GIFTS OF THE SEASON

Driving into the city this morning, I was greeted by a most spectacular sight – the snow-capped Olympic mountains in full view, rising majestically against a clear blue sky.  

It took my breath away, but also filled me with delight.

“What a gift!” I thought  to myself.

Apparently, the ritual of shopping for, and wrapping gifts was on my mind. ‘Tis the season after all.

In the whirlwind of holiday activity, it’s nice to slow done once in awhile and appreciated the simple beauty of nature, or the familiarity and warmth behind our annual traditions.

In a few days, families across the country will be gathered beneath the Christmas tree, enjoying the end result after weeks of shopping and holiday preparation – including, of course,  the unwrapping of presents.

Have you ever noticed that there are various ways to unwrap a gift?

For example, some of us might tear into the package with gusto, leaving a pile of shredded paper and ribbon on the floor. Others are known to unwrap a present ever so carefully, with the intent of saving the paper and bows to be used again next year.

On a recent excursion to a museum, I was introduced to the ceremonious creation of a Japanese scroll painting.

Compact and lightweight, a Japanese scroll hangs effortlessly on a wall. Yet it is preceded by a complex process.

This unique work of art – carefully rolled up and tucked inside a custom made box – is subsequently removed from its’ box in a ceremony steeped in tradition, very much like the unwrapping of a present.

It might surprise you to know the effort that goes into producing this exquisite art form.

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HOW TO HANDLE ADVERSITY WITH FLAIR

My son recently told me this story about his paternal grandfather, who was returning home to England after a short trip.

Seems the elderly gentleman had a bag of pomegranates in hand when he passed through Security at London’s Heathrow Airport.

“You can’t bring fruit into the country” he was told.

He couldn’t bear the thought of having to part with his beloved fruit, but knew he didn’t have a choice. He felt defeated.

Then suddenly he had an idea.

“I want to eat them”, he said, “Is there a place where I could sit?”

The security officer directed him to a chair. The grandfather sat down and proceeded to eat the pomegranates.

This struck me as particularly funny because he had a total of 20 pomegranates!

Plus, he is a man of very slight build, who gives the impression that a gust of wind might blow him over.

Yet, he sat there and ate the pomegranates.

All twenty of them.

I had to admire his tenacity.

It seems that when faced with adversity there are two basic personality types. There are those that simply give up and throw in the towel.

Then there are those who get creative.

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NEW BEGINNINGS

I read the other day that the holiday festivities don’t officially end until January 2.                       

Well, that might work in most families, but in mine we have a string of January birthdays that begin, more or less, when the holidays are suppose to end.

We’re not officially done celebrating until the following week, which makes for an interesting time of year.

Some family members have been known to complain, because – let’s face it – by the time New Years Day rolls around, we’re feeling the effects of too much good food, and definitely too much sugar.

(For a post-holiday Food Lover’s Cleanse, click here).

January 1 is meant to be the official end to that week – or month – of celebration.

Right?

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

GiftCakedscn0087 (2)

From HARMONY DESIGN STUDIO

GIFTS OF THE SEASON

Driving into the city this morning, I was greeted by a most spectacular sight – the snow-capped Olympic mountains in full view, rising majestically against a clear blue sky.                                                                             MtBaringDSCN0663(1) (2)

It took my breath away, but also filled me with delight.

“What a gift!” I thought  to myself.

Apparently, the ritual of shopping for, and wrapping gifts was on my mind. ‘Tis the season after all.

In the whirlwind of holiday activity, it’s nice to slow down once in awhile and appreciated the simple beauty of nature, or the familiarity and warmth behind our annual traditions.

In another week, families across the country will be gathered beneath the Christmas tree, enjoying the end result of weeks of shopping and holiday preparation, which includes the unwrapping of presents.

Have you ever noticed that there are various ways to unwrap a gift? For example, some of us might tear into the package with gusto, leaving a pile of shredded paper and ribbon on the floor. Others are known to unwrap a present ever so carefully, with the intent of saving the paper and bows to be used again next year.

On a recent excursion to a museum, I was introduced to the ceremonious creation of a Japanese scroll painting.

Compact and lightweight, a Japanese scroll hangs effortlessly on a wall. Yet it is preceded by a complex process.

This unique work of art – carefully rolled up and tucked inside a custom made box – is subsequently removed from its’ box in a ceremony steeped in tradition, very much like the unwrapping of a present.

It might surprise you to know the effort that goes into producing this exquisite art form.

  • To begin with, a highly skilled and respected artist creates the painting, typically applying black or colored ink, onto a paper ground –  the equivalent of a Western canvas.
  • Upon completion, the painting is taken to a master craftsman, whose one and only task is to expertly mount the masterpiece onto exactly the right patterned silk background, thereby creating a scroll.
  • Next, the painting – now officially a scroll – is entrusted to another artisan, whose expertise is crafting custom boxes.  This box maker will create a perfectly sized box into which the rolled up scroll will be stored.

You might think this is the end of the process, but it isn’t.                                                ScrolliStock_000008011669XSmall

  • The box still needs to be inscribed. This is yet again, a separate artisan who is master of his craft.

When looked at in this way, the entire process is quite humbling. I can think of nothing in Western art that comes even close.

What is particularly intriguing to me about this entire process is the final ceremony of how a scroll is carefully taken from its’ box and just as carefully unfolded to reveal the masterpiece inside.

Exactly like a treasured gift.

HOW TO HAVE A GREEN HOLIDAY

I’ve just learned that a local radio station will be hosting a special holiday talk show titled “12 Days of Green”. I particularly like the ‘green’ twist on the traditional 12 Days of Christmas –it struck me as both clever and timely. After all, Christmas is fast approaching, and every year it seems there are more suggestions on how to make your holidays Green.

Here is a brief summary of the various tips and recommendations I have come across during this holiday season:

TREES & DECORATION                   HolidayLightsiStock_000002392693XSmall

The prevailing wisdom still dictates that a live tree is preferable to an artificial one, since the latter is made almost entirely from plastics, that can’t be recycled. The bottom line is that while it can seem wasteful to have a living tree from one year to the next, it is actually more beneficial to the environment, especially if you support what is grown or manufactured locally.

Other ways to bring the outdoors in are by collecting pine cones and branches of holly berries, or whatever else you might find that suits your holiday decor. If you have children, old standbys like strings of cranberries and popcorn are fun decorations; when the holidays are over you can put them in your yard waste, or give them to the birds.

I literally cringed when I read that we should avoid using tinsel, because it can’t be recycled. In my family, tinsel on the Christmas tree is a tradition that goes as far back as I can remember. When it came to decorating the tree it was always my father’s crowning achievement. He would add the tinsel at the very end, ever so carefully and always very meticulously. Give up tinsel? Me? Maybe next year.

LIGHTS

Did you know that LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are at least 90% more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs? Cool to the touch, they also pose less of a fire hazard, and will last for thousands of hours longer than incandescent bulbs.

LEDs are widely available in many different colors, and shapes, and can be found at your local retailer. By switching to LED’s you will save electricity and enjoy a lower electrical bill!

Be sure you don’t throw away your old lights; check your local listings to find out how they can be recycled.

GIFTS & GIFT WRAP

The general idea with the giving of gifts, is to tread light and give less by focusing on gifts that are less wasteful, and kinder to the environment. For example, you can give the gardener in your life a sturdy, easy to care for plant which is definitely green any way you look at it. Plus there is zero waste.

Whether purchased or homemade, food gifts can be a great idea. As with any gift just make certain it is something the recipient would like. Studies show that as much as 20% of food gifts get thrown out!

Avoid using foil or plastic-coated gift wraps as they are not recyclable. Instead, look for gift wrap that is either made from recycled paper, or lends itself to being recycled.

If you want to be really creative, try wrapping your gift with something that can be re-purposed, such as a colorful kitchen towel, or cloth shopping bag.

RECYCLE

So many things can be recycled – trees (which can be composted), holiday lights, batteries, electronics, wrapping paper and of course, food. For the latter, take advantage of your local yard waste program, and for everything else check out your local listings for various recycle programs.

EAT LOCAL

The newest thing I’m hearing this year, is the emphasis on eating locally grown, seasonal food. In doing so, you will be supporting both the environment and local businesses. Choose organic produce whenever possible, and you will be doing even more for your health and well-being, especially during a season fraught with temptation and unhealthy food choices.

IN SUMMARY As you can see, there’s no need to give up your traditions, it’s simply a matter of tweaking them!

Plus, whether greening your holidays, or greening your home, I always take the approach that it is not necessary to do everything all at once. While every little bit helps, it is more important, in my view, to do what feels most comfortable to you, in the moment. It’s a little bit like being on a diet, because if you start to feel deprived, or that you are sacrificing too much, your efforts simply won’t last.

Going Green for the Holidays

The New Year is upon us, and most of us are moving on from the recent holiday revelry.

Even so, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts on how to make your holiday greener in 2008. On the positive side, you still have eleven months to work this out, and determine what changes would feel most comfortable for you and your family.

There’s no need to give up our traditions, it’s more a matter of tweaking them!

For example, the prevailing wisdom dictates that a live tree is preferable to an artificial one. An artificial tree is made almost entirely from plastics – nonrenewable petroleum by-products that can’t be recycled. Many are imported from China, which affects transportation and consumption of fossil fuels. Ideally, the preference is for using what’s grown or manufactured locally.

Other alternatives are to plant a living tree, one that grows in a pot and can be re-planted later – a great idea, but one that requires a lot of acreage (or ingenuity) for the re-planting phase, especially if you still have many more Christmases to look forward to. Organically grown trees are another environmentally friendly choice, as they are grown without synthetic pesticides and are therefore much kinder to the environment.

The bottom line is that while it can seem wasteful to have a living tree from one year to the next, it is actually more beneficial to the environment.

Another subject of discussion for a greener holiday, is our energy-consuming holiday lights. I highly recommend switching to LEDs (light-emitting diodes) which are at least 90% more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs. Cool to the touch, they also pose less of a fire hazard, and will last for thousands of hours longer than incandescent bulbs. LEDs are now widely available in many different colors, shapes and sizes, and can be found at your local retailer.

The benefit to you is that you will save electricity and enjoy a lower electrical bill, while enhancing the environment.

In my family, we actually changed over to LEDs this past Christmas, and were quite satisfied with the results. The outward appearance, as compared to regular lights, was negligible. We purchased white lights, which, when lit, had a lovely bluish tinge – to me the color of new-fallen snow.

If you prefer to keep your current string of lights, try limiting the time you burn them by not leaving them on overnight. Aternatively, try putting your lights on a timer, which also means one less thing for you to remember during the stressful holiday season!

Other ‘green’ suggestions that I have heard of – and will share with you here – mostly cover gift wrap and cards. Some work for me, others do not. Again, it’s a matter of knowing, and understanding, what your family would be most comfortable with.

Let’s begin with the gift wrap, which actually applies to many more occasions than just the holiday season. Suggestions range from recycling brown paper grocery bags to not using bags at all. As an interior designer, aesthetics always take center stage for me, so I’m not so sure I could live with brown paper wrappings under the tree. However, I have been known to recycle gift boxes, which often works in lieu of gift wrap if the outer package is attractive and sturdy enough.

Some members of my family have long been in the habit of re-using gift bags from one season or occasion to the next. This is an equally fine solution. Sometimes it just comes down to being creative, and seeing what you can come up with! As for recycling holiday cards, by cutting off the front and saving it for future use, I think this is another one that requires creativity to pull off properly. Alternatively, many people rely on e-mail greetings.

A rather appealing idea that I’ve come across is from a company called Bloomin’ Flower Cards – a biodegradable card with embedded seeds that you actually plant! Talk about creative!

Cheers!