and on the Twelfth day of Christmas…

Christmas lights

Image via Wikipedia

My True Love gave to me…12 Drummers drumming.

Drumroll please…..Lighting for your tree is the final item that I would like to address in the 12 days of Christmas series.

Last year I bit the bullet and bought 2 strands of LED lights for our tree. Then this year I bought an additional strand. They are a bit more expensive than the incandescent lights but they are supposed to last much longer AND be more energy efficient and cooler to the touch so there is less of a chance that I will set the house on fire. (which is something to think about with a 100+ year old house.) What I have found frustrating about Christmas lights is that they (incandescents) never seem to last more than one season. I have a tub of lights in the basement that no longer work and up until now I didn’t know what to do with them. They seem to be made of things that could be potentially dangerous to put in the trash so I found this site that will recycle the lights and send you a 25% coupon to purchase LED lights. So I think after the holidays, I pack up all those lights and send them in and see if I can get a couple more strands for next year.

If you haven’t purchased the LEDs and are curious about  some of the advantages, the information below came from Wikipedia and while some of it doesn’t really apply to Christmas lighting it is still interesting to note for other lighting uses in your home. LEDs have improved in recent years so that they are a warmer color which most people find more appealing than a cooler color of light.  That was the concern I had when I purchased mine for my tree. I didn’t want the lights to look like something out of a sci-fi lab, but to look warm and inviting.


  • Efficiency: LEDs emit more light per watt than incandescent bulbs.[80] Their efficiency is not affected by shape and size, unlike Fluorescent light bulbs or tubes.
  • Color: LEDs can emit light of an intended color without using any color filters as traditional lighting methods need. This is more efficient and can lower initial costs.
  • Size: LEDs can be very small (smaller than 2 mm2[81]) and are easily populated onto printed circuit boards.
  • On/Off time: LEDs light up very quickly. A typical red indicator LED will achieve full brightness in under a microsecond.[82] LEDs used in communications devices can have even faster response times.
  • Cycling: LEDs are ideal for uses subject to frequent on-off cycling, unlike fluorescent lamps that fail faster when cycled often, or HID lamps that require a long time before restarting.
  • Dimming: LEDs can very easily be dimmed either by pulse-width modulation or lowering the forward current.
  • Cool light: In contrast to most light sources, LEDs radiate very little heat in the form of IR that can cause damage to sensitive objects or fabrics. Wasted energy is dispersed as heat through the base of the LED.
  • Slow failure: LEDs mostly fail by dimming over time, rather than the abrupt failure of incandescent bulbs.[83]
  • Lifetime: LEDs can have a relatively long useful life. One report estimates 35,000 to 50,000 hours of useful life, though time to complete failure may be longer.[84]Fluorescent tubes typically are rated at about 10,000 to 15,000 hours, depending partly on the conditions of use, and incandescent light bulbs at 1,000–2,000 hours.
  • Shock resistance: LEDs, being solid state components, are difficult to damage with external shock, unlike fluorescent and incandescent bulbs which are fragile.
  • Focus: The solid package of the LED can be designed to focus its light. Incandescent and fluorescent sources often require an external reflector to collect light and direct it in a usable manner.
  • Low toxicity: LEDs do not contain mercury, unlike fluorescent lamps.


  • Fluorescent lamps are typically more efficient than LEDs (for lamps with the same CRI).
  • High initial price: LEDs are currently more expensive, price per lumen, on an initial capital cost basis, than most conventional lighting technologies. The additional expense partially stems from the relatively low lumen output and the drive circuitry and power supplies needed.
  • Temperature dependence: LED performance largely depends on the ambient temperature of the operating environment. Over-driving an LED in high ambient temperatures may result in overheating the LED package, eventually leading to device failure. Adequate heat sinking is needed to maintain long life. This is especially important in automotive, medical, and military uses where devices must operate over a wide range of temperatures, and need low failure rates.
  • Voltage sensitivity: LEDs must be supplied with the voltage above the threshold and a current below the rating. This can involve series resistors or current-regulated power supplies.[85]
  • Light quality: Most cool-white LEDs have spectra that differ significantly from a black body radiator like the sun or an incandescent light. The spike at 460 nm and dip at 500 nm can cause the color of objects to be perceived differently under cool-white LED illumination than sunlight or incandescent sources, due tometamerism,[86] red surfaces being rendered particularly badly by typical phosphor based cool-white LEDs. However, the color rendering properties of common fluorescent lamps are often inferior to what is now available in state-of-art white LEDs.
  • Area light source: LEDs do not approximate a “point source” of light, but rather a lambertian distribution. So LEDs are difficult to apply to uses needing a spherical light field. LEDs cannot provide divergence below a few degrees. In contrast, lasers can emit beams with divergences of 0.2 degrees or less.[87]
  • Blue hazard: There is a concern that blue LEDs and cool-white LEDs are now capable of exceeding safe limits of the so-called blue-light hazard as defined in eye safety specifications such as ANSI/IESNA RP-27.1–05: Recommended Practice for Photobiological Safety for Lamp and Lamp Systems.[88][89]
  • Blue pollution: Because cool-white LEDs (i.e., LEDs with high color temperature) emit proportionally more blue light than conventional outdoor light sources such as high-pressure sodium vapor lamps, the strong wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering means that cool-white LEDs can cause more light pollution than other light sources. The International Dark-Sky Association discourages using white light sources with correlated color temperature above 3,000 K.[90]
  • Droop: The efficiency of LEDs tends to decrease as one increases current.[91][92][93][94]

So look at the list and understand that there is a political debate going on in our country due to the incandescent bulb phase out which is to happen in 2014. Rush Limbaugh and his groupies seem to want to repeal the laws that have been put into place concerning lighting and the CFLs. Yes we are losing jobs due to switching to a more energy efficient bulb, but I don’t believe that would be the case if plants that manufacture bulbs would convert their manufacturing sites to a more energy efficient technology rather than send those jobs to China. To me, upper management and CEOs of these companies are the problem because they seem to think cheaper is better than quality and environmental impact. They can get a cheaper product from China. Republicans have displaced the problem, blaming the government  for deciding what is best for the consumer, when they should be upset that the big businesses are not making the best decisions to protect the jobs. To me, the government should look to regulating the businesses and their practices. Retrofit the manufacturing sites to the newer product, train your workers to produce the new technology and stop sending jobs to foreign countries.

From the environmental standpoint, I think we have to do something to save energy worldwide and this article about the UN proposals gives some very valid reasons. I really think we need to look at the bigger picture on the energy issue worldwide because it is all related and is going to have an impact on our food and water supplies in the end. Poorer nations are going to suffer the worst and if changing a lightbulb is a small thing that we can to do back off on our energy usage then I am all for supporting the change.

On the Seventh day of Christmas…

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) with nine cygnets, pic...

Image via Wikipedia

My True Love gave me swans on the seventh day of Christmas

Religious interpretations of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” claim that the seven swans represent the seven sacraments of Catholicism, however this is likely to be a more recent use of the lyrics. In the 1700s, when the song was written down in English, the Mute Swan was a beautiful bird, a good omen, a domestic animal, a source of feathers for down and decoration, a possible choice for Christmas dinner, and a gift from the monarchy—reasons enough to consider seven of them a generous Christmas gift. Read more at Suite101

Gifts are what the season has become all about. I am sure that even my christian friends would agree that this religious holiday has become all about gift giving and getting things. As many of you have read, I am trying to eliminate a lot of things in my life so I am going to try to give a suggestion list of items that would make great gifts for others without making a huge impact on your carbon footprint.

Every few years, someone takes the 12 days of Christmas and uses it to figure the cost of inflation by figuring out the costs of the items in the song and then showing the differences in the previous year. I found this from a 2008 version of this exercise at Suite101:

The seven swans a-swimming are once again the largest force behind of this year’s index jump, with a whopping 33% increase due to their scarcity. The cost for swans this year is $5,600 compared with $4,200 in 2007. The swans typically have the largest swings in price in the PNC CPI.

While we aren’t expecting gifts from the monarchy, (that comes next year with the Royal wedding, I suppose) a generous gift in our house usually means one big item and some small items for the stocking. Some years are better than others and some years some one ends up with a special gift which would be a “swan” level of generous. But it would only be one swan and not seven.

So, anyway, here is a list of things that I might give someone that would be less packaging, less toxic, less damaging to the environment and better for the well being of us and our planet.

  1. tickets to an event, concert or play, perhaps a Netflix subscription
  2. a class for instruction of some kind, maybe an online class in a hobby
  3. a homemade item of food ( maybe you canned jellies or salsa) or a bottle of local wine. Put them in a nice reusable canvas tote or shopping bag or basket
  4. a homemade/handmade item of clothing or artwork
  5. a gift card for  music downloads
  6. a gift card for a book download if they have an eReader
  7. a kennel stay for their pet
  8. a service that you could provide to them, babysitting perhaps
  9. a coupon for a food item that might be your specialty. Herb has done this with his cheesecakes for teacher pals
  10. make a donation in their name to a worthy cause such as Heifer International, Planned Parenthood or a cause of their choosing, provided you also agree with the practices of that organization
  11. Sustainable water bottles and  reusable food containers for lunchables, or sandwich wrappers
  12. cloth napkins or some cloth dish towels so they can eliminate the paper kind

I know with children this is hard. So maybe you could give these items to a child that would make an impression on the them and also make them feel as if they received something fun

  1. Books are always perfect children gifts for any age. They always fit. This one is especially nice for this topic.
  2. a lunch kit with food storage items that aren’t throwaways, although this might be more of a mom gift
  3. something that is interactive that has no batteries, wooden items for small children, unpainted
  4. homemade play dough
  5. a dress up kit that you  make from items that you bought at Goodwill
  6. a dance or music or art class at the local Parks and Rec. This would work for an older child.
  7. a nature hike with you
  8. a movie of their choice that you take them to. Also a good item for an older child
  9. a tree to plant in their yard, providing they have a yard
  10. cardboard playhouse that you help decorate, maybe include some soy crayons
  11. homemade personalized cooking apron with a set of wooden spoons and a favorite cookie recipe
  12. if it is older kids, a whitewater rafting trip on a local river. Good learning experience about the watershed in your area.

Take a look around your house. I’m sure you even have items that you could give to someone that would be the perfect gift when paired up with one of the items above. Many times the presentation helps to make the gift more special. I have wrapping paper as one of my 12 items to write about so maybe these items will give us a starting point on how to present the gift. We always have fun with finding new ways to give the gift which makes the phrase “better to give than receive” part of  the fun.

Notice there isn’t a Red Rider BB gun on the list but, for that cat that keeps coming into the yard eating your birds, you might want to look into getting one of those.

This year’s tab for the 12 Days of Christmas is nearly $100,000 by the way. Here is another great article on not “buying” into consumerism for this holiday season from the Worldwatch Institute.

And for more Green Gift ideas go here.

On the Fifth day of Christmas…

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...

Image via Wikipedia

My true love gave to me…5 Gold Rings.

The Mines of South Africa can descend as far as 12,000 feet and reach temperatures of 130°F. To produce an ounce of gold requires 38 man hours, 1400 gallons of water, enough electricity to run a large house for ten days, and chemicals such as cyanide, acids, lead, borax, and lime. In order to extract South Africa’s yearly output of 500 tons of gold, nearly 70 million tons of earth are raised and milled.

The quote above is from the 50 Random Facts about Gold website.

The point that needs to be made from an environmental standpoint is that, yes, gold is a valuable substance but look at the other resources that are being used in order to extract that gold from the earth. Then, given that there is a limited amount of gold in the earth, in fact, in all of history, only 161,000 tons of gold have been mined, barely enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools and the rarity of it makes us want it more. We are willing to use up our other resources to get at the gold. This fact comes from a story from National Geographic on The Real Price of Gold.

Extracting a single ounce of gold there (in Indonesia)—the amount in a typical wedding ring—requires the removal of more than 250 tons of rock and ore.

Robert Krulwich, one of my favorite science guys from NPR has a story about a scientist that has injected nano-particles of gold into plants to get a glowing tree. At this time of year, as we add lights to  our Christmas trees, but I can’t see us really doing this in the future. Robert questions this with the same questions that I have….What happens to our “streetlights” when the leaves fall off the trees? Can you do this with pine tree? A spruce? Wouldn’t gold somehow hurt the tree? Or hurt the critters to eat the leaves? Who’s going to want to inject a tree leaf by leaf? What would this cost? Do you have to place a UV light next to each tree to see the glow? Why are you taking this seriously?

You can eat gold but I can’t imagine doing so and really and truly, why would you if it is that expensive. Can the water treatment facilities extract it from our waste? If they are having trouble extracting pharmaceuticals from our water systems, I am sure they can’t get at the gold that would also be in the water.

5 Gold rings is at the center of the song 12 Days of Christmas, I’m sure, for the emphasis of our infatuation with the substance. Many in America think that our financial system should go back to gold standards.  The price of Gold on December 3rd was $1,415 an ounce. I wear a gold wedding ring as a symbol of love given to my by my loving husband and would not trade that circle of gold for anything in the world, but I have no real desire to own or hoard gold, knowing the impact that this precious metal has on the earth and the lives of those miners and family of the miners that are looking for the gold around the world.

FREE SHIPPING no minimum order

The holiday catalogs have been pouring into my house for weeks now and they usually go straight to the recycle bin ( or the bathroom ) The photo is just from last week alone. 15 catalogs a week. WOW. So of the 19 billion catalogs mailed out to consumers this year, I am getting a big chunk of catalogs.

Last year I spent a few hours of my time to send out requests to companies to stop sending me their catalogs and gradually the pile has gotten bigger. Some companies are worse than others and will send a catalog a week. I can’t imagine what their print order must be. I work in printing so you would think I would be happy about all the printing going on but my environmentalist brain kicks in and wants to condemn this practice. I am a magazineaholic at heart and am in the correct business but I also have a small house and can only fit so many magazines in it. This spring I managed to purge many of the magazines in my house and took out what I wanted to keep and recycled the rest of the book.

Earth911 has an article on catalog waste that says, ” Of what we throw away, 34 percent is made of paper and only half of this gets reused. These catalogs and paper products in landfills increase the amount of level of methane gas emissions. Methane gas has a significant carbon footprint, as it is about 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

According to Catalog Choice, a project sponsored by the Ecology Center, these 19 billion catalogs have a serious environmental impact:

  • 53 million trees used
  • 3.6 million tons of paper used
  • 38 billion BTUs of energy used to produce this paper, enough to power 1.2 million homes for a year
  • 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to the annual emissions of two million cars
  • 53 billion gallons of water used, enough to fill 81,00 Olympic-sized swimming pools

Most catalog companies don’t use recycled paper. Many use bleach and gloss coated paper productions which release chemical toxins into the environment.

All municipal recycling programs accept catalogs. If you do have select catalogs to which you subscribe, be sure to put them in your recycling bin.

Of course with the economy the way that is is the companies are trying to lure us in with free shipping. And I admit, living where I do I am an avid internet shopper during the holidays. But I use the internet to shop and not the catalogs.  Amazon is a biggie at our house because they offer so much that isn’t available in Toms Brook.

There are companies that you can contact like this one Catalog Choice that allow you to opt out of having the catalogs delivered into your mailbox.

Maybe I’ll join the One Tree Club and get a patch to wear around like the one on the site. Students are joining this club and taking the Catalog Cancelling Challenge. On their site they state that if 360 catalogs come from one tree (19 billion catalogs divided by 53 million trees per year), then canceling 60 stops 360 and saves one tree. Using this DOWNLOADABLE LOG (click here) kids can track their canceling and aim for 60.

Be sure to at least recycle the catalogs that you get this year and consider contacting some of the companies to take your name off the list so you don’t get so many next year. That is certainly what I am going to be doing in January.