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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - December 16, 2011

Positively green

What's green about the holidays?

by Iris Harrell

Thinking "green" as the flood of holiday family activities come rolling upon us requires more focus than any of us think that we have during this busy season.

Hopefully we have purchased some gifts locally to stimulate our community's economy. Shopping at locally owned, independent businesses may bring some unexpected rewards. Unique gifts, quite possibly not found in other locales, along with the more obvious benefit of supporting our local shops or businesses are two examples. When they thrive, our community thrives.

Many families will be considering more modest gifts this year when a gift from them is expected or "required." I also believe the lists of gifts may be shorter in this economy, though maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.

How do we give family members who may be in need of so much, something they will really appreciate while preserving their dignity? I have a family member back East who, like so many others, was unemployed for two years and recently obtained a part-time job. Possibly a gasoline gift card to assist him with the cost of commuting while waiting for his much needed paycheck would be a very helpful gift. Many of us have someone whom we are carefully measuring how to help, and ponder what might be most appreciated in a season when gift giving is customarily expected.

Many of the gifts I am giving will include chocolate toffee made by a neighbor and client whose remodeled kitchen was enlarged by our company just so she could make more of her glorious homemade holiday candy. Chocolate is almost always welcomed in small amounts, even among us who are calorie conscious.

Buying local, green cuttings for wreaths, or decorating the dining table or stairway seems like a "green" (double green!) choice of gifts. I think we hold onto the tradition of green cuttings for multiple reasons. There is the fragrant smell of fresh holiday sprigs of pine or cedar boughs, the festive feel it lends to our homes or offices and the age-old design concept of bringing some alfresco inside so we feel more connected to the outside, especially during our blustery winter weather.

One of my favorite "green" gift traditions is the white elephant gift giving we do at our annual company party. This event is always fun as people really scramble and strategize to obtain a present for which the giver has absolutely no use. This is a great form of "recycling." Your clutter becomes someone else's cherished possession.

The other gift-giving quandary we all wrestle with is what to give the family member who has everything. This dilemma has yet to be universally solved.

A "green" way to solve this problem might be to make a donation in their name to a charity or nonprofit for which their family has an affinity. Certainly the needs of nonprofit organizations are at an all-time high, with people donating less when an enlarged number of unemployed Americans are in need of their services, often for the first time in their lives.

Another option would be to give the gift of time. If a family member or friend you love cherishes your presence and you enjoy being with them, that is a treasured gift requiring no purchase. What my late mother-in-law held most dear was the gift of our coming to sit with her to simply chat or even just quietly keep her company as her once-active life slowed considerably in the last six months of her 93 years. Before she passed away, I made sure to write her a lengthy personal note telling her how she influenced me positively in the 32 years I had known her. She was the one who first taught me the concept of thinking "green." She was way ahead of her generation in so many ways.

Consider writing a personal note to a special family member or friend who will be honored by your written gift letting them know they have made a lasting impression.

Everyone wants to feel like they have made a positive difference in this world in the form of some kind of "legacy." I ponder this legacy of "green" thinking that my mother-in-law gave me and wonder how I might carry on her legacy through my own actions while I am still here to enjoy yet another holiday season.

May your holidays be joyfully "green" in every way possible.

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.