Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Handmade pretties

I'm in the middle of making a bunch of small handmade presents for my loved ones. This is contributing to a lack of posts recently so I thought I'd take a moment and share some of what I'm making and of course, some of what I'm thinking.

More and more I find myself turning away from the massive consumerism that marks this time of the year in the US. Whether it's a dinner that includes close to 3000 calories, or a pine tree buried in paper wrapped presents, the over consumption leaves me cold and decidedly not cheery. As is my habit, I have changed the way I celebrate, to more closely align with my personal beliefs and values. This change is influenced by the Pagan/Wiccan traditions that I'm fond of, the traditions that my husband brings from his mostly pagan upbringing and what I learn as I research and rethink old habits.

Celebrating the Solstice helps to keep the focus away from the typical Christmas-how-much-stuff-did-I-get. Doing things by hand creates other helpful limits. Our decorating also helps remind us of our focus. We lean towards natural decorations like pine wreathes and garlands, and then decorate them by hand. We do put up some lights, as the Winter Solstice celebrates the return of light after the longest night. But, we don't cover the house with them in a vain attempt to outshine that light. Stockings and paper snowflakes and a live poinsettia round out the decorations. I think it has a nice holiday vibe, without being offensive or out of place in our uber-Christian neighborhood.

I've learned a lot the past few years as I switched to handmade for the holidays. First off, making presents by hand requires a LOT more foresight than most store bought presents. What I give is not decided in the heat of battle during a Black-Friday or Cyber-Monday sale. I keep a list under 'P' (for presents) in my planner and throughout the year when I see something cute or something I know a person could use, I write it down on the list. As a bonus side effect it makes it easier to stand strong against the incessant marketing employed by savvy corporations. As the harvest winds down for the year I immediately switch my energy over to holiday prep and start making the presents and finalizing my gifting plans. This works well enough for now, as I mostly give small things at this stage in my life. If I ever get to the point where I want to give a quilt or a complicated piece of clothing I'll either need to start holiday preps in the middle of summer or train up Rowen to help. :-D

This year is a bit lighter for gift giving, simply because we are not traveling to any of the large gatherings. So I'm making little things for the Grandma's and little things for my immediate family and a bunch of cards and that's it.

I have heard people excuse their shopping splurges because they have too many gifts to give to make them all. Look at your gift list for a moment, how many of those people have you actually talked to since last December? Will a 10$ piece of plastic snatched from a bargain bin really add value to the relationship? Will you actually see that person this holiday season? If the answer to any of those is no, why bother to buy them something? Get more emotional bang for your time/money, and whittle your list down to immediate family and those who you feel close to. If you figure another 1 or 2 to include a couple of people who you feel could use an extra bit of love during the holidays you might find your list more manageable and that time to make something for all on the list is not unattainable.

I have a lot of fabric and thread, so that's what I lean towards for gifts. I get a lot of inspiration from quilt shows and sewing blogs on the internet. The internet abounds with free patterns, and I'm blessed with a talent for guessing space/dimensions and ending up with things that are pretty close even when I don't use a pattern. (or straight edge) My mother is envious. :-D

Some of the things I'm making this year include a couple of needle books, based off of some really cute ones I saw this summer, going to a couple of lucky grandmas. A couple of cute pin cushions for other crafty grandmas. Some home-made firestarters, made with wax and wood chips and (since I have more fabric than wood) fabric scraps. Rowen has a cute outfit about half done, and some mittens that I finished last night. Then a couple more specific things that I'll refrain from mentioning here, on the off chance that those people read this and it spoils the surprise. :-D

Little things to show my love, little things made by hand.

And of course, I can't stand to wrap such things in eco-not-friendly wrapping paper. I swore off of that stuff for good last year and started making fabric gift bags. I made a set out of holiday fabric from the firesale rack in January. I'm thinking I'll make a few more this year. I might make a couple to match the gift that's inside, just to be fancy. They'll last for years and years. No trashcan full of once-used paper will leave our house on the 26th.

You too can make a difference this holiday season. Think about your traditions, is there one that stands out as particularly wasteful or joyless? Choose that one to focus on this year and make baby steps towards something better. Whatever the reason for your celebration.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Alaska Won't Save Us

When this blog was still a baby blog, I mentioned a few of my beliefs.

"I don't think oil shale out West is going to save us and I don't think drilling in Alaska is going to save us. "

Last week I stumbled across this little tidbit in the Wall Street Journal..
U.S. Cuts Estimates of Untapped Alaska Reserves

The U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday that Alaska holds less oil and natural gas onshore at the National Petroleum Reserve and in nearby state waters than previously thought.

The agency now estimates that the area, on and near land in Alaska's North Slope owned by the U.S. government, holds 896 million barrels of conventional, undiscovered oil, about 10% of the amount the agency predicted was there in 2002.

The USGS also updated its estimate for natural gas in the area to 53 trillion cubic feet, about 13% less than the agency predicted eight years ago.

"These new findings underscore the challenge of predicting whether oil or gas will be found in frontier areas," USGS Director Marcia McNutt said in a statement.

New geological data from three-dimensional seismic surveys and more than 30 exploration wells that have been drilled in the area show more gas in the area than oil, the USGS said. Many of the new wells show "an abrupt transition from oil to gas just 15 to 20 miles west" of the northeastern boundary of the petroleum reserve, the agency said.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management has held five lease sales in the NPRA from 1999 through 2008. The agency currently administers more than 300 Federal oil and gas leases, according to the agency's Web site.

So, even if we could get every last drop of that oil out of Alaska, it would amount to 42 days worth of oil at our current consumption rate of 21 million barrels per day. That's it. Drill Baby Drill...?
Two and a half years after I made my predictions about Alaska, we have the BP spill illustrating how hard it is to get some of the oil that remains. We have multiple agencies reporting oil peaks in the next 5 years and even the US military forecasting massive shortfalls by 2015 and trying to make plans. That last link is the report that came out just a couple of months ago, and is well worth the time taken to skim the first few pages.
To ready America’s armed forces for tomorrow’s challenges, DOD should ensure that it can operate all of its systems on nonpetroleum fuels by 2040.

Costs of Petroleum Dependence
• Heavy dependence on large fuel supplies can
increase operational vulnerabilities and make
fuel supply infrastructure a more valuable
• Every dollar increase in the price of petroleum
costs DOD up to 130 million additional dollars.
• Rising global demand, for instance in China, is
increasing the strategic importance of petroleum
in ways that could be detrimental to U.S. interests.
• Countries such as Iran and Venezuela could
have the largest remaining reserves in a few
decades if current production rates hold – and
will gain leverage as a result.
• High levels of petroleum consumption are
contributing to the changing climate, which
can bring destabilizing effects and trigger new
security challenges.

Now, they are hedging their bets on the crunch happening 30+ years from now. Some reports show that they'll have that much time, but other reports show a crunch happening much sooner than that. Even if they are working off a 30 year time line, having our military starting the move away from petroleum will be a great market motivator for the developing technologies that will help all of us transition. There are few other organizations with the sheer amount of capitol that the DoD wields.

What does all this mean? In my opinion, it means if your future plans don't include plans to deal with peak oil, they should. If not future plans for yourself, future plans for your kids and grandkids. Does your current diet have you heavily dependent on oil to transport it? What about your leisure activities and hobbies? Does your job depend on cheap oil? Is your house comfortable without a lot of AC/Heat? These types of things don't need to be oil free tomorrow, but you should start considering strategies.