At our house, December 2009 was a blur of working, crafting and traveling. Somehow, in all of the excitement and frenzy of the holidays, the 31 days of 2009’s final month felt more like 13 days. There just never seemed enough time! That must be why, almost a full week into the new year, we are just now getting around to replacing all of the calendars in the house. In past years, I have always grabbed a big, glossy shrink-wrapped calendar from the big-box bookstore, but this year I am looking for something different. Because we are going to have to live with it for the next 12 months, I want something unique, clever and, of course, eco-friendly.
I am writing this week’s article from a hotel room in Toronto. Earlier, while I was waiting in a seemingly-endless line at the check-in desk, I had a few moments to peruse the hotel’s “environmental pledge”. It got me thinking; as diligent as we are to remain environmentally-friendly at home, it seems that many of us slip into bad habits as soon as we check into a hotel. How soon we forget that the little things, like leaving the light on when exiting the room and taking extra-long hot showers, can quickly add up. You probably don’t wash your bed sheets every day or use a fresh towel (or two) for each shower that you take at home, so why should you expect it elsewhere? I’ve compiled a few tips to help you “go green” and reduce your impact when you travel. Of course, I’ve also included a few eco-friendly, handmade items to make your trip a more pleasurable one, too. (Upcycled suitcase, above, by Get Ready, Set Go!)
Have you ever wanted to throw a dart at a map and travel to the spot that it hits? While that idea has a certain spontaneous appeal, perhaps a little more thought should go into not just the location, but the timing of your trip. Traveling during the high-season can mean a higher stress level for the traveler and for the destination itself. By shifting your travel plans to even just a month after a peak period, you allow the area to recover and rejuvenate itself. Plus, chances are that you and your family will get to see things that high-season visitors don’t and you will be get a more authentic experience. It’s a great way to get to see a culture at it’s relaxed and natural best. (Passport holder, above, by My Paper Garden.)
Eco-conscious travelers choose tour operators and facilities with strong environmental sustainability policies Before you book, do a little research and ask questions about the property that you intend to visit. If they have good practices in place, then they’ll be happy to brag about them! You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that your hotel composts kitchen waste, or that they are taking actions to conserve water and energy. Ask about low-flow toilets, water-saving showerheads and earth friendly housekeeping, then reward companies that put these polices into practice by giving them your business. And, don’t forget to write home – recycled map stationary (above) by Dote.
As the old saying goes, “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”. While those little single-use shampoos and soaps are cute, they tend to generate more garbage than they are worth. Before you depart for your adventure, buy small, refillable containers to port your own toiletries. Not only will you reduce waste, you’ll be using products that you know are good for you, rather than leaving it to chance. Even better than bottled, the Lemon Basil shampoo bar (above) by Beautiful Soaps contains conditioning rose hip seed and neem oils and is 100% spill proof – perfect for the suitcase or backpack.
Whether you are hostelling or staying in 5-star comfort, you can always try to make a positive impact on the places you visit. By treating your home away from home with the same care that you treat your own, you help to ensure others who follow will be able to experience and enjoy it, too. We can all can make a difference, especially if we take the steps, both large and small, together. What else can we do? I would love to hear your eco-friendly travel tips – please comment and share them with us. (Travel journal, above, by Blue Toad.)
Mosquito card by Southern Pest Prints.
My home province holds the dubious distinction of being the “Mosquito Capital of Canada”. I don’t know how official that is, but ask any resident of Manitoba and I doubt any would argue. At the start of every summer, we grit our teeth and prepare for the onslaught of the pesky little bloodsuckers; this year is no exception. In fact, after heavier than usual rains in May and June, an excess of standing water has made mosquito breeding conditions more than ideal. And, according to the latest reports from entomologists, my city is on the brink of the worst infestation in over a decade. It seems that everywhere I go, “eaten alive“ is a phrase found on everyone‘s lips and in everyone’s ears. *swat*
Sterling silver earrings by Pathos Designs.
More than just annoying, mosquitoes can carry several deadly diseases; from Western Equine Encephalitis to West Nile Virus to, in some parts of the world, Malaria. Yikes! It’s no wonder that drastic measures, such as insecticide fogging, are taken by municipalities looking to protect their citizens. Of course, procedures like this never come without controversy. Although the chemicals used here in my city are said to have a low level of toxicity to humans, many concerned residents object to the wide-spread pesticide use and would prefer to take matters into their own hands by employing more human-friendly methods of mosquito-control. *swat*
The Homemade Soy Candle shop is full of the yummiest-sounding scents, but the one that is going on my list of summer “must haves” is the citronella travel candle, pictured above. In this season of spontaneous outdoor activities, you never know where you might end up, but around here, you can always count on mosquitoes being there when you arrive. Tossing a citronella candle or two into your backpack or picnic basket will help to ensure that when you stop to take a break, you can do it relatively pest-free. The unbreakable, lidded containers are ideal for parks and patios alike and the naturally-scented, clean-burning soy wax is an effective, non-toxic alternative to chemical sprays and repellents.
I’m sure that Krystal of Carvel Country Soapworks, located in knows a thing or two about mosquitoes. As a resident of Alberta, Canada, she has some of the most beautiful (and buggy) wilderness right in her backyard. Her chemical and paraben-free Bug Be Gone Body Butter (above) is a natural way to keep the biters at bay. Handmade in small batches to ensure quality, it combines the essential oils of citronella, black pepper, lavender and nepetalactone (a compound extracted from catnip) in a whipped, emollient base.
It’s not just 2-legged creatures that are bothered by blood-thirsty pests. While you are protecting your family from bites, don’t forget that pets hate to be bugged, too. Luxury Falls’ Critter Repel Dog Shampoo Bar, pictured above, is a two-in-one way to protect man’s best friend from fleas, ticks and mosquitoes, while deep-cleaning their fur and skin. The handmade, hand-cut soap contains 100% essential oils in an all-natural moisturizing base, and can even be used on people, making it an excellent addition to your camping supplies.
By far, though, the most passive way of controlling mosquitoes is to let their natural predators take care of it for you. Dragonflies, birds such as Purple Martins and bats can drastically reduce the number of mosquitoes in your backyard. The idea of having bats around might be freaky to some, but as one who has grown to love them, I can assure you that they are completely harmless to humans and will quickly show their worth when they start ridding your yard of annoying insects. In fact, they can eat up to 6 times their own body weight in mosquitoes per night! To encourage a few mosquito-hungry bats to take up residence, choose a quiet, protected spot and put up a bat house like the one above, constructed of natural cedar by The Little Birdhouse Store.
Bat photograph (above) by Owl Viper’s Wildlife Photography.
Most weekday mornings, seconds after my clock-radio switches itself on, I begin an internal debate about whether or not to get out of bed. The angel on my shoulder gently reminds me that I have venti-sized responsibilities; lunches that need to be made, bills that need to be paid and the emails waiting on my office computer that aren’t likely to answer themselves. At the same time, the devil on my shoulder presents an almost-convincing argument for staying in bed (and can usually keep me tucked snugly under the duvet for at least another 15 minutes.) I would like to say that it’s virtue that eventually rouses me, but I have to confess – it’s coffee. Just knowing that there is a fresh pot of fair-trade, organic coffee waiting for me in the kitchen gives me the little nudge I need to get into the shower and start my day. You can call a it a habit or an addiction, but I prefer to think of it as a life-long love affair with the stuff.
South African textile & graphic artist Wendren celebrates her own love of coffee in this entry on her blog. After reading her post, it came as no surprise to me to see the influence that coffee has had on the handmade goods available in her shop, The Wren. The bag pictured below, is just one of a number of beautiful accessories that Wendren creates from used coffee sacks.
Whether you are a city-dweller, or make your home in the country, bird watching is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to interact with nature. And, save for the coldest months in some areas, it is an activity that can be pursued year-round by people of all ages and with minimal equipment. In fact, all you really need to get started is an interest and a keen pair of eyes.
A big part of the fun of bird watching is recording your sightings. Journals, like Ink Me Up’s lovely Gocco printed moleskin ones pictured above, are the perfect place to jot down all of the important details. These even include a little pocket in the back for gathering feathers and other treasures!
If you are bird watching with the family, you might want to make sure that everyone has their own journal for their observations. The mini eco-booklets by Nature’s Cubbyhole (below) are just the right size for tucking into a pocket or field-bag. Each booklet is filled with 100% recycled banana farm fiber paper pages and hand-stitched with organic cotton thread.
Even smaller children can be encouraged to take part in journaling by making drawings or using stickers, such as these ones (below) made from the waste edges and roll-ends of industrial adhesive vinyl material by Bird vs. Bird Studios.
One of my favourite things about bird watching is that you don’t even have to leave home to do it. Whether you have a backyard or just a balcony, you can easily invite some feathered friends into your space just by providing them with a few creature-comforts. The most obvious way to entice birds is with food. There are dozens of ways to set out a seedy snack, but my favourites are these clever and colourful feeders by Red Yellow & Blue Ink (below).
The feeders, which are made from repurposed traffic signal lenses, are definitely attention-getters. In their past-life, they stopped cars on the street; hang one in your backyard and watch them stop traffic of a different kind. Check out Jenny’s You Tube video of some Gold Finches enthusiastically enjoying their dinner in one of her upcycled feeders:
Another essential for attracting birds to your backyard is water. Birds who stop by for a snack will appreciate a cool drink and an opportunity to have a refreshing bath; something that is always entertaining for observers. Birdbaths range from simple to elaborate and can be found to suit any landscaping theme. Don’t feel that you need to spend a lot of money, though; the important thing is to keep the bath full with fresh, clean water.
Lastly, if you have the space, why not invite a family of birds to take up permanent residence in your backyard? It’s as simple as finding a safe place to put out a nesting box or birdhouse, like this rustic example from Roy Road Fish Company (above). Made from scrap cedar, aluminum roofing, leftover hardware and a coat-hook, this sweet little casa would make a suitable home for rural and urban birds alike.
I also love the graphic appeal of this unique house by Garage Inc. (below) Fashioned from reclaimed election campaign signs (below), it is a great use of salvaged materials as well as a subtle reminder that politics can sometimes be “for the birds”.
You can do some of your research on the internet, but it‘s also nice to have a good, portable guidebook about birds to refer to. Bookstores and online booksellers will have many to choose from, but be sure to select one that is relevant to your area. Be prepared to be surprised, too, as you never know who might turn up on a feeder or branch. (Many birding websites have rare bird-sighting “hotlines” for just this reason.)
There are dozens of sites around the web with information on backyard bird watching. Check out A Home for Wild Birds for tips on making your yard a bird-friendly zone and for ideas on how to get the whole family involved.