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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Thanksgiving – Kindness and Happiness

Brighten someone’s day.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been thinking about how each one of us has the capacity within ourselves to spread kindness and happiness in our own way.

Not long ago, I wrote a post entitled Voting is an Environmental Act hoping to help readers connect how voting or not voting affects the environment. I believe spreading kindness and happiness are also environmental acts. This is why.

You and I share a wondrous sphere that we call Earth with billions of other people and non-human living things. Earth is our home, our only home.

People are struggling to survive and so is Earth. It is going to take all of us working together for the common good to heal our planet so that humans and non-humans can enjoy life and thrive.

Only a society of people who respect, value, and care for each other will be able to accomplish what we need to do. Hate, anger, and fear will not get the job done.

Every time you or I encounter another human being in person or in the digital world, we can choose to act with kindness and spread some happiness. I know this is not a novel concept. I am just trying to reinforce it.

For my part, I am endeavoring to be more kind (a work in progress) and to sprinkle a little bit of happiness in my neighborhood on the California Central Coast.

Happiness Sprinkling Project

Laura Lavigne started the Happiness Sprinkling Project in 2012 to sprinkle some happiness in her town of Anacortes, WA with hopes that the idea would spread. It has—all across the country and around the world.

People Wearing Yellow Standing on Street Corner Holding Happiness Sprinkling Signs
A group of people standing on a street corner sprinkling happiness on passersby and offering free hugs. Photo credit Happiness Sprinkling Project (click the photo to visit their website).

The photo above illustrates the simple yet compelling concept. People, often wearing yellow, gather on a street corner or near a sidewalk and hold up inspirational signs to lift the spirits of the people who pass by.

A business card that says “You Rock!” inspired me to adapt the happiness sprinkling idea to my yard.

You can read more about Laura’s Happiness Sprinkling Project and about how I came to have a “You Rock!” card on my desk in the post entitled, Can Happiness Save the World?

Happiness Sprinkling for Shy Introverts

Perhaps if I were an outgoing extroverted person I would have organized a happiness sprinkling in my small town. However, each morning I continue to wake up as the shy introverted person that I am. After pondering ways to spread some happiness in my neighborhood, I came up with the idea of making a sign that said “You Rock!” and putting it in our yard.

One evening in September 2017, I broached the subject with my family during dinner. They did not immediately take to the idea. Nor were they enthusiastic about me writing a post about happiness. A lively discussion ensued.

One comment was that it might be a waste of time and energy as the sign might go unnoticed. Someone else wanted to know what happiness had to do with my core mission, which is trying to convince you, me, and everyone else to live more lightly on Earth. My spouse saw it as another project I would need assistance to accomplish (rightly so).

Undaunted, I declared that happiness is pertinent to the environment. I told my family it would be worth it to me if only one person had her or his spirits raised by seeing a “You Rock!” sign in our yard. Someone replied, “How will you ever know?” That was a good point. However, I decided to proceed and have faith that it would brighten someone’s day even if I never knew it.

My mechanically inclined and creative spouse decided to help me by constructing a weather-resistant sign holder and using Photoshop to create the “You Rock!” sign on three letter-size pieces of printer paper. We installed the sign holder in our yard in a place visible to people driving their cars or walking up and down our street.

Green Groundswell You Rock Yard Sign
The sign holder and our first happiness sprinkling sign were installed in October 2017.

Almost immediately, I decided it would be fun to have a different sign each month. The printer paper sign had been difficult to make and was not durable so my spouse suggested we have some signs made out of corrugated plastic.

We both wanted to use sayings that are universal and are not political or religious in nature so that no one would be offended, even if she or he did not like the saying.

A Year of Sprinkling Happiness

Starting in October 2017, on the first day of each month (or close to it), my spouse and I have been changing out the sign. I thought I took a photo of each one, but apparently, I missed January and September. I photographed those signs last weekend to complete my collection.

You can see how little rain we had during last year’s rain cycle by how few signs show green wild grasses in the background.

During the past year, I received a few waves and a couple of honks from people driving by while I was working in the yard near the sign holder. Perhaps this was just neighbors being friendly and had nothing to do with the happiness sprinkling yard signs, but maybe it did.

On the evening of October 10, a year after we began the happiness sprinkling yard sign project, something unexpected happened.

My spouse and I had walked from our house to the senior center to attend a candidate forum for our local water district board of directors. After the forum, we were trudging up our street (it never gets less steep) when a car stopped in the middle of the street next to us. The woman driving the car rolled down her window. I thought she was going to offer us a ride as some people do when they see us or other neighbors hiking up our street.

You cannot imagine my amazement when she said, “I just want to let know how much I enjoy your inspirational signs.” I said I was glad she was enjoying them and off she went.

This experience sprinkled some happiness on me and reinforced my belief that anyone and everyone can spread kindness and happiness each in our own way.

Thanksgiving is a good day to practice.

Featured Image at Top:  Thanksgiving Decorations with Gourds, Corn, and Paper Native American and Pilgrim – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Magdalena Kucova

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