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Celebrate Green

The following is a transcript of an interview I did with Lynn Colwell who co-wrote the book Celebrate Green

Tiffany Washko:  Hi. This is Tiffany here, and I am with LynnCelebrate Green Book Colwell.  She’s written a book called Celebrate Green, along with her daughter Corey Colwell.  She wrote a book called Celebrate Green, Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family.  In case the title didn’t give it away, it is all about going green for the family as far as the holidays and celebrations are concerned.  Christmas, Halloween, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, all of those special celebrations and family traditions that are so special to us and that could use a little greening. 

It’s a great honor to talk with Lynn today and find out a little bit more about her book, and also to gleam some information about what’s inside of it.  I’m going to go ahead and ask Lynn a few questions.  Why do you think that there’s such an interest in and a need for having greener celebrations and holidays, Lynn?

Lynn Colwell:  Well, you just gave the list, a very short list of the some of the times during the year that we celebrate.  It’s really kind of interesting, because I know when we started out with Green Halloween, some people were saying to us, “Why do we need to change Halloween?  It’s just fine.  It’s one holiday.  Who cares if everybody over does it on candy?”

But, when we started to think about it, we realized that not only is it Halloween when we over do it on candy, but it’s Christmas and Easter, and birthdays, and Mother’s Day, and just about any other holiday or celebration that you can think of.  So, what we came to realize was that it is important, because we’re making a mess of things on our holidays in the name of celebration, and we don’t need to be. Our proposition in the book is how easy, fun, and inexpensive it can be to do the right thing both for people and for the earth. 

Tiffany Washko:  Wonderful.  So, how did you find yourself, you and your daughter, involved in the movement to green our celebrations?

Lynn Colwell:  Well, my daughter came up with the idea for Green Halloween about a year and a half ago.  Actually, two Halloween’s ago she had been out with her little girls, and one of the homes that she went to gave the girls bubbles. 

The girls were ecstatic.  They did not respond that well to any candy that they were given.  They just thought the bubbles were fabulous.  And it started Corey’s thinking why do we just have to give out candy? 

She’s always been a very health conscious mom, very environmentally aware.  Her children have never had plastic toys, only wood.  Only organic cotton clothes and that sort of thing.  But, she didn’t want them to miss out on the fun of Halloween.  She just thought that there might be a way to make it better for the kids and also more earth friendly. 

So, she went to a local whole foods store, and her idea was just to ask them, “Would you get in some things that are maybe healthier treats and maybe a few little treasures that the kids might like, like bubbles or that sort of thing and put it on a stand for Halloween?”  That was her thought at the time. 

The marketing director there was so excited by what she said that she said to Corey, “You go out there and you start, you do whatever you want.  We’re here for you.”  That was the beginning of it.  Corey came back to me and told me how she’s interested in it.  I immediately said, “Corey, this isn’t just about Halloween.  This is about every holiday.” 

That’s kind of how the whole thing started.  Last year here in the Seattle area she started this initiative, and she calls it a community initiative called Green Halloween.  It was so successful here, and the word got out all over the country. 

People were already, before we were even started, people were saying, “How can we do this?  What can we do here?”  So, we have a great website.  People can visit the website and figure out alternatives to conventional candy and ways to do it if you do give out candy for Halloween, to do it in a less fat producing method. 

We started looking then at all the holidays, and we had this idea for the book very early on.  It just so happens that we got a book deal very early on, right after Halloween, actually.  We then began researching all of the holidays and trying to think about what could we do to green them up.  That was kind of the beginning of the whole thing.

Tiffany Washko:  That’s a great story.  I remember when Green Halloween went live.  I was so impressed with what Corey had done.  It was a great website.  It had so many tips. 

This type of thing is exactly what natural families, the people that read my website and my blog are interested in.  Those every day green tips that are going to make our lives easier.  We don’t want to have to sacrifice fun for our children either.

Lynn Colwell:  Fun is my middle name. If we don’t we make it fun, then they’re going to think they’re sacrificing.  Or they’re going to think it’s a drag and they’re not going to end up having the same green values that we do.  So, it does need to be fun.

Tiffany Washko:  I totally agree.  What celebrations do you see as being the least eco-friendly? 

Lynn Colwell:  I would have to say by a long shot that it’s Christmas.  The last quarter of the year, just on one aspect of this, we accumulate 25 percent more waste than we do in any other part of the year. 

If you just simply look at the waste that we put into the landfills from wrapping paper, from cards, from boxes that are holding gifts, it’s devastating.  There’s so many simple things that you can do to change that at every holiday, but particularly I think at Christmas. 

Halloween has some other issues involved.  We have created for the book what we call the three G’s, which is good for people, good for the planet, and good for the community. 

What we mean by that is good for people is about not only the people who have purchased the products, but the people who make them, the people who if you’re a famer are you being covered in chemicals because of whatever it is that you’re raising.  Those kinds of things.  Then good for the earth and good for the community meaning that we are giving back to the community.

When we’re talking about celebrations and the impact that they have, we look at all three of those things.  Often times you can’t address all three of them in the changes that you’re making.  But, everybody has to start somewhere. 

I think that’s the premise of our book.  Just take a step, any step, and it’s going to improve things.  If you’re used to an over the top Christmas, we’re not going to say to you, “This year you can’t do this.  You can’t do that.”  What we are going to say is, “Pick up the book and look at all the dozens and dozens of alternatives.” 

Maybe this year the only thing that you do is say, “I’m not going to send regular cards this year.  I’m going to look for recycled cards.  I’m going to look for tree free cards.  I’m maybe going to hand deliver some of them instead of mailing them all.  Maybe they don’t need an envelope.”

Every little step is a step in the right direction.  Because millions of us are celebrating, and millions of us are buying, and millions of us are throwing everything away, it does have an impact when millions of us begin to take these small steps.

Tiffany Washko:  Great.  I love the tips.  I did love the three G’s portion of your book too.  I thought that was very clever and a really great way to look at it. One thing that I’ve always done when the holidays come up, I think back to what I did last year.  Did I have garbage bags that had to be taken out from that day?  Are the kids still even playing with any of the toys they got?  If not, then what was the purpose?  There’s so many things to think about.

Lynn Colwell:  Those are wonderful points that you make, Tiffany.

Tiffany Washko:  You have answered the question that I have about easing into it.  As you mentioned, it’s something that you can start easy, slow, move into it at your own pace, take one or two tips.  That’s great. 

Another section of your book that I love was in the Mother’s Day section.  I hadn’t even thought of it, because my family would never dream of gifting me diamonds.  I’m not a jewelry person in general, but I do have a lot of reservations about gemstones.  Especially diamonds and where they come from.  So, I love that reminder in your book.

For those not familiar with the issue of diamonds, can you give us a few reasons why we should be concerned about diamonds on Mother’s Day?

Lynn Colwell:  Sure.  The biggest problem with diamonds is we really can’t trace where they’ve come from and how they have been mined.  A small portion of diamonds today are termed conflict diamonds.  Meaning that the sale of these diamonds actually finances terrorism, war, and violent crime.  

In addition to that, in many of these countries child labor, and even slave labor is used to mine.  The conditions are appalling in these mines.  There’s nothing wrong with a diamond in and of itself.  It’s how we get at it.

I think the problem for all of us is while there are some good things being done in trying to figure out where these diamonds are coming from, and trying to make the mines safer and better and all that sort of thing, it just doesn’t exist right now.  We always have to be cautious about where these diamonds are coming from. 

Really, the best advice is stay away from diamonds unless you know.  What they’re saying now is if the diamonds are 100 years old, you know they were probably mined in a way that was all right.  You don’t have to worry about it.  But, if it’s a really big diamond that’s been making its way around the world, we don’t know what that’s financing and who has that.  We don’t know if they were smuggled out.

It’s just unfortunate.  As beautiful as the stone is, it’s a risky business when you’re dealing with diamonds.

Tiffany Washko:  Yes.  That would definitely be one of the good for people things that you need to think about. One of the things that I loved the most about your book was that you had so many alternative ideas for people.  It wasn’t just this is bad, you shouldn’t use this, there were alternatives so that you could make it just as fun and just as warm as it normally would be.  What were some of your favorite alternative suggestions? 

Lynn Colwell:  It’s an interesting thing.  I was doing this, but I didn’t realize I was.  I was green, but I didn’t know it.  As I said to somebody, I did a lot of these things, but before it was known as green it was known as cheap. 

The real focus for us, and for me personally has always been on people over things.  I think that if you just think about that, you just think about what can I do for this person, what can I give this person that will have some meaning.  You mentioned toys and how these toys don’t last. 

It’s really interesting, because I hope I’m not going too far off the topic here, but for one of my granddaughter’s third birthday she was given a gift, which looked like a tree.  It’s all made out of wood with different color, if you imagine there’s a piece of wood in the middle and there are all these different pieces that are stuck into it of all different colors, looking like a tree.

You take a marble and drop it from the top down.  It goes around and around and down.  Each time it hits a leaf it makes a noise, a note.  It’s the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard.  I had to buy one for my house, because every child I ever seen up to the age of 18 comes into the house, picks up the marble and is entranced by this toy.  Absolutely entranced by it.

Now, that to me is value.  That is worth buying.  Worth paying more money for, because it’s not going to be tossed.  It’s going to be kept.  It’s going to be treasured by generations of children. 

For me, that’s what I’m talking about.  Am I going to buy a doll, something that’s on TV for my child, or am I going to buy something that I know is going to last and that children are going to love?  Specifically, that’s one of my favorite toys.  I should get the name of it.  I think you can buy it at 

Tiffany Washko:  I’ll have to look for it. 

Lynn Colwell:  It’s a lovely gift.  It’s expensive, it’s not cheap.  But, instead of buying a child 16 things that they’re never going to play with, put your money into something that’s valuable like that.  For me, that’s wonderful.

The other thing would be alternatives.  We were talking about diamonds and I don’t like to wear expensive jewelry, but I do like to wear jewelry.  What’s most important to me about it is that it has some meaning attached to it.  In the book, I’ve made a bunch of different charms out of all kinds of household items. 

They’re just fun to wear, and fun to give.  You can make a charm to wear on a necklace out of almost anything.  If you have a drill, and you just drill a hole in it and put some wire through it, you can hang it.  Whether it’s some little thing that your child made for you, or it’s a spoon.  A baby spoon can make a charm. 

Those kinds of things using your imagination and your creativity to come up with ideas of things that have some intrinsic value beyond what the gift is, to me is the best alternative. 

I also love to do things with kids, not just kids but with my family.  I love to have fun.  To me a wonderful gift is you spend the night at my house and we all sleep outside and look up at the stars all night.  I wake you up in the middle of the night because there’s a meteor shower.  Those to me at such precious gifts, because they build memory. 

Tiffany Washko:  Right.  I totally agree.  Treasuring events and people more than the things is so important.

Lynn Colwell:  Exactly.  We’ve so gotten away from that.  I was raised in a household where our family was upper middle class, so I had pretty much everything that I wanted.  But, for Christmas I would get a half a dozen books and a toy. 

Nowadays if you were in that particular group of people these kids would get 3 dozen of 6 different things, and electronics, and this that and the other thing.  There are wonderful toys out there.  There are wonderful gifts for everybody. 

But, we need to stop and think about what price we’re really paying when we buy a plastic toy that’s going to break tomorrow and that maybe was made by someone in a factory in a country where they were beaten or not paid anything. 

I believe that people want to do the right thing.  What we need to do is we need to stop and start thinking, and not just go through life on auto pilot. 

Tiffany Washko:  Exactly.  Yes.  What’s so wonderful about your book is that it’s great for people who know nothing about these issues and who’ve never given it any thought.  It’s a great introduction to them.  And a great reminder for people who perhaps already do too. 

Lynn Colwell:  Thank you.  You’ve totally got.  That’s wonderful.  I appreciate that. 

Tiffany Washko:  Okay.  Next question.  I noticed a lot of recipes in the book too, and I thought that was really great.  Can you tell us why you feel food choices come into play so much as far as green issues are concerned ?

Lynn Colwell:  When we’re talking about celebrations, may I ask you a question?  Have you ever had or attended any celebration where there was no food? 

Tiffany Washko:  Oh.  I don’t think so. 

Lynn Colwell:  Food is pretty central to the way that we celebrate.  I don’t know if it’s like this in other countries.  If I go down the list of holidays and celebrations, whether it’s a graduation, a family reunion, obviously a wedding, a baby shower, a religious holiday, New Year’s.  Food is central to everything that we do. 

So, it’s important that we think about it.  That we think about organic food.  Whether we buy every single thing that we eat organic or not.  When we talk about let’s stop and think.  What am I doing when I buy food that is not organic?  What is that saying about me and how I feel about my family? 

We get a lot of discussion about the price of organic food. 

Tiffany Washko:  I bet. 

Lynn Colwell:  Yes, that is a concern.  Here’s something I didn’t know until I wrote the book.  In this country we pay less of a percentage of our annual income for food than anyone in the world. 

The wealthier you are the less you pay as a percentage of your income for food.  In this country it averages around 7 percent.  In some countries like Bangledesh, and some of these real struggling countries, they pay up to 90 percent of their income for food. 

We are very spoiled in this country when it comes to what we’re willing to pay.  They’ve gotten food down to a price where we are happy with it.  I think, again, it’s time to step back and say, “What is the value in what we’re buying?”  Because so much of what we buy isn’t even food. 

Tiffany Washko:  Yes.  I agree.

Lynn Colwell:  Not real food.  So, we have to ask ourselves what price are we paying for cheap food.  My daughter, again, has been a vegetarian since high school and only eats organics, and her kids only eat organic.  We tease each other, because we say she’s green from the tips of her toes to the top of her head and I’m at about my knees and still working on it. 

I have come to understand the value of eating organic as much as possible.  Not only for me, for my health, but for the sake of the people who are growing this food.  They’re not exposed to the chemicals.  They’re not taking care of animals that are squished into these places and given no light, no food, and that sort of thing. 

It’s kind of stepping back again and looking not just at what’s best for me, and what meaning does it have in my life, but I feel good when I know I’ve gone to the farmer’s market and I bought something, and said to the person that’s selling it to me, “What do I do with this?  I’ve never seen this Jerusalem Artichoke.”  And they tell me, and I go home and I cook it.  I’m not a big cook.  I’m not big on cooking, I’m not one of those people.  But, it’s fun to say, “What is this?”  And I know that right where this came from. 

You were talking about making things fun.  I want to just go back if I could for one minute to that, because in addition to making it fun, I think it’s just really important that we don’t lecture.  That we find ways to introduce things in the most painless method possible.  That we don’t talk necessarily about how bad the alternatives are, we just simply say, “This is how we’re doing this.  Let’s try this.  Let’s see how it works.” 

Kids, especially, I have found are just so remarkably into taking care of the earth.  Much more so than they are about taking care of themselves.  But, when you begin to talk to them about where is this piece of paper going, or where is this plastic bag going, and where is it going to spend many lifetimes, they get it very quickly. 

So, I’m not saying that you have to make every single thing a lesson, but as you begin to talk to your children about these things you begin to say, “You know what?  I’ve got to walk the walk here.” 

When it comes to holidays, because we do have so many holidays and there are so many possibilities for us to not do things in an earth friendly way, we really have to make an effort initially.  The thing we’re finding is once people begin and they take a few steps, they go, “This isn’t so hard.  I can do this.  This isn’t that expensive.” 

The perfect example is paper plates.  I used to buy paper plates.  We had several birthdays in the summer and I would buy paper plates and never thought much of it.  Until I wrote the book and discovered that if every family in the United States bought one less package of paper plates in a year, and I may get this number wrong, I need to check in the book, but it’s something like 400,000 trees would be saved.  So, just making, here’s a decision that cost nothing.  People complain about organic and about going green costing, this costs nothing.  Use your own plates.  Use your own cups.  Use your own flatware.  It’s easy, it doesn’t cost anything, and you’re helping save the earth.

Tiffany Washko:  I find that too, a lot of the green things that we do in our home is just more about conscious choices than not increased costs.  That’s completely true. 

Lynn Colwell:  Exactly. 

Tiffany Washko:  Thanks so much for speaking with me.  The book is a wonderful resource for parents.  Even parents who aren’t familiar with what it entails to go green, just curious.  But, it’s also great for us who already have some ideas about what we need to do.  It has more ideas than I’ve thought of for sure.  It was a great read, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. 

Thanks so much for talking with me.  Again, the book is Celebrate Green, Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family. 

Lynn Colwell:  We also have lots more ideas on our website.  We’ve made it a point to not have the same information on the website as we do in the book.  We are also looking for input from readers, or for anyone who comes to the website. 

If you’re doing something that is fun and different for your holidays, any of the upcoming holidays, just email us and we might put you on the website.  We’re looking for photographs of families that are celebrating green. 

Stop by the website which is anytime and let me hear from you.  I’d love to.  Thank you so much for this opportunity, Tiffany.  I really appreciate it.