Friday, December 11, 2009

reflection on busyness

The end of one holiday, grades coming due, another important holiday coming, more responsibilities and shortened daytime hours have left me feeling like I need to have my soul recharged a bit. The plan... go to the woods.

My favorite poet, Mary Oliver describes how I feel perfectly:

The Old Poets of China

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
If offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

thinking about "stuff"

Yesterday, my YES magazine came in the mail with an issue dedicated to environmental impact. I love that the magazine arrived at the same time I am thinking about the consumerist side of one of my favorite holidays. I love many things about Christmas: the family gatherings, the food, the magic of the nativity story and Santa, the singing of carols, the tree and its trimmings, but I am turned off by the focus on shopping as a way to celebrate.

There is an article in YES by Annie Leonard who made The Story of Stuff, a short, web-based film that explores the social and environmental costs of consumerism. I show this this film to my Environmental Science students and for some of them it is the first time they have looked at consumerism with a critical lens and it changes them. Parents talk about it when I meet them on open house night and some teachers in more conservative parts of the country have gotten in trouble for showing it, so it must be good!

So, as I think about the shopping and celebrating we are going to do for Christmas, I am thinking of ways to increase the meaning and decrease the eco-footprint of our holiday season. I am thinking of the craftiness of Nan's family in making homemade gifts and the thriftiness of Katie's family in re-purposing everything. They both inspire me!

So, here are my ideas for a greener Christmas that is rich in fun and celebration:
  • Give gifts that are edible or otherwise consumable (a yoga class, massage, etc)
  • For holiday parties or family gatherings, use a grab bag (one gift per person) or white elephant gifts for everyone. To really minimize impact, have the gifts be items people already own brought from home. These gift exchanges usually end up being very funny and much less pressure for the people buying the gifts. This year we will try this for the cousins.
  • Buy gifts that are homemade by local people or make gifts yourself. Since I have very limited crafting abilities, some of my past gifts have included a cookbook of my recipes or calendars made with family photos for the grandmas.
  • Cultivate family traditions that don't revolve around gifts: three of my favorites are singing carols as part of nightly story time every night in December, visiting Santaland at Macy's on 34th Street (its free!!) and and having my husband's family over on Christmas day.
  • Recycle gift wrap(or make your own out of stamped brown paper bags) and bows. Or you could use newspaper to wrap gifts. I did this for a few years and my parents don't let me forget it.
  • Make your own gift tags out of recycled holiday cards (I got this idea from Nan).
  • Donate old, unused toys to charity or hand them down to family and friends.
  • Find gifts at thrift shops, on or Craig's list
  • Limit gifts to items that are meaningful and well-made.
I think the most important thing to remember is to only do things that you find meaningful. Changes in consumption habits should make you feel freer, less burdened and more creative.