Friday, November 23, 2012

This Black Friday: Channel Your Inner Canuck

EcoYogini reflects on the Americanization of Canadian consumer culture...

As a Canadian, Black Friday has never really held a lot of importance in my holiday planning. Our thanksgiving happened in October, and holiday shopping kinda happens after Remembrance Day (November 11th). A few years ago I had to get my husband to even explain what the heck it means (ahem, in case you're unclear, businesses move from being in the "red" to being the "black" in sales).

I'd say Boxing Day, in Canada, looks a bit more like the whole "Black Friday" phenomenon where there are line ups etc. Still, it must be our British heritage, the entire RUSH, BUY, TRAMPLE, SHOVE aspect of Black Friday (or at least, how the media portrays this) isn't even close on Boxing Day. It's just not that polite... This is especially true in the maritimes.

Blogging has really brought a sense of international connectivity beyond the "American" television that is such a part of Canadian media consumption. Which I find pretty darn neat. However, that same globalization, shrinking of our world, means that in the past few years "Black Friday" has crept into Canadian rhetoric.

I type this post from a conference on French Health Care in Ottawa (Ontario) and Black Friday has been mentioned (with a thick French accent!) several times by presenters while signs in various shops around the hotel shout out BLACK FRIDAY SALE! My favourite was a Walmart radio commercial featuring a "consumer" who suggested that at Walmart they are calling it "Happy Friday". Right.

There are no line ups, no rushing, no screaming, no trampling.

I'll be honest, after listening to talks on American innovation regarding integrating multiculturally sensitive and diverse systems of Health Care (CLAS Guidelines), I'm sad that what is adopted much more easily into Canadian culture is an event based on individualism and consumption.

That said, I'm in Ottawa and tonight is the ONLY night I have free... so guess what I'm going to be doing... ? I'm a hypocrite.

I will say, that like the irony and non-ownership present in the hipster culture, "I'm not shopping because it's Black Friday, I'm shopping because I'm in Ottawa": so I don't really own up to my actions. (hah)

So no judgement on all of us who are feeling the pocketbook pinch, but if you are going out there today I would ask you channel your inner Canuck and:

- be polite and smile: seriously missing the last Beibs doll won't bring on the END. People always respond more positively when we respect each other.
- Hold the door for someone.
- Say "Thank You" :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Three Fun and Sustainable Gifts for Kids

The Climate Crusader is sharing three green holiday gifts that are sure to be a hit.

I'm already thinking about what to get my kids for Christmas this year. While the holiday is still a little more than a month away, I don't relish the idea of battling the crowds and doing a lot of last-minute holiday shopping. Also, I prefer to do much of my shopping online, since I've found a much wider variety of eco-friendly gifts there than I do at the mall. This requires a little planning ahead, which is why I'm working on it now.

As a mom, one of the things that I run up against over the holidays is keeping the season sustainable, while also making it magical for my children. The truth is that my children have a strong love for beepy plastic toys with blinky lights. I can't really blame them. I remember being five years old and liking the same things myself. Each year I try to come up with something that I can fill good about giving, and that my children will enjoy receiving. Here are three of my personal favourites.

1. Eco-Friendly Art Supplies

My children love to create, and there are a lot of great, sustainable options when it comes to paper, crayons and pencil crayons. From soy crayons perfect for little fingers to paint made from dirt to recycled art paper, there's something for every age and ability. Plus, you get bonus points because you're nurturing your child's creativity. What's not to love?

2. Dress-Up Clothes

What kid doesn't love to dress up? Dress-up clothes can make for hours of fun, plus lots of smiles from strangers when your four-year-old insists on leaving the house wearing his cowboy costume. Second-hand stores are treasure troves when it comes to outfitting your own little princess, pirate or doctor-in-training. If you want to go higher-end, there are lots of online shops that sell gorgeous dress-up clothes made from natural materials. Etsy is also a great option.

3. Cardboard Play Furniture

Last year my kids and I were lucky enough to try out a cardboard playhouse, made by Boutique Cascades here in Canada. Made with 100% recycled cardboard, it was itself recyclable and biodegradable. My kids painted on it, drew on it, ate snacks inside it, and more. There are lots of other manufacturers of cardboard play furniture, which ranges from playhouses to puppet theaters to tables and chairs. It's all totally fun and totally eco-friendly.

What about you - what are your favourite eco-friendly holiday gifts for the little people in your life? We can all use more ideas!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Back to our roots

From the laundry basket of the Homegrown Mama

This is the time of year when in North Central Ohio, it's go time for getting the garden finished up and things ready for the winter. On tap for me this weekend is to dig up the last of the carrots and beets. I also need to make up my mind about where to plant the daffodil bulbs.

Some root vegetables make it obvious when they are ready to be harvested. Onions, parsnips and shallots are generally ready to be harvested once the leaves die down. The onions and shallots should stay in the ground for an additional 2 weeks after the leaves fall over.  After that, you can dig them up, shake the dirt off and store them for the winter. Parsnips can be dug up and eaten as soon as you notice the leaves falling over.  If you aren't ready to harvest yet, you can toss a layer of hay over their tops to protect them from frost, but in my opinion, it'd be better to just dig them up.

Carrots, turnips and beets can be harvested when they are still fairly immature, such as when you thinned them earlier this year.  I hope you were able to enjoy them while they were so tender.  As they grow, you want to look for the tops to sprout on the carrots and the beets to be close to the size of a golf ball before harvesting.

So here you are and you've already harvested all your root vegetables or you are preparing to and now they are just piled up on the table... what should you do with them? Well, this is my moment for shameless self promotion. Dice up those parsnips, carrots, onions and add in some apples and spinach and you've got yourself a lovely side dish. Add in some chicken or white beans and it's a full meal. Healthy. Hearty. Filled with those hardy root vegetables that hid underground while you harvested the rest of your garden.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sustainable Poppies for Remembrance Day

EcoYogini Remembers...

Since the last Friday of October, small red poppies can be seen dotting the crowds and streets in Canada.

Sunday, November 11th, is Remembrance Day (the Canadian equivalent to Memorial Day) where Canadians all across the country remember those who have died serving our country. The Royal Canadian Legion actually proclaims the poppy as the "sacred" symbol of remembrance and donations from poppies fund an important part of veteran rehabilitation and helping the families of those who have passed.

I may not be a fan of the political decisions surrounding the military, but I will honour and respect those who have died for my country.

In particular, I wear my poppy in honour of my grand-père Albert (who passed away 5 years ago) who fought in the infantry in World War II. Remembrance Day meant a lot to him.

The entire system of the Poppy Campaign  however, necessitates waste. In order to raise money, the Legion counts on people throwing away their poppies and purchasing new ones each year. If 70% of Canadians wear poppies, that's a lot of wasted plastic.

(photo from Fredericton blog Kandise Brown)

Recently, several knitting groups, specifically one in Fredericton New Brunswick, were asked to stop knitting reusable poppies by the Legion. One reason being that a reusable poppy means that person won't purchase one the following year. I think it's a shame a compromise couldn't have been found.

For the past two years, after Remembrance Day, Andrew and I placed our poppies in a drawer where they are protected and bring them out the following year... As they are plastic they last through the rain and snow of November and look virtually the same as the day we bought them. No extra waste.

I do believe in giving back to the Legion, as they have helped my grandparents as well as myself (with a scholarship during my undergraduate degree).

So, instead of taking a poppy, I simply give a donation, smile and continue on my way.

Albert d'Eon WWII 1945 in Holland
J'taime grand-père, et je me souviens...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Three Tips for a Less Hectic Holiday Season

The Climate Crusader is sharing her tips for making meaningful memories this holiday season.

With the arrival of November, we're running the Meaningful Memories Holidays Challenge. And I'm going to come right out and admit it: I'm feeling challenged.

What I Don't Want Over the Holidays

I know very well what I don't want for the holidays. The list remains the same every year:
My little angels
Keeping it angelic
  • No last-minute gift frenzy
  • No swearing while the Christmas tree goes up and my over-excited children accidentally break a few ornaments and run off with the angel
  • No toys that come with tons of plastic, styrofoam and what seems like billions of little twist ties
  • No guilt-inducing family politics
  • No driving from event to event to event, scheduled to within an inch of our lives 

Tips for a More Meaningful Holiday Season

Needless to say, the reality is that I encounter most of these situations every year. Life isn't perfect, and the holiday season is no exception. However, there are a few tactics I employ that make the holidays a little less harried, and a little more meaningful.

  1. Don't get overly-ambitious with the handmade gifts. I love the idea of giving lovingly-handmade holiday gifts, but the reality is that I only have two hands. And so, I try to focus on a few homemade items that won't be overly taxing. I may sew - but only one or two things for my kids. I may cook - but just a couple of batches of peppermint bark to give to several of the people on my list. The holidays are happier when I'm not staying up way past my bedtime every night to knit.
  2. For that matter, cut back on the gifts altogether. I've found that my own children appreciate their gifts more when they're not overwhelmed by stuff. By choosing a few select items, I'm reducing the environmental impact of the holidays, saving money, and reducing the commercial aspect of the holiday. In my husband's family, we do a holiday gift exchange with the adults, where we each draw one name instead of all buying each other gifts. It all cuts down on the volume and brings the focus back to the time spent together, which is the real gift of the season.
  3. Be selective with the events. Just like with gifts, I've found that my family enjoys holiday events more when we're not inundated by them. By choosing to attend only a handful of events, and no more than one or two on any given weekend leading up to the holidays, we can keep the activity level reasonable. We're all happier, and it allows us to really appreciate the time we're spending together at the events we do attend.
As I said, I still have a few things to learn when it comes to creating a meaningful, enjoyable holiday season. But I've found that these three changes have certainly helped. I hope that you find them helpful, as well.

Now it's your turn - how do you make your holidays less hectic and more enjoyable? Leave a comment and share your tips!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meaningful Memories Holiday Challenge 2012

Halloween, my least favorite holiday, is finally behind us. Hopefully folks will now stop throwing handfuls of candy at my children. My son attends a dual immersion elementary school with a large Mexican-American population, and it has been interesting to be part of a Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration for the first time in my life. My son and I made a poster about my grandfather, for whom my son was named, for a class project for the holiday. I would love to trade Halloween in for Dia de Los Muertos permanently: instead of teenagers at my door demanding candy, a kind of festive Memorial Day where families and communities celebrate loved ones who have passed. Next up (for us Americans) is one of my favorite holidays: Thanksgiving. 

Pretend this says 2012 until I get
a chance to update this button.

And on that note, it's time to kick off the Booth's Meaningful Memory Holiday Challenge. Time to reflect on the kind of holiday season we want to enjoy. What do you want your holidays to be like? Perhaps you are looking for
  • less stress, more time with family and friends
  • less spending and shopping, more handmade and homemade gifts
  • less waste, more appreciation of nature
  • less stuff, more memories
  • less commercialism, more community and charity

Please share your aspirations and ideas with us! You can participate in our challenge by:

  • Spreading the word! The more, the merrier. We look forward to sharing ideas with and learning from all of you.
  • Sharing your ideas for more meaningful holidays in the comments on our posts or on our Facebook page.
  • Writing about how you will be making your memories more meaningful on yourown blog. We will be hosting a Meaningful Memories Link-up in the coming weeks, or you can include a link to your relevant post in the comments of any of our Meaningful Memory posts.
  • Writing a guest post to be published here at the Green Phone Booth. Email us at greenphonebooth [at] gmail [dot] com with your topic idea, and we'll put you on the calendar.

We look forward to hearing your ideas!

Photo credit: wikipedia

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Day in the Life of Julia from Color Me Green

Hi, I’m Julia. I blog over at Color Me Green about my slow food, eco-friendly life in Brooklyn. I will be filling in here while the Emerald Apron takes a little maternity leave and am excited to join the Green Phone Booth community. I figured what better way to introduce myself than to share a day in my life.

Although, this week has been anything but typical. Hurricane Sandy hit New York hard. I personally felt lucky to be unaffected and thankful for all of our modern infrastructure and conveniences, which meant I was snug in my apartment on high ground without even losing power, able to monitor the news via internet throughout the storm. For me, the hurricane has meant days of getting to just relax, cook good food and do some work remotely at home, while we wait for power to be restored to lower Manhattan where my office is located, and for the subway stations to be pumped clear of flooding. In New York, the forced relaxation that comes with severe weather is a welcome relief from my busy life. So on to a typical day in my life...

My boyfriend wakes me up around 8:30 to say goodbye. He is a morning person and has to be at work earlier, so he gets up nearly two hours before me. I indulge in snoozing time before slowly waking myself up by checking email on my iTouch in bed and finally get up sometime around 9am. I'm not good at getting up on time, so I'm late to work most days.

Around 9:30, I leave for work on my bike. It’s a 5.5 mile ride, around 40 minutes, through nice brownstone streets in Brooklyn, over the East River, and into downtown Manhattan. I try to focus on just enjoying being outside on my bike. I ride to work about 3 days a week, since I work from home one day a week, and I take the subway if it’s raining or if I have plans that will keep me out at night after work. In the wake of Sandy, I’m happy I can use my bike to get around even with the subways down.

When I arrive at work sometime between 10 and 10:30, my first stop is the office bathroom to change. Later this winter, my office is moving to a new location that will supposedly have showers on site, which will be nice. However, in the meantime, I don’t find it necessary to shower after biking. I’ve written about my strategies here. I bring a change of clothes, and since I don’t wear make up, I just brush my hair and reapply my homemade deodorant and am good to go.

I typically start my day at work with a small bowl of my homemade granola and a good cup of sustainable coffee while I catch up on my google reader.

I work in the fundraising department of an international environmental nonprofit that promotes sustainable land-use practices around the world. My days are spent writing grant proposals and reports, writing correspondence with donors, scheduling and preparing for my boss to meet with donors, and fighting with our donor database to make it work the way we want it to. There is pretty much always too much work to do, so even though it's not a corporate job, it's still a stressful office job where I sit at my desk for eight hours a day.

I often feel too busy to take the hour lunch break I am allowed, so I usually eat at my desk. Being in New York with delis and bodegas everywhere, it's easy to be lazy and buy lunch, which I did a lot last year, but I felt bad about it because it gets expensive and wasteful with all the packaging. For the past several months, I’ve been good about packing lunches most days. My boyfriend is currently on a no-processed-wheat kick lately, so my lunches lately have involved a simple mix of quinoa, beans and some sort of vegetables with a little cheese.

On the couple of days a week I can motivate myself to get out of the office for a “lunch break,” I run errands or go to a gym nearby to lift weights and stretch, but it's not as often as I'd like.

The workday officially ends at 6pm, though I usually leave around 6:30 and sometimes not until 7 or 7:30 because I want to keep getting work done. I change back into my biking clothes and ride home, in the dark this time.

On Mondays, my boyfriend and I are usually both home in the evening. Most other nights of the week, one or the other of us has band practice or plans with friends. Since we both enjoy cooking, we cook dinner together, using ingredients we picked up over the weekend from the farmers market or coop.

By the time we clean up dinner, there's only an hour or so left before my boyfriend wants to get ready for bed. We'll watch a little TV courtesy of the internet or play some music together. My boyfriend goes to bed around 10:30, but I'm more of a night owl so I stay up for another hour or two at my computer, wasting time reading blogs and writing and always wanting to eke out some more worth from my day before it's time to go to sleep and do it all over again.


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