Posts Tagged With: greener holiday

Make It Yourself – Simple & Sweet – ONLY 6 Days ’til Christmas!

ornaments

I know! It’s crunch time! Only six days left until December 25th! You have gifts to give and not a lot of time to go hunting down special items to give to friends and family that are in keeping with the whole “green & healthy” thing you are trying. AND you are probably thinking you don’t have time to make stuff, either, because “OMG the mess!” or you think of yourself as “craft-challenged.” Or maybe you think your unconvinced giftees won’t want your homemade crafty crap. And maybe they won’t (because, hey, some people are just like that—whatevs).

But maybe, JUST MAYBE, a Christmas miracle will happen and that anti-green Scrooge in your life will realize that the simplicity of your gift is a perfect representation of the spirit of the season. Or that the freshness of essential oil fragrances are not only sweet to smell, but also elegant in their homes, and uplifting to the spirits. Or—and this would be the best realization—that these homemade things are really superior to the chemical laden versions they are used to buying in the stores. AND, you can even let them in on your crafting secret, if you so choose, and share the cost savings with them, because srsly, people…a little goes a long way.

And it’s not hard, I promise. If you can melt stuff, you can make some amazing gifts for people. Here’s a guide to making candles and a balm that is commonly referred to as “un-petroleum jelly” but works well for lips and soothing chapped hands. I *could* go into making soap, but that’s pretty involved and you don’t have time for that, but tune in during January and I’ll share my soap-making secrets with you, too.

Making Candles
First, you DO have to go to a decent craft store or some location where you can buy wicks, soy wax, and/or beeswax. Also, you need some containers. I used recycled jars with the labels soaked off (a little orange oil will take off any sticky remainders, and alcohol will take off any inky date-stamps). Beware that the size wicks you need to buy are dependent upon the diameter of your jars. For example, your average spaghetti jar is somewhere between 3-4 inches in diameter. Just look at the wick package–it should tell you what size container they are for.  Be sure your wicks are lead and zinc free, and for the sake of ease, look for the kind with the “pre-glued” metal disk (also called a “tab” in the candle-making world) that you can stick to the bottom of the jar. If they don’t have the pre-glued kind, pick up a pack of the candle wick stickers or Stickum that should be in the same candle section of the craft store as the wax.

Now you have a choice at this point to splurge on a wax melter like this (also called a pouring pot):pouring pot

Or just use your own pots/pans to do this. Most of your ingredients are food grade, and should clean up readily with the help of paper-towels and heat, so you can opt to use what you have, or head over to Goodwill and pick up some cast-offs. Your choice. I bought a wax melter because I am serious about making these things for a good long time and wanted the handle and pour spout to make my life a little easier. You need to set up a double-boiler situation, for this project (a larger pan with water in it, and a smaller pan or bowl goes over this to melt the wax with the boiling water’s heat, not direct stove heat).

If you have a vegan giftee, please note that you should avoid using beeswax in your candles.

Now, for calculating how much wax you will need, there’s a formula. Each pound of wax (16 ounces by weight) will fill about 20 ounces of volume. You could, in this instance, make it super easy on yourself and find some 20 ounce jars for your gifts—that way you just have to melt a pound for each one. But, if you’d like a formula with more explanation, check out this blog post.

For the sake of making this quick and easy for you, I’m going to assume you will be using a 16 ounce jar (this is a pint-size canning jar (aka mason jar), which can be found at your local grocery or craft store). I’m also going to assume that you just want to make one candle, but you can just increase the recipe by however many times for more candles.

You will need:
Double Boiler
1 16-ounce glass jar, preferably intended for canning or previously used as such
1 tabbed wick, at least 2 inches taller than the height of your jar
1 wick sticker (to attach the wick to the bottom of the jar, if needed)
2 drinking straws, chopsticks, pencils, etc. (to help you stick the wick to the bottom of the jar, and to hold the wick upright during the cooling period)
4 ounces beeswax (if vegan, just replace this four ounces with additional soy wax)
9 ounces soy wax
Essential oils in the following combination:
25 drops of clove
22 drops of lemon
15 drops of cinnamon
10 drops of eucalyptus
8 drops of rosemary
(this is a historical blend of essential oils that has the reputation of not only smelling amazing, but also working as an effective anti-bacterial)

NOTE: If you don’t have these essential oils on hand, you can work out your own blend, but it should be about 80 drops per 1-jar recipe. Be advised that most essential oils are flammable and need to be kept away from open flames.

Prepare your container by ensuring it is clean, dry, and sitting near your work area…you want it to be a little warm when you pour the wax in.

Get the double boiler set up and the water heating.

Attach the wick tab to the bottom of the jar with a wick sticker or stick-um, using the straw (or chopstick or pencil) to help you really push it down. Make sure it is centered in the jar for even candle-burning.

Add your wax to the top of the double boiler, and wait for it to melt. You can stir the wax around a little to help it melt, but don’t do so too vigorously or you will end up with a bubbly candle that burns unevenly. Don’t walk away from the wax at this point. It shouldn’t take long for all the wax to melt. Make sure the double boiler doesn’t run out of water, but also be sure that no water gets in your wax, or again…uneven burning or a wick that won’t work.

Once all the wax is melted, you can turn the heat down on the double boiler, but leave the wax over the hot water. Add your essential oils and stir well to distribute the scent throughout the wax. Pour this mixture into your prepared jar. Leave the jar in a place it will not be disturbed and wait for it to cool. Use your tools of choice to prop the wick to an upright and centered position in the jar.

DON’T clean up yet! As your candle cools, you may notice a “well” developing in the center of your candle around your wick. All you need to do is melt a little more wax, add a few more drops of essential oil, and pour it into this well. Depending on how warm or cool your house is, it should take about an hour for the candle to solidify (at least mine did). At this point, you can trim your wick, to about a ¼ of an inch and decorate your jar for gifting.  Voila! They’ll look something like these from the gardentherapy site

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

For the balm I mentioned above, aka “unpetroleum jelly,” you can go through the same double-boiler process of melting stuff together, but this time it’s going to be a little bit of wax mixed with your oils and/or butters of preference. This is my recipe:

For 8 ounces of balm:

2 4-ounce jars (like baby food or pimento pepper jars)
1 ounce of beeswax (or soy wax for a vegan balm)
1 ounce of cocoa butter
4 ounces of coconut oil
1 ounce of olive oil
1 ounce of Vitamin E oil
40 drops of your essential oils of choice (I use the same combo as above, but half of each oil)

NOTE:  You can also use shea or mango butter instead of cocoa butter, if you prefer.

Prep your jars…baby food jars are a great size for this product—you will need two. Or if you can find smaller glass “pots” for a purse-sized, use those. Make sure they are clean and dry.

Melt the beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and olive oil together in a double boiler. Once everything is melted, turn the heat off the double boiler, and add the Vitamin E oil and essential oils to the still-hot mixture and blend well.

Pour the mixture into the jars and let solidify.  Decorate the jar to your liking!

BAM!  A second homemade gift item, just like that!

I LOVE this balm. I put it on when I sleep at night and wake up with perfect lips every morning. Do be careful with some essential oils—they can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. If you use one such essential oil in this balm, be careful not to let your lips get sunburned when you use it outdoors.   Please note that this is going to be more solid than actual petroleum jelly, but it works wonders, I promise.

So, there you have it. Two amazing gifts you can give to friends and family. You can add a store-bought soap (South of France brand is a fave of mine), or a clove-studded orange (which becomes a pomander once it is fully dried), and you have the perfect green and healthy AND homemade gift.

Whew! I think this post might be my longest yet, but it’s so worth it!  Good luck with your crunch-time gift making!

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Green ‘n Healthy Gift Baskets Ideas – Part 2 (Minty Spicy Delights!)

So, last time I wrote, I recommended a slew of “beach-themed” gift-basket fillers for the person on your gift list who yearns for summertime year round. For something more seasonally appropriate for winter and holidays and warm-feely-good feelings, you might be looking for gifts that have more some traditional fragrances like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mint, or pine. Try some of these green & healthy products for a wintery-basket for those who relish the season of snow!

For some sweet, Christmas-y perfumes, look no farther than Demeter. Demeter makes all kinds of crazy scents that are “at least 95% derived from natural and sustainable sources, and…use no artificial color or phthalates or parabens” (from their website). The best-reviewed holiday-themed fragrances are: Egg Nog, Christmas in New York, Cinnamon Toast, or Fraser Fir. They also came out with a Candy Cane Truffle this year. Sounds delish! This is a very affordable perfume line and the fragrances are great for layering. I recommend spraying this perfume on clothing, rather than skin, for a longer-lasting effect. Since Demeter doesn’t use the harmful phthalate-based chemicals, these fragrances do tend to volatilize faster than non-natural perfumes when sprayed directly on the skin.

candy cane truffle

For a good body wash, look for JASON Orange Clove, Cranberry, or Frosted Plum. I’ve seen some combo packs with a natural sponge included for about $6. JASON is a company created and committed to the purpose of providing healthy products based upon scientific knowledge and human-based testing, only. This product is terrifically moisturizing, too, which means it will not only smell great, but also chase away the itchiness of the dreaded winter skin. Hooray!

You might also want to try Nourish Organic’s Spiced Citrus body wash paired with the Spiced Orange Hydrating & Smoothing lotion…these products are certified organic and come highly recommended not only for the lasting and delicious fragrances, but also for the product effectiveness and extremely high standards of purity. Nourish Organic also promises the following: “No parabens. No phthalates. No sulfates, petrochemicals, synthetic dyes, or silicones. No propylene glycol, mineral oils, synthetic dyes, triclosan, EDTA, or aluminum. And absolutely no artificial fragrances or preservatives. Period” (from their website). They are also cruelty free, use recycled packaging, and most products are vegan (except those containing beeswax). They also have several products in Lavender Mint, which is seasonal, but also can be used year-round.

spiced citrus

Everybody knows Aveda, right? They are preferentially featured in fancy hotels and chic hair salons and their Rosemary Mint is a great, greeny-wintery fragrance that works well for men and women. You might be a little reluctant to buy hair products for your giftee because everyone has hair product issues, but you should be fine getting the body lotion and maybe even a bar of soap in the Rosemary Mint. According to their website: “Aveda’s products are formulated without parabens, phthalates and sodium lauryl sulfate.” And their “definition of a green ingredient requires that it meet at least one of the following criteria: Be naturally derived, which we define to be those for which more than 50% of the molecule comes from a plant, non-petroleum mineral, water, or some other natural source; be certified organic; and/or be sourced from sustainable or renewable plant-based origins, and does not negatively impact the ecosystems from which they are sourced.” And because they do specialize in hair products, look for the travel-sized sampler—enough to try and still experience the splurge of a special product.

And you might like to try a few things from Love + Toast, which touts its products as having “No parabens, no phthalates, no mineral oil, no propylene glycol, no retinol, no synthetic color, never animal tested.” Sounds cool, right?

Wait. I just realized something.

Maybe you’ve noticed a plethora of citrus-y things on this list…It just now occurred to me that “citrus” might not seem Christmas-y to many people. Well, before I recommend yet more citrus for this list, let me explain. When I was a kid, on Christmas Eve, there was always a big church pageant with the kids and a candlelit “Silent Night,” and when we left church all sleepily excited for Santa (yes, the cultural amalgam of religious/secular Christmas was completely, overwhelmingly, and magically confusing), some dear soul at our church passed out mesh stockings full of oranges, grapefruits, apples, uncracked nuts, and hard candy. The smell of those ripe oranges and grapefruits in the midst of the cold, quiet hush before bed has been burned into my olfactory memory forever. Put my grandmother’s orange-spiced tea recipe with that and I’m in Christmas heaven. That’s why oranges and grapefruits equal Christmas. Sorry if it doesn’t for you (but get these things anyway, because hello, they smell delicious!)…

ANYWAY, Love + Toast has a “classic” collection called Mandarin Tea that features a blend of these fragrances: African rooibos, Pomegranate, Neroli, and Orange blossom. YUM. The collection includes one of each: Handcreme, Eau de Parfum, Little Luxe Eau de Parfum, and Vanilla Chai Lip Balm.  They also have a classic scent called “Sugar Grapefruit” that just sounds good enough to eat!  One of their newer fragrances is Persimmon Plum, a wonderful blend of fruity + woodsy that will be sure to remind your giftee of a delicious, juicy winter punch. They have body butter and sugar scrubs among other body care items to choose from. Sounds marvelous!

persimmon plum

And again, fill your basket or stocking with some all-natural extras like a pumice stone or natural-fiber wash cloths, a loofah or a natural-bristle nail brush to round out the gift set.

Next up: MAKE IT YOURSELF! (I promise it’s easy and people will be so impressed)

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Green ‘n Healthy Gift Basket (or Stocking) Ideas – Part 1

I don’t know a girl alive who doesn’t enjoy a good “basket o’ stuff” for the holidays. Of course, it is important to personalize this basket for the particular girl you have in mind, so I thought I might offer some basket filling ideas that are green and healthy! And clearly, you can stuff a stocking with this stuff, too.

If you are looking for some healthy bath products for a girl who likes tropical or beachy themes, try these:

Indian Coconut Nectar, Island Vanilla, Hawaiian Ruby Guava, or Brazilian Mango Grapefruit perfume and body butter by Pacifica. Each one is an exquisite blend of tropical and luscious fragrances. The coconut is reminiscent of your favorite summertime sunscreen, but more subtle (though surprisingly lasting). The vanilla is really an all-year kind of fragrance that reminds me of Aquolina’s Pink Sugar, but richer, less candy-scented, and all-natural guaranteed. Hawaiian Ruby Guava is fruity, warm, and floral, while the Brazilian Mango Grapefruit is fruity, crisp, and bright. Pacifica is one of my favorite makers of natural perfumes…you can normally find them in stores like Whole Foods, Central Market, Sprouts, etc…but they are also online and you have plenty of time to order now! They often have candles, diffuser reeds, and solid perfumes to pair with their perfume scents, as well. They also have a relatively new line of face care and makeup that is getting rave reviews.

Honey Mango or Island Citrus body wash by Alba Botanica are very much like “standard” body washes that smell incredible, hydrate the skin, and omit the following types of ingredients: artificial colors, parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate or sodium methyl sulfate. Alba Botanica is a company focused on vegetarian and earth-friendly products and is usually easy to find in your natural grocery stores. Try iherb.com for sweet online prices.

Coconut & Hibiscus Body Butter by SheaMoisture is a luscious lotion that is super softening and moisturizing—so much so, that I keep it on my desk at work. When I first started using it, my co-workers immediately commented on how “lovely” it smells. It’s a nice floral and tropical scent that works with those Pacifica perfumes above and it should be fairly easy to find at your local Target.

Himalayan Pink Salt Scrub – Grapefruit or Brown Sugar Body Polish – Kumquat by Hugo & Debra Naturals make great scrub options for your basket. Hugo & Debra Naturals are committed to creating vegan products that omit the following ingredients: parabens, phenoxyethanol, sulfates, PEGs, propylene glycol, petroleum products, silicones, phthalates, synthetic surfactants, artificial colors, or synthetic fragrances. Also soy free, gluten free, and cruelty free. These products smell amazing and are gentle enough to be used on the face and décolleté. Find them at your local natural grocer or online.

Coconut Foot Cream by Burt’s Bees is, in my humble opinion, Burt’s best creation. Not only does it have a wonderfully simple coconut (and rosemary and peppermint) fragrance, it is the best healing “balm” type of product I have ever found. It’s super rich, and although it is oily, it works wonders at smoothing out rough heels! I even use it on my hands in the winter time because they get chapped and cracked…this is the only thing that heals that dryness. I cannot recommend enough. Also, it should be super easy to find at stores like Target and Walmart.

And it might sound weird to give your gal deodorant, but if you do, it will be a very special treat for her. Fancy deodorant by La Vanila comes in all kinds of scents, but Vanilla Passion Fruit or Pure Vanilla will stay within the “tropical” theme we have going here. These puppies are expensive for deodorant, but are all-natural and effective, luxurious and lasting. This is Oprah’s deodorant of choice, if that means anything to you. I find it hard to spend this much money on deodorant, personally, but that’s what makes it such a special treat! You can get this from Sephora or directly from Lavanila.com.

Round out your basket with a natural loofah, pumice stone, nail brush, and towel, and you have got a magnificent gift to give that someone special.

Dang. I wish someone would buy all of this stuff for me. Note to self…have hubby read my blog.  Happy gifting, y’all!

Up next: Peppermint and Cinnamon!

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WHAT? Only 7 Shopping Days Left?!

AAAAAAHHHHHH!  How did this happen?!  Time is flying!

All the more reason to make living greener a priority now.

My whole blog started a year and a month ago, because I watched “Bag It,” the documentary.  And I started learning about all the harmful chemicals we have around us, not only in toys and products and all things plastic, but everywhere.  It takes a real commitment and continued vigilence to start living a cleaner, greener life.  But it doesn’t have to be hard.  That’s the part where I think a lot of people get overwhelmed.  I think blogs like mine and stores you should have near you (and yes, online stores, if you are more rurally-located) are making it much easier to live healthier, less polluted lives.

So…with 7 days left until Christmas, I am going to point  you in some directions for last minute shopping, if you haven’t already found them yourselves.

1. Sprouts/Whole Foods/Central Market – These grocery stores have a wide range of all kinds of products that are suitable for stocking stuffers and gift baskets.  Each of these stores have quite the treasure trove of natural/healthy personal care products in all sizes and for all purposes.  Even a gift card for one of these stores could be a most excellent gift!

2. Target/Walmart – I KNOW most of you are close to one of these stores.  If you are looking for personal care products that might be nice for gifts, I have had luck finding Burt’s Bees products in most Walmarts.  They also usually have “Yes to” products.  These are normally in the cosmetics aisle, not where shampoo or lotion are.  Depending on your store, they may have much, much more to choose from–this seems to be especially true for Target.  Not only do they have Burt’s Bees and “Yes to” goodies, they may also have Shea Moisture (a luxurious line of bath and hair products), Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps (Peppermint is a nice wintery zing!), natural candles by Mrs. Meyer (in Iowa Pine!) and Beeluxe (Mandarin Clove is a awesome seasonal scent), and I even found some Caldrea products (on sale, no less!).  Take a tool around the aisles and see what you find!

3. Your Local Department Store – Okay, so call me crazy, but TRY IT.  You might be surprised.  There are a few premium brands that are healthy and you never know what your store might carry during the holidays.  It seems like Origins might be your best bet for a higher end product line that “are formulated with natural and certified organic ingredients and 100% natural essential oils.  And formulated without parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, mineral oil, PABA, petrolatum, paraffin, DEA and animal ingredients.  We manufacture using a combination of renewable resources, wind energy, and earth-friendly practices.”  They have lots of great gift sets that are probably perfect for someone on your list.  Maybe yourself? (I totally bought myself a gift box of this stuff on Black Friday…shhhh…don’t tell).

4. Sephora/Drugstore.com/iHerb.com – All of these places have a bevy of products with a lot of information about ingredients (usually in separate tabs on the product pages).  You can get reviews at these places, too, to see if you really want to get something.  If you are going to buy something here, though, you better do it asap because they do have to ship it to get it there before C-Day.  Sephora is probably the best bet for sussing out perfumes and specific products within a brand line (like Philosophy) that are better than others.  Drugstore.com has really huge variety of things, especially things that are hard to find in a store.  iHerb.com has more “regular” products, but you can find some items at super awesome prices.  Give ’em a whirl…but do it today!

5. Amazon – Same thing goes with Amazon for the shipping, but this is (as most of us know), the new general store of the world.  Because individual vendors can post their own products, you really can find almost anything.  I was looking for more BeeLuxe products, and that’s where you can find them.  Of course you can also get books and media and other things…where Amazon started it all.  Look up some books about natural products and/or how to make your own products for the craftier folks on your list…everyone likes new know-how and recipes (at least I do).

6. Pinterest – Okay, so maybe you have some time to do some last minute creations…go perusing for ideas here!  I think I just might go find some of the more excellent recipes, print them out on some nice paper, create a little box or book of them, and use this for a stocking stuffer for some of the cooks/bakers in my life.  It doesn’t have to be super elaborate…maybe even write a few recipes out by hand and tie them with a ribbon.  Or, heck, make some of those marvelous creations and take them with you to the office party or give out samplers to your friends in lieu of “stuff.”  Your only limitation at this point is time!

7.  Etsy.com – Again, time/shipping is of the essence, but this website is the website of crafters the whole world wide.  You can buy anything from art to  jewelry to homemade soaps or purses or shirts or even vintage items…just anything really at this site.  Individual crafters/collectors have their own pages, so you will be paying them and they will be shipping the items. HOWEVER, there is a “search by” feature that can limit your options to a zip code or town.  I can’t guarantee that a seller would be willing to have you come over to their home, but you can communicate directly with people via a messaging system (if you create an account)…you could probably work out some sort of “pick-up” method.  This way you can get something super-special and unique from a local crafts person AND avoid the shipping (thereby reducing your carbon footprint).  You might even make a new friend or become a loyal customer if you find the right craftsperson.  You never know until you look.

I hope this gives you some ideas at the very least…GOOD LUCK, Last Minute Shoppers!  Go get ’em!

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Only 19 Days ‘Til Christmas! Stocking Stuffers!

I *hope* you have already begun to use more natural products for yourself.  But maybe you are having a hard time convincing others to follow suit.  It can be hard to let go of favorite products and to venture out into the world of reading labels and knowing what to avoid.

So, an easy way to get some people to just *try* something new is to give them a collection of samples or maybe just fill their stockings to the brim with travel-size products.  If the product is a good one, they may just seek it out for that reason, not BECAUSE it’s good for them, just because it’s GOOD!

Try some of these:

Burt’s Bees has some easy to find, inexpensive, and varied sample-size collections.  You can find one for everyone on your list from babies and new moms to teenagers and dads.  If you can’t seem to find one in a store local to you, try their website.  If you go to “Gifts,” you will find “Gift Sets” and also “Travel & Trial,” where there are 21 different products you can buy individually to create your own little sampler.  Fun!

Aubrey Organics has a variety of pre-packaged travel sets for right around $10, which will give someone a good amount to sample.  They have six different collections to address different skin types and conditions.  They also have natural lip balms and 2oz. sizes of some products like the Natural Baby line. 

South of France Soaps is a new and surprising find for me…from their webpage, it says: 

The luxurious South of France® soap is kettle cooked in small batches using a traditional Marseille recipe with all natural vegetable ingredients. Each fragrance is chosen specifically for its cleansing and calming qualities. All South of France® soaps, lotions and body wash are free of sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, EDTA, paraben and phthalates and never tested on animals. As a result of its superior quality and fragrances, South of France has quickly become one of the best selling natural bar soap brands in the United States.

Many of the soaps also indicate they are soy free, gluten free, and vegan.  You can find this soap in various on-line stores, which will probably afford you the best prices.  I found it at World Market on sale 2 for 1.  At $5.99, regularly priced, it is kind of expensive, but the fragrances are really wonderful and the 8 oz. bar seems to be lasting a long time.  They do have a half-size bar that comes in a 2-pack if you can find it, which might make a better stocking stuffer.  But I’d be happy with a big ol’ bar of good smelling soap in my stocking!  With fragrances like Lavender and Tea Tree Sandalwood, even the men in your life will enjoy it. 

And to stick with the idea of soap bars, if you want to try a shampoo bar, look for J.R. Liggett brand.  You can find sample sizes easily online and they even come in a variety of scents…Peppermint is even a seasonal scent that is available!  These are made by hand in small batches with all natural ingredients.  Mr. Liggett, himself, indicates that you don’t even need conditioner with his shampoo bar.  Might try it myself!

Jojoba & Peppermint 3.5 oz.

And a new/old perfumer that is bringing some wholly natural and “mostly” natural options is Demeter.  They have a new line of fragrances called Demeter Naturals, but per their FAQs on their website:  “Demeter Naturals fragrances are completely natural. And while some Demeter Classic fragrances are all natural, we do use some synthetic ingredients in most Classic fragrances. Generally speaking, the ingredients in our fragrances are at least 95% derived from natural and sustainable sources, and we use no artificial color or Phthalates or parabens.”  They also conduct no animal testing.  The full size Demeter Natural fragrances (1.7 oz) go for about $30 online, but you can probably find them for less in stores or on sale.  They also have purse-size 0.5 oz sprays that might be better for stockings.  The Vetiver and Mimosa fragrances have gotten pretty good reviews.

So, these are just five ideas, but I hope they lead you to giving your family and friends the gift of healthier and more natural living this year!

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Day 3 Gift Idea – Give Experiences, Not THINGS!

If you are like me, you have a slew of people to buy gifts for.  I mean, in just my immediate family there are 10 people who (traditionally) need a “real” gift.  And of *those,* five are children between the ages of 17 and 8, two of whom expect Santa Claus to really blow it out every year.  This age range, in case you don’t have any kids in your life, or have forgotten your own childhood, is apparently the height of “wantist” behavior.

I remember sitting for hours and hours with the J.C. Penney and Sears catalogs and a legal pad taking careful notes of which items I would like to get, what color it should be if there was an option, and the price.  I knew the elves were supposed to make the gifts, but…I mean, in case it was cheaper to buy it at Penney’s, I thought I would just help Santa out with the price check.  And some years I was disappointed, because I didn’t get that one thing I *really* wanted, even though I DID get dozens of other gifts.

Ah, first world problems.

So, too, my kids have already been tricked out with fancy phones, iPods, gaming consoles of various kinds with various games, sporting equipment for every sport they ever expressed an ounce of interest in, puzzles, board games, and so many clothes we can’t even keep track of them all.  Based on how they take care of the things they already have, I am reluctant to buy them more.  Because here’s the thing.  They don’t seem to care if they destroy or lose or leave at the soccer field or stain any of the above.  And I’ve come to understand that they don’t care, because 1. They did not earn the thing they have broken or lost or ruined, so it has no real meaning or value, and 2. They believe the thing will be replaced almost as if with the snap of their fingers.

And who can blame them, really?  It’s the world they’ve become accustomed to—a throwaway society.  These kids are actually my stepkids and they don’t live with us full-time, only on the weekends.  You can imagine how well it goes over when I, self-dubbed “Crazy Stepmom,” tries to get them to eat like vegetarians, go outside and play, and earn things like X-Box privileges by doing simple chores like crushing cans and taking out the trash.  So…you can imagine how well this “let’s go do something instead of getting gifts” might go over.

But honestly, when I look back at it, I remember things I did with my family 1000% better than the gift I wanted but never got when I was 4 or 5 or 9 or 10 or…ever. 

So, especially if you can explain to your kids, or even just convince your folks or friends or whomever, that you are going to *do* something instead of get something, they will be able to keep the memory much longer than the thingamajigs they got (or didn’t get) this year. 

It doesn’t have to be that grand or even cost that much money.  I have tried this year to instill a little more Christmas doing and giving by taking the kids to the local Christmas parade where a local charity collected gifts for needy families.  Next weekend we are going to the “Trail of Lights” where there is a walk-through Christmas light display.  There are a handful of Christmas-themed 5Ks and Fun Runs complete with face painting and hot cocoa happening around town from now until Christmas Day and afterwards.  If you have a sporty family, it can be fun for all, especially if you just want to get out and get some fresh air. 

There are Christmas Markets in some parts of the world that have food and drink samplings and fun things to peruse/purchase.  There are sing-alongs, caroling, Christmas tree lightings, ice skating, parades…if you have snow, a simple day of sledding can be amazing fun for kids of all ages.  If you don’t have snow, try hiking or camping, and family games of charades or Pictionary or (something everyone has a chance to play and do well—let’s avoid the hurt feelings at Christmas) or whatever happens to be your favorite. 

It’s a perfect time of year to get your family involved in a charity of some sort, either volunteering at a place that serves the needy, visiting nursing homes, collecting items for donations, or getting involved with an animal rescue.   This kind of thing can really put the world into a different perspective for kids who are used to everything they could ever want being at their fingertips. 

Religion is an obvious part of the holidays, and if it is part of your family’s traditions, go and sing and light candles and remember why we celebrate.  I will always remember the specialness of getting dressed up on Christmas Eve, everyone holding candles and singing Silent Night, and then the stockings of apples and oranges and nuts and candies some dear soul at our church gave to all the kids.  Just a whiff of those fruits in the midst of a cold night takes me right back to those days.  How exciting it all was!

 And honestly, just making things together like cookies and decorations or a snowman becomes the stuff imprinted on our brains when think about the holidays.  I can still remember laying under the Christmas tree, looking up through the lighted branches, while my dad listened to Elvis’ “Blue Christmas.”  It was so simple, but so lasting.

Of course, these are all things you can do *this* season.  But maybe NEXT year, you can actually plan a trip somewhere special.  Go to the mountains, go to the beach, rent a cabin in the woods, go on a cruise…or, gasp! Go to Paris, Costa Rica, Hawaii, or Rome!  If you plan it now, or broach the idea to your family THIS year, you’ve got a whole year to plan and save and make it happen.   I mean, life’s too short to sit around dreaming about going somewhere when you could…you really could, if you just decide to spend all that Christmas money on something different and longer lasting than just “stuff.”

Of course, there’s no place like home for the holidays!  Just shake it up a bit, start a new tradition, and go DO something!

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