Monday, November 22, 2010


 It's finally here, the week that signals the beginning of the holiday season in our family. Growing up, we always put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving. It was a many hour process to drag the artificial tree out from the crawl space and then locate, untangle and put up all the lights, ornaments and garland. I'm not sure when it started in the U.S., but during high school sisters and I (and sometimes my father) started a new tradition of Black Friday shopping. I don't think the deals are as good as they were in those early days (I remember getting lots of things free with rebate), but we still go every year when we are together. Not so much for the deals but because we enjoy the ritual of the line waiting, the frenzy of the crowds, and the exhilaration of getting a gift for someone that you wouldn't normally have been able to afford.

This year, while I was thinking about my holiday gift guide, I realized that I didn't want to buy anything this year or advocate anyone else buying anything that didn't have the purpose of bettering the world or reducing clutter. This past year, through blogging and my own initiative I've been exposed to many different "green" products. Some of them are complete gimmicks (a "green" cellphone, really?) but others really have the ability to better our lives and the world. As for reducing clutter, after moving from LA to San Jose, I realized how much junk we had that we absolutely did not need. I've made it a point to get rid of goody bag plastic toys that really add no value to life (in fact they make life more difficult when kids leave them lying around and you wake up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and end up stepping on a small plastic arrow!). So without further ado, these are the items I've picked for my 2010 Holiday Gift Guide:

For Adults:
1) Fair Trade Coffee-It would probably come as a surprise to many people, but a lot of coffee plantations in West Africa and other parts of the world employ slave labor. Not just slave labor, but child slave labor. That's why it's so important to buy fair trade coffee (or at least try to get coffee sourced from South America or East Africa). My favorite is Green Mountain Fair Trade Spring Revival Blend (list price $8.49/10 oz bag). Unfortunately it's not available this time of year, so a good substitute is whole bean fair trade coffee (a few different varieties) at Fresh & Easy (locations in Southern California, AZ and NV), currently selling for $5.88/12 oz bag. This is an amazing price, less than what you would pay for "regular" beans at any supermarket! If you don't live near a Fresh & Easy, you can also find fair trade beans in the $7-10 range at your nearest Cost Plus World Market. Cost Plus World Market also has a free Explorer Club that gets you 10% off your first purchase and a free bag of coffee after every sixth bag of coffee you purchase. There are frequently deals that will make your coffee cost even less! Not only will buying fair trade coffee make you feel better about how you spend your money, it also tastes better. Giving this as a gift to someone will not only enrich their coffee drinking experience, but it's something that will better the lives of the farmers who grow it.

2) Simple Human Compost Pail-I had heard, read and seen on TV a lot about composting in the past few years but I had always thought it was a really difficult process that I didn't have time or the space to do. Part of that misconception was that I didn't really get to see it in action. After we recently moved to San Jose, I was able to observe how my mother-in-law composted all the food scraps off her table. After seeing how easy it was, I decided to give it a try when I was contacted by Simple Human to review its compost pail. I bought some biodegradable liners (optional) and started composting. Because of the Simple Human Compost Pail's integrated odorsorb™ charcoal filter, the food waste didn't smell because the filter absorbed the food odors. This was a big bonus because after we moved to San Jose, we had our own curbside garbage pick-up for the first time in our adult lives. Every other apartment and home we lived in had a garbage chute or a central garbage container so never had to worry about food waste smells in the garage. Composting definitely cuts down on that phenomenon! I also liked the large bamboo handle that makes it easy to carry out to the compost heap (which in my case is at my mother-in-law's house so having a pail with a sturdy handle that prevents spillage is absolutely essential). There's a wire ring that keeps bags neatly hidden, or you can use the compost without a bag and simply rinse out the wire ring. Lid hook allows you to hand the lid anywhere along the rim of the pail. The Simple Human Compost Pail retails for $59.99 online, but you can make that price better at Bed, Bath and Beyond locations in CT, NJ, NY, and PA by using one of the BBB 20% coupons that come in the mail. And if you register for the simplehuman email list now, you'll qualify to play their Black Friday/Cyber Monday game. Play the game and you'll receive a special gift with any purchase-up to a $200 value. Everyone is guaranteed to be a winner!

 3) Green cleaning supplies-A few years ago, my friend's mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no family history and none of the other risk factors. One of the thoughts she had was that all the artificial chemicals her body came across may have contributed to the cancer. I thought about this and it made sense. Since then, I've made the change to all natural cleaning supplies. Out of the following two dish soaps, which once would you feel better about if your child decided to drink it?
  • Ingredient list for a leading dishwashing liquid: Water, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Pareth-23, C12-14-16 Dimethyl Amine Oxide, SD Alcohol 40-B, Undeceth-9, PPG-26, Sodium Chloride, Cyclohexanediamine, Polyacetate, Fragrance, FD&C Yellow #5, D&C Red No. 33
  • Ingredient list for Sun & Earth Ultra Dishwashing Liquid: Natural surfactants (made from coconut and vegetable oil), orange oil, aloe, preservative, water.
I think every parent would pick the second one. And I can tell you first hand, after H drank it, that it has no harmful effects! More on H's experiments below. So this Holiday Season, why not make a Green Clean gift basket for a friend, with a detailed explanation, otherwise she/he will think you are telling them to clean their home better. I did this for a friend's birthday (she recently had a scare with breast cancer), and she could tell it was because I was really concerned about her and her family's health. These products aren't much more expensive (and in most cases aren't any more expensive) than the leading non-green cleaning products, but people just think of them that way. If each of us helps another family get a little bit healthier by choosing these products, I think that really says a lot about how we care for each other as a community. It also prevents these chemicals from going down the drain and ending up in groundwater, making their ways into the cells of the plants and animals that we eat.
4) Sound of Music 45th Anniversary Blu-Ray/DVD-I'm not saying that the only things that we should buy are green or fair trade. I also think that things that cut down clutter are definitely things worth the investment. Because of this new Sound of Music Blu-ray release, I can get rid of my four previous versions of the film on DVD and VHS. Before you say, "how can it be better than all the anniversary editions that came before?" Well, the Blu-ray edition has incorporated technology that wasn't previously available so the picture quality is better than the last DVD release. Something along the lines of--you can see the blades of grass on the mountain where Maria sings the opener. Truly amazing!

Some of the bonus features of the Blu-ray include: All-New Interactive “Backlot Tour” with In-Depth Featurettes on the Songs, the Stage Show & Movie, the Film and Sound Restoration and the Real-Life von Trapp Family, Music Machine Sing Along, and Audio Commentaries with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Director Robert Wise. If you know someone who is as much of a Sound of Music fan as I am, this would definitely make the perfect gift! The list price is $34.99, but it can be found online for as low as $19.99. You can also get a deluxe anniversary collection which includes, among other things, a hardcover book and handpainted music box for $59.99 directly from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

5) Earthbound Cook-This is my favorite cook book of the year. I've already given one as a birthday present to a friend because I love this book so much. I like it because the green tips the author Myra Goodman recommends are accessible. She recognizes that not everyone has the ability to go organic all the way and she gives tips on how you can do the most you can, like which fish you should buy farm-raised and which to buy wild-caught. I also think it's neat every time I go to Costco and buy some Earthbound Farms salad that I can make something from her book with that exact lettuce mix! This is definitely a gift that has the potential to change the recipient's life for the better forever. It has recipes from a wide array of ethnicities. I was happy to find that I had all the ingredients to make the tofu soup recipe. That rarely happens with cook books. Usually I'm missing one or more the ingredients and I lose momentum and never actually make it. This time, soup was on! I can't wait to try the stuffed cabbage recipe. For Thanksgiving, I'll be trying the squash and sweet potato recipe in place the candied yams we usually serve. Wish me luck!

For Babies and Kids:
1) Aden + Anais swaddling blanket-This is a blanket that a child can use from birth to when they leave for college and need to leave their blankie behind. I LOVE the softness and breathability of the muslin. For a summer baby, it's perfect because she can be swaddled but not suffer prickly heat. For a winter baby, it's definitely a necessity when you live in NYC apartments with no heat control and the inside temperature approaches 80 degrees or when your grandmother insists on bundling the baby in multiple layers. My boys got theirs when they were 2 and 4 and they loved them from first sight. They loved the designs and fought over who would get the car one. They use it in the car as a lap blanket and at home to pretend to be Jedi knights. The blanket is available at various price points. The four-pack my boys have is on the aden + anais website for $45. Considering most swaddling blankets are in the $10-$20 price range for one, I think this is a compelling value. But if you want just one, you can get a single blanket at (American Eagle Outfitter's new kids line) for $15.

Sesame Street: Love the Earth2) Sesame Street: Love the Earth-As part of my efforts to teach H&R about being responsible while we are on this planet, I've been showing them various DVDs that promote that message. They've probably watched over ten different DVDs with different children's characters advocating "green" behavior. I've decided this one is the best one out of the bunch because this is the one that actually propelled H to action. He told me to turn off the lights while I was washing dishes so I had to wash them in the dark. He told Stewart to stop leaving the lights on everywhere because we had to save electricity. When we got down to the last quarter of the bag of Cheerios, he said, "Now can we recycle the box?" But I was not prepared for his grand experiment, which was turning off the refrigerator because it is the appliance that uses the largest amount of electricity in the home. I wasn't watching every minute of the DVD so I don't know if it was Elmo or Papa Bear who told him to do it, but he turned off the refrigerator by turning the knob inside the fridge part to zero-off position. He did this at night before he went to sleep, and I didn't find out about it till the next morning when I went to put some frozen waffles into the toaster that were no longer frozen but limp. So, if you want to give a gift to a child that really gets across the message that the Earth is a precious resource and we need to conserve energy, this DVD would be a good fit for that purpose. The DVD list price is $14.98 but it is available now on for $11.99. Just make sure to tell the child not to turn off the refrigerator.

3) Episencial skin care products-H has had skin issues since he was a baby. He could not get a bath every day when he was an infant because that would dry out his skin too much. I tried every baby wash and lotion out there before I finally found the perfect product for his skin. Episencial is the first and only professional-quality, all natural skincare system created specifically for the unique developing skin type of babies and kids. Free from the bad stuff like parabens, phthalates and fragrances, Episencial products are loaded with all-natural ingredients and healthy organics. Plus, these gentle, newborn safe formulas feature an exclusive skin immune complex to boost the skin’s immune functions and help the body ward off illnesses. My boys really love the bottles too. They feature Eric Carle drawings that they recognize from his books! The packaging is made of recycled and sustainable materials, and manufactured using solar power so Episencial products are good for your babies, kids and the planet! I'm definitely putting together a gift basket of these products to give at the next baby shower. The products range from $8.99 (washes) to $14.99 (sunscreen), but you can get them for less if you buy multiples through online stores like or I was lucky to get them for 50% off when they were recently on HauteLook.

Hot Potatoes: The Best of the Wiggles4) Hot Potatoes: Best of the Wiggles-Any DVD that can take the place of twelve others is definitely a "green" product in my book. H has been a Wiggles fanatic since he was 15 months old and I had him watch Wiggles marathons while I was unable to get out of bed due to morning sickness with R. He would watch for a long stretch, come back to my room to make sure I was still there and still alive, and then run back to the TV. So the Wiggles have a special place in the history of our family. Many of the DVDs have been watched so many times that they no longer work. When a kid handles DVDs, they are bound to get scratched. I tried to put them away on the highest shelves of the bookcase but this no longer worked when they figured out how to drag chairs from the dining room to get the DVDs down. I was really excited when this DVD came out this summer because it meant I could throw away all those scratched up DVDs and replace them with this one. With 35 songs and 40 minutes of bonus content, you can cook your entire Thanksgiving dinner without the kids coming out their TV trance. This is not a everyday DVD, unless you turn it off a third or half of the way in or so, but the fact it can keep a child's attention for the entire length of the DVD is definitely something worth having in your arsenal, especially should you be experiencing serious morning sickness. A friend of mine said she met another mom who doesn't let her child watch TV and thought, "You and I cannot be friends." I completely agree. TV has definitely saved my life on more than one occasion and the Wiggles have been a part of that, thanks to Jeff, Greg, Murray and Anthony (and Sam). The list price of this DVD is $14.98 but it is available for less online at various retailers.

5) HEXBUG-the only bug I will allow inside the house. I've trained my kids to be scared of bugs. I just don't want them to be picking them up and bringing them home because as I learned in my research on ants during our ant infestation problem, an ant you pick up from South America and drop into your home knows instinctively how to get back to the local ant colony and bring those ants back into your house. So no, I don't want them playing with any bugs of any kind. Of course they are boys so I feel bad that I'm depriving them of something boys love to do. I'm so glad that I was given the chance to review the HEXBUG Nano Starter Set because now that guilt is gone. I'm including this toy in my gift guide even though it has the potential of bringing in even more plastic into the house because I've discovered it doesn't require the elaborate sets that are available for purchase. I'm sure your kids have Legos or blocks of some kind. You can make your own HEXBUG habitat with those and just buy the bugs themselves. Anything that can integrate toys that are already present in the house is a great toy in my book. The boys love to make their own houses for their bug, which takes time in itself and then they love watching the bug crawl around in the habitat. Just so you know my kids aren't watching TV all day and night. You can find HEXBUG at Target, Toys R Us and Radio Shack and online on their website or on Amazon. The HEXBUG Nano by itself is available for approx. $8 and the sets go up from there.

6) Stocking Stuffers-some small items that are green/useful/socially responsible and can be used as hostess gifts, stocking stuffers or additions to care packages:
  • Qwik Shower Gym Class Wipes-portable single use disposable washcloths that can be used by teens to clean up after gym class or sports practice, moms to wipe up dirty sand feet and hands after the playground, and anyone else needing something to do a quick cleanup when a shower isn't readily available. I plan to stuff a few into my annual Christmas cookie exchange care package to a soldier in Afghanistan.  They're available for as low as 49 cents each when ordered in bulk.
  • Fair Trade Chocolate Bars-similar to the coffee plantations, many cocoa farms in West Africa also employ child slave labor. The only way to guarantee you don't support that kind of chocolate production is to buy fair trade chocolate. All Belgian chocolate is sourced from slave-free sources. Don't think that fair trade necessarily has to be expensive. Trader Joe's Belgian Chocolate bars in milk, dark, and 72% dark are sold in three packs for $1.49. I've bought these as party favors and they are delicious!
  • Plants-instead of flowers for the hostess, how about a plant that will keep on giving? A basil plant or small rosemary bush will cost less than a bouquet and will last a lot longer.
  • Gift certificates in small denominations-something like the Target gift coins can be put into stockings with the directions that some should be donated to the charity of the child's choice. There is so much that can be taught to our children during the holiday season, even by making a single deposit into the Salvation Army bucket.
Hopefully you found this helpful and perhaps you will be able to find some of these items at great prices this Black Friday, Cyber Monday and throughout the Holiday shopping season. I'm really happy because my sister is coming up from Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving (and go Black Friday shopping) with me. I will definitely be more thoughtful this year, getting only gifts that can be consumed or used up or will help in making the recipient's life healthier. Happy Thanksgiving!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I did receive some product samples to facilitate my reviews.


gleester said...

Sound of Music - best movie EVER! Did you see Oprah's show when she reunited the entire cast?

Paige said...

I love your gift list ideas. You and I definitely think alike! So much so that Spring Revival Blend is my favorite coffee, as well!! Go Fair Trade!

JoycetheRockStar said...

he looks adorable in the blanket...i miss my babies so much