If you’ve been around Shop Good a while, you may have gotten a sense that I have a mini passion about no “junk”, especially when it comes to toys and knick-knacks. In our house, we are less-than-average housekeepers, and having little bits & pieces journeying around the house (thanks to our 3 young kids) just adds another layer to the never-ending (and losing) battle of tidyness. However, I’m not committed to full-on minimalism (or even half-on minimalism), and kids just seem to love little “things”. It’s a real-life tension! The other problem when it comes to this time of year is that I LOVE stockings and always have. My big ole stocking was always a highlight and what I looked forward to at least as much as the “red ribbon” gift under the tree. Now that I am the one filling them (on behalf of my white-bearded friend, of course), it is definitely a part of the holiday process to which I give serious consideration (and budget). Stockings must, by nature, be filled with small things, and, ideally, things that are FUN, too! So, what’s a gal to do? Well, gift-giving and shopping are an art, not a science, so I can’t make any claims to hard-and-fast rules about what should go in a stocking. But, generally, I like items that are practical/useful, consumable, or legitimately valuable (in my definition, this would include items of good quality, items with longevity, items that will delight because they are specifically related to the recipient, etc.). Having little traditions that carry on year-after-year is great, as well. Check out the list below for some starting points, and get to the end for some items to be wary about, if you (like me) are afraid of junk.
In the past week, I’ve read three unique posts critiquing the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox campaign. This is the charity drive that collects (in North America, Australia, NZ, UK, Finland, Germany, Spain, Japan) shoeboxes full of gifts to be sent to children in ~100 developing countries in the world. I don’t have any “skin in the game”, so to speak; I don’t have any emotional connection or long-standing history with this practice or this type of charity. No, if I’m 100% honest, my best intentions usually fall by the wayside and I miss the shoebox cutoff because it is such a busy time of year for me! But, something about the critique (or in some cases, lambasting) has piqued my interest; I’ve been thinking about it for days and I still don’t know entirely what I think. The deep cynicism (in some cases) irks me, as does the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” response. However, there are also some very compelling points. Mostly, what I’ve really craved is conversation about the topic. It’s been documented that I think being thoughtful about what we do and how we spend our money is fantastic! I am a big believer in engagement and consideration and small steps and not just doing things because that’s how we’ve done them. Since I’m not entirely sure of my stance and I want to promote good discussion, here are some conversation points that may be good starting (or continuing) places for you to engage, as well. Questions Worth Discussing About Operation Christmas Child's Shoebox Campaign (Or About Any Charity/Giving, Or About Life):
One of the very obvious responses that came across in our reader survey was that many of us love to read. Perfect, because I do, too! I’ve written book lists before, but it’s been a while, and we readers are always looking for something to read, amiright?! Last month, the book club I belong to with some long-time girlfriends picked our books for the year. A theme that popped up through the recommendations was food memoirs and other books about cooking, eating, and the role of food in one’s life. Not cookbooks, though some included recipes, but books about life, with food interweaved. I enjoy food, I’m intrigued by chefs, and I love to read glimpses into other people’s lives. Here are some foodie books on my radar, but let me know any more that I must add to my nightstand!
If you’ve never listened to Jerry Seinfeld’s bit about Halloween costumes, you must! Well, that bit along with the rest of I’m Telling You for the Last Time (which I think/laugh about every time I’m in an airport, every Olympics, as well as every Halloween... that kind of longevity IMO = Comedic Genius). Anyhow, the short version is: store bought Halloween costumes can be some of the junkiest, most terribly constructed, disappointing purchases of the year. Don’t get me wrong: some can be great; you’re never going to be able to replicate an Iron Man by craftiness the way you can buy one. And our furry Cookie Monster & Elmo suits have had a great run. But, store bought costumes can be costly, and with Nov/Dec coming around the corner post-Halloween, it may not be the right budget-blowing holiday. And the amazing costumes that are fabulously constructed and inexpensive... well, we don't know why they are so cheap and we probably don't want to know, truth be told. My pregnant self with my Paulie Bleeker The other factor, of course, is time. Home-crafted costumes can be incredibly time consuming! Even sourcing the different elements of a simple costume can be brutal. You want to be Where’s Waldo and it’s more like Where’s A Striped T-Shirt in This Thrift Store or Where’s A Dollar Store With Circle Glasses. Or, you may be completely un-“crafty” and creating something brings you dread instead of joy. Well, I’m sorry to say that as with most things in a mature, adult life: it’s tough to have it all! "Low cost, low effort, and fast" is the dream! And it isn’t always realistic. But, I’ve done a lot of Pinterest searches for Halloween costumes over the years, and I thought I would share the best of what I’ve found (that fits, as well as can be, into the dream of inexpensive, easy, fast, & not-junky). Sharing costumes between families or friends is, of course, a great ethical, environmental, and money-saving route. These costumes would work for adults or children, for the most part (though I will note that one of my most massive personal pet peeves is parents dressing their children in totally age inappropriate costumes; grade schoolers should NEVER be dressed as Walter White or Alex from A Clockwork Orange! EVER! [rant over]) Happy costuming & GOOD LUCK!
Sooo, I love a good deal. I really do. When Amazon first began gaining traction, it was my greatest delight to find something I wanted on Amazon for a fraction of the price that I could find it elsewhere. Then, I read about them being the Walmart of the internet: not much concern for anything (or anyone) but the profit statement. I heard about the Hachette debacle. I read that in the UK, Amazon uses a tax evasion practice that enables them to pay less than 0.1% in taxes. And, as my husband was helping to promote & sell a water-purification product, I learned first-hand about Amazon’s aggressively predatory pricing. That is, they constantly scour the internet marketplace for other stores selling the same products, and inch their prices a little bit lower, and lower, and lower. Amazon can still thrive as a business, even with very low margins (selling for just a tiny bit more than the price for which they bought it), because their volume of sales is so high. Small businesses cannot. It was time. The discounts could no longer sweet talk me. I needed to break up with “the Web’s biggest bully”. I had mostly been borrowing books from the library, buying used, and shopping for other items at more traditional stores (I can buy running shoes from a local running store – who knew?!). But I’ve always got my eyes open for alternatives to Amazon. Cue the trumpet fanfare: only last week, I was DELIGHTED to discover Better World Books.
I’ve heard a bit over the last few years about chocolate being bad. Not bad for you; not tasting bad (like the girl I saw walking by a chocolate fountain in my old grocery store job, who’s mom was “reminding” her that she “doesn’t like chocolate”: I’m not buying it!); but bad, like BAD for the world and the people in it. Apparently, the global demand for chocolate – for example, mini chocolate bars like the ones we give out at Halloween – has skyrocketed. And with the desire for lots of chocolate for little money, the result has been bad news. Producers need to cut costs to meet the price demands, which has often resulted in child labour or slavery in West African, cocoa producing countries like Ghana & Côte d'Ivoire. If you’re like me, you – quite frankly – don’t want to invest your heart in one more sad thing! I mean, children forced to make chocolate... there are no words. Well, whether you want to find out more about it or not (here is a fantastic article which goes into more depth about the issue), you have an inkling that it is a problem. So, what can you do? Ideas for Halloween alternatives to mainstream chocolate:
Ask my friends: I love a good book club! A few girlfriends and I started a book club in the tradition of my mother (whose group has been meeting for over 35 years!) and it is one of the highlights of my month. I also discuss books over email with my cousin who works for Bloomsbury in London. And, most recently (and hilariously), after an exchange of suggestions on deep, soul-catching books, my friend Suzanne and I started another little email book club we ominously call “Heavy Reads”! I suspect that many women visiting here are like me: I am certainly interested in global issues, and I want to have understanding and empathy for the mass of suffering, poverty, and struggle that takes place in the world. But, it’s not my passion. I can’t constantly read hard news stories, biographies from the edge, or watch endless tragic movies. This summer, watching a succession of Schindler’s List, The Impossible, and 12 Years a Slave, along with reading The Hiding Place and a book on the Liberian civil war, (as well as following some local, heart-wrenching tragedies), just about did me in! However, I so appreciate a well-written memoir, non-fiction, or novel that plunges me into a life or a place of which I would otherwise be completely oblivious. Here are a few book picks that will swell your compassion, empathy, and open up understanding of a different kind of life. Pick them up at your library or a bookstore – local or otherwise – to whom you actually want to give your money.
Last week, my second daughter turned 4, and let me tell you, this event has been a Long. Time. Coming. As happens with an older sibling and lots of pre-school aged buddies, birthday parties are on the radar BIG TIME. For me, kids’ birthday parties bring me one, massive dread: party favours! Or, in our house, where piñatas are king (queen): piñata contents. You see, if my kids return from a lunch with Grandma at McD’s (or similar), the prize/toy/doohickey generally goes directly from our car into the curbside garbage bin. And while I way prefer that no-fuss solution to the build up of clutter in our home, I cringe at the waste of it all! Now, take that concept, multiply it and concentrate it and repackage it once per year at a larger scale: Party Favours be thy name.