Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Tree Fun

Hello everyone! Since Christmas is right around the corner and everyone is gearing up for the big day (assuming you celebrate Christmas), I figured I'd do a fun blog post with some interesting facts about Christmas Trees as a last hurrah before the big day!

Every year, there's a classic debate amongst people: Real tree vs Fake tree. People on each side will argue why they choose to go either way when selecting a tree whether it be environmental reasons, money, convenience, or just plain personal preference.
When I was growing up, we always had a real tree and it was a tradition every year to go pick out a tree, usually at a local place that was selling pre-cut trees. A couple times, we ventured to a tree farm and cut down our own but either way we always had the smell of pine in our house, and even one year a bird's nest from our live tree. When the King and I started our own tradition, we went for a fake tree...(what I'm trying to say here is I've been on both sides of the debate!) although last year we bought our first real tree since we got married.
You tell me, which is the real tree in the pictures below?

Real or Fake???

Real or Fake???

Anyways, first, a brief lesson on the history of Christmas Trees: It really began with the Winter Solstice (aka the longest night of the year) which takes place on Dec 21 or 22. Ancient people believed that the Solstice was a turning point and that spring, with all it's life and greenery would be here soon so they decorated the inside of their homes with evergreen boughs. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas Tree tradition when Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Closer to home, the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1830s are credited with displaying the first Christmas Trees in the United States.  If you want to learn even more (and I know you do!!), check out this great article from

Now here's a couple facts about trees:
1. Typically, it takes 8 to 10 years of nurturing to grow a full size Christmas Tree - when I first read this, it really made me think about all the effort that goes into creating these trees that we enjoy looking at for only 3 or 4 weeks in our house.

2. You can buy a live tree in a pot for your house so you can plant it outdoors after Christmas is over, but beware that if you keep the tree inside for more than a week, it may come out of dormancy (trees don't really grow during the cold months) while in your house and when you go to plant it outside, it probably won't survive.

3. In many cities and towns, a tree drop off/pick-up is offered after Christmas - usually the trees are gathered, processed through a chipper and used for mulch (recycling!!!)

And to make sure I'm keeping it local:
4. The tree on the Boston Common is an annual gift from the people of Nova Scotia (since 1971) as a thanks to Boston for providing emergency aid when it's capital, Halifax was devastated by an explosion caused by a ship collision in Halifax Harbor in 1917.
5. The Boston Common tree for 2012 is 45 feet tall and has 6,000 LED lights. Isn't it pretty? Check out this cool slide show from with photos of Christmas Trees on the Common over the last 40 years.

Boston Common Tree

6. Remember the lights in Lowell over the Wannalancit Mills that looked like a Christmas Tree? The lights were up for about 10 Holiday seasons until it became financially unfeasible in 2010. It'd be cool if they could somehow bring it back again. (update 12/26 - the tree is back - shows you how much I get out after dark!)
(photo from 

Ok, well I could go on and on about trees but I like to keep my blog posts as light reading and not an encyclopedia so I'll end it here.

Question: The obvious question for this blog post... what is your tree preference? Real or fake??

Last Words: I hope everyone out there has a wonderful holiday and a very Happy New Year. I'll be taking next week off but I will be back with more blogging after January 1st! Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Green Holiday Parties

It's officially party season and with parties, comes lots of extra trash. Just think about all the extra stuff people usually use for a party from the paper (or plastic) plates and plastic cups to all the napkins and other paper goods. Wouldn't it be great if you could recycle some of that stuff instead of just throwing it in the trash can? Here's a few ideas I had and have implemented at my own parties.
Before I list the ideas though, I have to mention that I'm assuming recycling is offered in your town whether through pick-up service or drop off.

1. Let's start with the invitations - instead of sending out paper invitations, use an invite website like Evite. Before we go on, here's my real thoughts on this - every time I throw a party, I always try to put all my invites online but there's always the 1 or 2 people who don't have e-mail (yes, those people do exist somewhere believe it or not). What I usually do is call those 1 or 2 people and let them know about the party details. If you do decide to use traditional postal mail invites, look for ones printed on recycled paper and most importantly, make sure that they can be recycled after they're used.

2. Plates & Cups - OK, I'll start out by saying that using washable glass or plastic plates and cups might be best environmentally, but there's always the argument of all the energy and resources it takes to clean the stuff after it's been used. I'll also admit I'm guilty of using disposable plates and cups for parties, its so much easier in so many ways. Just like everything else, there are also multiple arguments to which is better to buy - plastic vs paper. My thought is that plastic might be better because it can easily be recycled - dump the food in the trash or the drink down the drain and put the plastic into the recycling bin.
While we're on the subject, I'll throw this little fact out there: Did you know that you shouldn't recycle paper or cardboard that has food on it? The basic reason is that because of the way paper recycling is processed which involves mixing the paper with water to create a slurry, the oil from the food can ruin an entire batch of recycling. Check out The Pizza Box Mystery article for details.

3. Make recycling easy for your guests. Grab your recycling bin or an extra trash can and designate it as the place to put all the bottles, cans, plastic goods, etc so that people aren't tempted to throw everything in the trash.

4. Turn the heat down before guests arrive. With all those people in your house, it will warm up (fast!) and if you have the heat on, you'll probably be opening the windows to try and cool it down, which we all know in the end doesn't make much sense!

5. My last tip is related to present wrapping. Regular wrapping paper usually cannot be recycled due to the dying process used to make the paper as well as the fact that a lot of wrapping paper contains glitter or other additives that cannot be recycled. Try some alternatives like the good old fashioned comics section of the newspaper (this is my personal favorite for kids stuff because a big part of the excitement for kids is ripping open presents, right?), for the adults - how about some reusable cloth shopping bags - the wrapping can also be a useful part of the gift!

Question: These are just a few things you can do to green up your parties. I know there are plenty of other things you can do in addition to the ones listed here. What do you like to do to make your parties more earth friendly?

Last Words: While it may seem that you're not making a big difference making these changes for your small holiday party, multiply the waste saved by hundreds of thousands of small parties and that's a lot of stuff not going to the incinerator or landfill.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Taming the Holiday Craziness

I hope everyone had a great week! I was lucky enough to spend some time last week talking with Francesca Verri, a professional organizer and owner of Verri Organized. First off, I must mention how much I enjoyed meeting with Francesca and how inspired I was after spending only an hour with her to go home and better organize my own house. I'm going to share with you some of the tips she gave me about organizing around the holidays and the challenges that a lot of people face this time of year.

Holiday Decorations

1. The first step is to create a home for the items, whether it's in your basement, attic, or hall closet - you need to decide where the items will be stored while you're not using them. This is important because when you go to use them and eventually put them away every year, you will know exactly where to look. Knowing where to look will allow you to evaluate what you have so that you're not buying duplicate items because you can't locate something.

2. Evaluating what you have is the next step. As you unpack your decorations, take a hard look at what you have and decide what you really use every year. If you haven't used it in 5 years, it's probably something you should just get rid of. This process might take a little extra time now but it will definitely save you time later on.

3. The next step happens when you're breaking down your decorations after the holiday is over. The best approach is to sort your stuff into groups of like items. For example, all the decorations that you use on the tree each year, put those in a separate pile, all the light strands that go outside, put those in another pile, etc. Once you've got the items sorted, it's time to move on to how you will actually store them.

4. Your best bet for storage is to get clear bins that are the appropriate size for what you're storing. There's a couple reasons for this - 1. Keeping things in smaller, size appropriate containers make them easier to move 2. Because the containers are clear, it makes it easier to retrieve the items later because you can easily see what's inside 3. It helps you resist the temptation to stuff everything into one big container.

5. This step is the one I think is the most important. Label the box with what's inside. Don't be afraid to be too detailed with your labels. Just think, when you go to retrieve your decorations next year, you'll have the ability to know exactly what you have at a glance and you won't be running out to buy another package of decoration hangers when you already have 12 packages (which you've bought over the past 4 years because you couldn't find the ones you bought the year before) in a box with your decorations - (yes, I'm guilty!).

6. Lastly, when you bring those labeled storage boxes to your basement or attic your best bet is to use the outside perimeter of the room. This leaves you with space in the middle of the room so you can easily "shop" for what you're looking for next time you go to use the item.


This one is near and dear to me since we have so many toys for the princesses. Even though I just did a toy purge, my meeting with Francesca has inspired me to purge even more. The best time to do this activity is usually before a birthday or Christmas (but really it can be done anytime of the year) when you know that a bunch of new toys will be coming into your house. Here's Francesca's advice:

1. Similar to the decorations, you need to assess what you have. If you have a toy that you like (yes, I said you, not your child because just think about that toy that makes some annoying noise that every time you hear it you want to throw it in the trash) and you know you'll be using it for the next child (if applicable), keep it. If there are toys that you want to get rid of or are not age appropriate for your child anymore - donate them (assuming they're in good condition). For the items you'll be saving, use clear containers and clearly label what's in each box - use the same principals you used for the Holiday Decorations.

2. To keep the toys that the kids still play with better organized, especially toys with small parts - use smaller clear containers and label them in a kid-friendly way, Francesca suggested using the word and a picture of the item (for example if you're storing a puzzle, write "puzzle" on the box label and draw a picture of a puzzle piece). This not only encourages kids to put the items away when they're done with them but it can be a learning opportunity for them to associate the word with the picture each time they use the toy.

3. Get ready for new toys with annoying noises and return to the first step  :)

Christmas Shopping Lists

Lucky for me, I don't have a ton of people to buy for each year. However, I know a lot of my friends have lists the length of a football field with people they need to get gifts for each year and I imagine this can be pretty overwhelming for most people. Here are a few tips Francesca shared with me to help you stay sane:

1. Make a list of people you need to buy for and evaluate who you REALLY need to buy for. I know personally I've discussed this with a lot of people I used to buy for and we've mutually agreed to stop giving each other physical presents and instead maybe make a donation in each other's name or give baked goods to each other (assuming you have time and skill to bake - although if you're not out shopping that would give you a bit of extra time! - I don't consider baked goods a physical gift because after they get eaten you don't have something hanging around the house), or just a card with a heartfelt message.

2. Once you have your list of people established, do some thinking about what you want to get for each person before you even leave the house. You need to have an idea of what you want to get for each person so that you can plan your shopping trip accordingly.

3. Now it's time to review your list and evaluate which items can be bought at which store. Consider what your time budget is for the shopping you're going to do and note other errands on your to-do list so that you can stop at a store that's near where you were going already. For example, if you need to go to the supermarket to get groceries and Target is in the same plaza - highlight what you can get at Target on your list and make a quick trip in there to cross those items off the list.

4. Lastly, online shopping can be a huge time saver for a lot of people but similar to going to a brick and mortar store, you need to have an idea of what you're looking for because it's so easy to get distracted online by other things and before you know it you've spent 2 hours online and haven't crossed any gifts off your list.

Question: Will you accept the challenge and organize your holiday decorations this year, including get rid of stuff you never use? I know I'm going to give it a try for sure!

Last Words: Francesca left me with a few overall pieces of advice for organizing in general:

a. Don't buy storage bins unless you have a plan for what you will be storing in them - you need to buy the appropriate size bin and have a plan
b. A lot of the chaos in our lives is physical - step back and evaluate what you have, what you really use, and decide what you need to keep. Get rid of the rest (donate or recycle please!)
c. Many of the items we hold on to are attached to our emotions and can be difficult to let go of.
c. Being organized is possible for anyone. A professional organizer can be a huge help because they will help you sort through your items, evaluate what you have and help you face the fact that there are things you need to get rid of. Your organizer doesn't have that emotional attachment to your items and they will provide tips and ways that you can still honor the item without necessarily holding on to it and cluttering your house.

A huge shout out to Francesca Verri - Thank You so very much for providing all these awesome tips for my blog readers!

Francesca Verri is a professional organizer and office efficiency expert who helps business owners and household managers be more productive, efficient and successful in their work and everyday routines. Follow her on Facebook (the link is: and learn more about her onsite work and virtual consultations at