by contributor, Matt Lara

Tips and ideas for a truly caring season.

Hark the herald angels shop…

I am packed in a department store dodging the usual giant shopping backs full to the brim, and eagerly browsing customers searching for the perfect deal. Normally I would panic seeing as I thoroughly loath any store during the holidays. This year is different, however, as I have risen and shipped out early on the final day of Divine Design—the annual charity shopping event created by Project Angel Food. The group truly is divine, as they provide food and care to those unable to provide for themselves due to HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. So, today’s shopping spree is more of a joy. How nice to actually shop in Beverly Hills without having to incur serious debt. You see, the deals are fantastic with each item marked down 50% off on the first day, then down another 10% for each succeeding shopping day. And this isn’t discount crap either — the merchandise consists of brand new packaged goods donated by retailers and most are quite a steal. Today, I’m wandering through apparel, shoes, a large selection of Barbies (I don’t know), and spend most of my time plucking home goodies and gifts for my family. I walk away with happy to have supported such an amazing organization.

With every Christmas card I trash…

I must admit that I am in the spirit, although I’m just as likely to be a big Scrooge among the hassle, traffic, and cost of it all. I pull out my Christmas box full of old holiday cards wondering if I should keep them. I have card conflict—someone took a moment and spent a few dollars on that little piece of plastic-coated card stock. (Are these even recyclable?) I decide not to throw them away, but turn on yet another one of my very manly talents: crafting. You just watch out for my glue gun…

Every crafter knows where to look… let’s just call her Mother Martha. She’s one of the most successful, and more notorious, craft queens ever. And her website has the perfect craft for that stack of cards as thick as a two-by-four. My new family heirloom:

Handsome, right? Basically, you’re going to need to cut about 20 circles out of holiday cards, and be really savvy with the scissors and glue. It’seasier than it looks. By the way, I buckled and purchased a box of simple greetings from Quotable

Cards. Each one is made from recycled paper, soy-based ink, and manufactured using wind power. I think an elf must have guided me to these smart little cards. Another holiday tradition I have conflicts with: wrapping paper. It’s so sleek, and I love a well-wrapped gift, but I can only imagine a landfill piled high with that lawnbag-full of discarded paper city after city has thrown out (not to mention the mountains of cardboard and plastic packaging). This year, I’m turning to my late Grandfather—a cowboy, veteran, and rough-and-tumble S.O.B. when he needed to be—for inspiration. He was notorious for wrapping gifts in newspaper. Too tacky? Fine, pop a sticky-bow on there if you want. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t. I got some good ideas here and here.

Magazine pages work well too. If you really, really want those snowmen and candy canes all over your gifts, use holiday catalogs. Remember how much our junk mail is wreaking havoc on the environment? Take it from a Brute who loves to wrap gifts—reuse!

Oh Christmas beans, oh Christmas beans…

I feel like I’m in holiday therapy, what with me spouting off my conflicts and solutions and so on. I have yet one more to chew over. Holiday meals conjure visions of some old school cooking—can green beans drowned in canned mushroom sauce and crispy onions. How in the world did we come up with this dish with it’s odd, crunchy, salty comfort? (this is how, according to Wikipedia) This year, my family and I are perfecting our attempt at deconstructing Green Bean Casserole as inspired by VeganYumYum (where are you Lolo? We want you to update the blog!). We’ve since abandoned the deconstructed part, but let’s just say we are never going back to the canned crap. I never say never but…never. Another conflict solved! Make a holiday classic from scratch, and see just how good it gets.

Silent night, scandalous light…

I’m signing off until next year, but not after I tell you about some last minute shopping. If you’re in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, you have to check out Spork Foods. I went up to their Holiday Bazaar this year and ran into good friends Ari and Mikko from A Scent of Scandal and browsed the array of naughty aromatic candles. I want to be a good boy for Santa therefore I cannot say the names of scents without having to wash my mouth out with soap. All I can say is, there’s Scandal wafting through my holiday…

Have a happy and conscious holiday. We face a new year of both challenges and triumphs. I believe if you’re here reading this, you’re making an effort to do good in the world, and that is the greatest gift one could hope for this holiday.

-Matt Lara