Day 7: Library books, a gift of reading with no strings attached

by guest blogger, Eloise Collison:

A few years ago my partner and I came up with a better way to buy books, and give great Christmas gifts to each other.
We wanted some last minute, no packaging, truly recycled gifts so we borrowed books from the Ottawa Public Library.
You can “shop” on-line, search your favorite subjects and be as frivolous as you like. Use the on-line catalogue to reserve your books, or browse the shelves at your local branch. You’ll quickly come up with a pleasantly hefty stack of books to give to your favorite book lover.
If you really are working last minute, then browsing is the best bet. If you are organized enough to shop early you can even order your favorite music cds and movie dvds.
This year my partner is getting two Carl Hiaasen mysteries, an author he hasn’t tried before. There’s no risk giving books this way. If he’s read the book, or finds it dull after a few pages, he can just pick something else from the decadent stack of books under the tree.
I also picked up Daniel Ichbiah’s book “Robots” a history of…well…robots and other really geeky things. It’s perfect. It’s the kind of book I could never really afford, and this way I won’t feel guilty looking at it gathering dust on the coffee table come June. In mid-January, after we’ve renewed it a few times, it goes back to the library.
I’m also giving him “Stories from the Bow Seat: the Wisdom and Waggery of Canoe Tripping” by Standfield and Lundell. Another large, lavishly illustrated book, meant to encourage him to finally go on that week long canoe camping trip we’ve been talking about.
To really get that “try all the chocolates in the box” feeling, I try to get a little of everything:

* Biographies…I don’t often reread biographies, so I don’t have any qualms about returning them. Last year I picked “Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood”, by Oliver Sacks. The choices here are endless…how about Frida Kahlo, Isaac Newton, Condoleezza Rice? (maybe not.)

* Non-fiction… Last year’s choice was “Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time”
by Dava Sobel and this year it’s the history of the Halifax explosion with “Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917” by Laura M. Mac Donald

* Cooking…If you‘ve had it with cooking by December 25th, this is a great way to inspire your partner to take a turn. From Vegan to Vietnamese, there are so many possibilities to choose from. This year I picked up “Sushi American Style” by Tracy Griffit and “the Naked Chef Takes Off” by Jamie Oliver. Even my 16 year old likes to cook with Jamie Oliver, the recipes are healthy, all made with his trademark pared down technique.

I enjoy receiving library books too, this year I’m hoping for a new knitting book, or maybe some nice fat gardening books, to help me get through the next snowstorm.
I confessed to the staff at the library that we have been giving their books to each other for the last few years. I thought I might get some odd looks, but this year the librarian reminded me in early December that I should think about placing my orders…and that she couldn’t wait to see what I was going to pick!


Day Six: The Gift of Learning


Okay, I’m shamelessly recycling a graphic from a previous post.  But this season is always so crazy busy and I went and made myself the goal of 12 posts before Christmas and it’s December 17th and I still have 7 to go. So you’ll have to forgive me.

This is yet another post about thingless gifts. I have to do a range of posts on the topic otherwise everyone on my list will be able to figure out what I’m getting them. Today’s post is on giving lessons as presents. I don’t believe there is any other type of gift that is as free of packaging waste and as certain to contribute to the local economy as lessons are.

Again, if you have talent and teaching skills, you might want to give the gift of a lesson with you as instructor. Otherwise there are a vast range of public and private institutions and individuals who teach everything from tennis, to singing, to drumming, to dancing, to yoga, to painting, to sculpture, to accounting. You name it, there is something for everyone out there, even that person on your list that you dread shopping for because it is so hard to think of anything that would please them.

In fact, there are far too many schools out there to list all of them. However, here are a few ideas to inspire you…

  • If that person on your list is musical, but you’re not really sure which instrument she would like to learn to play, give her a gift certificate to the Ottawa Folklore Centre.
  • If that person on your list is artistic, but you’re not sure whether he’s into pastels, watercolours, or mixed media sculpture, give him a gift certificate to The Ottawa School of Art.
  • Rama Lotus Yoga Studios offers passes that allow people to take whatever class suits them at whatever time.

The Ottawa Folklore Centre, 1111 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 3X4, 613 730-2887

The Ottawa School of Art, 35 George Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 8W5, 613 241-7471

Rama Lotus Yoga, 340 Gladstone Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 0Y8, 613 234-7974

Day Five: Giving the Gift of Not Having to Cook

This year my mother has put “a catering gift certificate” on her Christmas wish-list.  Good food speaks to the body and soul and having meals cooked for you can be a great treat. If you’ve got more time than money, a gift certificate for a simple wholesome meal cooked by you can be a great eco-friendly thingless gift to give. However, if you’ve got more money than time and you want to give the gift of a meal cooked by a professional chef, there are a couple of caterers in Ottawa that are particularly eco-friendly and worth mentioning here.

First, if the person is lucky enough to live or work in the Kitchissippi Ward of Ottawa (basically the near west-end) you could buy him or her a week or two (or more) of eco-friendly catered lunches from Credible Edibles. Judy Varga-Toth of Credible Edibles cooks healthy nutritious weekday lunches using as many organic and locally-grown ingredients as possible and then delivers them to her customers in reusable lunch boxes. As she writes on her web-site: “No one should have to choose convenience at the expense of a healthy body and mind or a healthy planet.”

Jennifer and Jo-Ann of The Red Apron run a “dinner club.” They cook and deliver healthy suppers to their customers on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Jennifer and Jo-Ann try to source their ingredients locally and buy organic when they can. Their meals are delivered in special cardboard containers that are 100% recyclable. They currently run their business out of Old Ottawa South, though they will soon be moving to a new location in Centre-town.  Recently, my husband and I decided to buy ourselves three weeks of the Red Apron Dinner Club as our wedding anniversary present to ourselves.  We were not disappointed.

Judy, Jennifer and Jo-Ann are all members of Slow Food Ottawa-Gatineau, a non-profit group that seeks to promote good, clean and fair food in the Ottawa area.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…Organic Cosmetics and Body-care Products


If you are tempted to buy someone cosmetics or body-care products this holiday season make sure to buy them products that do not threaten their health (or the health of animals or the planet).

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Patti, a local Ottawa mom, began to research the toxic ingredients included in those everyday items we put on our bodies such as sunscreen, deodorant, nail polish, and mascara. Appalled at what she found, she and her friend and neighbour Tammey set up a web-site and newsletter to help inform women about the pitfalls of conventional cosmetics and the alternatives that are available. Before buying anyone cosmetics or body-care products take a look around their site:

Okay, once you know what not to buy and why, you’ll probably want to know where to buy alternatives. So let me point you in the direction of another local website, Lilou-organics, run by mom-preneur Lisa. Lilou-organics carries 16 lines of organic cosmetics and body-care products for women, men and babies. While Lilou-organics is primarily an on-line store, for those of us living in the Ottawa area it is possible to go out and visit the showroom in Richmond, but Lisa says that you should call first since she has babies!

Lilou-organics carries many of my favourite products:

Lilou-organics, 6018 Perth Street, box 608, Richmond (Ottawa), ON, K0A 2Z0, 613-601-5701

P.S. for those readers not in Ottawa or without transportation, Lilou-organics offers free shipping on Canadian orders over $100 and on US orders over $150.

The third day: The Great Christmas Tree Debate

Sometime in childhood I figured out that a tree had to be cut down in order to become a Christmas tree and I was devastated. I begged my parents to stop killing living trees and get a plastic one instead.

When I set up my own household with my partner ten years ago, I finally got my wish. We bought a small plastic tree. But it never looked nearly as good as the real ones my parents brought into their house. It was just too plastic, so it got Full-circled a couple of years back.

Now I’m glad I got rid of it, though I feel bad that I passed it on to someone else. You see, in researching this post I found out that plastic trees are worse than kitsch, they’re actually toxic. Grist, which is a great source for environmental news and information, explains that fake Christmas trees are made from that environmental villain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is sometimes stabilised with lead. I probably don’t need to tell readers of this blog that both PVC and lead are damaging to human health as well as the environment. This ends the debate for me. Fake Christmas trees are clearly not an environmental choice.

About 8 years ago we bought a reusable living Christmas tree: a 2-foot tall potted Norfolk pine. Norfolk pine will not survive Ottawa winters so there was never the option of planting it. Instead we had to adopt it. The tree lives with us in the house year-round. It is fed a daily diet of left-over dog water and has grown to a happy healthy 7-feet in height and shows no sign of stopping. (As an aside, let me mention that our ceilings are only 8-feet high, so I’m not quite sure what will happen in a year or two when the tree meets the ceiling.)

If living year-round with an indoor tree is not in your Christmas plans a cut tree is probably your best environmental bet. There is some merit to arguments made that Christmas tree farms provide some habitat for wildlife and are one of the least resource intensive forms of conventional farming. However, as with any shopping decision ask questions. Is the tree from a small local family-farm or has it been trucked in from some giant corporate tree farm? What land-stewardship practices do they use? Do they use pesticides or chemical fertilizers? Do they encourage wildlife to make use of their farm while the trees are growing?

Going to a cut-your-own tree farm can answer a lot of these questions while giving you and your family a fun excursion out. Plus, at a cut-your-own place only the sold trees are cut down. It is a sad sight to see all the leftover cut trees lying dead and abandoned at the local Loblaws on Christmas day.

In Ottawa, cut Christmas trees are collected by the City after Christmas. Some of these are given a new life as wind-breaks on the Canal. Others go to be chipped for mulch which is used to control weeds and to reduce the amount of water needed on City gardens and urban trees. You can also put your tree outside in your yard for the rest of winter to provide shelter for birds and then put it out for the Spring yard-waste collections.

To find a local Christmas-tree grower check out the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario website: They list 16 local farms in the Ottawa area (all of which appear to be family-owned) where you can go to cut your own tree.

On The Second Day of Winter Holiday Season: Thingless Giving

Following on the success of last year’s “Thingless Christmas” my family will once again be forgoing giving each other things.  We got the idea for thingless gift-giving from Connie Cox and Chris Evatt’s book, 30 Days to a Simpler Life.  It is the thoughts and sentiments behind the gifts that we cherish the most.  Meanwhile, the gift objects themselves are often unwanted and end up doing nothing more than taking up space, cluttering up our houses and our lives.  So the idea of “thingless giving” is to give meaningful gifts that don’t come with the obligations bound up in objects.

Examples of thingless gifts include gifts of time (see for example the time gift certificates from the Center for a New American Dream), gifts of events (such as theatre tickets or gift certificates for restaurants), gift memberships, and consumables.   The category of consumables encompasses everything that can be used up including comestibles (such as wine, chocolate, fancy olive oil), toiletries (such as soaps, bubble bath, essential oils), candles, fancy printer paper, cleaning products (luxury laundry detergent for example) etc.

Twelve Days to a Green (but I hope Snowy) Holiday


I’ve decided to set myself the goal of making 12 blog postings on greening the holidays (that’s greening in the environmentally-friendly sense, I’m all for a snowy Christmas) before December 25th.

So my first tip is to go to the fabulous holiday site run by the Center for a New American Dream. While the Center is, obviously, aimed at a U.S. audience there is still a lot of  information that Canadians can make use of. For instance, they have a page of tips and links on creative gift giving, reducing holiday waste, and inspiration for a simpler and more satisfying holiday season.  They also have a page of ideas for meaningful gifts that don’t cost the earth, a set of “gift of time” cards you can print out and give to your loved ones, as well as a link to the Green Guide’s gift-giving guide.

If you sign up with the Center for a New American Dream (which you can do for free) you can access other resources like a booklet on simplifying the holidays as well as material specifically for parents.  I signed up this time last year in order to download the booklet, which was a fairly comprehensive guide to having a simple, meaningful, environmentally-friendly holiday.  In return I get maybe one email from the Center every other week or so, usually for some campaign aimed at American government or corporations.  If you don’t want the extra email you can always cancel your membership after you’ve downloaded the resources you want.