The 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

If ever there was a year for sustainable, economical gifts with an emphasis on the home-made (and therefore extra-personalized) — 1932, we mean 2008, is it.

By Plenty staff

Lucky for you, Plenty’s staff has compiled ideas for every important person in your life, from the woman who birthed you to the boss you’d really rather not have to buy a present for, thankyouverymuch. The emphasis this year is on things you can make yourself, things that are inexpensive (with one outlandish—but totally worth it—exception), and, of course, things that are low-impact or actually help the earth and its inhabitants. So start wishing for a green Christmas. (For the print magazine’s own 100 percent unique gift guide, you can find the December issue on newsstands now.)

For Your Brother, Husband, or Boyfriend:
• Homemade infused vodka
Here’s an easy personalization upgrade to an inexpensive gift. Infused vodka is like making tea but with booze; it flavors the flavorless drink with anything he likes. We talked to Elliot Feldman, who makes the house-infused brews at Nova Bar and Restaurant, across the street from San Francisco’s South Park, to get his tastiest and most popular recipes.  

• A good supply of organic cotton handkerchiefs.

These save a lot of trees, and are especially great for parents of small children, who are constantly wiping noses.

For Your Sister, Girlfriend, or Wife:
• Homemade chocolate truffles
Plenty’s food editor, Jessica Mischner, has adapted this recipe from at least three different sources and perfected it over the years. It’s really easy; the most difficult part will be coming up with an excuse to get her out of the apartment for four hours while you’re making it (don’t worry — most of that is waiting for it to cool, and you can totally do the rest while watching football).

• A homemade cookbook 
Go to What's Cooking Grandma, a site that archives users' grandmothers' recipes for future generations (think Epicurious for the crafty set) and make a cookbook composed of recipes for her (not your) favorite foods. This video will show you how to bind your own book using only six things, all of which you can find at a drugstore (remember to buy recycled paper).  

• Handmade or independently-designed fashion and showcase thousands of small designers and craftspeople selling at lower prices than in many stores (because there’s virtually no overhead). Keep in mind that women want to try on things like shoes, pants, and swimsuits so stay in the sweaters-and-accessories zone to be safe. 

For Your Mom:
• Earrings made from old chandeliers
With the right tools and some basic knowledge, you can turn chandelier crystals into beautiful bling. Craftbits is full of instructions and patterns for turning broken or found objects into jewelry, as is, of course, Martha Stewart. If you’re a total clutz or you’re totally late, you can also buy these recycled pretties readymade from professional designers such Eda and Betty, Jade Gedon, or Amy Pfaffman.

For Your Dad:
• One thing he will probably not spend money on himself is some really nice organic cotton towels from Ralph Lauren, and right now they’re on sale.

• Make comfy throw pillows out of one of his favorite old sweaters or t-shirts:
Cut two rectangular or square pieces from the garment
Turn inside out, so patterned sides faced inward
Stitch three sides shut using a thread color that blends with the fabric. Sew most of the fourth side, leaving 3-4 inches open
Flip inside out
Fill with stuffing or repurposed fabric (like t-shirts or towels cut into strips, or pantyhose)
Sew remaining section using a whip stitch. Leave as is or sew on buttons, patches, or other decals for added flair.

You’re done!

For your ironic hipster friend:
• Ditto about the towels.
• Find a set of silverware at an estate sale and voila, s/he’ll never use plastic cutlery again

For the jaded college kid in your life:
• An affordable, green, charitable laptop. Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab hit on the idea several years ago of designing an Internet-enabled computer that’s cheap and durable enough to be handed out to every child on earth. The result is the One Laptop Per Child hand-cranked computer. For $399, you can give one to a child in the developing world, plus one as a gift for someone you know (or yourself, as far as that goes). The machine can work without electricity and is smash-resistant and waterproof, so it’s sure to survive dorm life. It also advertises its owner as someone concerned about environmental issues and about kids not lucky enough to be going to college in the US.  
• An iTunes gift card has zero packaging and zero waste.

For nearly newborns and new parents:
• An original, limited-edition print from New Editions. These are bright, colorful works by internationally-exhibited contemporary artists. Each is whimsical enough for a child’s room, yet sophisticated enough to display at any age. The prints are made to last and be handed down and enjoyed for generations — truly a gift for a lifetime. And the company is committed to sustainable enterprise, using folios made from FSC-certified paper that’s Green-e certified as zero carbon. And all mailing and other materials the company uses are 35 percent to 100 percent recycled or FSC-certified or both.

For kids ages 0-6:
• An original sock puppet, or perhaps even a whole sock puppet theater customized to the kid's favorite play/story/book/fairy tale. Instructions here

For kids ages 6-16:
• Teach them there’s more to the holidays than getting stuff and make a donation in their name to one of the charities listed below. Or, if that’s going to eternally exile you to lame-uncle-land, an iTunes gift card.

For your boss:
• Collect subscription inserts from magazines (you know, the really annoying things that are always falling on the floor) and cut them into uniform sizes to make cards for an address book or rolodex. You can find rolodex bases on eBay and cut the cards to fit.
• For the shutterbug or world traveler, get the Gorilla pod. It's a super-flexible tripod that stands on or wraps itself around virtually anything solid and will last till the ice caps freeze again. You can order one without packaging to save five bucks and some plastic.
• A card from supporting a project in the developing world — a very humanitarian kind of gift that has a way of totally disarming total assholes.

For the person just discovering the health, economic, and ecological benefits of greening their lifestyle:

Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the environment and public health, has a great gift bag that will help your friends and family reduce their chemical exposure to toxic chemicals and diminish their carbon footprint, while contributing to the organization’s ongoing efforts (and — shhh — getting yourself a tax deduction). Each bag comes in a reusable tote made from 100% recycled plastic and contains a six-piece Pyrex glass container set (to replace BPA-containing plastic containers); a 27 oz. Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle (to end their reliance on bottled water); $25 in coupons from green companies like Seventh Generation and Stonyfield Farm; a box of organic cookies (because, hey, what the hell), and more.

If you are sending your gift or ordering it online, use UPS. The company just came out with a device that prints addresses directly on boxes, which will save tons of paper, and has more clean-energy delivery vehicles than any other delivery company. (It also has software that minimizes its drivers’ left-hand turns, to reduce idling and the pollution it produces.)

If you can’t find quite the right gift, consider a gift to charity in honor of those on your list. Search “friends of x” or “save the x” to find a group working to protect a park or natural landmark near where the person lives. Heal The Bay is a classic West Coast outfit; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation serves the six-state watershed in the mid-Atlantic region. There are also all manner of creatures and ecosystems ready for adopting:
• What's old is new again in eco charities at Adopt a Rainforest.
• If you think fat and hairy is cute, you can adopt a manatee.
• Vegetarian friend? Adopt a Farm Sanctuary animal. Your pal will get a picture of the furry or feathered guy along with a bio, and email updates on how s/he’s doing throughout the year.
• Dog lover? The Humane Society has done more to stop organized dogfighting rings than any single law enforcement agency.
• Kid? The National Wildlife Federation offers mags like Ranger Rick, Your Big Backyard, and Animal Baby, which provide early green education while you’re supporting a conservation charity
•At the website of the World Wildlife Fund (they're the one with the panda logo), you can adopt any of more than 90 endangered species and they'll send you a photo or stuffed animal.
•Surfer? The Surfrider Foundation keeps the waves in California clean and the beaches accessible.
•Diver? Oceana fights coral bleaching and destructive fishing, and has a number of notable victories under its belt.


The greenest of the green: find *locally* made green gifts

New online directory launches, emphasizes local, green goods: sets the Green Gold Standard!

In a world flush with “green” products, this new online marketplace will define the green gold standard – companies that make products sustainably, responsibly and locally – which all add up to ecobly.

Just in time for holiday shoppers, who are being more careful with their money than ever this year, the site will have tons of ideas for people who want to shop close to home for green toys, jewelry, home décor, garden products and accessories!

The local food movement has revolutionized the idea of ‘buy local.’ We all know that communities are healthier when we invest in our farmers, now it’s time to look at all the other products in our home – can we support our furniture makers? Our green jewelry suppliers?

Ecobly companies are masters of ingenuity and wizards of waste recycling. They are on the cutting edge of green manufacturing – there’s something ecobly made for almost every need!

It's great that you are providing ideas for green and do it yourself gifts, but on the 'For Your Sister, Girlfriend, or Wife:' options, I am surprised that you would insinuate that it is the woman who is the cook, and/or that one should give women kitchen related gifts. I would say your ideals are a little out dated, as about as many men as women cook these days, and as you look toward change in the modern world, I would hope that you would start to look toward change in more than just green products and politics. Try looking toward political changes at home too.


The website address for the "greenest of the green" site where you can find locally made green gifts is

Try a Hundred-Mile holiday - buy your gifts from local producers.

Enjoy Shopping!