Our Earth with Gretchen Covelli

Our Earth with Gretchen Covelli

Hi there, I’m Gretchen.

I own Gypsies Baskets, a small Fair Trade basket business. Most Saturdays you will find me in my booth at the Kenosha HarborMarket. In between work and travel, you can find me gardening, cooking, conjuring up homemade products, reading, knitting, volunteering in my community and homeschooling my 3 beautiful children. My family and I love adventuring through nature preserves, shopping at downtown businesses and restaurants, exploring the museums and the art district, or strolling along our gorgeous lakefront. 

Pollinators Patch

Bees & Butterflies!   If you’re an avid gardener you already know how important they are, and truly I am hoping that those of you reading this are saying…..EVERYONE knows how important they are!   Without them our functioning ecosystem would suffer greatly!   In fact we rely on pollinators to help produce as much as one third of our food supply!   Right about now, I am sure you are saying to yourself….. “Wow, pollinators do so much to help us, what can we do to help them?”   You’re in luck, because there’s a lot & it’s all pretty simple.   If you are not a gardener , per se, and don’t have time to designate to keep up with any kind of garden, then a pollinators patch is a match made in heaven.   Here are few tips to start.  First, plant in clumps rather than having one type grouped together. Plant a mix of colors and scents.  Plan your patch with seasons in mind. Plant certain types in the early spring and other varieties in late summer for your garden to continue into fall!  Choose naive plants.  Below are a few suggestions:

Dandelions!   Easy-let them grow & don’t spray!!

Sunflower- bonus also attracts birds to your garden!

Lavender- Beneficial herb but also wards off flies & mosquitoes!

Bee Balm-  shade tolerant! Keep in mind these are perennials & spread!

Goldenrod-  Blooms late summer & lasts well into autumn!

Coneflower/ Echinacea-  2 foot tall flower stalks. Beneficial Herb as well!!

Milkweed-  start early indoors or buy tubers in the Spring.

Butterfly Bush-  Can reach heights & circumference of  8-10 Feet.  Leave plenty of room.

Snap Dragon- The full package-  they release a scent and color combo that is irresistible to bees.

Marigold-  plant variety with open centers, also benefits soil health!

Dahlia-  choose simple single  or semi double  flower types, which are low maintenance.

Common Daisy- classic white and yellow variety is best.

Borage- self-seeding, very low maintenance

 

When planning your pollinator patch it’s best to think of it as it’s own little habitat.  Be sure to place it in an area that you will not disturb your visitors and give them plenty of space.   And if you want to make it really inviting, you can set up a drink station.  Fill a bowl with marbles and water, just enough to cover.  The marbles act as a landing pad while our little guys stop for a drink.   Over ripened fruit is also a great treat to leave out!

 

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings of peace, love and happiness.  Remember to give yourself grace,  hold the ones you love the most close to you and be present in your everyday.   -Gretchen-

 

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Gardens at night

Most of us are pretty familiar with basic gardens, some provide bountiful harvest of vegetables, some just herbs, others both.  But now we are seeing more and more unique gardens popping up:  Flower cutting gardens, Tea gardens, Sunflower houses and theme gardens!   However, one type stood out;   a Moon Garden.  Doesn’t that sound just dreamy!!  Creating a moon garden is actually quite simple and does not need to be anything elaborate as there are just a few select species that bloom in the evening.   Here are a few basics:

Evening Primroses open at dusk with pleated yellow pops, opening up like little umbrellas.

MoonFlowers begin to open just after sundown.  Their star-faced flowers open slowly, releasing a haunting fragrance.  

Four O’Clocks are an old fashioned flower which opens daily right around (you guessed it)….4pm!  These trumpet- shaped flowers attract the long- tongue sphinx moths which are a beautiful site to watch as they feed off the flowers.

As you sit peacefully in your Moon Garden and watch these beautiful flowers come to life you will most likely have a few other friends arrive from mother nature.

Bats harvest their dinners from buggy night skies.   Yes,  that means they are natural mosquitoes eaters and will be clearing your yard.  Bat boxes are also a great addition to attract more bats to your yard.    You can hear the hum of the sphinx moth’s wings if you listen carefully.   However, they will dive underneath leaves if they detect a pursuing bat!   Giant green Luna moths can be spotted as well.  You can recognize her by the oversized wings,  long trailing tail and the owl-like wing spots. Fireflies add a beautiful glow.  Catch them in a jar with a screen lid for your very own personal firefly lantern.  Just be sure to set them free before the night is over.  Or  watch as the male fireflies swoop around your yard as they flash brightly.   Females will stay put and answer with a firing flare is they are interested in the male. Chirping crickets are most likely guaranteed as well.  

Given our current state of the world, creating a Moon garden that can be enjoyed during a warm summer night seemed most tranquil.  

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings full of peace, love and happiness.  Remember to give yourself grace,  hold those you love the most close to you and be present in your everyday.   -Gretchen-

For more check out
https://www.facebook.com/thewillowskeep/

(This story first appeared in the 5/7/20 issue of the Smart Reader)

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Living by the pull of the seasons: Summer’s Light

This article originally appeared in the March 12th, 2020 edition of The Smart Reader

This is the third addition of a four part series titled “Living by the pull of the seasons”, which means embracing the season we are in.   Finding all the goodness that Summer has to offer and enjoying it to the fullest.

Summer’s light.  We embrace longer days and shorter nights.  We soak in the light of the sun every chance we get .   We eat lighter meals and wear lighter clothing.  We may feel lighter and even less stressed at this time of the year.    Summer has a natural flow to it that we need to pay close attention to and allow to happen.  Much of Summer is spent instinctively healing and allowing ourselves to soak in whatever we may be craving at that time.   So much of our time is naturally spent out of doors; whether it be at the beach or in the water.  Hiking or taking walks along the lakefront.  We sit and relax outside on our porches with a cold drink and listen to the sounds of the summer nights.  We soak in the smell and the cool of a summer storm. We take time to camp and sit joyfully around the campfire. Slow rafting trips down a river or a family pick up baseball game. Our gardens are flourishing and the flowers are in full bloom.  Outdoor concerts, festivals, family bbq’s, full moon drumming and yoga on the beach.  Summer is the season of self care and recharging your internal battery with “solar energy”.

During this season I encourage you to remember the summers of past and how you spent them as a child.   Share these experiences with your own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc.  Try to create these same experiences for them and for yourself.   Make new or continue old traditions that you have enjoyed.   Take the time to care for yourself in the activities I have shared above.  Remember that when the world is loud around you, you can walk mindfully along the lakefront to silence it.   Take the opportunity to meditate just by sitting and listening to the summer rain.   Savor the summer diet by eating all the fresh fruit and vegetables that are readily available to you.   Drink plenty of water and fresh squeezed lemonade, add garlic or ginger with a bit of olive oil to cleanse your liver (recipe listed below).    Sleep with the windows open and breathe that fresh summer air.     

As I come to a close I ask you to remember to let go of the old habits that are you are seeking change in.  There is no room for the new and old to coexist.   Most of all I encourage you to take time for yourself,  give yourself grace,  hold those you love the most close to you and be present in your every day.  Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings in this New Year full of peace, love and happiness.

Liver cleanse recipe

• 1-2 lemons
• 1Tbl cold pressed Olive Oil
• 2 cloves of garlic or small piece of ginger root
• 4 ounces filtered or spring water
– Blend 30 seconds and enjoy

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Living by the pull of the seasons: Spring, that first day!

This article originally appeared in the February 27th, 2020 edition of The Smart Reader

This is the second addition of a four part series titled “Living by the pull of the seasons”, which means embracing the season we are in.   Finding all the goodness that Springtime has to offer and enjoying it to the fullest.

That first day!  We all know what I am talking about.   That first day that we can open  the windows and allow the fresh Spring air to rush in.   That first day when we can wander out of doors in just a sweater and begin to see signs of new life;  trees budding, plants emerging.   That first day when the sun is shining so brightly you want to do nothing but sit there and soak in all it’s warmth.   That first day when you still have to reason with your kids that it’s not quite t-shirt and shorts weather and no, we are not filling up the pool!    That first day when you feel Spring has finally arrived and a new season has begun!    

Spring naturally brings a sense of “new”.  New life sprouting in plants and animals alike.   New energy, new ideas, new plans and a new sense of hope of what could be.   Again, this is a natural instinct all living, breathing beings experience and if we listen and act on this we continue to grow.     We all need growth in our life, however, the areas in which we need to grow is not the same for each of us or even for the same time throughout our lives.    How many times have you tried to start something new and it just would not work out for whatever reason.   As discouraging as this is, it simply could be that the timing in your life was just not right for that change to progress.    Sometimes that Spring energy can send us into a surge of too much change all at one time, ultimately setting us up for failure.   Find your balance.  Ponder on what changes you would like to see at this time and focus on one or two of the most important areas in your life that are seeking growth.    Maybe it’s new attention to your nutrition, our diets should be lighter at this time, more salads and fresh greens, fruits and nuts and a few grains.  Lessening those heavier comfort foods that we crave in the winter months.    Maybe it’s new attention to exercise and finding a new way of staying active both mentally and physically.   Begin a new exercise routine,  take a daily walk,  start a garden!  Maybe it’s new attention to self- awareness or self-expression.  Finding ways to express your creativity, whether that be through art, music, baking, writing, singing, crafting, etc.   Whatever speaks true to you.

I always turn to nature in the spring and for me I always choose gardening.  Gardening is a wonderful activity that can actually bring so much into your life.  Not only is it physically exerting, it can challenge you mentally as well.  Placement of your bed, when to begin seeds, which seeds do you plant together, water distribution, how to tackle weeds, keeping out critters….the list goes on and on.  However, with all of that comes much mental clarity as well.  Being among plant life and playing in the dirt actually improves your mood and releases endorphins.  Many people refer to their gardens as their happy place, or place of Zen, and I couldn’t agree more. My garden begins new each year.  It’s a new form of self expression as my focus changes.   Last year I grew Mammoth Sunflowers…everywhere!   They brightened my day and added a natural barrier wall to an area that was under construction in my neighborhood that was a bit of an eye sore at the time.    My kids loved watching them grow and seeing how quickly they began to tower over us.   Gardens can be a magical place for children, allowing them to help in the planting and care teaches respect for nature and our surroundings.   They will also be much more open to eating the vegetables they grew and cared for.   I highly recommend involving your children in your garden from a very young age and a book of inspiration is “Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots” By: Sharon Lovejoy.   Magical moon gardens and sunflower houses are just a few of the suggestions that my children have loved over the years.

As I come to a close I ask you to remember to let go of the old habits that are you are seeking change in.  There is no room for the new and old to coexist.   Most of all I encourage you to take time for yourself,  give yourself grace,  hold those you love the most close to you and be present in your every day.  Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings in this New Year full of peace, love and happiness.

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Living by the pull of the seasons: Feeling winter

This article originally appeared in the February 13th, 2020 edition of The Smart Reader

The pull to be indoors, warm and cozy on the couch. The cold, wet winter can chill you to the bone, seeking warmth is only natural.   

This is the beginning of a four part series titled “Living by the pull of the seasons”, which means embracing the season.   Finding all the goodness Winter has to offer and enjoying it to the fullest.

Winter is a time of rest and relaxation, especially after the busy Holiday season.   And if we are listening closely to ourselves we will find this natural balance of just the right amount of activity needed during these next few months.   This is a time of less physical activity but you still want to keep your body in shape.  Making sure you are getting enough sleep and relaxation is also extremely vital to your system during this time.   Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are great bursts of physical activity.   Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are available at most county parks when there is now on the ground.   Here in Downtown Kenosha we even have our own outdoor ice skating rink, which is completely free, skate rental and all!  The more you can get your energy circulating, the more your body will clear out all of its excesses; that could be in the form of food, emotion, tension, etc.    Clearing out these excesses will help you to feel lighter, as if a weight has been lifted.  Your mind will become clearer, brain fog is a thing!!  You will become more expressive and communication can flow better.  Creativity, in any form, may even begin to appear!!    Now, it’s completely understandable that the aforementioned activities are not always doable everyday,  not even weekly.   So I suggest finding activities such as Yoga, or Tai Chi, both of which are easy to practice at home and have simple instruction online.   Meditation and stretching are also a great practice to begin with.  Get out of doors each day, even if it’s just a quick 20 min walk.  This can greatly improve your mood and emotions and get your heart pumping.   Listen to your body  however and rest when you need it, do not completely deplete yourself.   

Comfort foods, nothing says winter like a never- ending pot of soup simmering on the stove to warm our bellies.   A warming diet that is substantial and produces heat is exactly what our bodies crave and need during these cold, wet winter months.   Be careful not to increase your food intake too much as our activity levels are naturally lower and therefore we are burning less calories.  Vegetables, especially root vegetables are perfect for the winter diet.   Steamed, roasted, baked or vegetable soup.  Add garlic, ginger or  cayenne to add spice and warmth.    Whole grains are complex carbohydrates which burn well in the body as natural fuel.   Soaked and cooked properly they are also good for the intestines, cooked and prepared with beans such as black beans or lentils, you will have a complete protein and an amazing meal that warms you from head to toe.  Ocean foods such as fish and seaweed are high in protein and vitamins which stimulate and strengthen the skin, hair and nails, as well as thyroid and adrenal glands.  Red Meat stimulates and brightens the blood and complexion but too much can be over stimulating.   Nuts make a  great snack, or addition to salads!

Most of all I encourage you to take time for yourself,  give yourself grace,  hold those you love the most close to you and be present in your every day.  Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings in this New Year full of peace, love and happiness.   -Gretchen-

Embracing change; Living by the pull of the seasons

This article originally appeared in the January 30th, 2020 edition of The Smart Reader

Ah, Winter.  I am sure by now we are all beginning to “feel” it.    Although,  we have had a fairly mild winter thus far (in my neck of the woods, anyway), now is the time when the current season really starts to settle in.  We feel the pull of being indoors, warm and cozy, as much as possible.   The need for a few more cups of hot coffee and all the comfort food a person could ask for.     I encourage you to begin to hear these instincts, as this is truly optimal for your overall health and well-being.    So much of nature is hibernating during these cold dark months and in a sense we should be as well.   Our bodies need this time of quiet preparation for the rebirth of Spring and Summer.   Please know I am not telling you to curl up in your home and never leave, that’s neither healthy nor realistic    Constantly dreaming of warm summer days in the dead of winter is also not healthy, nor productive.   So let’s talk about a balance.  Living by the pull of the seasons can be amazing for your overall health and well being.   What does that mean exactly? 

Well, for starters,  we have to be accepting of “change”, which we all know is not easy.  Just when we feel we are in our groove and things are moving along smoothly, BAM!,  change sets in.   Change in season, change in weather, change in our health, change in our emotions/ well- being, change in our diet.   Suddenly we feel our world crumbling under our feet.     We are creatures of habit, yes, all living things are.     Look to nature and animals,  they are working off pure instinct at all times and are constantly adapting to change.   Which, in itself, is part of their routine.  If we are constantly resisting change, we are resisting growth.  Resisting growth leads to illness, eventually.   Think of it as such;  as we grow from a baby to a toddler we experience quite a bit of change in diet alone.  We go from an exclusive liquid diet to slowing incorporating solid foods, much of which we have to experience one at a time to make sure we do not have adverse reactions.   However, if we did not make this change, this slow progression, we would stop thriving.  Our health would be severely stunted and illness would surely set in.   We would stop growing.  Change is inevitable.    As adults we tend to feel our lives have become a bit more “permanent”, if you will,  that we have it all figured out…..somewhat……for the most part…..not really.  If we have it all figured out then why is disease so prevalent?  Why do we bank on the fact that winter is here and the flu will inevitably be settling into our homes?   Sickness has become part of our routine as resisting change has become part of our routine.     

I invite you to follow along with my four part series, where I focus on embracing each change of season.  Let’s discuss food, nutrition, self-care, activity, being in doors, being out of doors, and enjoying life through it all. 

“There is nothing permanent except change” (author unknown). 

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings in this New Year full of peace, love and happiness.  Remember to give yourself grace,  hold those you love the most close to you and be present in your everyday.
Gretchen-

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Winter greens

This story originally appeared in the January 16, 2020 edition of The Smart Reader.

I don’t know about you, but I dream about my garden all year long!  Granted, when it’s mid-summer and the weeds are going crazy with little else to show for, I might be regretting my life choices just a bit (insert sarcasm).   This time of year however is when I am the most starry-eyed,   my ambitions and goals are extreme!  The Holidays are over, my house is back to some normalcy and all I want to do is go dig in the dirt.  Since we live in Wisconsin and our dirt is frozen, however, I have to find alternatives.   I also miss having fresh greens at the ready.    So…..solution?    Sprouts, microgreens and culinary herbs.    Sprouts and micro- greens are incredibly easy to grow and yield very quickly.   Not to mention they are nutritional powerhouses, packed with vitamins, minerals and proteins that are easier to digest.   Culinary herbs are bit more finicky, but once you find the right placement for them in your home, they prosper all on their own.   Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Microgreens –  Seed Suggestions:  Broccoli, Kale, Peas, Radish, Amaranth, Arugula.   These are the most nutritious, however, I encourage you to grow your favorites as they all have nutritional value!  My only caution is to avoid using untreated seeds, choose certified organic.    Next you simply add seeds to organic dirt, place them in areas with good natural light (or a grow lamp) and make sure to give adequate moisture.  Give seeds enough “personal space” for growth.   Within a few weeks time you will be ready to “harvest”!   Simply snip the microgreens off at soil level after the first two ‘true’ leaves of the plant emerge.  Best to harvest just before serving for maximum nutritional value. 

Sprouts – Seed suggestions:  Alfalfa (easiest to begin with), Broccoli, Sunflowers, Lentils, Buckwheat, Garbanzo, Green Peas.  Supplies are super simple- 1 quart glass wide mouth Mason or Ball jar, cheesecloth and the rim of the lid or rubber band.   Seeds of your choice.  Basic steps are initially soaking seeds then rinsing seeds every 12 hours, storing in a dark place and allowing the seeds to work their own magic.   You will see a yield of sprouts within a few days (roughly 3)..   

Culinary Herbs – Seed suggestions: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme.   My favorite way of growing culinary herbs is in Mason jars, this is mostly aesthetically pleasing, I love being able to see the roots in the jar.  The trick to using jars however is drainage.  Begin with rocks at the bottom of your jar, then add organic soil and fertilizer, add seeds and water (each herb requires different amounts of moisture to thrive).  The downfall to mason jar herbs is they are limiting.  If you want a huge bounty of basil, for example, you will need a much larger container/pot.   You could also grow multiple plants as an alternative, especially if you are using basil frequently in recipes.     Again, each herb requires its own individual care (ie:  temperature, sunlight and moisture)   My best suggestion is to think of which herbs you use the most and which herbs your home can accommodate.  Chives, for example, require full sun or partial shade, so would grow best in a south or east facing window.  This would be something to consider when planning out which seeds to begin.  Culinary herbs will differ from microgreens and sprouts as they are a continuous growth.   You prune and harvest and they continue to grow, harvest time is just a bit longer however. 

Please know these are very basic introductory instructions.  Planting just the idea of possibilities for fresh greens during the winter.   I highly encourage you to dig deeper and research what works best for you.  (all puns intended)

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings in this New Year full of peace, love and happiness.  Remember to give yourself grace,  hold those you love the most close to you and be present in your everyday.   -Gretchen-

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Holiday re-set

This story originally appeared in the January 2, 2020 edition of The Smart Reader.

Ah, the Holidays!   The anticipation. The preparations.  The STRESS!!   We just want them to be so perfect that we can’t help but take things too far.   Which, inevitably, ends with the need to de-stress with much needed rest and a RE-SET!   

Let’s focus on that last word..  Re-Set.   What does that mean……how do we accomplish that?   Well,  for starters I like to reflect on the days that I was able to spend enjoying my family and friends.  What a blessing they are and how thankful I am to have them in my life.    Here are a few ways to acknowledge, appreciate and move forward.  Please know that I write merely as suggestions, in hopes that they help you to choose your path and set intentions that speak true to you and yours.

Go through photos of the Holidays, the days of preparations and the slow days in between.   Although they may not have been exactly as you were picturing, I encourage you to focus on the beauty of how they were!    Let go of any regrets and  thoughts of wishing for different outcomes.   

Write!  Put out an “appreciation post” on social media or write thank you cards!   Send out those good vibes, you never know you might inspire others to do the same!   In the rush of our days we might not realize that we didn’t show our gratitude as well as we hoped in person.   That follow up can do wonders for relationships.

Show yourself a bit a gratitude!  This doesn’t need to be egotistical, but sharing what you love most about your holidays can do wonders for your soul!  Write this down in some way or another.  Keep a Holiday journal or write about it on social media, some place that you will be able to look back on in years to come.  It will help remind you to give yourself grace at this time of year,  might even start a few new traditions!

For this next step we have to get a little dark.   But, in all honesty,  I believe that you have to acknowledge the dark in order to appreciate the light.  Take some time to focus on the parts that weren’t so great.   DO NOT DWELL.   Write them down on a sheet of paper.  Acknowledge it and how it made you feel and then get rid of it.    Toss it in the dumpster outside, burn it, rip it up,  shred it.   Whatever you feel comfortable doing.   This will help in letting go of that negativity.

Rest.  Nap.  Chill. Veg.   Whatever term you want to use, just do as much of it as you can.   Take advantage of the cold calm months ahead and give your body and mind time to rest.

Declutter.   Clutter has been proven to add stress into your life.  Use these hibernation months to clean and rid yourself of items that you do not need, want or may even harbor negative energy.     Donate gently used items to local organizations that give back to your community or pass items on to friends and family that may be in need.

Cleanse.   Epsom Salt and 20 minutes out of your day can do wonders.   Whether that be a hot bath with epsom salt or even just soaking your feet,  it will do you good to make that part of your weekly routine.

Dream.   I always like to end with the potential for growth.   Look to the future.  Begin to plan your Spring garden and summer vacations.  Something to set your soul on fire for the year ahead.

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  I wish you many blessings in this New Year full of peace, love and happiness.  Remember to give yourself grace,  hold those you love the most close to you and be present in your everyday.   -Gretchen-

Writing a family manifesto

This story originally appeared in the December 19, 2019 edition of The Smart Reader.

Ah, resolutions. We all make them. And I’m pretty sure we all break them (just being real here)…..eventually anyway. Maybe some stick and others fade. Let’s face it, LIFE happens. We continually have to adjust, make due, realign. But I think the one thing we can all agree on is in the end, you do what makes you happy! So maybe we set the bar to high or our resolutions are a little too unrealistic, expecting a complete 180 of life. Maybe we just have too many resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way telling you not to set goals for the upcoming year. In fact, my intentions are quite the opposite. It’s about to be 2020, a new DECADE! Set some goals, some intentions!. Let’s grow as individuals! Pursue our passions!! What does that look like and how do we accomplish that?? Well, and this is just my humble opinion, I think it’s actually a very personal plan, a manifesto, if you will. Everyone is different, what works for one will actually set another other up to fail. Finding your niche is also part of the achievement. For me, it’s writing a Family Manifesto, “a declaration of intentions for our upcoming year”. I write our Manifesto on a big chalkboard that hangs in our kitchen. We make it look aesthetically pleasing-hanging pictures around it and use brightly colored chalk. It draws our attention and is a reminder each time we look at it. I am sure it will come as no shock to you when I say my resolutions are not of the “norm”, they are also very personal to me and who I am and the path I choose to follow in my life. Please know I write merely as suggestions, in hopes that they help you to choose your path and set intentions that speak true to you and yours.
Be present in your moments. I know this gets passed around a lot during the Holidays, but in today’s life we are busy ALL.THE. TIME. During the Holidays we take many pictures and are intentional with making it memorable. Let’s focus on our “every-days”. The bedtime stories, the short minutes together before heading off to school/work, riding in the car and family dinners.
Do More- Spend Less. Drive to “nowhere”, play board games, go for hikes, bake together, read together, family art night, make hot cocoa and homemade pizzas.
Savor the Seasons. Be out of doors no matter the weather and enjoy the magic of it all. Play in the rain, Soak up the sun, Roll in the snow, Jump in the leaves!
Be Cuddly and Cozy. No matter the season, remember to take time to relax. Grab your best blankies, melt into those cozy pants and cuddle up with those who mean the most to you.
Make Stuff. Take time to create, no matter what that looks like to you. Creativity feeds the soul.
Be Alone. I know that can be scary, but oh my do we need it.
Get out of Dodge. Travel often and enjoy the new scenery and the unknowns. Even just a few hours away can be a new experience.
Plan and Dream. Never Stop planning and dreaming.
Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me. I wish you many blessings in the New Year full of peace, love and happiness. Hold your loved ones close, be present in the moment and cherish the memories to be made. -Gretchen.

Wrapping with care

This story originally appeared in the December 5th edition of The Smart Reader.

Wrapping paper.   We spend hours picking it out, choosing just the right weight, thickness, design.  How many rolls will we need for the amount of gifts we have?  Bows, ribbons, tags, tape….gift bag???   All for it to be torn open, balled up and tossed in the garbage.    Now please don’t get the wrong impression of me.   I cherish gift giving. I truly believe the entire package is part of the gift and will pour my soul into the entire process.     For me, that means finding alternatives to traditional wrapping paper.     I started this practice 10 years ago and every year turns out unique in itself.  Some years I do more, some less.  Some are all new ideas some go back to my old ways.   Either way I always try to give myself grace.   I will say that growing into these alternatives ways, although may seem daunting at first,  has truly simplified the process for me.   Here are a few ideas on what I have done over the years.

Brown Kraft Paper/ butcher paper.  This is very common now and can be found in most stores, I have found the best deal however, ordering online and in bulk.    Now, I fully understand that a plain brown package may not scream Christmas to most, but trust me when I say that wrapped with beautiful ribbon, bakers twine or burlap,  a sprig of holly or pine and a gift tag.  It makes for a beautiful package.  I have written quotes or messages directly on to the package.   My kids will draw pictures onto their gifts for others and it becomes very personal and genuine!

Recycled wrapping paper/ gift bags.   If I do go the more traditional route, I will purchase wrapping paper and gift bags that are made from recycled materials.  This way they can be recycled again.   (FYI- wrapping paper and gift bags that have metallic, glitter or texture are not recyclable).

Baskets!  (shameless self promotional plug- sorry)   Baskets are a beautiful alternative to wrapping and, bonus, the basket itself is a gift!   Now, I know this great little pop up shop that carries Fair Trade, handmade baskets that are perfect for just this sort of thing.   They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors and she can be found at the Kenosha HarborMarket most Saturdays……if you haven’t caught on just yet.  It’s me.    I am Gypsies Baskets.   Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Fabric-   yes, you read that correctly.   I have a stash of fabrics that range from beautiful antique prints to holiday prints to solid color!   I have some that I have sewn into premade gift bags, others that I keep in various sizes.   I purchase from consignment shops, estate sales and garage sales (generally where I find the most unique prints) or watch for fabric sales and close out prices after the Holiday.    Again, this option comes with some clarification.  I do not wrap every Christmas gift this way.  Please don’t add to the pressure of the Holidays by feeling like you have to sew 30 plus gift bags!!  Start small and give yourself grace.

Burlap sacks!   I have loved the look of this one for a while now and it is so simple.  They come in a variety of sizes, some have print, some lettering and numbers, some plain.  They make a great gift bag alternative for large or “hardy gifts”.  Tied off with a ribbon or  twine, add pine, berries or pine cones.  Simple. Beautiful.

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this space with me.  Please know that these are merely suggestions on the path I follow and I encourage you to find what works best for you and your family.

I wish you many blessings this Holiday season full of  peace, love and happiness. Hold your loved ones close, be present in the moment and cherish the memories to be made. – Gretchen

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Shopping with purpose this holiday season

This story originally appeared in the November 7th issue of The Smart Reader

The pumpkins have all been carved, costumes packed away and pumpkin spice everything is slowly fading into the freshly fallen snow.  Now, I am not one to pass over a holiday too quickly. I fully acknowledge and enjoy Thanksgiving and adamantly support NOT shopping on Thanksgiving. I am a planner, however, and gift giving is something that truly touches my heart and seems to always be on my mind. So I want to share some ideas and thoughts on gift giving, “with purpose,” as we head into a very busy, yet joyful time of year.

What does shopping with purpose mean? Well, the beauty of that statement is, it can mean many things. But, to me, it means- shopping small businesses. Supporting local shops, makers, farmers, artists, entrepreneurs. It means supporting Fair Trade and the less fortunate. It means buying items that are eco-friendly, sustainable, repurposed and ethically made. It means giving my hard earned cash back to the ones who are going to appreciate and need it the most. Over the years I have heard many questions/concerns on how this works or that they would like to do this, but just don’t know how or where to start.  Since this is something I am extremely passionate about and did not always shop this way, I am always very eager to share ways on how to begin! 

Plan ahead and keep a list. Keep a list of who you need to shop for. Once you purchase an item for them, write it down. If you are a year round shopper you might not remember what you purchased six months ago.

Know your audience, so to speak. Who are you shopping for? What are their passions, interests, or needs?   When you are out and about, look for items that are within their interests. Items will start to “speak to you”.

Quality over quantity. Shopping with purpose is just that,  buying what is meaningful and useful or even needed!   Not to say all other gifts are not, but let’s face it, sometimes we are buying just to buy or to show off how much our trees are covered with large quantities of gifts.

Decide ahead of time how many items you plan to get, especially with kids. I try to follow this path-

Their number one item they are asking for (and yes, this is usually a video game or something electronic)

An item that reminds me of who they are at the moment.  A peak interest or a passion that they have. 

An item to wear; clothes, jewlery, shoes, etc.

A book/ journal/ coloring/ music;  something along those lines

Fun!  A board game, a toy, a sled, a mind boggling puzzle!

Need;  I know this is not always “christmasy” feeling,  but some kids only receive items that they need as gifts. I felt this was important to make sure my kids could always relate and be inclusive in a conversation if this was ever mentioned.

What about kids?  Don’t they want everything in the toy catalogs? Yes… and NO! In all honesty I used to shop that way. I wanted to fill every little desire they had, which used to include a plethora of plastic toys that they circled in all the catalogs. I gave specific “buy-this-lists” to each grandparent, aunt and uncle. And in the end, they didn’t remember half the things on their list! When they opened the gifts some got amazing reactions and others were tossed aside.  Why? Because it was all TOO much, they were overwhelmed.  They didn’t truly want what they were circling in the catalogs. They truly were kids in a candy shop ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ over every shining thing they saw.   Was there a genuine want for some of the circled items, absolutely! Do I purchase those items for my kids – YOU BETCHA! 

Shopping with purpose doesn’t mean I dictate every detail of what I feel is meaningful to others. That would be wasteful. It all comes down to balance and educating my kids to understand. Had I always shopped this way, it would be all they have ever known. I can honestly say that over the past 5 years, our Christmas mornings have been the most memorable. My kids open their presents a little bit slower, more mindful if you will. They don’t know if the treasure inside is breakable or not! They know that the one cherished item they asked for is somewhere among those gifts, but truly are more excited for the unique surprises. They become emotional with items that I did not always expect that reaction to bring about. They remember where their gifts came from!  Whether it be the state we were in when it caught their eye, some fun event we attended or cute little shop we were wandering through. But I have to say, the best part of this way of gift giving is seeing these gifts last through the years, to be loved and cherished and used!  To have them reflect on it from time to time and remember exactly which christmas they opened it up and how great that day was.  And when that gift has come to the end of it’s life with us, to see how appreciative they are to either pass it on, repurpose it or place it in their memory box.

Where to shop?

Head Downtown! Make a day of it! Grab a coffee, stop in all the unique shops and sit down to an amazing lunch. 

Kenosha HarborMarket!  With a variety of vendors that rotate every Saturday, you are sure to find an amazing selection of items with each trip.

Kenosha HarborHoliday – International Market and Festival: December 7 & 8th from 10am – 4pm on the Museum Campus grounds. Holiday shopping GA-LORE with a huge variety of vendors selling their wares.  Not to mention, food, fun and holiday celebrations.

Open houses:  Many small businesses offer holiday open houses during the shopping season with extended hours, holiday sale prices and a variety of items/ vendors that  they do not offer during normal business days/hours.

Pop- up shops: Independent makers and entrepreneurs do not always have a brick and mortar storefront.  It works best for them to travel around and just pop up!  This allows a variety of items to be offered by different vendors in one location.  Making it a bit easier for one stop shopping.

Craft Fairs:   Always in abundance around this time are local craft fairs which draw a large variety of makers from all over, again coming together in one location.

Please know that these are merely suggestions on the path I follow and I encourage you to find what works best for you. Shopping with purpose is about making the most out of what you have and finding items that are meaningful to each individual, whatever that may be. I wish you many blessings this holiday season full of  peace, love and happiness. Hold your loved ones close, be present in the moment and cherish the memories to be made. 

Out of Doors in Kenosha

This article originally appeared in The Smart Reader, October 24th, 2019

Fresh air (even crispy cold air) along with sunshine and activity is so important to our physical and mental health.  Summer in Kenosha is amazing-  we’ve got that one down.  So many fun events to attend,  it’s almost impossible to stay inside.  But as the air cools and our temperature drops, all we want to do is stay inside our warm and cozy homes.  And that’s ok too, as long as you can find a good balance to get out, at least for a little bit each day.  Going to and from work and or school doesn’t/ shouldn’t count however.   Finding something that helps relax our minds or  allows you some time to yourself  as well as some family time outside will do wonders for your health.  As “mid-westerners” we take a lot of pride in being able to withstand any weather mother nature throws our way.   It teaches us to be resilient and I think this is a noble quality to pass onto our children as well!   So this year I challenge you to show our resilience to impending seasons by getting out each day, even just 15 min, to enjoy the outdoors and not just endure our daily tasks, but enjoy the beauty and activity each season has to offer. 

Here are a few suggestions on fun activities as well as upcoming community events!

• Take a seasonal walk,  at the peak of each season take a walk or hike and observe your surroundings.  Take small collections as long as you are not disturb any living things.

• Take a daily walk around the block, a park, the lakefront or a favorite location you have.

• Visit our lighthouse and soak in the amazing views.

• Explore our bike trails.

• Take a stroll through our very own Chiwaukee Prairie, each season brings so much beauty.   Snowshoe or Cross Country ski once the snow begins to fly.

• Hop on the trolley and enjoy the scenic tour of Downtown

• Take the Biennial Sculpture Walk along HarborPark

• Join the Fitness Hiking Club and walk the trails with the Naturalist from Pringle Nature Center

• Fishing- whether its a day alone, in a  group on a Charter Boat excursion or trying your hand at ice fishing!

• Shop Downtown on Second Saturdays

  Visit the Kenosha HarborMarket on Saturdays 10-2pm at their new location – the Kenosha Masonic Center 115 56th St. Oct 19- May 9th.

• Ice Skate at the Downtown outdoor Ice Rink.

• Ski, snowboard, sled and tube at any of our county parks or head to Wilmot Mountain where they make their own snow!

• Play among the trees at Boundless Adventures- open through Nov 11th

• Star Gaze at local Observatories-  Griffith Observatory at Kemper Center or Hawthorn Hollow Observatory.

Upcoming Events!!

Oct 25-27th- Walk Downtown and place your vote for the best Fall Window Display in the Downtown Kenosha Fall Window Decorating Contest.

Oct 25th & 26th:  Enjoy a CandleLight Halloween Hike through Bristol Woods

Trick or Treat on 6th Ave-  Trick or Treat through the streets of Downtown from 2-5pm.

Nov 29th- Lightin’ Up! Downtown-   Join our amazing community as we light up Downtown.  Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony and local businesses open late and offering sales and promotions as we kick off the Holiday Season.  

Dec 7th& 8th- Kenosha HarborHoliday- International Market & Festival.  Holiday fun, food and shopping!

Dec 21st:  Winter Solstice Night Hike: Take a moonlit hike through Bristol Woods from 7:30-9pme

Feb 8th:  Snow Daze Festival-  Family activities, Ice Sculptures and Ice Carving Demonstrations.

I wish you many fun adventures this Fall/Winter season as you venture outdoors and try new places and experiences! 

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‘Winterize’ your home to soothe the soul

This article originally appeared in The Smart Reader, October 4th, 2019

The leaves are turning, there’s a chill in the air and everyday the darkness settles in a little earlier.   As the cold approaches we find ourselves settling into our homes that are all buckled up and hunkered down for the long winter!   I love my warm and toasty home as much as the next girl, I don’t love the “stuffy air” feeling that comes along with it.   Windows are unable to be opened and the air becomes stagnant with little to no circulation.    We wonder why winter illnesses are so prevalent!    Here’s a few of my tried and true methods that I have come to love to keep the air fresh and clean in my cozy “winterized”  home.

 Plants!   Indoor plants can purify and detox the stagnant air in your home. I know this can seem  intimidating so here is a list of common household plants that are low maintenance and add beauty to any room.   Aloe Vera, Spider Plants, Snake Plant (mother-in-laws tongue), Devil’s Ivy, Peace Lily, Philodendron, Boston Fern, English Ivy, Chinese Evergreen, Lady Palm and Areca Palm.   Equinox, located in Downtown Kenosha is my best suggestion on where to purchase these plants!

Essential oil diffuser-   Lemon, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Sage, Tea Tree and Thieves are my go to oils.  They smell amazing, purify the air, ward off illness, Tea Tree and Thieves can even fight mold spores!   You can mix and match with other oils if you like to make seasonal blends.  

Burn Sage-  “smudging” or burning sage is an ancient ritual used by the Native Americans to clear a space.   Recent studies show that burning sage for an hour has actually proven to reduce the amount of airborne bacteria by 94%!   

Open your curtains and let that sunshine in!    Not only we will absorb that glorious Vitamin D but that sunlight also works as a natural disinfectant.

Natural household cleaners-  chemicals found in cleaning products are extremely damaging to our lungs, bleach and ammonia included.  Switching over to all natural cleaning products will also keep toxins out of your home as well as add to a better overall air quality.   

Natural Air fresheners and Candles-  plug-ins, aerosol air fresheners and scented candles are FULL of harmful chemicals and toxins.     I totally understand the urge to have your home smell intoxicating, especially during the holiday seasons!    So here are a few suggestions on how to create that naturally.

Soy and beeswax candles are non-toxic.   Beeswax has an amazing smell all on it’s own.  But also check your small local shops for homemade candles, I guarantee you can find scented and uniquely scented candles.

Make your own air freshener-   your favorite essential oils mixed with water in a spray bottle.  So simple!!

Burn incense-  so many varieties readily available.  Grocery stores even carry them!

DIY potpourri-  Place a few orange peels, cloves and cinnamon sticks in a pot of water.  Let it simmer on your stove top. This will fill your home with the most invigorating smell and lasts for hours.  AMAZING!!!

Much health and happiness to you all- Gretchen

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Fall yard work. Spring clean up.  Harmful to our ecosystem?

This article originally appeared in The Smart Reader, September 21st, 2019

If you ponder on it for just a moment, it makes sense.   Only in our urban yards do we worry about getting every single leaf raked up.  Pulling those dried out plants.   Making everything perfectly neat and clean for the big snow that we are about to endure.   To make things worse if the snow comes before we are “officially prepared’ we are sitting with this gut wrenching feeling all winter about how the yard is going to look as soon as the snow melts!   What will the neighbors think!?!  

I invite you to take a walk through our amazing parks and nature preserves that Kenosha County has to offer.   Fall foliage will be at its brightest, the mosquitoes should be, somewhat, at bay and the cool crisp air will refresh your entire being.   Take a moment to look down, among the brush and the path you are walking on.  All that has fallen stays right where it is.   And if you look real close you will see a whole little community within.   Bugs, Insects, amphibians, reptiles, rodents and birds all rely on this ecosystem to survive the blustery winter months!  Fallen leaves and brush provides warmth and shelter from the bitter cold.  Many amphibians hibernate under the mud and soil.  Fallen leaves offer an added and much needed layer of protection.  Birds rely on brush for shelter during our winter storms.   Insects, bugs and their larvae become hidden treats when food is scarce.   

For those of you who love to attract birds to your yard during the winter months, this is one of the best ways to welcome them in.  Not only will they seek shelter and scavenge for bugs in your soil.  They will naturally be attracted to the seeds in your dried up perennials!   In addition, putting out bird seed, keeping your feeders clean (because, yes disease can spread in a dirty feeder) and protein packed suet are all ways to have a bird friendly yard (keep reading for a super simple homemade suet recipe).   

In addition to helping our animal friends, not clearing your garden beds and landscape areas also adds a layer of protection and provides nutrients to your existing plants/ landscaping all winter long!  Come Springtime resist the urge to clear until the temperatures are safe for the new birth of plants coming to life.   Trust me, they will be happier, healthier and sprout sooner.  If you have just too many leaves and brush that you have to clear at least some of it.  I encourage you to start a compost pile.  The nutrient rich soil that is produced from compost can not be matched by any store bought fertilizer.   Speaking of fertilizer… please don’t spray your lawn with fertilizer and pesticides. This literally wipes out the entire above mentioned ecosystem.   Mother nature knows what she is doing.   She has a plan for every season for rebirth and we shouldn’t mess with her.   We all have experienced her rath in some way or another, maybe it’s time we all stop interfering and let her do her thing.

Fun ways to step it up a notch!

1) Frozen feeders – in the dead of winter on our coldest days, my kids and I will make our bird friends a frozen treat.  Fill a cake bundt pan with bird seed, cranberries, pine and orange slices. Add  water and place it out in the snow to freeze.  Once frozen hang with string or burlap, from a branch.  Not only is this beautiful but it gives birds an activity, water and a high protein snack.

2) Toss it! Every year we buy a fresh cut Christmas Tree.  We adore its beauty and smell all season, but on Jan 1st we toss it to the birds!!   Except we don’t actually toss it, we make it pretty and functional and gently place it in our yard where we have the best view to watch from inside.  We string cranberries, hang oranges, clementines and  pine cones covered with peanut butter and bird seed all around it.   It’s a wonderful activity (tradition really) that I share with my kids which we look forward to every year.   I also feel like my tree is not a total waste and is somewhat repurposed.

3) Homemade suet- snow storm approaching???  Stuck in the house??  Make some homemade suet.  Once the storm passes your bird friends will thank you greatly for the high protein snack which they will desperately need.   It takes a lot of energy to hunker down and stay warm during a winter storm. Here’s a simple recipe from the Audubon Society:  Mix the dry ingredients of bird seed, oats, and corn meal together and set aside. Combine the shortening and nut butter in a separate bowl and melt. Stir until completely combined.    Pour the melted mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Spoon mixture into the ice cube tray. Freeze for one to two hours and place in your suet feeder!

1 1/2 cups shortening (look for palm oil free options)

3/4 cups nut butter (any kind)

 3 1/2 cups wild bird seed

1 cup quick oats

1/2 cup corn meal

Ice cube tray

Autumn is a wonderful reminder to slow down. Enjoy being out of doors and soaking up the amazing colors that Mother Nature is about to bestow upon us. I wish you much love and peace through our upcoming change of seasons.