Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

My son, Theo, turned three a few days ago. In keeping with our new sustainability and zero waste principles, we made a big deal of our time together [at Chuck E Cheese for the afternoon] and downplayed the gift portion of the celebration. We actually never even mentioned a gift and he never asked for one.

But, of course, we did give him a gift – a set of used Paw Patrol characters and their vehicles [one of which I used to decorate his “Paw Patrol” birthday cake that all the kids helped decorate.]

A few weeks ago we began looking for someone selling a used set of these Paw Patrol trucks because we knew how much Theo would love them. Living in the Chicagoland area meant that they were easy to find. We ended up buying a set of six vehicles and eight characters for $15. At Target, these Paw Patrol vehicle/character sets sells for $15 each.

We’ve already lost a few characters…

But the point here is that it’s actually not about the money at all. Yes, there was a savings, but it’s not like we couldn’t afford to buy it all brand-new.

Why buy used?

The motivation for buying used is to give a second [or third or fourth] life to something bound for the garbage bin. Rather feeding the machine that is constantly making new toys [especially plastic toys] we should be intentionally prolonging the life of the current toy population. I basically rescued these trucks from a landfill. I am essentially a super hero. And they are perfectly fine toys. In fact, my son ADORES them and couldn’t care less whether they were purchased new.

Why not buy used?

So it got me thinking about why I would still never show up at another kid’s birthday party with a gift purchased second-hand. It’s one thing to buy a used gift for my own kid, but a completely different story if I’m going to give a gift to someone else.

There is some unwritten social code that says it’s unacceptable to give gifts that are second-hand.

We even frown [although slightly less so] on “re-gifting” and most people would agree that the appropriate way to re-gift an item is if the recipient doesn’t know it’s re-gifted.

Isn’t that strange? Why should it matter?

Gift giving today is about the represented dollar value, not how much it will be appreciated.

I think that what has happened to our society is that gift giving has become more about the ritual [i.e. gifts are required at certain holidays and events] and the dollar value [i.e. gifts need to be within a certain price range] than it is about the recipient’s enjoyment of the gift.

At my first baby shower, a cousin of mine gave me a gift for the baby – purchased new, obviously. After I opened it, she handed me a pair of baby girl Sperrys that she had found used and thought were so cute she had to get them for my baby, but she gave them to me separately because she wanted to explain that they were second-hand.

I LOVE those pink cheetah-print baby Sperrys! It didn’t matter if they were new or not. Both of my baby girls have worn them – and I’m sure this third baby girl will as well.

I find it perplexing and rather sad that we don’t feel free to give gifts just for the sake of their enjoyment value.

Similarly, when I started dating my husband, he and his siblings had a Christmas tradition of trading names for a gift exchange. They had set a value of $75 and then provided a detailed list of things they wanted. I went shopping with Brett that year and watched him cross items off the list and tally up the total dollar amount for his sister-in-law.

I couldn’t even believe it. Is this what gift-giving has become? I felt, even back then, that this was the total antithesis of what giving a gift should be.

Have you been out shopping for a gift and had some sort of mental idea of how much you needed to spend? Somewhere between being “too cheap” and being “too flashy”? And have you been invited to a party or shower or event and known without any overt statement that a gift is a requirement – or at least you would be viewed as a party crasher if you showed-up empty-handed? Have you tried to make sure that each of your kids gets the same general value of gifts or the same number of packages on Christmas morning?

Can we go back?

Can we go back to giving a gift purely because we want to, rather than because it’s required? Can we go back to giving a gift just because we know someone will love it and not care about how much it cost or where it came from?

I’m hoping that by continuing to exchange used gifts [whenever possible] in my immediate family that I will teach my children that gifts are for the purpose of making people feel loved and appreciated by giving something that they will love – not out of obligation or to follow social customs or to show that we have the means to buy new, expensive things.

Buying used isn’t being cheap, it’s being responsible.

Theo was so excited about those Paw Patrol toys that he didn’t even want to eat cake. Everyone else ate cake while Theo played with the trucks. All the other kids came to the table for cake eventually, but Theo only wanted to play.

These toys were the perfect gift – because they were used and because no one cared that they were used. They represented our commitment to sustainability and our belief that the value of a gift doesn’t come from how much is spent or where it is purchased, but from whether it is given out of love.

Theo’s Birthday Video

As is my new tradition for the kids, here is a short video highlighting Theo’s third year.

Happy Birthday to my sweet, handsome boy!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Environmentalism isn’t just for Liberal Tree-Huggers

Environmentalism isn’t just for Liberal Tree-Huggers

Why is it that taking care of the planet, protecting wildlife, and preserving our natural resources appears to only concern liberals and environmentalists? These are issues that affect all of us, so why aren’t we all on board?

If you watch the news, the “green” initiatives seem to be constantly touted by liberals while the conservatives are always on the other side of the screen shaking their heads, insisting “it’s no big deal.”

Since this is the impression I have always had of the two sides of the debate, I was pleasantly surprised to find in Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, that there are conservative Christians [even Republicans!] with the same concerns for our shared environment. Of course, Jen is the only one I have ever heard of – and she only cared for a month – but still. This is progress.

She writes with compelling sarcasm that a belief in God as creator of planet earth is a great reason to start taking care of said planet.

I wish I could quote her entire chapter on reducing waste here, but you should really just go get a copy of the book. In the meantime, though, here’s a snippet:

“I’m a Christian author, so my deal is to write Bible stuff, and the hippies can worry with creation.

Wait a minute.

Does ‘creation’ have anything to do with God whom I call ‘Creator’? Oh, pish posh. Surely God isn’t worried about how we handle His creation that He created. His main concern is making His followers happy and prosperous, yes? And if we need to consume the rest of His creation to make us happy, then I’m sure God doesn’t mind. I bet ‘creation’ mainly refers to us humans, and the soil and rivers and animals and forests and oceans and wildflowers and air and vegetation and resources and lakes and mountains and streams are purely secondary, if not inconsequential.

If I’m taking my cues from many mainstream evangelicals, then only Democrats and loosely-goose liberals care about the earth. It’s a giant conspiracy to distract us from the abortion and gay issues, which evidently are the only subjects worth worrying about. Ecology is for alarmists who want to ruin our lives and obsess about acid rain.

I’m beginning to wonder if the unprecedented consumption of the earth’s resources and the cavalier destruction of its natural assets is a spiritual issue as much as environmental…

This month the Hatmakers are doing their part, setting aside apathy and respecting the earth God made and loves.”

Thank you, Jen! I wish more Christians were drinking your kool-aid.

Truthfully, I don’t really care what your reasoning is for choosing to take better care of our beautiful planet – I just want you to do it. I want everyone to do it.

The American Waste Problem

America has a definite waste problem. It’s not like we are without resources to do something about it, and we can no longer claim to be ignorant about it. So, why aren’t we doing more? We know it’s possible. We’ve seen the impact of a country committed to sustainability. Sweden not only sends a mere 1% of household waste to landfills, but they are actually making money off of other countries’ waste by using it to fuel their incinerators [source article].

Then there is America…

According to the EPA, we send 52.8% of our waste to landfills each year [source article]. Don’t even get me started on all the reasons this is terrible [but you can read about it for yourself in this article].

The Solution

If both sides of the debate [virtually ALL OF AMERICA] could join hands and work together towards the goal of a greener future, then we could really get shit done.

And there is hope. If everyone identifying themselves as Christians would “go green” for the good of their religious beliefs, then a whopping 75% of Americans would be changing their wasteful ways. [2017 Gallup poll of religions in the US can be found here.]

Can we even hope for such a transformation? I don’t know, but I did get a little glimmer of hope from Jen’s book.

Ok, I’m almost done…

No matter your religion or political preference, everyone should be behind a more sustainable future for our world. I’m singling out Christians here because they make up the majority of people in this country with the greatest power to change the current consumer mentality that is doomed to fail in the long run.

Written by a Christian pastor’s wife, 7 is a great book that confronts our American culture through the lens of the Bible. For that reason, if you believe in the Bible, I highly recommend it. And I hope that reading it produces a wave of authentic Christianity like our country has never seen – one that encourages, rather than criticizes, recycling, composting, AND tree-hugging.

🌳 🌳 🌳

Karis

Recycling [or Repurposing] Candle Jars

Recycling [or Repurposing] Candle Jars

Does anyone recycle their used candle jars? I’m not judging – I’m just seriously wondering because I don’t think I’ve ever actually burned through an entire candle until just recently [thanks to my recent hygge kick, you may recall]. I feel like candles are things that every person has a million of and most of them are never [or rarely] used.

Maybe that’s just me.

I don’t remember ever finishing a candle, but I am certain that if I ever did, the jar ended up in the trash because, well, everything I disposed of ended up in the trash in those days. [I’m new to this recycling thing, don’t forget.]

So, now that I have several candles that have been fully burned, I had to figure out what to do with the remaining jars.

First I had to clean them out, which I accomplished by filling with hot water and scraping out the remaining wax with a spoon. Only one candle cooperated.

Folks, this is apparently not the best way to clean your candle jars. I was just trying to use my brain when I should have been asking Google. Apparently, all you need to do is stick the candle in the freezer and the wax will magically separate from the container. [Whaaa?] I cannot verify this, of course, but it sounds much easier than my scraping method.

So now, what?

I have seen a million ways to repurpose candle jars on Pinterest. They can hold cotton swabs, makeup brushes, plants, tea lights, herbs, buttons, candy, rubber bands, and on and on. Basically they can hold anything that will fit [duh]. The problem is, I don’t need another glass jar lying around holding more of the little stuff I don’t want in my house anyway!

So I figured I would just recycle the glass jars. Off to the recycling bin and that is that. After all, we burn a lot of candles these days and if I kept every jar, we would eventually be overrun with empty jars.

That’s when it hit me. The best way to reuse the old jars is to refill with wax and make new candles. After all, WE BURN A LOT OF CANDLES! [This should not have been such a revelation. I am admittedly slow sometimes.] Pinterest was actually a little low on recommendations for refilling candle jars with [wait for it…] new candles! But maybe that is just too obvious for anyone else to even burden the interwebs with.

All I will need is the wax [some of which I can reuse from the bottom of old jars] and I won’t need to buy candles any longer. This provides me with the opportunity to switch over to 100% beeswax candles AND reduce waste AND cut down the cost of our candle habit.

I immediately rescued the empty jars from the recycling bin outside and refilled the little one that I like the best with leftover wax melts we have had in our basement for ages. [Now I finally understand why providence never let me get rid of those…]

Voila! New candle cooling down as we speak. [Yeah, I used a beeswax candle to hold the wick – it’s what I had handy.]

I should also mention that I found conflicting info regarding whether candle jars can be recycled curbside due to some of the containers being made to withstand high heat and therefore not your basic run o’ the mill glass. If you are certain that are glass, then go for it, but if they might be made of borosilicate [I have not the foggiest idea how one is supposed to tell the difference…], it can’t be recycled curbside and you’ll have to scour the Internet for a local recycling center.

This is a fabulous argument for just reusing. If you have a need for a cutesy q-tip holder – then go for it. Otherwise, refill with some beeswax [don’t forget a wick], and you’re all set for clear-conscience candle consumption!

[Well, unless we start talking about indoor air pollution…oy vey!]

🕯 🕯 🕯

Karis

Trash Update: One step forward, two steps back

Trash Update: One step forward, two steps back

At the start of the new year, we finally used the last tall kitchen trash bag from the box of 55 that we had bought at the beginning of 2018. I had been waiting for this day and, since we’ve been using one bag per week, it was a long wait.

The time finally came, so we bought a box of small 4 gallon trash bags that actually fit the minuscule trash can we use in our kitchen.

If we continue at our current rate, this box should last us over half of the year. After these run out, I plan to have so little garbage that I can start making these handy paper trash can liners I read about in the book Zero Waste by Shia Su:

Or at least, that’s what I was hoping.

Unfortunately, there have already been two weeks when we emptied the can twice.

Yesterday, we had some family members over who brought with them a Starbucks coffee [excuse me, “dirty Chai latte”] and a large styrofoam Chic-fil-a cup. The trash can was full from these two items alone. And then we had cake to celebrate a family birthday and a well-meaning family member bought a package of paper plates [oh the horror! 😱]. The trash bag had to be emptied before I could even squeeze the last plate into the bag.

It had only been two days since I emptied the can last…

But the realization that I am not always in control of the trash that comes into my home AND that I cannot do anything about other people’s perspectives on disposables AND that it is worthless to try to bend everyone to my way of thinking on matters of environmental conservancy [or to offend anyone in the attempt] reminded me to let go of perfection.

I can only control what I can control.

So, maybe this box of bags will last us through April. 🤷‍♀️

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Aldi

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Aldi

A few months ago, I stopped shopping at Aldi – partly because every other grocery store in my area has better sales each week and partly because [nearly] all of Aldi’s produce is wrapped in plastic.

BUT, today was one of those days when a killer avocado sale happened to coincide with my desperate need to restock toilet paper and the promise of being in and out in ten minutes sealed the deal.

[I also appreciate that I can seat both of my toddlers next to each other in the front of the cart. AND I don’t get a bunch of weird looks when I bring my own bags.]

For being the first big grocery chain I have ever heard of to not offer bags, I’m surprised that they aren’t a little more eco friendly in the produce aisle…but I don’t know a thing about the grocery business. I’m sure there is a reason that a 2lb plastic bag of honeycrisp apples costs $2 and two pounds of loose honeycrisp apples costs $4.

Anyway, I did what I could and here is what I got:

Gallon of milk – plastic carton will be recycled. I am still unable to convince my husband to trade milk for a non-dairy variety. And I still haven’t convinced myself to buy milk in glass containers – but that day is coming. I would really like to find a refillable situation from a local farm, but haven’t found one yet. Does that even exist anymore?

Cartons of eggs – cardboard containers will be recycled or composted. I plan to buy my eggs as part of my farm share this summer and just refill my carton each week, but in the meantime, we buy only cardboard cartons.

Box of pasta – I didn’t have to buy this, but I wanted it to make lemon butter shrimp pasta later this week with shrimp we were given…and the box will be recycled. I don’t have the tools necessary to make any pasta noodles besides lasagna at this point.

Toilet paper – plastic wrapping will be recycled via store drop off and the tubes will be recycled or composted. I am still working on bringing my husband around to the bidet idea…

Loose produce – bananas, pineapples, avocados, cucumber – all loose and at decent prices. In general, I have found Aldi’s produce prices [even on sale] to be pretty terrible compared to local produce sale prices. Every part of these foods that aren’t eaten will be composted. The stickers are the only waste.

Romaine lettuce – I couldn’t find a single type of lettuce that wasn’t packaged in plastic, so I got this bag of romaine which seemed to have the greatest lettuce to plastic ratio. The plastic bag will be recycled via store drop off – but it still makes me kind of sad.

Sauce, pesto, syrup – all in glass bottles. Aldi offers cheaper pasta sauce and syrup in plastic bottles, which I passed on. Glass is a great material than can be continually reused and recycled.

As I was shopping, I passed all the usual stuff that I used to buy every week – pretzels, applesauce, salad dressing, yogurt, cottage cheese, bread, buns – but I make all that stuff myself now.

The stuff I can’t make, I buy. The stuff I buy, I try to find without packaging. The stuff that I can’t find package-free, I try to find in sustainable packaging like glass or cardboard.

That’s my [nearly] zero waste game plan. It has some weaknesses and I’m not perfect [still super far from storing my annual waste in a jar] but these small attempts at mindfulness when I’m shopping go a long way over the course of time.

Happy shopping!

🛒 🛒 🛒

Karis

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

About a month ago, Brett and I [but mostly Brett] finished remodeling our upstairs bathroom.

Before reno:

After demo:

All done [hallelujah!]:

Since then, I’ve been anxious to replace the final eyesore – our toothbrushes.

I’ve been slowly replacing other bathroom items with zero waste, sustainable alternatives. I swapped our plastic shower curtain liner for a cloth one that can be washed and reused. [Since plastic shower curtain liners can’t be recycled, we are “upcycling” it as a tarp over our firewood. Other great ideas for old plastic liners can be found here.]

I’ve also traded the typical containers for cotton balls and q-tips for glass jars that I already had around the house.

I still have some plastic stuff waiting to be used up or worn out before being replaced – brush, comb, lotion and detangler bottles…

But the toothbrushes really bothered me. I finally got to replace them with compostable bamboo brushes. The bristles are nylon and though the biodegradability of some types of nylon are being debated, these bristles can be pulled and recycled.

I chose this company because it is based in the US and [from everything I can tell] committed to ethical and sustainable practices. Also they come in 100% cardboard packaging [double boxed]. It is hard to find toothbrushes that don’t have ANY PLASTIC in the packaging.

And it doesn’t hurt that making the bathroom more eco-friendly also makes it look better.

There are lots of great sustainable toothbrush options available now. Just search for bamboo toothbrushes. Also Preserve is a company that partners with Whole Foods to gather and recycle plastics into new toothbrushes which is the best choice if you want stick with plastic. They make it super easy to recycle the brushes when your done by selling you the brush in a prepaid return pouch!

As for your old plastic toothbrushes, read more about recycling them in this article by Recycle Nation [spoiler alert: it ain’t easy].

And more about sustainable toothbrush options in this post by My Plastic Free Life.

AND order your own sustainable toothbrushes from The Green Root here.

Happy Brushing!

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

If you’ve ever participated in a race, you probably already know that these events are [typically] very wasteful. Aid stations hand out water and Gatorade in paper or [egad!] plastic cups which get used for all of five seconds before being thrown onto the ground to be trampled by the rest of the runners. Then there are all the energy packets [gels, chews, beans, honey sticks, etc] all in individual wrappers which are also thrown on the ground mid-run. And don’t get me started on all the post-race foods like bananas, apples, protein bars, and water bottles that all create some sort of waste. All of this stuff ends up piled high in tons of trash cans throughout the race course and at the finish line.

I have been participating in running and multi-sport events of all different sizes – from small town 5Ks to the Chicago Marathon this past weekend – for the past seven years and, honestly, I never even considered the waste until this summer. So, I was very excited to find that the Chicago Marathon had so many awesome green initiatives.

“The 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon has been named an Evergreen Inspire event by the Council for Responsible Sport…”

-Participant Guide

Some of my favorite sustainability initiatives were:

1. The race shirt was made of 100% recycled polyester which has fewer environmental impacts.

2. Most aid stations collected organic waste [paper cups and banana peels] to be composted and the soil donated to the Chicago Park District.

3. Recycled Heatsheets will be made into benches which will be donated to the Chicago Park District.

4. Designated Green team volunteers helped to direct waste into separate containers for compost, recycle or landfill at several Zero Waste Stations.

5. The race participant guide encouraged runners to bring their own reusable water bottles and provided refilling stations.

And everyone already knows how much I love the #SheddtheStraw initiative by Shedd Aquarium. I love seeing Chicago work together to become a more sustainable city.

Of course, a lot of these initiatives are only effective if the runners and spectators actually utilize them and changing [or re-training] an entire race culture will not happen overnight.

BUT, I can make a difference. I made sure to sort my waste appropriately at the designated Zero Waste Stations. I recycled my Heatsheet. I stayed on the designated paths to preserve the foliage in Grant Park. I recycled my gear check bag appropriately when I got home [store drop-off].

I realized that I can do more, though – starting with requesting green initiatives at all my races and encouraging fellow runners to support a more sustainable racing environment.

One of the things I love most about running is how simple it is. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment or gym or dress code or anything other than a pair of legs and a stretch of earth. Running also connects us to nature by getting us outside to enjoy fresh air and appreciate the beauty around us. We don’t want to ruin that, right?

So if and when you happen to participate in a racing event – it never hurts to encourage race directors to provide sustainable options…and at the very least, look for the recycle bin. 👍🏻

Happy [Zero Waste] Running!

Karis