Tag Archives: Green Christmas Gifts

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Books for Adults

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir, by Katrina Kenison, is a refreshingly honest book in which Kenison re-counts finding herself, at roughly middle age, as her children grow older and gain independence, and the author’s family transitions from an urban to a more rural, and slower, lifestyle. The book’s intimate (but not overly revealing) anecdotes and observations unfold in a way that creates the feeling that one is reading letters from a good friend.

Liza Dalby’s East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons is an extremely special book that I find myself dipping into throughout the year. Dalby, who has spent a great deal of time in Japan and is the author of Geisha and other books, as well as a passionate gardener, weaves together observations about various topics — gardening and the natural world, poetry, eastern and western cultures, gender identity, life with small children — and she does so by structuring the book according to the 72 seasonal units of the ancient Chinese almanac. Each piece is beautiful in itself and delightful to read, as well as often quite insightful, funny or deep. Perhaps, as with the Kenison book, the best memoirs (and this is one, although it’s so quirky and brightly observed that “memoir” doesn’t quite do it justice) make you yearn to be the author’s friend or over-the-fence neighbor, or at least sit down for some tea.

Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm, by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann, stands out among this year’s crop of farm-to-table cookbooks. This is a stunningly photographed book that focuses on eating locally and in tune with the seasons. The recipes feel as fresh as the food pictured. Crump is a Canadian Slow Food pioneer and chef, and Schormann is a pastry chef, and the resulting book is enriched with their experiences in restaurants and in organic farming.

Every project in Betz White and John Gruen’s Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made With Repurposed and Organic Materials is adorable, colorful, and fun, and contains simple step-by-step instructions that a novice fabric crafter can follow. Best is the inspiration that comes from seeing all these ideas for repurposing and recreating with materials you may already have on hand or could easily locate. The book also contains a very thorough resource list. It’s a guaranteed winner for someone who’s interested in fabric crafting, especially one on the hunt for easy, do-able ideas.

You could do no wrong with any title by Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmental writer whose work managed to infuse the modern environmental movement, as well as educate and inspire wonder about all aspects of the natural world.  Her 1951 classic, The Sea Around Us, is a fine place to introduce a reader to Carson, or to simply experience her lustrous prose as she describes the awe-inspiring, continually mysterious world of the oceans, their history, their habitat, and the special place where water and land meet. The new edition contains added material by marine biologists about the deterioration of the oceans and their life, as well as some prescriptive ideas for its greater care.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

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12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Books for Children

While, for many, Winter’s major celebrations have come and gone, others are still celebrating — in ways lavish or cozy – whether by giving and receiving gifts on the 12 days that have just begun, or by simply relaxing together with a little time off from work and school.

Either way, there is hardly a better time to enjoy a book, the most beloved of which provide beauty and provoke thought in a measure that far surpasses their price. I’ve uncovered a few wonderful books for children that share a message of stewardship and of slowing down. In my next blog post, I’ll do the same for adults.

All in a Day, by Cynthia Rylant and Nikki McClure, is a very sweet and beautiful book that illustrates some of the simple things that can be done in a day – planting a seed, gazing at the sky. With pleasing rhymes and gentle and lovely two-color cut out illustrations, the message becomes clear, though never heavy-handed: A day is a gift, full of possibility, companionship and simple beauty. This is a book to be read again and again.

The message is somewhat similar in One Morning in Maine, by Robert McCloskey, an older sweet favorite that follows a girl, her father, and her little sister for a day of boating and clamming on Maine’s shore, only to lose a tooth and have the day go a little differently, but no less adventurously, than planned. It’s a lovely, gentle book (as are McCloskey’s other titles) that’s full of wonder, both of the natural world and in the relationships that pepper a family’s life.

The setting in Jason Chin’s new book, Redwoods, is the U.S.’s west coast, where a boy emerges from a city subway into an ancient, and awe-inspiring redwood forest. Chin offers an adventure story and a lot off information, along with great watercolor illustrations that capture the misty beauty and intensity of these giant trees.

A lot of older children are appropriately concerned about the environment and wondering how they can contribute toward making things better. Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Help Protect Our Planet,
by Harriet Rohmer, offers a dozen inspiring tales about real people, of all ages, who decided to truly make a difference in their world. They include a teenage girl who acted to remove an industrial pollutant from the Ohio River and a teenage boy who helped his state recycle electronic waste and keep it out of the landfill. Photos and illustrations help carry the stories, which let readers know that they can each have an impact.

Two very lovely and colorful tried-and-true books help children understand the cycle of nature in the garden: Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow and Ruth Heller’s The Reason for a Flower. Both are brightly illustrated, and simply and wonderfully show nature’s variety and the way each aspect of the ecosystem helps one another.

Aunt Ippy’s Museum of Junk, by Rodney Alan Greenblat, features the highly original Aunt Ippy, an early recycler and highly creative individual who never met an object she couldn’t make something useful and fun from. This is a delightful book, brimming with wonder, resourcefulness and an offbeat style of cheer that speaks to the free spirit in a lot of kids.

Marilyn Singer’s On The Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather takes readers on a round-the-world tour at a time of year when dramatic and contrasting weather events are occurring. Bold illustrations and simple prose help explain how and why different types of weather occur on the same day, and also help make the planet feel a little more familiar and connected.

Happy exploring through books!

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Homemade Cookies

Cookies might be the ultimate green and well-received gift — They’re delightful, yummy and fun. They come from the heart. They’re economical. Making and exchanging them can be a fun holiday tradition. And you can always make a few extra for yourself.

This week I had the pleasure of attending a cookie exchange! Lucky me (and my family.) Each year the women who volunteer to help with my local Girl Scout group have an exchange in which attendees bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. The cookies all go out on a table, and we line up (Girl Scout volunteers are orderly) and go around the table, socializing and taking a cookie from each plate until they are all distributed. (A photo from the exchange is above.)

There are several cookies that have become part of our holiday baking traditions. I usually manage to make a couple of types each year. They happen to be easy to make. Here are the favorites.

Spritz Cookies


I grew up making these. In fact, my mom really enjoyed making Spritz cookies and Halloween cupcakes. A certain whiff from an electric beater (she had a great, big Hamilton Beach one that was permanently on the counter) takes me right back to childhood winters and falls.

Spritz cookies are made by pressing the soft dough through a cookie press and through various plates with interchangeable shapes. I love the efficiency and fun of pressing out lots of little cookies. Once pressed onto a cookie sheet, you can decorate them with the sprinkles of your choice. I think one of the keys to good Spritz cookies is: Be sure your recipe includes almond flavoring (or add 1/2 tsp. per 4-5 cups of dry ingredients, or half as much as your vanilla flavoring). The other is: Have fun decorating. This can be a very festive and delicious cookie. If you do color the cookies (which I recommend!) you might want to try professional paste frosting colors, which, with a little patience, produce a nice deep color. (You can get a box of 8 small color jars from ChefMaster, available at specialty baking stores, for around $7).

It also takes a little practice to learn to press the right amount of dough out per cookie. (Most presses have adjustable settings.) The good news is you can just scoop dough that didn’t work out back into the press and try again.

This site, from Wilton, offers the classic Spritz recipe, plus links for buying a cookie press. I recommend the reasonably priced Cookie Max.

Butterballs

You may know them as Mexican Wedding Balls, or Russian Tea Cookies. Butterballs are mine (and a lot of people’s) favorite cookie — They’re tasty, melt-in-your-mouth buttery, sugar-coated, and just all-around great, any time of year. I find the ones in The Silver Palate Cookbook to be the best of the best, perhaps because they’re largely sweetened with honey, which provides a great taste and crunch.

Here is a copy of the recipe, from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Sugarplums


One more from the Silver Palate team — This one is in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook: Sugarplums. Mythical, festive, evocative Sugarplums. (Blame it on The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas.) They are certainly as much fun to pop into one’s mouth as they are to contemplate. The original recipe calls for corn syrup and cognac. I substituted agave syrup, a mild and more natural sweetener for half the corn syrup, and all of the cognac (using a little under 1/3 c. for the cognac portion.) And I did away with the cherry on top, the better to enjoy the pure, undiluted Sugarplum experience.

Enjoy!

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Wind Power Renewable Energy Kit

Got a budding scientist or environmentalist at home? Or simply want to build something and then experience the way wind can be harnessed to create power?

Then consider the Wind Power Renewable Energy Kit from Thames & Kosmos, which, at its price point (found at Science City and Horizon Hobby for under $40), provides a lot of play and educational value.

This kit contains everything you need to build your own wind turbine and then use it to generate the electricity to light up an LED and charge a rechargeable battery, or the mechanical power to lift a heavy weight. Obviously a great way to learn about a natural energy source, the turbine is also fun to build and can be assembled alone or in a group. The accompanying book contains 20 different experiments.

The company also makes a hydropower kit for exploring the power available from water.

Other kits include a fun and elaborate Candy Factory, so one can explore the science and method behind making everyone’s favorite sweets, a Bubble Science kit, featuring tons of fun, soapy activities, a Perfume Science kit, with a mini perfume lab, for learning all about the creation of scent, and lots more.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Eco-Dough

When my family first heard about eco-dough, from the eco-kids company, we all immediately knew it was a winner. Everyone loves traditional Play-Doh, from Hasbro, or play dough made in ones own kitchen from simple ingredients.

But what if your child is allergic or sensitive to wheat? In that case, Play-Doh, with its starch-based binders, is no longer a good play option. (A full list of Play-Doh ingredients, and an explanation of its chemistry, is here.) Enter eco-kids, a Los Angeles-based family company that handmakes natural gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free eco-dough! The dough comes in six wonderful colors, which are dyed from plants, vegetables and fruits. The dough is soft and very pliable and doesn’t dry out quickly, the way regular Play-Doh does. (If it should dry out, a little veggie, olive or flax oil brings it back.)

Eco-kids also sells natural finger paints and puzzles. They provide  a terrific product for those seeking a natural, gluten-free dough, and a toy that offers open-ended creative play, as limitless as ones imagination.

Photos: Eco-kids

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Butterfly Girl Dolls

I adore these Butterfly Girl Dolls from the Canadian company, Little Humbugs. Each of the cute 12″ plush dolls comes snuggled inside a chrysalis, the way a real butterfly is. It’s a great idea — The chrysalis provides further play, teaches about nature, and doubles as the dolls’ packaging as a way to cut down on waste. Each doll is cutely designed in a color-coordinated outfit and bright wings, and each has a nature-inspired story, whether the doll be a protector of nature, a bird keeper, or a planter of seeds.

One of the dolls includes an added benefit: For every doll purchased a tree will be planted in the Monarch butterfly conservation area, to help save that endangered butterfly.

Little Humbugs also offers Butterfly Girl ebooks, party invitations, sleepover kits, and other items. There’s even an eco superhero for boys, Flint the Dragonfly Boy.

Little Humbugs is the creation of children’s book author and illustrator, Marghanita Hughes. Marghanita is passionate about connecting children to nature and encouraging them to enjoy and steward the Earth. She notes on her web site that she hopes her work can help influence children to care for the environment in a fun and gentle way. I think the Butterfly and Dragonfly dolls would do just that and, best, they are just fun to play with, without all the consumerist trappings that similar plush dolls include.

Photo: Little Humbugs

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Root Viewer Garden

I recently saw this wonderful toy and immediately got very excited about it. The Root Viewer Garden, from Toysmith, allows you to see what’s happening underground when you grow root vegetables like carrots, onions, radishes, and beets. And, best, it contains everything you need to grow your own root veggies and watch the show: a wooden tube holder; three 5 1/2” plastic tubes; growing medium; carrots, onion and radish seeds; instructions; and a journal for recording their progress from sprouting to harvest.

I’ve forced flower bulbs before, by growing bulbs in a water-filled bulb-forcing vase, but I think growing root vegetables in the Root Viewer’s tubes is far more visual, and therefore rewarding, for kids. With root vegetables, all the action is normally underground! Plus, there’s something about growing a food and learning about that process that is educational and stays with one for life.

I happened to see the Root Viewer Garden at a store called Farmer’s Friend in Columbia State Park, in California’s Gold Rush Country, which I highly recommend as a fun, colorful place where a lively chapter of California’s history comes to life.

If you’re not planning a visit to Columbia, the Root Viewer Garden can be found online at Kiddly Winks, Toy Blaster, and Amazon.

I plan to feature 12 green holiday gifts, be they toys, objects, activities, or contributions to others. If you have any ideas, send them my way!