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Experience gift cards


Happy 2015! I have never put a lot of stock in making New Years’ resolutions. This is partly because I would like to believe that I’m capable of finding the resolve to make changes in my life—however large or small, on ordinary days throughout the year. Also, momentous occasions can be weighted by a kind of pressure that for better or worse, I tend to shy away from. But this year I have a few personal goals that I’m moving toward. One is to follow through on the gift “proposals” I made this year. In place of object presents, I gave “experience gift cards” to my loved ones. I made them from recycled, compostable rag paper, give to me by my friend Pam while I was visiting her Shotwell Paper Mill. On the front of each card I drew an image that corresponds with the activity described inside the card. In my remaining time at Parsons, I want to take advantage of the discounted student tickets available at institutions across New York City. These ticket deals often come in pairs, so I realized that this was something I could offer to my friends and family this holiday season and beyond. While coming up with experiences, I chose some individualized adventures and other “wildcard” activities that be enjoyed by anyone in my family.


Experience gifts are my favorite kind to give. Selfishly, I love sharing in the activities. In the context of this blog, I have come to really prefer this kind of expression of love, which aims at making memories rather than waste. Because nostalgia is a mechanism that operates strongly in me, the experience gifts I’ve given and received are throughout my life are the most meaningful and memorable. Certainly, objects can be imbued with nostalgia too… but more on that in an upcoming post.


I was curious to see what would happen if I let everyone draw from the pile, so in a Christmas day experiment, I laid the cards on the dining room table and asked each member of my family to choose the images they were most drawn to. The specifically curated activities were each picked by the person they were intended for. I smiled ear-to-ear watching that unfold.  Then the wildcards were selected and all the holiday date gifts were set.



This first date I made good on was with my mom. I took her to the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln center to see La Traviata. The student discount is significant so check it out if you’re eligible. The show was beautiful. Growing up, my mother filled our home and our station wagon with the music of her favorite composers, bands, and folk singers. Like sponges, my brother, sister, and I learned the lyrics and melodies of everything she played for us. We’d sing along, dance around the living room, and perform impromptu concerts for her (many of them recorded on our video camera). To this day, when I’m sad, my mom will tell me to put on some music. Now, whenever I wonder what to give my mom, the resounding answer is to give back music.

I will post the rest of the experiences as they are shared. Here’s to many wonderful adventures in 2015.

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I know some pretty incredible people. A dear family friend recently gave this yarn to me. I think of her often on my journey toward Zero Waste, as her values and work have influenced me greatly. Pam is a renaissance woman who for as long as I’ve known her (about 14 years) has been interested in sustainability, health, and handmade processes. She spun these wool yarns herself. The gray yarn on the bottom is a worsted Shetland yarn she made with wool fibers from her friend’s sheep in Idaho. The warmer colored yarn on top is a woolen yarn she made from Polwarth sheep fibers she collected while living in Australia. I can’t wait to knit something from these beautifully crafted, oh-so-soft materials. She described the processing of both to me in an email.

“The Shetland wool was prepped and spun worsted–that means all of the fibers were combed out first so they are parallel and then the spinning is also controlled in a way that preserves the alignment of the fibers. If you look closely, you’ll see it’s a relatively smooth yarn. I spun it on a drop spindle. The Polwarth is from Australia and I got it when I lived there. That one I prepped and spun woolen. I washed it first and then carded it with hand cards. This makes the fibers go in all different directions. I spun it on my spinning wheel using a long draw (a technique where you draw your hand back and let the twist enter the yarn). I also fulled this yarn. That’s a finishing technique where you basically shock the fibers. Fibers either felt or full–trial and error will let you know which one your fiber will do. So for fulling I put the yarn in a bucket of really hot water with soap. Using a small plunger I plunged it up and down a bunch of times. Then I took that hot, soapy, skein and put it into a bucket of ice water. The process is repeated a bunch of times until it looks finished. Woolen yarns tend to be fuzzy and this helps give it a cleaner look.”

Everything Pam does she does all the way. Her past projects include a hand-knit mohair sweater made from yarn spun with angora fur she collected over time from her pet rabbit, Jambo. And another sweater she knit using silk yarn spun from the silk fibers she collected from her own silk worms. I don’t remember where she got the silk worms, but I do remember that they escaped their designated habitat and made their cocoons all over the bathroom of her San Francisco apartment. Not wanting to disturb their pupa phase, she coexisted with her metamorphosing roommates for weeks until they emerged as moths.

Once while I was in high school and Pam was staying with us, I arrived home after class and entered the kitchen through the sliding glass door. I was met with a strange and terrible odor that filled the house. “Pam!” I shouted. “What’s that smell?!” She appeared laughing and said, “I’m rendering cow kidney fat.” Sure enough there was large pot of white suet chunks and water simmering on the stove. “What? Why?” I exclaimed. “I’m making soap,” she giggled. “The old fashioned way!” Oh, duh. Of course she was. And she did. Lavender and orange scented bars, which she later gave to my family. The soap smelled lovely.

It was Pam who first hipped me to the questionable and hazardous ingredients in common beauty and hygiene products. She taught me the importance of knowing the source of the goods we consume and the conditions under which they were produced. And most importantly, she taught me there’s almost always an alternative way of getting what we need, if we are dissatisfied with the products that are marketed toward us.

These days Pam’s newest loves are paper, print, and book making. She runs a studio called Shotwell Paper Mill in SF’s Mission district. All their papers are made from recycled fibers. Check out this beautiful video of Pam making paper from an old pair of jeans. She also rides her bike around San Francisco collecting used jute coffee and cacao bean sacks from local coffee roasters and turns them into beautiful cocoa colored sheets. She explained that since great amounts of work, energy, and resources are required to grow and harvest the jute and manufacture the bean sacks, it seems right to extend the life of the jute fibers by turning them into paper. Yep. I like the way this lady thinks. Oh and she also keeps a beehive and grows food in her local community garden. I hope to visit her and see all these fantastic projects in person someday soon.

Thank you, Pam for this beautiful gift and the endless inspiration.

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