Living Consciously Holiday Gift Guide 2014

I’ve never done a Holiday Gift Guide before, but this year I really learned about some great brands and products that I think will truly help you give (or receive) this season in a way that will help you live more consciously in 2015, so I had to share! Please note that I do have an affiliate relationship with some of these brands, or that I might have received free products the first time I tried them, so that I would know whether I wanted to recommend them to you. I have noted which and what applies with an asterisk or affiliate relationship marked in parentheses.

My hope is that you will be able to find some amazing non-toxic gifts for anyone on your list, while giving back (see Soapbox Soaps) and supporting small businesses.

Happy Holidays!

GiftGuideKids2014v2For the Kids

Bendi Baby Yoga Mat (affiliate link) – A yoga mat specifically made to be as tall as your child and light enough to carry! Comes in two sizes: Baby and Tot. Make sure to follow them on Instagram, they have some adorable pictures!

Kids Yoga Stories – I used these books when I taught Kids Yoga and the kids LOVED them. Now there is also a set of flashcards with children doing poses to make learning the yoga poses easy for kids. I’d also recommend signing up for the weekly newsletter on this site, which comes with really neat pose sequences that you can do with your child at home.

Mama May I Shop* – An adorable boutique of handmade, sustainable toys for all ages. My kids (ages 3 and 5) absolutely LOVE telling stories to Daddy and I at night and listening to us make up stories for them with Story Starters. These handmade wooden dice have pictures printed on them in eco-friendly ink. You roll them and make up stories! They come in a metal tin with a little notebook for recording your best stories. Other toys we were interested in included play silks, Fairy Friends, and the assortment of crayon wallets!

Musical Instruments – More of a general suggestion, I wanted to include this because we recently purchased both a child’s guitar (affiliate link) and a full junior drum set (affiliate link) for our son, even though I honestly thought we were insane to do it (especially when it came to the drum set). But it hasn’t been a terrible idea, actually. I have noticed he has much better rhythm and it gives him a constructive way to use his energy. We started at the age of about 2 with this simple Melissa & Doug music set (affiliate link).

 GiftGuideAnyone2014v2Eco-friendly non-toxic gifts for anyone

Vitamix blender (affiliate link) – Although this is more of a dream item for most people, it’s absolutely worth the price tag, in my opinion! I got mine for Mother’s Day this year (2014) and still use it every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Make your own nut milk, nut butters, soups, hummus, smoothies, and even juice with your Vitamix to avoid additives and preservatives in processed foods. For ideas, check out my Vitamix recipe Pinterest board.

Board & Batten Farm to Skin* – A new concept in luxury skin and body care, this company has a “Farm to Skin” philosophy — their products are created from raw materials taken from their own farm in Florida. On their site you can purchase soy candles, charcoal soap, body creme, and a full skin care line, all packaged beautifully and ready to gift. I have tried the “Begin Again” facial buff made of organic quinoa and fruit enzymes and loved how simple yet effective it was! If you just can’t decide on a gift, try a pre-assembled gift set bundle.

Soapbox Soap Holiday Bundle* – One of my favorite discoveries at ShiftCon this year, Soapbox Soaps are in the business of giving back to those in need year-round. Every time you purchase a soap, body wash, or body lotion from Soapbox Soaps, they will donate an equivalent value to someone in need. For example, buy their famous charcoal soap and they’ll give a bar of soap to someone who doesn’t have access to soap. Buy a body wash and they donate an entire month’s worth of water to areas with no access to clean water. For a bottle of lotion, one year of vitamins to undernourished populations. My favorite item for gifting is the Holiday Gift Bundle, the purchase of which provides a bar of soap, a month of water AND a year of vitamins to someone in need!

Dolly Moo products – I won a package of Dolly Moo products in a yoga challenge this year and the scrubs quickly became my favorite. I love that the body products are made of ingredients I recognize and that all the scents come from essential oils. She also makes dried sage smudge sticks for cleansing the home. The company has a lovely Instagram page and is very committed to the yoga community in particular. Bonus: the scrubs also stand in for shaving cream on legs, leaving your legs luxuriously moisturized! Two products for the price of one!

Living Consciously Blog's Non-Toxic Gift Guide Stockings Stuffers 2014 Non-toxic Stocking stuffers/Secret Santa suggestions

Nutiva O’Coconut coconut nuggets – I loved finding these low-sugar (3g) GMO-free Fair Trade treats in my ShiftCon swag bag so much that I ordered more of my own from Vitacost.com. Flavors are Original and Hemp & Chia. The ingredients are healthy but the taste is like candy! They can be difficult to find locally, but if you have a Natural Grocer or Whole Foods near you, try the treat section. Or just buy through Vitacost (affiliate link).

Dang coconut chips Dark Chocolate – Coconut chips dipped in dark chocolate! Yum! Fair Trade, GMO free, and low in sugar. Very easy to find at any local health food store, but also available on Vitacost (affiliate link).

Miessence Rose Monsoon Hydrating Mist – The brand is committed to 100% organic skin care ingredients, and it’s a great place to find any body products or even probiotics, but their moisturizing rose water spray is something that everyone can use! Just this week I spent too much time in front of the fireplace and felt smokey — I sprayed a fine mist of the rose water all over my hair and face and the smokiness was gone! An instant mood brightener during hectic holidays, you might actually want to grab some for yourself as well as your friend. There is a discount with a purchase over $150. Be sure to click on her “Special Offers” for botanical perfumes currently more than half off!

Earth Mama Angel Baby Lotions – Not just for new moms and babies anymore! Here’s my last-minute pampering suggestion: Earth Mama has come out with 2 brand new lotion scents that make great teacher gifts, and you can run to your local Sprouts or Target as late as 10pm the night before and grab a bottle for $10! Put it in a cute bag with a note about how you trust your little one with such a great teacher every day and you’re done! They have all kinds of great stocking stuffers, from relaxing herbal teas to non-toxic lip balms (which are our family’s personal favorite chapstick option!) If you do want to buy online, you can always buy from Amazon (affiliate link) or directly from their web site.

 

* All items marked with an asterisk were given to me to sample by the company at some point in 2014. I liked them so much that I proceeded to purchase them with my own money and/or use them regularly. I did NOT get paid to mention any of them in this gift guide.

How We Cultivate Thankfulness in our family

If the month of November snuck up on you, you’re not alone! It sneaks up on me every year, with my son’s birthday toward the end and then Halloween. Then I wake up and, BAM!, it’s November! So we aren’t terribly timely with our thankfulness crafts around here. But, it is important to me to cultivate thankfulness in our family. Obviously, November is not the only time we want to be thankful, but it’s a good time to really focus.

There are 100 Pins on Pinterest of great Thanksgiving gratefulness projects. However, I am not a super crafty person. I do not own all the pipe cleaners, tempera paint, and precut turkey foam stickers that most of you people seem to have in your homes at all times. We sort of fell into this tradition of creating a thankfulness list out of things already around our house. Well, I feel like it is a tradition now, even though this is our second year. I do hope to keep it up (no pressure!).

Here is last year’s thankfulness chart and family list. My children were 2 years old and 5 years old, so it was too much to expect that they would each be able to come up with 30 individual things to be thankful for. So we had only one item per day on our list, and some items might have been suggested by Mom and Dad.

Thankfulness List 2013 | Living Consciously Blog

Thankfulness List 2013 | Living Consciously Blog

Supplies used:

packing paper from Amazon packages, flattened out
leaves we found on the sidewalk, pressed for a few days inside books to flatten
construction paper
pieces of coloring book that my kids cut up (their idea!)
sharpie marker
glue

This year, I was actually so far behind that there was no time to press leaves. We didn’t even get these set up until November 10. But this year, my children are 3 years old and 5 years old, and are able to think of their own lists (and also, to disagree and fight if they were forced to agree on just one thing each day!). So we each have our own turkey this year!

Thankfulness List 2014 | Living Consciously Blog

Supplies used:

large white paper, one for each family member
sharpie marker
yellow, red, orange, and brown construction paper
googly eyes (optional – I had these left over from kids yoga crafts)
glue stick

With this sticking-on-feathers-every-day model, we have to keep a baggie of precut feathers, a sharpie, and a glue stick at the table so that we can write our thankful items each day. If you want to get all crunchy, you can put these items in an aluminum box, GOOD FOR YOU!

The next step is, of course, to cultivate this kind of thankfulness throughout the rest of the year. Hopefully that would help with attitudes, right?

How has your family been cultivating thankfulness this season?

Tips for Summer Adventures: Travel or Staycations

This month’s blog sponsor is Allstate 21st Century Prosperity agent Shawn Spalding. Since I know that Allstate has dozens of years experience in auto claims, maintenance, roadside assistance, and that Shawn is probably an expert on saving money (since he’s a financial planner!), I asked him to share some of his best tips for summer adventures, whether you are on the road or not. It might seem a little early, but I asked him this because our family has already planned several road trips for our summer this year! How about you?

Summer Adventure Tips: Travel or Staycations | Conscientious Confusion

Road Trips

  1. Get your car checked!
    A tune up is a good idea. Low tire pressure or dirty air filters can reduce a car’s gas mileage
  2. Save on Gas!
    Use an online calculator, like GasBuddy.com’s Trip Cost Calculator, to help you estimate how much you’ll spend on gas: use your route and your car model’s gas mileage.
    Then use Allstate’s Fuel Finder – fast, easy-to-use gas price locator can help you find low prices at nearby pumps. All the preparations add up to money that stays in your pocket.
    Go easy on the accelerator when the light turns green!
    Keep to the speed limit. Promotes safer driving and more fuel efficiency, but it also helps prevent you from getting a speeding ticket, which can put a dent in any vacation budget.
  3. Pack your roadside emergency kit
    Items to include: snacks and bottled water, plastic trash bags for wind protection and car sickness, first aid kit, cellphone and charger, flashlight and batteries, blankets, waterproof matches and/or a lighter, properly inflated spare tire, jack and lug wrench, jumper cables, signal flares, pocket knife, atlas and state/local road maps, extra quart of high-quality motor oil, hand cleaner, and paper towels.

Can’t head out of town? Plan a Staycation!

Some of the benefits? Saves time (no traffic/no security check-in lines) & saves money (no expensive plane tickets/no checked bag fees).

Get the whole family involved. Encourage everyone to write down an activity on a slip of paper and choose out of a hat.

Activities that are eco-friendly and local

  • Camp out in your backyard
  • Take a walking tour or hike through a local park (I recommend Trinity Audubon Center!)
  • Visit a museum or spot of cultural interest
  • Use public transportation to see the attractions (saves gas and is good for the environment!)
  • Plant a garden
  • Build a composting bin (my post on composting)
  • Organize a Taste Tour (check Dallas Moms Blogs best restaurants for kids here, here, here and here!)
  • Cook new, destination or theme oriented foods at home. Make every evening an entirely different theme-inspired gustatory adventure! (try Central Market Cooking Schools for how-to: Plano or Dallas locations)

Note from Allstate 21st Century Prosperity: We gathered these tips from articles available on the Allstate Blog.

If you have any questions, you can always reach Shawn and his office at 972-980-0865 or shawnspalding{at}allstate.com.
Like them on Facebook and Follow them on Twitter!

Thanks, Shawn and his wonderful office staff! And, happy travels!

Paperless Kitchen: go paperless for less

Even though I try to participate in Buy Nothing Day as much as possible after Thanksgiving, I do realize that everyone else is in the middle of gift buying. If you are aiming for a more conscientious holiday, like I am, would you be interested in supporting a small business targeted exclusively at reducing waste? And since you may have just participated in a lot of cooking and eating, and will probably do it again at some point in December, how about starting with the kitchen?

I have been working slowly toward a paperless kitchen over the years with my reusable kitchen towels and commitment to using real plates and utensils even when we have guests. So I am super excited to have signed up for the affiliate program over at Paperless Kitchen (affiliate link), an online store that provides all that you need to go paperless! My favorite is their Skoy cloths. When dry, the cloths are stiff like paper, but when wet they become flexible and extremely absorbent, like a super thin sponge or an extra plush paper towel. Each Skoy cloth is as absorbent as 15 paper towels! You can rinse and use again and again, and when dirty just throw them in the laundry. I put them in with all my other cloths and kitchen towels. They air dry extremely quickly (less than an hour), but I have even dried them in the dryer by mistake, and they come out completely unharmed.

Skoy cloths from Paperless Kitchen
Skoy cloths from Paperless Kitchen

Anyway, the big news is the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale at Paperless Kitchen!

The following items are 50% off from 10pm Thanksgiving evening (last night) through Monday, December 2 using the code “paperless50”.

Here is the list:

BONUS: If you order in November (before end of day Saturday), you will receive a 4 pack of Skoy cloths free with your order!

And did I mention FREE SHIPPING?

So if you order today (November 29) or tomorrow (November 30) and purchase only a 4 pack of Skoy reusable paper towel replacements, you’ll pay approximately $4.49 and also receive an additional 4-pack free! That’s 8 reusable Skoy cloths for $4.49. I am totally doing this. They make great stocking stuffers too. Pair Skoy cloths with a spray bottle of my homemade Lysol alternative cleaner and you’ve got an inexpensive and eco-friendly gift.

Happy paperless holiday!

Today I am thankful for YOU!

I do celebrate Thanksgiving, and today I wanted each of my readers to know that I am thankful for YOU today! I have been slowly growing this little blog in the last year and I am so grateful for all the new friends that have joined me as we talk about everything from fitness to food to essential oils to BlogHer and #NaBloPoMo. I hope that you enjoy the journey as much as I do and that you feel comfortable hanging around with me for another great year!

I am thankful for each of - for reading, commenting, and sharing the journey!

My Self-Care List: suggestions needed

Drinking coffee & reading

This week, I was very inspired by this post by Green Moms Collective about self-care for moms. In the post, the writer encouraged us (even if we aren’t moms!) to make a list of things that make us feel renewed and happy, and even to write down how much time each of these activities take so that we can intentionally build them into our days. While this might sound unnecessarily detailed to some people, this approach sounds perfect for me! I loooove to multitask and I constantly have a list in my head and on my iPhone of various tasks that I mentally (and physically) arrange and re-arrange according to the length of time I have available and the length of time the task requires. So I thought I’d make a quick list of things I love to do and the amount of time I could allocate for them. Hopefully this will keep me accountable for actually taking breaks during the holiday season.

  • Read: magazine (like Green Child Magazine, Real Simple Magazine, or Shape) – 30 min
  • Read: book club book – 30 min
  • Read: other peoples’ blogs – 5-30 min
  • Read: bible/bible study – 30 min
  • Take a detox bath with epsom salt/baking soda – 20 min
  • Deep breathing – 1 min to 5 min
  • Take a nap – 25 min
  • Do a yoga vinyasa – 5-10 min
  • Entire yoga workout (Ashtanga series, from online instructor, or ad lib) – 20-45 min
  • Watch a TV something – 30 min
  • Drinking tea – 5 min
  • Eating something chocolate – 2 min

Well, that’s all that I could come up with off the top of my head, and I am realizing that unfortunately most of my “happy” things require at least 20-30 minutes. Which might explain why I never seem to have time to do what I enjoy. Who has 20-30 extra minutes?! Not me!

Now accepting ideas: things to add fun to the day that take less than 5 minutes?

Being Conscientious During Christmas

Ever since a few years ago when we kind of cancelled Christmas due to a housing situation, we haven’t looked at Christmas the same way. That year, we had not one but 2 Secret Santa boxes show up at our door and bless our children with gifts. Neither that year or even last year did we actually buy our children gifts from us. They had plenty to open thanks to BlogHer toys and toys from their grandparents and other family. I can guarantee you that a (then) 1 and 3 year old never noticed the difference between 4 toys and 14 toys. And even this year at 2 and 4 years old, we will continue to share with them that Christmas is not about getting, but about giving. Last year we even had the opportunity to be a Secret Santa to another family in a situation similar to ours.

I shared on my blog Facebook page this graphic from my friend Stephanie:

The fact that stores are even open on Thanksgiving day this year, forcing already low income workers to go to work instead of spending time with their families, is a sign of our severe consumption addiction in this country. We are not even willing to let retailers rest. We are asking them to serve us rather than thinking about who we can serve in our own abundance. Something I want us all to stop and think about.

Operation Christmas Child

If you’re looking for a way to give back this season, one thing we have enjoyed doing as a family and with our community group is Operation Christmas Child. Run by the nonprofit ministry Samaritan’s Purse, this program distributes shoebox-sized boxes to needy children across the globe. The fun part is that you get to pick the age range and gender of a child and fill the box with suggested items for them. My kids have had so much fun participating in this each year! Our boxes just went out today, through our church — we save on shipping if we send them all together.

There are a lot of different ways that you can abstain from consumerism and instead opt to give back. Will you take your “down” time this holiday to think about how you can turn the tide in your own family?

To Do List 2012: How did I do?

Oh look, it’s almost 2013! Time to look back at my To Do List from 2012 and see if I accomplished any of it.

1. Eat better.
To make this a little more measurable, I’ll just say that I want to get back to eating at least 5-7 whole fruits and veggies per day.
Sort of done. I have been doing a lot better as far as cutting out the extra sugar and carbs but I’m probably still not up to 5-7 veggies a day. Mostly because I give all the fruits and veggies in the house to my kids, and there are rarely any left for me. Those things are expensive! But I am still drinking my NingXia Red, which is packed with antioxidants, so I think that helps.

2. Resume meal planning.
I did pretty good with this probably 6 months out of the year, off and on.  At one point, I got depressed about how much money we spend on groceries and stopped even trying. Then we found out that Little Sir is dairy and soy intolerant and that threw another wrench in the planning because I can’t use Food On The Table or eMeals since they all contain dairy ingredients that I can’t always substitute. I am currently off the wagon. This is going to show up on the 2013 list again, dang it.

3. Regular exercise.
I want to aim for 3 days a week.

Oh thank God, one that I can actually cross off the list. Thanks to becoming a Lagree Fitness instructor at Ultimate Pilates Plano, I am now in better shape than I was before the kids. I actually do have six-pack abs, not lying. I would love to take pictures but that seems really indecent for a family-friendly blog. OK, I did take pictures in the mirror once but I haven’t shown anyone. However, this is not bragging because it is very hard work and continues to be very challenging. It’s not like I am saying “oh look, I have magically great abs! Whee! Be jealous!”. Nooooo, I write routines that are specifically heavy on moves targeting my transverse abdominal muscles and my obliques, and I do those routines for 50 minutes, at least 3 times a week. And I must mention, I teach these routines in my classes so if you want to work on your post-baby body like I did…you know where I am!

4. Attempt monetization of this blog
“Attempt monetization” is not a very measurable goal, but let’s just say I’ll research and apply for some ad networks and work on ways that I could increase my readership. Such as participating in blogger link-ups.

First of all, I would like to give yet another shout-out to my wonderful sponsor Tanya of Happy Feet, Healthy Body who has an Etsy shop selling handmade bath and health products that are completely free of toxins but also provide the natural healing powers of essential oils. Please consider supporting this blog by purchasing her products! She has an excellent headache remedy and an amazing lavender lip balm that I use every night. And if you are in the Dallas area, she can even arrange for local delivery rather than paying for shipping.

I feel like I have done some positive work in this direction. I have also joined up with a number of other green bloggers via The Green Sisterhood and some closed Facebook groups. I actually don’t participate in a ton of link-ups, but that is because I am very picky about my topics and I don’t do a lot of giveaways. I feel like I am heading in the right direction and I’m looking forward to 2013!

5. Start potty learning with my son
This is pretty much done! Now that we’ve addressed the stomach issues of dairy and soy intolerance and provided both negative and positive incentives (positive alone did not inspire him), he has very few pee or poop accidents. Well, thank goodness that only took about 7 months.

6. Decorate the kids’ rooms
I think they look a lot less bare now. I put the animal and letter decals up in my son’s room and hung his name picture and handprints, and he accumulated a number of additional toys and books to fill up some of the extra space. I put up a lovely tree decal in my daughter’s room and bought some curtains. She also got a bookcase with bins like brother’s and a bureau for her clothes. I am sure I could do more but there’s not a ton of space. I like what we have right now!

7. Plant a garden
Hahaha, that was pretty much a failure except for the bell peppers, but there is a good reason that I didn’t specify that it had to be a successful garden. I ended up getting enough bell peppers that, when chopped, fill up a plastic baggie (I know, PLASTIC, I lose my green cred yet again) in the freezer. That is a significant crop considering how small they were. But they died in the snow on Christmas Day, so that’s done. Since we have such a nice raised bed setup now, I’ll try again next year.

Merry guilt-free Christmas!

We were excited to have a white Christmas this year, and so many things to be thankful for!

We celebrated here at our house with our family of four plus my brother-in-law, Garrett. For pictures and info about what we do as a family, you can always check out my family blog, which I am terrible at updating.

We had a great day full of presents and food, and while we spent very little money and chose the childrens’ gifts conscientiously, there are a few that were plastic, and therefore not terribly “green”. The majority of my son’s gifts were actually secondhand, if that helps any. I’d rather not expose myself to green blogger criticism by going into detail about what we gave them, but be aware that we chose even those toys conscientiously because we felt that the experience outweighed the risks.

I don’t have a beautiful picture of our entire family together wearing matching anything near a tree because I was unable to corral my children long enough to get anything like that, and honestly, they spent most of the time arguing and fighting (keepin’ it real, here). Instead, I have this delicious picture of  the (vegan, soy-free) birthday cake they decorated for Jesus. Obviously, artificial colors were used in the toppings but no trans fats, dairy, or soy.

I hope that each of you had a wonderful, delicious, and guilt-free holiday! I’d love to hear your not-so-green confession in the comments.

I’ll be back later this week to review the success or failure of my To Do List from 2012 and explore my new To Do List for 2013!

Last minute teacher Christmas gift

I just wanted to do a quick post on my favorite teacher “thank you” gift, since I know we all love to thank our childrens’ teachers at the holidays. Instead of some trinket that might break or sweets that they might otherwise try to avoid (my son’s preschool teacher is gluten-free so I wanted to avoid anything that she couldn’t eat anyway) — how about flowers?

My favorite place to get beautiful, unique, and inexpensive flowers is Whole Foods or Central Market. In fact, I got the flowers for my wedding bouquet at Central Market!

Since my son’s teacher spends more time with him than my daughters’ once-a-week Mother’s Day Out teachers, I also added a personalized May Books lined notebook to her gift. May Books are hand-sewn without using plastic or synthetic glue with nasty chemicals. The covers are cloth-based so that they wear to a soft finish.

It’s not too late to buy some fresh flowers today!
What is your favorite teacher gift to give or receive (if you are a teacher)?

NOTE: I did not receive any compensation or product for the mention of May Books, although the owner is a personal friend of mine. I just love her products, and I pay for them just like everyone else!