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. 

Wrapping with care

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

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


Shopping with purpose this holiday season

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. 

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


Out of Doors in Kenosha

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! 

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


‘Winterize’ your home to soothe the soul

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

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


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

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.

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