A Sustainable Twist on Your Traditional Gift Exchange

by Amanda Kuhnert

My brother still wears the vintage Woolrich buffalo-check shirt that I gave him for Christmas 10 years ago. I bought it for $5 at a thrift store in northern Vermont.

In 2009, the year after the recession hit, our family decided to host a repurposed-and-recycled gift exchange. This was, by far, my favorite holiday-shopping experience. Not only did it lighten the financial load, but the hunt for “the perfect” secondhand gift sparked our imaginations and put one-of-a-kind items under the tree.

I often think of that red plaid shirt and the stories it could tell. I’d love to know when it was made and whose closet it hung in before becoming part of my brother’s wardrobe. The shirt still looks as good as new, but it could be over a century old. After all, the buffalo-check fabric is the very first product Woolrich produced in its Pennsylvania-based woolen mill beginning in 1850.

I have warm memories of that recycled Christmas: the fun of turning what would have otherwise been a stressful shopping experience into an exciting hunt for discarded treasures; the anticipation as each opened gift revealed another unique find; and the fact that I bought everyone in my extended family a special something, all for under $50.

Why shop second-hand this holiday season

It’s not too late to start a new holiday shopping tradition in your family. Buying pre-owned items is more sustainable for your wallet, environment, and home. Here’s why:

  • You’ll get more for your money. High-quality used products cost a lot less than cheaply-made new items. You can find beautiful, unique gifts that have already passed the test of time. Most older products, like my brother’s shirt, were made to last.
  • Buying (and donating) used products keeps perfectly good items out of landfills. Rubber, leather, and textiles make up more than 9 percent of municipal solid waste in the U.S. And solid waste is on the rise. The total generation of municipal solid waste in 2015 was 262.4 million tons, up 3.5 million tons from 2014.
  • Your purchases benefit your community. Most secondhand stores are run by local charities, so you know your money is being put to good use right in your backyard.
  • You’ll bypass the unnecessary plastic packaging that’s overwhelming our landfills and littering our oceans.
  • Used products don’t generate pollution or require energy to create. Overproduction of consumer goods is a drain on natural resources, and the excess waste threatens our environment, health, and safety.
  • Tired of all the holiday advertising? Buying secondhand is a simple way to avoid mass-produced products and push back on advertisers and corporations telling you what makes a great gift.

Secondhand gift ideas

If you’re not accustomed to secondhand shopping, you might be surprised at what you’ll find. Keep these holiday gift ideas in mind when you visit your local consignment or thrift store:

  • I’ve found beautiful handmade scarves, hats, and sweaters, as well as designer jeans, jackets, and belts at the most unassuming, hole-in-the-wall thrift stores.
  • Purses and bags. You’ll be amazed at how many accessories people buy and never use.
  • Handmade mugs, vases, tea pots, and other pieces of pottery. These are my favorite items in the secondhand treasure hunt.
  • Instead of splurging on one new book, you can spring for an entire collection at a used book store.
  • You’ll find a wide selection of bracelets, rings, necklaces, and earrings. The trick will be walking out with just one!
  • Buying and framing a piece of artwork might break your holiday budget, but you can find secondhand framed paintings and photographs at affordable prices.
  • We can’t hold on to our kids’ toys forever. That’s why, at thrift stores, you can find classic toys like Thomas the Train engines, Legos, and Tinker Toys — for a fraction of the cost of buying new.

Buying secondhand saves money, benefits the environment and local charities, and puts unique, well-made products back to use. Plus, you’ll have a lot more fun perusing your local thrift stores than fighting the crowds at the mall — or shopping alone in your living room. I promise.

There are several resale shops nearby: Ellaway’s Attic Consignment Store, Encore Designer Consignment, and Who Is Sylvia? in Woodstock; Bridgewater Thrift Store in Bridgewater; and Listen Thrift Store and Revolution in White River Junction.

Happy shopping!

Amanda Kuhnert serves on the board of Sustainable Woodstock. She writes regularly on her blog ourmerryway.com.

DO JUST ONE THING: Visit (and donate to) your local thrift or consignment shop.

How Energy Efficiency Can increase Your Home’s Value


Bobbi Dagger, PhD, REALTOR® and Green Designee

The Atlantic Real Estate Network

Amy C. McClellan, SRA, MBA, Milne-Allen Appraisal Company


On Monday, October 29, the Sustainable Woodstock Energy Committee and Efficiency Vermont will bring you the Woodstock Button Up launch event. The Button Up event, to be held at the Woodstock Town Hall from 6:30-8:00pm, will get you thinking about what you can do to “button up” or weatherize your house against the upcoming winter cold. (Full details about this event can be found at the following link: http://www.sustainablewoodstock.org/)

As I write this article, on our first cold, breezy day, I can appreciate coming into my house and feeling the warmth!

Just do One thing: Come to the Button Up launch event at the Woodstock Town Hall on Monday, Oct. 29,, at 6:30 p.m. Ask about simple ways to insulate your home.


What is Weatherization?

There are many advantages of energy efficiency. Not only do we make our own homes more comfortable, but we also contribute to decreasing the amount of carbon in our atmosphere in an effort to put a brake on climate change. By weatherizing, we seal up the identified leaky areas of our homes, prevent heat loss, and thereby use less fossil fuel (oil or propane) to keep our homes warm (or cool).

There are simple, low-cost things you can do to improve your home’s energy efficiency. The Green Resource Council, an organization that grew out of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) (http://greenresourcecouncil.org) recommends 19 things you can do on your own. Of these, seven will make a big difference during the upcoming winter season.

  1. Weather strip around doors and windows.
  2. Seal air leaks around building envelope incursions
  3. Caulk window trim and around window panels.
  4. Install a programmable thermostat.
  5. Hang thermal drapes or install insulated cellular shades to block or retain heat.
  6. Change furnace filters monthly
  7. Seal heating ducts.

The next step is to insulate where a contractor determines there is heat loss. Your best options for insulation are:

Blown-in Insulation: Fiberglass, cellulose, or wool insulation that is blown in. It is often easier and less expensive to install than batts of fiberglass insulation.

Foam-in-Place Insulation: A product that acts as an air barrier and provides insulation and air sealing in one step. Most foam insulation products have a higher R-value per inch than fiberglass batt insulation. Using foam insulation increases energy efficiency because smaller heating and cooling equipment is required.

Efficiency Vermont (https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/products-technologies/insulation-windows-doors) is a valuable resource for learning about different kinds of insulation and finding a contractor to do the work. They also identify rebates that are available for homes and businesses.


Can energy efficiency upgrades increase your home’s value?

The simplest way to think about it is–as my mom always used to say, “With talk comes more talk.” As more people increase the energy efficiency of their homes and realize the benefits of lower energy bills and more comfort, the more people will seek out energy-efficient homes.

The first step to determining actual value of a home with energy efficient features is to get a copy of the “Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum” (https://bit.ly/2J8Skrk). You can fill out your home’s energy-efficient features and then give the form to your professional contractor to add what they have done. An appraiser who has learned how to value a home according to its “green” features, will use this form to determine actual value. You can find a local “green” appraiser at this website: https://bit.ly/2q4Hfil.

Appraisers inform the home owner/seller and their real estate agent of the added value of their property due to energy efficient renovations. Locally, our multiple listing service, through the efforts of the Northern New England Board of Realtors, has been adding data-entry fields to identify green features and certifications. Being able to search the MLS for homes with green features helps agents search for sustainable homes and properties, and allows builders and sellers to market their green endeavors.

Lenders are also recognizing the added value of homes with green features. A buyer looking for a mortgage should find a lender who uses informed appraisers. Energy upgrades both improve the value of your home and save you money. FHA (Federal Housing Administration) and VA (Veterans Administration) allow mortgages to include energy efficiency upgrades, so that, even with a higher mortgage, your monthly costs can be lower (See the chart below that references the energy efficient mortgage homeowners guide available at: https://bit.ly/2NYcGEq).

Your Brain on Nature


Woodstock’s quiet Vondell Reservoir.

By Laura Power

Note to reader: This is Part I a two-part series on the fascinating book, “The
Nature Fix,” by Florence Williams.

There is a cure for one of the most virulent menaces of modern society, a
scourge that’s highly visible and openly accepted on almost every American
street. It’s present in nearly all homes and places of business. Every day,
American adults spend an average of about 11 hours in front of computers, smart
phones, tablets and televisions. For children, it adds up to 5-7 hours on average,
again, every day. Screen time continues to trend up, and not coincidentally, so
does obesity. Too much boob tube and iPhone impairs vision, cognitive acuity,
and sleep, stunts development of social skills, and can exacerbate attention
problems and anxiety.
Author Florence Williams says there is at least a partial remedy for the ill
effects of too much sedentary time indoors, an antidote that’s easy and fun. Even
a little time spent with the flora and fauna of nature, she says, can calm the mind,
lower blood pressure, improve creativity and lead to, well, happiness! Thankfully,
there’s plenty of opportunity to test and validate Williams’ findings here in

Williams spent two years compiling 260 pages detailing experiences,
experiments, and statistics in “The Nature Fix,” her book about the beneficial
impact of small and large doses of nature on stress and other physical and
mental ailments. The research stems from two hypotheses: that humans are
inherently at home in nature because that’s where we evolved, and that time in
nature fortifies our brains with needed rest.
Williams’ quest to confirm the curative powers of nature took her to forest
therapy trails in Japan and Korea, up slickrock fins in Utah, across fitness trails in
Finland, and over rambling hills in Scotland. She ran whitewater in Idaho’s River
of No Return Wilderness and picnicked beneath the massive, man-made
Supertrees in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. Along the way, Williams
interviewed neuroscientists, forest guides, psychologists and social scientists. To
document the impact of her adventures, she monitored hormone levels, heart
rate, blood pressure and other physical manifestations of well-being. She tested
effects on her creative and cognitive capacities. And, she paraded around in
various environments wearing an electroencephalogram cap to track brainwaves.
The bottom line is that Williams discovered that being in nature produces
both instant and ongoing effects. She learned that out in the green and quiet
wilds, the human body experiences an immediate, positive reaction. Within seven
minutes, the face relaxes and the heart rate lowers. After 20 minutes, blood
pressure drops and circulating cortisol (a stress response hormone) declines. At
50 minutes, cognitive performance improves.

Realizing these benefits consistently requires what seems like a modest
investment. Researchers that Williams met in Finland found that a minimum of
five hours a month in nature is needed to maintain restorative effects. That
seems like a reasonable chunk of time to carve out of the hundreds of monthly
hours many now devote to screen time.
Woodstock and environs, fortunately, offer a plethora of natural spaces
where residents can be among quiet, aromatic trees, sweetly warbling birds, and
gentle breezes to test their own reactions, and hopefully calm their brains.
In “The Nature Fix,” Williams cites noise as a near constant source of
stress in almost all environments, urban, suburban and rural. The world
continues to grow louder. Human-generated noise has increased two-fold every
thirty years, Williams reports, and roads have so fully penetrated the lower 48
that traffic can be heard in 83% of our land. The relentless roar of airplanes in
cities causes measurable declines in reading comprehension among school
children. Although much of Vermont is relatively quiet, here in Woodstock, racket
from trucks, cars, and motorcycles on Route 4 can be grating. For a stress-
relieving break from engine whine, try the blissful quiet of the Amity Pond Natural
Area State Park in nearby Pomfret. Its short trails run through ferned forests, past
small ponds, and over open fields. Enjoy an almost solitary ramble or simply sit in
one of the silent meadows and absorb the view of distant ridgelines.
The Vondell Reservoir in Woodstock is another place of subtle beauty and
near-absolute quiet. Walk a mile up to it on the unmaintained, forested Grassy
Lane, which begins opposite the Cox Reservoir and the Woodstock Aqueduct

Company garage on Cox District Road. On some mornings, a fine mist hangs
like a shroud over the lake’s fingers. On others, the glassy stillness of its surface
creates a flawless reflection of the surrounding trees and hills.
While man-made noise often irritates, certain sounds from the natural
world soothe. Wind, water, and birds are the “trifecta of salubrious listening”
writes Williams. For the gentle swoosh of wind and water, visit the back lawn of
the Woodstock History Center, on Elm Street. Spend a lunchtime idling at the
picnic tables set right by the Ottauquechee River. And in the warmer months,
enjoy the perfume of summer blooms wafting across the expanse of verdant
In “The Nature Fix,” Williams says that humans have a special kinship with
birdsong because we have more speech-related genes in common with birds
than we do with other primates. One of her experts recommends listening to the
birds for at least five minutes a day; we associate their chirps and tweets with
comfort and safety. There are a number of birding hotspots in and near
Woodstock. The Nature Conservancy’s Eshqua Bog, off Garvin Hill Road in
Hartland, is one of them. The website eBird lists more than 50 species sighted
there in recent months. A few of the more melodic include the Scarlet Tanager,
the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A visit to the
Eshqua Bog is particularly special during the two or three weeks in June when
hundreds of wild orchids bloom there.
(To be continued in next week’s edition of The Vermont Standard.)


Part II
The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park is Woodstock’s gem,
and the quintessential place to try the nature-immersion, sensory experience
called “forest bathing” that author Florence Williams touts in her book, “The
Nature Fix.”
The National Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides website lists
trained facilitators, but also offers advice for self-directed, solitary forest bathing.
Very important, it says, is that the experience should have no goals. Forest
bathing is not a workout, there should be no effort to “achieve” anything.
Transcendent immersion experiences reported by others are irrelevant and there
should be no attempt to duplicate them.
Pick a place in the National Park that is forested, preferably near a stream,
and that doesn’t require much physical exertion to move in. At the outset, pause
in one place for at least 15 minutes and become acutely aware of all of your
senses. Pick up a stone and feel it, listen carefully to all the sounds of the forest,
breathe deeply through your mouth to taste the pines and the maples and the
earthiness of the soil. Look about, for things that you haven’t noticed before.
Walk around slowly for another 15 minutes and perceive even the most subtle
movements: leaves flitting in the breeze, small animals rustling by, birds winging
from branch to branch. Have a conversation, out loud, with the trees, sticks,
stones, flowers, and other objects near you, and let them in turn inspire new
thoughts in you. Choose a comfy spot and just sit for another 15 or 20 minutes.
Watch an ant crawl across a fallen leaf or a bee flit among wildflowers. Leave

with a feeling of giving back. Sing a song or write a haiku or simply thank the
forest for being.
While forest bathing should be a gentle experience, “The Nature Fix” also
acknowledges the value of combining time in the leafy and wild outdoors with
exercise. It’s well documented, says Williams, that brisk physical activity boosts
memory, slows aging, mitigates anxiety, improves learning, and lightens mild
depression. Pairing exercise with restorative time in nature amplifies those
benefits. And, Williams encourages experimentation with ways to incorporate
outdoor exercise with other pursuits. The Mountain Road Trail to the Pogue in
the National Park, for example, could be an ideal venue for a walking meeting.
Why not discuss marketing strategies or product development in an atmosphere
known to relax the brain and open it to new ideas?
Or, instead of plopping onto chairs and couches, hold your next book
group meeting while hiking the Summit Trail at Mount Peg. At the top, drink in the
vista of pastures and orchards and ridgelines across the valley. It’s a view that
Williams might characterize as awe-inspiring; the kind that she says stimulates
curiosity and a more outward, helpful, collaborative focus.
Your brain, and your body, will love you for it.