Friday, December 10, 2010

"it's the most wonderful time of the year..." (some holiday ideas)

I've been working on this post for a while, trying to put together (hopefully) useful information for the holidays...

I've also been trying to shy away from the tendency towards over-commercialism and over-consumption that goes along with the holidays. That makes it feel a little bit too chaotic for me, and I think it takes away from what I believe is the essence of the upcoming holiday. Whether you celebrate it in a sacred or secular way, what do the holidays mean to you?

Now I have to admit, part of this has to do with the fact that I am now a full-time student and only receiving a meager stipend for part-time work (meaning I have very little wiggle room in my budget to shop for big-ticket items as presents, from corporate chains and big box stores). But being in this situation has also made me reflect on what's necessary and what's truly essential.

But I'm also trying to avoid being prescriptive and preachy... so I'll stop there.

So for whatever it's worth, here are some ideas for an "alternative" shopping list. Websites of fair trade stores, websites of products from micro-grants (Click here and here for information on micro-grants). Hope you consider...

Ten Thousand Villages (in-store and online): Beautiful handmade items from around the world - home furnishings/decorations, clothing and accessories, paper goods, and even toys!

Global Exchange

Janet Rhodes fair trade store (in-store and online): I loved this store when I saw it in a neighboring town. Got a few unique gifts from here last year.

Global Goods Partners : Handmade gifts that support women in need.

Global Girlfriend: This one supports micro-grants for women.

* Some of the above websites have either free shipping when you reach $100's worth of purchases, or have standard/flat rate shipping, or other shipping promotions. Just check the individual website.

If you have a crafty side, how about handmade edible or non-edible gifts? Here are some links:

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins


Mulled apple cider (can be packaged in a stainless steel thermos for gifting)

I like what Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) says about holiday gifting. Her philosophy is that holiday gifts should be edible or consumable. I like that. :)

Shea butter hand cream

Salt scrub

Masala chai blend (spiced black tea mix)

I've been spoiled with A's homemade chai. After trying his chai, I never wanted the packaged ones or the ones from pre-made mixes that you get in coffee shops. We jokingly say that what brought us together was his chai and my cake. Oh, and one thing he clarified way back was that "chai" actually means "tea", so saying "chai tea" is redundant. Ok, it is his language after all. :) Oh, and masala = spices. So now it drives me just a little bit crazy when I keep seeing "chai tea latte" in restaurant/coffee shop menus. Anyway...

- 1 tsp loose leaf black tea (Assam is recommended)
- seeds of 2 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger (if making it for yourself, use about a 1/4 inch slice of fresh ginger, chopped)
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (if making it for yourself, you can also use 1 small piece - about 1 inch - of cinnamon stick)
- 1-2 whole cloves

 I don't always use cinnamon and cloves actually... usually ginger and cardamom are fine for me, but the combination of spices is up to individual preference. So have fun, experiment and see what combination of spices you like best.

If making it for yourself, boil some water, add your choice of sweetener (I like turbinado sugar), the tea blend, and your choice of milk (cow's milk, almond milk, or soy milk).

If making it as a gift, just multiply the ingredients (tea leaves and spices). I'll let you do the math, as that is not one of my strong points. :) Mix everything in a glass jar, and maybe some written instructions for the recipient would be nice.

Or you can check out more chai recipe options here.

As an additional note:  The spices used in chai -- cinnamon, cloves, ginger -- these are all warming spices, which are great for the winter months! And ginger is great for digestion.

I think a big reason I like making handmade gifts (edible or otherwise) is the time it gives me to pause and enjoy the moment without the hustle and bustle of going to a crowded shopping mall. Just thinking about the parking lot chaos on a Saturday afternoon in December is enough to make me run - or drive, I mean -- in the other direction. I will admit to making an exception though if it's something from a toy store or bookshop that I think my nephews or nieces will really, REALLY like. In which case -- as much as I can help it -- I will opt to go to a smaller, locally-owned store like this one or this one , or this little book shop, rather than a big-box store in which I will have to dodge crowds, shopping carts, and wait in long checkout lines. And, how can I resist store names like Off the Wagon, My Little Red Wagon, and The Learned Owl Bookshop?

I don't know the math exactly, but when we support and shop in local businesses, every dollar spent is worth threefold (or something like that). Basically the money goes back to the community. How can that not be a good thing?


If you live in Northern Ohio, click here for an idea for a charitable gift. For a small donation, you get entered in a drawing to win all sorts of gift cards to dine out in at least a dozen restaurants! And I'm not talking about just "any" restaurant... I'm talking about chef-owned, gourmet, local businesses. This would be a great "experience" gift - to yourself, or to someone else if you make a donation on someone else's behalf.

What are some "alternative" things you've done for holiday presents? Would love more ideas...

PS: Let's talk about packaging... I know this makes me sound like the Grinch, but the other thing that bugs me about the holidays is the amount of waste that is a result of wrapping paper, bubble wrap, Styrofoam peanuts, etc... many of which are completely non-recyclable (for instance, the shiny or foil kind of wrapping paper is harder to recycle than regular paper; Styrofoam peanuts are completely non-recyclable). However, some of them are reusable. Which is a good thing, because it takes less energy to reuse than to recycle. And it takes the least energy to reduce. Hence the order of least-to-most energy: "reduce-reuse-recycle". So anyway... gather up all the Styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap that comes in your shipped packages, place it all in a bag, and take it to your nearby UPS store, for them to reuse.

And while we're on the topic of packaging... why not bring a reusable cloth or canvas bag when Christmas shopping? They're not just for markets or grocery stores :) There's your opportunity to "reduce," right there.

Ok, I think I've already done what I tried to avoid.... prescriptive/preachy.

However you choose to celebrate...enjoy being present with yourself and with others this holiday season.

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Jen said...

Thanks for such an inspiring and informative post ... I am really looking forward to trying the chai!

Mia said...

Let me know how it goes! Once I had "real" chai, there was just no turning back :)

Anne said...

since shopping at locally-owned shops, i've enjoyed christmas shopping more :-) and yes i agree about the "real" chai mmm

Mia said...

Anne: Yes! I miss shopping at O'Bryonville and Main Street/OTR in Cincy...

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