Christmas – 10 Green Gifts for You and Planet Earth

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribon and Bow

Living lightly on Earth and keeping it habitable is the best gift we can give the people we love. Try these green Christmas gift ideas or come up with your own.

Christmas is a season for giving, connecting with people, and having fun. These are also important aspects of environmentalism so why not combine them into a green Christmas. A gift can be an actual thing or it can be an action.

Green gifts for you and planet Earth is not an idea restricted to people who celebrate Christmas. Feel free to insert you own holiday wherever the word Christmas appears. You probably already realized this, but just in case, green gifting is perfect for any season or occasion.

Bring Your Own Bottle

If you have not kicked the bottled water habit yet, take this opportunity to do so. Buy yourself and everyone on your Christmas list a reusable water bottle or water filtering pitcher.

Chill with a Child

Select a book with an environmental or nature theme and read it with your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or kids from the neighborhood. The great thing about books is that they are reusable and can be re-gifted indefinitely. If you are not into buying a book, checking out a book at the local library is free and a librarian can help you find just the right book for your kids.

Three of my many favorites are The Lorax, So You Want to Grow a Taco, and Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them.

Delightful Dinners

Surely, you know at least one coworker, friend, or family member who would be delighted to receive a home cooked meal she or he can pop in the oven or microwave or just eat after coming home from a hectic day of work, shopping, or volunteering. Give yourself extra credit for providing everything in reusable containers.

Happy Holidays

Say hi, hello, or happy holidays to people hurrying by you in the store parking lot, to the harried looking clerk at the checkout counter, or to the technical service rep just before he or she transfers you to another department instead of fixing your problem.

There is no downside to showing a little kindness.

Labor of Love

Consider giving the gift or your labor. Installing a low-flow showerhead, squirting caulking around drafty window frames, or spreading wood chips in the garden are all things that someone might appreciate you doing.

If you are mechanically inclined or tech savvy, friends or family members struggling to assemble a gift for someone else or trying to set up a social media account will appreciate you coming to the rescue.

Make Mondays Meatless

You may not realize it but eating meat has a substantial negative impact on the environment and of course on the animals that are raised and killed for their meat. Give yourself, your family, and the planet a gift by eating vegetarian meals on Mondays or any other day of the week you choose.

Second Time Around

The most earth-friendly gift you can give someone is something that is not new. Making any product entails using resources, energy, and creating waste. Using things as long as possible reduces the need for making new products or at least it would if we gave more things a second life.

Granted, a computer from 1998 is probably not a good item to give. A set of vintage mixing bowls, a gently worn flannel shirt, or a slightly used board game (with all the pieces) might be just the thing for your green gift recipient.

As appealing as it might be to use this as a time to get rid of your old stuff, think twice and be mindful of why you are giving what to whom.

Smile at Someone

There is nothing more disarming than a smile and smiling lifts your own mood too. Try it on your stressed out boss who is freaking out about year-end sales, or the airline check-in attendant who just told you only center seats are available for your 4-hour flight, or the harried restaurant server who forgot part of your order.

Warm Up

During the winter, it seems like no matter how high you crank the heat the house never warms up to where you can walk around in a t-shirt. So help your loved ones warm up with gifts like scarves, sweaters, fingerless mittens, shawls, and slippers. I am a fan of throws those small blankets that are around 50” x 70” that you can wrap around your shoulders, tuck over your lap, or even cover yourself up with to take a nap.

Extra credit if the warm up item was previously worn or used or if it is made from a sustainable material like wool.

Walk on the Wild Side

Give yourself a gift by taking a break from your crazy schedule to enjoy a walk in the wilderness. If you can visit a state or national park fantastic, however, a neighborhood park, schoolyard, or your own garden will work, too.

Observe and listen. Getting to know the other living beings in nature besides people is important as we are all on this planet together.

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” —Dr. Seuss

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What Good is a Rain Barrel during a Drought?

A rain barrel is useless when there is no rain—or is it? With a little ingenuity, you can keep your rain barrel full without rain. Your plants will thank you.

climbing-rosebush-watered-via-bucket-during-drought
This climbing rosebush planted over 25 years ago by the original homeowners is still going strong after 4 years of being watered via bucket.

I believe people have a natural affinity for living green things. We need trees, plants, and flowers physically for oxygen and food and spiritually for beauty and connectedness to the rest of nature.

In our sparsely forested and wild yard, we have a small collection of potted plants, a few drought-resistant bushes, and a decades-old climbing rosebush. To me this is beautiful.

When drought and water restrictions hit our town, we either had to let everything growing in our yard survive on what little rain fell or supplement it with water that did not come from an outdoor hose. We turned to untapped (pun intended) sources of water inside our house. Hint, the solution involves buckets.

The Bucket Brigade

As an environmentalist and resident of a drought-stricken town, I am willing to do things to save water but jumping into a freezing cold shower is not one of them. Now, I keep a plastic bucket in my shower and collect the first 30-seconds or so of water while it warms up. I put the bucket on the floor outside the shower and get in. On especially cold days, a smaller vessel is handy for collecting water while waiting to wash my hands or face.

I am amazed at the amount of water we used to let run down our drains before implementing the bucket brigade. It is also surprising what you can keep alive with a few buckets of water.

I used to carry my shower bucket downstairs, out the door, and dump it on one of our outdoor plants in an informal rotation. Then I bought a rain barrel.

Our House Gets a Rain Barrel

It seemed silly to get a rain barrel when we hardly ever have rain. Then it struck me that we could fill up a rain barrel with the bucket brigade during the dry months and then with rain if it ever rains. Now we can collect water daily and disburse it periodically.

Shopping for a Rain Barrel

Usually, I do a fair amount of research before embarking on a new project or buying equipment. The day I bought the rain barrel, my son and I drove into the “big city” and I walked into a home improvement store with no idea what was available or what I wanted. I figured there would be a wide selection for thrifty water collectors in our dehydrated region. Shockingly, there was only one model. It was an ugly Grecian urn-looking thing made out of black plastic. I measured it and fortunately, it was too wide to fit in the space by our garage so rejecting it was easy.

With little hope of success, we drove over to the only other home improvement store in the area. This store had an expansive selection, which included two models. The rain barrels were stuck way in the back of the garden section behind a bunch of stuff and covered in dust and a few cobwebs. One of the units was a 50-gallon plastic wood barrel lookalike with a flat back (to fit against a wall). I liked it and after measuring it determined it would fit in the allotted space.

I paid for the rain barrel while a store clerk manhandled it out of the corner. My son loaded it in the car and we headed home.

Installing a Rain Barrel

Installing a rain barrel is relatively easy if you have a hacksaw and a handy person like my spouse to do it. You saw off a portion of the rain gutter drainpipe, put the barrel in place, refit the curvy bit of drainpipe on the end, screw in the spigot, attach a hose if you want, and put the debris screen on the top. Our driveway is a little uneven, so we put a few pieces of metal under part of the bottom edge as a shim.

Some people choose to buy a water barrel stand or put it on top of a couple of concrete blocks to make accessing the spigot or filling up a bucket easier. I did not think of this until we got home. See if I had done my homework ahead of time, I would have thought about the possibility of needing a stand. Fortunately, we have a little pump I can use if I need it.

Filling a Rain Barrel

The first time I carried a bucket of shower water down the stairs and dumped it in the rain barrel, about half of it sloshed out over the barrel. After another couple of tries, I now have the hang of how to pour so the water actually goes in the barrel. Besides saving water, daily trips from the shower to the rain barrel allow me to get in an extra four flights of stairs a day. It is good exercise.

We are keeping our yard alive with a few buckets, a barrel, and a little creative thinking. Whenever I look outside and see our little bit of greenery, I feel pleasure and a sense of accomplishment.

I can hear the rosebush singing.

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California Drought – You Cannot Drink Denial

Shasta Lake, CA on February 25, 2016 - Photo Florence Low, CA DWR
Shasta Lake, CA after El Niño Rains on February 25, 2016 – Photo Florence Low, CA Department of Water Resources

If you live in a parched place like California, conserving water should be routine by now. If it is not, stop living in denial and start saving water today.

California is in its 5th year of drought. Watching the news, reading the paper, or surfing the web you cannot help but learn about drastically low reservoir levels, the worst snowpack in history, and wells running dry at an alarming rate.

Sure, overall, California households have reduced water use in the last several years, but as soon as we get a little rain, water use goes up even though a severe drought still exists.

California Household Average Water Use Per Person Per Day

  • July 2016 – 113.5 gallons
  • July 2015 – 98.1 gallons
  • July 2014 – 132.9 gallons
  • July 2013 – 142 gallons

Green lawns abound and water continues to flow freely from faucets. It is as if some people believe politicians and government agencies are going to fix it somehow—so they do not need to change their behavior.

My Webster’s Dictionary defines denial as, “an unconscious thought process whereby one allays anxiety by refusing to acknowledge the existence of certain unpleasant aspects of external reality.”

When you turn on the tap and nothing comes out, it will be too late to start conserving water. Protect the place you live and your family by facing the drought head on and starting to reduce your water use today. Begin with the low-hanging fruit, like installing low-flow showerheads and then move on to the difficult stuff like ripping out your thirsty turf grass lawn.

Make Conserving Water at Home a Habit

Our small town on the California Central Coast is entering year 4 of stage 3 (the highest) mandatory water conservation measures. At one point a couple of years ago, the water district feared our wells might run dry. Fortunately, that has not occurred…so far. This is due mostly to residents and businesses making a huge effort to conserve water. For instance, our town’s overall water usage in July 2016 was down 41% from July 2013.

In our household, we have not always been water wise, but we have been taking the drought seriously for several years. Since moving here 9 years ago, we have reduced our overall water use by 65%. We currently use about 25 gallons of water per person per day.

Conserving water is a habit, part of our daily routine. For instance, for me, catching the first 30 seconds of cold shower water in a bucket for later reuse is automatic, like brushing my teeth twice a day.

I am not saying we are paragons of water conservation, but we do know a thing or two about it. Perhaps one or more of our water savings solutions will work for your household.

Fully Loaded

Standard kitchen faucets pump out 2 gallons of water or more per minute so if you think hand washing dishes saves water, think again. Fully load your dishwasher and then run it.

One habit I had to break was sorting laundry into numerous piles and then washing them. Most fabrics today do not require special handling so now I load up the washer for each cycle.

Shower Savings

A standard showerhead flows at 2.5 gallons per minute or more. If you take a 10-minute shower with the water running, you can easily use 25 gallons of water. Filling up a standard bathtub uses a whopping 35-50 gallons of water.

We equipped our showers with low flow showerheads with trickle or turn off valves. I am not even remotely handy, yet I installed one of the showerheads myself so you probably can, too.

To Flush or Not to Flush

Toilets are the number one water hogs in the house, consuming about 27% of indoor household water. Older toilets use 3-5 gallons per flush and newer models still use 1.6 gallons. Millions of old toilets have slow leaks.

When water wells in our town were dangerously low, we implemented the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” method. That was effective, but we decided to replace our old toilets with dual flush high-efficiency toilets that use 0.9 or 1.2 gallons of water per flush. We saw a huge drop in our water usage.

Drought Resistant Yard

Lawns and landscaping can suck up anywhere from 30-70% of your household water usage. Lawns cause pollution, too, from fertilizer, weed killer, and pesticide runoff.

Fortunately, our yard is mostly wild with no turf grass (we did have front and back lawns in Southern California). Plants in our yard must be able to survive on a tiny amount of rainfall or an occasional drink from the various buckets we keep in our sinks and showers.

I acknowledge that removing a lawn is a difficult and expensive endeavor, especially if you include the cost of what you put in instead of grass. If you are not ready to tackle your lawn, implementing one or more of the suggestions above will at least set you on the path to reducing your water footprint.

Share your water saving story with other readers.

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