Coolest and Greenest Gift for Kids this Holiday Season

Give a gift they will never forget.

This holiday season, give the kids on your list an eco-friendly gift that is appropriate for kids of all ages and that they will enjoy for years to come.

If you are expecting to read a post about toy dump trucks made of recycled plastic, organic cotton t-shirts that say “Save the Bees,” or kid-size gardening tools, you may be disappointed because you will not find them here.

Literally, the coolest and greenest gift you can give your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews is to act like global warming and climate change is real.

“Really, you have got to be kidding me. I do not want to think about global warming during the holiday season!” is a reasonable response to the above statement.

It could be that I am just a perverse person, but I believe the holiday season presents you and me with the perfect opportunity to consider our holiday traditions and habits and how we might change them to live more lightly on Earth. A habitable planet now and in the future is the best gift we can give the children we love.

My goal for this post is to interrupt your business-as-usual holiday preparations and mine before they get too far along so that we can decide what we want to do differently and then do it before the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Greening Your Holiday Season

Giving your holiday season a green makeover is one thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint. Some of the ideas below are easy and some are hard. Feel free to come up with your own. There is no right answer.

One thing to keep in mind is that we humans excel at justifying our behavior so do not be surprised if you find yourself coming up with really good reasons why you cannot change and do things differently this year. If this happens, go grab a photo of the children in your life and try again.

Of course, I am not immune to justifying my actions either and as you will see, I do not always go for the eco-friendly option. I am constantly striving to live more lightly on Earth, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

Travel

This time of year, the USS Enterprise would come in handy (hopefully it is a zero-emissions spaceship). Imagine saying, “Beam me up Scotty,” and being magically transported across the country without the hassle of flying or its enormous carbon footprint.

Amtrak California Zephyr Traveling Along the Colorado River
Amtrak California Zephyr train traveling along the Colorado River – photo credit Amtrak.

Before you go online to book your flight, please seriously consider taking the train, riding on a bus, or carpooling. It could be a wonderful adventure and the start of a new holiday travel tradition. While not carbon-free methods of travel (unless the vehicle is electric), trains, buses, and carpools have significantly smaller carbon footprints than flying.

Even if you have already made a reservation to fly you could change your mind and choose a greener travel alternative.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are the quintessential symbol of the holiday season for me and about a hundred million other people. This year ask yourself if you can and want to green your Christmas tree tradition if you have one.

I have been a real Christmas tree enthusiast ever since I was a small child. But about five years ago, I began worrying about the environmental impact of real trees and wondering if an artificial tree would be better. After researching the issue, I concluded that the best choice as far as the environment is concerned is not having a Christmas tree at all.

My love for real Christmas trees overcame my inner environmentalist and I bought a real tree, but I also began a new holiday tradition, “A Tree for a Tree.” I asked readers to join me in planting a tree each year that we buy a real or artificial tree or put up an existing artificial tree. That year my spouse and I rescued a tiny cypress seedling from certain death on a street median and planted it in our yard (now it is about twelve feet tall).

Two years later, I upped the ante to “Buy One, Plant Two.” That year we planted two Big Sur coast redwood seedlings in our yard and last year we planted two small toyons.

Property developers and readers who follow climate change will recognize this tree planting as a mitigating action, which is when you do something to make up for doing something else.

Food and Drink

During the 6-week holiday season, you and I will have 126 meals (not including snacks) to try out environmentally friendly menu ideas and dining practices. No, I am not suggesting that you serve tofurky for Christmas dinner unless you want to try it.

Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish
Stir-fry vegetable dish – photo credit iStock/Mizina.

Feeding the people you love with healthful, nutritious food is an act of love. What better time than the holiday season to try out some new meatless or low meat recipes and include more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds into your menu planning? Eating a healthy diet does not preclude you from making Christmas cookies with your grandchildren.

This holiday season set your table with reusable dishes, glasses, cups, flatware, and serving pieces that you already own. Give yourself extra credit for using cloth tablecloths and napkins. Ask guests to bring extra tableware and reusable containers for leftovers. Use the time you spend washing dishes to catch up with family members and friends.

You can accomplish another green holiday action while shopping at the grocery market. Leave plastic bottles of water and anything that comes in an aluminum can on the store shelf or in the cooler. No amount of recycling can ever alleviate the environmental damage caused by single-use beverage containers.

Gifts

Living more lightly on Earth requires amassing less stuff. Yes, that includes gifts.

In 2013, my spouse and I made the decision to stop exchanging Christmas gifts with our family and friends. We have never regretted it. Now, each year, we look forward to a stress-free holiday season with time to enjoy it.

If you have ever contemplated opting out of Christmas consumerism, now is the time to do it. You might be surprised how readily your family members and friends accept your suggestion to stop exchanging gifts during the holidays (at least between adults).

For those of you not willing to give up exchanging gifts, please ship your gifts via ground transport. You may not realize it, but when you select 2-day shipping or overnight delivery, your package is probably hopping on an airplane significantly increasing the carbon footprint of your gift

Decorations

Decorating for the holidays is fun and brightens up the cold and dark winter months.

The challenge, at least for me, is to avoid obtaining new items because everything looks so festive and enticing in stores and online marketplaces.

Quilly's Antiques Shop - Dickens Village
Dickens Village Quilly’s Antiques Shop – photo credit Department 56.

Giving decorations to other people or donating them so you can acquire new items is decoration churning and does nothing to curtail the environmental footprint of making, transporting, and distributing new decorations like Christmas tree ornaments, inflatable snowmen, and Santa figurines.

Over the past couple of years, as part of my mission to live happily with less stuff, I have pared down my Christmas decoration collection to the items that I really, really like and can see myself enjoying indefinitely, but there is a hitch.

One of my favorite things is my Dickens Village collection of tiny Victorian-style buildings, trees, and figurines inspired by the books of Charles Dickens, like A Christmas Carol featuring Ebenezer Scrooge.

Recently, after I had donated my London’s Chocolatier Shop and chocolate street vendor figurine to make room for my friend’s Quilly’s Antique Shop, I finally had to acknowledge that I have been engaging in decoration churning for several years. Oops.

My green holiday change this year is to focus on healthy eating, which is also good for the planet, by eating more plants, less meat, and enjoying sweet treats in moderation.

Okay, now it is your turn to evaluate your own holiday traditions and habits and decide what, if anything, you want to change to make your holiday season more environmentally friendly.

Your children, my children, and everyone else’s children are relying on us to keep Earth habitable now and in the future, so everyone can enjoy life and thrive.

Happy Holidays!

Featured Image at Top: Colorful Handprints Surrounding Earth – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Holmes Su

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Green Travel – Take the Bus

Riding the bus is good for the planet and your wallet.

Enjoy your vacation and cut your travel carbon emissions 55-77% by opting to take a bus instead of flying. Let’s embrace vacationing and protecting the planet.

On a recent vacation, my mother and I chose to travel by bus instead of flying. This post chronicles my experience riding on a long-distance Greyhound bus for the first time. It was better than I expected.

Getting from Point A to B

Last year, I told my mother I would be willing to take a vacation with her as long as it did not involve airplanes because flying has a huge environmental impact and I do not like any aspect of air travel.

A few months ago, she proposed the idea of going on motor coach tour that would take us to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. I was excited about the prospect of visiting the national parks and looked forward to spending time with my mother.

With the decision made to go on the tour, we now needed to work out our travel logistics.

First, I would need to get from where I live in San Luis Obispo, CA to my mother’s home in Los Angeles several hundred miles to the south. We then needed to travel to Scottsdale, AZ where the tour began and later get back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, NV where the tour ended. Lastly, I needed to get back home.

For the first and last legs of the trip, I could have driven my car, flown out of and into our small airport, or taken a bus. I chose to take the Amtrak train because I could stretch out and relax.

Getting to Phoenix and back to Los Angeles on the Greyhound bus seemed feasible so we booked the tour, bought our bus tickets, and arranged for transportation from Phoenix to Scottsdale.

Riding the Greyhound Bus

At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of our Phoenix-bound Greyhound trip, one of my mother’s friends dropped us off at the tiny Claremont bus station a few miles away from her house. Check in was easily accomplished but I had forgotten the free voucher for my second piece of luggage so I had to pay $15 for it.

The bus originated in Los Angeles and made one stop before arriving in Claremont several minutes past its target arrival time of 8:05 a.m. A few people got off and then the bus driver checked our tickets and loaded our luggage under the bus.

We walked to the third row and I managed to shove the tote bag carrying our lunch through the bungee cords into the overhead storage rack, which in not as roomy as airplane overhead bins. We kept our filled reusable water bottles and a knapsack containing snacks, reading material, and outerwear at our seats. I anticipated the air conditioning might make it cold on the bus but it was a pleasant temperature throughout the trip.

The safety belt equipped leather seats were about as comfortable as airplane seats with a tiny bit more legroom. The seat could recline, but like on an airplane if you reclined more than a little bit it would be unpleasant for the person behind you. There were two electrical outlets in each 2-seat row and free Wi-Fi throughout the bus. The windows were large and tinted. We settled in for the seven-hour ride, which would take us through mostly desert terrain on our way to Phoenix.

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm Near Palm Springs, CA
San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm Near Palm Springs, CA – Photo Kit Conn

There was an onboard restroom, which we did not use. Perhaps I should have at least looked at it for research purposes but I supposed it was like an airplane lavatory, minuscule and sometimes not too clean.

As I looked about, I noticed that the bus driver cockpit was backed by what looked like a thick plexiglass divider and that a full height plexiglass gate had been pulled across the aisle separating the driver from the passengers.

A mother and her small daughter were sitting across the aisle entertaining themselves with a collection of dolls outfitted as various Disney characters. The background noise increased as the day wore on and more people boarded the bus but it was still a lot quieter than an airplane.

In Riverside, the man who had been sleeping in one of the front row seats got off the bus so my mother and I moved up front. Being in the front row made the journey more enjoyable but I think the third row would have been okay too.

Our first chance to leave the bus for a few minutes was at the San Bernardino station. I got off to use the restroom and stretch my legs. The station was larger and could accommodate several buses letting off and taking on passengers at the same time. We were the only bus at the station but it was busy with people at the counter and milling about the waiting room.

Our final stop before reaching Phoenix was for a lunch break in hot and windy Blythe near the Arizona state line. The Blythe bus station consisted of a few picnic tables outside of a gas station with a sizable minimart. I wrestled our lunch out of the overhead rack and we ate it outside while trying to keep everything from flying away.

After lunch, we gained one more passenger, a woman lugging an inordinate amount of carry-on totes and bags. The bus driver informed us that if all went well we would arrive in Phoenix on time in a little more than two hours.

Entering Arizona from California on Interstate 10
Entering Arizona from California on Interstate 10 – Photo Brandy Jenkins

The rest of the journey was uneventful and we did arrive in Phoenix on time at about 3:15 p.m. Our luggage was immediately available right next to the bus. The Phoenix station was large with space for about a dozen buses and inside there was even a security line. We met our ride outside the entrance and headed to the Scottsdale hotel where we would later meet our tour group.

From the time we left my mother’s house in the morning until we exited the Phoenix bus station with our luggage, we had invested about 8 hours in traveling by bus. Had we flown, getting to the airport, waiting, flying, and collecting our luggage would have taken at about 4 hours or more if the flight was delayed. So either way, we would have devoted a day to travel.

Unseen circumstances foiled our plan to take the Greyhound from Las Vegas back to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, my mother became ill during the tour and a long bus ride home with a layover in San Bernardino did not seem like it would be good for her wellbeing so we ended up flying from Las Vegas to Ontario and taking a cab to her house.

In the end, even though we did not completely accomplish our goal of no air travel, we had a good time and did substantially lower our travel environmental footprint. I also discovered that bus travel is more pleasant than I anticipated.

The next time you are planning a vacation, consider the taking the bus. It is good for the planet and your wallet.

Featured Image at Top: Greyhound Bus Interior with Passengers – Photo by Greyhound Lines

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