Posts filed under ‘Green gifts’

Guide to going greener at home

EcoholicHomeI recently got  a copy of Ecoholic Home by Adria Vasil (Vintage Canada, $24.95). It’s an extraordinary collection of green living advice for the home — I love it because it’s very specific information with a lot of phone numbers and web sites listed, and because Vasil doesn’t pull punches about what’s really eco friendly and what’s not.

Here are few tips from the book:
– When replacing your roofing material, opt for a lighter colour shingle or tile to reflect more heat from your home in the summer. “Black roofing materials turn your attic into a scrambled egg.” (Page 264)
– Switch to cloth napkins and ditch paper. “Who says you have to wash them after every use? Get a different napkin ring for every member of the family, so you can keep track of whose is whose.” (Page 12) Or, buy a different cloth napkin style for each person! Don’t forget to wash them in cold water rather than hot.
– Save energy in the kitchen: “Turn your burner or oven off a few minutes before it’s done and coast on free heat.” (Page 79)

For those of you who’ve started your holiday shopping, this book might make a terrific present for someone!



November 3, 2009 at 7:17 PM Leave a comment

Another cure for disposable coffee cups


doublewalledbottle_Zoom I’ve long been a fan of Bodum’s double-walled glassware. Foregoing ceramic mugs, my partner and I have a cupboard crammed with elegant double-walled glasses in a few shapes and sizes. Why? They keep things hot, they keep things cold, they don’t require coasters as there’s no condensation. And they look nice. I would also say that glass is an environmentally friendly material, being recyclable and free of hazardous chemicals.

Recently a friend sent me a fab gift: this double-walled glass bottle made by Anchor. It’s just what I’ve been looking for, like my Bodum glasses, but for on the go! Large enough for a big latté and versatile enough to carry any kind of hot or cold beverage, the lid has a silicone closure. I’m not sure what kind of plastic the rest of the top is made with, but it feels like (BPA-free) polypropylene. I’ll write to Anchor and see if I can find out for sure. The website says that most of their products are still made in the US, in Columbus, Ohio.

I’ve noticed that many coffee shops have in-store ads suggesting that their patrons bring their own drinkware. Even Starbucks, maker of the iconic white cup, has posters in their stores, though they report that only 1.3 per cent of their customers bring their own mugs. So that’s the trick. We have some great options for coffee on the go, we just have to remember to bring our mugs, jugs, bottles and cups. You know, in our reuseable bags!

August 27, 2009 at 11:05 AM 1 comment

Summer’s Best Fiction

9780771080722Nothing says summer vacation like lolling about reading a good book. Because I work at Homemakers magazine, and I try to be involved in the magazine industry in general, I usually spend my transit rides and my late hours devouring one magazine or another (and yes, they’re mainly Canadian magazines – we have so many terrific ones).

While on vacation last week, I read through the four or five magazines I’d brought, but the bad weather had me looking for more reading material. Then I remembered that I’d brought a book my mom lent me ages ago – “The Holding” by Merilyn Simonds (McLelland & Stewart, 2005). Not only is the book a beautiful work of fiction about pioneer living and back-to-the-land living, I thought Simonds really hit some ecological notes. In poetic detail, she describes trees, wildflowers and medicinal plants native to the Madawaska area (near Ottawa). Her careful descriptions, told within the context of a greater story, really make we want to be able to identify forest flora and, hopefully, bring some of this richness to the shady corners of my garden.

Mom, I can finally give you the book back! As soon as I’ve traced through it for the names of some of those plants.

Have you read any great fiction lately? Has a work of fiction inspired you to try something, or helped you learn about something?

August 25, 2009 at 11:48 AM Leave a comment

The handkerchief: A summer fashion must-have

Beautiful handkerchief designs

Beautiful handkerchief designs

During my recent visit to Japan, I noted that most people carry a handkerchief. These are not, generally, lacy little numbers with embroidery. And they are not just for women. Since it’s a warmer climate, and generally more humid, everyone keeps the appearance of cool with a fashionable brow-mopper. The styles range from linen with traditional designs to bold, bright, graphic patterns, to loud plaid with terry cloth on the reverse side. The prices range from about $4 to $30. Even the shops selling manga-related stuff had handkerchiefs — I bought my partner one with a Star Wars motif.

And we needed our hankies throughout our trip, thanks to the 28-degree, 85 per cent humidity Tokyo heat!

Of course, sneezing or coughing into a hankie isn’t couth in Japan — that’s reserved for tissues — but at least the tissue is spared for a more fashionable alternative most of the time.

June 30, 2009 at 9:37 AM 4 comments

Local Folk Art: The Best “R”

I love seeing Canadian artists’ work, and I’ll admit to favouring things affordable and unique, such as pottery, jewelry, clothing and great stuff for my home. One of the people I love to visit is Penny Gorman. Penny reuses architectural salvage to make folk art, giving new life to old doorknobs, pieces of tin ceiling, wood moulding and lots of other materials. She creates fun pieces for the garden, the veranda, or as centre of attention indoors. Here are a couple of garden “whimsies” — cute little houses Penny made from square nails and bits of of wood and tin.

In a way, Penny makes art in a way that I think makes sense for regular goods. Valuable materials — whether tin ceiling from a Victorian home or the stainless steel from your fridge — can be reused. And surely reusing materials, even if it means reprocessing them in the case of pieces appliances and electronics, must be more efficient and economical (and yes, better for the earth) than extracting the raw materials from the ground.

Do you have a favourite local artist? How does s/he create?

May 19, 2009 at 10:10 AM Leave a comment

My new takeout food packaging: Japanese Doggy Bag

Doggy Bag package

Doggy Bag package

How to use the Doggy Bag

How to use the Doggy Bag

doggybag I’m the lucky recipient of these reuseable takeout food boxes! A friend is home from Japan for a few weeks, and she brought me this neat set of fold-up meal boxes. I love the pictograms advising me of how to use them! (Assembling a box was more difficult, but I’m sure practice makes perfect.) I can’t wait to try these out. They’re plastic, but look like they’ll hold up to a lot of handwashings. This should help me with my takeout food conundrum.

This was a great gift! Have you received or given anything that you think reduces waste in some way?

April 30, 2009 at 9:35 AM 4 comments

Bless you, hankie user!

tissues_and_hankies My mom’s mom, a true lady, had a little collection of soft cotton and linen handkerchiefs. She had stitched on little embroidered embellishments, so each one was a little different. She also carried a little package of tissues with her, what seems like the modern equivalent.  But I think that tissues and hankies are for different purposes!

A friend of mine who’s living in Japan right now sent me a colourful handkerchief in red with blue and gold patterns, shown in my snapshot here. She says that many Japanese women carry them to use in place of napkins when dining out. How polite!

It makes a lot of sense to me that soft, reuseable hankies be used for dabbing one’s brow or removing crumbs from one’s lips, while truly messy nose business is better left to a tissue (unless, perhaps, you have a lot of very soft hankies, and an efficient washing machine).

I’ve found that most tissues come in a box made with recycled content, but the tissues themselves are not made with recycled material. So while they have their place, I’ll try to learn from my grandmother and use hankies (with a box of tissues on hand for emergencies). I have some super-soft organic cotton flannel hankies from Grassroots. I also like 365 tissues (made with post-consumer recycled material), and I’m on the hunt for other ancient forest friendly tissues. Have you found any good ones? Are you using hankies?

April 29, 2009 at 12:48 PM 3 comments

Home tweet home: Hanging a birdhouse

hanging a birdhouse One of my best friends gave me a beautiful birdhouse made by Balleycanoe and Co. from window shutter slats and other types of architectural salvage. I finally put it up recently, after looking around my yard for a good site. I decided to hang it from a branch up in our pine tree to try to hide it from the local cats. I waterproofed the seams of the birdhouse with some silicone to try to keep the birdhouse dry inside.

The size of the birdhouse opening is really important. If it’s too large, predators can make a meal out of the very birds you’re trying to protect. For tips on how to build a birdhouse, including door size and safe placement, check out this article.

I haven’t seen any birds checking out the birdhouse yet, but hopefully a pair of songbirds will decide to set up nest in my tree sometime soon. Have you put up birdhouses on your property? Have you gained any tenants?

April 13, 2009 at 10:15 AM 1 comment

Writing instruments: The green pen

writinginstrumentsI’m an editor (at Homemakers magazine), so as someone who marks up a lot of pages of text, it’s no surprise that I have a thing for quality writing instruments.

My favourite writing tools, shown here, are my fountain pen and my mechanical pencil. Both provide smooth scribbling precision. It occurred to me that both of these offer really “green” ways to write.

I love fountain pens because I can use fun ink colours (I’m finishing off cyan right now, with magenta on deck), and because I tend to write more neatly with them, likely because of the continuous flow of ink. I wrote all my notes for all of my university courses with a fountain pen; playing with letter shapes kept me entertained during those early morning economics lectures. I bought this red pen by Lamy, a German manufacturer, for about $30. Lamy’s cartridges bear the recycling symbol (and the letters “PE” so the recyclers can identify the type of plastic). So rather than buying a new pen, then tossing the whole thing when the ink runs out, I just swap in a new cartridge and recycle the old one. Recycling box: 1; Landfill: 0

This metal mechanical pencil isn’t overly comfortable to hold, but it allows me to write neatly in a small space, and it has a built-in eraser under the cap. It used to be my dad’s – he used it at work for years before retiring it, rather symbolically, when he sold the family business to try something different. I found it last summer and it’s been put to work here at Homemakers ever since. I couldn’t tell you who made it: the lettering is worn right off. It’s a durable item that’ll be in service for a long time — likely until I lose it. I bought a package of 50 HM leads for it about a year ago; it’s still at least half full. Recycling box: 0; Landfill: 0.

This somewhat sentimental account of my writing habits may be minutia, but to me it’s symbolic of goods that we can use for a long time with fairly limited environmental impact.

Do you have favourite things that have proved useful over the long haul?

April 9, 2009 at 10:52 AM 6 comments

One of a Kind Canadian artisans

oneofakind1I’m a big fan of shopping locally, so it’s no surprise that I had a great time at the One of a Kind Show last night. (The show is on in Toronto until Sunday.)

I love chatting with the designers and artisans about the inspirations for their works, the materials and the methods, whether they’re selling funky armbags, jewelry or snazzy skirts.

I don’t buy a lot of clothing, really (that’s relative, I guess), but I go for a lasting effect by seeking out stuff that’s well made. The few things I bought from One of a Kind designers still look new and because they’re unusual, I think they’re fairly timeless.

I fell for this red skirt from Mandala Design of Toronto. It’s the one that didn’t get away — I snapped it up! I also bought a gift for my mom’s birthday and chocolates, cookies and other sweets from several of the “Flavours” exhibitors.

What do you look for when you buy clothes? Is it current fashion, fabrics, where things are made, or just what fits best?

P.S. I also met Jen from Toronto and Region Conservation; she had a bunch of great materials about greening your backyard. You can check out some of the city’s resources at

April 3, 2009 at 11:45 AM 5 comments

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