Ten years ago (yikes!) I had an internship after my sophomore year at MSU with the Petoskey News-Review "up north" in Petoskey, Mich. I lived in Central Lake for the summer and commuted about 45 minutes each morning, with the sunrise over the bay to my left.
My friend Beth, who I first bonded with in the parking lot on my second day of work -- when a deer crashed into our newsroom and the police ordered us out of the building -- contacted me a few weeks ago to ask if my coffee cozies could be included in the paper's holiday "green" gift guide story. Of course, I said yes!
Look for us toward the bottom...
By Beth Anne Piehl
Special Sections Writer
The first day of Christmas, a partridge in a pear tree.
If only they would’ve stopped there.
The 2008 holiday season is a chance to get back to basics, give green gifts that take into consideration our generous but delicate environment, use of sustainable materials and the ability to make eco-friendly choices that can endure the year through.
And retailers are making it easy to “go green” this holiday season – all you need to do is ask.
“Some customers are asking for ‘green’ products, and some are just impressed when you tell them about a particular product’s green-ness,” said Jennifer Shorter, of Grandpa Shorter’s Inc. downtown Petoskey. “One woman was in last week and her family had decided on having a green Christmas. All gifts had to be either made from recycled materials or purchased second-hand. She bought recycled wool mittens for the girls on her list. She was excited because they were also Michigan made.”
The ideas in any Green Gift Guide are innumerable: bikes, organic foods and wines, fair trade coffee, recycled and recyclable materials, nontoxic cleaning supplies and toys, etc.
Sommer Poquette, a Petoskey mom and expert in the area of green living, as the founder of Green and Clean Mom (www.greenandcleanmom.org), said starting with the wrapping and packaging is a gift itself.
“If somebody is looking to green their Christmas holiday, I would suggest people look for things that have very little packaging,” Poquette said. “That’s extremely wasteful.”
Parents can encourage their kids to reuse by wrapping gifts in newspaper and having children decorate with sponge paint or stickers. “Why give someone a green gift and then give it to them in something that isn’t ‘green?’ That’s just silly,” she said.
Shopping locally and eliminating further packaging is another conscientious step for parents and gift-givers to take, Poquette offered. And don’t take for granted that all toys are safe; she advises parents to be on the lookout still for lead paint, and suggests that wooden toys are a better choice.
“Think about it as parents – how many toys do your kids need? A few quality toys that are nontoxic and aren’t just going to end up in a landfill can go from generation to generation,” Poquette said.
Poquette’s reservoir of ideas runs deep. She suggests:
- Make homemade “play-dough” for kids and package it in reusable containers.
- For skin care products, make sure they’re Parabin-free and packaged in recycled bottles.
- Support fair trade producers whenever possible. The Grain Train in Petoskey, for instance, sells fair-trade chocolate. A gift basket of fair trade goodies –chocolate, nuts, coffee, etc. – and organic wine, packaged in a reusable gift basket, makes a great present.
- Buy local whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating shipping and packaging. Buying candy that’s not packaged in plastic, such as at Symon’s General Store and Kilwin’s, is the best route.
- Give a green cleaning starter-kit. Fill a tin bucket with plastic squirt bottles, vinegar and baking soda, and buy “green cleaning” books at a local bookstore like Horizon or McLean & Eakin. “Put in some microfiber cleaning cloths and there’s your eco-friendly gift,” Poquette said. “That’s cheap – it’s cheap for you and for the person receiving it, because they’re not going to have to buy cleaning supplies for awhile. All they have to do is add water.”
(Microfiber cleaning cloths are available at the Grain Train, Meyer Ace Hardware and online; an online service, www.skoycloth.com, can have a supply regularly delivered to a person’s door, with one cloth replacing 15 rolls of paper towels.)
- After a recent scan of local shops, Poquette also noted eco-friendly baby shoes, Isa Booties, at Parkside North, and organic stuffed animals and fashionable reusable shopping totes at Cutler’s.
- Grandpa Shorter’s carries books on living and decorating green; mittens, hats and scarves made from recycled wool sweaters; and purses, laptop bags, CD holders and totes made from recycled billboards.
For the health of it
One of the ultimate ways, of course, to green up anyone’s life is to reduce the dependence on fuel; not to mention, a way to save a few bucks.
In the small communities around Northern Michigan, biking to and from work, shopping, and leisure riding is both convenient and feasible, making giving the gift of pedal power another green idea for ’08.
“In recent years, using bicycles as a form of transportation has become more popular, partially as a result of cyclists’ desire to be kinder to the environment, but more significantly as a low-cost way to get around,” said Christian Janssens, owner of Latitude 45 bicycle shop in Petoskey. “... Cut out the local car trips and you will make a significant impact on the environment by reducing automotive carbon emissions.”
Giving someone the gift of time to exercise is an added benefit. “By taking a little more time to transport yourself to and from work and choosing to use a bicycle, you will get a great daily workout doing something that you would have to do anyway,” he said.
When buying a bike for a gift, consider:
-- There are some great bicycles available that are fully equipped to allow adults to start riding their bike for transportation, such as the Transend DX from Giant Bicycles.
-- When selecting the right bike for a child it is critical to make certain that the bike is not too big for them and thus unsafe, but not so small that they will outgrow it in 6 months. Other key features to consider when buying the right bike for your child are training wheels, the type of braking system (coaster brake or hand brake), whether the bike has gears or is a single speed, and the color. Giant Bicycles has a selection of kids’ bikes, with one of the more popular models being the MTX125, a 7-speed, light-weight aluminum bicycle with hand brakes.
-- For BMX kids’ bikes, the Eastern Traildigger is a popular option with quality parts at a good value.
-- What about price? At a professional bicycle store, where all bike purchase prices include certified assembly, free professional fitting and follow-up service support, plus extensive warranties, prices range from $110 for a 12-inch kid’s modelup to thousands for a super light-weight road bike. Most adult bikes sold range in price from $300 to $1,500.
Knitting the world into a cozier place
Kirsten Buys, an (Ionia) native who worked for the Petoskey News-Review in the summer of 1998, continues her reporting duties at a downstate newspaper by day and spends her free time knitting unique scarves, coffee cozies and other wearable products from a line of plant-based fiber materials.
She started her own business, La Femme Monkita (www.lafemmemonkita.etsy.com) in 2007 and was invited earlier this month to show her creations at the Detroit Urban Craft Fair. Her collection includes scarves, scarflettes, blankets, wraps, shawls, baby blankets, coffee cozies and ice cream pint cozies.
While Buys does create items made from wool, mohair and blends of wool with other plant-based fibers, she also offer items made from “vegan” yarn -- yarn that is made solely from plant fibers or is synthetic (“which is washable and nice and soft and warm, so most people like that too,” she adds.)
Her coffee cozies were born from her environmental consciousness. “The idea is to technically ‘save a tree,’ or at least a branch, by refusing the cardboard cozy they give you with your order,” Buys said. “So, it only made sense for me to make them out of an environmentally friendly yarn. My favorite is this cotton/modal blended yarn that is super soft and shiny. I often pair it with some of the amazing vintage buttons I got from my grandmother’s collection and others that have been given to me or that I have found, from garage sales to eBay.”
Read about how she makes crafts her designs at ww.monkitaknits.blogspot.com.
Energy awareness, in a compact package
For those on the list who have everything green and in between, one more unique gift idea is a home energy monitoring unit. Brands such as Kill-a-Watt, PowerCost and Wattson (available online) offer monitors that tally a home’s energy use in real time, and display to the homeowner how much it’s costing them.
The monitors make it easy to see which appliances are sucking up the most electricity, and how to save money by conserving. Manufacturers state the monitors can help reduce a home’s electricity use by 5 to 20 percent, by encouraging homeowners to turn the thermostat down and switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, for instance.
The units cost around $150, which is far less expensive, presumably, than five golden rings, two turtle doves and a gaggle of dancing ladies.