How to Stay on Your Sustainability Diet During the Holidays

artbanidto’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Many of us use the holidays or vacations as an excuse to disregard what we would normally do in everyday life. We eat and drink too much, indulge in the excesses of the season and then spend our New Year’s resolutions trying to make up for it. We give ourselves permission to let go of the rules that we live by most of the year.

But does the same apply to our values? Do the things we believe in and fight for all year get put to the side during the holidays, using the holiday excuse to dismiss any guilt we might feel?

Cheating on your Eco-Diet

For many, environmental consciousness is like a diet, something that we work hard at most of the year – avoiding plastics, reducing fossil fuel consumption, trimming our environmental waistline. But this culture of indulging at the holidays can have a long-term impact on the environment, increasing our waste and carbon footprint in ways that can’t be negated by a New Year’s eco-diet. The locavore’s diet might give way to the temptations of imported mandarin oranges and wines, the vegetarian to the factory-farmed turkey and stuffing, the minimalist to the gift-giving expectations, and the eco-warrior knuckles under the pressure not to “talk about that stuff during the holidays.” In the same way of the dieter, we try to ignore our own guilt, saying it’s the holidays, and we’ll get back to our normal routine in the new year.

But our values shape the way that we see the world, and the guilt is sometimes much more difficult to shake off.

macwagen’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Leading Change

Solutions may take many years to implement, because it is often not just about changing yourself, but also changing those around you, and as any eco-warrior will tell you, hounding your family members during the holidays about their bad eco-habits will get you nowhere. Holidays often have a family focus, and without any change from others, it can be difficult to maintain change for yourself. But there are some simple things that you can do to start towards a more eco-friendly, and less guilty, holiday season:

  • Request no wrapping paper. Simple, and usually relatively easy for everyone to get on board. Instead, wrap items in recycled materials like newspaper or home-decorated recycled paper, or in usable items like tea towels and shopping bags. Consider having a set of gift bags that are used each year.
  • Suggest that family gifts be consumable or experience-based, because most people will appreciate good wine, cheese, homemade goods, or tickets to a local concert, game or event.
  • Buy the kind of food you want to eat, don’t rely on what others provide. If you want a free-range, organic turkey on the table (even if you’re not going to eat it!), buy it yourself. Offer to make locally sourced desserts like apple or pumpkin (from an actual pumpkin) pie. Bring fair trade, organic chocolates and coffee. Support local businesses with local wines and beers.
  • Plan Boxing Day activities, to encourage alternatives to excessive consumerism. A day full of food and fun will often be more tempting that battling the crowds at the mall.
  • Offer to wash dishes so the host does not need to use paper plates and plastic forks, and as the host, don’t feel pressured to clean up too quickly – a disappeared glass just means someone will use another one, which then needs to be washed.
  • Give back. Many charities depend on donations received during the holidays, so consider donating to a favourite charity on someone’s behalf (choose their favourite charity, not yours). This works  as a stocking stuffer, host/ess gift, office secret santa, or any other kind of gift.

Taking a much needed break during the holidays doesn’t mean you need to take a break from your values. Find ways to infuse them into your traditions, and by making changes manageable over time, you may find others changing too.

The Gift of Time

No, this isn’t a post about one of the greatest movies of 2011, In Time starring Justin Timberlake, which totally should’ve been called Justin Time starring Justin Timberlake, by the way. This post is about holiday giving.

The other day, my Superphone shared with me this video from The Project For Awesome 2011′s “How to Give Back” campaign on the YouTube:

I didn’t really get the “breasts on the homepage” comment because I’m not a regular follower of this initiative, but I very much enjoyed and appreciated the meaningful message of giving time instead of money and/or things as we give back during the holiday season.

Sure, “psychologists” and “professors” and “experts” will tell you that spending money the right way can make you happier, at least that’s an argument recently posed by the The Age’s Ross Gittins. Further, over the last month I’ve been engaged by no fewer than 20 of my Facebook friends as they crowdsource their projected holiday donations with questions like “Which charity should get my donation this Christmas?” or “What organization do you give to during the holidays?”

We know that holiday consumption and the spending that feeds it is addictive. While happiness is also addictive, I’ll argue that spending as giving is not the most efficient, rewarding or meaningful way to give back in our neighbourhoods, cities and regions. Giving time to your community makes a positive difference in these much more impactful ways:

1. Experiential Learning – you see the results of your work as it unfolds before you and supports/inspires the people who you’re helping.

2. Fiscal Responsibility – we spend more financial capital than we have while spending very little of our collective and individual social capital; giving time instead of cash addresses both of these challenges.

3. Volunteering is addictive – the biggest problem with holiday giving (whether it’s money or time) is that it only happens during the holidays; unfortunately, poverty, addiction, abuse, displacement, and many other anti-community problems happen year-round. Yes, giving time is, in many ways, harder than cutting a check; however, once you spend time on the front lines of community problem-solving and difference-making it’s much harder to stop doing it.

So there it is. Thank you for your time (during this holiday season and beyond).

Masthead photo courtesy of Lester Public Library

Handel’s Messiah at the Orpheum

Composed in 1742, Handel’s Messiah has become a cultural fixture of the Christmas season. When I heard that some of my family planned to see the Vancouver Chamber Choir & Symphony Orchestra’s performance of it I recognized the name but didn’t know exactly what it was. I knew it was a classic that I wanted to experience for myself so I jumped at the chance to do so.

 

Image: Tourism Vancouver, Orpheum Theatre

The performance was at the Orpheum Theatre on Granville Street. This was my first time inside the Orpheum so I just need to briefly gush about the iconic building. The red and gold fixtures and the mural on the vaulted ceiling make it difficult to imagine this was ever a movie theatre, but the old photos on the walls are both proof and nostalgic reminders for visitors like my Mom, who remembers seeing movies there when she was young.

 

The baroque epic is composed of bouncing vocal rounds interspersed with soloists reciting what are almost comically repetitive choruses. You get the sense that they really want to make sure you now what they are talking about. Except for the soprano who sang in a pitch so high that what she sang couldn’t compete with how she sang it. Handel’s own habit of customizing the lyrics for each performance has become a part of the living tradition. While a live musical performance is always unique, it is not always intentionally so. I love the idea of a composition that was written over 250 years ago with the intention of performing it differently for each occasion. It makes the occasion more exciting for the audience, and the performers.

 

Handel was super rich. He still ranks in the top 5 richest classical composers. Messiah is just part of what made him so plentiful of resources. Handel is credited as being the first to write English language oratorios. An oratorio is a sort of no frills no gimmicks opera that cut out all the typical expenses that made Operas so unprofitable, such as costumes, sets, and star performers.  Mostly unknown performers on a simple stage created a vocal symphony so compelling that record-breaking audiences have attended since the first performance.

 

The ease and low cost of staging the show combined with the incredible popularity with audiences made Messiah the most profitable performance of it’s time and it remains one of the most performed pieces in the world to this day. This was a great opportunity to get out and enjoy one of the city’s best venues and one of the world’s most popular pieces of music and, to top it off, the tickets were only about $30. Halleluia!

Santa Claus – The Exclusive Interview

Who are you?

Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, the big fat guy that breaks into houses – I have many names and all of them tend to be true. I’m a long time giver committed to spreading joy to good children through the mass creation and distribution of presents to the children of the world (at least the one’s from rich countries).

What do you do for fun?

I’m a giver. I like to give presents to nice kids and a big lump of coal to all the little pricks out there. I also like being a business manager extraordinaire. Santa a CEO? Think about it – I operate the biggest manufacturing enterprise in the world with a global distribution system that puts companies like McDonald’s to shame. Service while you sleep. And unlike many companies, I’ve never accepted a dime of government money (put that in your pipe and smoke it GM). I’m particularly fond of supervising my elves. They’re little and awkward and quite frankly, in many ways, kind of similar to indentured servants. Not much like their distant ancestors – the elves of Middle Earth who helped Frodo take the Ring to Mt. Doom.

Yup – I have fun doing just about everything in this job – I just wish I got paid a bit better. Being paid in milk and cookies wouldn’t fly on Wall Street, so why should I have to do it ? Next year, my plan is to hire some consultants from McKinsey or Deloitte to tell me how I can streamline the whole toy making operations. After all, it’s all about cutting the fat – that’s what Mrs. Claus always says anyway. Then we can come up with a solid strategy on how I can finally extract the kind of coin I should be entitled to. Whoever said happiness and “joy” should be free? Consultants never fail at this sort of thing, so look for me in next year’s Forbes’ Top 100 richest men. Should be right below Bill Gates…

What is your favourite community and why?

I gotta say my favorite community is the network of children I bring gifts to every year. Even though they only pay me in milk and cookies, deep down, I know they’d pay me in Benjamins if they could. Plus they all have different ways of celebrating me. Some are sort of ridiculous.

What is your superpower?

I can see when children are sleeping and when they’ve been naughty or nice. In other words, I’m a lot like an omnipresent God. I fly around on a magic sleigh and deliver presents to millions of girls and boys every year. Beat that Superman.

How do you use this power to build community?

See above. I’m too busy putting down a possible elf strike to go into more details.

My Three Favourite Things About Santa Are…

[Editor's Note: Normally we do our top favourite things about someone profiled in Get To Know Your Community. However, Santa Claus is kinda a big deal. So we decided to throw the rules out the window and just list all our favorite things about jolly old Saint Nick]

1. He’s a giver, not a taker. Santa has been delighting countless children for centuries. He’s part of many cultures and a constant source of excitement for everyone!

2. He’s so awesome that NORAD tracks him. That’s right – Santa is so special that NORAD decides to track him every year. He’s also a social media icon (check some stats on how often he’s searched) – he’s even on Twitter -http://twitter.com/SANTA although the profile photo doesn’t really capture his true beauty

3. He always takes one for the team. Climbing down chimneys isn’t easy. Neither is living in the Arctic – especially with Global Warming melting away the foundation of his workshop. But Santa does it all because he loves what he does and knows how much we need him!

4. He only has the pressure of deliverables on 1/ 365 days a year

5. He gets to travel extensively to far flung corners of the world and has celebrity status sans paparazzi chasing him.

6. Even though he’s well known to be grossly overweight, he’s never been an official Jenny Craig spokesperson unlike the irritating Kirstie Alley and Jason Alexander, which makes me respect him even more. If he was skinny, kids would weep.

7. He’s basically the world’s biggest philanthropist and yet never makes an official “list” (though he may be making our List)

8. Many of his elves were former oompa loompas hired from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory after it went into receivership during the US economy meltdown

Masthead photo courtesy of [puamelia]

Jilly’s Christmas in Australia!

My Three Favourite Things Are:

1. Timing

Being a super competitive person, my favourite thing about Christmas in Australia is that we get it before pretty much everyone else in the world.  Being just west of the International Date Line, Australia is the sixth country to wake up to Christmas day, and the five that come before us are pretty much Australian anyway (like New Zealand). Western Canada on the other hand is so far behind us that I’m pretty sure that by the time Christmas makes it to Vancouver it’s already New Year’s Eve here.

2. Vibe

Having Christmas in Summer means the holiday period comes at a time when Australia is at its most vibrant and alive. Schools are out, the long summer vacation is beginning, it’s incredibly hot, and the cities are buzzing with music festivals and community events.

3. Cultural Confusion

My childhood Christmas memories are a blur of mosquitoes, sunburn, prawns, backyard cricket, beaches, mangos, snakes, barbeques and camping. Yet despite these quite obvious signs of Summer, Australians still decorate our houses with snow-covered reindeer and suffer through having the oven on for four hours to bake a turkey when it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside. It may be a little confused, but it’s a lot of fun.

In Search of a Wasteless Holiday

[Editor's note: according to a report by the Recent Findings Institute, the holiday season is one of excess.  Over the next week, many many people will over indulge in food, drink, airing of grievances, and the procurement of stuff.  And while it's bad enough that such things happen on their own, it makes it worse when we learn things like the Canadian Food Bank is struggling to meet growing demand and, in British Columbia, one in three kids will rely on said Food Bank for their holiday meals. Speaking of holiday meals, while some struggle to feed themselves, others throw food away. Lots of it. In fact, by the end of 2010 North Americans will have thrown away over 40% of our food. Nearly one-third of North Americans knowingly over-extend themselves when it comes to making holiday purchases, too. When you put it all together, this does not make for a happy and healthy holiday recipe of community awesomeness. So, I reached out to one of the coolest people in our community for some people-and-planet-minded holiday solutions. Enjoy!]

We hijacked the following low-waste tips from my main man on Vancouver Island, Zac Whyte. Says Zac, “it’s easy to reduce your waste and stress levels this holiday season.” Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Buy your turkey from a local farmer.
  2. Have a gift-less holiday. Give money to your friend or family member’s favorite charity for them instead of buying presents. I’m a big fan of Kiva gift cards. They are a great way to learn about the world and perpetually create business opportunities for people.
  3. Give an experience like a gourmet meal cooked by you, a swim, skate or ski pass, yoga punch cards, music or yo-yo lessons, tattoos, or ninja magic classes to your favorite person. Do it together with them to triple your points.
  4. Plastic is the brussel sprout of the packaging world. Just because we can have it doesn’t mean we should – once a year is good enough, never is even better. Purchase products in glass instead of cans or plastic.
  5. Wrap your gifts in re-usable shopping bags.
  6. Eat more vegetables and compost the scraps. Eat less meat.
  7. Cut the greeting cards you received last year into gift tags. They work like a charm. Recycle the rest.
  8. Buy a real holiday tree from a tree farmer – it smells better than PVC. Have it chipped for charity by your local fire department after Boxing Day.
  9. Instead of decorating your house with commercially bought products start a tradition of creating your own each year.
  10. Spend as much time with family and friends as possible. It’s free, it’s good for the earth, and it’s fun… Happy Holidays!

Thanks, Zac. I’ll see you in the woods of the Comox Valley soon. We can meet next to the big tree.

Another thing that flashed across my screen the other day is the story of Mr.Narayanan Krishnan – a fantastic digital story of his community-service has been making the social media rounds for the past few weeks. Check it out:

The message from both of these fantastic updates is a pretty simple one: over the holidays, leave more than you take. The myriad prices we pay for the excesses of our lifestyle are already catching up to us, so perhaps a more concentrated sense of low-impact, community-minded simplicity is what we need around this time of year. Hey, it’s just an idea.

On behalf of the Daily Gumboot’s staff and community partners, I wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season.

After all, experiences shared within a happy and healthy community are the greatest (and most reasonably priced) gift of all!

A German Christmas Market Lands in Vancouver

For a little while longer, the aromas of Bratwurst and mulled wine will continue to welcome Vancouverites into the city’s one and only German-style Christmas Market – WITH German vendors from Germany!

At first it looked like the market was doomed. On the day of the planned openng, a propane tank exploded and half the market went up in flames.

I was watching the live CBC video feed and it didn’t look pretty – black smoke billowing up from the plywood.  Miraculously, a few nights later this Old World meets New World experiment was back on track. With all signs of the fire erased, hundreds of people, myself included, lined up around the block, eager to sample some Old World Christmas delicacies.

Christmas markets are a staple in Germany.   Visit any town in December and  its central square will be lined with stalls selling baking, pretzel, baked apple and naturally, “Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut.”

The market will be full of people wandering the maze of stalls, mug of mulled wine in hand, filling their bellies and communing with their neighbours. I had the chance to visit southern town of Ulm’s market a few years ago.I happened upon it in the 4pm twilight just as thousands of decorative lights began to light up the booths. As I watched large snowflakes drifting between them and Ulm’s famous cathedral, the whole thing took on a timeless Hans Grimm quality.

With B.C. Hydro on one side; our bizaree Public Library on the other, and December showers more likely  than snowflakes, you could say a true German market is a tough act for Vancouver to follow. But hey, I bought it. On a chilly night after waiting in a twenty minute line, a 8$ Bratwurst and a $4 dollar hot mulled went down really, really well.   As I  chewed and looked about, I was impressed by the carefully decorated stalls and the energy  with which the German vendors did their thing.  The design of the market reminds me of Ulm as well – a quadrant of food stalls with a cluster of middle booths selling baking and crafts. Bratwurst and wine dispatched, I looked around at the glowing faces of my fellow Vancouverites and any skepticism about this hastily erected Christmas Market half a world away from its origins melted away.

Christmas is a Gumboot

 

Christmas is a Gumboot.

Christmas is a Gumboot.

What can I say about Christmas and it’s spirit of community that hasn’t already been said? It’s a tough nut to crack, even for a season that provides so many Nutcracker suites. So I thought I’d share with you — our blogger community — a few family traditions that pre-date the gumboot, blogs, even the web, as we know it.

All through the house, not a creature was stirring… except the raging pizza party and the sound of Bill Murray in “Scrooged” on in the background…

Christmas Eve is very important in my family – just as important as Christmas day. It’s a night that belongs to pizza, movies, friends, a present or two (usually pajamas) and the 1923 edition of my father’s “The Night Before Christmas.” 

This year will be the first time I don’t spend Christmas Eve with my mum and dad (although, I’ll see them Christmas Day). I’ve been welcomed into a new community  – editor, Kurt Heinrich’s family. With this community comes a new collection of traditions, just as old and as important as my own. It will feel strange but I can’t help but be thankful that I have so many open doors and warm fires to sit by on this very special evening. 

The differences between this Christmas and past seasons have been building for weeks now. I realize I’ve slowly been making my own traditions and, so far, some of my favourite moments of the holiday have been spent with friends. More specifically, the editorial staff of the Gumboot over good food and drink.

My dad was a newspaper columnist and every Christmas Eve he would publish a new Christmas story. I can see why he looked forward to it every year. Christmas, I’m learning, is a time of year to take stock of community and it’s stories. It consistently balances old and new traditions. Like the people and friends we encounter in our life, we let go of what we no longer have room for, and welcome what and who we need in our community.

A tradition I’m slowly leaving behind me is one I will miss the most. When I was little, we had a rule in my home: no one was allowed to sneak our of their room and peak at stockings or presents under the tree until we heard the “Hallelujah” Chorus at full volume coming from the living room. I still feel this knot of excitement in my stomach everytime I hear Handel’s “Messiah.” 

I know I speak on behalf of everyone here at the Daily gumboot when I say today – Christmas Eve Day – we wish you warmth of spirit and generosity. Take stock and consider your own personal community – what you’ve said goodbye to in your life– who you’ve welcomed into it – and ask yourself, are there gumboots in your world.

Merry Christmas.

Vintage Queen to Charlie Brown, there’s a tree type for you

Are you a Charlie Brown? Vintage Queen? Traditional? The type of Christmas tree you choose this holiday season says a lot about you – your values, interests, personality, style.  Luckily, this handy Christmas tree style guide can help you figure out what your tree type is, and from there, well, the possibilites are endless.

A Traditionalist's Nightmare ...

A Traditionalist's Nightmare ...

The Traditionalist:
You look forward to getting a tree in like, July. You make plans to get a tree no later than the end of November. The decorations are on, the lights are strung and you’re happily sipping [insert traditional holiday drink that your mom used to make you as a kid here] by December 1st … 2nd, at the latest. Nothing but a live tree with ornaments passed down through the years and a stocking hung with glee will do for the traditionalist.

The perfectionist:
Ah yes, we all know them. We can see them (and their perfectly groomed trees) from a mile away. The ornaments will be color-coded, hung in perfect alignment with one another, and perfectly straight. The tree may be live … but that gets a little messy. To ensure consistency and, well, perfection, this tree type usually opts for the whole package deal – tree, ornaments and lights all purchased in one go from your friendly, generic holiday retailer.

The Rogue:
Your tree says a lot about you, but at the same time not really much at all … You spend a lot of dough beautifying your tree – because frankly, underneath all the dazzle ‘n glam, it doesn’t have much going for it. On a positive note, some say if you climb to the top of tree, you can almost see Russia

The Tree Hugger:
Your tree, of course, has been ethically purchased. Maybe it was rented through Evergrow Christmas Trees or Carbonsync Christmas, to be returned to a habitat restoration group for replanting. Perhaps it was purchased with all proceeds going to a local charity, like Aunt Leah’s, with funds going to disadvantaged youth and families throughout the lower mainland. Perhaps you walked 10 km to the nearest tree lot … and back with a tree … so as not to spew toxic fumes into the environment. Whatever the case may be, you can be sure to find recycled-newspaper wrapped gifts under and fair-trade ornaments adorning the tree come Christmas day.

A Festivus for the rest of us!

A Festivus for the rest of us!

The ‘Borrower’ :
Armed with just a saw and a pair of Gumboots, this resourceful fellow/lady seems to be able to  acquire just about anything. ‘Borrowing’ your neighbor’s fourth generation pear tree as your Christmas tree? No problem! Pears make beautiful – and delicious – ornaments. Venturing into  Strathcona Provincial Park to secure your tree? Absolutely! There’s nothing Park Rangers like better than a festive chase through the wilderness on Christmas Eve.

The Philosopher:
The great thing about this type is that you don’t even need a tree. Anything can be the tree! Besides, the Philosopher is too busy asking themselves important questions about said Christmas tree, like what happens when this tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it? Does it make a sound? And will the Borrower be there to swiftly collect it? 

The Festivus:
You don’t have a tree, you have an aluminum pole. And you really, really like Seinfeld episodes. You aren’t afraid to tell people how they’ve disappointed you over the past year, and you enjoy a delicious meal of paella over the holidays.

So there you have it. Do you fit in to a tree type above? Do you see yourself falling into a different category altogether? Or, are you one of those cynical souls who refuses to take part in the fun of Christmas-themed sterotyping? Share your thoughts, praises and gripes with us here at the Daily Gumboot.