Calendar Quilt Series: My Spring Mini Quilts

I love sewing bags and other functional items because seeing people use my work makes me happy. At the same time, however, I’m just as passionate about creating fine art. In the first couple of years after starting ANY Texture, I made quite a lot of the first. Sadly, I hardly got to work on the latter. My sewing time is usually quite limited. Making an art quilt requires many days or even weeks. Between trying to prepare for fairs and maintaining my Etsy store, I simply didn’t have enough time for both. I ended up completing only three art quilts in two or three years (“Give a Hand,” “Falling Leaves,” and “Dare!“). I desperately wanted to make more.

Last fall I resolved to creating one small quilt a month. I decided to make one 12″ x 12″ art quilt for each month of the year. I hoped that this would get me into a routine of creating fine textile art, and would get my creative juices flowing.

I’m several months into this self-imposed challenge, and so far I’ve been enjoying it tremendously. Working on these quilts forces me to think of what each month means to me. It allows me to play with colors, textures and shapes. It also turned out to be a great source of comfort at a personally difficult time: since my father’s unexpected passing in March, I haven’t been able to return to my sewing room on a regular basis. I did, however, force myself to work on the monthly quilts, and found much solace in that slow, meditative work.

Recently I completed the third and last of my spring mini quilts. I thought this would be a good time to tell you more about them.

My Spring Mini Quilts: Influenced by Nature

“Rebirth,” My March Quilt

I live in California. The state suffered from an eight-year-long drought that officially ended on March 5th of this year. After many years of hardly any rain and strict water restrictions, we finally had a really wet winter. I will never complain about rain again, but this last winter did feel long and dreary at times…

We don’t get snow where I live, but it does get cold and dark and–this year, finally!–wet. Many trees lose their leaves, and there are no flowers to be seen. Its nice to stay indoors and hibernate, but as the weeks stretch on one begins to wonder whether the winter will ever end.

I have a garden where I spend many hours when possible. When I look at my deciduous trees over winter, bare for months on end, a little part at the back of my mind wonders whether they will all wake up come spring. I worry that some might not. Over the years, two of our trees actually didn’t. One died a couple of years ago, and the other this very year. And so, for me, March is a time when I hold my breath, so to speak. I always experience a sense of great relief when I see the first buds forming on trees, and when the first flowers erupt. There is a kind of reassurance in the awakening of trees, in the end of a long dormancy. For me, therefore, March is all about the gradual awakening of nature, and the the sigh of relief that accompanies it. 

This is what my March quilt is all about. It is dominated by the various browns of still mostly-bare trees, punctured by the bright pinks of freshly-blooming flowers, and the gold of newly-emerging young leaves. I call this quilt “Rebirth.” 

“Lush,” My April Quilt

By April, shrubs and perennials start to stir, too. Plants grow fresh leaves, often in light greens and lime greens. The first flowers add pops of color to the world, attempting to erase the browns and grays of winter. Weeds, too are happiest that month.

After I returned home from mourning my father, I spent several days in the garden pulling out waist-high weeds. My father was an amazing gardener, who taught me everything I know about plants. Working outside, surrounded by fresh greenery, some of which he planted for me, was a kind of catharsis, a medicine for my aching heart. 

My April quilt is dominated by the fresh greens of early spring, sparkled with pops of new blooms. It also has some of the curves of fragrant peas, which dominated my garden this year. I call it “Lush.”

“Bloom,” My May Quilt

May is my favorite month of the year. It is the peak of spring, full of colors and smells. This is the month in which my garden puts on its best show; when all my flowers are at their best. This is when I see results for all the work I put into the garden in the fall, when my efforts to paint the world with flowers bear fruit. Everything in my garden feels vibrant and alive, humming with buzzing insects. In May I gladly trade my sewing machine for hoes and pruners, and spend as much time in the garden as I possibly can.

Oh, did you know that my favorite color is purple, and that so very many flowers just happen to be exactly that?? Essentially, May provided the best possible excuse to make a quilt in the colors I like most! I call this one “Bloom,” and I’m sure you see why.

So, what do you think? Did my spring mini quilts succeed in capturing the essence of the months they represent?

 

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DIY Easy Peasy Reusable Produce Bag Tutorial

I’m sure you’ve seen the horrifying pictures of plastic waste accumulating in rivers and oceans, suffocating wildlife and damaging the environment. I’ve been haunted by these images for a long time. Over the last several years I’ve been gradually changing my family’s habits to reduce waste. One of the first things I sewed when I started upcycling fabrics was reusable shopping totes for myself. I later made one for my husband as well. We’re still using them, more than three years later, multiple times a week. I’m estimating that so far we saved at least 462 plastic/paper bags, probably closer to twice that or more.

We’re still far from perfect, though. About 90% of our weekly trash comes from plastic food wrappings of all sorts. A portion of that is plastic produce bags. Many companies now strive to develop plastic-like materials that bio-degrade, compost or feed the fish. I love reading about such efforts, and hope that bags such as these will become widely available soon. As long as they are not, however, reusable cloth produce bags are a great solution to the plastic-bag problem. This week I finally found the time to sew some for my family!

The good news is that cloth bags are really easy to make! You don’t even have to have any sewing skills 🙂 Here’s an easy reusable produce bag tutorial you can try.

A Super-easy Reusable Produce Bag Tutorial

Materials

It doesn’t take much to make reusable produce bags. Fabric, cord and thread is all you need.

Note on fabric: since produce is usually weighed to determine cost, you want to use the lightest fabric you can find. To make it easy for the cashier to see what’s inside, you should look for sheer/transparent fabric. Don’t run to JoAnn’s yet, however! Remember that many resources go into producing new fabric, and therefore it’s a million times more eco-friendly to use pre-loved textiles. Look around your house to see if you already have something suitable. An old curtain, a table cloth, or even a worn shirt can be just right. If you don’t have anything suitable at hand, the closest thrift store will surely have something. 

As for cord, use something sturdy yet lightweight. Even an old shoe lace would suffice!

How to Make Your Reusable Produce Bag

You can make the bag any size you want. You might even want different-sized bags for different kinds of produce!

Begin by cutting a rectangle that is twice as wide as you want your final bag to be. If you prefer, you can cut two rectangles, each about half an inch bigger in each direction than the final size you strive for.

If you have two rectangles, start by connecting them. Put them right sides together (facing in), and sew a straight line length-wise on the wrong side. 

It’s easier (and a lot faster!) if you have a sewing machine, but if you don’t, hand-sewing works, too.

Note: since lightweight, sheer fabric can be delicate, I like to use a zigzag stitch.

Fold the cord in two, so that it’s a bit longer than the width of your bag, and cut:

Place the cord about an inch below the top-most part of your fabric, width-wise, and fold the top over the cord. Since your bag has to be functional rather than pretty, feel free to eyeball this rather than measuring exactly.

Tip: use a clip or a pin to hold the edge of the cord peeking outside the fold, as it will be harder to get it through after you sew!

Now zigzag along the bottom part of the edge you just folded, leaving plenty of room for the cord to move inside. Make sure not to sew the cord itself 🙂

When done, catch the other end of the cord with a clip or pin, so that it doesn’t slip through:

Fold your cloth right sides together. Make sure the top edges meet:

Now you can start sewing the open side and bottom. Begin stitching where the folded part ends–as marked in yellow in the below picture (make sure to leave the “tunnel” you just made for the cord open, so that you can easily pull it out later):

Zigzag along the side and bottom:

Note: Go back and forth with the stitch at the beginning and end of each line, and around the corners. This will reinforce these high-stress areas and ensure that your bag lasts longer.

Tie the two sides of the cord in a knot.

Pull the cord so that it’s evenly distributed:

Now turn your bag inside out. CONGRATULATIONS! It’s all done!

Take your new produce bags whenever you go to the supermarket or farmer’s market. You can wash them as often as you want. They should help shrink the volume of your garbage.

Oh, and if you’d like to put your produce bags inside a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handcrafted market tote that is also entirely sustainable, I have some available in my Etsy shop 😉

 

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Farewell to My Dad, The Ultimate Upcycler

My father passed away in mid March, ripping a huge tear in the fabric of my life.

My dad was a true Renaissance man, a walking encyclopedia, utterly brilliant. He was also humble and modest to a fault, the most honest person I’ve ever met.

Most people knew him for his brain: his academic achievements and intellectual pursuits. His articles, publications, students and volunteer work could attest to that. We, who knew him up-close, were also awed by his hands. My father was extremely dexterous: he fixed, built, hammered, screwed, kneaded, cooked, sewed, planted, pruned, hugged. His capable hands could create wonders and fix anything, including broken hearts. 

My dad was an upcycler before upcycling was fashionable. He noticed the potential in everything around him, from a newborn baby to a tiny screw lying on the pavement. My father always picked up things that other people discarded, building himself a workshop stacked floor to ceiling with various kinds of treasures: nails, screws, cords, bulbs and what not. He had vast collections of scrap wood and other materials. When asked what for, he always said he might use them some day, and he often did. Whenever one of us needed anything, we would go to him first. He often had what we were looking for.

A master of improvisation, my dad thought outside the box and gave old objects a new life. On a desert trip when I was little, he dug into clay soil to create a makeshift oven in which we baked Chalas for Shabbat. Another year we were travelling during Hannukah and didn’t have a Menora. He built one out of snail shells. When the elastic on a fitted sheet tore, he used a hair pin to replace it. He cut tattered pants to give worn books new covers:

When my kids were little, they collected their broken toys in a special box. Whenever grandpa came to visit, he would fix them all. Better yet, he built them beautiful wooden toys from the wood he rescued:

In Hebrew, when a person is talented with their hands, we say he has “golden hands.” My dad had golden hands with a green thumb. He had a magic touch when it came to plants as well. He coerced them to grow from seed, could grow an entire tree from a tiny piece of plant cutting, and could graft. I learned to love nature and all of my gardening skills from him.

My dad is no longer here to fix the huge hole created by his passing, but in the few weeks since his death I became acutely aware of the permanent imprint he left. My father is gone, but his spirit lives on, in me, in my siblings, in our children. His guiding principles, taught by example, will keep showing us the way as we walk the path of life.

 

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What to Do if You Have One Day in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Southeast Asia has been on my to-go wish list for decades. Last winter break I finally got there. My family booked a trip to Thailand. Before it started, we managed to squeeze in a day and a half in Cambodia. We went to see Angkor Wat, the famous UNESCO world heritage site.

Once there, I really wished we had more time to explore the area. Although Angkor Wat is the most famous temple, there are actually over a thousand other temples all around. Angkor, after all, was the capital of the Khmer Empire for nearly six hundred years (from the 9th to the 15th centuries), and was, at the time, a magnificent mega-city.  

What to do if, like me, you have only one day?

Arrive the day before. Since you really want to start your tour early (see below), you should plan to arrive in Siem Reap the day before. If you really have only 24 hours, plan to arrive in the late afternoon and leave the following day around the same time. If you can afford a few more hours, arrive earlier so that you have time to explore Siem Reap as well.

Visit Angkor National Museum. If possible, do this the day before you visit the temples. Angkor National Museum has nice displays portraying the history of the city, the Khmer Empire, as well as a 3-D model of Angkor Wat. You will understand the history, mythology and structure of what you see a lot better if you visit the museum first.

Book a Private Guide. You can try to plan your visit on your own, but booking a private tour guide in advance is so much simpler! There are many tour operators and English speaking guides. They will come pick you up from your hotel, help you buy tickets, take you around and explain what you see. If you hire your own guide, you won’t have to wait around for other people.

Get Up Early. Most tour guides try to be get to Angkor Wat when the site opens at 5:30 am. The official reason is to see the sunrise (though I wasn’t that impressed with it). HOWEVER, the early morning hours also tend to be the most pleasant temperature-wise. It gets very hot and humid later in the day… Getting to Angkor Wat as early as possible will give you more time to explore other temples later on.

Even if you get up at 4:30 am and feel that you traveled to the end of the world, though, don’t expect to be the only tourist there. Angkor Wat is quite crowded, even at dawn. Thousands of people from all over the world try to take pictures of the sunrise!

Once there, don’t get close to the monkeys! You might be as excited as we were to see monkeys in the wild, but they can get aggressive and even bite…

Enjoy the amazing architecture and beautiful reliefs. Although I learned art history in both high school and college, I don’t really know much about Khmer art. The architecture and reliefs in Angkor Wat are different than the art I’m used to, and are truly breath taking! You will enjoy them even more if you understand the Hindu mythology they depict (I didn’t).

Visit other temples. Angkor Wat is the most famous temple, but other temples and ruins in the area are just as beautiful. We visited two additional temples. The last place we went to was Ta Prohm, mostly known because of the film Lara Croft Tomb Rider. I really liked it, mostly because it isn’t as well-kept as Angkor Wat. The raw ruins and grown-in vegetation give it a wild, Indiana-Jones feel!

Wear a hat and stay hydrated! The days are very hot, and you will dehydrate quickly. I could barely walk in the second temple we visited.

Finally, be prepared for rain. Cambodia is in the tropics, and it can rain. Carry a rain poncho, just in case.

 

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Artisans Angkor: Traditional Crafts in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Southeast Asia has been on my to-go wish list for decades. Last December I finally got there. My family booked a trip to Thailand, but before it started we managed to squeeze in a day and a half in Cambodia. We came to see the temple of Angkor Wat, and stayed in nearby Siem Reap. 

Because of the temples surrounding it, Siem Reap is buzzing with tourists. It offers plenty of accommodations and wonderful food options, as well as different kinds of activities. If, like me, you are passionate about traditional crafts, the town has enough to satisfy your curiosity before and/or after you visit the temples.

The night markets offer everything from food to handicrafts, and are fun places to explore. There are several of them, so you might want to stretch your visit to these markets over a couple of nights. If you only have one evening to spare, you can ride a tuk tuk from one market to the other. Riding those is an experience all by itself!

If you only have little time in Siem Reap and wish to stock up on locally-made souvenirs quickly, the Made in Cambodia market is the place for you. Small, pleasant and not overwhelming, it has an array of booths displaying a wide verity of local handicrafts. I was happy to see some upcycling, such as these bags by Angkor Recycled:

After I bought something at one of the booths, I got it in this self-made bag, made out of newspapers. How cool is that?!

For those who have more time, Artisans Angkor is a must stop. This company, which started in the 1990’s, aims to revive some of the traditional Khmer crafts that nearly disappeared during the years of the civil war. It provides vocational training to uneducated villagers, teaching them new skills and allowing them to supplement agricultural work. The company gives its workers the opportunity to work near their home villages (the center at Siem Reap is only one of twelve sites in the province), and provides a safe work environment in addition to social and medical welfare.

Artisans Angkor is also an educational center for tourists. Visitors are invited to take free tours with English-speaking guides. They can visit all the workshops, and read English signs explaining the different stages of each craft. Some workshops even give hands-on experiences, which can be quite fun for kids and adults alike.

Nothing beats seeing craftspeople in real life, so if you find yourself in Siem Reap, make sure to visit Artisans Angkor. For those of you who can’t make it, here’s a brief virtual tour:

Stone Carving

The tour of the stone-carving workshop begins with a sign explaining the different kids of stones.

Clear displays then show the stages of carving a stone statue, from a block of stone to a smooth, finished image.

With hard stone, the artists start with a drawing on the stone. They then drill holes along the outlines, and begins to chip away the spaces. After the carving, the artists polish the statue to remove tool marks, and then sand it to make it smooth:

Soap Stone, which is softer and crumblier, can be made into smaller and somewhat finer sculptures. Artisans polish it with water, creating a smoother feel once finished:

In the spacious and clean workshop visitors can see artisans at work. Each person has their own bench, and is working on their own project.

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Carving a relief of a face

Wood carving

Wood Carving is similar to stone carving, except it begins with a drawing on paper, which is attached to a block of wood. The artisans carve the spaces out, polish the statue to remove tool marks, and, once finished, wax it to protect the surface:

Artisans paint some of the sculptures once finished, and decorate them with gold leaf. When finished, they protect them with patina as well as wax.

Metal Smiting

Cambodians use copper leaves to make boxes. Artisans first clean the copper sheets, fire-mold them, and then pound them to give them shape. They gently pound designs, usually that of plants or animals such as elephants. They make smaller details, such as elephant tasks, separately, and glue them on. Once finished, they dry and clean the boxes, and then soak them in a silver bath.

Cambodians also use copper leaves to decorate wooden sculptures such as elephants. These people, for example, are working on saddles they will later attach to wooden elephants:

Metal decorations are also added to lacquered wooden boxes:

Lacquer Work

Cambodians love to apply lacquer to boxes, sculptures or paintings. The process begins when artisan apply several layers of lacquer over two and a half weeks to create the background color.

For paintings, they use a pad with talcum powder on tracing paper to create the outline. They then apply varnish to the parts that need to be gilded. They gently check with their fingers to make sure the varnish is ready, and add the gold leaves carefully when it is. When the piece is finished, they spray it with hydro varnish to make it safe for humans. It takes up to a week for the hydro varnish to dry.

Silk Painting

For silk paintings, artisans stretch silk in a frame over an existing painting. They copy the outline of that painting onto the silk, and then fill the details in with colors. When done, they apply patina to protect the painting.

Silk Weaving

Cambodia has amazing textiles. Nowadays you can find many cotton weaving in the different markets, but traditionally the country excelled at silk weaving. Silk weaving was probably introduced to Cambodia in the 13th century, through the Silk Road. Local people turned woven silk into sarongs and scarves.

At Artisans Angkor, you can see a demonstration traditional Hol Lboeuk scarf weaving. Women weave these scarves entirely by hand on traditional looms. They take weeks or even months to complete.

Artisans Angkor also has workshops for ceramics and silver jewelry.

Your tour at the facility will inevitably end at the store. Beautiful and modern, it displays the work of the company’s craftspeople. Many of the traditional methods have been adapted to modern tastes and lifestyles, resulting in souvenirs of the highest-most quality. The prices, accordingly, are not cheap. Please remember, though, that any money you spend there will support the continuous preservation of traditional crafts, as well as the community of local craftspeople who could really use your help.

For those of you who are interested in textiles and are willing to go to the outskirts of the old town (a short tuk tuk ride away), Siem Reap offers yet another treat. The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles will allow you to follow the process of silk weaving in even greater detail. But that, I think, deserves its very own post…

 

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Looking Back at 2018

I can’t believe I’m writing the last blog post for 2018! Where did the time go? It feels to me as if the year has just begun…

I guess summarizing my creative year at the end of a calendar year has become a tradition. So, here goes: what have I been up to in 2018?

The year started in Peru, a memorable trip which resulted in an art troll:

Sir Howard Fergus Ghingus Troll The Magnificent was my first-ever art doll, and I really enjoyed making him. Luckily, he found an appreciative, loving home the very first day I exposed him to the world 🙂

I had all the intentions of making more trolls, but the year was too short, somehow… I actually started working on Howard’s brother a few weeks ago, but he ended up in my UFO pile and is still there… Next year, hopefully.

Embedding World Textiles into My Work

The trip to Peru also resulted in five totes designed around beautiful pieces of naturally-dyed, hand-woven tapestries I purchased in a fabulous Christmas market in Cusco:

I am really happy with how these turned out. So much so that I decided to keep one for myself. Can you guess which one?

I got excited about the idea of collecting bits of textiles in places I visit and incorporating them into my work. It feels like a great way for me to combine my love for textiles with my passion for travelling. Last April, I purchased a few pieces of Druz weaving when I went to Israel, but haven’t used them yet. And over the summer I bought some vintage indigo fabrics in Japan, and am now working on a new Boro tote. To be completed in 2019:

Tote Bags Galore

I sewed quite a few cross body bags and slings this year, among other things. But tote bags somehow became my favorites. Maybe because they serve as the best canvas on which to show off really beautiful textiles. It warms my heart that many of these new totes already found loving homes. Here are some of the ones I liked best:

Other Products

After a couple of years of not sewing any, I dug deep into my UFO piles this year and finished out a few pillow covers, which I finally completed:

I’ve done more craft fairs in 2018 than I did in previous years. Some customers have been asking me for small, minimal purses. I made a new prototype, and am looking forward to playing with it more:

I also developed a little obsession with scrappy zippered pouches. It started when I was looking for ways to use up my small scraps. Once I started making them, however, I just couldn’t stop! They are candy to the eyes, and also feel really good when you hold them:

Months of the Year Mini-quilt Series

Finally, I didn’t have time to make big quilts, although my head has been bursting with ideas. But in October I did start working on a series of mini quilts. The idea is to make one for each month of the year. This project, too, will have to be completed in the coming year. So far I have “Fall” for October:

“Spices” for November:

And “Hope” for December:

I really did try to shrink my piles of unfinished project over the last few months, but somehow they kept growing. My scrap piles only expanded, too, despite my efforts to use them up. It looks like I have my work cut out for me for next year (or many!). No danger of ever getting bored 🙂

Happy New Year to you and yours! Here’s to a healthy, peaceful and creative new year!

Art for the Environment Exhibition at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

When devastating fires engulfed Northern California several weeks ago, my kids’ school shut down due to heavy smoke. Our family decided to escape the Bay Area for the day. We headed south, to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where smoke maps promised better air. As it turned out, the air was just as hazy in Monterey, but the aquarium was as lovely as ever. As we made our way through the exhibits, I stumbled upon an unexpected surprise: the Art for the Environment exhibition.

This upcycled art exhibit displayed works by international artists who, like myself, are concerned with the growing waste created by humanity. These artists, too, use discarded items to create their art, and, like me, believe that art can inspire change in attitudes as well as behaviors. But whereas I use upcycled textiles to create my work, these artists use plastic waste. Their work concentrates around the topic of marine life and the health of the oceans.

A Virtual Tour of the Art for the Environment Exhibition

Alison McDonald‘s “Message in a Bottle” examines the negative and positive influences plastics have on the natural world. The empty spaces she created symbolize the negative effects. The emerging plastic kelp symbolize hope for the oceans.

The Turkish artist Gulnur Ozdaglar believes that the solution to plastic waste is not recycling but rather upcycling. She creates enchanting objects out of plastic waste. Her “Jelly PET Bowls” seem to float through the air the way jelly fish appear to float in water.

See the beautiful details up close:

Chris Jordan combined the horror of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with Hokusai’s famous woodcut The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. He re-interpreted the woodcut by creating it out of plastic waste.

His piece is made out of 2.4 million bits of plastic, which is the estimated number of pounds of plastic that enter the ocean every single hour. Here is a close-up:

The Japanese artist Sayaka Ganz creates sea creatures out of discarded plastic. Ganz grew up in Japan, where Shinto beliefs taught her that every object has a spirit, and that items discarded before their time weep in the trash bin.

This is her “Leatherback Sea Turtle,” a commentary of our use-and-dispose society.

And this is “Laysan Albatross:”

The photographer Jerry Takigawa is also concerned with the plight of the albatross. He created a series of photos titles “False Food,” in which he arranged bits and pieces of colorful and shiny objects that albatrosses often mistake for food:

This problem, of course, is real, as seen here:

South African artist Neath Nash creates lamps and home decor out of materials from discarded items. This, for example, is a lamp he created called “Milkhandle Ball:”

Nash is dedicated to upcycling other people’s rubbish, and by doing so he creats useful objects, provides jobs to local craftspeople, and raises awareness to environmental issues.

Artist Katharine Harvey creates monumental sculptures using everyday waste. She tries to show the effect plastics have on our world, and encourage people to keep the oceans clean. Her work “To the Depths” is a sobering wall-size:

And up-close:

What Can We Do?

We created a monumental plastic pollution problem, which can feel overwhelming. We did this in an astounding fifty years. Plastics didn’t exist on a large scale before the 1950’s, and weren’t mass-produced before the 60’s. We created a huge mess in a very short time, polluting our world as well as our fellow-creatures–and ourselves. But since we created this problem, we can also solve it. I really believe that humanity can overcome this, if we only put our minds to it.

The actions of each and every one of us matter. You can do your bit to help our planet, and as a result–our future generations. You don’t even need to do anything big. Just start small:

  • Shop less. You most likely already have everything you need.
  • Use less plastic. Replace disposable plastic items with multi-use non-plastic ones: replace single-use bottles with multi-use ones; stop using plastic bags and switch to reusable fabric ones. Buy non-plastic items whenever possible.
  • Clean after yourself and keep our environment little free. See litter on the pavement? Pick it up. Join groups to keep roadsides and beaches clean. Disposed of garbage properly. Litter picked off land will not make it to the ocean.
  • To prevent chemicals and toxins from reaching the sea, use less of them in your home and garden. Switch to environmentally-friendly products instead. And always make sure you dispose of things like paint, oil and other toxins by bringing them to a  waste disposal site.

Do you have more ideas? If so, I’d love to hear them!

 

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Be a Conscientious Giver This Holiday Season

We’re a couple of days away from Black Friday, the biggest shopping frenzy of the year. Before you go stand in line in front of a big-box store in the middle of the night, stop a second to consider this:

Most of us already have enough stuff and then some more.

The flood of cheap imported goods in the last few decades turned our societies into cultures of consumerism and excessive materialism. We fill birthday goodie bags with cheap plastic trinkets that are tossed within hours. Many buy clothes and get rid of them after an average of three wears. We produce high-tech appliances that don’t last. We go shopping out of boredom or as a pastime; buy things just because they’re cheap; get rid of perfectly good items only to make room for the next trendy thing. Many (most!) of us have houses full of stuff we never use. We have turned into unaware hoarders.

And then we buy books or hire professionals to help us get rid of it all…

Our consumption habits have a HUGE impact on the planet we live in. Our short-term greed is destroying the prospects of our long-term survival.

And yet, giving is a huge part of the holiday season, and a long-established way to show people we care. So what should a conscientious consumer do?

I say, give responsibly.

Here are a few suggestions:

Give Experiences, Not Things

Experiences build memories that last forever. They enrich lives. Most importantly, they forge connections between people. There are endless possibilities that you can tailor to any budget. Some are entirely free. Others can cost a fortune. There’s a full range in-between.

Here are some ideas: Go hiking with your friends. Give tired parents a coupon for babysitting (and then babysit when they ask you). Take a loved one to the movies. Organize a family camping trip. Buy tickets to an exhibition, a museum, a concert, a play, an opera, a ballet, a Renaissance Fair or any other event. Last year my kids really wanted to see Hamilton. The entire extended family chipped in, and they got tickets as holiday gifts AND birthdays combined. They still talk about it… Take your family on a road trip, a cruise or an overseas trip.

Or, if you want to honor someone AND help those who really need it most, make a donation to a favorite charity in someone’s name.

Give Something that is Designed to Get Consumed or Used Up

This is a combination of traditional gifts and experiences. It involves giving a physical item, but one that will be consumed or used up, and which will therefore not add to the clutter in a recipient’s home. This category of gifts involves foods, drinks, and things like body care or living plants.

We all need to eat, and most of us enjoy it. There is something very basic and satisfying about eating together and sharing food. Like experiences, this is something that can be tailored to any budget.

Cook or bake something special for the people you care about. It’ll be great if you get to eat it together, but even just giving it will feel good. You can also buy some special foods, something that people don’t eat every day: a special bottle of wine; artisan-made chocolates; a local specialty from a place you visited. Or, you can take people out to a restaurant. You can choose how fancy you want it to be.

Things that get used up, like soaps, lotions, bath bombs and such, also provide a fun experience. They last for a while, giving ongoing pleasure, but don’t add to long-term stuff accumulation.

Living plants are a lasting gift. They don’t get used up, but they bring a piece of nature into homes, beautify gardens, and give back to the earth (not to mention help clean the air). When I was a pre-teen, a friend gave me a potted plant. Many decades later, it is still very much alive, in my parents’ home.

Make Your Own Gifts

When you make something yourself, you put a little part of your soul into it. Give it to the right people, and they will know to appreciate and cherish it. When I went to visit my family last year, for example, I got to bring a suitcase-full of my work with me. Giving my own art to the people I love was the best feeling in the world!

I know, not everyone likes to make things, and that’s OK. Many of us want to but don’t have the time. Especially not around the holidays, a busy season for us all. Even I don’t have time to make handmade holiday gifts. I make and give at other times of the year.

If you do chose to make your own gifts, be careful about WHO you give them to. Too many people don’t appreciate handmade, or the time and efforts you put into making your gift. Give such a precious thing only to someone you KNOW will appreciate it.

Buy Locally, From a Real Person

If you do want to buy physical gift items, consider buying from a real, local person.

It’s true that big-box Chinese imports are much cheaper. But they’re also made by people who aren’t paid well and who work in sub-optimal conditions. They’re made in factories that employ children and mistreat workers. They contribute to environmental pollution: to the poisoning of waterways and air. Shipping them thousands of miles is also costly in environmental terms. We should care about this even if this happens far away. We all share the same earth. Dirty air and water will eventually harm us, too. Micro plastics are already found in almost everyone’s guts. We ALL  feel the effects of climate change.

You will pay more if you buy from a real person in your community. BUT you will also make a difference in the life of a neighbor. You will be contributing to your local economy, something that will eventually benefit you in return. And you will probably get a better-quality item, something that will last longer and, in the long run, save you money.

You could buy a cheap mass-produced “reusable” shopping bag, for example. Just don’t be surprised if it fails you at the worst possible moment.

Or, you could spend more on a beautiful handcrafted bag that will last for years 🙂

  • Find a local artisan who uses upcycled materials and achieve a double goal.
  • Buy items directly from their makers.
  • Or, support a local mom-and-pop shop that sells manufactured goods. It’s in your interest to keep small shops open.

Buy Ethically

If you can’t find a local person who creates the things you want, make informed decisions about who else to buy from. Do some research about companies you consider. Learn which factories they produce their goods in, and how they treat their workers. Try to buy from ethical companies that treat workers well and care for the environment. Buy fair trade, recycled, socially-responsible.

 

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the frenzy of shopping, and don’t let the burden of gift-giving stress you out. Holidays are all about spending time with the people you care about, after all. They’re about taking time off from the hurdles of life and about relaxing. Make sure you do all of that this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!