A Whole Good Gift

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A Whole Good Gift

On Giving Beyond The Gift | November 2021

More Thought

It’s odd sitting down to write a gift guide in the midst of a global shipping crisis. We had a similar thought last year as we worked on our 2020 issue of The Good Gift Guide. One that almost wasn’t published because in the midst of a different kind of global crisis it didn’t feel...necessary. As I write I find myself wondering when it’ll feel normal again to write something like this. Then it dawns on me, in real time, that maybe that is one of a myriad of lessons we ought to learn in this season. That everything we do - everything - probably deserves more thought than we often make the time to give it.

We wrote the first BitterSweet Good Gift Guide in 2017. The first paragraph reads as follows,

Everything we buy has a ripple effect in the world. Everything. And this season that we are entering—called the holidays—is the largest consumer event globally. It’s an opportunity, really, to spend consciously and leverage this special season to benefit the marginalized and support the inspiring.

I read somewhere once that the most earnest words only grow more potent with time. And it’s fair to say that sentiment applies to the above. So in the spirit of being another challenging year older I wanted to write a Good Gift Guide that takes a step beyond the products we love and dips our toes into questions about how we give during the holidays. But never fear, we've still got some incredible products from brands dedicated to sustainability, beauty and care both for neighbor and for self.


Building Hope

These brands are building beauty and cultivating hope. A small woman-owned company that builds big beautiful gardens and a toy brand that builds toys for the tiniest and most hopeful of us, our children.

Love & Carrots // Gift A Garden

In their own words, Love & Carrots is a small, woman-owned company that started with one woman and a pickup truck. Since then, they've grown to a staff of as many as 20 during the growing season. They have completed thousands of vegetable plantings for residents and businesses in the DC Metro area.

LC Arlington 2

Photos courtesy of Love & Carrots

Natalie Nassikas
LC Arlington 5

Photos courtesy of Love & Carrots

Love And Carrots designs and builds these beautiful green oasis at many scales and price points. A garden is admittedly not a small gift. But it truly is one that keeps on giving. Visit loveandcarrots.com to learn more about their design and install process.

Learn More


Zeki Learning // Culturally inclusive, multilingual educational toys

Zeki Learning is a non-profit, educational toy brand that produces ethically-made learning resources. The toys are created with Montessori principles that encourage fine motor skills, sensory skills, language learning, and emotional intelligence.

Zeki is a Fair Trade certified brand, meaning that they are dedicated to providing fair working wages and conditions to our employees. Their artisans are women from the West Bank who have historically faced opposition in the form of low-income, gender inequality, and lack of economic opportunities. Zeki’s mission is to empower our women artisans through job opportunities, training, and a fair income.

Visit zekilearning.org to learn more about their work.

Shop Zeki

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Photos courtesy of Zeki Learning


Sustaining Joy

A collection of brands and products who center us on sustained joy. Reminding us of the mystery of self actualization, the peace found in ritual, the magic of seasons, and the beauty in simple intention.

The School Of Life // Games and Life Kits

School of Life is a global organization devoted to teaching you how to lead a more fulfilled life. Their products are aimed at helping us, individuals, couples, friends, or families, live a more meaningful and harmonious life. Products in their shop are organized into unique "Meaningful Gift" categories like "For Lovers," "For Career Seekers," "For Worried Minds," "For Young Minds," and many more.

Shop School of Life


Harken Coffee Roasters // Coffee and Coffee Products

Harken was born out of the idea that there was something missing in coffee. A sense of elegance. Romance. But more than anything else, thoughtful experiences. From their branding, to their unique coffee making tools and products everything this Vancouver based roaster touches bears a spirit of the same care taken in dialing in the perfect roast.

Shop Harken

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Photos Courtesy of Harken

Kobo Seed Box Candles // Scents For Space

Kobo is a soy candle company. Their Plant the Box Collection, specifically, is comprised of pure soy candles that come in plantable, seed-infused packaging that will grow the scent of the candle. The box is biodegradable, plantable, FSC-certified and made of 100% post-consumer-waste-recycled packaging printed with vegetable-based inks. They’re really cool!

Shop Kobo


Mater Sustainable Home Products // Sustainability For Home & Body

Mater Soap offers a variety of cold-process bar soaps and organic sustainably produced cradle to grave body products. Vegan. Cruelty-free. No sls, parabens, synthetics or fragrances. Just plants.

Shop Mater

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Photos Courtesy of Mater


What We Give

Even in the best of holiday seasons people like me are roughly a week to ten days behind the jump on getting gifts for friends and loved ones. This year with its crippling shipping and supply chain issues is the very definition of odds stacked against us. As I’ve talked with friends, many of whom are small brick and mortar business owners, we’ve come to the conclusion that as a whole we’ve put too much stock into gifting things. Almost as if - and this might be the actual case - the measure of a successful gift giving season is a tree that can no longer find the living room floor because of the sheer volume of “stuff” under it. This dependence on presents we can touch makes us overlook many categories of gifts. Here are just a few:

A Restaurant Gift Certificate or House Account //

No one is untouched by the time we’re living in. But it’s not a hot take to say that the restaurant and hospitality industry has been amongst the hardest hit. Growing up in a Nigerian immigrant home my mum would always say “....I can’t give you a gift card or cash, it’s SO impersonal.” My mum was wrong in some ways that can be the most personal and most helpful. In this case the positive impact is also felt by the restaurant who can look at this gift certificate as a promissory note from a table that might be empty today.


A donation in their name to a cause they believe in //

One of the most basic but powerful ways to show someone you care is by expressing and joining them in caring for something they’re passionate about. It’s easy to allow the voice in your head to convince you that you don’t have “enough” to make an impact. That’s just not the case. A $50 donation that sparks a conversation, while deepening both conviction and relationship, is a seed with immeasurable impact potential.


A commissioned work of art by an artist you know they love //

Art is personal, it’s healing, beautiful, but can also be intimidating. This gift isn’t for everyone, but for the people it is for, it’ll be one to remember. If you know a loved one is a fan, shoot your shot. Reach out to that artist and let them know you want to gift a commission and let them know your budget. Don’t panic, you don’t need to know what your loved one wants. Because after you’ve let the cat out of the bag they’ll get to work with someone they admire to produce something they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives.


Your time //

Now wait. I know what you’re thinking. This is cheesy. It certainly harkens back to being 11 and giving my mum a booklet of handwritten coupons she could use to get me to do chores around the house that I 100% should have already been doing. But I’ll end this section with this: during the holidays we seem to so effectively busy ourselves being thoughtful, we don’t actually have time to think. If many of us are honest our measure of good gift giving can often be more about what we feel as we give, and less about its value to, or true reflection of the desires of, the people we’re giving to. There’s something to be said for the fact that I don’t remember the first thing my wife gave me for Christmas. But I can close my eyes and relive, down to the scent, the first time she spent Christmas morning with my family.


DMV Delights

If you’re reading this in BitterSweet’s hometown of Washington, DC and don’t want to risk a shipping mishap while supporting small businesses, check out these thoughtful brands and products from some local brick and mortar shops.

Lost Sock Coffee // Coffee

If you can’t tell yet, we love our coffee here at BitterSweet. New kid on the block Lost Sock in Takoma Park is a beautiful space with wonderful beans roasted in house.

Visit Lost Sock


St. Plant // For The Green Thumb With A Big Heart

St. Plant has done more than just sling plants: they’re rethinking how we connect with the natural world, and thus, with ourselves. They believe that nature is, by design, the richest environment for self-discovery, compassion, and wellbeing—a gift that blesses every one of our senses, that heals our eyes, our hands, our spirits. You can find St. Plant and many other brands on this list at TheTwelve in DC.

Shop St. Plant

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Photo by Joi Jackson

Baltimore Photo Space // For The Book Buff

Baltimore Photo Space is a photo book store and gallery located in Baltimore, MD. Established in 2020, the store focuses on small and independent publishers of photography books and zines.

Visit BPS


Three Littles DC // Something For The Kids

Three Littles DC was born when founder Elizabeth, found herself frustrated by the lack of places to buy sustainable, thoughtfully-designed children’s goods. A place where families could come to pick up necessities and gifts without being overwhelmed by a selection of too many things that no one really needs. Three Littles was founded with the belief that nothing our kids play with should be made by a child somewhere else and that toys should stand the test of time and be something we look forward to passing down for generations to come instead of just another thing that ends up in a landfill.

Shop Three Littles

Terratorie Maps // Good For Any City

This one works whether or not you’re in DC! Terratorie is the work of artist Torie Partridge. They create illustrated maps to help you celebrate your memories in cities and neighborhoods - whether it’s the city you call home, the neighborhood where you bought your first apartment, or the street corner where you shared your first kiss. We’re women-owned, independently-run, and use sustainable local printing methods. And when community is our passion, creating thoughtful, provenance-centric goods comes second nature.

Shop Terratorie

Terratorie Take 2 1999

Photo by Obiekwe Okolo

Ethic Goods // Understated Jewelry With A Bold Mission

Ethic Goods provides economic empowerment for women rescued from human trafficking, and those at risk of exploitation. We work primarily in South East Asia, and partner with nonprofits that provide holistic care (counseling, education, and healthcare), focus on strengthening the family unit, and have demonstrated a community centered approach. They also believe business has a role to play in empowering the women they work with, which is where we come in.

Buy Ethic


Kicheko Goods // A Longtime Friend Doing The Long Time Works

Kicheko Goods was an anchor in our first Good Gift Guide. And is still nearly 10 years later, making a beautiful product to support a beautiful and inspiring mission. Inspired by moments of genuity and deep joy, Kicheko creates beautiful pieces in small batch and makes an impact by supporting access to education

Shop Kicheko



How We Give

This piece is getting long so I’ll let this section just be a short aside. In short, don’t buy wrapping paper if you don’t need to.

Not because it’s not pretty. But because, considering it’s something that only populates our consciousness at most twice a year, its impact on the climate vastly outweighs its benefits. Vastly. Americans throw away 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Years. A lot of that waste is as a result of the gifting season and our gifting habits. It seems nearly impossible to estimate the amount of gift wrap waste we generate as a nation every year. But According to Stanford research, “If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.” According to WRAP, a UK based climate and sustainability research non-profit, roughly 227k miles of wrapping paper is thrown away in that country every year. That’s enough to reach the moon. But Obi, it’s recyclable, no harm no foul right? Not quite. In fact very few wrapping papers are actually recyclable. Many are made with composites of synthetic plastic and plant fibers. And many others, often the ones we gravitate to in a well meaning effort to make a gift feel extra special, are covered in foil and/or glitter. All of which render them un-processable by recycling plants. Now here at BitterSweet we don’t believe in presenting problems without proposing solutions. So here are a few things you can do this gifting season.

  • Say no to wrapping services at retailers. I know it’s convenient, but we believe in you.

  • Repurpose old newspaper, magazines, *whispers* Amazon packaging, to wrap your gifts.

  • Ask loved ones to please not wrap your gifts.

  • Consider a reusable cloth alternative. If you happen to be a Santa believing household with kids, try this. Buy yourself a large red velvet sack or a large swatch of red velvet fabric and a length of gold rope. Hide all the presents in the closet, until Christmas Eve. On yultide’s eve put all the gifts in the bag UNWRAPPED, and place it by the tree. Make sure you take a bite of the cookies and sip of the milk left for the old man.
  • If you do receive wrapped gifts, don’t throw away the paper, ribbons or bags after you’ve opened your present. You can save them and repurpose them next year.



BitterSweet Goods - A Sustaining Gift

Our last gifting category is one that truly keeps on giving. BitterSweet Monthly is a non-profit that relies on the generosity of our readers, supporters, and contributors to do what we do. We believe deeply in the mission of hope building human-centered, orienting narratives, and would happily give it our all even with just two nickels rubbed together. After we rebranded in 2020 our team loved the new look and feel of our steadfast mission and mantra so much we wanted to wear it and carry it with us everywhere we went.

So, admittedly selfishly, we created a few beautiful crafted products. Some of our friends, and readers asked when we were going to make them available for purchase - the answer is never. BUT we would love to offer them as a gift for any one who chooses to invest in this work. If you, either for yourself or as a gift in the name of someone, choose to walk alongside us with a financial contribution to BitterSweet Monthly, we’ll send you a designed token of our deep gratitude. So you too can rock the mantra and hold dear the mission everywhere you go - Refuse Cynicism, Defy Apathy, and Celebrate Good.

      One time donation of $25

        • Our undying gratitude and thank you card. (valid only in the fiscal year of donation)

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        Sustaining Membership of $15/mo or, a one time donation of $70

          • Our undying gratitude and thank you card. (valid only in the fiscal year of donation)
          • BitterSweet Provocations Card Set

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          Photo by Obiekwe Okolo

          Sustaining Membership of $20/mo or, a one time donation of $120

          • Our undying gratitude and thank you card. (valid only in the fiscal year of donation)
          • BitterSweet Provocations Card Set
          • Receive a t-shirt

          Sustaining Membership of $20/mo One Time Donation $120

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          Photo by Obiekwe Okolo

          Sustaining Membership of $50/mo, or a one time donation of $200

            • Our undying gratitude and thank you card. (valid only in the fiscal year of donation)
            • BitterSweet Provocations Card Set
            • Receive a t-shirt
            • Hat

            Sustaining Membership of $50/mo One Time Donation $200

            IMG 6992

            Photo by Obiekwe Okolo

            Sustaining Membership of $100/mo or a one time donation of $260

              • Our undying gratitude and thank you card. (valid only in the fiscal year of donation)
              • BitterSweet Provocations Card Set
              • Receive a t-shirt
              • Hat
              • BitterSweet Fellows Carter Move Mug

              Sustaining Membership of $100/mo One Time Donation $260

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              Photo by Obiekwe Okolo

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              Editor's Note

              It's my hope that this holiday season will be a thoughtful one, where our experiences of the past couple of years meld into a clarified resolve to give more, less materially. I am wondering what I can make, write, say that might be gift enough. How can I give more and more meaningfully of myself? The gift of time and thoughtfulness, we know, means the most.

              I want to thank Obi for shouldering this particular gift guide. His spirit and creativity shaped it from blank page to catalog of inspiration, with whimsy and personhood woven so beautifully throughout. There is no better gift - to me - than creating alongside a team I love and enjoy.

              And so may this collaboration land well in your life and prompt a fresh consideration of meaning and joy this season. For us all.

              Kate Schmidgall 2022 color
              Kate Sig

              Kate Schmidgall

              Editor-in-Chief, BitterSweet Monthly

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