In these anxious times—environmentally precarious, economically challenging, politically fraught—there is little—maybe not any thing—that seems to go unexamined and un-fretted over. And this includes shopping. The pressure is amped up during this holiday chute—Thanksgiving behind us, Chanukah and Christmas ahead—thankfully buffeted on the other end by New Year’s when we can resolve to do better or different (i.e. fret again, again).
Take Black Friday, just for an example. You could have woken up before you would go to sleep, braved lines, and what’s more braved trampling crowds for the best, best, best bargains at the big box stores in the mega-malls. Or you could’ve opted out altogether and bought nothing, not just because you didn’t happen to go out to a store; you could have bought nothing in protest of massive over-consumerism and its detrimental impact upon our planet.
Daunting, isn’t it?
This year, I seem to be opting for a popular route, a combination of these two—and seemingly interrelated—pushes: I am buying local and I am supporting people who make things. I’m also buying less and I’m making more (not that I’m much of a maker in this world). Oh, and I’m tossing in a little gift reassignment (but more on that later).
Local, that’s pretty easily explained. A new push—the 3/50 Project—explains the numbers so clearly: for every $100 spent locally, $68 returns to the community (taxes, payroll, and other expenditures). Spend that $100 at a national chain store, only $43 stays in your community and spend that same $100 online and nothing comes home. One of the suggestions that the 350 Project makes is to pick three independently owned businesses in your community that you would miss if suddenly they were gone, and then, go to said businesses, say hello, and make a purchase. For a local business, “we,” the locals, are what keeps them going.
Yesterday, Black Friday, Buy Nothing Day, or for me, Be-Sick-In-Bed-At-Your-Mother’s-House Day, I actually did buy something online (gasp). I got two pairs of boots, one of which I could not buy in my town (or find in the local shoe shop here in Philadelphia). The second pair, I could have bought on my Main Street, but from a store that stole the line from the store next-door and I couldn’t support that kind of underhanded treatment (I guess this is to say that local can get complicated, after all).
Honestly, I do a little online shopping for things like socks or underwear or plain white t-shirts for Ezekiel’s ballet class, stuff that I cannot get cheaply at an independently operated store. I may buy a specially neat or warm pair of socks (indeed, I have recently at the Mountain Goat) locally. Once I discovered Mary Ann’s Dance and More shop in the neighboring town of Easthampton, it became our go-to spot for ballet tights and slippers (plus, the nicest family owns the store—and of course, that plus, is the why of buying locally).
As my friends know, and anyone who clicks links to books referenced on this blog, I love independent bookstores, and tend to link to my local Broadside Bookshop and my friends/cousins-in-laws’ Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, as well as the wonderful store at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Do I think books make good gifts? Indeed, I do! I mean, what writer doesn’t believe in books?
I also love that I live in a place where so many wonderfully talented and creative, capable people make beautiful things—and with that word, place, I’m going to extend mine to the Berkshires, where I have become increasingly aware of so many creative arts and crafts-related endeavors.
This year at our house, December 5th to be exact from 11 AM to 3 PM, we’re hosting an Arts and Crafts Home Show, with much to admire and to buy. We’ll have fiber arts represented—Molly Lieberman, Kathryn Swanson, Christalena Hughmanick, and possibly, if we can swing it logistically, Crispina ffrench, and Adele Mattern—but also painting and collage and other graphic works—Marsha Lieberman, Lindsay Fogg-Willits, Chaia Heller, and Ann Lewis—along with ceramics by Robbie Heidinger, jewelry and other objects by Caitlin Bosco, and just to sweeten the deal, Herrell’s Hot Fudge will be for sale, too.
Part of why the home show thing is fun is that people you know congregate to ooh and admire, to kibbutz, and to support one another in this very noble mission of making things. Can’t get much further from the big box, made-in-China mentality than coming to our house for this show (all are welcome; if you need more info, leave a comment requesting further details).
We are far from the only home or studio show in town(s), though. That same weekend, Crispina ffrench is pulling together a big Holiday show with her work and that of others at Alchemy Initiative in Pittsfield (here’s a link for information, directions, times for that Saturday and Sunday; you can have a really crafty weekend and go to both; she’s even selling wool scraps all chopped up so you can make your own creations more easily). Upcoming: artist, Ann Lewis, potter, Robbie Heidinger, jeweler, Donnabelle Casis, and chocolatier, Ellen Darabi hold their annual (not sure what year it is) Red Show at Robbie Heidinger’s pottery studio in Westhampton December 12th and 13th. There have been—and are still—more of these kinds of crafty/arty celebrations of people’s talents and of community going on, in Western Massachusetts, and really, all over.
It’s fun to feel connected to something made not only by hand but also by someone you know or can meet and put a face to. Saskia’s favorite hat, one she is fast outgrowing, was knitted by Molly Lieberman—soft rust colored yarn, one simple button as embellishment—and I am hoping to get her the next beloved hat (this one is her second by Molly; the first was cream colored with a blue felted flower, chosen by her big brother Remy just before she was born).
The other kind of local and personal gift anyone would like to receive (in my humble opinion) is a chance to get a massage, a facial, or a session with an able teacher to guide you into the world of movement. Recently, I got a head-over-heels—that’s a scalp and foot massage—from Diana Cerutti (her business, based at Studio Helix, is called More Than Skin Deep). Relaxing is a superficial word for how much better I felt. There are other gifted hands-on folks there (Tammy Pease, for one). You might have a favorite of your own (also amongst mine, Jody Nishman in Florence, Gretchen Jennings, also in Florence, and Mette Gustavsen at Joia Beauty).
A few years ago, I gave three sessions with physical therapist Kate Faulker (co-owner now of Studio Helix) to my mother-in-law and that was the first step to significantly better back health for my mother-in-law (talk about a gift that kept giving). Again, there are many people around here able to help you or yours find your ability to move, more comfortably, and just more (a short list here: Bill Arcand at Studio Helix, Jen Davis, who works from different places and will come to you, and a host of incredible teachers at Studio Helix with a range of expertise to share).
Giving toward the greater good on behalf of someone you love is also a noble and satisfying route when giving, celebrating the wonderful work in the world, the spirit of helping others, the person whom you are giving to having a generous spirit… In past years, I’ve enjoyed giving to Heifer International on behalf of kids’ teachers and to Friends of Children. Big-hearted and community-spirited second child, Lucien, started (with his friends) a Save the Earth Club when he was in third grade. He raised, in part by asking for gifts at holidays and birthdays (also, bake sales, card sales, lemonade stands, friends’ efforts) over two thousand dollars: monies went to the World Land Trust to protect rainforest land and to save polar bears. What can a proud mama say? He’s an incredible kid, and one of the most lasting and moving images I’ll hold is kids bringing their change in envelopes or plastic bags to his tenth birthday party, our weekly pick-up soccer game with the birthday addition of more friends and ice cream cones after the game.
As gift giver, I’m determined to give less this year (less money to spend on gifts, along with far less time to spend on organizing gift giving). It feels… different (and my local radio station, WRSI tells me Different is Good).
On the one hand, I really like to be a big, even over-big giver. On the other hand, it feels satisfying to enjoy smaller finds, to imagine a less overwhelming holiday experience overall, and to feel that more of what I give will be used, both because I’m going to give some useful (or consumable) gifts and because I’m being more careful about my choices. I’m even making gifts whereas other years I would buy them, like baking for teachers and others at the kids’ schools (don’t tell). Last year, I gave maple and rosemary roasted pecans to our brunch guests, something I may do again. In the coming year, I’m considering learning to make jam (time will tell whether I do so, but our family has very much enjoyed gifts from friends of homemade jam). Meantime, I’m looking for nice local jam to give (I’m planning to test out some from Side Hill Farm in Brattleboro, Vermont, on sale at River Valley Market).
Both the preschool and elementary schools’ parent bodies offered Original Work again this year. I love this. It’s this simple: your child makes a piece of artwork (that fits on a slightly odd-sized paper) and you can have things made from the image, like magnets and mugs and cloth bags (a favorite of ours). Some people will receive something arty from some children, and another child has a different creative idea cooking. I tried to pick useful items, maybe tokens, but such a sweet time capsule.
My “grown-up” version of the homemade gift is to make a calendar out of photographs I’ve taken (I still shoot with a film camera) from the previous year (I get my calendars printed by the very nice and competent folks at Collective Copies in Florence). The math stumps me, although I’d figured it out with three (and then had another kid requiring a whole new equation for my thirteen photographs). To make this gift good is a time consuming and somewhat anxiety inducing experience, because it requires me to take pictures all year long, then to organize them so I can find the contenders. And then, I have to weed through the contenders to find the balance that speaks most authentically—and gorgeously—to our year. Note: I am not a posed picture taker by any means. Each year seems to come off and together, there’s a really lovely photo archive. I tend to put together some form of photo books, too. Last year, Ezekiel got one for entering his teenage years and Remy got an alphabet the year before. I have made silly little flip-style books out of photo booth shots. And I’ve made them for dear friends and family, of my kids—or theirs. Photography is probably the closest thing to a visual skill I possess, so they turn out pretty well (no bleary red-eye shots).
I’ve been trying to think of some gifts that involve doing or going places, experiences, although I only want to give them if I am sure we’ll follow through on making the promised experience come true. And I’ve also decided in the big house sprucing up—for the home craft show and the two-week break at home, or put another way, for sanity’s sake—that there are many gifts in my house right now, things that simply require some reassignment. And so, I am going to wrap up some thing or things for each immediate family member, previously unused or neglected for a very long time in newspaper and put a big ‘R’ on the package to connote the reassigned gift. The fourteen year-old hasn’t looked at the dollhouse in forever (hardly ever did, truth be told); there must be games or puzzles suited to others, books that were once the parents’ now meant for the teenager… I have a few ideas up my thrifty, environmentally striving sleeve. I really hope the idea is well received, because I see this as a potential family tradition.
Like so many things in life, there is no one “right” way to approach the world of giving or having or buying or making. Sitting here the weekend after Black Friday, I do feel like December’s a steep hill to ascend. But this year, I’m hoping I get to the summit and like the view I find, standing on fewer boxes with less plastic and tape surrounding me.