In a switch from our usual format, the column today will be a list of holiday gift ideas culled from this year's Earthwatch column. If you buy any of these products, use the phone first. Save driving agony, gas and time. Give things that are going to make folks feel good now and after the holidays as well.
* Any kid whose Game Boy batteries have expired in mid-adventure will jump for joy when presented with a plug-in battery recharger and half a dozen rechargeable batteries. Available at all stereo and electronics shops.
* Complexion-conscious or allergic kids (are there any who are not one or the other?) might initially look at you funny if you give them a nicely packaged eco-soap, shampoo or skin cream. After they've used this stuff they'll probably ask you for more. Anything with tea tree oil is what you're looking for: (800) 642-2145, 644-6990 or 486-8266.
* John Javna's book, "Fifty Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth," is something a somewhat bold parent might put in a stocking. My children will probably say, "Is this your way of telling us to clean up our rooms?" Join me in risking $4.95.
$20 and above:
* I fell for a digital landscape poster with a dramatic look at California and our ocean floor as seen from a satellite. It's a low-angle view similar to the initial photos of Mars' landscape, and there are two extra "window" views like those on an Apple computer screen. You see the Ventura area 5 million years ago and 5 million years in the future. Raven Images, 1-800-237-0798.
* Although I think of a solar flashlight as a gift for adults, when I got mine I found myself having to pry it out of my son's hands. He seemed to make up uses for it at all hours. To order a Solara flashlight call (619) 931-6788. They'll get it to you fast via UPS for $58 total.
* I just found out that Toyota has built an entire car that runs on the same photovoltaic non-petroleum technology. More about that in a later column, but apropos cars, I understand some people use the holiday season to buy a new one. If this is the case with you, think about buying an old one--a reconditioned classic such as I mentioned in an earlier column. My favorite was the 50 m.p.g. Nash Metropolitan, available rebuilt "from the ground up" for $9,950. (818) 769-1515 or the classifieds.
Back to new stuff:
* I'm really happy with the solar-powered gizmo that fits into the top of my car's rear window. It vents air (scorching in summer and stale in winter) so the car is always fresh and comfortable when I get in. When my wife bought gas the other day some people gathered around in amazement as the gizmo whirred away. They pressed her for the following numbers: (603) 924-9541; $35.
For the family:
* I'm beguiled by an item of scientific art called an Eco-Sphere. It looks like a cross between a globe-shaped aquarium and a shake-em-up snow scene in a glass paperweight. This sealed cantaloupe-sized glass globe containing shrimp, algae and plants in fresh water, was developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The goal was to think through the concept of a "bio-regenerative balance"--i.e. a self-regenerating interior environment. Think of it as a zero maintenance mini-aquarium. 1-800-729-9870 for various sizes, $80 to $200 shipped via UPS.
Gifts that go on and on:
* Long-life light bulbs, or teen-age mutant ninja bulbs as my kids call them. Call the big hardware stores.
* A cloth diaper service for new parents on your holiday list. (805) 966-4137 and (800) 459-BABY.
Off the rack:
* If you want a ready-made, earth-friendly item check out The Earth Basket. It holds things to grow, eat, wear, read and use. Call 1-800-EARTH-49. Prices from $39 to $100 with two-day delivery. One item in the basket is a cloth shopping tote--the ultimate eco-correct holiday accessory.