Christmas Shopping

When I first read this article in my Tumblr feed I was, of course, immediately horrified. I couldn’t stop wondering what kind of person it took to literally step over a dying man and do nothing. It was easy to sit on my computer in judgment of all those apathetic shoppers who passed this gentleman by rather than stop to help him. But the more I thought about this story and the many other disturbing stories to come out of this year’s Black Friday shopping institution, the more I realized that people (myself included) participate in this kind of behavior in small ways all the time. Everything we purchase passes through hundreds of hands before finding its way into our shopping cart. Do we think about all those people – the conditions in which they labored, whether they were paid a living wage, the safety or sustainability of the production or materials they worked with – before we head to the checkout? The truth is every time I eat an M&M I am figuratively stepping over the children in Africa who are forced into slave labor for the cocoa industry. Every time I tie the laces of my tennis shoes I symbolically and indifferently pass by the young men and women in China working 18 hours a day in dangerous factories to make them for me. Am I really much better than those Black Friday shoppers at Target?

I believe we were created to live in community with one another, both in close proximity and far. And what I buy can and does make a difference to people all around the world. I want that difference to be positive rather than negative. So, I'd like to think that I wouldn't ignore the dying man in Target, but I also shouldn't ignore the teenager sewing t-shirts in Bangladesh, the old farmer bent over in the South American sun picking coffee beans for pennies a day, or even the employee at the register at the big box store making minimum wage with no benefits.

This Christmas I’m struggling to make a list of gifts that I want that won’t damage the earth or its people. I’m not sure it’s possible, but I’m going to try my best. I'll also try to keep you posted, though my blogging track record isn't exactly exemplary lately.

Photo: macten


Organic Alternatives - halloween candy

Halloween is right around the corner and my husband is gearing up like crazy! He has dry ice, a strobe light, spooky music, lots of creepy props like skeletons and gravestones, and he even downloaded some videos of scary images to project on the window. I am afraid the kids will be too scared to even come to the door! Well, they might be scared of our decorations, but there's nothing scary in our candy this year. We chose fair trade and organic treats from the Natural Candy Store.Here is a great article I came across that summarizes why we feel it's so important to purchase fair trade chocolate candy. We chose Endangered Species mini chocolates. Not only is the chocolate fair trade, but they also give back a portion of their profits to help protect endangered wildlife around the world. We also got a few packages of Surf Sweets Jelly Beans for the kids with the really good costumes. And we stocked up on these fantastic little YummyEarth lollipops that come in real fruit flavors like blood orange, mango and apple. It's not too late to buy some ethical Halloween treats yourself! In fact, today is the last day for standard shipping!


Organic Alternatives - lulu life body butter

For a long time I was loyal to The Body Shop for all of my skin care needs. I appreciated their commitment to community trade and I loved how their products worked. I was disappointed to learn that even though they were progressive in some areas, they were still using lots of harmful chemicals in their production... like parabens. So, I have been slowly replacing my Body Shop products as they run out with safer and more organic alternatives. This hasn't always been easy. For example, I was not happy with the first alternative I tried to my favorite Body Shop body butter. It smelled too 'foody' and it was really greasy and sat on top of my skin rather than soaked into it. Because of this, I was hesitant to order another skin care product like it from the internet without being able to try it first, but took a chance on Lulu Life when it came up for sale on Pure Citizen.Shea butter has long been touted for its incredible moisturizing and even healing properties. But it mostly grows in places where workers are often exploited, like east Africa. Lulu Life is working to remedy that problem by working directly with a women's cooperative in Sudan. They purchase the shea nuts at fair prices and organically process them into butter themselves, so there are no middlemen. 100% of the profit goes to the cooperative. You can purchase the Virgin Sudanese Shea Butter as is, or they will add a natural oil to it for you at no extra cost. I chose to add some lavender. It is hands down the best lotion I have ever used in my life. The fragrance is sweet and subtle and it absorbs immediately into my skin, making it soft and smooth all day. I can't recommend it enough. Go get some!


Meaningful Purchase - August - mata traders top

Later this fall, Grand Rapids is on schedule to open its very first Anthropologie. About a year and a half ago when I heard this news, I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement. Anthro has been my favorite store for as long as I can remember. I never made a trip to Chicago without stopping there to paw through the sale rack (it's way to expensive for me to ever pay full price), I obsessively watched their website for mark-downs (they happen every Tuesday morning at 5am - I said I was obsessed), and I even followed some Anthro-themed blogs for a short time (indeed, there are entire blogs dedicated to shopping at just one store).

But, as you are probably anticipating, my love for Anthropologie has waned over the past year. Partly, I think it's because it has become increasingly more popular and well-known. (One of the things I always loved about it was that very few people in my community would shop there or had even heard of it, so I always felt special wearing one of their pieces.) But mostly, I can no longer support their various unethical practices. When I first started this project, I figured that giving up Anthropologie would be really difficult. Now, I don't even really enjoy looking at their catalog when it comes in the mail. Oh, I still think their clothes are beautiful, don't get me wrong. There are just too many other things wrong with the company for me to be excited about it any more. (I would encourage you to take a look at those three links if you have the time.)

My meaningful purchase for August did not come from Anthropologie, but I think it manages to capture some of their style that I have always admired. My husband likes to tease me for having an addiction to 'flowy tops'. He is right, of course, and this top is no exception. I bought it in Chicago at the Andersonville Galleria. It was made fairly in India and sold by Mata Traders.I love how the body is full and blousy, but the square neckline gives it some structure, so it doesn't just look like pajamas. The colors are bright and the print is vibrant. It looks great with skinny jeans. I don't miss Anthropologie when there are beautiful and ethical clothes like this available. In fact, I think I'm going to add this top to my Christmas list.


Eco Friendly Food Storage - lunchbots and lunchskins

This semester I have to be in class at MSU at different times during the week, many of which overlap with a usual meal. But, I don't have a fridge accessible to me and finding a microwave can also be a pain sometimes (especially when I need to eat during class). I wanted to find a way to transport room temperature food that didn't use plastic or paper disposable bags. I had seen quite a few different options on the internet like this and these. But none of them were feeling like just what I needed. Then, I came across LunchBots. They are great! They are made entirely of stainless steel and come in a variety of sizes. And I was able to find them at a local retailer which was also a plus.
While I was there picking one up, I came across this gem of a creation by lunchskins. It is the perfect size to hold a peanut butter sandwich. It closes securely with velcro. And the absolute best thing of all is that it's dishwasher safe so it's super easy to clean!! (which is great since I use natural peanut butter that tends to be a bit drippy.)
With these two storage containers and my stainless steel water bottle, I've now got a 100% waste free lunch or dinner I can take with me anywhere! yay.


ArtPrize Re-Framing Project - frame usa

Last year at this time I had the awesome opportunity to show some of my art at Grand Rapids' very own worldwide art competition, ArtPrize. It was such a fun experience and certainly a humbling one to invite the public to scrutinize some of my creative work. If you want to read my artist statement, you can click here. You can also watch a really cool video that my husband made about my creative process here. Below is a picture of my entry which showed at The Factory in the building above San Chez restaurant.Once ArtPrize was over, we had to decide what we were going to do with these 5 huge frames. My project was more conceptual than aesthetic, so we really weren't planning on hanging it up as it was in our house (we don't have the wall space anyway). However, we didn't want to just get rid of it either. So, we decided to re-use the large frames for other photos and then re-cut the mattes from my project and put them in smaller 5x7 frames to hang in our hallway.

All we needed were 5 identical simple black 5x7 frames that were ethically made out of sustainable and eco-friendly material. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, that's what I thought at first, too....

Since we started this project or new lifestyle or whatever you want to call it, we've been avoiding big box stores pretty much entirely. (I haven't been to Target since February!) But there are some things that we have found really difficult to purchase locally. It's certainly easy to go to Goodwill or yard sales to find used picture frames for cheap. But it would be rare indeed to find 5 identical frames like the ones we needed. After looking all over the internet for fair trade picture frames that fit our criteria for sustainability, I was officially discouraged. So, I broke and decided we should just go to Hobby Lobby. Well, we walked in... looked for about 5 minutes in the frame aisle... and it was just 'made in china, made in china, made in china' as far as the eye could see... so, we turned around and walked right back out.

I decided I was going to have to lower my standards a bit if I was going to find what I wanted, so I started searching the internet for frames that were at least made in the USA. Finally! I found 5 black frames from Frame USA that were not only made here, but were also made out of eco-friendly wood composite. I re-cut the mattes and pounded some metal hangars on the back of the frames and they were ready to go. They are currently a part of our new hallway gallery that I will feature on the blog sometime in the next couple weeks. Get excited! Cuz it's really cool.


Meaningful Purchases - greenheart shop and renegade handmade

First, my apologies. I know it's been a long time since I've posted. I guess I didn't realize how much work this blog would be when I'm trying to balance it with 3 grad classes and 2 teaching assistantships. I am going to try to make it my goal to post twice a week and we'll see how it goes. Thanks for the encouragement from those of you who wanted to see more posts! It makes me feel special.

OK, as promised. Here are some details about the purchases we made in Chicago. We were in need of a new candle to burn for home air freshening purposes and found this one at GreenHeart Shop that was made by a woman named Jemima. Jemima works with a non-profit enterprise called Bright Endeavors that helps inner city and homeless young women gain skills to become self-sufficient and successful adults. They use recycled glass containers, soy wax and natural fragrances. This one is 'Lemon Tea.' It smells lovely. It doesn't quite have the same power to fill the room with fragrance as other candles we've tried, but we love the cause and the blue glass is very pretty.
We also picked up some natural fair trade birthday candles made in Thailand through Global Exchange. We plan to use them in many cakes for many birthdays for many years to come.Also, from Green Heart Shop we found these metal bird sculptures that are hand made out of 55 gallon oil drums by artisans in Haiti. We haven't found the perfect place to hang them in our house yet, but we love the hand-hammered look and brushed metal patina.Speaking of birds... we also bought this small watercolor bird print from Renegade Handmade and hung it in a vintage frame I found at an estate sale some years back. It fit perfectly! It's titled "Fall." Don't you love the colors? I can't find the package it came in with the artist's name, but I do think it's an original, not a copy.

It's good to be back! More soon...