A Different Year

Every year around this time the BitterSweet team huddles to curate the most inspiring, world-changing and life-bettering gifts we can muster. Last year our guide included more than 40 brands, each with multiple bottom lines that we joyfully support. But this year has been quite different, shall we say, and so our guide follows suit. We’ve pared down our list and driven even deeper into intentionality. Within the following chapters we offer several gift variations on a single theme: Soul-filling.  

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Every gift we’ve included is meant to both delight and restore. And as always, our invitation is to do the most good with each gift you give this holiday season. Make every exchange meaningful—not just for you and your loved ones, but also considering the entire supply chain making your gifts possible. Harnessed this way, we can leverage our capitalistic system and consumer culture to serve our vision for a healthier, more equitable world. 

While we are trudging across the finish line of 2020 in varying conditions and at vastly different paces, one thing is certain—we need to batten down the hatches and invest in healthy practices that will keep us well and together over the coming year. What can we give that’s hope-building and healing, in some small way? What can we give that encourages baseline essentials, like rhythms of renewal, reflection, and recentering?    

With swelling rage and sparking riots, maybe this particular holiday season is an opportunity to expand our courage and extend our self-giving to include others we’ve not considered before. Those we’ve long heard but perhaps not listened to. Connection is essential to restoring our humanity. And we have to choose it.

Giving good can be about the gift itself, but also about what it offers the recipient and how it impacts the maker. Cultivating moments of rest, renewal, reflection, and recentering— experiences that we often do not give ourselves—are powerful reminders of the need to tend and protect. To replenish what has been depleted, caring for our inner selves, and equipping us to move forward. 

The brands and gifts we have assembled below are aligned in providing these moments. Each offer a chance to nourish our well-being and nurture our connectedness. 

Rest

It is often a challenge to be here, to be in the moment. When there is always something else to do or attend to, being here does not seem as attainable or productive as being there.  

Enter the gift of rest. While it is important, it is often what gets the least of our attention. But rest does not push against what we have to do and accomplish. Instead, solitude can clarify what is in front of us. It increases our potential for active engagement in our workplaces, households, and communities. 

Quieting ourselves mentally and physically is a joyous discipline—one that encourages a ritual of being. If only for a quick moment, we can be intentional about entering into this place: close our eyes, breathe deeply, savor our surroundings, be present in our bodies. 

Rest is for all of us, but it makes an exceptional gift for others, especially those least likely to receive it. 


Getaway

Give those who need it most a night (or more) of rest. Lead them to a private, solitary experience. With multiple locations around the US, Getaway cabins are custom spaces designed to momentarily disconnect us so that we can reconnect with who or what is most important. Situated in nature, with no WIFI,  guests have the time, space, and permission to be “off.” 

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Photo courtesy of Getaway

Getaway’s simple escapes are also laced with generosity. Each booking at one of their Outposts provides a donation to One Tree Planted, an organization focused on reforestation. Last year, the group was able to plant more than 4,000,000 trees helping to clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, absorb harmful carbon from the atmosphere, and provide jobs to over 1.6 million people.  

Most recently, Getaway announced their Year of Rest, a partnership with Rachel Cargle, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and sustainable outdoors brand Miir. The platform provides 365 nights of rest for Black people working for change, and those fighting for the Black community. Nights were given to people chosen through nominations by friends, family, and peers.  

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Renewal

Amid constant stimulation, we need reminders to pause and give our senses a chance to be restored, recognizing each moment—the simple, the beautiful, and that which needs changing.

We need that to experience life fully and show up for what is important. Renewal is the gift here, and it does not take much. We may not be able to create more time, but maybe we can take some time to recharge through enlightening habits.  

Gifting is one of the ways that we can share this thought with others, imparting a collection of goods that reinvigorate the recipient to be fully present. 

This year we are excited to partner with custom gifting brand Teak & Twine. Together, we have created a custom BitterSweet box filled with products that encourage us to seek quiet and reflection. That may take shape in many forms depending on how much time we have. In quick moments, we can light a scented candle while cleaning the house, or savor a bite of antioxidant-rich chocolate at the end of a long day. Should we find ourselves with an extended amount, we may choose to pour a cup of tea and journal through our thoughts and intentions. 

As we light, eat, sip, and write, may we do so slowly. Cherishing the time, we are brought back to the place of connection.


The Gift of Good

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Photos Courtesy of Teak & Twine

Featuring the following brands:

Rishi Teas

The origin of tea is rooted in nourishment and healing. Ceremonies centered on the preparation and savoring of different blends honor hospitality amidst the frantic pace of every day. Rishi Tea is an importer of organic teas and botanicals inspired by this tradition. The independently owned company was built over 20 years ago based on sustainability and personal relationships. Their tea is Direct Trade, sourced from growers who cultivate ecologically sustainable gardens in remote locations around the world. The Chamomile Medley is a smooth and savory blend of chamomile, lemongrass, lemon verbena, and spearmint chosen for the box for its calming benefits.

Harper Macaw Chocolate 

More than an indulgence, chocolate has the potential to regenerate and sustain. Just ask Washington, DC chocolate factory Harper Macaw. Cacao production is dependent upon healthy rainforests and accounts for the livelihoods of millions of people across the world. Their bars are crafted with simple ingredients and cacao beans sourced directly from producers, supporting agroforestry and economic sustainability. They also facilitate reforestation efforts of the Atlantic Forest. This is the focal point of Brazil’s cacao industry and one of Earth’s top sites of biodiversity. Each Harper Macaw product restores and protects the deforested or vulnerable rainforest in northeast Brazil. The packaging of each bar also features artful renderings of various animals in these habitats, raising awareness of their extinction threat.   

Journal for Change by Appointed 

Beautiful tools to inspire beautiful work. This is the goal of Appointed, the Washington, DC-based brand that creates American-made, sustainable paper products. This year, that includes providing tools to inspire us in taking a thoughtful, introspective look at the actions we can take in our own lives to bring about change. The Journal for Change is a product created in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement—in the fight against systemic racism, inequality, and injustice in our society. One hundred percent of the sales of the journal will be donated to the following organizations:  

  • The Loveland Foundation- an organization dedicated to providing mental health resources and support to communities of color, especially Black women and girls.
  • The Conscious Kid- an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to reducing bias and promoting positive identity development in youth. 
  • BEAM- an organization working to remove the barriers that Black people experience getting access to, or staying connected with, emotional health care and healing. 

Bright Endeavors

For Bright Endeavors, home represents comfort, contentment, safety, and security. Lighting their candles champions this for you and for each of the young mothers who participate in the transitional job training program that makes them. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of their candles support their mission to empower these moms, their children, and our communities through professional skills training. Purchasing their hand-poured candles is one way to help women build confidence, strong families, and bright futures. Named “The Woodlands,” the included candle in our box was made specifically for Teak & Twine and brings the outdoors inside with notes of spruce, lemon, and cypress. 

Reflection

What do we find when we seek? When do we take time to consider what’s before us? Our attention spans are short—many reports show an average of eight seconds. That is not much time to hear the heart of a story.

Reflection is the counter approach. Being intentional in listening, thinking, seeing, searching—it is a mighty tool that keeps giving. 

BitterSweet Monthly tells stories of organizations responding to critical social issues in inspiring and transformative ways. These stories are ones of hope, revealing light in the darkness. They tell difficult truths of urgent circumstances through the experiences and vantage points of the frontline healers and restorers, doing the work out of pure conviction, without fanfare. We elevate their work in hopes of orienting and inspiring others to find their place in it.

This season we are grateful to partner with printing service Parabo Press to produce works of art that encourage reflection. Inspired by small-batch printing methods, Parabo creates a unique and modern line of photo prints from facilities in Utah, Oregon and Wisconsin and is an 100% women-run company. Showcasing images from past stories by our BitterSweet Monthly contributors, we have curated an offering that we hope will serve as reminders of the good work being done in the world by others.

 A portion of proceeds from the prints will go to support the work of the featured organizations and help raise funds for BitterSweet Monthly to continue our story-telling efforts.  

Gifting a print is one way to continually reflect on a story that may not be our own. Supporting these organizations allows us to become a part of the good they’re extending. We hope you’ll take a second look.


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Photo by Alfred Quartey

PRINT 1: Himalayan Cataract Project

Started in Nepal in 1985, the Himalayan Cataract Project works to eliminate needless blindness. Cataracts are the cause of a majority of blindness in the world and can be cured with a five-minute surgery. HCP makes this surgery available for free in rural towns, helping people to return to work and perform basic tasks by themselves. The gift of sight restored now continues to be met in Nepal, Ethiopia, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Rwanda, and Ghana. This image was taken at an HCP partner site, the Watborg Eye Center outside Accra, Ghana, founded by world-renowned ophthalmologist, Dr. Bo Wiafe. 

Read their story: Restoring Sight to the Blind Tens of Thousands of Times and Not Nearly Enough

Purchase or gift this print here



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Photo by Erica Baker

PRINT 2: Second Chance Baltimore

This Baltimore-based warehouse provides people, materials, and the environment with a second chance. The group deconstructs buildings entering the demolition phase, recycling and reusing all materials that can be readied for sale in their retail store. It is an operation that provides job training and workforce development to those facing various employment obstacles in the Baltimore region. This is a new life for both the employees and the objects they are salvaging. This image of the Second Chance warehouse’s mural on the side of their storefront is a needed reminder that the world is full of possibilities beyond what we may be able to see.  

Read their story: Baltimore’s Warehouse of Second Chances

Purchase or gift this print here



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Photo by Dave Baker

PRINT 3: Contemplations Series

Our Contemplations series began earlier this year as a way of slowing down to consider wisdom. It is space to think through how we are listening, how we are responding, how we are loving. Contemplations is a six-part series featuring a conversation between director Eliot Rausch, theologian Walter Brueggemann, community leader Peter Block, and a sermon by Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II. This particular image of an ‘88 Oldsmobile parked in an empty lot outside an abandoned mall in Cincinnati, OH was the site of the first conversations featured in Ache and Awakening. May it remind us to consistently seek “the more excellent way.”  

Watch the series: The AcheAwakeningSolidarityRepentanceReordering, Fullness

Purchase or gift this print here


Recentering

Journeying through the unknown is not always our first choice when compared to that with which we are familiar. But familiar rarely leaves us changed.  

The unknown and the uncertain were brought to us this year and with them, an opportunity to shift. To see what lays around the corner of a new direction. Stories capture a similar outlook. They often enlarge our world and give new insights into the things we thought we knew well.   

Stories hold a personal tie that binds us together. And their messages recenter us. They offer encouragement, healing, a new perspective, and hope. These narratives are meant to be shared.  

Our contributors have offered up the stories, books, and resources that have most impacted them throughout this year. The following selection of titles struck a chord with us; you may find them of interest, too.  

These selections can be found in local bookstores as well as online at Better World Books, an organization that funds literacy efforts worldwide by donating one book for each one sold and providing grants to educational non-profits. Their commitment to ensuring that no story is thrown away also holds a positive impact on the environment: over 320,000,000 books have been diverted from landfills through recycling. Through their work, stories never stop giving. 


Recommendations

The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin

Minor Feelings
by Cathy Park Hong
Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates


An Other Kingdom
by Walter Brueggemann

Educated
by Tara Westover

Editor's Note

A huge, heart-felt thank you to the wonderful team at Teak & Twine for helping us put together "The Gift of Good" box, and to our new friends at Parabo for facilitating the printing and framing of our BitterSweetMonthly story photos.

As always, we are incredibly indebted to our contributor family for their sacrifice of time and talent. Thank you Alfred Quartey, Erica Baker, and Dave Baker for allowing us to offer your beautiful photography as reminders of the good at work in the world, and to the dear Britnie Dates for your always soulful words.

I hope this holiday season will be one of intentional peace and rest for all of us.

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Lori Parkerson

Editor, Bittersweet Monthly

Our Story Team

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Britnie Dates

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Alfred Quartey

Alfred Quartey

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Erica Baker

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Dave Baker

Photographer

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