Tag Archives: Green

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Love in Nature and History

Regarding matters of love, I trust many of our animal friends, especially these sweet roseate spoonbills and other birds that mate for life. Then again, the natural world also features its share of preening and downright aggression — witness the hippo, who sprays his future mate with feces. Lovely!

Valentine’s Day has long taken various cues from nature. Long before the Roman emperor Gelasius, and then the Catholic church, proclaimed February 14th a holy day named for the martyred St. Valentine (who refused to forsake Christianity while in prison and sent love letters signed “from your Valentine” to the jailer’s daughter), the Romans celebrated mid-winter with Lupercalia fertility festivals, in which young Roman males sacrificed goats to Lupercal, the wolf deity, before frolicking in goatskin loincloths and striking young women with goatskin thongs. Geoffrey Chaucer and the poets of the Medieval era linked valentine symbolism to birds, and specifically lovebirds, whom they observed beginning their mating rituals in early spring.

Here are a few fun nature valentine links. Happy Day of Love!

Till Death Do Us Part: Birds that Mate for Life, Audubon Magazine

Love in the Wild: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Flickr Set

Bizarre Animal Mating Rituals, Science Discovery

How Seabirds Send Letters to their Mates, National Wildlife Federation

A Holiday for Real Animals, National Wildlife Federation

Valentine’s Day, a Holiday for the Birds, Audubon Magazine

Why is Love Related to the Heart-Shaped Symbol?, Aphrodite, Hub Pages

Hearts in Nature: A Valentine’s Day Scavenger Hunt, Slow Family Online

How Green is Your Love Life? Sierra Club Quiz

Photos: Roseate Spoonbill Courtship Dance, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, FL, Michael Rosenbaum; Atlantic Puffins (who court in groups), David Ian Roberts; Swans, Unknown; Week-old black-footed ferret kits born at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in WY, Kimberly Tamkun/USFWS; Cardinal Courtship, Howard Cheek; Lovebirds, Unknown; Sea Otters Holding Hands (to prevent drift while sleeping), Joe Mess.

Valentine’s Day history is mostly courtesy of the wonderful The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Seasonal Holidays, Anthony Aveni

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Green Gift Wrapping

With all this attention to green holiday gifts, it seemed time to address the wrapping.

The practice of wrapping gifts in paper began modestly enough, as people around the world utilized cloth, brown paper, even wallpaper, to disguise their gifts. Hallmark is credited with creating the current gift-wrap industry, which earth911 tells us accounts for as much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year. Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the U.S., and the vast majority of that is generated during the holiday season. In addition, they note that the act of recycling wrapping paper presents more challenges than we might think.

Now, the good news: There are lots of alternative wrapping ideas worth exploring, many of which are as creative and fun (some perhaps more so) than traditional wrapping.

Green Wrapping Ideas

Furoshiki — This long-time Japanese practice of wrapping gifts in cloths. Presents are wrapped in lovely fabrics, ranging from traditional Japanese fabrics and designs to silk, cotton and designs that are modern and retro, all of which can be used over and over. The wrappings and decorations themselves can also be quite elaborate and pretty. This method requires no cutting, only wrapping and knotting, so that it is also practical and sturdy. You may have scrap fabric you can wrap with at home. This Furoshiki site has lots of great fabrics to choose from, in a variety of prices, including fabrics by San Francisco design studio, Chewing the Cud.

This video provides a fantastic Furoshiki tutuorial (thank you to Recycle Now). Once you learn this technique, it’s very easy to do. (Click on “Furoshiki gift wrapping”):

Furoshiki gift wrapping from RecycleNow on Vimeo.

The Fabric Society also offers wonderful inspiration, tips and fabric for wrapping with furoshiki.


Clothing – This is really thinking outside the box — why not wrap a present in a fun recycled shirt?

Recycled Paper Items – Fun wrappings can be made from old paper maps, Sunday comic pages, sheet music or tissue sewing patterns. Feeling especially artistic? Decorate paper bags, or easel or other artist paper that you already have on hand. Color, paint, stamp, sticker, create collages from other papers or magazine pictures, dip old cookie cutters in paint to create a unique stamp, or create a decorative paint roller: Glue yarn or string onto a coffee or other can in striped or zig-zag patterns, let dry, paint the string, and roll the wet-painted can onto the paper.

Reusable Bags – If you don’t want to go the wrapping route, there’s still time in this holiday season to buy (or perhaps even make) reusable bags. These fabric bags from Lucky Crow are super-cute and come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. They really solve the problem of wanting to use recyclable wrapping materials, without going the route of a grocery-supplied bag. They work for party favors, too. The Portland, OR-based company also sells its bags in stores. Check their web site for details.

Just as with the wrapping, there’s no need to buy new gift tags. Make your own by cutting rectangles of construction paper and folding them in half. Decorate with paint, stickers, stamps, drawings, glitter, or other items you have on hand. You can also cut up from recycled holiday cards from years past. Tape to the gift or punch a small hole in one corner and tie on with ribbon.

You might also like these Green Holiday Gifts:

Gifts that Help Others
Butterfly Girl Dolls
Homemade Cookies
Root Viewer Garden Kit

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Katorisi, Philip Friedman/Studio D (three photos), Lucky Crow

 

Back to School: Green Sandwich and Snack Bags

 

We picked up into these re-usable sandwich and snack bags from Graze Organic at the Renegade Craft Fair last month in San Francisco, and we’ve been using (and re-using) them ever since. Aside from being so cute and novel that people always comment on them when they come out, they’re made in the U.S. of 100% organic cotton. There’s not even a plastic lining, which is also good. (As a result, they’re not suitable for every food, but sandwiches, whole fruits, dried snacks and more are just fine in them.) As we’re trying to cut down on plastic, they make a fantastic alternative to plastic bags, something that’s harder to find than lunch and other sacks. We hand-wash between uses. You can also machine-wash. A set of 3 bags (sandwich/fruit/surprise or sandwich/veggie/snack) is $24. Graze also makes napkins and these cute, green totes.

Seeking other great green ideas for Back to School?

Red Tricycle has a particularly wonderful list of 10 Eco-Friendly Back to School Essentials for Kids.

I also like this list of 8 Green Back-to-School Products from Sprout Savvy.

Care 2 also offers ideas for Green Back to School.

What are some of yours?

 

Photos: Graze Organic

Slow News Day: Car-Free and Carefree

Two stories recently came out about car-free living. One is from the delightful blog, New Urban Habitat, Abby Quillen’s always wonderful, inspiring and useful collection of stories about living more simply, sustainably, healthfully, and happily. Her piece, Lessons in Car-Free Living, contains a wealth of benefits and tips for getting your own family out of the car for short, simple runs.

This is definitely something we’ve been trying to do more increasingly in my household, and have been having good success. We combine bike riding for short distances with public transportation for longer commutes.

Another fan of public transit turns out to be one of the stars of my favorite TV show, the highly evocative, endlessly dissectible Mad MenVincent Kartheiser, who plays ad executive (and new father) Pete Campbell on the show. He recently revealed to the New York Times his utter joy of taking public transportation in Los Angeles, and using it as an opportunity to relax, study his lines, and commune with his fellow passengers — all enthusiasms I share (usually) when taking my local ferries, buses and trains. Said Kartheiser:

I like that my life slows down when I go places. I have all these interactions with the human race and I can watch people living their life and not just in their car.

He also mentioned a recent consumer study from Learning Resources Network that noted that motorists ages 21-30 generally don’t grant car ownership and driving with the same status that older people do. According to the study, this group favors mass transit for commuting and car sharing services, like Zipcar, for longer trips. It turns out that companies like Hertz are listening — They are expanding car sharing choices, especially in big cities and around college campuses.

At 80 million strong, the article notes that this 20-30 age group represents a very large cohort. According to William Draves, president of Learning Resources Network, “This group views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train.”

That’s how I feel! Productivity and joy far outweigh the convenience of driving my individual car, especially as I happen to enjoy walking (to/from the public transit), too  — and sometimes find driving a bit stressful. (Of course, the area in question has to offer good public transit and city planning for this to equate.)

The article also notes that, in survey after survey, 20-30 year olds say that they believe cars are damaging to the environment. Even hybrid electric vehicles don’t seem to be changing young consumers’ attitudes much.

Yay for the green young people and others who are adapting habits that are good for their own physical and psychological health and that of the planet. This young group, and the one coming up after it, offers plenty of cause for hope.

I’ll also add that, as with many personal choices, there is usually not one that is all good or one that is all bad. I believe everyone needs to make his or her own choices based on what feels right for them. Sometimes, for me, taking the car is the right thing to do. I remain cheered by the general attitudes and consciousness of the people quoted in this article, including the corporations that are following suit by offering alternative rental cars where young people are.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman: Car-Free Sundays, a Summer 2010 New York City program

You might also like: Bike to Work and School Day

Slow Family Receives Green Phone Booth’s One Lovely Blog Award

I just learned that Slow Family Online has been named a recipient of the One Lovely Blog award from The Green Phone Booth. Green Phone Booth is itself a fantastic blog, full of new, useful ideas for living a simpler, greener, more creative, and less consumerist life. Everything on Green Phone Booth is offered up with great humor, practicality, and pretty graphics, making it a real go-to in the world of green blogs.

Thank you, Green Phone Booth, for the award! It’s been fun to learn about the other chosen blogs, and I feel honored to be in their company. I look forward to passing on my own Blog Award, and letting you all know about some lovely blogs I’ve found, in an upcoming post.

Slow News: Discover the Act of Line-Drying Laundry

A couple of weekends ago, my family and I were wandering around the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, when I caught sight of this laundry blowing on a line in the breeze. I found it quite pleasant and mesmerizing to watch, and it got me thinking about the act of line-drying laundry.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2sBJFR_ov4&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0]

Lots of people are re-discovering line drying as a way to use less electricity for the task of drying their clothes. For others, it takes them back to a time when outdoor clotheslines were more common and summers included the sweet, fresh smell of laundry drying  (and, in my husband’s case, the sound of his mom’s wooden clothespins plunking into her metal bucket, as she released her laundry from its line.)

This site offers lots of tips to get the most out of line drying. I like to use a drying rack, to reduce both my electric use and the wear-and-tear on my clothes. Another site, Urban Clothesline, features lots of great drying racks, lines, and other solutions that can be used in a variety of settings, from backyards to apartment bathrooms.

The Project Laundry List site has a wealth of information about the economic and energy savings associated with line drying. It also covers programs, trends and issues, such as the role of homeowner’s association rules concerning practices like outdoor laundry drying. There’s even a laundry history. As much as I like line drying, I am thankful for the invention of the washing machine nearly every time I use mine.

Lastly, if you seek lovely, uniquely scented soap for your wash, Maylee’s Garden offers natural vegan and eco-friendly soap in a variety of great fragrances like Lavender and Cedar, Bergamot and Lemon, and many more.

Resolution for 2010: Spend More Time in Nature

Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

As we leave the holiday season and swing into 2010, I have many resolutions that involve improved health, balance, time with loved ones, and calm. Foremost among them, and the act that can really enhance all of the above, is spending more time in nature.

Richard Louv, Founder and Chairman of the Children & Nature Network, has done a great deal of work linking time spent in nature with great improvements in health, cognition, creativity and well-being. Of course most of us know and experience this — All one needs to do is step outside, take a walk, breathe deeply and look around. Of course there’s a rich, unique experience to be had in the moment, as well, while we’re busy accumulating benefits and filling the well of our own capacity for wonder and awe.

Over the holidays, good friends held a hiking party, which was a superb, healthy, uplifting alternative to an indoor gathering. The weather, which had threatened rain, held out. The spot was the breathtaking Ring Mountain Preserve in Tiburon, CA, which I wrote about when I visited at wildflower time. And the host had prepared (and hiked in!) a veritable feast of holiday foods and hot Toddies and chocolate, which we enjoyed along with great company.

While not every gathering is going to have this confluence of fortune (I’d be hard-pressed to pull off one to this degree), I took with me a great deal of inspiration and creativity as I headed back down the mountain, the smaller kids still running around up top. Sure, why not have an outdoor party when everyone else is indoors? Why not get ourselves and our friends out in nature, to enjoy the bounty of beauty and fun that is so available and so often overlooked? Whether it’s a local park, a short trail, a community garden, or a backyard fortress, nature is somewhere near you and ready to fill the well of awe.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Green Holiday Gift Wrapping

All this talk of green holiday gifts got me thinking about the wrapping. As an admitted packrat, I’m loathe to throw away gift wrapping anyway, especially papers with pretty patterns or textures. And, if opened and stored carefully enough, the paper can usually be reused. (I know there are those who advocate for the joy of tearing open the wrapping. I get it, but I’m just not one of those.)

But there are alternative wrapping ideas worth exploring, and with so many people yearning to reduce, reuse and recycle, there are more options to choose from than ever. If you have a large present, this can also simplify your wrapping efforts, leaving you more time to enjoy other activities than trying to figure out how to stuff a down vest into a box, where to get a big enough roll of wrapping paper to cover it, and how to make the whole thing look festive, instead of formless.

Plus, according to earth911 and other groups, as much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year goes toward packaging, wrapping and decorating goods. Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the U.S., and the vast majority of that is generated during the holiday season.


The Japanese have long been fans of wrapping gifts in cloths known as furoshiki. Presents are wrapped in lovely fabrics, ranging from traditional Japanese fabrics and designs to silk, cotton and designs that are modern and retro, all of which can be used over and over. The wrappings and decorations themselves can also be quite elaborate and pretty. This method requires no cutting, only wrapping and knotting, so that it is also practical and sturdy. You may have scrap fabric you can wrap with at home. This Furoshiki site has lots of great fabrics to choose from, in a variety of prices, including fabrics by San Francisco design studio, Chewing the Cud.

This video provides a fantastic Furoshiki tutuorial (thank you to Recycle Now). Once you learn this technique, it’s very easy to do. (Click on “Furoshiki gift wrapping”):

Furoshiki gift wrapping from RecycleNow on Vimeo.

My friend, Molly, at The Fabric Society, also offers wonderful inspiration, tips and fabric for wrapping with furoshiki. She also recently posted this lovely piece about Slow Textiles in general, which is not to be missed. It really sums up the role fabric plays in our history, sustainability, community and beauty.

If you don’t want to go the wrapping route, there’s still time in this holiday season to buy (or perhaps even make) reusable bags. These fabric bags from Lucky Crow are super-cute and come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. They really solve the problem of wanting to use recyclable wrapping materials, without going the route of a grocery-supplied bag. They work for party favors, too. The Portland, OR-based company also sells its bags in stores. Check their web site for details.

On the paper front, Sunday comics from the newspaper make a colorful, distinct, recycled and recyclable wrapping. Recycled wrapping papers can be found in many stores. Gift tags can be homemade from construction paper and stickers/stamps/drawings, or from recycled holiday cards from years past — if you’re a packrat (I mean recycler) like me, you’ll have those on hand.

Photos: Kelvin Kay, Katorisi, Lucky Crow

Slow News Day: San Francisco Passes Ambitious Recycling & Sustainable Food Laws

Real_Compost2

San Franciscans, you could be forgiven if you’ve been out playing in our unusually beautiful weather and missed a couple of developments that contribute to San Francisco being one of the greenest cities in the country.

Late last month, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced and signed the nation’s first mandatory composting law and what is probably its most comprehensive recycling law.

According to Mayor Newsom, San Francisco is already keeping 72 percent of recyclable material out of our landfill. The city has a Zero Waste goal.

The Huffington Post ran a very good piece on the program and the announcement.

The sfenvironment site is an excellent resource for information about the city’s green programs and ways you can be involved.

If that wasn’t enough, a few days ago, Mayor Newsom issued a multi-pronged Executive Directive that aims to get San Franciscans even closer to complete sustainability in the areas of producing and consuming local, nutritious food, and doing so in a way that limits the impact on the environment, while meeting the needs of the most vulnerable San Franciscans.

Mayor Newsom announced the Directive at Oakland’s non-profit City Slicker Farms, which itself was converted from a former junkyard. San Francisco’s plan calls for similar re-use of land.

The Civil Eats blog has this very thorough story.

Another piece on the Directive appears in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I’m sure lots of other cities are creating initiatives to promote greener, more sustainable practices. If you come across any Slow News in your city or town, please send it my way.

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