Last Minute Green Holiday Gifts

I have to admit I’m freaking out a little bit that there are only 10 days until Christmas! I felt like I had so much time and suddenly Christmas is right around the corner! I think I’m pretty set on gifts for the kids, but still need to mail a few packages and figure out what I’m getting for my husband.

For those of you who are still wracking your brains, check out the suggestions below. You’re sure to find a green idea or two to help you on your merry way. :)

Last Minute Green Gifts

Now for some Eco-friendly Gift Wrap Ideas

Do you have tips for other last minute green gifts or eco-friendly wrapping ideas? Please share them in the comments. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

Photo via Paper bag gift wrap

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Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like Lead Poisoning

When you think of the holiday season, what comes to mind?

Family? Friends? Christmas trees? Decorations? Presents? Candles? Food? Mistletoe?
How about lead, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other toxins?

In Danika Carter’s post All I want for Christmas is Lead-free Decorations, she points out that most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC (vinyl) and the many problems associated with PVC.

• It off gasses
• contains phthalates
• breaks down in heat and sun
• contains lead which becomes lead dust and spreads throughout your home
• Doesn’t biodegrade and is difficult to recycle

This is one of the reasons we are opting for a real tree this year (which we are finally going to get tomorrow – can’t wait!). :)

Danika also points out that reports have shown that “the cords on most holiday lights contain lead at higher levels that what is allowable for toys.” A Michigan-based group called The Ecology Center tested 68 light sets and found four out of five of those sets contained detectable levels of lead.

While most people don’t stick electrical cords in their mouths, they do touch them with their hands (and then touch food or their faces?) and all of the twisting and turning the cords while wrapping them around the tree or — in my house, the banister — can lead to lead dust in the air.

Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because their rapidly developing nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

To avoid possible lead contamination, it is advised that people either wear gloves when handling holiday lights or wash their hands afterward. I’m not sure what you can do about the possible lead dust in the air other than avoid strands of lights that contain lead in the first place. Or just don’t decorate at all. Yeah, bah humbug and all of that. :P

Actually, Alicia from The Soft Landing had some tips for safer holiday lights. “As we discussed in a recent article, locating PVC-free and lead-free light strings proved impossible, so your best bet is to focused on tracking down RoHS compliant products. We found Environmental Lights to be an invaluable source of well-researched options and SAFbaby also confirmed that Ikea offers safer light strands as well.”

Also, word to the wise… Definitely don’t let your 6-month-old sit on the floor surrounded by lights (which she grabs with her hot little hands) so you can take some cute pictures. Uh, yeah, I totally did that when Ava was a baby. Crappy parent award right here! Holla! Ugh.

There is more information available from about the Lead and Holiday Lights studies.

Are you concerned about lead exposure from your tree and/or lights? What changes might you try to make to avoid it?

I’m rethinking my decision to wrap our banister in lights and garland this year. Sure it looks pretty, but when my kids touch it nearly every time they come down the stairs, that ain’t cool, people. That ain’t cool. Maybe I’ll have them wear gloves in the house? Or not. :P Next year I think we will only have lights on the tree in the house. Any other lighted decorations will be outside only. At least that will minimize our exposure a bit. I’m also trying to have my kids wash their hands whenever they handle any lights and cords this year (which is so much better than throwing them into a pile of lights, don’t you think?). ;) Live and learn and then learn some more.

While we’re on the subject of the holidays and learning, don’t forget that you can give your Facebook friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too! No worries about lead with One Million Acts of Green. Just good clean, green fun. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Eco-friendly upcycled holiday crafts for kids

Green or eco-friendly crafts for children using recycled or upcycled (repurposing a waste material into a product of higher quality materials) are plentiful this holiday season. In addition to being better for the environment, crafting from items found around the house has the added benefit of being economical.

No Time for Flashcards is one of my favorite blogs for finding activities to do with young children. No all posts are green, but three posts that do fit that category include recycled Christmas tree using paper from an old catalog, A “Bow”tiful Christmas tree made out of a grocery bag and misshapen present bows, and a Bell Christmas ornament made from an Easter egg. All three are great crafts for toddlers and preschoolers. My kids, ages 3 and 5, and I made some of the recycled Christmas trees using magazine pages earlier this week.

Photo credit: No Time for Flashcards

For little ones who like to paint, why not try painting holiday cards or making your own wrapping paper using paints made from berries and beets! The Green Art Project has a tutorial for making your own natural paints using fruits and vegetables you may already have in the house.

Over at This and That, there’s another idea for making your own gift wrap. Money Saving Mom also suggests having the kids help make homemade wrapping paper.

Here’s a beautiful and easy craft from Maya*Made to hang on the tree – a “snow”-covered pinecone ornament.

Photo credit:Maya*Made

There are a lot of fun ornaments that can be made with a burnt-out incandescent light bulb. It’s upcycling at it’s finest! There’s a snowman face ornament, Rudolph the recycled light bulb, the light bulb penguin, and there are some more cute ideas over at Keep’n the SunnySide. You could also keep it simple and let your child paint and glue whatever they want on the light bulb.

Photo credit: Crafts by Amanda

Summer at Wired for Noise suggests embroidering pictures on old pillow cases and had fun teaching her son the handicraft.

Another craft idea that we’ve tried in our house is transforming old, broken crayons into new crayons. The Red, White and Green says you don’t need to spend $30 on a Crayola Crayon Maker (made of nearly four pounds of plastic) to do it either. If you want to make holiday-themed crayons, you just need some holiday candy molds. Zakka Life has a tutorial on how to recycle old crayons into new crayons using candy molds. You can also just use muffin tins for round crayons. Raising Maine also suggests making the recycled crayons into ornaments.

Photo credit: Raising Maine

Older children may enjoy stringing popcorn or cranberries on wire or thread as garland to be hung on the Christmas tree. When the tree is taken down, the edible garland can be strung outside for the birds or put into your compost bin.

Another fun idea for a craft and/or gift for older children from Little Birdie Secrets is felted soap. “You cover a bar of soap with this fabulous wool fiber, then felt it, and you have a soap and washcloth in one!”

Photo credit: Little Birdie Secrets

Celebrate Green Blog recently came across some eco-friendly holiday crafts from Family Fun magazine using upcycled materials, including retro ornaments made from toilet paper rolls, Christmas carolers made from toilet paper rolls, holey socks and old sheet music, and a Flame-free menorah.

Photo credit: Family Fun

Lastly, there are some creative recycled craft ideas over at Monkey See Monkey Do including a milk carton nativity or Christmas village and a mop-head Santa, as well as coat hanger snowmen and reindeer and a trash bag wreath.

Looking for more green craft ideas? Check out Books make great gifts for green crafters over at Crafting a Green World. She suggests Green Crafts for Children: 35 Step-by-Step Projects Using Natural, Recycled, And Found Materials by Emma Hardy especially for green mamas and their green girls.

Have more eco-friendly holiday craft ideas for kids? Please share them in the comments.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Homemade & eco-friendly Christmas tree trimming

Last year I got all crafty and made all of the decorations for our Christmas tree. The mood didn’t strike me this year (although we still have several of our salt dough ornaments from last year), but in case any of you are inspired to create an eco-friendly homemade Christmas tree, I thought I’d repost the blog I wrote a year ago.


Our homemade-decorated tree  12/14/08

Originally posted Dec. 15, 2008

After writing my holiday eco-friendly crafts post, I got this insane great idea that it’d be lots of fun to make all of the decorations for our Christmas tree this year.  I was hoping to involve the kids in the crafting, but my first two attempts – with popcorn garland and cranberry garland – were not as successful as I hoped. Turns out that popcorn is fairly hard to put a needle through and I didn’t want to risk Ava poking the heck out of herself, so she and Julian ate popcorn while I threaded it. The cranberries were a little harder than I would’ve liked too so I did those myself while the kids ate them and then spat them out because they are, of course, very tart. ;)

I also made the star on the top of our tree by cutting it out of a pie tin (super sharp edges) and gluing it to a piece of black paper.

Finally this morning, I decided on a project we could work on together (at least Ava and I could and Julian could help out later) – salt dough ornaments!

Here’s the recipe that I used.

Salt Dough Ornaments

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
Optional: 1 tablespoon any type of oil (to make it easier to work with – thanks to Brighid for the tip)

I didn’t have enough sea salt, so I used my kosher salt (after grinding it up in the food processor a bit). It worked just as well. I think table salt is probably what they have in mind for this recipe though.

Mix salt and flour. Add in half the water, then gradually add the remaining water. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes.

I divided up my dough into different segments and used food coloring on some of it.

For flat dough ornaments roll out the dough (to about 1/4 inch thickness) on baking paper, wax paper, or directly on a cookie sheet. Use cookie cutters, cut-out templates, or just use your hands.

Add details to the ornaments with a toothpick and knife.

Don’t forget to use a straw to make a hole so you can hang the ornament. (I forgot to do this on two of mine. Oops!)

Baking: Time varies based on thickness of ornament
Temperature: 325°F.
Time: 20 minutes or until dry – They should be hard to the touch, but not brown.

After they are done baking and cooling, you can paint, add glitter, spray with a clear finish, etc. We chose not to do this and let me tell you why I’m glad we didn’t.
a) because Julian decided to start tasting several of the ornaments
b) because a few, invariably, got dropped or stepped on and broke, but because they don’t have any extra stuff on them, I can just throw them into the composter. (The popcorn and cranberries can go out for the birds when you are done with them or into the compost bin). :)

Finally, add ribbon, yard, string, twine, etc. and your ornaments are ready to hang on the tree or give as gifts.

And now, the pictures…

Ava hard at work 12/14/08 Decorating candy cane ornaments 12/14/08 Ornaments ready to go into the oven  12/14/08

Putting yarn in our ornaments  12/14/08 Finished ornaments  12/14/08 Ava showing Julian how to hang ornaments  12/14/08

A tree on a tree  12/14/08 My little candy cane 12/14/08 Julian gets the hang of it fast  12/14/08

Ava’s happy tree 12/14/08 Last-minute rearranging before bed 12/14/08 Our homemade-decorated tree  12/14/08

I don’t know if we’ll stick with just the homemade decorations on the tree – I think we may add a handful of ornaments we’ve collected over the years – but I will say that despite the extra work involved, I really enjoy the organic-feel and personality that our tree has this year. It’s been a lot of fun. :)

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Reducing holiday stress for your kids

The holidays are supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” yet for many people they might as well be known as “the most stressful time of the year.” We often think of stress as something that only affects adults, but it can play a significant role in the lives of children as well, especially around the holidays.

There are a lot of changes to children’s routines during the holidays, from visits from unfamiliar relatives to traveling, from an influx of sweets to over-scheduled days and late bedtimes. All of these things can take a toll on the wee ones.

Rather than accept that tears, tantrums and troubles (which are all normal child reactions to stress) are a necessary evil of the holidays, you can follow some tips to keep your kids (and yourself) feeling a bit more carefree. I can’t guarantee there won’t be any tears or tantrums, but it will be less likely to be from stress and more likely to be your typical childhood tears and tantrums.

10 Ways to Reduce Kids’ Stress has some helpful tips such as:

  • Stick with the routine as much as possible. Keep stressful holiday shopping and eating out to a minimum; start preparing for Christmas early to avoid holiday anxiety.
  • Talk to your children about traditions and spirituality. If you believe in Christ, focus on the real meaning of Christmas – and trusting God. If you have traditions, explain why they’ve stayed in your family.
  • Bring a favorite blanket or stuffed animal if you’re staying with family over the holidays. A bit of home will reduce your child’s holiday anxiety.

Another tip they add that I think is really important (and often difficult to do) is:

  • Give ’em time – Allow lots of time so you don’t have to rush from point A to point B, unnecessarily stressing everyone out. Allow time for potty breaks, diaper changes, unexpected car sickness, getting out to stretch, etc.
  • Keep ’em fed – Pack lots of healthy snacks for the kids to eat while you drive/fly.
  • Keep ’em entertained – Pack a variety of toys, games, books, coloring books, markers (Crayola Color Wonder markers and books are great for travel because the color only shows up on the special paper). You can even wrap small presents for the child to unwrap on the way. You might also consider investing in a portable DVD player so the child(ren) can watch a movie here and there.
  • Keep a good attitude and your sense of humor and your children will likely follow suit.

There are more Tips for Airplane Travel with Small Children at Mother Words.

Another tip that I really like is to learn relaxation techniques with your children. This will serve you both well during the holidays and throughout the year. The article Holiday Stress! Are children affected? states:

Colds are contagious and so is stress. Children are affected by stress of their own and pick up on family stresses. This includes holiday stress. So how do we promote calmness in our family and increase our chances of staying healthy during the holidays?

The Mental Health Association recommends counteracting stress by maintaining a positive outlook, focusing on activities that take your mind off your worries and taking time to relax.

Instead of telling your child to go “calm down” this holiday season, I invite you to give them the tools they need to manage stress and anxiety. Introduce your children to breathing, visualizations and affirmations during this holiday season.

All you need to do is read a relaxation book to your child that shows them how to manage their own energy, stress and anxiety. Play a guided imagery CD that’s creates calming images. Sit down and write affirmations with your child. Make it fun by hiding your positive, calm statements in your pockets or under your pillows. Take time to look in your children’s eyes as they speak to you. Try it for 10 minutes a day. Sit still and hold their hand as you listen to holiday music. Watch the ripple effect of calmness as it makes its way through your family.

In Midwest Moms’ post How to Avoid Thanksgiving Stress, she has some suggestions on how to make introductions between your kids and unfamiliar relatives a little less stressful for the kids.

I have found it is best to give children a chance to “make friends” with new relatives in whatever way they are most comfortable. Sometimes that means that it will take time to warm up to someone new.

When you are introducing someone to your child, do so in a way that reveals important information about the new adult — not potentially embarrassing information about your child. Saying, “Aunt Doris used to fly airplanes!” can intrigue your child and get them to ask questions.

We usually make the introductions easier on our kids in two ways. We arrive early, so they’re meeting people one-at-a-time. And we arrange to meet relatives we know well and all walk in together. It can be a lot less intimidating to meet people when you are already surrounded by friends.

In Jolene Park‘s recent guest post on Mile High Mamas called Beat the Holiday Stress, she suggests the use of Rescue Remedy both for adults and kids (and even pets). Jolene notes, “Rescue Remedy is part of the Bach Flower essences, which are extracts from flowers and used to balance emotions. They can be purchased in any health food store.” Personally, I’ve used Rescue Remedy for both myself and my children and highly recommend it.

No matter what your plans are this holiday season, try to remember to keep your own stress level down and your sense of humor up and your kids will benefit as much as you will.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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