When I was a kid, my wish list for Christmas and birthdays ran predictably to the latest, greatest toy or gizmo found on chain store shelves.
Years later, it’s the unwrapable gifts that still make me smile today:
- Walking downtown with my father to see David Copperfield perform feats of magic, then traipsing home through snow flurries, reliving the show aloud together.
- Riding the train to Philadelphia with Dad and my best friend to visit the Franklin Institute. The walk-through beating heart! The hair-raising Van de Graaff generator! The steam locomotives!
Were my folks trying to "go green?" Nope. They were aiming for budget-savvy fun—and avoiding the downside of "thing" gifts—driving to multiple stores to wrestle with crowds, and then storing three girls’ toys, replacing batteries, attempting repairs and disposing of them.
Figuring out what each of us would enjoy doing took some effort, but it was effort well invested.
Today, many green holiday guides focus on which green products to buy. Even with some recycled content and reusablility benefits, any "stuff" still carries environmental costs related to manufacturing, packaging, shipping, wrapping, powering and disposal.
A shared experience, on the other hand, at most involves a short drive. And it provides an opportunity to support local businesses, artists, nonprofits and other resources that already exist right here in our own community.
On the Peninsula, the choices for activities to share are so plentiful that nearly every interest and budget can be met. The San Mateo County Event Center and the Cow Palace, for instance, host antique shows, gem shows, bike and motorcycle expos, body art expos, craft festivals, holiday festivals, rodeos, home shows and more.
Live music for every taste can be found in settings as diverse as local churches, coffee shops, cabarets like Club Fox and large venues like the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. And don’t forget live theater and dance, or college and pro sports events.
Want to explore the natural beauty of the Peninsula? Consider botanical gardens like Filoli, several farms that welcome visitors, plus hundreds of miles of hiking trails. You can also soak up some education with your entertainment at local attractions like the Hiller Aviation Museum, the Sanchez Adobe or the Peninsula Museum of Art.
Still short on ideas? Skim through the San Mateo County/ Silicon Valley Visitors Guide.
Tips to Deepen the Green:
- Take transit or carpool together to your special event.
- If the gift includes a meal out, try one of the Fresh as Its Gets choices nearby.
- Pick an event that falls in a less busy time of year, giving you something to look forward to and providing more breathing space to make green choices about transportation, food and the other incidentals of your shared experience.
A mild-mannered civil servant by day, Mary Bell Austin uses her time away from her environmental work for, well, environmental play. Her adventures in healthy eating and her explorations into the wider green world can be found at Bite-size Green. Her column appears biweekly on Saturdays.