Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Greening Your Christmas

We're heading into the season of gifting. Of buying a lot of stuff that people often don't need and sometimes don't want. Things made from resources we could be preserving using money we don't have in abundance. So let's talk about how we can still give gifts that we can feel good about giving that the receivers will feel great about getting.

I am not saying never to buy a gift. In fact, I am going to give you some ideas of things to buy, but I hope to give you some ideas of things that can still help the receiver live a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle. I am sure there are lots of great things out there I am not going to mention because of space or because I don't know about them--that's what the comment area is for. Feel free to chime in.

First of all, consider buying local first. I admit, I shop a LOT at Amazon.com and a few specialty internet stores. Mostly because I haven't found a source for many of the off-the-wall things I want in the local area. If I could find them, I would buy them here. Hint, hint!

Encourage DIY by purchasing books, magazines, equipment and supplies in areas that your person has indicated they would like to learn how to do themselves. For example, this past year I have been getting into making cheese. Last year, one of my kids bought me a book about making cheese because I was interested in learning. Throughout this past year, I have been purchasing small things for some of the simpler cheeses, but there are still some related equipment (a cheese press comes to mind) that could still be helpful. If you don't know the person is going to stick with their interest, start with something inexpensive and basic--you can always revisit next year if they discover a passion for it and you aren't out much if they decide it's not for them after all. Small tools for making/fixing things, for gardening, or for cooking would all be welcome to the person who wants to become more self-sufficient or know what is going into their food/personal care products/cleaning supplies. And consider regifting. One of the neatest kitchen gadgets I have is a ceramic mortar and pestle I found for 50 cents at a garage sale and if someone came up with a nice cast iron skillet, I wouldn't turn it down, even if it was rusty--they can be reconditioned.

Encourage better health by purchasing lessons, memberships at health facilities, workout clothing, shoes, etc. I would be careful about purchasing a gym membership, unless the person has said, "I wish I could afford a membership; I would love to be able to go to xxxx gym." But what about yoga lessons? Zumba classes? I'll bet Breathe Yoga Studio would set you up with a gift like this. Again, kitchen items that encourage a person to cook from scratch and gardening tools/seeds would also go in this area.

Encourage rest and relaxation by purchasing items to help them enjoy a hobby--books, magazines, equipment and supplies. You may not know exactly what they might need; if not, how about a gift certificate at a store that carries items related to that hobby? My husband gave me a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited--whoo hoo! What about entertainment? Tickets to a concert, play, sporting event, etc.  There are all kinds of special events coming up around the holiday: The Nutcracker (both the traditional version and a modern version), The Cirque de la Symphonie concert on December 14, A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life at Backdoor Theater, and probably a half dozen other special events I haven't listed. Or, the Wichita Theatre season tickets for 2014 are on sale now for a truly excellent gift that will last for months as are season tickets to Backdoor Theater. Last  year I bought my husband (and me) a pair of season tickets to the Nighthawks games. My husband and I had a great time rooting on this local team. Know someone who likes to eat out? Gift certificates at their favorite restaurants come in handy. If you know they often bring home leftovers, help them bring those leftovers home without those horrible styrofoam containers. To-go ware (or similar) will help stop that.

Encourage lifelong learning by paying the registration for a class at Vernon College or the Parks and Recreation department. Although there are a lot of free on-line classes, you might consider purchasing a specialized course in a subject they are interested in. I purchased a course for my son from The Great Courses in an area he has an interest. My husband bought a course on bird behavior from Cornell University for my birthday last year.

Help someone do something they otherwise couldn't/wouldn't do or just something nice. Paint a room, change the oil on their car, cook them a meal, etc. Maybe do something more than once. Did you ever give or receive the little cards with promises to do something the person could redeem when they needed them?

Encourage a connection with nature by purchasing books, magazines, and videos about nature (I reviewed a few great choices in my last post.) Help them bring nature to their yard with bird feeders, bird and bat houses, trees, shrubs and flowers (yes, even with the drought). Help them get out and enjoy nature: hiking boots, walking stick, binoculars, day or back pack, etc. What about fishing gear (if we ever get any water back in the lakes), magnifying lenses, etc.? Maybe a registration at a nature-related event.

Give something you made yourself. It takes more time to make something than to give something (and often costs less also.) Mixes for cookies, dips, etc. People pay a fortune for a dip mix that costs less than a quarter to make yourself. My mom made me not one, but several tea cozies last year. I was griping that it was ridiculous to pay $25 for basically a quilt to fit over a teapot. She looked up a picture and whipped out several in an afternoon. I kept a couple and gave some to others. My husband made my son a gaming table and made us a dining room table and chairs. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Donate to a charity you know is important to them in their name. My parents send a small check to Wild Bird Rescue every once in awhile because they know the organization is one I spend a lot of time volunteering for.

Now that you have thought of some gift ideas, let's talk about some of the other rituals that go along with the holidays. Here are some ideas to make your holiday more sustainable:

  - Give less "Stuff." We talked about that above.
  - Focus on the sustainability of what we do give. Less plastic, less packaging, high quality to last longer.
  - Decorate a living tree and plant it when you are done. Wichita Valley Nursery has living Christmas trees that are hardy for this area.
  - Reduce, reuse, recycle. I have a hard time throwing things away. The kids have always enjoyed the tradition of opening Christmas gifts wrapped in old cereal boxes or other boxes that have been reused year after year. I still have ribbon and bows that have graced packages since they were small children (and they are in the vicinity of 30 now). I don't throw bows away until they cannot be used again. This year I am purchasing some fabric and making gift bags that can be reused for many, many years. If you are better at sewing or more creative than I am, you could probably make these from scratch.
  - Focus on what's important about the holiday: family and friends. It is more important to make memories that will last. How many of the gifts you've received over the years can you really remember? Probably only a handful. But you probably have many memories of playing games, watching movies or football games, eating and laughing. You probably have some traditions that are very meaningful to your family.

I wish you a happy holiday season with many fond memories.

Books for the Nature Geeks

I occasionally review bird books on my Charm of Finches blog. I recently received some review copies of other books from Princeton University Press. They aren't bird books, so I thought they would be more suitable for some of the readers of this blog, as I know some of the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist follow.

I am a little behind on my reviews, so I am going to put three of them in this one post.

The first book is Bugs Rule! An Introduction to the World of Insects, by Whitney Cranshaw and Richard Redak. This book was originally intended as a basic textbook for nonscience people taking a course in entomology. However, you don't have to sign up for a college course to get, read and enjoy this book. This book is about insects and arthropods (spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes and crustaceans.)

This book is not a field guide, but as a way to get a good general grounding in bugs, it would certainly be a nice supplement to a field guide. Lots of wonderful pictures (830 color photos and additional drawings) help illustrate the information in the text.

Although written as a textbook, there is nothing dry about the writing, if you have any interest in the subject at all. When I originally got the book, I thought it might be a nice giveaway at the local Texas Master Naturalist meeting, but after reading the book, you other Master Naturalists will just have to get your own copy. This beautiful hardback book sells for $55 from Princeton University Press, so it isn't cheap. It is $50.17 from Amazon/$34.09 for your Kindle. But if you have a bug lover on your gift list, you could be a hero with this book.

Another book I have spent hours pouring over is The Kingdom of Fungi by Jens H. Petersen. I have always been fascinated by the fungi and their role as decomposers. For what appears to be such a simple plant is so much more than it appears. Over 800 gorgeous pictures in this book drive home just how beautiful these often overlooked plants are. There isn't a lot of text, but what text there is conveys a lot of interesting information. Even if you didn't have a fascination with fungi, you could enjoy the photographs--they're exquisite. If you also have an interest in this little known family of plants, then you'll spend hours, just like me looking and relooking at the pictures. The book does lead you through some basic taxonomy. Although it is not a field guide, again I can see where this book would help you use your field guide more effectively. You can purchase this book for $29.95 from Princeton University Press or for $19.59 from Amazon.

Another excellent book for you naturalists out there is The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees (2nd Ed.) by David More and John White. This is an awesome resource for identifying trees, although it is way too big and heavy to carry into the field. This comprehensive book catalogs nearly 2,000 tree species in North America and Europe. With some 5,000 illustrations, there are enough illustrations of leaves, twigs, fruit, bark, etc., to help guide even the least knowledgeable among us (like me.) I have trouble identifying trees outside of the few species I have gotten to know through frequent exposure.  I don't do well with most field guides identifying trees. This one has a lot more detail to help compare similar species. In addition to the usual information found in a field guide, however, this book has more information about the origins of the trees and various cultivars. This would be a fine addition to not only a naturalist's library, but that of a gardener. This book is available from Princeton University Press for $49.95 and from Amazon for $38.40.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lake Arrowhead Cleanup Saturday

Photo 09/14/13: worse now
The bad news is that Lake Arrowhead, the primary source of drinking water for Wichita Falls and surrounding communities is below 30% of capacity due to our long-running drought.

If you have been out to Lake Arrowhead lately, you have seen just how much trash is being exposed. Now is a great time to get the lake bed cleaned up before we get some much-needed rain (note the optimism.)

On Saturday, November 23, Lake Arrowhead State Park is hosting a lake cleanup. A number of groups are participating, including two groups I am involved with: the Friends of Lake Arrowhead and the Rolling Plains Chapter Texas Master Naturalist. The park and the City of Wichita Falls (which owns the lake) are asking for community support for this effort. Interested people should come to the park at 9AM. Bring work gloves. It is also suggested participants wear boots, and considering the expected weather on Saturday, it would be a good idea to dress warmly.

For more information, call the Park office at 940-528-2211.

Wichita Falls Community Garden Open...But Not!

A very good turnout for this opening

The big event in Wichita Falls recently was the ribbon cutting at the new community garden on the east side of town on November 14. (Yes, I am just getting around to posting about it.)

The Community Garden opened just in time for Stage 4 of the drought plan--no outside watering. But at least the garden is in place, ready to go.

There are some really neat things about this garden I wanted to highlight.

Note the demonstration rainwater harvesting system. The reservoir isn't big enough to allow watering these beds, but the point is to show people how much water can be gathered from such a small roof area.

Storage shed, sink and demonstration rainwater barrel

Looking down the row

Beds for disabled--great idea!

Beds raised especially high will be convenient for those who have mobility problems getting low to the ground. For some reason I had never thought of this. When I saw it, all I could say was, "well, duh!" Great planning...disability shouldn't prevent people from being able to garden a small area, like these beds.
Composting bins

And then I found the composting bins. I am assuming the citizen volunteers running the garden have an idea of how they will get the compost turned....but so glad to see it. Now all we need is some MULCH! These beds are going to turn into bricks without some cover in the summer.

If this garden takes off, the City is interested in placing other community gardens at other places.

Why are community gardens important? Yes, they provide an opportunity to grow fresh produce. It also provides a way for those new to gardening to learn from those with experience. It creates a sense of community by getting people out of their houses and into a common area where they can get to know one another. Community gardens can also fulfill social needs and those of us who garden also know it's a good physical activity and stress reliever. So many great things can come of this--I am looking forward to seeing it succeed.