Happy New Year!

December 30th, 2013
Happy New Year!  Courtesy of sprungphoto.com.

Happy New Year! Courtesy of sprungphoto.com.

All the best wishes to you and yours from me in 2014.  I hope this new year brings good things to you!

Season’s Greetings

December 23rd, 2013

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For those who celebrate holidays right around now, I’d like to offer my best wishes for your holidays.  May all your dreams come true!

Eco-Friendly Party Decor

December 16th, 2013

Since everyone is thinking about holidays and parties just about now, I am revisiting some thoughts on how to decorate for a party and still be green.  You can adapt many of these ideas to any party, not just Christmas or “holiday,” as they call it. But since a lot of people have Christmas on the brain at this season, I’ll start with that holiday.

Live plants are good centerpieces at any season.   Photo courtesy of christytylerphotography.com.

Live plants are good centerpieces at any season. Photo courtesy of christytylerphotography.com.

For decor that is environmentally friendly, I suggest using live plants. There are several traditional holiday plants (for example, miniature live pine trees, ivy, poinsettias, Christmas cactus) that could be part of holiday decor. Try juxtaposing a miniature red rose bush with English ivy for a festive centerpiece. For extra credit on the environmental side, look for live plants that have been grown locally and organically. Local greenhouses are a great place to find them.  If you don’t want the plants at home after your party, be sure to send them home with guests who want them.

If you have plants in your yard that would work for holiday decorating, cut a few branches of fir or holly for a mantlepiece decoration. And then compost or chip them after the party and use the result on your garden next year.

Locally grown, organic flowers are always a sustainable choice. In the winter, that means greenhouse flowers, too.  There are florists who specialize in local, organic flower arrangements.

You’ll probably be looking for some candles for your festive table.  In Chicago, there are several organizations that keep bees and sell their products, including beeswax candles. For starters, try the Chicago Honey Co-op. Beeswax is less polluting than petroleum-based wax candles, and coming from a local source makes it doubly eco-friendly. It also smells nice!

If you are celebrating Chanuka, beeswax Chanuka candles are available in specialty shops and online, although I have yet to find any made locally. (If you know of a local source, please let me know.)

In the last few years, LED holiday lights have really taken off.  In my opinion, most of the white lights look too bluish to be very attractive, but the red, green, and blue ones I have seen are quite nice, and the pale yellow ones are a fine substitute for white. LEDs use a tiny fraction of the energy of traditional incandescent lights, and they ought to last a very long time. Both those qualities make them environmentally friendly.

A simple fruit basket can be a suitable centerpiece.

A simple fruit basket can be a suitable centerpiece.

For any kind of party, any time of year, you can make your food part of your decorations. Edible centerpieces look nice and taste great. You can buy “flower” arrangements made of fruit, or create something yourself. Even something as simple as a basket of unshelled nuts or fresh fruit with a colorful napkin can provide both snacks and visual interest. If you’re playing dreidel, the unshelled nuts of your centerpiece can also be the “chips” in the game.

A completely different approach to decorating is the second-hand idea. It is often possible to find very nice decor items in second-hand shops, especially in expensive neighborhoods or towns. Of course, if this requires many long car trips, that would offset the benefits of not buying new, so plan your shopping trips carefully. If you are lucky or live near a lot of resale or vintage shops, though, you might find vases, last year’s novelty items, theme knick-knacks, and other useful decorating items. This approach may require advance planning and some creative thinking.

Also, for eco-friendly food service, nothing beats real china, linen, silver, and glassware. Yes, it uses a lot of water to clean up after the party, but it is still a better eco choice than disposables. It also looks very festive. Compostable disposable dishes are another option, but you will probably have to pay a composting service in order to compost them.  Most home compost piles are not hot enough to break them down.  (See my exploration of that topic recently.)

But the most environmentally conscious thing you can do when decorating is remembering that less is more. The more new stuff you acquire and the more you have to throw away, the less eco-friendly your decorations will be. Consider renting large items, instead of buying them, if you are doing elaborate decorations. But if you do find yourself with decorations you don’t plan to use again, minimize their impact by either donating them to a second-hand shop or giving them away on your local Freecycle group.

Have happy and green celebrations!

Fall Wedding Photos

December 9th, 2013

Here are a few photos I took of a recent wedding.

The beautiful Shakespeare Garden was the backdrop for the ceremony.

The beautiful Shakespeare Garden was the backdrop for the ceremony.

Here's another view of the garden, with one of the Northwestern buildings in the background.

Here's another view of the garden, with one of the Northwestern buildings in the background.

Here's the memorial plaque at the entrance to the garden.

This is the memorial plaque at the entrance to the garden.

The sundial is the the focal point of the garden.

The sundial is the the focal point of the garden.

It was a very small wedding, so all the guests sat at one long table.

It was a very small wedding, so at the reception at the Orrington Hotel, all the guests sat at one long table.

A close-up of one of the place settings.

A close-up of one of the place settings.

One of the place cards.

One of the place cards.

Cocktails were on the terrace at the Orrington Hotel.

Cocktails were on the terrace at the Orrington.

The simple and lovely wedding cake.

The simple and lovely wedding cake.

The end.