Posts Tagged 'gift guide'

‘Tis the Season

It’s already the end of November?  When did that happen?  I would feel lazy if I remembered October at all, really, but this comes as a surprise. So, here you are:

Giving in 2008

It’s a good year for solemn gift guides.  Glitz and extravagance seem tasteless beside rising foreclosures and hunger in the US, plus who has the money to spare these days anyway?  But all this crisis makes it a great year to focus on the purpose and meaning of gifts-another silver lining in the garbage bag containing the international economy.  Basically, making it about money and stuff this year is finally tacky!  Gauche!  Passe! Sooo 2007!  Thoughtful is so In right now.

FIrst, the general approaches:

1.  How you buy it is as important as what you buy.  Start your shopping at thrift and consignment stores, handmade fairs or websites, and fair trade shops.   Etsy is an incredible handmade resource for items beautiful and practical- browse it, support small businesses, and I bet you’ll find something suited for every taste, from bizzaro to cutsy to classic.  You know the arguments for buying fair trade and used already.

2. Do you have friends with skills?  Commission them (the earlier the better) to make your relatives pottery or jewelry or scarves or whatever their specialty is.  Do you have skills?  Give your dad a year of cheerful IT help.

3.  Give time and attention, even if you don’t have giftable skills (or skills you want to gift…).  A year of monthly dinners together.  A year of regular phone calls to relatives far away (ones that actually care to hear from you, for sure).

4.  Do they already have everything?  Give to a charity they (and you) support in their name. sells gift cards that recipients can give to a charity of their choice on the site (they can research the efficiency and work of the charity at the same site, too).

5. Are you one of those aunts who always give the nieces scented candles/bodywash/bath froofy-do?  I am not here to judge you, but make the candles beeswax or soy wax and the bath gunk biodegradable, if you must continue in this vein.

Ahh.  Enough generalities, now specifically awesome gifts:

1.  Fair Trade Piggy Banks! Saving is cool again.  From Ten Thousand Villages, piggys and elephants and cats. From One World Projects, various pigs and owls. You can search for more online also, but check the creds of the Fair Trade projects you buy from.  In the same vein, with less adorableness, Elders: your young’uns may not understand what a 401K is if you start them one this year, but they’ll thank you with genuine feeling later.

2.  Coffee.  Specifically, coffee from Mesa de Los Santos, a Colombian farm that helped pioneer organic, shade grown, fairly traded coffee.  They’ve grown organic for over 100 years, built a school for their worker’s kids, and reforested their fields, earning a Bird-Friendly certification from the Smithsonian, USDA Organic certification, and a BioLatina badge.  There’s a personal connection, too: my GF is from a branch of the family that’s owned the farm for four generations.  As to the taste, I do not actually drink coffee- but I still enjoy this stuff black.  Still, don’t take my word for it:  reviews (and online ordering forms) are here and here and here.

3.  Gift certificates to local, organic restaurants.  Self-explanatory, no?  Give the gift of a night far away from your loved ones.

4. Potted plants or Garden Tools/Seeds/Composters.  Scale this one to the gardening level of the giftee.  Apartment-dweller or college kid?  Potted plant(s) (or tree!) with very specific instructions.  Do they have a few flower beds?  Vegetable seeds and maybe some books on growing your own food.  Do they always bring up how they grow their own tomatoes?  Up their ante with a compost bin and a thoughtful little charcoal-filtered kitchen bucket for food scraps.

5. Classes.  Vouchers or promises for fencing lessons, sewing classes, cooking classes, metalworking lessons, language tutoring, and basically any other skill you can think of are useful, and not just for delighting your curious and adventurous loved ones.  Sign them up alone or do it with them, for some quality time.  Added benefits: surely a trained cook will make you meals in gratitude?  Worth a shot (fencing lessons are less useful for this reciprocity principle).

Anyway, now you know what my family’s getting for Christmas.  I wish you a stressless holiday full of delicious smells and guilt-free giving.

PS. If none of this does it for you, check out these ideas from CNN/Oprah and HuffPo.

Sunday Special: Give a Little

It’s about that time to start wondering about the holidays- at the very least, to wonder about how to unplug those ridiculous store speakers blasting holiday music. But that’s a start, and while you’re plotting vengeance on jingle bells and window displays, save some brain space for considering how to make your holidays happier and more sustainable. No, seriously- sustainability may be the last thing on your mind in the rush of parties, last minute gifts, travel, cooking, decorating, family, and whatever else one lists in lists of potential holiday hassles, but it’ll save you money and stress.

So, Brilliant Holiday Advice (BHA) part 1: The Gift Guide.

First Rule: Before you buy someone something, figure out if they’ll actually use it. If it’s a purely decorative thing (say a bauble or perhaps a knickknack), is it “their style”? If you have no idea, don’t waste money (see gift ideas below).

Second Rule: Shopping involves ethical decisions, and those decisions don’t go away just because there’s a lot of stuff to buy. Buying fair-trade and responsible items or organic foods or sweatshop-free or recyclable and recycled things matters, and especially now, there are a lot more opportunities to shop ethically this year with a little research (good thing you’re starting early!).

Third Rule: People appreciate the thought most. If they don’t, kick them. Instead of mailing random stuff to people to indicate that you remember them, send them a handwritten note- they care more about hearing from you than odd boxes. If you have skills, make something for them. Give a huge favor- Grandmas love lawn care.

Fourth Rule: If you’re close to the giftee, talk to them about what they want: a surprise, a new microwave, jewelry, slippers, nothing. This works best with close friends and family and will save you the worry of meeting expectations, self-doubt, second guessing, and set appropriate gift levels.

And now, good gift ideas. These aren’t the only good ones by far, so if you think of more, let me know (I have a list to make…)

1. Gift Cards: Impersonal? Only if you do it wrong. Indicative of a lack of caring or thought? Not at all! Sometimes the most loving impulse is acknowledging that you have no idea, based on long distances or generational divides, what people need or want for Christmas/Eid/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus (are there Diwali gifts?). Keep in touch better next year, but don’t saddle them with random things they don’t want or already have so you feel more connected and personal. Gift cards to stores you think they will like, or to places you know they do like, with a long, personal handwritten card- everybody appreciates that. Plus, they’re small enough to mail in a regular envelope: smaller shipping cost, both in fuel and money.

2. Take a stroll through local Goodwill, Salvation Army, and thrift stores. These places sell lots of random things and their selection changes all the time. On a good day, you will find glassware, jewelry, pottery, records, books- anything, really- just right for that blank spot on the list, maybe with a little cleaning up first. Bonus small price tag, and instant thoughtful gift!

3. Reusable grocery bags: Try this on someone who’s more likely to actually want to use them- hard to make it a loving gift when you have to explain what they are and give a lecture on the ecological reasons for using them. Any bags will do, but preferably they’ll be at least as large as the plastic grocery bags, not too large to carry when loaded, strong enough for a gallon of milk, and contain separate sections for breakable items like eggs. Personalize old tote bags you have lying around. Crochet your collected grocery bags into a few new ones. Sew some bags for them on your own. Find interesting bags around: everybody sells bags. Local libraries, restaurants, operas- get bags from places they like.

4. Planet Earth series: If you think nature documentaries are lame, admit new evidence. The Planet Earth series has astounding footage of the earth earthing and animals doing animally things they’ve never been seen doing before, thanks to new camera technology and infinite patience. It’s least expensive at Amazon and Costco, and perfect for families, people who like the outdoors, people who hate the outdoors (bring it inside for them!), and, you know, everybody. Not exactly a sustainable tip, but it is awesome, and it involves the promise of technology and respecting the earth because it is pretty and can also eat you, so.

5. Jewelry: Fair Trade or responsibly made, for sure. greenKarat makes jewelry from recycled gold and gems, or find vintage items at thrift stores or consignment shops. Somehow, recycled and lab-grown diamonds say “I love you” much better than the ones currently financing wars and causing ecological and human damage- different post, though. Fair trade jewelry may also be made from recycled items, and Ten Thousand Villages carries a really interesting selection of it- styles range from modern to exciting. Some of their stores are in Old Town Alexandria, Richmond, Baltimore, Bethesda, and Rockville, though there are more in the area. Their wares are all fairly traded, and they also carry lots of other likely gift items and decorations.

6. Solar chargers: For the gadget types, I mentioned a few solar powered chargers for phones and music players in my post on the Solar Decathalon. They’re useful, sustainable, and something nobody else has yet! Perfect gadget for anyone who sees sunlight ever.

Email Me @ (at )

RSS Photo Albums

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Blog Stats

  • 48,046 hits

Unless otherwise indicated, all content and photos posted on this site are generated by me. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.