Thursday, December 31, 2009

Green Holiday Actions

Green Holiday Action #31

Over the holidays we went to Disneyland for the day. We were happily surprised that throughout the park all of the plastic bags used at the various stores are now made from 100% recycled materials and are in turn recycleable.

Of course the best choice is to not use a bag, but Disney is making an effort in the right direction. Positive actions need to be applauded.

Everyday you have choices. You can choose to be environmentally responsible - helping the planet and therefore yourself.

This started as an attempt to come up with 31 Green Holiday Actions and became the beginning of a community of friends and strangers sharing ideas about sustainability.

General Green Holiday Actions
Decorating and Wrapping

Gift Giving
We all know in our hearts that we are pushing the planet to the edge. We all know that we have to change the way be act on a daily basis, but change can be threatening. Still, if we work together and make little changes that are lasting, maybe we can leave our children a better world rather than one teetering toward calamity.

When I was 7 years old I wrote to then President Nixon about the gray whale that was rapidly disappearing from along the Ca
lifornia coast. Enough adults and children kept after our public officials until the Marine Mammals Protection Act was passed in 1972. Given a chance, life on our planet is resilient.

Today the gray whale population has stabilized, blue whales and humpbacks swim in increasing numbers along California's coast. Right whales are breeding along the east coast of the U.S. Are whales and other sea life in tro
uble because of ship traffic, climate change and pollution in the ocean? Yes. But in the 1960s, we were afraid that whales would cease to exist because of whaling and fishing practices.

We can make positive change, if we work together. Let's make 2010 the year we save the planet.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Problem Gifts

Green Holiday Action #30

A few things make me cringe when I open a package: foam packing peanuts and metallic plastic sheeting.

This year no foam peanuts exploded from a well-packed gift box. That was a blessing. No storing them, no trying to figure out how to use them without setting them free in the environment.

But this glittery problem was given to us by well-meaning friends. This is the metallic plastic sheeting or polyester film that I warned against in "Just Say 'No' to The Shiny." And in this case, it is already shredded into small bits.

If I "throw it away," it won't be gone. It will fly up into the air or cling to the side of the trash bin. It will find a way to escape from the trash truck. Next it will tumble down the street, wash down a gutter, make its way to the ocean and into the gullet of a bird or fish. It is bad news.

If I keep the shiny menace, how can I reuse it? If I pass it on to someone else, they will have the same problem I'm having. It's like passing on a virus.

If you have a good idea on what action can be taken to deal with this flashy shredded polyester film, let me know. The only thing I've come up with is using it in a few experiments to show how hazardous it really is.

Don't make this mistake. Don't curse your friends and family with a needless environmental burden.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Veggie Tuesdays and Thursdays

Green Holiday Action #29

I am not a vegetarian. I'm an omnivore and I admit that I like the taste of meat. But it is a fact that when you eat higher up in the foodweb, you are consuming more resources.

For example: If you eat a salad, the lettuce, tomato, carrots, cucumber, etc., the plants are all "producers" who take in energy from the sun and convert it to energy stored in their leaves, roots and fruit. When you eat meat, the animal had to eat plants or other animals to get the energy it needed. Animals are "consumers" of "producers." The further away you get from a producer who converted the sun's energy to its own use, the more resources are needed to create the same about of energy. So when you eat a piece of meat, you are also eating all of the food that that animal ate.

Vast tracts of land around the world has been lost from native forests and grasslands to provide grazing areas for domestic animals that provide meat. A great deal of plant food and fresh water goes to raising animals for food. Waste from domestic animals also creates pollution problems. Reducing the amount of meat we consume could help the planet significantly.

With that in mind the Union of Reform Judaism is proposing the Green Table/Just Table initiative. They are supporting eating locally produced plants and animals, eating food grown and harvested by people that are treated justly, and reducing
meat consumption.

The food we eat is part of the Earth's splendor and it should be treated with respect.

Because we don't have to catch it, raise it, or butcher it ourselves, meat has become very easy to consume in the last 100 years. I'm going to aim for eating low on the foodweb twice a week.

Won't you join me in Veggie Tuesdays and Thursdays?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Green Products as Gifts

Green Holiday Action #28

As we approach the beginning of a new year, I'm making a resolution to bring a Green Practice into our daily living each month.

We have a great place to start with some of the gifts we received this holiday season:
  • organic cotton dish towels - Pay attention to the fibers you surround yourself with. Cotton is a natural plant fiber. People and other animals have been using the soft, insulating fibers of cotton for thousands of years. But growing cotton can be hard on the land, especially if pesticides and herbicides are used. Organic cotton is more expensive in the store, but less expensive in the long run because it does not contribute to other environmental problems.
  • e-cloth - This is a new product for me, it is a special cloth that allows you to clean glass and polish surfaces using only water. I'm excited to give it a try. I'll keep you posted on how it works.
The choices you make on everyday items, especially cleaning products can make a big difference in the environment. Not only are you making choices that are healthier and more sustainable, but you are also letting the producers of products know that you will stand up for the environment with your pocketbook. The best way to take a polluting product off the market is to not buy it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Recycling Christmas Trees and Greenery

Green Holiday Action #27

Pine boughs and yard greenery have been decorating the house inside and out for the past couple of weeks. (Green Holiday Decorations)

Today I got in the mood to take some of it down.
But I'm still using some of these branches because now they are providing mulch on areas of the hillside that have bare earth. Smaller branches went into our household green bin provided by the city. This green matter will be chipped and composted by the city.

Our live tree went back out into the yard. But if you have a cut holiday tree, you can still make green choices. If at all possible, don't send your tree to a landfill.

In Los Angeles, you can cut up your tree and put it in your green bin for vegetation. You can also recycle the whole tree by taking it to a number of drop-off locations at parks and fire stations throughout the city. For a location near you, check out the L.A. City Bureau of Sanitation website. The designated locations
in L.A. will only be recycling whole trees next weekend, Jan. 2-3, 2010. Follow the directions on the city website for how to prepare the tree for recycling.

If you live outside of the Los Angeles area do a web search with key words "recycling Christmas trees" and your city name. Many cities offer some way for you to recycle holiday trees.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Recycle Those Holiday Cards

Green Holiday Action #26

Holiday cards come in such a beautiful array of colors and themes. When the season is over repurpose those beautiful scenes and sentiments. Here's a wonderful suggestion from my friend Kim:

I always enjoy seeing green suggestions around the holidays. I don't think this actually started as a "green" idea, but something I've been doing since I was a kid is making gift tags out of last year's holiday cards. I tear off the fronts and fold them to make little tags with designs from the card's artwork. I don't do anything particularly fancy with them, but I usually get some comments about it being creative. I think my parents were just trying to save money by not buying gift tags, but now I think of it as a green tradition. And I don't have to feel bad about tossing away a stack of Christmas cards that people have sent me. - Kim

I been doing this for years myself. Sometimes a beautiful tag made from a holiday card can become the focus of a gift's wrapping. You can fold them, cut them into shapes, or just use parts of a card's decoration that you like the best.

Have you noticed that there is an added benefit to getting multiple use out of resources? It saves financial resources as well.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday Boxes and Bows - Recycling and Reusing

Green Holiday Action #25

This year at our family holiday gathering we tried to act green while opening presents. We placed two large containers in the room for wrapping paper that was recycleable, a basket to collect reuseable bows and ribbon, and a container for trash.

I'm so proud of everyone because we:

A couple of the gifts were inspiring and creative, more on that later.

Hope you had a day filled with joy and giving.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Decorate a Living Christmas Tree

Green Holiday Action #24

Here's a photo and suggestion from my friend Eleanor - decorate a living tree outside.

A living tree is never perfect, but it is always part of the earth. When you decorate a tree that is already living and growing in your yard or garden, you are demonstrating your connection with the world around you.

Throughout the year this tree in Santa Clarita is habitat for birds and insects. Though it dresses up for the holidays, it continues to be part of the environment.

Whether you bring a living tree into your home, use a recycled tree, or decorate a tree in your yard, you are making a choice for a more sustainable future.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Plan Your Santa Route

Green Holiday Action #23

Santa has a very green practice, he plans his route for greatest efficiency.

Whether it is last minute shopping or delivering gifts from your hearth, plan your route. Making one well-mapped-out sweep to all of your intended destinations, rather than multiple trips, will save resources and time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Recycled Holiday Trees

Green Holiday Action #22

Recycling can come in a variety of forms. What we used to call antiques are actually recycled items–furniture, glassware, china, and even decorations–that are passed on from one generation to the next rather than being disposable.

I love having a live holiday tree in my house, but a number of people have commented that they have artificial trees they have used for years. Here is one of my favorite comments from my friend Marie:

We live in a condo and do not have a place to plant living Christmas Trees. However, 15 years ago we were passing an antique store in Silver Lake and saw an aluminum Christmas Tree in the window. We decided we had to have it, but the owner wouldn't let us have the one in the window. But searching through the backroom he came across another one in it's original 1950's White Front box. We were old enough to remember when there were lots of White Front stores around Los Angeles, so we scooped it up, and it has been our tree ever since. And every year we add more homemade ornaments or ornaments picked up on our travels. We love our shiny little tree which we recycle each year, even though we didn't even know the word "recycle" when we bought it--we just didn't like the idea of throwing away a once beautiful, but eventually dried out and crumbly tree. - Marie

Think of your holiday decorations as a resource investment. Skip the cheap disposable items and make your purchases something you can use for years to come.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Give From the Hearth and Yard

Green Holiday Action #21

One of the important actions you can take for the planet and yourself is to know the ingredients that go into the food you eat. Palm oil is a common ingredient in packaged foods and even cosmetics and soaps.

While some palm oil is grown in sustainable ways, most is grown on large plantations that are chopped out of important tropical forests. Vast areas of Indonesian forest, vital to plant and animal biodiversity, are lost to supply palm oil for products sold in the U.S. The choices you make when you buy soap products or a box of cookies can have a direct effect on creatures a world away, like wild orangutans. I was surprised when palm oil was an ingredient in my dog's favorite natural dog cookie. For more on orangutan issues: Orangutan Conservancy.

When you give a gift from your own hearth you can make the decisions about ingredients–healthy, local, fresh. Some of my friends make wonderful gifts in their kitchens. For example:
  • My friend Brian makes an incredible mustard. I made sure that I was on his Santa list again this year.
  • Homemade baked goods typically have lower fat levels and calories because they don't include palm oil and fats with a long shelf life.
  • My lemon tree has a bumper crop this year. With lemons in the market at 50 cents a piece, a bag of lemons in a repurposed net bag has been a welcome gift for many of my friends and neighbors.
  • I tried a new recipe and made a cranberry liquor. People are asking to be on that Santa list for next year. But don't tell my sister, because I made it as a gift for her.
When you give from your hearth, you give from your heart and you make the choice for that heart to be green.

For more Green Gift ideas:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Classic Holiday Fun - A Christmas Carol

Green Holiday Action #20

How about a party that is low in impact and high on Holiday Spirit. Friends of ours, Douglas and Rosanne, started this party tradition four years ago.

A group of us gets together to read Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol aloud for a live audio production on the Internet. Not only is this a different kind of interactive event, the kids that have participated are growing up to be exceptional readers and confident public speakers. They started out doing sound effects - chains and creaking doors. Now they read and for our Halloween Ghost Stories reading this year, they came with their own material.

You can listen to A Christmas Carol LIVE or even participate via the Internet. We will be live at 3 PM Pacific Standard Time.

To Download the mp3 file of the audio: Reading of A Christmas Carol

You can also watch the video captured live on

Watch the 4th Annual Reading of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

To listen to previous audio productions check out Eclipse-1 Media.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Party Dishware Dilemma

Green Holiday Action #19

Party planning always brings into question whether to use paper, plastic or dishware that needs washing.

Plastic is out. Some plastic can be washed and reused. But in the end, it is still plastic. There are some new products made from biodegradable plant starches that do offer a disposable option. Unfortunately, they aren't always easy to find.

For napkins, I went with cocktail napkins made from 100% recycled paper - 50% post consumer - with water based inks. And better yet, they were made in the U.S. Do they have pictures of snowmen or poinsettias? No. But they are neutral with a leaf pattern.

In the end I decided to use my stainless steel silverware and some restaurant grade glass plates leftover from my days as a caterer. These glass plates are durable, go with everything and wash easily.

I also decided to use small dishwasher-safe glass wine glasses for everyone, even the kids. (P.S. no breakage and glass actually made everyone pay more attention to their drinks. 50+ people and no spills.)

Yes, I will be using water to wash my dishware, but I think it was my greenest choice. Maybe next year my holiday party will have an island theme and we'll have everyone eat off of banana leaves.

The holiday tree is live.

Decorations all came from yard cuttings and
trimmed pine boughs.

P.S. All those people generated only one small bag of trash and a large container of recyclables. The best part, we collected donations for a charity.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Dickens, You Say

Holiday Green Action #18

"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it."
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Here's a lovely green suggestion
from my husband Michael:

Try a true candlelight dinner! Through most of our history, we lived under available light - sunrise to just several hours after sunset. Take an evening this year and turn off all of your electric lights. Don't use your appliances except to heat up your dinner. Use a candle, or a small RECHARGEABLE light source to illuminate only what you need, not the whole house. It'll get you in the holiday mood and save you some money, as well. You'll wind up going to bed earlier and getting more sleep! - Michael

Our Holiday Party a few years ago was lit only by candlelight. It was beautiful and very relaxing. Use common sense when lighting with candles. Make sure nothing flammable is near open flames. Provide at least 4 feet of open air above burning candles, otherwise you may have the opportunity to visualize carbon as it appears as soot on walls or ceilings.

To get into a holiday mood, join in a:

Live Reading of Dickens' A Christmas Carol
December 20, 2009 from 3pm to 5pm – Online Join us live for our 4th annual LIVE reading of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Better Way to Carry Water

Green Holiday Action #17

Give up the bottle, the packaged plastic water bottle.

This is a simple and dramatic action you can take to reduce plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

We are very fortunate in the Unit
ed States. Most of our drinking water is just as clean as the water that can be purchased in plastic bottles. Add in filtration through a modern refrigerator and you have clean water coveted by most of the world. You really don’t appreciate the luxury of available clean water until you travel to places where bottled water is a necessity - Turkey.

But all of those empty individual-serving plastic bottles are a waste problem, not to mention the resources needed to produce them. Recycling helps, but each manufactured bottle is traveling by air or by truck for miles from its bottling origin to get to its point of sales.

Refillable water bottles are everywhere this holiday season. But all bottles are not created equal. Bottles that will maintain the healthy quality of your water are made of stainless steel or copolyester, a new polycarbonate that is free of bisphenol A (BPA for short). A third option is aluminum WITH a copolyester lining. Look for a quality product because your health matters. Name brands like Nalgene (U.S.), Camelback (imported) Klean Kanteen (imported) and others provide information about the materials in their container. You want a bottle that will last through many work days and adventures. The green and orange bottles pictured here have been all the way to outer Mongolia and back.

So drop a hint to your friends and family that a refillable water bottle would be a great gift item for you. You’ll make a difference and maybe they will wonder why you want such a thing. Then you’ll have a second action–passing on the message that it is time to give up the prepackaged plastic water bottle.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recycling Electronics and Saving Gorillas

Green Holiday Action #16 has a global impact. This is from my friend Laurel who has been working on gorilla conservation:

Lots of folks get new electronics like cell phones as gifts this time of year. Perhaps you could remind them not to throw away their old cell phones, DVD players, GPS's or other electronics that contain coltan and other minerals. They can recycle them instead. - Laurel

(photos courtesy of Laurel Colton)

What does recycling your cell phone or MP3 player have to do with gorillas, African forests and the welfare of millions of people?

Inside your cell phone, personal computer and a variety of small electronic items there are capacitors coated in special minerals with a high tolerance for heat. These minerals reduce the transferal of heat within your appliance. What does this have to do with gorillas? Every resource comes from somewhere.

Columbite and tantalite are two of these rare minerals. In
processed form, they may be listed as tantalum on a label. The ore they are refined from goes by the shortened name coltan. Coltan is found primarily in Australia and central Africa. Legal mining in Australia has all but shut down because of the illegal mining in the Congo which is providing artificially inexpensive coltan.

Very much like the blood diamond situation, coltan mining attracts militaries and war lords who use the profits from these precious minerals to fund their activities. Coltan is mined in open pits, destroying normal vegetation. Some of the major mining locations are within previously protected areas like Kahuzi-Biega National Park. This U.N. World Heritage Site is home to one of the last groups of eastern lowland gorillas. With illegal mining activity comes additional cutting down of the forest for building and firewood. Armed parties have driven off
park employees and threaten wildlife. The thousands of people digging the minerals require food; protected animals, including gorillas, are hunted for human food. Many of the people working in the mines are children or captives.

We can all play a role in stopping this habitat destruction and human tragedy. These minerals, as well as gold and silver, can all be collected from electronic devices and reused through recycling.

Many cell phone companies will take back your old phone for recycling, but you have to ASK.
Find out more about recycling your cell phone or electronics at and watch the video The Secret Life of Cell Phones

The Enough! Project is working to increase understanding of this issue. Just like with blood diamonds, the worst of the trade can be stopped if major corporations are required to purchase tantalum from legal sources. The Congo Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 (HR 4128) is making its way through Congress, you can tell your elected officials you support this legislation through the Enough Project's Action Page

2009 has been the Year of the Gorilla. If you are giving an electronic gift this season, or if you receive one, don't throw away that old device.

Help yourself, the gorilla and the planet by recycling old cell phones and electronics.

For more on coltan mining in Congo:

Go to the FREE screening of Return to Virunga: The Battle to Save the Mountain Gorillas with film maker Stefan Lovgren this Saturday, Dec. 19 at 3:30 PM at:

Hasting's Branch Library 3325 East Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena
Please RSVP to:

Watch the video from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting VIDEO

Coltan mining facts from the Jane Goodall Institute

Support Gorilla Conservation

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Weeks of Green Holiday Actions

Green Holiday Action #15

Here's a great green gift idea from my friend Kim and her cat Hedley. They've started
something new this year:

We have a lot of cats in our family. My sister, my mother, and my mother-in-law all have cats. Rather than buying yet another cat toy, I made donations to a stray cat organization.

What are you doing to make this a Green Holiday Season? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

How can you have a Greener Holiday Season?

In General

Decorating and Wrapping

Gift Giving

Monday, December 14, 2009

Give from Your Heart

Green Holiday Action #14

The Greenest gift is one that is directly from your heart to someone else.

When you write a poem or a story, compose music or a song, or create artwork for someone, you are giving a gift of the mind and soul.

My mother carved this stone bear for us as a gift.

Frequently, I stop short of doing this because I am afraid of rejection. But whenever I have been courageous and given a gift of the mind, it has always been deeply appreciated.

Here is a poem for all of you busily juggling everyday life this Holiday Season.

The Cure
There's a cure
For breathless days
For scattered minds
Schedules that never end

A balm for lives spread thin
Minds turned in
Feet that no longer hug the ground

Pick something
From bush or tree
From earth or stream
Clutch firmly in your hand

Smell the miracle of growing things
Sink your teeth into terrestrial texture
Savor the taste of timelessness

Pick something
from its earthly womb
and eat it

- Keri Dearborn 2009

For other Green Holiday Gift ideas see:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recycled Gifts

Green Holiday Action #13

By recycled gift I do not mean rewrapping something you didn't want and giving it to someone else.

I mean giving something you treasure as a gift to someone else. Some of my most prized possessions, the things that feed my soul, have multiple values. They are items of beauty or brilliance, but they also represent an aspect of someone important in my life.

Here are few of my favorite examples:
  • a small glass vase I received as a wedding gift. My cousin Alice had bought it for herself on her own honeymoon 40 years earlier.
  • a book of poetry by Edgar A. Guest that my grandfather held second to the bible for influence on his life. The truly unique part is this grandfather was killed in an accident when my mother was only three years old. My Aunt Florence gave me this book and through it I know a grandfather I never met. It is always on my night stand.
  • a wooden glove box that my grandmother Dearborn gave me that had been hand decorated with woodburning by her mother. It has been my treasure chest since my 14th birthday.
  • a tiny silver pin of a gecko given to me by my friend Gerri. Her husband made it for her, she wore it for years and then gave it to me. She knows I'm a lizard lover. (See western fence lizard.)
Don't wait to will things to people that are important to you. Give beloved items while you can still tell the stories that go with them. Give good memories and the best part of yourself.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Green Holiday Gifts

Holiday Green Action #12

Looking for a unique gift? For the next couple of days I'm going to focus on green gifts because that is what many of us are thinking about.

How about a Green Action Gift? Many local conservation organizations are doing important work in your neighborhood as well as around the world.

Every region has dedicated individuals who are rescuing and rehabilitating local wild animals. You probably also have at least one animal or plant in your local area that is threatened with extinction. These small nonprofit organizations survive primarily on the support they receive from their local community. Many provide giving opportunities that offer unique connections to your local environment. Here are a few of my local favorites:

Friends of the Island Fox, Inc. ( Working to save the endangered island fox and providing community education in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. $250 funds a radio collar for an endangered island fox with quarterly reports on how that island fox is doing for a year; $10 funds annual vaccinations for a single island fox against rabies and distemper. (I am partial to this organization as I am on the Board of Directors.)

Ojai Raptor Center ( Rescue and rehabilitation of birds of prey in the Los Angeles area. Adoption donations help to feed unreleasable birds that are used in education programs.

Nature of Wild Works ( Cares for nonreleasable wildlife and provides community education in Los Angeles. You can support the welfare of specific animals.

Catalina Island Conservancy ( Managing and preserving the wild areas of Santa Catalina Island, including the endangered island fox. You can support specific island projects.

Habitat Works ( Volunteers participate in local wildlife habitat restoration in the Los Angeles area.

Ocean Conservation Society ( Studies dolphins in the Southern California Bight off Santa Monica. Adopt a local dolphin.

These are just a few in the Los Angeles area. If you give close to home you have a better opportunity to know how your donated funds are spent. Look for organizations designated 501 (c) 3 non-profits, that way your donation will be tax deductible. And ask your friends for the names of groups or organizations where they have volunteered.

Tomorrow Recycled Gifts and then Giving From the Heart.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Tree? Go Live

Holiday Green Action #11

Go Live. Bring a living tree home for the holidays. A live tree in a pot speaks your green intentions louder than your voice ever could.

A living tree brings the forest into your home without reducing wild lands. It becomes part of the family participating in the holidays year-after-year. No tree is killed. No waste is added to the landfill. No plastic is created. And that living tree is a carbon sink, securing carbon in its trunk and branches as it grows.

This will be our 4th year with our living tree. It has now more than paid for itself.

Yes, I do have to water it. With our drought conditions this summer, most of the water for the tree came from kitchen gray water. I also feed the tree twice a year.

Our tree has grown about 10" since it's first year with us. See the Tree. I'm hoping to bring the tree in this weekend, but right now it is enjoying the rain.

When we bring it into the house, we will slide the pot onto a large piece of heavy plastic sheeting. We gather the sheeting up around the sides of the pot and then tape in tight around the pot's top edge. This way we can continue to water the tree while it is indoors and exposed to warmer, drier conditions caused by indoor heating. This also protects the carpeting.

More and more nurseries are offering a variety of living trees. Take a look at them; they are an investment in your greener future. Look for one a little bit smaller than you might usually buy because you want to be able to use it for a number of years.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Santa's Bags

Green Holiday Action #10

How many tons of gift wrapping materials will be discarded on December 25th?

You can help reduce the amount of disposable paper, plastic and bows by
investing in reusable wrapping.

Fabric gift bags are a staple at many church and organization Holiday Bazaars. They are also easy to make. (They can even make a great gift.) These simple fabric bags with drawstring or ribbon closures are pretty, practical and reusable.

Over the years I have purchased a variety of sizes and fabric styles. They are the perfect way to wrap small items for stockings. But I also have larger sizes that hold a shirt box or even a 10-ream paper box. I've had a number of these Santa Bags for over 10 years.

Not everything under the tree is wrapped in a bag, but each Santa Bag represents saved trees and reduced trash.

What are you doing to make this a Green Holiday Season?
Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Say "NO" to the Shiny

Holiday Green Action #9

When it comes to being attracted to the shiny and glittery, humans are no different than birds. But we aren't just attracted to them, we create them and some of the flashy holiday decorations and wrapping choices are bad news for the environment.

Metallic plastic sheeting or polyester film, familiar to most of us by the trademarked name Mylar, was originally developed for use in space. Thin, durable, lightweight and cheap to mass produce, polyester film can be seen during the holidays as wrapping paper, balloons, bows, garlands, even confetti.

Unfortunately, these bits of sparkle do not biodegrade. If you throw it away, it isn't gone. What may be an inexpensive purchase today, may be a costly clean-up for the future. Avoid the shiny this season and if you receive it, reuse it.

These plastic films last a lifetime. The bow in the picture came into our family several years ago. It will be used again this year, then go back in the box to reappear next year.

When you decorate for the holidays, you have a choice to be Green. Lead by example, here's an idea from a previous post Green Holiday Decorations.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Helping Others Understand Global Climate Change

Holiday Green Action #8

This week the world is focusing on the climate meeting in Copenhagen. What can you do? Talk calmly with facts to friends, family and neighbors about global climate change.

Polls released earlier this week, stated that HALF of Americans do not believe that climate change is a real threat. I don't know why this is, it could be because the economy has become the main focus of concern for most of us. It could be because powerful voices have an economic stake in America's continued over consumption of carbon-based fuels and earthly resources. Because we have allowed the ability to pay for speech to be equated with the right to speak, those who can pay more to express their point of view will be heard the most. Unfortunately, fear mongering makes people defensive.

Give a gift to the Earth: Help people understand the scientific facts of climate change and point them toward actions they can take to be part of the solution.

  1. The term "global warming" can seem unbelievable to people when temperatures dip to freezing. This morning there was a half inch of ice on my bird bath in sunny California. "Global climate change" more accurately depicts what is happening. Ask people to think about climate change. How are things different where you live? flooding, storm strength, drought. The drought cycle in California is lengthening.
  2. Fact : An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans. U. S. EPA Link
  3. Fact: The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland, Aradhna Tripati, UCLA assistant professor, Department of Earth and Space Sciences & Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, as quoted in Science Daily. Findings from ice core samplings Link
  4. Fact: Deforestation is releasing large amounts of carbon stored in trees and reducing plant growth that should be absorbing carbon dioxide.
The way we have been living for the last 100 years is unsustainable. If you look around at your local environment, you already know that. Let's all take action to work together toward cleaning up our destructive habits and working toward a sustainable future.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Say "No" to Plastic Bags

Holiday Green Action #7

Here's a simple Green Action: take your own bag when you go shopping. In my neighborhood a number of grocery-type stores offer incentives for using your own reusable bags. Most of us have gotten pretty good at remembering to bring our own bags into the grocer.

But the grocery store isn’t the only place to reduce the usage of plastic bags.

I have a wonderful little fabric bag that roles up into a small case. It is always in my purse ready to be used.

Easily used canvas or fabric bags are also a great gift item.

Plastic bags pollute waterways. They also mimic food in aquatic environments and are eaten by animals causing injury and even death. Every time you say “No” to a plastic bag, you save resources and make a positive difference.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Green Holiday Decorations

Holiday Green Action #6

Before you run out to buy greenery grown a state or two away and trucked to your hometown or plastic decorations made in a foreign country, take a second look at your yard.

Every year I decorate my house with greenery from my yard in Los Angeles. Many plants in California are at their best as we head into winter. I put together this table decoration with:

  • a candle
  • a flower pot
  • two rosemary boughs
  • two fern stalks
  • four stems of holly cherry (California native)
  • two stems of cotoneaster (with red berries)

All of these plants will stay green without water as they dry. Many will look great for two to three weeks.

Other obvious choices are pine, cedar and holly, as well as eucalyptus, pyrocanthus or firethorn (red berries), succulents, and a variety of herbs. California natives like ceanothus and manzanita have beautiful deep green foliage and toyon or California holly has green leaves with holly-like red berries. The later is the plant that gave Hollywood its name. More on toyon.

The idea of holiday wreaths and trees is to bring the living things of the forest into your home in the dead of winter. The best way to do that while preserving wild forests and lands is to sustainably harvest greenery from your own yard. Go foraging, you may be surprised at the botanical wonders you find.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Holiday Lights

Green Holiday Action #5

Throughout the Los Angeles area and around the country, the viewing of holiday lights is a seasonal treat.

Typically, cars slowly cruise "Candy C
ane Lane's" and other community spectacles. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) Holiday Light Festival is just such a mile long route decorated with festive displays. This year however the DWP is promoting greener viewing. Dec. 4, 2009 through the 17th, the route will be "vehicle free."

We went last night to walk the route with other pedestrians. No car aghaust or long waiting lines, just bodies dressed warmly for a brisk California winter evening. Other evenings will provide access for bicyclers. For more info about the DWP Holiday Light Festival visit their website.

The lights depict a kind of history of the Los Angeles area. Where else would holiday lights include surfers?

Make it a new holiday tradition to walk your neighborhood or other holiday displays. You'll have more opportunity to see the decorations, save gas and reduce the creation of greenhouse gases.

And if you go and admire one large light display, you don't have to create a rival one at home. You can cut back a bit on your electricity use.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Give Experiences

Green Holiday Action #4

One of the easiest places to Green your Holiday Season is through the choices you make in gifts.

Most of us do not need more things. Give the gift of time together and shared experiences. Tickets to a cultural event–a play, museum, concert or movie, reservations for a special dining experience or high tea, or just set aside a date for an activity. All of these options can be Green Gifts.

For my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary a few weeks ago, we all took a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It was an experience enjoyed by all–from my three-year-old niece to my seventy-year-old parents–and shared as a family.

A toy or piece of clothing has a limited lifespan, a memory lasts a lifetime.

As an additional bonus, these gifts financially support your local community. So stretch your gift giving imagination, and color it green.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Trim Your Gift Shopping List

Green Holiday Action #3

This year our family decided that instead of buying gifts for everyone in extended family, individuals that wanted to participate, would put their names into a hat and then draw a name for the ONE person they would give a gift.

From grandma and grandpa to the teenagers, everyone wanted to participate. The price limit was set by those on the most fixed budget.

Suddenly, I'm not running around spending time, resources and money to find gifts for a list of people. We've also reduced our use of wrapping paper and all the other resources that go with gift-giving. The best part might be that the sense of giving has a greater personal focus. I can concentrate on a great gift for one family member rather than just something for everyone to open.

I have a couple of Green Gift ideas, but more on that later.

What are you doing to make this a Green Holiday Season? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

E Holiday Letters

Green Holiday Action #2

I gave up holiday cards for letters years ago. What's the point of being in contact with someone only to offer an impersonal greeting written by someone else and only a signature to prove you are still living?

Electronic holiday letters save trees and postage. I can create a full color letter with numerous photos and then export it in a pdf format. Simply attach that pdf file to an e-mail and my holiday letters are sent.

Yes, there are still a few people that require printing the letter and applying postage, but I've dropped my mailing from 70 to 10.

The fun part is that the pdf format allows for hyperlinks, so my family only has to click on a hyperlink to go right to my blog or other websites mentioned in the letter. They can see photos of the places and events I'm writing about and even video.

So use the Internet to make your Holiday Greetings a little bit Greener.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Green Holiday Season

Sustainability is the number one politically correct word on everyone's lips, but what does it mean?

Sustainability by definition means living with the resources (food, water and shelter) that are available at your location in a manner that allows those resources to be replenishable so that their use is sustainable over time.

When I look out my office window across the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, there is one thing that obviously comes to mind–this population requires more drinking water than is sustainable for this location. Disregard landscaping, bathing, pools, industry or any other water use, there just isn't enough drinking water here for all these people. It can make you want to throw-up your hands and say, "Forget it. Sustainability isn't possible."

But I just listened in on the White House's Council on Environmental Quality's meeting with representatives from all of the Government agencies covered by President Obama's mandate for GreenGovernment (GreenGov) that was initiated in October 2009. I was pleasantly surprised and heartened. Government employees across all of these agencies were asked what changes they thought would help make their work places more environmentally sustainable. Suggestions were then voted on by the employees themselves. Some of their suggestions are already being implemented to save our tax dollars and reduce the wasting of natural resources. I encourage you to take advantage of this new administration's openness and watch or listen to the meeting yourself on the Council's blog page: Council on Environmental Quality Meeting (

It inspired me to put forth this challenge to all of you.

What can you do to make this a Green Holiday Season?

Post your ideas in the comments or send me an e-mail at I'm challenging myself to post a green idea a day.

As the representative from the Department of Health & Human Services said at the Council meeting, "Success comes from the bottom-up."

So here's my first Green Holiday Action:
I saved time, greenhouse gases and money by using the Internet to find a specific product I was looking for as a gift. After locating the product, I was able to find the best price and purchase the item all on-line. Secondly, I realized this one item was the perfect gift for a number of people on my list. Gifts for 7 people will all be arriving in one small box through the mail.

Sustainability is a difficult goal, but think of it this way:

Your house is never perfectly clean. Cleaning up the kitchen periodically, vacuuming weekly, practicing daily actions that maintain your home environment are all beneficial. If you do nothing your home will soon become unlivable. The Earth is our only home, daily practices, even if small, can make a huge difference.

What will you do today to make a positive difference?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Signs of Autumn

The signs of autumn are different here in California. While snow is falling in some parts of the country, our insects like the preying mantis are still finishing up their life cycles. This female laid her egg mass on a grape vine. She camouflaged it perfectly to give her offspring the best chance at success, because while they over winter, she will not survive the cooling nights.

But autumn is the time of rebirth for our native plants. The hot dry summer is to hard to survive. Native plants take the summer off, going dormant. This is what many people expect for winter, but as the days shorten and the temperatures cool, native plants begin to grow

The ribes or wild currant was covered with dried brown leaves, but autumn growth is bursting out in bright green and pushing aside the old leaves.

Toyon berries are beginning to swell.

Even introduced plants have adjusted to California’s seasons. The bell-shaped blooms on the strawberry tree are popping open.

And the camillia is forming flower buds that will bloom in the middle of our mild California winter.

Migrating birds are traveling through and the Cooper’s hawk, a fast flying aerial predator is hanging around bird feeders. I had a Cooper’s hawk catch a mourning dove in my yard this week. My friend Douglas Welch caught the following video in his yard. It is a great opportunity to compare this fast hawk to your birding books. It is an immature individual which can be tricky to identify.

Check out what is happening in Douglas’ backyard at
A Gardner's Notebook