No matter how hard we might try, finding the perfect gift is scientifically unfeasible. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, we give gifts that we think will reflect well on us and endear us to the recipient—not what the recipient actually wants.
This year skip the search for the perfect item and instead bestow the gift of a great time. Compared with material goods, experiences bring more happiness, according to research published in Psychological Science. When people spend resources on experiences instead of stuff, they get an uptick in happiness and excitement in advance of the experience that outpaces the boost given by the anticipation of a material good. Experiences trump material goods when it comes to long-term happiness, too. Experiences offer a social element, so we can build up relationships with them, and once the experience is over, it’s something we can discuss with others. (A trip to Japan is much more interesting conversation fodder than describing the features of a new camera.) Read on for just a few ideas for fun, experiential gifts.
1) SUBSCRIPTION SANTA
A well-chosen subscription service makes for a perfectly practical gift that delivers for months to come. Here are some of our favorites:
When it comes to food delivery, few subscriptions can beat the do-good feeling of Love with Food. Every month, your foodie friend will receive a box filled with organic and all-natural snacks based on seasonal items. What's more, for every box sold, a meal is donated to food banks such as the Feeding America Network and Share Our Strength-No Kid Hungry. $8 a month, Love with Food
Thrill your favorite bookworm with a subscription to a book-delivery service. The indie ebook store Emily Books will automatically upload a carefully selected ebook to their device every month. Or for commuters, try an Audible subscription, so your pal can download any audiobook that strikes her fancy. $14 a month, Emily Books; $15, Audible
Vinesse offers an "Earth-Friendly Wine Club," which will send your loved one wines from vineyards that use age-old farming methods to become self-sustaining ecosystems. You can select the number of bottles and frequency. From $42 to $276. Vinesse
2) CULINARY ARTS
Taking a cooking class together is a fun undertaking, and results in new skills that can be practiced daily. Read on for more ideas:
Check your local co-op for a variety of cooking classes. The staff may also be aware of local butchers, cheese makers and more who offer classes to interested parties.
Pastry is a delicate art, and a class can help you learn technique and have fun making treats together. Culinary schools sometimes offer recreational classes (such as those at the Institute of Culinary Education), but you can also explore the prospect of classes at local pastry shops or specialty stores.
Williams-Sonoma offers a variety of cooking classes at its locations around the country. There are classes for kids, cookbook club classes, technique classes and more traditional cooking classes.
Sur la Table also rolls out a full menu of cooking classes each season. Visit their website to see a full list of class offerings.
3) ADVENTURE TOGETHER
Trying something out-of-the-ordinary can make for lasting memories—as a bonus the right recipient will be thrilled with the unexpected nature of the gift. Keep reading for more info:
An afternoon of rock climbing can be an adventure by itself, or it may turn into a full-fledged hobby for you both to share. Find climbing gyms across the U.S.
Taekwondo, an ancient martial art, can be fun for the entire family. To explore the adventure of taking a class together, check out this great directory of schools across the nation.
Jumping out of a plane definitely constitutes adventure. Find out whether skydiving might be ideal for your adventure experience by looking up the dropzone nearest you.
Hit the highway for a road trip. Whether you simply want to treat your loved one to unexpected sights and hideaways near home or strike out for the opposite coast, the planning website Roadtrippers can help you find attractions, scenic routes and places to stay.
Check out these five ideas for experience-based gifts.
A meal at their Favorite Restaurant
It might sound boring, but few things are better than a free meal at your favorite spot.
• Or share the gift of a home-cooked meal.
Tickets to an Event
An evening of togetherness out on the town can’t be beat.
• Consider tickets to a concert, a play, the symphony or a sporting event.
A Family Trip
Skip all the stuff this year, and take the family on an adventure instead.
• You could also consider a couples trip or a getaway with friends you don’t see often.
Gift of Relaxation
Depending on your recipient’s needs, consider a massage, a spa treatment, an acupressure session or a yoga class.
• You could even arrange to pick them up afterward for lunch.
Check out resources near your recipient’s home that offer events of interest.
• Check into botanical gardens, a national park, a wildlife refuge or an amusement park.
Photo by iStock.
WHY THEY'RE CRUCIAL: We want everyone, not just the more fortunate among us, to have the chance to relish the joy and abundance of the holiday season. Unfortunately, more than 46.5 million people face hunger in the U.S., including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. The good news is that for 35 years, Feeding America has worked to bridge the gap between food waste and those in need. The Feeding America network of food banks secure donated food from farmers, manufacturers, retailers and government organizations. These donations are distributed to local food pantries and meal programs around the country, providing more than 3 billion meals to people across the U.S.
WHAT THEY DO:
• Run a network of 200 food banks across the country
• Provide safe and nurturing places for children to have a meal
• Distribute food that helps seniors meet their specific nutritional needs
• Advocate on behalf of food-insecure Americans through a policy staff based in Washington, D.C., and through the Hunger Action Center, a grassroots online advocacy center
HOW WE CAN HELP: Throughout the duration of this issue, we’re collecting donations to this important charity. To join our efforts, visit Feeding America. Or mail donations directly to Feeding America at P.O. Box 96749, Washington, D.C. 20090-6749. Include the fundraiser name, Mother Earth Living Gives Back, on the envelope or check, if you wish. It’s our goal to collect $2,500 for Feeding America.
DID YOU KNOW...
• 15.8 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2013.
• 7 million seniors age 60 and older are served by Feeding America each year—as well as nearly 6 million adults between the ages of 50 and 59.
• In 2013, 14 percent of households nationwide were food-insecure.
• Food insecurity exists in every county in America.
A study by Nielsen reveals that 55 percent of online consumers in 60 countries would pay more for products and services from companies with a focus on social responsibility. Among those surveyed, 52 percent said they have purchased at least one product or service from a socially-responsible company within the past six months.
Retailers and manufacturers are responding to the call for more environmentally-friendly products. However, choosing sustainable options in your everyday life extends past the food you eat and transportation you use. It’s entirely possible to redesign your life with sustainability in mind, from how you accessorize to the pet food you buy. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Photo by shutterstock.
Make a positive difference in the environment by searching for furniture makers and retailers through the Sustainable Furnishings Council. This organization offers education in green home furnishings and certified training for manufacturers and retailers. The organization's members work to reduce carbon emissions and waste pollutants and to use materials from sustainable sources.
Non-sustainable jewelry is often mined by stripping surface soils and using harmful chemicals that lead to soil erosion and contamination. Fortunately, it's possible to enjoy fine jewelry and accessories while still making ethical choices. Ritani collaborates with the World Gold Council to create jewelry with a green gold hue made from 80 percent 18 karat gold. They also use recycled sterling silver and recycled 18 karat yellow gold for its SLANE collection. Spending a little more for sustainable options can last longer than their cheaper counterparts and help the environment at the same time.
You can even make sustainable choices for how you communicate. Fairphone works to integrate materials for their products that support local economies. Its manufacturers are also invested in worker's safety and well-being. Consider how much waste smartphones add to the planet: PC Advisor claims that the average iPhone is broken within 10 weeks or less. Instead of striving to sell new phones, Fairphone designs its products to be durable and to have the ability to be easily repaired.
Skip the cheap, plastic sunglasses at the drugstore and pick up sustainable options instead. Companies like Grown sell sustainable and organic sunglasses and frames. Founded by a group of surfers and shore dwellers, the team uses its proceeds to help fund sight-restoring surgery or eye exams for adults and children. Grown uses durable bamboo, Zebrawood and other hardwoods that are free from toxic elements.
Natural Pet Food
What your pets eat can make a contribution to sustainable living. Choose pet food that is produced from companies that use natural ingredients and sustainable practices. Purina works to responsibly source ingredients, water and raw materials. It also uses recycled packaging and transportation methods that optimize sustainability. The company's employees also focus on recycling and environmentally-friendly volunteer events to raise awareness about other eco-friendly practices.
Eco-Conscious Hair Care
Don't let your hair have a negative impact on the environment. Sustainable companies, like Davines, use natural ingredients and are involved in projects that help benefit and protect the environment. Davines partners with nonprofit organizations, such as the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, to help alleviate world hunger by planting orchards where they can serve the community for generations. The partners also fight against global warming and strengthen communities. Davines also contributes part of its proceeds, from its collection of carbon-neutral Zero Impact products, to a fruit tree project that harnesses oxygen to further help offset waste.
Susan Finch is a freelance writer with a passion for travel and helping small businesses find their online voice through content marketing, blogging and beyond. She is an eclectic writer with more than 10 years of experience contributing to guidebooks, magazines, iPhone apps, online publications and more.
Washing fruits and vegetables is a fun process that ensures your health and well-being. Unlike the cavemen days, the risk of produce contamination is more than 80 percent. Thankfully, washing fruits and vegetables only takes a few minutes out of your day and gives you a feeling of relief, knowing that your produce is clean and healthy.
Why Should We Wash Our Fruits and Vegetables?
It’s easy to become enthralled with the idea of eating delicious, ripe fruit, but oftentimes the notion of cleaning it escapes us. At some point in time, everyone is guilty of the crime…OK, it’s not a real crime. But washing fruits and vegetables is very important and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
So why is it important to wash fruits and vegetables? Rest assured, it’s not to make you spend more time in the kitchen. This necessary task eliminates the odds of contracting a food-borne illness, washes away surface pesticides and cleans off any dirt.
One in six Americans is diagnosed with food poisoning after consuming contaminated produce. Typical sources of contamination include Salmonella, Listeria and the norovirus. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, severe stomach pains and dehydration. It’s important to see a health-care provider if any of these symptoms occur.
Pesticides are a big no-no on your fruits and vegetables. Eating dirty produce with pesticides on its surface is the same as voluntarily eating harmful chemicals. There are at least 29 different pesticides found in the average American body. Pesticides have been linked to Parkinson’s disease, myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma, and prostate or stomach cancer. Some fruits and vegetables have a higher percentage of pesticides than others.
Take a look at the lists below:
Fruits and Vegetables at a Low Risk for Pesticide Contamination
• Sweet corn
• Sweet peas
• Sweet potato
Fruits and Vegetables at a High Risk of Pesticide Contamination
• Cherry tomatoes
• Snap peas
• Sweet bell peppers
• Collard greens
• Hot peppers
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "When properly cleaned, separated, cooked, and stored to limit contamination, fruits and vegetables safely provide some essential nutrients that would otherwise be lacking in most American diets." Here’s how you can obtain the best nutritional value out of your fruits and vegetables.
Food Safety Tips: How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables
For a natural diet and healthy lifestyle, follow these steps carefully to wash all of your fruits and vegetables:
• Step 1: Keep the kitchen area clean. This includes countertops, cutting boards, utensils and the sink.
• Step 2: Wait to wash produce until right before use.
• Step 3: Rinse produce with cold or lukewarm water. Do not use hot water.
• Step 4: Under cold or lukewarm water, massage with hands to remove dirt particles or bruised areas on produce.
• Step 5: Using a basin, carefully produce a mixture of 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of organic liquid soap or castile soap. Submerge your fruits and vegetables into the mixture and wait at least 30 seconds. Note: Using another type of soap, such as antibacterial soap, may be absorbed by the pores of the produce and result in contamination. Using a gentle and natural cleanser will clean the produce without causing harm.
• Step 6: Remove your product from the basin and rinse off with clean water.
• Step 7: Dry wet surface or excess water, then dig in!
Learning how to safely wash fruits and vegetables is crucial for a sound and nourished diet. Remember, always aim to purchase locally grown organic produce to eliminate further risk of contamination and pesticides. Washing fruits and vegetables allows us to enjoy what Mother Earth has provided while maintaining a healthy, prosperous lifestyle.
Audrey Lefebvre R.N. specializes in Integrative Medicine, incorporating traditional and holistic care. Audrey has more than five years of experience in direct patient care and four years in natural skin-care regimens. You can learn more about Audrey Lefebvre by visiting the Castile Soap website or her blog.
In the early years of my marriage, when months were longer than money, I had to learn how to save money, especially on groceries. Living with my parents, I hadn’t realized how much food actually costs when it didn't come from your backyard! That first trip through the canned foods aisle and meat department was truly an eye opener, let me tell you. Here are some of the ways I learned how to save money.
Early on, I researched how I could save money on our grocery bill. Finding the day old bread store was amazing. I had no idea you could buy bread so inexpensively—and to me it still tasted great. As our family expanded, and we invested in a chest freezer, I would buy marked-down bread to store in order to avoid multiple trips to the store. Making your own bread is great, but when you don't have time, finding a bread store near you helps you keep bread, rolls, buns and more on hand.
I also discovered salvage stores or "scratch and dent" groceries. These were like a treasure hunt; you never knew what you would find when you went to the store—cheap pasta, inexpensive flour, even cereal. Every trip helped to stock our pantry and allowed our family to eat better than we could have otherwise. The local salvage store we go to now is amazing, and I start my shopping trips there each week to keep our grocery budget in line. I can find coffee for half price, canned fruit at a third of the price, cleaning supplies at less than half price—even shampoo, toothpaste and dog food. Check Google to see if you have a salvage grocery near you that might yield some unexpected great deals.
Where we live, there’s a local grocery store that has a markdown area for every section, such as dairy and meat. I’ve found great deals on quite a few things, and will sometimes buy all of a markdown item if it's a really great deal. Get to know the managers of each department. In talking to each of them, I have learned the best times to go during the week to find marked down items. Check around your grocery stores locally—see if they have a markdown rack or if they would be willing to sell you items that would otherwise been thrown out.
The marked down produce has supplied our family with great fresh fruit, like apples, oranges, and bananas. Sometimes I find grapes, strawberries and peaches. Even the vegetables, such as green peppers, onions and mushrooms, can be used right away, or frozen and dehydrated to use later. I discovered a jelly recipe that makes some great jelly from whatever fruit you might find at a reduced price, either at a grocery store or a farmers market. I like to use my steam juicer to juice the fruit for jelly, but you can make juice however you like (the steam juicer just happens to be easier for me).
Multi-Fruit Jelly Recipe
• 3 cups of fruit juice (I used peach, apple, grape and nectarine)
• 1/2 teaspoon butter
• 1 box pectin (can use bulk pectin)
• 4-1/2 cups of sugar
1. Wash half-pint jars in hot soapy water. Place in 200 degree oven to keep warm and to dry. Put lids in small pot of simmering water. Prepare rings.
2. Put fruit juice in large stock pot. Add pectin (if using bulk pectin, follow measurements on jar for equivalent amount). Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, stirring constantly.
3. Stir in sugar. Return to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Remove from heat and skim off foam, if necessary.
4. Ladle immediately into warm, dry jars, through a funnel, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe rims of jars. Cover with lid and add ring, tightening hand tight.
5. Place jars in water bath canner, and add water to cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Process half-pints for 5 minutes, 10 minutes for pints, in a gentle boil. Remove from heat and place on towel upright. Cover and allow to seal.
You can make this jelly with any combination of fruit juice that you think would taste good together. I've even used 100 percent, no-sugar-added juice that was found reduced at the salvage store.
Let me know how your jelly turns out and what your family thinks! And if you have recipes or ideas for jelly, or ways to save money on food, leave them in the comments below.
Amy lives in North Carolina, where she is working towards learning all areas of self-sufficiency. Amy, along with her husband, four kids and three dogs, but has aspirations to own chickens, goats, pigs, cows, bees and more! Their current steps toward homesteading include a large garden from which they can the produce, along with freezing and dehydrating other fruits and vegetables. Amy's hobbies including trying new homesteading ventures, sewing, cooking, crocheting and learning how to "make her own" anything. Eventually, she and her family want to move to the country where to fulfill their wildest homesteading dreams!
It’s easy to think green while you’re at home. But when you’re on the road and on vacation, it’s an entirely different story. If you’re planning a summer road trip use these four simple tips to reduce your carbon footprint.
Photo courtesy Deposit Photos.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
We’ve all heard the phrase reduce, reuse, recycle, but how many of us actually practice this eco-conscious motto? According to The Water Project, the bottles that are used to package water take more than 100,000 years to naturally biodegrade and , if incinerated they release toxic fumes. Valley Water estimates that more than 80 percent of the bottles used in the U.S. become litter. Shockingly, it takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil to satisfy the demand for bottle manufacturing in the United States, according to the Sun Times. The truth is…bottled water is wasteful.
On your next road trip, instead of buying a case of bottled water, bring along a reusable bottle instead. From insulated metal styles and plastic varieties to compact bottles and sippy-cup styles for kids, there’s a water bottle available to fit your lifestyle. REI offers a selection of water bottles both online and in store. Make it a habit to carry your bottle to work, school and on errands, not just on your road trip.
Drive on Eco-Friendly Tires
Tires aren’t known as the most eco-friendly product on the market today, but one tire manufacturer is trying to change that. Continental Tires has launched a new type of tire, called ProContact ECOPlus, that are more eco-friendly than other traditional tires. Additionally, Continental Tires support a zero landfill policy, meaning that 100 percent of the company's waste is either recycled or reused in some way. If you’re in need of a new set of tires, or if you’d simply like to support a company that supports the environment, check out TireBuyer.com and browse their selection of Continental Tires to find the right tires for your next road trip and beyond.
Store Your Gear in the Right Place
Roadtrippers setting off on an adventure with bikes and lots of camping gear in tow can consider storing their items on a hitch-mounted cargo rack rather than a roof rack. According to Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty (COTAP), hitch cargo racks are more efficient than rooftop styles that create drag. Additionally, storing your gear on the back of your vehicle increases your fuel economy and doesn’t create a drag while driving. The Swedish cargo manufacturer, Thule, offers hitch-mounted bike carriers that are easy to install and use. The durable racks mount to your vehicle’s receiver hitch, so there’s no base rack required for transport. Thule offers multiple options to carry from just one or up to five bikes.
Plan Ahead & Skip Traffic
Planning your road trip ahead of time with an app like Roadtrippers can help you avoid wasting time in traffic. COTAP reports that sitting in traffic creates CO2 and wastes gas. If you live in a populated city with a lot of traffic, try not to leave during peak travel times, that way you can avoid traffic chaos. The Roadtrippers app also lets users plan stops along the way while calculating fuel costs and time spent in the car. The Roadtrippers app is currently available via Apple’s App Store and it’s also available for Android devices from Google Play.
Lauren Topor is a lifestyle writer based in the Southwest who spends her days writing about food and health, fashion, fitness and entertainment.
WHY THEY’RE CRUCIAL: It’s an unfortunate reality that’s hard to face: Today’s factory farms engage in the abuse of thousands of animals every day. If we hope to improve the healthfulness of our own food, we must also work to change the industrialization of farm life. Farm Sanctuary does just that: Brings awareness to the abuses suffered by cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and sheep in industrialized farms, and works to bring about systemic change to this unhealthy, inhumane system. They also rescue farm animals, such as when they took in 60 broiler chickens that were abandoned on the side of a highway on their way to a Brooklyn live market. Since 1986, Farm Sanctuary has worked to protect farm animals by encouraging a new awareness and understanding about farm animals.
WHAT THEY DO:
• Bring social awareness to the abuses industrial farm animals suffer
• Advocate for laws and policies to prevent animal suffering
• Educate millions about the effects of factory farming on our health and environment
• Reach out to legislators and businesses to bring about institutional reforms
• Rescue thousands of animals, placing them in sanctuaries or permanent adoptive homes
HOW WE CAN HELP: Throughout the duration of this issue, we’re collecting donations for this important charity to help protect farm animals from cruelty. To join our efforts, visit Farm Sanctuary, or mail donations to P.O. Box 150, Watkins Glen, New York, 14891. Include the fundraiser name, Mother Earth Living Gives Back, on the envelope or check, if you wish. It’s our goal to collect $2,500 for Farm Sanctuary.
DID YOU KNOW
• Large manure pits on factory farms are known to release air pollutants such as methane, a major greenhouse gas, and hydrogen sulfide, which is highly flammable and can cause sudden unconsciousness or (in very high concentrations) even death.
• The six growth hormones commonly used by the U.S. dairy industry have been assessed as a potential risk to human health by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health.
• Today, an estimated 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to farm animals, which can lead to drug-resistant bacteria.
• Poor sanitation and waste management on factory farms can allow E. coli and Salmonella to contaminate the food supply: Each year, 76 million Americans become ill from food-borne illness, and thousands die.