Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday waste is not a memory we want to live with

Maybe we should call it the season of misgivings. Certainly, this is not the holiday memory we intended.
We’re throwing away 25 percent more trash during the holidays in this country and 33 percent more food, by one estimate. That’s about 25 million extra tons of garbage.
You’re probably too focused on wrapping gifts to consider where all the paper and cardboard will end up. But this is the right time to think about it – and to look for alternatives.
“A lot of that waste can be prevented by thinking ahead,” said Meg Fencil, education and outreach director for Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit focused on sustainable living.
Reconsider the wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, Fencil said. Gift bags are a smart choice because you don’t need a box and you can – and should – reuse them.
Pinecones and other natural decorations can substitute for ribbons and bows.
Hide smaller gifts inside larger ones. Pinterest is a good online resource for other ideas.
In the kitchen, try not to buy more than you will need, and compost kitchen scraps.
Fencil has taken up a tradition started by her grandmother: a holiday treasure hunt. Gifts don’t have to be wrapped for this game.
The younger children go first and get five clues that led them to their toys. The older children can help, and then they get clues of their own.
“I think it was even more fun” than finding gifts under a tree, Fencil recalled. “There was a challenge to it.”
Find more tips for reducing holiday waste at Type “reduce holiday waste” in the search field.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Grow a little extra to help Charlotte's hungry

As you flip through seed catalogs and map out plans for spring and summer vegetable gardens, scale up and dream bigger. Plant more than you need, and then use the extras to help feed the hungry.
About 30 local gardeners have done that for Backyard Friendship Gardens (, which uses food donations to add fresh produce to plates for Friendship Trays, a meal delivery program for people in need.
With such modest numbers, there's plenty of room for growth in the 2-year-old program, said Henry Owen, one of the program's founders and program director of Friendship Gardens.
“There are so many more people that grow food in Charlotte and the surrounding areas that we could easily have hundreds of people involved,” he added.
Owen won’t be here to see that growth happen, though. He’s leaving to become executive director of the Nature Discovery Center in Houston. He starts there Jan. 12.
A bigger accomplishment for Owen, 31, was setting up 74 partner gardens hosted by local schools, churches and other nonprofits. Through all of its programs, Friendship Gardens collected almost 9 tons of fresh food so far in 2014.
Thom Duncan, a board member for Friendship Trays, will replace Owen, who believes these and other programs will reach even more gardeners and more of the hungry in the years ahead.
“I learned that gardeners are people who live in abundance,” Owen said. “They are giving and want to build their community, share with their neighbors, and they believe there is enough for everyone.”

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Artist has tips for decorating with artwork

When I see a breathtaking work of art, I often wonder how the artist would use it in a home.
Many decorators follow a rule of uneven numbers, grouping things in threes, fives or sevens. But would the artist who created a piece display it that way?
I got the chance to ask that question when talking with Liz Saintsing, a south Charlotte silk screen artist who has been chosen by national home decor retailer West Elm (located at the Metropolitan development) to be a featured local artist.
Saintsing, who is thrilled about being chosen, will present her pillows, wall art, Christmas stockings, table runners and other items during a special pop-up market, 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, at 1100 Metropolitan Ave.
Nature is a common theme in Saintsing’s designs, which she says are functional and have a cohesive color palette, which is important for creating visual unity in a room.
As for displaying her work, she prefers to keep things of similar size together – 7-by-10-inch wall panels in a group, and the same for her 21-by-21s. She keeps clusters small.
“I like things in threes,” she said. “I don’t like a lot of symmetry. Nature doesn’t have a lot of symmetry.”
Muted gray or off-white walls can make artwork look more dramatic, especially with boldly colored pieces. Wallpaper will probably compete with your art.
Pick one of the secondary colors in a painting and find a matching rug for texture in the room. Most of all, Saintsing recommends doing something unexpected.
“I don’t like things too matchy-matchy,” she said.
Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Give warmth to families in need of it

Winter can be a cold and desperate time in some households in our city. A donation of new and gently used blankets and coats is a small gesture that may offer a little comfort to families in our region during the holiday season.
Charlotte’s chapter of the National Kitchen & Bath Association will be collecting blankets and coats for Crisis Assistance Ministry through Dec. 11. In the picture above, workers and volunteers are sorting through donations to the agency.
“The giving of the coats is something that we’ve done for the past couple of years,” said Tommy Hooker, a spokesman for the association, which has about 150 members locally. “If you provide a coat, you provide warmth.”
Drop off your donations at The Majestic Bath, 621 S. Sharon Amity Road, or at Hughes Supply locations in Charlotte, Huntersville, Pineville or elsewhere.
You can also bring donations to the kitchens at Electrolux from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 11, when the appliance maker will host a holiday event for the association’s members as well as guests. The event will be at Electrolux’s North American headquarters, 10200 David Taylor Drive.
During the holiday party, guests can see the Electrolux kitchen showrooms and cooking demonstrations, enjoy music and food, and possibly win door prizes. Tickets are $15. RSVP by Dec. 4 to

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Local man makes bedding for education

Kevin Gatlin is uncomfortable when he sees his two children parked in front of the television. The south Charlotte man would rather see them playing with their sheets and pillowcases.
Gatlin created a four-piece twin bedding set that has a board game for checkers or chess printed on a fitted sheet.
The children can also draw and color on their flat sheets using Crayola Washable Crayons, which come with each set.
Now Gatlin is selling his Playtime Edventures sheet sets ($40), hopeful that other parents might want sheets that are colorful and useful.
“I watched my wife interact with my sons,” Gatlin said this week from his display at the Southern Christmas Show. “They always used his bed for homework, arts and crafts or board games.”

Gatlin, son of a retired grade-school teacher, says his 10- and 2-year-old have adjusted to his way of thinking, which includes limiting their use of technology. He now works full-time with the business, which offers 30 games and Playtime activities, developed by local teachers, at the company’s website (
The children may not know it, but they are probably learning school curricula and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as they play.
At least that’s what Gatlin hopes for.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Class starts in January to train next master gardeners

If you are a gardener and interested in community service, there is an opportunity ahead.
Twenty-four seats are available for Mecklenburg County residents who want to train to become master gardeners. Twice-weekly classes start in January and continue through March. Tuition is $160.
Volunteers give 40 hours the first year and 30 after that. Working initially with a mentor, master gardeners share what they know on the master gardener hotline and at events and speaking engagements. They also create gardens, such as the veggie patches near Independence Park that's shown here.
“They have to be a lifelong learner, and they should be interested in research-based gardening information,” said Cathe Hawley, president of Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, an association that now has 110 certified volunteers.
Hawley’s description of an ideal candidate might sound lofty, but being a master gardener is mostly connecting with other gardeners in the organization and the community. I still see members of my class (1998) at events all over town.
It is important to be interested in learning, as Hawley said. There’s always so much more to discover about the world of plants and what we can do to help it grow.
Apply by Nov. 24. Visit to download an application or call 704-336-4011.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Charlotte pop-up market to bring handmade and vintage decor

There are dozens of micro-business owners who sell interesting handmade and vintage furniture and accessories right here in the Charlotte area.
But finding these local businesses can be tricky. Many don’t have a showroom or public space. They may sell through online markets such as Etsy and promote their brands through social media.
Here’s a chance to visit some of these operations. Vintage Charlotte’s winter pop-up market returns to The Fillmore at the NC Music Factory on Nov. 15. Sixty-three local and regional vendors will exhibit, and three to four times as many applied.
“I don’t think you can find this type of variety ... anywhere else in Charlotte,” said Amy Herman, one of the organizers. “It’s a very unique mix.”
At least half of the vendors sell home decor. Jewelry, clothing, stationery and other items also will be available. Luce Antica will sell lighting made from recycled industrial pieces, such as the ones above. About 2,500 people are expected, and vendors are always eager to meet local shoppers face-to-face.
“There’s kind of a new model of business where you start online because it’s easier and it’s smaller and there is less startup,” Herman said. “But it’s lonely out there.”

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms