Sunday, December 25, 2016

Recreating Christmas Traditions: Harking Back to Simpler Times

The prickly pair picking kit also includes tongs...
Watching the Black Friday hysteria on YouTube, my heart hankers for simpler times. Having survived the Depression, there was a whole generation who were taught to “waste not, want not.” I remember Nana carefully removing the tape from her presents (not an easy task), folding the gift wrap up and saving it. This drove us grandkids crazy! We were rarin’ to rip into that next package. Even back then, I recall Pastor preachin’ how Christmas had become too commercialized and how important it was to remember the “true meaning of Christmas.” There were even a few Christmases when mom lit a candle on a lopsided Duncan Hines cake while we all dutifully sang “Happy Birthday” to baby Jesus. Sheer torture! I never was much of a fan of cake anyway and those presents were a waitin.’ 

Oh, the wonder of Christmas! Stores decorated in red and gold by November, Christmas music streaming. We were programmed like Pavlov’s dog to start thinking about what presents we should buy or what we wanted for ourselves. Our Saturday cartoon marathon included commercials of kids playing with the latest toys from Mattel. Pages of the Montgomery Ward “wish book” were ear marked in eager anticipation.

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way how many presents I got (and how personal they were) became equated with how much I was loved. Perhaps it started with the shiny trikes under our Nana’s tinsel tree and Uncle Jim climbing up on the roof and ringing Santa’s sleigh bells. That’s how our new Nana welcomed us into the family fold.

And then there were those beloved Rankin Bass Holiday Specials that taught us that gifts were love. In “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” Kris Kringle sang “Give a little love” to the children as he distributed his gifts. In “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” there was a real sense of urgency about getting the gifts to the children by Christmas morning so they wouldn’t feel disappointed or unloved. Even the toys wanted to be loved!

It didn’t matter how poor you were. The message was clear - It wouldn’t be Christmas without presents. Remember the Hallmark TV movie, “The Gift” in which the couple both sold their most cherished possessions to buy a prized gift for their loved one? Even little Laura Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie” agonized over getting Christmas gifts for her family.

As many of you know, Dan and I got married a year ago - so this is our third Christmas together. We are learning, through fits and starts, how to combine our old traditions with more sustainable ones. Since I’ve been with Dan, I’ve become more aware of how much we waste during the holidays from too much food - to unwanted gifts - to wrapping paper. We usually have a whole trash bag full of wrapping paper to go out with the garbage on Christmas morning.

What if we took a cue from Nana and reused the wrapping paper, gift boxes and bags we already have? We could tie reusable ribbons around gifts wrapped with colorful cloth from my scrap pile! What if we stopped buying the latest Christmas lights and decorations and set up that old Christmas village that was packed in the shed? With a little creativity we could make Christmas decorations out of recycled materials!

And what about all those presents? Even my boys said we should stop buying things they don’t want. What if it didn’t take a gift to make me feel loved? I have to admit that I felt a little depressed because I only got two gifts on my birthday. (One from Dan and one from my mother...)  When it really came down to it, I was lonely because I needed to catch up with my girlfriends. I felt better after I got on Facebook and set a date to meet a friend for a long overdue lunch. 

When I first started writing this blog, my mom called to see what the boys wanted for Christmas. I shared what was on my mind. Before she hung up, she blurted out, “Well, I like to get a little something.” My mom, who is on a limited retirement income feels compelled to get “a little something” for each of her 11 grandkids. To her credit, she often tries to find something creative (like the oil pastels that inspired me as a child). I hate to say it but most of those art sets have been stashed away under other unused toys. (Sorry, Mom!) I know this is done out of love and a need to feel closer to out of town family. I know because I used to get joy from sending Christmas and birthday packages. They often included the latest pics of the boys so relatives would feel included in their lives. I would make some into magnets so they could see their smiling faces every day. So…if I send presents to feel more connected to distant loved ones, why not just call or text them? 

I have always loved Christmas. But looking back it’s not the presents I remember. My fondest memories of Christmas are the sentimental moments of family tradition. Getting together on Christmas Eve, seeing my cousins, the smell of Nana’s homemade chicken and dumpling soup, Christmas music playing. Ah… the music. My happiest memory is bundling up under a cover in the back of an old pickup truck and belting out Christmas carols with my friends from our church youth group. When I grew up, I tried to recreate that feeling with an annual Christmas sing-a-long party. But that’s gotten hard to pull off with everyone’s busy schedules, so Dan and I attend The Loft’s "fabulous" Christmas sing-a-long party instead.

What if our Christmas festivities didn’t revolve around opening presents? What if we found other ways to make people feel loved other than buying them more stuff? What if we gifted our time and attention instead of giving presents?

This year I let my teen boys lead the way. Jeremy wanted to watch his brother’s classic claymation short “Ba’al Hadad Saves Christmas.” That led to us all donning Santa Hats and recording our own hilarious “Qart Qadesh Christmas Commentary.” This was followed by our traditional fondue and cheese dinner. To quote my youngest son, “It was a good time.” 

 We didn’t manage to totally get away from exchanging gifts this Christmas. But Josh and I made a day out of shopping for materials for Josh’s gift – a Roman tunic. I created a prickly pear pickin’ kit out of a reusable bag. (I covered up the TEP logo with felt…) Josh made a clay figure for Dan.  Most of our gifts were actually from the Thrift Store.  I never could master getting the tape off of the wrapping paper. (sigh...) But we did reuse some gift bags and we decorated our makeshift (lamp) Christmas Tree. 

How do we hark back to simpler, more sustainable times? We just need to rethink our consumer traditions. I’m not suggesting that this all happen overnight. Just that we begin to reimagine how we think of gift giving at Christmas. I realize that much of our economy comes from Christmas shopping. But we can put some of that money back into the local economy by shopping local – shopping at farmers markets for local treats, buying art from local artists, special clothing items from local designers, furniture from local carpenters, and jewelry from local jewelry makers… We can buy from thrift stores, resale stores, antique stores, and UPCYCLE. We can make useful and quirky gifts from repurposing household items. We can fix up and paint old furniture. We can give our kids that cookie jar of grandma’s that they always wanted (hint, hint mom…)

You are all welcome to join us in our new holiday tradition of belting out Christmas songs at the top of our lungs or just spending time together! Have a blessed Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Welcoming Back the Tucson Water Protectors

Tucson Water Protectors speak about their experiences at Standing Rock.
I have been following the Standing Rock Sioux and the other Water Protectors in their peaceful, non-violent stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners, an oil giant with a horrific record of environmental devastation (pipeline leaks and explosions, abandoned oil spills) plans to build a pipeline under the Missouri River that supplies water to 17 million Americans. Water Protectors chant, "Mni Wiconi,  Water is Life” as they use their bodies to block construction of the illegal pipeline. (Thanks to their efforts, the permit was denied.)  Police in riot gear have responded by brutally attacking them with rubber bullets, mace, and water cannons in freezing temperatures. One young woman was blinded by being shot in the face at point blank range. Another woman had half of her arm blown off by a concussion grenade. The Water Protectors have been unjustly arrested, strip searched and held in kennels. Elders have been handcuffed and arrested during prayer ceremonies. This is unacceptable! These courageous Water Protectors are fighting for our water!

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Cannonball Camp. First frost, early November by Eli de Vries 

Unable to pack up and head to their camp in N. Dakota, I’ve done what little I can as a desk top activist: writing blogs, signing and sharing petitions, and reposting drone videos that show what is really going on at Standing Rock. (After 6 months, national news stations finally started covering this historic event when two thousand vets arrived to defend the Water Protectors from police brutality. The local news in N. Dakota is basically a mouthpiece for the DAPL owned police, so the people from nearby Bismarck don’t even know what’s really going on.) I called several sheriff’s offices that deployed officers to further incite the violence. I left messages at the White House, the Army Corp of Engineers, and the Justice Department. All the while, the brave water protectors were sacrificing their livelihoods and putting their bodies in the line of danger - fighting our fight. It just didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

So when I heard about the No DAPL Night at Exo, Dan and I decided to attend to show our solidarity with the returning Water Protectors and to donate money that we knew would reach the people still at camp. 

At this Native American gathering, they opened with a traditional blessing of the Tohono O’odham. They asked the crowd not to record this sacred blessing. Tohono O’odham drummers then performed two prayers: a traditional song and one written in support of Standing Rock. There was a danza in traditional garments. A dancer graciously thanked us for joining them. I felt honored to be included. 

Having had contact with other Native Americans, I was aware of how leery they are of sharing their culture and sacred prayers with outsiders – since they have been exploited in the past. But here they were sharing it freely. I believe this is one of the lessons they took with them from Standing Rock. Indigenous people are drawing strength from their culture and beliefs to embrace their role as protectors of Mother Earth. They are leading the way and welcoming other good-hearted people to join them.

It is beautiful to see them reclaiming their language and heritage. I have noticed at several community events, the Native American speakers greet their people in their native language first before addressing the crowd. To understand the significance of this gesture, it’s important to know that Native American children were taken from their homes against their will and sent to boarding schools to assimilate into white man’s culture. They were beaten for speaking their language or for practicing their religion. Through prayer and love, these courageous people are learning to forgive and to work with others for a greater good - protecting Mother Earth.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Cannonball Camp signs by Eli de Vries
We were blessed with news from the returning Tucson Water Protectors from the Oceti Sakowin camp. They were there to share what they learned about prayerful, peaceful resistance and to continue their loving quest to protect water, sacred places and all human lives now that they are back home. 

Meanwhile, the fight at Standing Rock continues...

Winter at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Cannonball Camp by Eli de Vries
Some ways to help... Pull your money out of the banks that are invested in DAPL. Donate to the Legal Defense Fund Help the Water Protectors that are still in N. Dakota get through the hard winter. Share updates about the Water Protectors on social media. And sign petitions

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Making Holiday Gift Boxes from Reused Cards

Ever wonder what to do with your greeting cards once the holiday is over?

By guest blogger Andrea Edmundson, Co-Founder, Upcycle Tucson

Upcycle Tucson is the new ‘creative reuse arts center’ on the west side of town, just across the street from Habistore. Our mission is to keep materials out of the landfill and to educate the public about ‘upcycling’ or creative reuse. We do this by selling inexpensive and gently used arts & crafts materials, offering classes on upcycled art, and selling gifts and upcycled art in the Artists’ Marketplace. ​Right now, we have great deals on new and gently used holiday items like lights, fabric, ornaments, and ready-to-make crafts. But, what we really love is to encourage people to practice creative reuse.
We have weekly demos on how to creatively reuse the materials we sell. Some of our favorite simple projects use holiday cards to make place-mats and gift tags! So many people buy new gifts this time of year. At Upcycle Tucson, we challenge people to use their creative skills to make not only gifts – functional and artistic ones - but to even make the containers in which they are presented. Here’s how to make small gift boxes from recycled holiday cards – perfect for gift certificates, jewelry, and other little gifts.
Follow the directions over each image. We think you’ll be pleased with the result.

1.  Cut the greeting card in half.

 2.  Trim about 1/8 inch off two sides of the plain half of the card.  This is so the bottom of the finished box will be slightly smaller than the top.

3.  Draw two lines from corner to corner to create an “X” in the middle.

4.  Fold & crease both short ends of the card to the middle of the “X” and then unfold them.


5.   Fold & crease both long ends of the card to the middle of the “X” and then unfold them.


6.  Now, make 4 cuts along the creases as shown (I inked them in so you can see better).  You should have a box now that looks like this.


7. Now fold the flaps on each end together and fold the long piece over the end.  You will have some extra, so fold this piece over the top. 

8.  You can glue, tape, or staple the flaps in place.  You now have a box BOTTOM.

9.  Repeat the steps with the pretty side of the card EXCEPT do not trim the two edges like we did with the bottom of the box…this ensures a better fitting box since the lid will be slightly bigger than the bottom.

10.  To finish, line the box with a small piece of fabric and insert your gift!

This is a great way to make a personalized gift but also to reuse those cards that you hate to throw away. The cards will serve at least one more use before they need to be recycled and that is part of what Upcycle Tucson is all about – keeping materials out of landfills and educating people about the benefits and ways of upcycling. To make it fun and a bit freaky, you can even send the new gift box BACK to the same person who sent the original card to you!

We hope you have a happy and restful holiday season. Being creative through arts and crafts is one of the best ways to unwind while being ‘productive’ at the same time. We sell all types of materials, from traditional arts and crafts supplies to quirky things like fake femur bones, rusty horseshoes, vintage Smoky the Bear posters, and more. No matter if you are a metal artist, collage lover, weaver, or painter, we have something for you. We also sell finished art by local artists and offer classes on how to make artistic, crafty, or functional items from upcycled materials. We look forward to helping you have a stimulating holiday season and beyond!

Don't let the Grinch take your holiday trash to the landfill. 

Wasn't that fun! Wanna take it even farther? Check out Alex Kosmider's (from Zero Waste Tucson) ideas on how to  "Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot"