21 December 2012

Christmas: small practical steps

We have taken quite a few small steps towards a more sustainable Christmas.

Many many online sites tell me that Australians use 4000 tonnes ('25,000 trees') of wrapping paper each Christmas, although I have not been able to find the actual source of this figure, so the historian in me is tentative about it. This year I have wrapped presents either in fabric pieces and ribbons from my sewing box or decorated brown paper wrap that Eva, along with other children from our church, was involved in preparing. The kids sold it to raise money for TEAR.

I am inspired by the Buy Nothing Christmas movement, but don't want to be quite that disciplined. Our gift giving is small scale: one present each in our household and one for each of Eva's cousins we will actually see (three, this year), and then only if we think of something the recipient will really want. Better to buy something next May that they really want than give them something now just to fill a place under the tree. And no present for the baby: he doesn't need anything, and he doesn't care. Our gifts have little or no packaging (most are books). I didn't blog about gifts back at Eva's birthday, but for that round we purchased Duplo second-hand from Ebay and, among many thoughtful gifts, were particularly thrilled with the play stove made entirely of recycled materials Eva received from her aunt and uncle.

I also liked the sustainable gift ideas posted recently by Tricia at Little Eco Footprints and was inspired to make playdough for a recent three-year-old birthday party Eva attended.
Card by Eva; ribbons cut from some garments that don't need shoulder loops

Because it us super easy and quick, here is my mum's playdough recipe:

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar (the magic that stops it going sticky)
food colouring
disinfectant (we use tea tree oil, a hearty dollop)

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan. Stir over heat for about 3 minutes, until it starts to stick. Knead out, with more flour or oil if necessary. Store when cool in an airtight container. Lasts for months and months. Extra oil can restore it if it dries out.

Our Christmas tree is a live potted Australian native - Adenanthos sericeus (Albany Woolly Bush) - a gift from Grandma and Grandad (thank you!). We hope to keep it alive for years to come, although we are not extremely successful gardeners. We also have several large woolly bushes in our garden and have in past years made a tree out of prunings from these.
Live trees are not without sustainability issues, but they score better on production, transport and waste concerns.
Our decorations are the same each year. This is how I grew up and it was only in recent years that I discovered people actually buy new decorations each year. I remain baffled at this trend.
Eva and her grandparents also shared making some of our decorations together. Hopefully this is one more activity that will help her understand her own resourcefulness and that she doesn't need to go to a shop and buy something for every occasion.

We are not buying or sending Christmas cards. In fact we rarely buy cards all year, and certainly not if we will be saying nothing personal inside them. I struggle to understand the practice of buying cards with a standardised preprinted greeting and then only inscribing a name above and below the preprint. When a card is warranted Eva makes it for me and I try to make sure the words inside say something about why the recipient is of value to me.

We also don't tend to receive many Christmas cards, so it seems we have something of a 'don't send me a card' vibe about us. Either that or our friends don't really like us ;-)

It probably goes without saying that we are not running Christmas lights all over the outside of our house!

Estimates say we will throw away around 35% of the roughly $10 billion of Christmas food purchased this year. We are bringing the meat for Tyson's family Christmas lunch and have ordered it from  our local corner butcher, which stocks free range and local meats, and fits with my ethos of supporting small local businesses where possible. We have attempted to order an amount we will actually eat, to minimise waste, and will be keeping and re-using any leftovers. The local butcher is more expensive than a supermarket and I am OK with that. 

Its forecast to be 40 degrees (C - thats 104F) here on Christmas day. We won't be at home much on the day and intend  to close the house up early with nothing running. From the hum in the air on hot days it seems many around us choose to leave an aircon going while they are out. If you are celebrating somewhere hot by all means run air cooling where you are gathered (we will be!) but let one aircon serve several gathered families - don't cool homes unless you are actually in them.

And as I wrote yesterday, I'm also trying to change the way we talk about our seasonal celebrations.

Just in case you are left thinking that we are miserable scrooges about Christmas, here are a few pics from our annual Christmas Baking Day, held last weekend, when we revelled in luscious, delicious, gourmet goodies and an abundance of good time shared together, before giving most of the produce away.

two thirds of this year's produce - four more bowls to come

May your celebrations be joyful, your footprint light, and your vision into 2013 hopeful.


Instructions for gift wrapping with fabric

Sustainable Christmas ideas with a few more statistics on what we use and waste in Australia at Christmas: http://www.veolia.com.au/news-media/blog/another-christmas-gone-to-waste  

Planet Ark '12 dos of Christmas' and Festive Season Green Guide - the latter is probably the best and most comprehensive link if you only have time for one.

Someone else's blog post of green Christmas ideas

20 December 2012

Christmas: changing the questions

I struggle with Christmas. For me there are two completely separate festivals, both called 'Christmas' and celebrated on 25 December. 

One is a religious celebration of God sharing God's love by coming into humanity as one of us. This phenomenal miracle is profoundly significant to me and is, in my opinion, appropriately celebrated with prayer, reflection, community gatherings of praise and wonder, story, song and attention to the poor - those for whom God consistently shows the highest regard.

The other festival is a secular celebration of family, friendship and community (although many without family to share with feel the friendship and community aspects are not really celebrated by the majority, and as a result if is often a time of isolation and exclusion). It is celebrated with gift giving, eating and sharing time with loved ones. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a festival I don't feel very connected with. However, as it is a major festival of my culture and my families, I participate. I attempt to do so with good grace. I have a three-year old: I do not want to teach her to say bah humbug just yet.

The place of conspicuous consumption in the celebration of Christmas is disturbing to me for many reasons, not least because it appears contrary to the essence of the religious festival that it runs alongside, and is in my mind evidence of a deep spiritual malaise inherent in western culture. However, in the context of this blog my concerns are around its impact on our earth.

There are lots of practical ways to reduce your Christmas footprint, and I intend to write a separate post about some of the things we are doing here. The thing I am particularly committing to this year, though, is changing the questions I ask children (and others) about their Christmas celebrations.

The questions we ask teach others what we value. The most common Christmas question is What did you get for Christmas? I think this teaches children that we value hoarding stuff, even if in other ways we try to teach them other attitudes. This year I will be trying to not ask this question at all. Instead I will be asking:

Who did you spend time with this Christmas? What did you do together?

What was your favourite present you gave to someone this year?

What stories did you hear told at Christmas?

What did you notice that was beautiful?

And when the inevitable discussion of loot gathered arises: Who gave you [item under discussion]? What is your favourite thing about that person?

This takes no time and costs nothing. I am hopeful its impact is as one of the many feather strokes that form the character of my and others' children.

05 December 2012

Recommiting ready for summer

This is the time of year when a number of our water and energy saving measures need to be reinstated for summer. Doing so involves a recommitment to these actions and, for some, a small degree of maintenance.

So our 'action' for November was not a new action but a recommitment to many previous actions, and in some ways it was the hardest 'action' I have committed to in the three and a half years we have been doing this. Here we go again. Does it never end?? I think life at home with two small children may be shaping that reaction! It is more difficult also, in my experience, to do something again, when it is no longer new and interesting. This is particularly so when it is restarting something that I have failed to continue on with as I originally intended.

After a week of that summer heat smell in the air it was time for Tyson to unroll shadecloths around the house. 

So far we have no new ones this year, but are reinstating all of those from previous years.

One of those along the driveway remains furled as it broke its moorings in winter storms and needs a more permanent hook attached to the bricks to keep it secure. The shock cord for another had also worn through and the rear courtyard shade is definitely not still using the original ocky straps from six summers ago! Overall, though, the shades and their fastenings are holding up well.

The grey water wheelie bin has been brought back into service. I discovered that I cannot get it over the laundry threshold (or if I do I spill quite a lot in the effort) so Tyson sourced some grey water hose to create an extension out the door ($20 for ten metres).

The door obviously doesn't lock like this, but a chock to stop it sliding open any further makes us reasonably confident to leave the washing machine running with its outlet pipe through the back door when we go out.

The original tap connection on the bin had also given us grief last summer, periodically leaking or unwinding itself and falling off, so Tyson purchased a new tank outlet connector (about $8). 

This required sanding the hole for the pipe slightly larger to make it fit, but so far has been a very successful adaptation. The hose we attach to the tap got little holes drilled along it some time last summer to create a drip system for better coverage.

We also put the tubs back into our shower and have grey water on hand again for toilet flushing. This stopped not on account of winter bringing rain, but because somewhere midyear, in late pregnancy, a string of minor ailments over three months had me desperate to change anything that might be contributing and grey water standing uncovered in our bathroom seemed a potential source of winter sniffles. And then we had a baby and I couldn't be bothered with even the small additional effort of gathering and flushing grey water.

The basin in our kitchen sink comes and goes. We are making another attempt at it this summer. Periodically we get fed up with it not getting emptied outside, or getting too dirty, and it is abandoned. Hence it was definitely one of the actions for me that was a recommit, not a routine, as we approach summer.

Costs and times for these actions are detailed in the links above to where I wrote about them originally. Aside from fifteen minutes here or there for maintenance, recommitting doesn't add more time than the original commitment. 

It is much easier, though, to continue with actions that are simply ongoing than to pick up these summer-oriented actions at the end of spring each year. Part of me is tired and thinks oh lets just water with a hose/ flush the toilet/ blast the aircon like everyone else. It was 37 degrees here yesterday (Celsius - that's 100 degrees Fahrenheit, for you in other lands - what some here refer to as 'the old hundred') and the heat made me grumpy. I am home full time with a three year old and a four month old. I get grumpy plenty quick enough all on my own - I don't need any extra grumpifiers! But then... the house kept quite cool most of the day, and when we eventually turned the aircon on (we are not ascetics, after all) I was still grumpy about the heat, so I might as well be sustainable and grumpy. When I look at my reaction, it is being trapped inside that bothers me, and aircon or passive cooling both have that same result. Its grey and raining today... some respite for me to think creatively about ways to get outside as much as possible through summer so I don't get that terrible trapped feeling. Any ideas?

What are you needing to recommit to at present?