. So those are doubly green: secondhand books that will also improve my organic gardening technique. And we continued our newly established (last year) tradition of exchanging books from our own collection with Brian's friend Jon, who gave us a sci-fi novel by Charles Stross and got a collection of Dave Barry humor columns (one of our Half-Price finds). So we are well stocked with reading material to carry us through a good chunk of the year 2015.

A merry and green Christmas to all, and to all, good night.

POSTSCRIPT: As it turns out, there were a few presents left that hadn't been exchanged by Monday. When the whole family got together on Tuesday, my sister-in-law presented me with a large fabric gift bag, containing...a whole lot more fabric gift bags, in a wide variety of sizes and patterns.  I guess she'd been watching me salvage wrapping paper each year and seeing the following year's presents appear in it, and she decided I could use something more permanent. I've hesitated to use fabric gift bags for Christmas presents in the past, for fear that the recipients might just discard them rather than actually reusing them. But now that Becky has apparently latched onto the idea as well, I think we might actually be able to get it to catch on. She says she raided her fabric bin to make these; there are several green bags made from what appears to be a set of curtains, plus some colorful cottons and one in a sort of silky fabric, and a variety of different ribbons used for ties. So this is actually the ultimate ecofrugal gift. It cost nothing to make, and it reduces waste twice: once by turning scrap fabric into something useful, and once by eliminating the need for single-use wrapping paper. And if, as I hope, the fabric gift bags remain in circulation, they may actually continue to reduce paper waste through Christmas after Christmas. The ecofrugal gift that keeps on giving.

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