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Enjoying the Mystery Behind Family Items; The Story of my Bubby’s Airplane Plates

bubbys airline plates small

A few years before my grandmother passed away, she sold her home on Avenue O in Brooklyn, and traded up for her dream of living in the thriving upper West Side of Manhattan.  An avid theatergoer, it was her dream to be surrounded by the culture in the throbbing heart of New York City.  My parent’s found her an Assisted Living a stone’s throw from Lincoln Center and Central Park; and with a community of residents to dazzle with her Bridge skills and story telling, it was a dream come true.

 

My parents dutifully helped her make arrangements, sell her house and most of her possessions to make the move.  As I was living across the country, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to take advantage of this downsizing, and furniture was out of the question.  I did manage to keep a set of glass dessert and serving bowls, which I augmented when I stumbled upon the same set at a local garage sale; 3 of her Faberge eggs, unfortunately the ones in the boring colors, because although I have fond memories of playing store with my grandpa and a full set of rainbow colored eggs, the white and yellow ones were all that were left when she passed away.  (She was convinced her aids stole a few.)   I have a small sugar bowl that I associate with memories of eating Shredded Wheat on grandpas lap, sprinkled with Sweet and Low. (I guess it was deemed to be healthy at the time.)   I also took a really cool duvet cover that screams 70’s fabric.  Even though I love its bright vintage quality, I have never once had an opportunity to use it.  Of all these inherited household items, a set of Delta airline plates is my favorite.

 

These are ceramic white plates, meant to fit on an airline tray, but permanent ones, not disposables. On the back, there is a proud label; “Delta Air Lines Inc.  Pealtzgraff, Copyright USA.”  There are also four from American Airlines.   As an avid traveler, I’ve seen the quality of domestic flights decline dramatically over the years, and I appreciate these plates as a changing sign of the times.  Aside from the handful of times I’ve flown first class using either a spontaneous free upgrade or my Dad’s air miles, I have never seen anything not disposable on an airplane.  These days, meals aren’t even included, you need to pay $8.50 and up for a small “snack box”  with a few crackers and cheese.

 

I also appreciate the mystery surrounding the plates.  Despite her love of the world and her adventurous spirit, my grandmother’s first plane ride was not until she was 52 years old.  My Dad has surmised that this trip was motivated by my parents first trips to Vegas and San Francisco when they were newlyweds, a year or two out of college, followed a year later by a tour of Europe.   I suppose it was a wake-up call to my grandmother that if they could do it, she could do it too.  A year later, she and my grandfather flew to Italy and enjoyed many trips together after that.  I especially remember them raving about a visit to the Norwegian Fjords.

 

I suppose that travel later in life is another sign of the times, as I was less than a year on my first flight, brought along on a family trip to Florida.  My first international trip was at the age of 11 when I got to fly with my Mom to my cousin’s wedding in London.  I loved meeting my relatives and touring the city with my Mom.  My son got his first passport at 6 months old, and we flew to New York for a wedding when he was only 8 months old.  We crossed the Atlantic to visit his other set of grandparents in Finland, and tagged on another 2 week stint in Croatia before his second birthday.   While I have certainly enjoyed the privilege of easy airline travel, I assume the novelty of flight and the opportunity to travel was something my grandmother didn’t take for granted.  Did she daydream wistfully about her next trip when looking at those Delta plates?

 

Even more mysterious, how did she get those plates?  Did she smuggle them off the airplane after each ride?  I don’t know if she flew enough for that, though I wouldn’t put it past her to calmly lean in towards a neighboring passenger, and boldly ask  “Dear, Do you mind if I keep that plate when you are done with it?”  I could visualize her wiping the plate with a wet towelette, wrapping it in a tissue, and casually sliding it into her Le Sport Sac travel bag.

 

Alternatively, was a set of free Delta plates part of a promotion?  Were plates the free gift equivalent of signing up for a credit card and getting 10,000 bonus miles? Those damn solicitations flood my mailbox daily, perhaps it was the same back then, but instead of credit cards, VIP lounges, and points, the prized commodity was a set of plates.

 

Unfortunately, my grandmother has passed away, and I doubt that my Dad or his brother would even know what plates I’m talking about, never mind their origin.   Maybe my Great Aunt would know?   Inspired by this blog post, I did a quick Google search with the name and product number from the back of the plate.  I’ve found that there are many out there to be purchased on E-bay, but no seller clarifies how they were obtained.

 

In the meantime, I can continue to enjoy them, reflect on a different time period where airline travel was a novelty and service wasn’t so crappy, and continue to wonder about the mystery of these plates.  They are practical as well!  I don’t use them frequently, but they are my go to dessert plate for when company is over!

 

If you have had a similar experience with a family antique, or if you have come across any similar airline memorabilia or have thoughts about the origin, please share in the comments below!

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Is a garage sale worth it? Guidelines to maintain my sanity during a garage sale.

garage sale

Our family is moving! To say the least, its been a crazy few months spending time purchasing and renovating a new home.  Moving is such a good time to let go of stuff and start fresh, that I have often seen culling advice that begins with “pretend you are about to move.”   It makes sense.  Our entire apartment must be emptied now, so the ignored boxes of grad school papers on the top shelf in the closet, the piles of old baby clothes lurking in the recesses of my walk-in closet, the rarely used batter encrusted waffle maker on the hard to reach shelf in the kitchen, and the old posters and picture frames shoved between the wall and the piano can’t be ignored any longer.

If you have been following the blog, you know that letting go of old possessions is not an easy thing for me.  This stems mainly from the “environmentalist” mentality of feeling responsible for my possessions and the desire to avoid wasting them, the “what if I eventually need it” mentality that makes it hard to let go of things just in case, and the “miser” mentality of why get rid of this now if I might want to rebuy it in the future.  For example, maybe we should keep the waffle maker, just in case a lazy weekend morning rolls around where one of us, though exhausted, finds the motivation to make a special breakfast.

I know that it is much easier for me to quiet both the “environmentalist” and “what if I need it” voices, if I knew my old possessions were going to a good home and if I had some reassurance that their life could be extended, repurposed or directed to any location other than the local landfill. Items that no longer meet my needs can be repurposed, but I also don’t have to hold on to them forever where their cluttering presence does me more harm than good.

In the past year, I have signed up for a local “Buy Nothing Group” that has reinforced the notion that trash to me is treasure to someone else.  The group was started in Australia and has chapters all around the world.  It is facilitated through Facebook where members sign up and post things for free that can then be claimed by other members of the community.  It is a great way to repurpose both “waste” and truly valuable “treasure.”  I have seen free items up for grabs ranging from used nail polish or used shampoo where the item didn’t suit the purchaser, old baby toys and clothes, books, DVDs, art supplies, furniture, even an old piano!  My Los Feliz online community has roughly 200 members, and I guestimate that about 90% of postings are claimed.   I intend to write a longer post about my experience with this group so stay tuned! In the meantime, sign up for your local chapter!

A similar option is Craigslist, where one can post used things for sale or for free and arrange for a pick-up.  I know that I have several things to discard that may have some value in this market. The question is, how much would I have to sell it for to make it worth my time to facilitate a sale?  Also, is money the right way to value that time, or does the good deed of not just leaving something on the curb make it worth the effort?

The problem with a situation like moving is that there are so many items to discard that I don’t have the energy, time or patience to manage individual transactions for each item.  Granted, I could set the terms of the exchange, “pick-up available only on Saturday between 9AM-11AM,”  or “porch pick up only.”

The easiest option is to allow my husband to drop the stuff of at the local GoodWill, which is a mile from our current apartment.  He is begging me to not bring it with us, to just get rid of it well before the move and to keep it easy.  I agree that it is by far the easiest option, but I sincerely doubt GoodWill’s ability to keep my old stuff from the trash pile.  From previous drop-offs, I have found them to be inundated with items. My impression is that they are too particular in sorting what they can and can’t resell and I think they wind up throwing a lot of it away. I have also read articles questioning their integrity on how they treat employees, how long they hold merchandise etc.   Not to mention, their mission is related to employee skills training, not waste reduction.  **I’ll add a disclaimer that this is my own opinion of GoodWill and I have it on my list of future posts to do more research about this.**

I’d love to find a more community based local charity that really made an effort to reuse and redistribute things but I haven’t found one yet, and I don’t think I will in the week before I move.

I haven’t participated in a garage sale since childhood, but I’m leaning towards that as my go to option. The biggest issue I have observed with garage sales in the past is that a lot of items don’t sell.  So after investing the energy of lugging all the items to the sidewalk, advertising and sitting outside all day, I might be left with the same dilemma of how to get rid of my unwanted stuff.

My other dilemma with the garage sale is how to balance the part of me that sincerely just wants the items to be reused and the part of me that is trying to capture economic value from these items.  The goal would be to make as much money as possible while also winding up with nothing left over at the end of the day.  I’m visualizing graphs from Economics 101, where the two curves intersect perfectly in an ideal “market clearing price.”  In reality, the prospect of making money from a garage sale is minimal, (at least when compared to the value of my time), so I really need to prioritize the goal of finding a new home for things over the goal of financial gain.  I’ll have to organize the sale accordingly.

For instance, I had the thought of holding a donation based garage sale where people could pay what they want.  I could suggest that half or all of the funds raised will go to the World Rain Forest Trust, a charity that uses proceeds to purchase and conserve endangered habitats. I could even go so far as to suggest that I would match all donations and increase the sum. I generally like to donate in honor of big milestones anyway, such as moving into a new house, so why not match donations?

This post has been helpful in organizing my thoughts and creating some garage sale ground rules:

  • My overarching goal is to have everything disappear, hopefully to someone who will make good use of the item.
  • Once the item has disappeared, I have no control over what the person does with it and I can’t get hung up on that. They might turn around and sell it for profit.  They might never use it and just let it languish in a forgotten drawer. Or they might have second thoughts and GASPthrow the item away.  What if? What if?  What if?
  • At the end of the day, everything that is left can be donated. Even if the item could be put to better use, I will absolve myself of that responsibility.
  • I have to have a clear “As Is/No returns policy.” Believe it or not, my Dad has said that back in the days when he was patient enough for a garage sale, people would knock on his door a few days later claiming items didn’t work and wanting their money back.  I feel like it is obvious that garage sale purchases are “as is” but, ya know, people!
  • I will not get caught up in negotiating with buyers, or people’s pettiness about trying to cut the price of things. After years of traveling, I generally find negotiating to be somewhat fun but also know that it can go too far.  Again, ya know, people!
  • I will do things to minimize the work and mental energy involved. For instance, I will simply group items by price, $1, $5, $10… and price items to sell.
  • In order to include the posting on the Buy Nothing Group, I will advertise that for the last hour of the sale everything will be free.
  • I will think of this as a good opportunity to hang out outside and get to know my new neighbors.

Sample Posting:

Garage sale!  Address, date, 9AM – 2PM.  All items priced to sell and proceeds will be shared with World Rainforest Trust!  Sale includes household items, school supplies, old light fixtures, furniture, craft supplies, clothes etc.  Anything left after 1PM can be picked up for free.

This sale is expected to happen within in the next 2 months.   Will let you know how it goes.

 

Photo Caption:  Photo shows collection of items ready to be sold: kitchen spice rack, over the door chin-up bar, used nail polish, never opened replacement top for our Dutch Oven, old purse, lightly stained placemats, duffle bag with a small hole. 

Convenience vs. Guilt; The Magical, Wonderful, Baby Food Pouches that Forever Pollute the Earth

pouches small

The date is April 15th, 9PM.   I’m tiredly skimming the Facebook Moms group page for weekend activities, then BAM!, a women in the group had posted an article called “Why you should Stop Feeding your Baby from Trendy Little Food Pouches.” The article villainized the use of disposable food pouches. The majority of them are non-recyclable and the article went on to describe how this plastic is just one more contributing factor to the gyre of plastic in the middle of the ocean. Are you serious? Do you mean to tell me that those small, innocent miracle pouches are bad for the environment?   Amongst everything else I have to do, now I have to figure out a convenient replacement snack??!!!

Little seeds of guilt had begun to accumulate even prior to reading this article, and now I felt the link was calling me out, admonishing me for my bad behavior. A collection of used pouches had already begun to gather on the floor of my 2003 Prius; as well as doubts about the societal damage I was doing with these little lifesavers.

And I don’t use the term lifesavers lightly. These pouches are amazingly convenient for on the go activities. I’m not much of a cook, so preparing baby food purees has not been a great strength of mine. Before every outing, a local stop at the park, a weekend day trip with the family, an annoying day of house hunting and running errands, I make sure I’m armed with a few of these snacks in the diaper bag.

As an adult, I usually arm myself with snacks as well; a sliced apple or a repurposed plastic container with almonds, so I would offer the same consideration for my son. And he loves the pouches. He loves to eat in general, but when he sees the pouch, he reaches for it longingly and it is gone within 3 minutes. Unlike a fruit, like a banana or a clementine, both of which conveniently come in “nature’s wrapper” these pouches don’t expire, leak or squish, and can be consumed relatively mess free and quickly on the go. I don’t even have to wait for my son to chew or patiently coach him out of his food throwing habit, or diligently wipe sticky juice of his face, hands, myself or the seat cushions. I just pop the top and voila, instant proactive placation of a potentially very whiny baby.

Yet, the 3 minutes of happiness he gets from eating the pouch, plus the minutes I can save from preparing yet another snack, result in a pouch that will linger on the earth forever.

I’d love to follow-up with the woman who posted this article. Was it hypocritical of her to post it, setting a standard of pouchless perfection that is almost impossible to attain, or has she changed her behavior?   I see nothing wrong with a sincere wakeup call to the demerits of the pouch. One woman commented that she would plan to change her behavior (I’m curious to follow-up and see if she actually did), one proclaimed glass jars as superior, and one empathically wrote “this is a tough one, they are just so convenient.”   I agree with the last statement.

For myself and any other socially conscious caretakers out there, struggling to balance environmentalism with convenience, I decided to investigate further.

Each pouch is made of a food safe plastic layer, a metallic layer for freshness then topped with a decorative label. In an excellent article on the subject, Elizabeth Royte writes that they were a success when invented in 1962 because they are easy for manufacturers to fill, they offer large surfaces for printing and marketing, and are lightweight and therefore easier to transport. However, because they are multi-layered, they are very difficult to recycle and most municipalities don’t have the capability to do it.

The webpages of Plum Organics and Happy Family, take the time to explain that the pouches are not recyclable at this time, however Plum Organics has a recycling program designed just for the pouch caps which are recyclable. The Earth’s Best brand, Ella’s Kitchen and GoGo SqueeZ, were part of a special program to recycle the pouches through TerraCycle but when I visited the TerraCycle page, they said that ALL pouches could be recycled through their program. HMM, so what are they doing differently? The pouches appear to be made of the same exact materials, so how does it work?

TerraCycle is a company that specializes in hard to recycle products. They have a variety of partnerships and special programs in place to handle hard to recycle items like toothbrushes, candy bar wrappers, pens, pencils and markers.   I contacted their customer service to find out how their process works, and found out that the layers are manually separated so that they can be recycled.

Up until September 2017, Terracycle had a partnership with Earth’s Best to fund the recycling of pouches of any brand that consumers mailed in AND give customers a nominal incentive to participate in the mail in program by donating $0.02 per pouch to the consumers charity of choice. Though a nominal amount, this seemed like a great idea for schools or large activity centers like a zoo to participate in. They could create a collection program and benefit from a small donation.  Before I found out that the program had ended, I was very motivated to contact the zoo and help them set this up. Unfortunately, I was sad to see that the program ended on September 30, 2017, with no explanation. Despite this, Terracyle still has an option where consumers can collect their pouches and pay Terracycle between 7 and 14 cents per pouch to recycle them. Sounds too good to be true?

For customers to take advantage of this program, they need to collect 655 pouches for the smallest preordered box, then pay the fee of $88.75 for mailing and recycling. Though the price is manageable, the inconvenience of bringing each pouch home, even though they are intended as an on the go snack, and storing them until enough were collected seemed like a tall order. Though I’d be wiling to do this, I think my husband would have some objections to me storing the trash in our already miniscule kitchen. Additionally, I have not even close to using 100 pouches in the past 2 years so 655 seems unattainable. If a community such as the MOM’s Club, or a day-care center, wanted to collect the pouches, I’d be happy to participate and maybe even organize it.

I also called the City of Los Angeles, Department of Sanitation customer care line. Unfortunately, even when I requested to be transferred to a manager, no one that I spoke with could give me a clear answer as to if the City of Los Angeles recycles the pouches or not. I got the general response of “when in doubt leave it out” though my instincts tell me that this is not an environmental answer, but more related to the expense the department bears for having to deal with materials that were incorrectly disposed of. The government bureaucrats I spoke with DID NOT sound excited about recycling.

My conclusion is that it is chemically and mechanically feasible for the pouches to be recycled, but that most municipalities can’t fund the extra expense of separating the layers into the materials for recycling. The pouch LIDS however, are recyclable, at least in the City of Los Angeles. The reason these pouches litter the ocean therefore are systemic. The incentives are not there for them to be recycled, even though Terracycle can do so for as little as $.07 per pouch. I’d be willing to pay that, would you?

Until then, how can I manage my use of this life-saving polluter? Disposable products are in general bad for the environment. Disposable products that can’t be recycled are even worse. Disposable products made of plastic that will never degrade and will literally remain on the earth forever – yikes! How can I balance the convenience of these pouches with the desire to preserve the already plastic littered ocean for the next generation? Can I look at my whining child who is hungry for a pouch right now and have the discipline to say, we’ll be home from this park in 15 minutes and we can eat real food then.

With much thanks, the majority of my dilemma has resolved with the passing of time and the growth of my beautiful boy. With a full set of teeth, he is pretty happy eating the same apple slices and almonds that I would normally pack for myself anyway, and we are much less reliant on the convenience of the pouch. I feel a lot better with the new range of solid foods available to us, and can make efforts to avoid the pouch – such as packing a humus sandwich for longer trips. Yet, I will also cut myself some slack when exceptions need to be made. If I ever have another baby and the companies in charge of packaging haven’t found a solution by then, my volume of pouch consumption might increase. In that case, don’t be surprised if you come over and see a collection of pouches in the closet, waiting to be mailed in.

Please share your thoughts on this or other convenience vs. guilt “stuff” decisions in the comments below.

The Burden of the Bottomless Hand Sanitizer

hand sanitizer small

Recently, my husband came home and causally announced “Oh, by the way, I got us some new travel sized hand sanitizer today.” He really thought he was helping out the family. Why he bought that, I have no idea. It was not on the list. It was not something we discussed. In fact, I really wish he hadn’t bought it – it was in direct opposition to my hand sanitizer plan. Did my fingers just type those words? “Hand sanitizer plan?”   First of all, we almost never use hand sanitizer. I do carry some around in my purse for when I get that hebijevi feeling then plan on eating something, but really, I usually forget about it. I’m more likely to subscribe to the philosophy that exposure to germs is good for the immune system, so normal every day exposure isn’t a problem. I intentionally NEVER touch anything on the metro, just sit if there’s a seat available, or find something to lean on. Heck, I’ll balance surfboard style in the middle of the aisle before I touch one of those poles. Hence, no real need for hand sanitizer.   In fact, the only reason its in my purse in the first place is because my husband suggested that we bring it on our 2014 vacation to Bali, where it did make sense to use it as the hand washing options weren’t strong and the risk of getting sick was higher. I’ve kept it in there since then because once in a while, pure laziness before a meal makes it easier to fake wash our hands with hand sanitizer.

Back to the “hand sanitizer plan.” The “plan” resulted from making the best of a bad purchase. My parents were visiting for a few weeks just after my son’s birth and pitching in immensely by running errands, going to the grocery store and offering the support new parents need. I asked my dad to buy a jumbo sized bottle of liquid hand soap so that we could refill our current bottles. I thought it might be less wasteful than constantly buying smaller bottles that got used up quickly (and once we went to the store and actually bought the right thing, at least the “Hand soap plan” worked.) My Dad is wonderful and eager to please, but not the type to pay a lot of attention to detail, so instead of buying liquid soap, came home with a JUMBO sized hand sanitizer. Normally, I would have sent it back right away, but we were changing so many diapers, it was somewhat useful to have it by the changing area.   My son is just about 10 months old now, and we have worked our way through about 2 inches of the bottle.   Usage has plateaued.   There is no more decreasing that supply. The bottle is so big, that a little squirt here and there does nothing to lower the meniscus. I just prefer washing to sanitizing.

My resulting genius and waste free plan was to keep the bottle there, but use it to refill the little travel sized bottle in my purse. This would pretty much ensure that our family would not have to buy hand sanitizer for YEARS to come. Our son will likely have facial hair before we finished off that bottle.   The issue with the plan is that since buying that bottle 10 months ago, I have refilled my purse bottle ZERO times. Then my well-intentioned husband impulsively bought an additional mini bottle. So unless I can creatively find someone to take an open jumbo bottle of hand-sanitizer off my hands, and let go of the “what if I do happen to need the remaining 28 oz of hand sanitizer” anxiety, I remain burdened with the responsibility of using it up, along with an extra travel sized bottle. .

What’s the psychology behind this seemingly trivial life dilemma? My husband clearly didn’t understand the “hand sanitizer plan” and views his “grievous mistake” of no consequence. At least financially, he was correct because as he pointed out, it was a 99 cent bottle of hand sanitizer. We could just throw out the new travel bottle; which as I’m going back to edit this, still sits unused on my husband’s piano as we already have enough to last until the zombie apocalypse. In fact, if it was only about the money, we could even throw out the JUMBO bottle, how much could it possibly cost? While, I could happily let him return it, I simply can’t let him throw it out. It just seems too wasteful. It was produced, transported, purchased and now I’m environmentally responsible for it. I can’t in good consciousness throw it out.

Another ten months has passed since I have written the text above and I will now continue the story. Intended as a humorous look at the inconvenience of not wasting and also the ridiculousness of a 32 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer, I couldn’t conclude the piece as I has not yet found a solution to the dilemma. I was unable to make the bold move of disposing of the extra hand sanitizer so I made the decision of doing nothing,  a decision in itself. The JUMBO bottle lingered on the changing area, and little by little we continued to use it. I had anticipated that we could get some use of it, and might as well try since it was already there.

As I had expected, hand sanitizer use proportionately increases with child age and mobility. Our son has learned the words for “shoes” and “run” and so I try to take him to the park when I can.   He can also feed himself now, meaning for days on the go, I’d like to feel that his hands are somewhat clean. I don’t go too overboard, but I have become one of “those Mom’s” who like to douse their child’s fingers in alcoholic immunity.

Today, the bottle is just about half full. I think I refilled my 2 oz travel sized bottle twice.   One time was prior to our vacation, where we used it quite a bit. For the record, I think my husband may have remembered to take his travel sized bottle, but it never made it outside of his backpack. Each and every use of hand sanitizer on the trip was preceded with “Hon, do you the hand sanitizer in your purse?” Of course I did!

So about 20 months and 16 ounces of hand sanitizer later, my decision is to continue using the bottle. Interestingly, that JUMBO bottle came with an expiration date which coincides with the time of this post. I did some quick research into the question, “Does hand sanitizer expire?” Technically, the answer is yes because the effectiveness may decrease over time. However, according to my own critical reasoning (and sources found on Google), one can safely continue usage beyond the stated expiration data. The active ingredient in hand sanitizer is ethyl alcohol and over time, the alcohol can evaporate leaving the user with a less potent formula. However, most hand sanitizers are in sealed containers, so how much could they really evaporate? Even when used beyond the expiration date, I firmly believe that a good amount of germs will still be zapped.

Despite the annoyance of glancing at the eyesore of a hand sanitizer bottle on the walk past the changing table, it did turn out to be something we used – and for any future purchases I can estimate our rate of hand sanitizer consumption. We would probably have survived fine without it if I had discarded it long ago and benefited from a few square inches of additional counter space.   However, it still remains hard for me to throw out things that may eventually be used, but in this case a use was found!

 

P.S.   A quick Google of the term “wasted hand sanitizer”, led to a very different line of thinking. Apparently, teenagers drink hand sanitizer to get wasted and its very dangerous. So if you are worried about experimental teens and germs at the same time, internet sources advise buying the foam kind rather than the gel kind because it is harder to extract alcohol from the foam kind. I say: JUST… STICK …..TO…. SOAP….

Originally Written:  October 24, 2016

Concluded and Edited:  September 2, 2017

Abridged Version: Sustainable Favors for a Child’s Birthday Party; no more junk please!

Capture “I am planning a birthday party for my preschool aged son, and I am thinking about party favors.  Typically, I receive a bag, with tissue paper, and some tchotchkes in it. Either the favors last for a week or so, or I put them away, or I throw them away. What type of favor can I give my guests to say thank you for coming, but that won’t be so tchotchke? At one child’s birthday party recently, my child received seeds to plant at home.”

(**Please note, this is a shorter version of my previous post.  For more                                detail, see post below.)

I received the above inquiry from a blog reader.  Although I have not yet lived through the birthday party circuit as a parent, I agree with my reader that favors have a tendency to be little trinkets that offer a short term high or rush, but rarely offer real joy in the long run.  The childhood equivalent of a “Swag Bag.”  From a quick google search of “sustainable party favors,” I surmise that many Moms are also frustrated with “dollar store trash” that either breaks or becomes more clutter to add to their child’s already busting collection.

I would urge party planners to consider why they are giving a favor in the first place?  Hopefully they find that it enhances the party in some way, gets the birthday boy or girl more excited about the occasion, and increases the enjoyment of guests at the party.  Parents such as this reader want to be hospitable and teach generosity to their child.  With all of these good motivations to give a party favor, why does the execution so frequently lead to more plastic trash?

Unfortunately, I fear that many favors are not Intentionally thought out, and are motivated by a need to conform, or by some attachment to etiquette as not giving a party favor, “just isn’t done.” I would encourage my readers who do not have an Intentional motivation behind giving the favor to consider abandoning the favor all together.  Lessons of hospitality and generosity can be taught through other aspects of the party, such as greeting guests when they come and go.

If I were to take some time to think outside the box on this one, maybe parents need to ban together and decide that materialistic party favors aren’t a necessary part of birthday parties.  Can we challenge ourselves as parents to teach our children to get this type of joy or rush from non-material things?  Can we emphasize gratitude about the opportunity to host or attend a fun birthday party instead?

All it takes is one or two parents to be brave enough to suggest a different way of doing things. What if at the beginning of the school year, all the parents agreed to give a donation to mark occasions in lieu of party favors?  Or, if at every party, every kid brought back a used toy, and then picked a new used toy out of a grab-bag? Every party could have a used toy exchange instead of a new toy.  If the kid wasn’t happy with what they picked, they could just bring it back to the next birthday party favor grab-bag.   This still ignites the curiosity, excitement and feeling of gaining something in the little guests, without all the excess.

For those that feel like forgoing favors all together would be too radical and are guided by an Intentionally Abundant motivation, here are some suggestions to make favors meaningful, thoughtful and to reduce their environmental impact.

  1. Make a donation on behalf of the guests.  You can print out small cards with the name of the charity and decorate them with your child.  You can even pick a charity that goes with the theme of the party.  For instance, if your party is located in a local park, a donation to Trust for Public Land, supports conservation of wildlands as well as creation of local parks.

 

  1. Prioritize experiential gifts over a material gifts.  Are there any local arcades where you can buy a gift certificate for a certain number of tokens?  What about giving each guest an iTunes gift card to download X# of songs?   One note here is that these gifts may burden the parent.  For instance, the parent still needs to take the kid to the arcade, and inevitably, the trip may wind of costing more than then the gift certificate.  However, similar to you throwing away tchotchkes that you don’t want, other parents can figure out how to manage your gift.

 

  1. Try to think of a gift with a sustainable use. For instance, a reusable snack container with a fun character on it.  Guests can use it for lunch or snacks on the go, and its better than using a plastic bag.

 

  1. Give a gift that’s practical and consumable.  Soap in the shape of a favorite character.  Bake some healthy cookies.

 

  1. Activity based favors. For instance, a coloring book, activity book, deck of cards, or small puzzle. These are also experience based rather than just a material good.

 

  1. No matter what you chose to give, think about the material it is made out of and the packaging required.  A cardboard toy is easier to recycle than a plastic toy.  Instead of a gift bag, a colorful ribbon could do the trick.

 

My goal of Intentional Abundance is to evaluate consumerist and therefore environmental decisions in light of my values; sustainability, enjoyment, convenience, etc, then make a decision that allows me to move forward guilt free.  The important thing is to consider your reasons for giving out a favor, then make sure that whatever you decide to do aligns with your values.  If you think giving a party favor is a critical part of hospitality, go for it.  If you prioritize sustainability, then its OK to forgo the party favor all together or to provide something experiential or charitable.  If you otherwise run a tight ship, but want to allow for some birthday indulgence, feel free.  Whatever you decide, be honest and intentional with yourself about living and demonstrating your values and don’t feel pressure or judgment by others to just do things a certain way.

Thank you for your inquiry!  I hope that some of my readers will share their thoughts or suggestions too.   In addition, here are some other bloggers who support alternative or no party favors.

http://grist.org/living/help-i-need-eco-friendly-party-favors-on-a-budget/

http://www.parents.com/fun/birthdays/supplies/stop-giving-out-birthday-favors/

http://www.pbs.org/parents/birthday-parties/tips_post/green-birthday-party/

http://www.spitthatoutthebook.com/2011/04/its-my-party-and-ill-give-what-i-want-to/

 

Photo Credit:  DIY Birdhouse photo taken from: http://themindfulhome.blogspot.com/2015/10/eco-friendly-birthday-party-favors-and.html

 

Happy Birthday to your son!

Sustainable Party Favors for a Child’s Birthday Party; no more junk please!

Capture “I am planning a birthday party for my preschool aged son, and I am thinking about party favors.  Typically, I receive a bag, with tissue paper, and some tchotchkes in it. Either the favors last for a week or so, or I put them away, or I throw them away. What type of favor can I give my guests to say thank you for coming, but that won’t be so tchotchke? At one child’s birthday party recently, my child received seeds to plant at home.”

I received the above inquiry from a blog reader, so I’ve dedicated this post to providing some suggestions and thoughts about this dilemma.   Please share your ideas below!

 

Dear Reader,

Thank you for our inquiry.  First, I must say that a question like this highlights the struggle of daily “stuff” related decisions and is exactly why I started writing Intentional Abundance.  My goal of Intentional Abundance is to evaluate consumeristic and therefore environmental decisions in light of my values; sustainability, enjoyment, convenience, etc, then make a decision that allows me to move forward guilt free.  Everything is a tradeoff, and this simple example is no exception.

I have not yet thrown a big party for my son, but I can try to put myself in your position and imagine the things I would want to consider.  Who knows how parenting experience may shape the reality that is yet to unfold, but here are my current thoughts on this, with suggestions to follow.

My first concern would likely be to make sure that my son has a good time on his birthday.  There are so many opportunities to teach other values and lessons, but in my opinion, I have always felt a child should feel special on his birthday, that it should be something to look forward to and have fun with.  I’m not saying it’s a free pass for bad behavior, but it’s a chance to show that a little indulgence is OK once in a while, and why not on a birthday?  The importance that my child put on the party favor would likely provide some guidance for me.  If I thought it wasn’t something he would notice at all, I’d likely forgo it all together. If there was something he felt excited or proud to give away, we’d go in that direction.

The second thing I would likely consider is cost and convenience.  I’m already planning a party, so factoring in the extra expense and planning needed for favors wouldn’t be a priority for me unless it was a priority for my son.

Third, I would likely consider charity.  I like the idea of marking special occasions with a small donation.  On special occasions, I feel lucky and blessed and it’s a good reminder to share that good fortune with others.  In the past, I’ve made personal donations at my wedding, for my son’s birth, graduation, but not yet for birthdays.  However, in light of a big party I would consider a donation in lieu of party favors.

Fourth, I would focus on hospitality and what would make the occasion enjoyable and memorable for my guests.  If I could think of a great favor that really added to the party, I would go in that direction.  For instance, a wedding I attended this February was outdoors.  Even in Southern California, February can be cold at night.  On every other seat, the hosts left a throw for guests to take home.  The throw added color and atmosphere to the party, and was practical in keeping guests warmer.  This host nailed the party favor combo of giving out something useful and practical that also enhanced the occasion.  For a child’s party, maybe a craft they could make during the event, or a yard game they used during the event could serve as the favor?  If the favor doesn’t enhance the event or contribute to a theme, why bother? I’d look to my child for guidance on something that would spark a little joy or excitement in the guests.

Fifth, I would need to remind myself to allow for a little F-U-N.  Sometimes, a favor is just cute, and there is a little joy to be gained from that.  As a child, I remember there was a little bit of glee about going to a party and getting a gift, even if it was short lived.  Even as adults, we all enjoy a little freebie once in a while.  I want the guests to have a good time so I’d consider how a favor could contribute. In the big picture I’d like my son to be part of a society where joy comes from things more substantial than trinkets from a party, but maybe the other 364 days of the year are intended for that lesson.

Finally, sustainability and environmental impact get considered.  This consideration is already running throughout the above points, but its worth pointing out that I wouldn’t want to give out something I considered junk, meaningless or wasteful.  I would be excited to give out something that I or my son saw value in.

Before I get to my suggestions, I would say that another consideration is unfortunately social norms, and what other people think.  I try not to get distracted by this one but it does creep in there sometimes.  For party favors, I feel like it might sneak in even more because there is so much judgement out there about parenting styles.  For instance, I would consider giving out candy.  Its easy, consumable, colorful, and provides the temporary “rush” of fun that a party favor often provides for a child.  However, I find there is so much pressure for kids to eat healthy that it might be taboo to distribute candy. I would try to remind myself (and you) not to get too worried about what other people think.  If the intention of your gift is good, the result will be too.

Here are some approaches that you could take, roughly ordered from most to least Intentionally Abundant.

  1. Forgo the party favors all together. Like you said, the favor usually just sits around and gets forgotten about, creating clutter and an extra item to clean/keep track of, or just gets thrown out – plus it comes with wasteful packaging. I would ask what you hope to achieve with the party favors.  Are you giving out favors to conform, because not providing a party favor “just isn’t done?” Or do you feel that they contribute to the occasion in some way?   In your case, it sounds like you feel a gift is part of being a good host, and its a good opportunity to teach hospitality and generosity to your son.  Instead of teaching this materially, perhaps you can show your son how to warmly thank everyone for coming when they leave?  Or to let his guests share his toys?  Or through the thank you notes?  Ask yourself why you are doing the party favors and if that result can be accomplished without buying and distributing more meaningless trinkets.  Another benefit of forgoing the favors is that you can save yourself the time of buying and assembling them and focus more on your son and his guests instead.

 

  1. Make a donation on behalf of the guests.  You can print out small cards with the name of the charity and you and your son can decorate them together as an activity.  This instills the same value of hospitality and generosity, but even more so because your son has a hand in creating the favor himself.  You can even pick a charity that goes with the theme of the party.  For instance, if you have an outer space themed party, a donation to scientific research.  If your party is located in a local park, a donation to Trust for Public Land, supports conservation of wildlands as well as creation of local parks that are accessible and usable in urban areas. https://www.tpl.org/our-work#sm.00000d2a804fjqe8wr2hpprttoo8q

 

  1.  Prioritize experiential gifts over a material gifts.  When Trick or Treating, I remember occasionally getting MacDonalds coupons good for one ice-cream cone, or one apple pie. I’m not sure how often we cashed them in, but I remember the potential of the outing being exciting.  Similarly, are there any local arcades where you can buy a gift certificate for a certain number of tokens?  What about giving each guest an iTunes gift card to download X# of songs?   One note here is that these gifts may burden the parent.  For instance, if you give a certain # of arcade tokens, the parent still needs to take the kid to the arcade, and inevitably, the trip may wind of costing more than then the gift certificate.  However, I would say this does not need to be your problem.  Similar to you throwing away tchotchkes that you don’t want, other parents can figure out how to manage your gift.

 

  1.  Try to think of a gift with a sustainable use. For instance, a reusable snack container with a fun character on it.  They can use it for lunch or snacks on the go, and its better than using a ziplock bag.

 

  1.  Give a gift that’s practical and consumable.  What about soap in the shape of a favorite character?  Bake some healthy cookies.

 

  1. Consider activity based favors. For instance, a coloring book, activity book or small puzzle. These are also experience based rather than just a material good.   I remember getting decks of cards, like Old Maid or Go Fish.

 

  1.  No matter what you chose to give, if anything, think about the material it is made out of and the packaging required.  A cardboard toy is easier to recycle than a plastic toy.  Instead of a gift bag, would a colorful ribbon do the trick?

If I were to take some time to think outside the box on this one, maybe parents need to ban together and decide that materialistic party favors aren’t a necessary part of birthday parties.  Can we challenge ourselves as parents to teach our children to get this type of joy or rush from non-material things?  Can we emphasize gratitude about the opportunity to host or attend a fun birthday party instead?

All it takes is one or two parents to be brave enough to suggest a different way of doing things. What if at the beginning of the school year, all the parents agreed to give a donation to mark occasions in lieu of party favors?  Or what if at every party, every kid brought back a used toy, and then picked a new used toy out of a grab-bag . Every party could have a used toy exchange instead of a new toy.  If the kid wasn’t happy with what they picked, they could just bring it back to the next birthday party favor grab-bag.

The important thing is to consider your reasons for giving out a favor, then make sure that whatever you decide to do aligns with your values.  If you think giving a party favor is a critical part of hospitality, go for it.  If you prioritize sustainability, then its OK to forgo the party favor all together or to provide something experiential or charitable.  If you otherwise run a tight ship, but want to allow for some birthday indulgence, feel free.  Whatever you decide, be honest and intentional with yourself about living and demonstrating your values and don’t feel pressure or judgment by others to just do things a certain way.

Thank you for your inquiry!  I hope that some of my readers will share their thoughts or suggestions too.   In addition, here are some other bloggers who support alternative or no party favors.

 

http://grist.org/living/help-i-need-eco-friendly-party-favors-on-a-budget/

http://www.parents.com/fun/birthdays/supplies/stop-giving-out-birthday-favors/

http://www.pbs.org/parents/birthday-parties/tips_post/green-birthday-party/

http://www.spitthatoutthebook.com/2011/04/its-my-party-and-ill-give-what-i-want-to/

 

DIY Birdhouse photo taken from http://themindfulhome.blogspot.com/2015/10/eco-friendly-birthday-party-favors-and.html

 

Happy Birthday to your son!

Finding the confidence to spend more, overcome indecision and stop procrastinating; the mixing bowl replacement solution.

DSC00835I was preparing a big salad last night and as I went to get our big red bowl from its residence on top of the microwave, for lack of a better location, I clumsily knocked it.  It toppled to the floor and even though it was plastic, shattered into at least 3 or 4 pieces with a few shards here and there.  I consider it a talent that I can break a plastic bowl, one that runs in the family.  Unfortunately, it was a bowl that we use frequently.  It came as a set of 4 from our wedding registry and has lasted about 5 years. I think my husband was stressed out about some other thing at the time because I remember him having a real sense of urgency – we must replace this RIGHT AWAY!!! I felt less urgency, but primarily because the decision of what to replace it with seemed overwhelming and I wanted to procrastinate.

I must preface this story by saying that while my culinary life was enhanced by having set of bowls with matching lids, it was certainly possible to make do without them.  Prior to receiving the gift, I would marinate chicken in the same Pyrex cooking dish I planned to bake it in, instead of a separate prep bowl.   On the rare occasion that I wanted to bake, I would use a soup pot for mixing.  I used our regular soup bowls to store cut veggies during prep.   There was endless potential for workarounds, but the bowls really did enhance our culinary life in an Intentionally Abundant way, providing convenience, color and reducing waste (no plastic wrap or foil needed) for the past five years.

As fate would have it, the universe gave me a nudge.  About a week later, living in a state of denial about another impending shopping chore, while my husband struggled to find the right bowl to prepare our salad in, I took the yellow bowl of the set and ran it under hot water to wash my pump bits as usual. The dang thing split down the side.  Quite literally, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. So given the death of two of the four bowls I decided it was time to take action.

The first choice, and likely the simplest, would be to take the broken bowls back to Macy’s for a free replacement.  I still had the original box in my closet (five years!) and as long as the cashier has a barcode to scan, Macy’s has a very liberal return policy.  The problem with this is that I was never a big fan of the lids that came with set.  They were finicky and it was never easy to get them to snap properly. But due to the dread of doing Amazon research to find a better set, I thought I’d give this option a try.

Luckily, there is a Macy’s a block away from my office building, so I took in my broken bowls, in their original box, and was ready to just do a simple switch when again, fate intervened.  Although the cashier was glad to give me a gift card for the original purchase value ($29.99), that store was out of the bowls and I would have to order it online.

This extra and unexpected step led to a new wave of indecision.  I was torn between the expediency of a quick online Macy’s purchase and task/quest of Amazon research.  Nevertheless, I decided to casually test the waters and see what Amazon had to offer.  Surprisingly, it was fairly easy to narrow it down to two primary contenders, then after reading a few reviews one set rose to the top.  It was surprisingly clear which set I was drawn to.    But Aye, there’s a rub… The primary contender set was $40.00, twice the price that the Macy’s set would be (it was near the xmas and there was a coupon).  I did internet research to see if there were any coupons for my Amazon first choice, but no luck.

After some soul searching, I decided it was worth it to splurge, and pay the extra for the different bowls.  I liked the bowl color and design better, and from the picture, I had a hunch that the lids might fit better.  “What’s the risk,” I thought?  If they aren’t as nice in the picture, I have 30 days to return them.  If they break and aren’t returnable, it’s only a $40.00 gamble.  I decided the risk/reward threshold was in my favor. So what was the hold up?

My husband.  I could chalk this up to a Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, difference, but he could not fathom why I would want to spend an extra $20.00 on bowls, and for some reason, I couldn’t seem to act without his validation of my choice.  This lunacy dragged on for several weeks…  In fact, every time I brought it up, I got a very negative attitude – “you already asked me about the bowls.  I don’t agree with you, but you can do whatever you want.”  On paper, the words sound very civilized, but the tone was problematic.  The tone of, “I’m shutting down, I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t approve, don’t press me on this issue, if the bowls are a bad decision, it will be ALL YOUR FAULT.”  At least that was my interpretation.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I needed to involve him at all.  Had my decision making skills deteriorated to a point where I couldn’t independently act on a $40.00 purchase?  Perhaps I was seeking some kind of approval that imperfection could be tolerated.  Should the bowls not live up to the hype, the loss wouldn’t be catastrophic.  Maybe I wanted him to share the burden of the risk.   Or maybe I was looking for validation that my preferences were worth the “splurge” of paying twice as much, in this case only $20.00 more, on a set of bowls.  At a certain point, I don’t think we had eaten any salad in almost a month, and I dug deep.  I found the confidence to self-validate my original decision, and informed my husband that I had made a Decision.  He kindly ordered the new bowls from our Amazon Prime account and they arrived a few days later.

So far we are BOTH pretty happy with them.  The lids fit great, and the colors and shape brighten up the kitchen.  I used the Macy’s gift card for some GlassLock Tupperware that I take to work almost daily for lunch, and  I’ve even gotten to say “I told you so” a few times.   Nah nah na na nah!

 

Originally Written: November 14, 2016.

 

Original bowls:  http://www1.macys.com/shop/product/martha-stewart-collection-harvest-multi-bowls-with-lids-set-of-4-only-at-macys?ID=386700

New and Improved bowls:    As pictured above. Manufactured by Costco.