Green for the holidays

When Lucy Whitridge decides what to give as Christmas gifts, the more handmade they are, the better. She has given bath salts, lip balm and knitted hats and scarves. After she learned to knit, she learned to spin wool and she dreams about owning a sheep to get wool straight from the source.

"I like being able to make everything by hand and know what's in it," she said. "I always like to get at the root of things and not just go out and buy them."

But being green around the holidays can be a lot easier than buying a sheep. A little extra thought can give holidays a great green boost.

Whitridge, an Americorps member working at the North Mountain Park Nature Center, helped lead a recent workshop to help people make environmentally friendly holiday nature gifts. The simple crafts, such as origami gift boxes made from old wall calendars and silk eye pillows filled with rice and lavender are easy ways to protect the earth and the budget, she said.

Kiova Staley brought her 9-year-old daughter Makayla to make gifts for her grandparents instead of buying them.

"They'd much rather get something handmade from the kids," she said. "It's definitely economical and environmental at the same time."

Staley grew up with store-bought gifts wrapped in shiny paper, but she wants to pass on a greener mindset to her two children.

The family decorates their Christmas tree with popcorn garlands and wraps gifts with reusable fabric. Instead of traveling, they focus on spending quality time together.

Michelle Grace and John Eisman, a couple who attended the workshop, bought LED lights this year, which save up to 90 percent of the energy used by the traditional incandescent holiday lights according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Grace and Eisman try to give handcrafted gifts, turn their Christmas tree into kindling for their wood stove, recycle their gift boxes and buy high-quality bows and ribbons so people will want to reuse them. Next year, they hope to buy a tree that can be planted outdoors, they said.

Celebrating with a small eco-footprint isn't as much effort as it may seem, they said.

"I think a lot of it is knowledge," Eisman said. "People don't know what all they could use."

Changing traditions

Sometimes making green changes takes reexamining holiday habits and everyday routines, such as bringing food to community gatherings in reusable containers, buying carbon offsets for travel, or simply preparing less food and using less hot water, said Jim McGinnis, who works for the U.S. Forest Service on the sustainable operations project management team and was trained by The Climate Project created by Al Gore to make presentations on climate change.

McGinnis also walks and rides his bike as much as possible, and suggested families take advantage of a vacation to explore the city in a new way.

"I encourage everybody to either catch a bus or walk downtown just once during the season, just to get a feel for where they live," he said. "There's so many ways to get there. You don't have to walk down the boulevard if you live on the south end of town."

Holiday changes can be hard to make when they involve cherished traditions, however. Last year, McGinnis' family decorated a tree outside rather than cutting one down and drag it inside. This year, his 7-year-old daughter begged for the return of the indoor tree.

"That's the biggest challenge," he said, admitting he "succumbed" to her request. "I'm not going to be a dictator completely on things every year, but ultimately it's her world. She's going to inherit this world, and probably the most important thing is for her to understand the implication of choices we make now."

Other changes are easier to make, such as being creative with wrapping paper or e-mailing cards to far-flung relatives. McGinnis has saved years of his children's artwork to wrap gifts in, and he designs his own cards with desktop publishing software that recipients can then use as a screensaver on their computers, he said.

Greenest gifts

When giving gifts, even environmentally friendly ideas can be improved upon to create as little waste as possible.

Risa Buck, waste reduction educator with Ashland Sanitary, suggested making a donation to charity in the recipient's name, gift certificates for necessities such as food or a gift of time, such as 10 hours of babysitting or a back massage.

She likes Heifer International, a group that gives farm animals to the rural poor, or the Seva Foundation, which also supports the third world poor, because they send cards as proof of donation so the recipient isn't left empty-handed at a gift exchange.

"If we stay away from stuff, then it's not going to be something we need to get rid of later," she said. "It takes more time to really think about what that person would really like and what they would really use."

For children who expect gifts, used is a great way to go, said Cate Jennings, owner of the consignment shop Earth Friendly Kids.

"Certainly the toy onslaught that children experience is only new for a second," she said. "Buying a toy that's already been played with can be wrapped up and presented nicely. The box is only there for a second. Children can get used to not having boxes."

Jennings sells used clothing, books and toys for one-quarter to one-third of their original prices to people from all walks of life, from lawyers and doctors to stay-at-home moms. Nearly 3,000 people bring in items to resell, she said.

"Our consigners generally consign here and shop here," she said. "Very few of them take the money and run."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or

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