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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Ten Holiday Traditions That Are Simple, Low-Cost, and Fun

Candle by firemedic58 on Flickr


Originally posted in 2008, I thought this would be a good reminder for all of us… please add your wonderful suggestions in the comments!


While Redefining The Holidays, I wrote that my family has some traditions that we’ve kept through the years, even as my sister and I have grown and moved across the country in opposite directions.

We eat creamed eggs (and ham for non-vegetarians) on Christmas Eve. Does that sound like a strange meal? It was once a Christmas morning tradition, where we’d have creamed eggs for breakfast after opening presents. But then the extended family changed our gathering from evening to morning, and we didn’t get a chance to have creamed eggs for breakfast. So we moved it to Christmas Eve.

When my sister and I were just entering our teens, we decided we needed a new tradition. Long after Santa was discovered, we made a tradition that after our creamed eggs and ham, we would all sit together in front of the fire and pass around ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, each of us reading one stanza before we pass it to the next person. I remember once my grandmother called long distance while we were just beginning to read, and she joined us, reading stanzas from her copy in New Mexico.

The tradition continued long after my sister and I left the house for college. When significant others made it home with us, they joined in the tradition. Sometimes one or both of us didn’t make it for Christmas, so we conferenced in via telephone, I in New York or Los Angeles, my sister in St. Louis.

After we read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, we each open one present from beneath the tree. And then we either go off to bed, or – more likely – we spend some time getting our presents together for the next day’s celebration.

They are simple traditions, but there is comfort in tradition, isn’t there? Sure, sometimes we groan about reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, but in truth it brings us all together in the present, as it reminds us of good times in the past.

Popcorn and Cranberry Garland by Gare and Kitty on Flickr

Ten Simple, Frugal, and Fun Holiday Traditions

1. Attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service at your church – children love this.  Or light a menorah or kinara each evening.  Or light a peace candle and place it in the window at sundown.  Remember that the ceremony is as important as the candle – make sure to infuse the lighting with meaning and significance.

2. Work on creating your family tree together.  Each year, get together and research another generation of your family tree.  You might create a scrapbook for this purpose.  Add stories and anecdotes if you have them or can find them.  Read favorite past stories to youngsters and new members of the family.

3. Make holiday gifts together:  eg, cookies, fudge, marmalade, jars of spices or seeds, calendars, salts, soap, bubble bath or bath salts, candles, sachets, knitting projects, sewing projects, dried soup mixes, coupons for experiences/services, your family’s traditional homemade foods (eg, frozen tamales, cannolis), and so on.

4. Make holiday decorations together:  trim the boughs with holly and cedar, create bread dough ornaments, string popcorn and raw cranberries, make a wreath from plants in the garden, make pine-scented candles or potpourri vessels, build a homemade gingerbread house.

5. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food bank. While this is a good tradition to have other times of the year as well, in the Northern Hemisphere the holidays are the coldest time of year – when more homeless people need the warmth and safety of shelter and good meals.  This experience leaves a lasting impression on many children – suddenly meals, shelter, and gifts are not taken so much for granted.

6. Decorate wrapping paper together.  Collect newspapers, magazines, used printer paper, paper bags, and other reusable paper. Then use holiday stamps, crayons, ink, scissors, and whatever else strikes your fancy – to personalize your wrapping paper together.

7. Redistribute the wealth together. If your family can afford to somehow help another family who is less well-off, get together and figure out the best way to help. Could you give the other family much-needed gifts? Invite them over for dinner? Make them some homemade frozen meals they can pop into the oven when they need them? Tutor their children in English? Help set up a scholarship fund for their children to go to school? Help parents get a job, or a better job with a livable wage? Babysit their children so the adults can have a night out together? Send the children of a parent who is serving overseas a care package? Be creative – it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it shouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Northwest Native Americans have a tradition of potlatch ceremonies, where the more wealthy families throw a big feast and give gifts for those who are less well off.  There is no expectation for the gifts to return – the return is the feeling that you have given what you can to help others.  But even if you don’t feel wealthy right now, remember there is someone else out there who is less well-off than you.  Give what you can – even if it is time and/or experience, it can be very helpful to others more in need.

8. Play games together.  Dig out that old Scrabble board, Boggle, Pictionary, deck of cards, or whatever you have in your basement or closet.  If you don’t have any games, you can usually find them at local thrift stores and garage sales for cheap. Then spend the evening drinking eggnog and playing games!

9. Sit in front of the fire and take turns reading a book together.  It can be ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, like my family (above). It can be a favorite family story, or a new book each year.  And if there are family members who can’t make it home for the holidays, call them on the phone and make them a part of this tradition.

10. Reflect on the past year and make plans for the new year together.  What would you have done differently if you could?  What will you chance about yourself and your work as you move forward into the new year?  What goals did you reach this past year, and what will you strive to reach in the coming year?  How can those around you help you with your new goals, your new journey?  How can you support one another to reach these new goals?

Luminaria 'Estrellas' by jared on Flickr

Please Share Your Own Traditions!

I find it incredibly useful to hear what others are doing to create traditions and consistency throughout the holidays.  So… please add to this list!

Last-Minute Gift Ideas For the Holidays: No- and Low-Cost Eco-Friendly Gifts!

Learn about the Buy Nothing New For the Holidays Challenge


It’s December 20th, and I haven’t bought a single gift for the holidays.  Am I worried?  Maybe a little bit, but I’m not stressed about it.  I have thought about it a lot, and I already know what I’ll be getting most of my friends and family.  For most, I don’t even need to leave my home!


The other day I asked readers and friends what ideas they had for no-cost gifts.  Here’s my favorite answer, from Stacey:


So, as a kid, I collected Breyer model horses. I was obsessed with them and all things horsey. Recently, I found them stored in my garage and have decided that they now need to belong to my equally horse-obsessed nieces. There are so many things right with this… I get a whole new opportunity to share my toys [I may not have excelled at this as a ... See Morekid], my nieces get something that they’ll love to play with, the garage will be less cluttered and, the best thing is that I get to share something with them that I once loved.


That brings me to….


Gift Idea #1: Gifts From Your Home, Garage, or Storage


Most of us have things around the house, and particularly stored in a box or a corner somewhere that mean something special to us – or more often than not, meant something special to us – and we can’t bare to part with it.  Books, records, dresses, coats, vases, pictures, dolls, figurines, games, tools, fishing gear, … the list continues, doesn’t it?  So why not keep it close to you, and give it to someone who will really appreciate it?  An antique means nothing in your basement.  The memories will never leave your mind, and new memories will be formed if you give it to someone who will love it.


If the object means something special to you, you might want to attach your story to the gift.  Tell the special someone about the gift, or write it down in a note:  where it came from and what it meant to you.  Think of this as part of the gift you’re giving.  Because after all, it is probably the most important part!


Here’s another great story from Julie:


One of my most treasured gifts was from my grandmother- a collection of old photos from my childhood, my mother’s childhood and even earlier ones of my grandmother as a young woman. She was able to scale back her photo closet plus give us grandkids something to treasure. She really enjoyed the process of going through and picking out ones for each of us.


Gift Idea #2: Special Keepsakes From the Heart


My grandmother always used to say that instead of waiting until she’s passed away and people attach sadness to a  special gift given in a will, she’d rather give it away now and watch people really enjoy it.  So true – it makes such a difference to hear the stories and to share the experiences!


Maybe it’s a piece of jewelry, a photograph, a work of art, an heirloom passed through generations… Share it with someone you love this year.  Make sure you tell the stories behind the gift, and make the giving of the gift truly special.  Spend the time and effort to let the person know how special this keepsake is to you, and how much you want that person to have it and treasure it.  And let it bring you closer together.


Gift Idea #3: Thoughtful Non-Material Gifts


Here’s a great list from Rachel:


1. Baby sitting someone’s kids for the evening so they can have alone time.
2. Washing someone’s car or cleaning their house – or doing any other housework errand that they can’t find the time/energy to do (like helping them tackle that overflowing mess of a closet, for example).
3. Chopping someone’s firewood.
4. Putting up someone’s Christmas lights for them.
5. The gift of your time. Actively prioritizing relationships we take for granted: ACTUALLY taking the time to spend a few hours visiting with friends that you don’t often see.


And from Risa:


6. Listening. With offer of fresh hot chocolate.


I’d add to this list:


7.   Help painting the porch

8. Gardening: pruning, planting, composting, and more

9. Setting up dad’s computer

10. A candlelight dinner for two at home


Gift Idea #4: A Coupon Book of Non-Material Gifts


Here’s another one from Julie:


One time my sister and I made a coupon booklet for my parents, with things like: a homecooked meal, mowing the lawn, a neck and back massage, being chauffeur for the day, etc.


You can certainly add kisses and hugs, as well as all the things listed in #5.


Gift Idea #5: Re-Gift


I know, it’s not super kosher to re-gift, but what else are you going to do with it?  And why not give it to someone who will appreciate it?


From Tree:


For my Father-in-Law: I regift (I know some people think its taky). Each year one of the Servicers I use through the year, sends me a lovely gourmet basket – It perfect for DH’s dad and we don’t eat that sort of stuff.


Gift Idea #6: Make Something


You don’t have much time, but sometimes things don’t take much time to make.  On Tuesday, my Mom and I are getting together to make homemade biscotti for all of our cousins.  I see it as a gift my mother and I are giving one another (spending quality time together), and a tasty gift for our family members.  Another idea?  How about a collage of meaningful photos, or a calendar made from your great trip photos or photos of your garden?


From Rob:

most things I give are homemade, and this year giving one of my turkey fryer burners to a friend who brews his own beer. LOL I don’t need two fryers anyway. And I am “remaking” clocks- one or two of them are old clocks I had sitting around, and 1 was bought at the “AS-IS” department at IKEA

From Erin:

I’ve been canning my garden bounty the last few weeks and have lots of salsa and mustard to give as gifts. I also plan to do a lot of knitted gifts again this year, but am keeping it simple with toys/ornaments for the nieces and nephews.

That brings me to…


Idea #7: Gifts From The Garden


You can’t grow anything now, sure – but you can give dried herbs or fruit, canned goods, saved seeds, and propagated plants.  Yes!  I have a cardamon plant indoors that just keeps making new shoots.  It’s too big for its pot now, so I’m going to divide a few of the shoots and re-pot them as gifts!  Or maybe you’re like me, and you have four pothos plants around your home from different cuttings at different times.  Why not give one away to someone who doesn’t have much greenery in their home?  Plus, imagine the joy of receiving a jar of homemade jam… Yum!


Idea #8: Peruse Antique Stores, Thrift Stores, and Used Book Stores

You may have cleaned out your storage units, your closets, and your garage and have little to offer from your home.  Well, go into town and have some fun going through the local antique store.  A beautiful first-edition copy of your mom’s favorite book, an awesome game you used to play as kids (maybe you can turn it into a new holiday tradition), a vintage handbag, an irresistible shawl, a tricycle, almost anything you can think of giving comes in used versions!

Idea #9: Charity Gift Cards

This is a great gift for people who don’t need or want more things, but to whom you really want to give a gift and show your appreciation and love.  If you know their favorite charity, you can make a donation in their name.  Otherwise, one of my favorites is Heifer International, where you can make a donation of goats for a family to keep for milk, or ducks for eggs, or many other things.  And one of our favorite clients is TisBest, which allows you to give a gift card (you can give it in email form), and the recipient can choose which charity to give it to.


Idea #10: A Coupon Book for Local Goods and Services


Here in Seattle, we have the Chinook Book.  I love it.  It costs $20, you can buy it from any number of local stores or charities, and it has loads of coupons for green, sustainable, and local goods and services.  I save hundreds of dollars using these coupons over the year, and it helps me support local businesses.  How about giving one to someone who are looking for an extra push to “go local” or “go green”, or someone who could use some extra coupons in their life (and who couldn’t these days?).

There are several other types of coupon books out there.  Check around or Google “coupon book” and the name of your city or state.  And the Chinook Book is also available in Portland, Denver, Silicon Valley, East Bay, and Twin Cities.


Did You Already Buy All Your Gifts?

You may have done all your shopping this year.  But did you see something on this list that is better than what you’ve bought?  Or cheaper?  So give the no- or low-cost, meaningful gift instead and take the other one back.  I bet you won’t regret it at all!


Did This List Make You Think of Some Great Gift Ideas?


Yes?  Great!!  Go do it, and please take a moment to share your ideas with the rest of us in the comments below, so we can all have more ideas!

Staying True To Your Values Through The Holidays

Winter Greens

During the holidays, I generally eat too much.  I generally “allow” myself to stop and buy foods or stuff that I don’t normally buy.  I generally turn up the heat more than I need to and sometimes I drive that mile to the store instead of walking.

It’s easier to “make exceptions” when it’s cold and you’re busy and you’re stressed out trying to get things done.

But do you ever NOT regret it later?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret eating too much and gaining those few extra pounds, or feeling awful from having too many unusual foods in your body, or having blemished skin from too much of something or another?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret just a little bit spending all that money, and now having a big credit card debt to pay off as you enter the new year?  And do you ever NOT have a twinge of guilt after driving or turning up the heat?

Extreme cold and grey and wet gets us a little down at times, and makes us want to hibernate.  I challenge you to fight that need to hide from the elements, the seasons, the real life outside!  I challenge you to embrace the change in temperature, as it pushes our citrus trees to produce luscious fruits, our plums and peaches to sufficiently overwinter, our carrots and greens to sweeten in the cold earth.

And I challenge you to resist the urge to give up for a moment on your values as you pass by something that you really want to buy.  Just ask yourself if it’s really perfect, given the environmental, social, and economic impact on you, your family, and the world.  Is it?  Or should you find an alternative that works better for every stakeholder in that transaction?

Make your holiday season guilt-free, happy, and healthy for you, your family and friends, and the world around you.  You deserve it.  And we all deserve it.

If you’re looking for some challenges to keep you on top of your values this season, here are a few:

1.  Eat Local for Thanksgiving

Eat Local For Thanksgiving

2.  Dark Days Eat Local Challenge

It’s not nearly as hard as you think, once you get started.  Try it out!

Dark Days Challenge

3.  Buy Nothing New For the Holidays

If you’re going to give gifts this year, instead of buying brand new things:

  • Give used or antique;
  • Make, bake, or grow a gift; or
  • Give non-material gifts

The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!

4.  Buy Nothing Day

If you can’t do it for a whole month, at least try it for a day! Crowded malls, buying frenzy – are you sure you want to go out there?  Stay home and make something or nurture yourself instead.

Buy Nothing Day


5.  Freeze Your Buns Challenge

Challenge yourself to keep the thermostat low this winter.

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge

I encourage you to take on at least one or two of these challenges.  We are taking on all 5!

Will You Do It?

Come on, give it a shot!  And please feel free to recommend other good challenges out there as well!

The Four Challenge Check In!

Well it has been a long time since we’ve checked in on some of the challenges here!  I would love everyone’s feedback on these challenges:  are they helping you?  Are you following them?  Are you sticking to them?  Should I keep running them?  And how are they working for you?


10,000 Steps Challenge

The Buy Sustainably Challenge!I'm Green Inside

Just A Refresher


The Buy Nothing (New) For the Holidays Challenge – Challenges each of us to give gifts that have a low- to no-impact on the earth by giving handmade, home grown, antique/thrift store finds, or charity gifts for the holidays.


The 10,000 Steps Challenge – Challenges each of us to work up to 10,000 steps per day, in order to get a good amount of exercise in our lives, and to possibly eliminate some of the short-distance driving we do.


The Buy Sustainably Challenge – Challenges us to really think about impact before making a choice to buy something, instead of doing it impulsively:  do you really need it?  If you do, try to buy it locally, fair trade, green, and high quality enough that it will last.


The Green Your Insides Challenge – Challenges us to use healthy products in our homes and on our selves.  While there are so many products out there that are bad for us and bad for the environment, we have a choice to change what is normal and use things that are often cheaper and definitely better for our families.


In every case our mission is to work toward these goals – we can’t all go cold turkey on this stuff, and that’s ok – but we can start and work toward them, making a bit of progress each day!  If you haven’t signed up but would like to, leave your name in the comments here, or visit the page for the challenge(s) you’re interested in.


Thoughts and Updates!


So are you participating, formally or informally?  How are you doing?  Do you enjoy these challenges?  What else would you like a challenge about?



We Have A New Forum for Conversation – Please Join Me!


As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about creating a forum here at One Green Generation.  Unfortunately, I am already trying to do too many things at the moment – some of you pointed out how much work maintaining a forum can be, and I agree.  So, I think I may have found a solution…

Yesterday I spent several hours creating a Facebook Page for One Green Generation.  There, we can each post photographs, recipes, questions, ideas, and even local meetups.  If you have an event you’d like to let everyone know about, you can post a link there.  If you have a new resource with fabulous information, you can post a discussion about it.  And if you have a burning question, please ask there!

I am thinking of the Facebook page as an extension of our discussions here – a place where we can allow our sustainability ideas to move into our personal lives just a bit, and use one another as better resources for finding information and learning new things.

So please come be a fan, and help create our Facebook community!  Don’t be shy – post questions today if you have time.  Let’s get the ball rolling on starting this new space!

Thanks so much for reading everyone.  I welcome your thoughts and suggestions about this blog and it’s new extension at Facebook.  See you in both places!

Is It Too Overwhelming To Hear That You Need To Do More?

Overwhelming by Dave Pearson on Flickr

I am concerned about the state of the world, and for me, it’s extremely important to get others to do as much as they possibly can, and to help motivate and support them.

I see so many “green consumer” blogs, press releases (I get about 5 per day!), advertisements, and overall encouragement.  And to me, those often serve to let people off easily:  “you save the planet and by living your life just exactly as you do now, if you buy these couple of very important things!”

As Crafty Green Poet writes, “I think the idea of starting where people are at and giving them easy things to do is a great way to start but there has been research done that shows that campagins using this approach lead to people thinking that’s all they need to do.”

With the right support networks, many of us get past that stage of green consumerism and realize that we do have to change our lifestyles.  So we spend a lot of time restructuring our lives and redefining normalcy on a daily basis.  It’s incredible – that movement of living simply, sustainably, and/or frugally is growing every day!

But societal change has to happen on multiple fronts in order to fully succeed.  History has taught us that time and again:  personal changes are the beginning, but then there must be a movement that changes society, and laws and rules that secure it for good.

And so that brings me to believe that there is a continuum of change, and my idea behind this blog and particularly the last several posts I’ve written about doing more, is to capture anyone along that continuum and help push them forward, to the next level.

Belinda brought up an excellent point, however:  “if someone had told me at the beginning that to be sustainable I would need to be an active part of my community I probably would have walked away”- it would have been too overwhelming.  Stephanie wrote yesterday, “You’re asking too much from this overworked, tired, groggy introvert who doesn’t even know where to begin in her personal environmentalist efforts.”

I don’t think there’s room in our lives and time enough in the day to create change in your community at the same time that you start down the journey of personal lifestyle changes.  Have you found that?  I personally made lifestyle changes for a long time, and participated in voting and letter writing and other small, more peripheral things at the same time.  But it wasn’t until I felt I had more or less redefined normal on a foundational level in my own life, that I was able to move on to work within my community.  It is too overwhelming to start doing both at the same time.

And that is a part of the continuum of change, as I see it:

  1. Become aware.
  2. Buy greener products.
  3. Change your lifestyle at a personal, daily level.
  4. Work within your community to create change.
  5. Work globally to create change.
  6. Learn how to effectively and sustainably integrate each of these things into your daily lifestyle.

It’s difficult to move on to each next step without feeling at least somewhat like you have mastered the one before it.

Does this continuum ring true from your own experience?

Ruchi addresses this in her latest post: “Yes, This Is Important.”  She writes, “We cannot transition to a new era of renewable energy without changing people’s behavior.”  I believe her thought is that not only is this more or less a continuum, but it must work in that very order:  first you change at home, then you change within your communities, and then you can create global change.

So what do we do, how do we provoke, inspire, and support people at each stage – without overwhelming them? Can we have blogs and media that address multiple levels, or does each person need a community of people who are on the same point in the continuum?

I’m on number 6 by the way.  I feel like I won’t master that for quite a while, but I’m working on it!

Why Doing It Alone Isn’t Enough

by Redvers on Flickr

I admit I was disheartened by the small response the other day, and I want to address the incredible need we have to continue our sustainable paths far beyond ourselves.  Please indulge me and leave a comment about your thoughts!

Why Doing It Alone Isn’t Enough

Living a sustainable (or simple, or green) lifestyle is hard sometimes – no question.  It’s not always easy to try new things, to find what works for you – and find what your family will handle.  I believe we all come here to learn how to do that better, to figure out new tricks and ideas, and to lean on others for support.

Awesome.  I love that.  I need that!

Once we get to a certain point, when we have found most of the answers we’re going to find, when we have made most of the changes we’re realistically going to make in our homes, though, WE CAN’T STOP.

Nobody wants to hear that there is more to be done, that we can’t just live our simple lifestyles in peace.  But I want to be the one to tell you that it isn’t enough.  You can’t stop.  We need you to do more.  Society needs you to keep going beyond your own lifestyle changes.

You can’t change the world by living simply all by yourself.  There are a million reasons to change your own lifestyle, and doing that alone is something to be sure.  But there’s more.  And I firmly believe you cannot live a truly sustainable lifestyle without doing more.  We have too far to go, and individual change is too slow.

What Else Do We Need To Do?

  1. Participate in local politics. Vote.  Sign petitions.  Protest.  Make contributions.  Volunteer your time to pass important laws.  Run for office even, and do whatever you can to support those who share your values.

  2. Educate. Teach your children, and your neighbors’ children.  Pay your teachers a living wage.  Be an active member in the PTA.  Mentor and tutor.  Write books, blogs, newsletters, and letters to editors.  Make sure that next generation does not make the same mistakes we did by actively guiding them to a better way.  Get people to change their ways and to collectively redefine normal.

  3. Form groups. Yes, join groups for sure.  But if there isn’t a group that should exist, make it happen – don’t rely on others.  Bring people together to learn, talk, and most importantly, to act.

  4. Support organizations. There are entities that are large and doing great things already.  During this economy, they are able to do less due to lack of funding.  HELP them with your time, your money, your donations, and your ideas.  Volunteer, become a board member, attend events, offer your home as a meeting place, or do a number of other things to help.

  5. Encourage businesses to do what you do. Be a voice in your own office – write a CSR plan, help change light bulbs, start a corporate giving program.  Support businesses you believe in, and don’t support those you don’t.  Find unique solutions to business problems that are positive for the world.  Ask business to give time and money to important causes.  Inspire them to deliver more in the way of world change.

That’s just the start of the list.  What else do we need to do? Are you doing these things now?  If so, how is it working?