Gifts That Give Back 2018

Each year I put together a meaningful holiday shopping guide especially for you. These are gifts that are tied to causes and help people around the world not only during the season of celebration, but all through the year.

So get your holiday shopping off to a great start with these gifts that give back.

Layered Cuffs 

These Kayan style solid brass hammered cuffs are made by refugee designers by hammering brass into a carved buffalo horn mold, which gives them their unique size, shape and textured quality. The founder of the jewelry site Akamae, Cara Boccieri lives and works with refugee communities in the Jungle on the Thailand Burma border.

Oofos Sandal

These are my favorite slippers to wear around the house and to run errands in. Revolutionary OOfoam technology absorbs impact to reduce stress on feet and joints and provides great support for arches. For every pair of shoes sold OOFOS donates 3% directly to breast cancer research.

Rise & Grind Crew Pullover

Can’t beat the soft comfortable fabric on a cold winter day. This rise and grind crew pullover didn’t even make it to my closet as I keep it on all day long!  United By Blue is a sustainable apparel and lifestyle brand with a big focus on waterway conservation. For every product sold, they remove a pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways. 

Give Thanks Charm

The delicately sculpted sterling silver charm with a message of thanks is a must for charm collectors. Chamilia, a Swarovski company supports WhyHunger, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ending hunger and poverty by connecting people in need to nutritious, affordable food through its “Give With All Your Heart” program.

 

LifeStraw Go Water Bottle

These cute water bottles are portable filtration systems perfect for camping, traveling or even school. New Go 2-Stage Special Edition bottles support public lands alongside the Conservation Alliance and also natural disaster victims through the Safe Water Fund. With every LifeStraw product purchase, one child in a community in need is provided with safe drinking water for an entire school year.

Fringe Basket

Moms will find this artisanal machine washable basket a fun place to store away toys, clothes and magazines. Portion of Lorena Canals’ proceeds helps finance the education of children in Northern India and make lives easier for moms in the community where their products are made. Recent projects include a nursery for 104 street kids in the state of Haryana in India.

Elephant Tote

Passion Lilie, eco-friendly, fair trade apparel company based in New Orleans, LA designed this beautiful elephant cotton tote using eco-friendly materials. Use it for groceries, gym or travel. Purchasing the product empowers artisans in India by creating dignified employment opportunities.

Artisana Arrow Blanket

From the first moment I spread this blanket, not only did it brighten up my living room, my cat did not leave the comfort of its warm and soft alpaca wool. The vibrant colors and artistic pattern remind you of the Andes. Each purchase helps support the weavers and craftsmen and their families in Ecuador.

Soul of Africa Canvas Shoes

Global barefoot shoe company VIVOBAREFOOT, in collaboration with Belgian co-creation brand Akaso, created Soul of Africa Ababa shoes for men and women, showcasing a unique body-painting art of Kara people in Ethiopia. The Kara tribe is one of Africa’s most authentic tribes known for their abstract body painting. This initiative provides local employment and training in Africa. It’s estimated that one fully finished product made in Africa creates five jobs along the supply chain.

LALF Limited Edition Tee

Having recently visited The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Nairobi, I love the new vegan, organic and sustainable clothing brand LALF (Love Animals, Love Fashion). LALF donates 25% of every piece sold from this collection to DSWT, which includes dedicated anti-poaching units, a rehabilitation program for orphaned elephants, actively working to conserve wilderness areas, and much more. 

Buddhi Box

Whether for a mom who needs a little Zen in her life, a sister the yogi, or your BFF who loves to try out new products, BuddhiBox is an easy, unique way to please even the pickiest ladies on your list. Get a monthly, quarterly or one-time BuddhiBox, filled with ethically sourced, made in the USA, cruelty-free products such as essential oils, healing crystals, mala beads, and jewelry. A portion of the proceeds are donated to a different charity every month, and this month’s benefactor is Feed the Children.

Use code buddhibox15 for 15% off all subscriptions and any sale items on Buddhi Box.

Corc Yoga Mat 

These yoga mats are durable, non slip, hypoallergenic and lightweight. Corc Yoga products are made from sustainable, organic cork, not rubber, which is gently harvested from trees in Portugal. Cork trees are the only trees capable of regenerating bark allowing for steady production from a 100% renewable, recyclable and biodegradable source. Additionally, Corc Yoga donates a portion of every sale to support the mental health crisis in Portugal.

Beaded Jewelry

BeadforLife empowers women by training them to create bead jewelry from recycled paper, earn an income, and lift their families out of poverty. These trendy bracelets make for meaningful fashion statement and cost only between $8-40. So go on and stuff your stockings!

Marula Oil

Marula oil is the trending super product this year full of antioxidants, fatty omegas, collages and oleic acid. It soothes sunburns, heals burns, moisturizes cuticles, tames frizzes, soothes lips, heals acne and reduces stretch marks and scars. All ingredients are produced by female-owned businesses and co-ops, and production of Vegamour marula oil provides jobs for women in Namibia.

Save 20% with code BLACK20 on Black Friday at Vegamour.

If you like to entertain, this handmade hamsa dish set with one large plate and six smaller serving or dipping plates is perfect for serving nuts and appetizers. When placed together, the plates create a bright, colorful hamsa hand that symbolize peace, prosperity, and protection. Each piece is made by local women for a fair wage in Neapolis, Tunisia, a city that’s been making renowned ceramics for centuries. And Kamsah supports the region even further, giving 10% of its profits to causes that benefit its artisans.

These beautiful brass necklaces won’t just make a fashion statement, they will spark a conversation. Each proceed benefits Love146, an international human rights organization working to end child trafficking through holistic, trauma-informed survivor care and prevention education. They operate two safe homes in the Philippines and care for survivors in the UK and the United States. They also have a robust prevention program called “Not a  Number,” which is currently in use in 20 states in the US, and in Madagascar and Liberia.

Growing Roots Sustainable Snacks

Instead of purchasing cookie-cutter gift baskets for your office crew, get certified organic, vegan and gluten free snacks that support urban farm initiatives across the country. From Pineapple Coconut Rum, Maple Bourbon and Coconut Curry to Cocoa Chipotle, Growing Roots snack bites and clusters are the perfect delicious, plant-based snack for any season. I am even adding them to my breakfast granolas and homemade salads!

Must Buys Shopping List From Kashmir

The northernmost state of India is often in the news for political turmoil and instability. But it is also one of the most resourceful and artistic parts of the world.

Growing up in the city of Chandigarh, my family would often buy products from Kashmiri vendors going door to door, carrying wool carpets, pashmina shawls and embroidered tunics in the back of cycle rickshaws. We thought their stuff was so exotic! It was a prized possession to own a handwoven a Kashmiri carpet even 30 years ago.

During my recent visit to Kashmir, I was able to put a face to the goods. I visited weavers living and working in their one room shacks; watched how they sat on the floor for hours at a time, working on the same carpet for up to 3 years. It was laborious and caused eye and back problems, yet that was a skill passed on from generations that employed them. I had a new found appreciate for the craft.

Here are few things you must buy from Kashmir:

Saffron (kesar) – Kashmir is one of the few places in the world that grows saffron and you will have to travel to a saffron farm near Pampore Fields, a few miles out of Srinagar. Watch fields filled with purple flowers blooming in October. Saffron is used in many Kashmiri dishes and desserts. Every household and shop in Kashmir will serve guests kahwa, green tea made with saffron and almonds.

Dried Fruits and Nuts (mewa) – Most families in rural Kashmir own fruit and nut farms, which they sell to wholesalers to sustain themselves. Walnut trees are abundant in the Kashmir valley, producing some of the finest quality organic nuts in the world. Kashmiri almonds are much smaller than California ones, but are richer with nutrients as they have more Omega 3s. Also, you can buy golden raisins, dried apricots, blueberries, and more.

Cashmere (pashmina) – Pashmina has become a household name but the fine wool textile was first woven in Kashmir and is known as “soft gold” because of it’s high value. The wool from Changthangi goats found in this region is hand spun and woven to make fine cashmere stoles (shawls), scarves and carpets. It requires a lot of patience and skill to make these products, and many Kashmiris rely on their livelihood from sales abroad.

Copper (tamba) – Mined locally from the mountains of Aismuqum in the Lidder valley of Kashmir, copper is used to make kitchen utensils and home decorations. In Old Town Srinagar, you will find shops stacked with bowls, ladles, pots and plates along with decorative water jugs. Also, most traditional Kashmiri dishes are still cooked in huge copper pots.

Wood Work – Intricately carved walnut wood furniture is an important craft in this part of the world. You will see wood balconies walking through Lal Chowk or Badshah chowk, as well as wooden beds and chairs at homes. Traditional Indian cricket bats are also manufactured in Kashmir from the wood of the willow tree, and are considered to be of the highest standard preferred by international sportsmen.

Papier-Mâché – This handicraft was brought to Kashmir by the Persians and makes for affordable gifts and decorations. Made at home and at small workshops, artisans use paper pulp to make vases, bowls, boxes and trays.

Jewelry – Kashmiri women wear lots of heavy pieces of silver chokers, long dangling earrings and headdresses, which you can find at most jewelry shops. Also found locally are Kashmiri Lac (resinous substance) necklaces, bracelets and hairpins. If you can lay your hands on it, buy the rarest sapphire in the world – Doda Sapphire, which is only found in Kashmir.

Kashmiri handicraft stores and Government run emporiums are found throughout India. But if you want to meet the artists and buy good directly from the source, plan a visit to Kashmir by contacting Go Eat Give.

My host in Kashmir during my visit in August 2018 was Ahad Hotels and Resorts.

Hand-Made Elements

This is a romantic “boy meets girl, moves to an island and starts their own enterprise” story. South African, Charlene Bosch met Italian, Gabriele Tixi aboard Queen Mary 2, where they both were working at the time. They feel in love, got married, decided to quit living at sea, and moved to Bonaire in February 2011.

Charlene always had a passion for design and learned the art of working with glass from her mom. She started a little dichroic glass business, selling hand-made jewelry at the cruise port’s market stand in Bonaire six months of the year. Her unique designs reflected the beautiful aqua colors of the ocean and the bold and bright tones of the Caribbean. Visitors to the Dutch Caribbean island enjoyed purchasing local jewelry that was inspired by the surroundings.

With growing demand for her products, Charlene and Gabriele decided to open a store, Elements Bonaire in downtown Kralendijk. Soon their families moved from Italy and South Africa to join the business. Now they have stores in Bonaire and St Maarten.

elements Bonaire

I visited the store in Bonaire which was decorated with color changing tree in the center of the room surrounded by a vast collection of glass bracelets, earrings, pendants and household gifts. Themes of designs included Africa collection, Ocean collection Sunset collection and many more. Each piece was beautifully done and no two pieces looked alike. Gabriele flaunted glass cufflinks from their men’s collection. Shapes include turtles, angel fish, squares, triangle, long rectangles, packed in a zebra strip box, keeping in line with Charlene’s African roots.

elements Bonaire

Dichroic glass consists of multiple layers of metals which are vaporized in a vacuum chamber and electro beamed onto the glass. The glass is then cut into various shapes, layered together and then fused at almost 1500˚F for around 9-12 hours. From every angle you can see the colors change. The glass gives off brilliance and shine against different shades of light.

elements bonaire

All of Elements jewelry is made with stainless steel which is hypoallergenic and does not tarnish. They also make custom ordered products, such as monogrammed champagne glasses for wedding gifts and party favors.

The pieces range from $15-$55 and are also available online.

Bonaire’s Mr Saltman

Walking around downtown Kralendijk, Bonaire, my curiosity led me into a store called “The Saltman.” Having seen the Cargill Salt hills on the southern part of the island earlier that week, I had some idea about the connection of salt with Bonaire. Production of salt started in Bonaire circa 1636 by the Dutch West India Company and their African slaves. Even today, over 20% of the island is used for production of sea salt, in a completely natural way through sun drying.

Walking in the store, I was completely overwhelmed with “everything salt.” From salt crystals, table sea salt, salt mills, bath bombs, to bath salts and lotions, this was a salty oasis!

saltman

I was greeted by the owner Mr. Sjoerd Vanderbrug (aka Saltman) himself. Vanderbrug is Dutch, who moved to Bonaire from Indonesia. Never been I had met someone who was so passionate about salt. He explained to me in what seemed like 100 Benefits of Sea Salt, why salt was the single most important spice that sustained human life, how it has been used over civilizations from preserving food through the winter to exfoliate the skin, that sodium is the sixth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, how it regulates blood pressure and pH balance, and keeps your teeth clean. He spoke about how the discovery of salt on Bonaire put the island on the map, as there were no other valuable resources. saltman bonaire

So “whats the difference between Himalayan vs Kosher vs Regular vs Sea Salt” I asked the Saltman himself. The difference is in source, production, texture, color and taste. Regular table salt is highly refined and enhanced with iodine (an important dietary supplement), whereas sea salt is made by evaporating water. Himalayan sea salt has a pink color from traces of iron oxide found in it. Kosher salt is more coarse than regular salt and is often used for sprinkling on top of food. When cooked, there is no remarkable difference between the flavors of different salts.

Vanderbrug buys the salt from Cargill and spends considerable effort into marketing the product. He started with a dome shaped box to resemble the salt hill and expanded his packaging to boxes, tubs, salt mills (grinders), loose salt and bags of colored bath salt. When cruisers and vacationers come to Bonaire, they want something they can take home as souvenirs and gift to their family and friends. With the limited number of local products available on the island, Bonaire Sea Salt definitely stands out. It is also available at local restaurants and airport gift shops.

La Placita Bonaire

Adjacent to the shop, Vanderbrug also has a coffee shop and a bed and breakfast.

How to Prepare for a Visit to India

The first visit to Asia is always the most memorable. All of your senses will be blasted the moment you get off the airplane and arrive in the land of a billion plus people. Each year, I take a group of travelers for a cultural and volunteer journey to North India, where they first hand experience authentic food, people and projects. Here are some tips I have put together for the first time travelers to north India to help them mentally prepare for an experience of a lifetime!

Indian chai in Kolkata

1. Follow the chaos – One of the first impressions people have in India is of having little to no personal space as there are people everywhere. You will see hundreds of people, cows, dogs, cars, cycles, motorbikes, pushcarts – all sharing the same streets. The smells, sounds and sights can be overwhelming for the first time visitor, but one gets accustomed to it. Often times, you will be in small spaces with lots of people, thinking there is a fire hazard. Also, there is no custom of forming lines or taking turns anywhere. My advise – follow the chaos, or wait forever.

Chaos in the streets of India

2. Dress conservatively – Someone once told me, “I don’t tell Indians how to dress when they come to the US, so why are they telling me what to wear in India.” Blending in with the locals in any part of the world would not only attract less attention, it would also give you respect. Remember that as a foreigner who looks different from everyone else, you already draw some attention. On top of that, you don’t want to wear shorts, mini skirts, baseball hats and stand out more. While big cities in India are more tolerable with their attire, North India (New Delhi, Punjab, etc.) demand a more conservative approach.

3. Eat everything – Food is a very important part of Indian culture. You will be served chai (tea), soda or water at shops, offices, homes, etc. often accompanied by a small snack. It is impolite to decline food or drinks offered by your host, no matter what time of the day. Even if you are not hungry, you have to accept it, thank them and at least take a bite. If someone invited you for dinner or a visit, they will make sure you eat until you cannot move, offering second and third helpings of food. Saying no means you didn’t care for the food and an insult to the chef.

Indian curries

3. Ignore the beggars and street peddlers – This is hard to do as you may have never seen such adjunct poverty before. Indian streets are full of beggars and it is very difficult to look away from the innocent kids asking for pennies or trying to sell boxes of tissues so they can feed their younger siblings. How these kids come to work on streets and if supporting them is ethical, is a topic of controversy. As a tourist, it is better not to indulge in giving alms on streets as it would result in hundreds of more people surrounding you.

4. There is no fixed price – Haggling is part of the shopping experience and very few shops offer fixed prices. This would comprise of high end boutiques or shopping malls. Everywhere else, you will be quoted a price based on how you look and speak (tourist trap). The general rule is to offer 1/3 off the quoted price and settle in the middle. You will see that no two people walk away from a store paying the same for the exact same item.

5. Partake in the gift change culture –  In India, it is customary to bring a hostess gift when visiting anyone’s place (whether for a meal or not), such as sweets, cakes, flowers or gifts. Although everything is now available for sale in India, the locals still appreciate items brought from abroad. If you take a small gift such as souvenirs, chocolates, make up, toys, clothes, etc. for your hosts, maids, drivers, etc., they would appreciate it more than cash. Often times, your host will give you gifts as well, simply for visiting their home in India.

6. Act like a celebrity –  If you have fair complexion, blonde hair or light eyes, prepare for a lot of stares, especially from kids. They will look at you as a specimen they have not seen before, and may approach you with curiosity. Be friendly and smile back, acting like a well mannered celebrity. And don’t be surprised if an entire class of high school students, along with their teachers, want to take photos with you as the centerpiece.

gina in india

7. Keep the clock, lose the time – Concept of time in India is different from what we are use to in the West. If someone says they will see you at 9am that does not mean at that exact time. You never show up for a party until 1-2 hours after the invited time. Flight, buses and trains mostly stick to the schedule, so don’t be late for them.

8. Respect everyone – In Indian society, we hardly address people by their names, unless its a professional environment. Anyone elder to you is your “aunty” or “uncle”, anyone around the same age as you is a “bhaiya” brother or “didi” sister. An older person can call a younger person by first name or “beta” son or “beti” daughter. This approach follows though daily interactions in shops, restaurants, homes,  etc.

The tips mentioned above are not meant to be “rules” that you must follow, but suggestions that would significantly improve your experience during your travels.

Celebrate your BODY in Santa Fe

The city of Santa Fe is aptly known for high spiritual energy that stems from its unique landscapes and Native American history. It is home to a number of spas, yoga and meditation centers, spiritual healers and alternative medicine practitioners. While the choices are endless, many locals pick BODY of Santa Fe as their daily destination for a complete inner and outer retreat. Continue reading “Celebrate your BODY in Santa Fe”