Your Guide to Local Holiday Shopping

November 29th, 2008
This post is a part of A Greener Christmas Guide, a series of posts dedicated to celebrating the holidays with a lighter impact on the earth.  For more of this series, please visit A Greener Christmas Guide.

Every year at this time, my hometown in the United States starts a huge campaign that urges citizens to BUY LOCAL with five exclamation points.  I’m not really sure what that means, and everyone in town seems to have a different idea.  So is it:

  • I shop at the local WalMart; I don’t drive to another city?
  • I am getting my stuff at locally owned and operated joints?  or
  • I buy things made right here from knitted crafts to vegetables?
  • I’m pretty sure the city’s reason to urge local shopping is the economic benefit of a few bucks, which is good.  They don’t really mention the green effects of shopping locally… which makes any of the above answers even better.

    When you buy locally, you’re reducing vehicle emissions and your carbon footprint because it’s more efficient for huge semis and trains to transport our stuff than for all of us to drive 60 kilometers.  When the products you buy are made locally, you’re saving hundreds (probably thousands) of shipping miles.  Bonus points when the products you buy are actually grown and produced locally.


    Buying Local Food

    Unfortunately, you can’t find local products very easily in the grocery store.  I’m not really sure why.  Our family is puzzled and way too frustrated by the fact that our local chain grocery stores back in the US doesn’t sell tortillas made 30 miles away or ice cream made 90 minutes away.  Instead, their tortillas and ice cream come from factories over a thousand miles away.  Products that are shipped so far usually have more chemicals, additives, and preservatives, so they’re already not as eco-friendly as local foods before they even load the truck to start their journey.

    Most of my neighbors have no idea that they can find the exact same food sources so close to home.  It’s like citizens of big beef-producing states don’t even get hamburgers from local cows.  Shop locally?

    That’s one of the greatest benefit of organic and locally-owned grocery stores.  They’re more likely to carry these local items or be open to considering them.  Martin and I ask every US grocery store we shop at to consider local products.  Only two have responded – they are family businesses.

    Want To Give Some Local Yummies This Holiday?

  • Give beers and wines made nearby: well this is the one local thing that might tap into chain stores, but check the little shops first.  They’ll either have it or tell you where to go.
  • Try bakery items made in town:  My hometown grocery store sold bread made 1,000 miles away.  The bakery down the street milled their own flour.
  • Offer meat grown and fish caught in your area:   We’ve turned to organic cafes, “health nuts”, and local markets for help on this one.
  • Give locally made candies and sweets.  Tourist shops and tourism centers are a good place to start looking.  Ask co-workers if they know of anyone – a lot of women make and sell holiday treats from their kitchens.

    Finding Not-Made-In-China Stuff

    The paintbrush I coated our house in yellow with was made in Germany.  So was our level, and I think the screws were, too.  Germany works hard to carry the “Made in Germany” logo.  But short of Nalgene water bottles and Maglites, we don’t see much “Made in USA” logos.  That’s why we started looking locally for our US holiday gifts.

    Want some local ideas?

  • Support local artists and craftsmen.  They’re featured in local shops and attending art and craft fairs with paintings, pottery dishes, earrings, decorations, furniture, toys, instruments… You can even snag some holiday cards and get custom-made stuff.
  • Buy plants and flowers grown locally.  Check your nurseries and organic markets.
  • Call the Chamber of Commerce.  They’ll point you toward the best fly fishing shop, artist studio, and quilt shops.
  • Give the opportunity to learn something new.  (I’m a sucker for taking creative classes.  My attention is on German lessons right now, but if I were in the US…) Treat someone to a class at the local adult education center, art school, or museum.  There’s always the gym, a music center, or quilt shop.  My sister is teaching gingerbread house making next week at the craft shop if you’re interested!
  • Support the local performers and give theater and concert tickets.  There’s no better gift for someone who has everything than a night on the town.  
  • Buy passes to check out the local tourist stuff.  I neglect the touristy stuff in my own town.  I bet you do, too.  So chances are, that person you’re looking to give a gift to hasn’t done much of that stuff either.
  • Check the yellow pages for a tailor.  Clothes hemmed to fit are amazing.  Clothes made just for you?  Breathtaking!

    Ready to Take the Local Challenge?

    So instead of buying a poinsettia this year  consider thinking a little locally (any idea how many miles those things travel?  I have no idea  UPDATE: A local nursery two miles from my parents house grows its own poinsettias in green houses).  Buy local gifts and Mother Earth will thank you.  I’ll thank you.  And best of all?  the recipient will thank you.

    Now spill it.  Any local gift ideas up your sleeves?  Won’t you leave us some ideas and spread some green holiday cheer?

    (Images from SparksChamber and MySmallBusiness)

    Life Abroad: Thanksgiving in Berlin

    November 27th, 2008

    Raise your hand if you’re drooling over the thought of tasty Thanksgiving food.

    One… two… three… (Martin!  You can only hold up one hand.  Put that other one down.)  I guess we can’t help it.  Thanksgiving makes us giddy.  Things were a little crowded.  I think we had ten people squished into our 250 square-foot living room/kitchen.  The table filled the entire room.  Martin sat on the step stool, and I’m not exactly sure what it was I was sitting on.  We barely noticed with these cool made-from-scratch yummies:

  • Green Bean Casserole is like THE American staple.  How lucky that a German/American couple put together this recipe for us – and with no cream of mushroom soup.  Amazing.
  • Fresh Broccoli Salad via Alton Brown on the Food Network because let’s face it – when else have you found a broccoli salad that tasted so good you found yourself sneaking to the fridge for more at 10 pm?
  • Sesame Seed Cookies that made us want to munch and munch even when we’d had WAY too much to eat already.  (Sneaky me – no one knew how easy they were)
  • Sweet Potato Pie that makes you moan.  This southern food has now become a Katie and Martin food.  Our dear friends Katie and Martin brought it, and we consumed obediently.  Then we snagged another piece.  We LOVE it, and if you’re wondering why the local grocery store is out of sweet potatoes all of a sudden, well… we had nothing to do with that.  Swear.
  • And Cranberry Sauce.  Can’t forget the cranberry sauce.
    Here’s a shot my father-in-law took.  Thankfully, my plate didn’t make it to the table yet (otherwise I might not be sharing this picture!)

    So good luck with all of the tastiness at your house.  May Thanksgiving be filled with blessings, great people, and good food.

    (Image for Making This Home)

    Life Abroad: Vegetarian Thanksgiving

    November 26th, 2008

    The thought of shoving a Thanksgiving turkey into this oven gave me shivers:

    So you know what?  I didn’t make one for our Sunday Thanksgiving in Berlin.  In fact, we fed ten people and didn’t have any meat at all.  I know, I know.  Sound the Thanksgiving police alarms.  What kind of Americans skip turkey at their own Thanksgiving party?

    I guess… us.  We completely messed with this tradition, but it was during this vegetarian meal with ten friends and family members from around the world that we truly felt the meaning of Thanksgiving.  And it had nothing to do with cranberry sauce or turkey.

    Thanksgiving is pretty much the only American holiday that focuses solely around gathering with family and friends.  There are no presents and costumes to distract our attention away from people.  We dine together without the rush of the Next Activity, and I never truly realized how beautiful the feeling is of a holiday that focuses around the dinner table until now in Germany.

    I kept a list of things to take care of, just as so many of you suggested. (thank you, thank you!) And then when the time for our party approached, I kicked back just like you said.  I imagine the lack of turkey-cooking-stress had a lot to do with it.  Vegetarian Thanksgivings aren’t all that hard.  One guest told me, “I don’t even miss having the turkey,” and she wasn’t even one of the vegetarians.  (big grin)  There are so many side dishes and other foods available at Thanksgiving that I don’t think anyone missed it.  Plus we had no room on our countertop, anyway!

    Where’s the turkey?

    Tomorrow, I’ll slip you a few of the most popular recipes from our party.  I know it’s probably a bit late for all of you preparing for Thanksgiving parties of your own.  But the lovely ladies at our party made everything from SCRATCH.  We had no option of pre-made pies from the store or mushroom soup for green bean casserole.  Those things don’t exist in Germany.  And at least all of us are anxious for the know-how secrets of making stuff without all the (not-always-so-healthy) shortcuts.

    So stay tuned!  Meanwhile, do tell… what are your favorite recipes at Thanksgiving?  And maybe a tad more important to us this year… are you loving the idea of a holiday centered around the table as much as us?

    (Images from Making This Home and The Akumalian)