Monday, January 2, 2017

Green Gift Roundup 2016

In 2015, I never got around to doing a Green Gift Roundup for the holidays. For one thing, we didn't manage to give as many green gifts that year as we had in previous years; only about 44 percent of all the gifts we gave were secondhand, locally purchased, sustainably sourced, or energy-saving, as compared to 72 percent the previous year. Also, the green gifts we did purchase, such as books and toys, weren't the most successful gifts we gave that year. The biggest hits of all our presents were the "home spa treatment system" we got for my sister and the Dungeons & Dragons starter set we gave my oldest nephew—and while I was pleased that they liked the presents, there was really no way I could spin them as green. So I decided to let the subject drop for that year.

This year, however, things are different. We managed to get our green-gift ratio all the way back up to 69 percent of our purchases, and the most successful presents on our list were all sustainable picks in one way or another. Also, we received several presents—both large and small—that qualify as green. So I figured this year I could do at least a quick Green Gift Roundup to share which green ideas worked the best for us.

Our green holiday giving started early this year, on Thanksgiving weekend. My aunt had said that what she really needed this year was new clothing, since she'd recently dropped a size, so she was asking for gift cards to Macy's or Ann Taylor. However, I'd just finished writing my article on sustainable clothing, and I really didn't like the idea of turning around and supporting fast fashion. So I offered her an alternative proposal: while she was in New Jersey for Thanksgiving, I'd take her out to Greene Street Consignment in Princeton and buy her an item of her choice. This turned out to be a bigger success than I imagined; she had a blast trying on over-the-top party dresses for her Sister Goddess gatherings, and in addition to the dress I eventually bought her (a jazzy one-shoulder number in silver lamé), she bought three more for herself. She even suggested making the thrift shop an annual tradition.

We also bought sustainable Hanukkah and Christmas gifts for several other family members, including:

  • A subscription to Yes! magazine for my mom. She often finds the news depressing (hardly a surprise) and calls me up to ask if I have any good news, so I thought a magazine filled with all good news—about the environment, social movements, and sustainable communities—was just what she needed. She hasn't received her first issue yet, as it's a quarterly, but she has already started reading and enjoying the online edition.
  • Also for my mom, a book called NYPD Puzzle that we picked up at the library book sale. This is part of the Puzzle Lady series, featuring a crossword constructor and her crime-solving aunt, and it includes puzzles right in the book that provide clues to the mystery. Since my mom loves both mysteries and puzzles, it seemed right up her alley. So I told her I was giving her one present to distract her from what's going on in the world, and one to make her feel better about it.
  • A pashmina shawl from the annual craft fair at the Morristown Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, where our favorite folk series is held. My sister had specifically requested pashminas this year, particularly in bright red, pink, and purple, and this one happened to have all three colors in a lush, soft fabric. Though it was a lot pricier than the ones at Target, it was also a lot nicer, and Fair Trade to boot, so I figured it was worth a splurge. And since she mentioned the "gorgeous scarf" in a recent e-mail, I guess she liked it too.
  • Two books for my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. This is the same brother-in-law who, two years back, let me pick through the discards from his shelf of gardening books, so I knew he was interested in growing and preserving his own produce. So when my other brother-in-law requested a specific book on craft cider making (which I didn't get for him because someone else snapped it up), I decided it would make a good gift for this other couple. While I was at it, I threw in a second book called Drink the Harvest, which covers not only cider but also juice, tea, and mead. He only glanced at the books when he opened them, but she picked them up and became absorbed in them, so I think there's a good chance they'll get some use out of these. Maybe they'll even return the favor with a gift of home-brewed cider next year.
  • Two more books for my youngest nephew. While we were in Princeton thrift-shopping, I stopped in at the library and browsed through their used-book section, where I picked up two little paperbacks from the "young readers" section: a Nate the Great mystery (one of his favorite series) and a biography of Neil Armstrong, since he's obsessed with everything to do with outer space.
  • For that same nephew and his younger sister, a pair of "Magic Cloths." These are basically a homemade version of Playsilks, using low-end fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics that we hemmed ourselves. (Well, Brian did it, actually, since I can't sew a straight seam on the machine to save my life.) I also threw in a little "instruction manual" to go with them: a poem illustrated with little stick figures (thanks again to Brian) that show all the different things a Magic Cloth can turn into: a superhero cape, a princess gown, a parachute, a pool of water, etc. I wasn't sure whether these counted as a green gift, since they're not all-natural silk like the originals—but they are a highly versatile toy that requires no electricity and encourages imaginative play. My sister said they were a "huge hit" with her kids.
  • For my two craft-loving nieces, an assortment of beads that we picked up at the last town-wide yard sale. For a mere 50 cents, we got two boxes of beads: one with a variety of colorful glass beads, and one with tiny "seed beads" (which we urged our nieces not to open on the spot, since they are very easy to scatter everywhere). That should be enough to keep them in bracelets for a good few months.
  • For their younger brother, the Big Book of Riddles, Puzzles, and Enigmas. This was another yard-sale find, and we weren't quite sure whom to give it to, so we picked this nephew almost at random. This turned out to be a good guess; when he opened it, his eyes lit up and he displayed the book to the entire room like Vanna White showing off a fabulous prize. He spent much of the day lying on the couch, poring over the puzzles and occasionally trying them out on his relatives. And a quiet child was a great gift for the rest of us.
  • Finally, an experiential gift: a Chinese banquet on Christmas Day. This year, we weren't able to get the whole family together to open presents until the 27th, so on the 25th I offered to take those who were around—my in-laws and Brian's brother—for a traditional Jewish Christmas. Apparently, a lot of other people had the same idea, as the Formosa Seafood Buffet was packed. Afterward, we skipped the movie theater and instead went home to watch a DVD. We went with A Christmas Story, since I'd never seen it—and it turns out, that includes a memorable Chinese Christmas dinner as well.

In addition to the gifts themselves, I had the opportunity to use a few of the fabric gift bags my sister-in-law gave me in 2014. I used a couple of them for gifts to that same sister-in-law, since I knew she would use them again, and a couple for other people. The downside of this is that I didn't really receive any new gifts that were in fabric gift bags—so if I carry on at this rate, my stock of them will gradually disappear. I guess I'll have to get this darned sewing machine figured out so I can make some of my own.

We also received a few gifts that qualify as green. Brian's brother gifted us two bottles of mead from the local "meadery": a growler of strawberry-rhubarb mead and a smaller bottle of cherry. (The former turns out to be dry and slightly fizzy, so I'm toying with the idea of trying it in a Bellini.) His sister slipped some mysterious cardboard objects into his stocking, which turned out to be homemade fire starters made from dryer lint and candle wax stuffed into egg-carton cups. These might prove handy for the charcoal grill, or if we ever pick up the fire pit I've been toying with the idea of adding to our patio.

Her gift to me was a vegan faux-leather purse, which the salesclerk assured her was "really high quality" but was marked down because it was last year's model. This may make it the first purse I've ever owned from a brand that actually has different models for different years—but what I like about it is that it has a long strap so it can be carried cross-body fashion. A therapist I've been seeing advised me to switch to this type of purse because it would put less strain on my back and neck, so this was a particularly timely gift.

Brian received a couple of ecofrugal gifts from my family as well. My mom and my aunt both gave him silicone baking mats—something I suggested because we've been using such a lot of parchment paper lately for baking. And my sister gave him a handy multitool for bike repairs, which will make it easier for him to bike to work without carrying quite as much stuff.

Finally, during our trip to Indiana, we picked up a couple of eco-friendly items for ourselves. We visited not one, but two Goodwill stores in Indianapolis, where we found a pair of jeans for Brian and corduroys and a long-sleeved shirt for me, all for a flat $18 (including the small donation that we made to each store by rounding up to the nearest dollar). And after making sure no one else was going to give us one, we stopped by Fry's and bought ourselves a new tablet computer to replace the one that met with an accident last fall. Calling this an ecofrugal purchase is debatable, but we found after several months of going without one that there really were quite a few things we could do more easily with one, like reading online news and books from the e-library—which will mean fewer books to buy and clutter up our shelves. Yes, that's a bit of a stretch, but at the very least, it was a purchase that we thought out carefully and can be sure we won't regret. So if nothing else, it's a case of using our money wisely. (We also invested $20 in a good protective case to go with it, so this tablet won't meet with the same fate as the last one.)

And that wraps it up for our holidays. I hope yours were equally festive and green.

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