When we were little, our tree lay promise to great things to unwrap. Christmas morning was abuzz with excitement, although I admit it was torture waiting for Dad to finish his chores in order to begin.
Now with a family of my own, I try and slow down this time of the year to focus on thoughtful gift giving. Most years we come up with something to make like homemade vanilla to give friends and neighbors.
We also enjoy supporting other small businesses and organizations aimed at making the world a happier place. Here are a few that have made our list of gift giving and receiving.
Heat packs & eye pillows
Besides being practical, these heat packs and eye pillows are environmentally friendly. Each piece is made using repurposed fabrics and filled with organic seeds, berries and herbs, some of which come from the proprietor’s Martha’s Vineyard garden. Heat packs designed to calm aching bodies come in different sizes and a variety of fabrics and natural scents like lavender and white sage chamomile. The eye pillows are perfect for on-the-go relief.
Carrabassett Soap Company
With 14 naturally scented soaps to choose from, my favorites are Peppermint & Comfrey and Lemongrass with Calendula. These soaps moisturize rather than dry out skin, which is especially important this time of year.
Many Feet Farm
Alpaca socks & shoe insert
A friend told me about this Massachusetts farm that raises huacaya alpaca and uses their shavings for socks and shoe inserts. Their fiber is standard in the textile world, and is well known for its softness and warmth. When I checked out Many Feet’s online store, I saw they offer many more comfy items like infinity wraps, scarves, fingerless gloves, beanies and headbands.
Global Goods Partners
The goal of this socially conscious marketplace is to get women around the world out of poverty and into sustainable jobs by offering unique gifts for every age. Our favorites include the Hammered Brass Metallic Beaded Earrings and Large Hammered Silver Candle for women; Recycled Tire Wallet and Travel Kit for men; and the Knit Alpaca Stuffed Bunny and Felt Forest Pals Puppet Bag for kids.
I’ve been dropping hints lately, but I’ll have to wait until Dec. 25 to find out if they’ve been noted. I love the simplistic design of this Maine-made jewelry and the fact that the designer choses to use only sterling silver from recycled sources. Not only am I drawn to the jewelry, I support their mission to give back to their local community.
Blast Off Bath Kit
What child wouldn’t love a fizzy bath inspired by the moon and planets above? My son certainly would! So when I came across Miss Moonmaker’s bucket of all-natural, allergen-free moon rocks (sea salts), a shooting star (bath fizzie), planets (mini bath fizzies) and a wooden scoop made in Maine, I quickly added it to my son’s gift list.
About 10 years ago, my husband and I first visited Wolf Hollow in coastal Massachusetts, a sanctuary for endangered gray wolves. We were headed to the area earlier this month so we asked our son, Graham, if he wanted to visit.
He agreed and started his research on Wolf Hollow’s website weeks before the trip. There he saw he could adopt a wolf.
It was perfect timing. We were helping Graham look for an organization to donate to from his “give” jar (he also has “spend and “save” jars). He picked out a wolf and on our recent visit he met Linnea. Graham feels great about his contribution and my husband and I are thrilled with our son’s empathy.
That got me thinking, as I pluck the many catalogs out of our mailbox this time of year, how else can we teach children that it is better to give than to receive?
Wolves may not be your thing, but there are plenty of other ways to instill this valuable lesson. Here are a few:
Visit a Hospital: Not all children are living the good life. Those in hospitals, especially, are struggling through the holidays. Pack up stuffed animals in great condition and visit some of these kids. Remember to call the hospital first to arrange.
Throw a Party: Everyone loves a good time. Invite friends and family to a Toys for Tots potluck and ask everyone to bring an unopened toy. Gifts can be dropped off at a local chapter of this U.S. Marines-run program.
Lend a Hand: From soup kitchens and shelters to visiting a convalescent home, volunteering your time is a great way to spread holiday cheer.
Break the Piggy Bank: Pick a non-profit and have your children donate from their own pockets. Take the giving a step further and help them raise extra cash for the cause by doing chores or mowing a neighbor’s lawn.
Surprise a Family: We’ve all been down on our luck at some point in our lives. Identify a family or individual who could use a break and put together a holiday gift basket for them.
Pamper a Pup: If you can’t adopt them, you can still spoil them. You can get inexpensive dog food and toys from the dollar store then drop them off at your local animal shelter.
Think of Others: Whether it’s a smile, good morning salutation or some other small gesture, teach your children to think of others and make everyone’s day a little brighter.
We’ve teamed up with our friends at SoulShine Soap Company to bring you an amazing Laundry Bundle giveaway. Enter to win a Pure & Simple Gift Box with 3 LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls, SoulShine’s Laundry soap and Laundry Stain Stick.
*Shipping Included. Available within contiguous 48 US only.*
Winner will be selected on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.
Growing up on a farm, life was defined by the seasons.
Fall was my favorite. This was a time of cleaning up and hunkering down for a dormant winter. Since I was the youngest, my sister and I spent the days indoors while my dad, mom and older sister harvested the fields.
Inside, the kitchen was an organized mess, at least for three weeks. Mason jar lids were sterilized in boiling water. About two dozen of the jars covered the counters as my mom canned anything placed in front of her—green beans, beets, carrots.
My mom had to quickly prepare peas for freezing otherwise they would spoil. One year when Dad got harvested peas from a neighbor, enough to fill my mom’s brand new trashcan. Mom blanched and bagged about two-thirds of the large container before bedtime. Surely the rest spoiled by morning.
Sweet corn was cut off the cob with an unusual-looking tool that had a thick wood board with an extremely large nail sticking out of the middle. The corn was shoved onto the nail so my mom could then cut it off the cob. In winter, we enjoyed fresh corn straight from the freezer. In fact, we had two chest-type freezers in the basement. This is also where our canned goods and jars of jams, jellies and preserves were stored on shelves. We especially enjoyed the canned peaches and pears since we did not care for the frozen variety.
During the winter Mom did a lot of baking. Of course, most made it to the freezer, however, some of the sweets would disappear from there.
Other farmers’ wives also were tethered to their kitchen during this time. The women would swap recipes and ideas with each other. We shared our overabundance with friends and neighbors and they, in turn, shared jars of applesauce and tomato sauce and loaves of zucchini bread.
These long days of harvesting often lasted into the evening. Mom would prepare dinner earlier in the day as she and my sister shuttled between the house and field. Dad was rarely available to join us for dinner. Many years we sacrificed traditions like our annual Thanksgiving feast.
But soon we were rewarded with a slower pace and more family time. Despite the hard work, it was an exciting time.
At 78, my dad still toils in his garden in Canada. Much of my family has relocated to larger towns and adopted more of a city life. And although I have a small garden that keeps me busy, I haven’t managed to continue the ritual of canning and preserving.
Today, I enjoy the goodness that grows in our yard and the hard work it takes to make that happen. My husband appreciates the garden and my son loves watching it grow. This year he harvested a handful of pumpkins and is determined to see more next season.
It’s an amazing experience to witness seeds grow into plants and to be able to share those fruit and vegetables with friends who return home and make food of their own. Although I no longer live on a farm, I am fortunate to have a strong work ethic sowed in the fields and fond memories of this special season growing up in a close-knit community.
Ever since we unveiled our PeaceFelt Collection, the response has been overwhelming. Everyone loves the look and feel of these felted wool rings, but some are wondering: Just what can we do with them?
Our response? Just about anything! But first, sprinkle on a few drops of 100 percent pure essential oil in your favorite scent. Then check out a few of our favorite uses:
Freshen Drawers. Any of our Peacefelt rings will do the job, but the neutral-hued Mindful ring will fit right in with any mix of hues.
Hang It. PeaceFelt rings are a natural way to infuse scent into a room or closet, one of their most popular uses. Simply hang from a hook, door, drawer knob or even a bedpost and enjoy.
Style It. Add a ring to a dish of potpourri or an apothecary jar of shells. The Seaglass PeaceFelt, offered during the summer months only, would look right at home among a grouping of frosted sea glass. The Summer ring, also a limited release, reflects the rich, flowery blooms of the season.
Get into Gear. No matter what you do, your car will never smell like a pine tree, coconut or a new car. Rather than an artificially scented hangtag, freshen your car naturally with a PeaceFelt ring and a favorite scent.
Calming Baby. Experts believe aromatherapy can encourage calmness and relaxation and improve sleep and we agree. Soothe your newborn with the Love ring sprinkled with an essential oil such as lavender or Roman chamomile.
Meditation Aid. The folk practice of gently rubbing stones has proven to help self soothe. Experience similar therapeutic benefits with a PeaceFelt ring. The vibrant colors of the Hope ring were chosen to inspire optimism and creative possibilities, making it an ideal choice.
Wear It. There’s nothing more relaxing than the great outdoors. The Earth ring is a reminder of nature’s hues especially when worn around the wrist. In fact, green is believed to hold great healing power and blue benefits the mind and body.
Work Mate. The Joy PeaceFelt is a great choice for an office desk drawer or desktop. The bursts of color amid the soothing creams add a hint of color without drawing much attention.
PeaceFelts aren’t just a pretty ring of wool stones. With the right essential oil, you can calm a worried mind, lift your spirits or simply freshen a room.
While you can add just about any essence to our PeaceFelt rings, we recommend using 100 percent pure essential oils (as opposed to aroma-grade or fragrance-grade oils). Essential oil enthusiast Marcie Howard suggests the following Young Living oils:
|PeaceFelt Ring||Essential Oil||Benefit|
This obvious choice would lift your emotions and bring joy to your day!
Because we all know the effort it takes to get to the beach!
To keep spirits uplifted and bellies calm.
To help you de-stress and rejuvenate.
This oil helps us get back what we put out. Be loving and you'll get love back—in abundance!
For their calming, centering and stress-reducing properties.
||Cedarwood, Lavender and Vetiver||
To bring things into focus so you can be in the moment and very mindful of each thing you do.
||Frankincense, German chamomile, Ginger
To stay centered in mediation, to dispel anger and to promote confidence.
|Unity||Harmony||To create spiritual and emotional harmony by bringing about a harmonic balance to the chakras allowing us to relax and feel safe and secure.|
Handbag designer Natalie DiBello uses an unlikely sustainable material for her collection: cork.
This isn’t your wine bottle stopper variety. It’s actually thinly shaved cork adhered to cotton fabric. Natalie buys bolts in bulk from vendors in Portugal, the world’s top supplier. Once it arrives, she gets to work sewing each item in her Massachusetts home studio. It’s the ultimate handmade product; Natalie is on target to personally cut, sew, tag and pack 10,000 items by the end of the year.
Some are calling cork the new leather. That suits Natalie just fine.
“People love it; it’s eye-catching because it’s unusual,” Natalie says. “It’s been important for me from the beginning to stay small yet sustainable and focus on something that is eco friendly.”
Natalie started designing purses when she left her corporate job eight years ago. After much trial and error, and a recommendation from her architect sister who was familiar with the durability and versatility of cork, Natalie made the switch from “funky cotton prints.” Her first year—2009—she sold 100 handbags. Today her bags are available at more than 150 retail and online stores nationwide.
Through her company Natalie Therése, Natalie has created more than a dozen handbag styles, from totes to cross body bags. Accessories include wallets and pencil cases. Last year, Natalie added the Be Lively digitally printed line featuring a global-inspired mosaic tile design.
Prices are competitive with wallets starting at $14 and handbags at $142, making it fashionable and affordable. The lightweight material is also soft, easy to clean, stain-resistant and waterproof.
This summer Natalie Therése will unveil a backpack with the line’s signature faux leather accent in lime green, red, navy or black at the base.
“My work is very gratifying, I love what I do,” Natalie says. “I’m not going to pretend it’s not really hard at times, trying to break through the next level of creating something new. But everything I’m doing is coming from me and that feels really cool.”
Want to see Natalie’s handbags and accessories for yourself? Visit natalietherese.com.
*GIVEAWAY* Comment below with your favorite color wristlet (visit NatalieTherese.com) and be entered to win one small wristlet and also receive a LooHoo 5-Pack. A winner will be announced July 31, 2017.
In honor of Father’s Day, reader Rachel Lee shared a sweet photo of her husband cradling their newborn son for the first time.
“He's been a great partner to me for almost four years and he’s been the best dad for a year and a half,” Lee writes. “He always puts our son above everything else and any day they spend together is a great day!”
Check out how some of our readers enjoy spending their ideal Daddy and Me day.
“The kids love when Daddy takes them down to the Fun Zone at the beach. Arcade games, ice cream cones and quality Daddy and kiddos time.”
“The perfect Daddy and Me day would be taking the kids fishing.”
“Dad and son biking!”
“My son loves running errands and picnics in the park with daddy.”
“Looking at birds together.”
“Going out to the park and throwing the football!”
“Working on projects as a family or fishing.”
“I like playing tennis and going for a bike ride with my dad.”
“My son and my husband like to look for frogs. They go to the parks and spend almost all day doing it.”
“Anytime the whole family is together is a great day. The kids love their daddy, and I think he's pretty awesome, too!”
If you’re trying to get a hold of Lauriejane Kelley, you won’t catch her by phone. You may even miss her at home. Where you will find her is in the garden at Steeplebush Farm Herbs.
Lauriejane is a purveyor of flowers and uncommon herbs used for healing and in the kitchen. She had been organic gardening for years when she left her subdivision and headed for farm life in Limington, Maine, in 1984. That same year she hurriedly cleaned up the 35-acre farm (with some help from her small flock of sheep), cleared out an outhouse and opened a nursery and gift shop.
They were humble beginnings, to say the least.
“I would pray someone would come up the driveway at least one to three times a week,” Lauriejane recalls.
Things have changed over the years. For example, the outhouse is gone. Instead, the farm boasts a two-story greenhouse and a new gift shop built by Lauriejane’s husband.
Every fall, on Veteran’s Day weekend, Steeplebush hosts a three-day open house as part of The Snowflake Trail, a progressive-style shopping experience featuring a dozen small businesses in the area. At Steeplebush the barn transforms into a fantastic retail space featuring wreaths, handwork and one-of-a-kind items made by Lauriejane and other artisans. In the greenhouse visitors may find quilters, woodcarvers, jewelry makers and basket weavers working on their designs and answering questions.
Before the shop closes in December there’s plenty to do. Lauriejane shows visitors how to spruce up their holidays with birdhouses made with all-natural gingerbread bases and decorated with birdseed and wheat roofs. Or, how to make a centerpiece with dried fruit, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.
Downtime through May gives Lauriejane a break to focus on Steeplebush’s own line of lotions, liquid soaps, lip balm, teas and cooking oils. In fact, everything sold at Steeplebush is handmade. Lauriejane supports the local economy, evidenced by the items in her gift shop.
So when she came across LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls at a trade show two years ago, she was thrilled to discover they were made in Maine.
“I had been carrying wool dryer balls but they had no packaging; I had to package them myself,” Lauriejane says. “LooHoo’s packaging is exquisite—it explains what the product is. They are great quality and have a great sense of color.”
After the snow melts and spring arrives, the farm is aflutter with activity. Vibrant heliotrope and fragrant jasmine bloom. Sucker trees are trimmed. The raised beds are cleaned out.
These days Steeplebush attracts a steady stream of visitors. While some come for landscaping ideas or planting tips, Lauriejane also welcomes anyone who simply wants to meander through the property.
“I really want people to feel it is worth the trip to come out to the farm,” she says. “I love sharing with people and am always willing to answer questions.”
For more information about the shop and farm, visit steeplebush.com.
Note: My two sisters and I were raised on a farm in North Buxton, Ontario. Our grandparents lived down the road, as did many of our uncles, aunts and cousins. Our one-story house had a huge yard surrounded by large barns and hundreds of acres of fields. We raised pigs and beef cattle and grew soybeans, wheat, hay and seed corn. My older sister, Jackie, remembers farm life most vividly. Here she shares some of her memories.
There were two words you would never say growing up on a farm: I’m bored.
Not only would you immediately be given something to do, but chances are it would be the most mundane, labor-intensive job possible. And there was no option. There was no “How much will you pay me?” You just did it.
Luckily our father or grandfather would offer a small pittance to make the task more palatable, so there was some incentive. Picking up loose corncobs around the corncrib could net 25 cents a bushel, which was a lot of money when you’re 6 years old.
One entire summer I fed pigs and received $100, in $5 bills no less! I couldn’t believe my newfound wealth. I remember sitting on the living room floor and throwing all those bills in the air like confetti.
Of course, I did what I would do now: I spent it on clothes.
When not in school, or eating or sleeping, I was outside. I would ride my bike for hours, hang out in the barns making friends with our cows and pigs and run through the pasture trying to catch flying grasshoppers. The corncrib became a huge slide – I’d climb inside and scale the collapsing pile of cobs and slide to the bottom where my dogs would be waiting for me.
As a young girl, I was alone a lot. Not only because of the age difference between my sisters and I, but also because of the distance we lived from other families. My companions were my two farm dogs, who accompanied me through the fields and nearby creek and shared a lopsided teepee I would build with scrap wood and an old blanket.
My playground was the haymow. Bales were sometimes stacked 20 feet high next to each other along with straw that had busted away from their twine. I spent hours in the mow, making forts and leaping off teetering bales into the loose straw. The scariest areas were the open sections to the barnyard below. One wrong jump and I would have landed in manure up to my neck!
At the end of the day, I’d be filthy with scratches all over my arms and legs and hair full of straw.
Farm life also put me years ahead of other children. I remember being on the riding mower for the first time at age 6, and running over a sapling Dad had just planted because I wasn’t strong enough to stand on the clutch to stop the mower. After hearing my screams, he quickly ran to help. He dried my tears and assured me that all was okay. Then he sent me down the next row as he returned to the barn.
He believed in teaching by doing and never made a difference because I was a girl.
My arch nemesis was an ancient tractor they called “old faithful.” I believe it was from the 1930s – at least it seemed like it. The tractor had a cast iron seat and wooden knob on the steering wheel. At my age (under 10), I had to literally stand on the clutch with both feet to slow down and switch gears. It was the same tractor Dad had me drive up and down the fields, pulling a wagon of teen guys hired for the day to bale straw.
Of course, I would let the clutch out too quickly, tossing everyone off the wagon or causing the stacked bales to fall. I would be in tears but Dad would come up, show me again how to ease the clutch and off I would go…until the next time.
Repetitiveness and embarrassment certainly sped up the learning process.
I learned to drive the farm truck quite early, too. Starting at age 11 or 12, I often got off the school bus and headed to the fields to help with baling or raking – driving the tractor until it was too dark to continue or Mom called us for supper.
Oftentimes, I was sent to local farm dealerships for fertilizer or machinery parts if Mom and Dad were in the field and had broken down. So by the time I legally got my driver’s license, I had been driving for four years. That was the norm in a farming community.
In high school, extra-curricular activities were sometimes out of the question. Depending on the time of year, we were expected in the field and chores needed to be done. Animals had to be fed. I couldn’t get a ride to and from events if our parents were in the field. In fact, I don’t remember them ever coming to a track meet or a volleyball game.
Although there would be a twinge of resentment, it was understood that farming was our livelihood and involved the whole family. And besides, it was no different for my friends who were also working on their family farms.
Farming was hard, manual work. But we were surrounded by relatives who also farmed. We were doing it together. At harvest, those who were finished would help those who still needed help.
With working hard came playing hard. I remember our parents hosting or going to house parties to celebrate the end of season in the fall and snowmobile parties in the winter.
It was a time of bittersweet memories that forever shaped my views and beliefs. I have long moved off of the family farm, however, my husband and I do live in the country. Our farmhouse is surrounded by acres of farmland, a constant reminder of the richness of farm life and growing up in this close-knit community.
Farm + Table in Maine helps create a heartfelt home with unique items created by American artisans and apprentices.
Maine welcomes millions of visitors a year. Many return home, dream of a life there one day.
Three years ago, Liz and Bruce Andrews built that life. They also built a house and a new business that same year.
For Liz, a longtime merchandiser, and Bruce, an options trader, retirement came soon enough. They said goodbye to Chicago’s brutal winters but just weren’t the type to idly sit back, watching this new phase in their lives uneventfully pass by.
They loved their New England life and wanted to contribute in some way. A red 1880s barn in town was available for rent and they decided to jump into the retail ring. In 2015, Farm + Table opened in Kennebunkport, less than two hours north of Boston near Cape Porpoise.
This is no ordinary shop; it’s a tour for the senses. Friendly staff is there to greet you upon entry, offering their latest sampling—lotions, jams, cocktail mixes, sweet and savory treats. Visitors don’t just see what they have for sale; they learn about them.
Sous Sweet caramels were discovered about seven years ago at a local farmer’s market and are the tastiest you’ll find, Bruce asserts.
“We sell thousands a year,” Bruce says.
A couple of years ago, Liz came across a wooden serving board made by a local artisan. She fell in love and bought it as a gift for Bruce. The owner walked into Farm + Table one day and an instant connection was formed.
Today, Steve Doe’s cutting and serving boards, made from 200-year-old reclaimed wood, are proudly on display and selling well.
Cashiers Condiment Shop jams and jellies from Appalachian Harvest have a strong following. Owners Kimberly and Kevin Baldwin are friends from South Carolina.
“We have personal relationships with each vendor, we consider them friends,” Bruce says. “We are proud to support their small businesses, help put their kids through school or help pay their electric bill.”
The welcoming setting showcases the warmth of a home and elements that help create one. Picture gifts tied in burlap, carved black walnut bowls and candles hand-poured in repurposed wine bottles perfectly placed on rustic wood tables.
“Items that celebrate entertaining and hospitality,” Bruce says.
Church bells ring in the distance and locals stop by regularly, sometimes just to say “hi.”
The shop is open nine months a year, April through December, giving the proprietors time to travel for a few weeks and look for the next season’s great finds.
Nearly everything at Farm + Table is American made, save for the linens, which are imported from Canada and Lithuania. At gift shows, Liz and Bruce bypass the busy vendors and seek out “the needle in the haystack,” Bruce says. That’s how they came across LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls.
“We use them ourselves every day,” Bruce says. “In the shop, we tell everyone they are 100 percent Maine wool, reducing dry time and replace fabric softener. They sell themselves.”