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BETWEEN THE LIONS
For the avid reader, nothing beats the gift of a new book or a subscription to a magazine or journal. 'N+1,' a literary journal that's been around since 2004, combines politics, literature and culture into one seamless reading experience (www.nplusonemag.com). For those who enjoy edgy, contemporary writing, there's an abundance of options, including 'Pank' (www.pankmagazine.com), 'The Los Angeles Review' (www.losangelesreview.org), 'The Normal School' www.thenormalschool.com) and 'Annalemma' (www.annalemma.net). Locally, the 'West Marin Review' is always a solid choice (www.westmarinreview.org). Environmentally conscious folks will love a year-long subscription to 'Yes! Magazine,' 'The Sun,' 'Orion' or the 'Earth Island Journal.' . . . Or how about a bestselling book? A decade in the making, 'The Goldfinch' (Little, Brown; $30) by enigmatic writer Donna Tartt, has received rave reviews since its publication last month. Inspired by a painting in New York City's Frick Collection, it tells the story of Theo Decker, who miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother and is eventually drawn into the art underworld. 'Dissident Gardens' (Doubleday; $27.95) by acclaimed author Jonathan Lethem relays the epic saga of a family of radicals in New York. 'The Stud Book' (Hogarth Books; $17.50) by Monica Drake takes a darkly humorous look at a group of friends in Portland as they deal with the onslaught of middle age, marriage and whether or not to procreate in a climate-change ravaged world that will probably end by 2030. 'The Good Lord Bird' (Riverhead; $16.98) by James McBride, narrated by an escaped slave during the John Brown Harper's Ferry era, won the National Book Award for fiction and is a good choice for historical fiction lovers. Out now on Kelly's Cove Press, 'A Raid on the Oyster Pirates' ($15) features an original story by Jack London. First published in 1905 and now in the public domain, the story has been illustrated with new drawings and watercolors by William T. Wiley. An excellent gift idea for kids or London/Wiley fans alike. . . . Finally, the commuter in your life—the one who catches up on all of her book reading with ears instead of eyes—will love a subscription to Audible.com ($14.95; www.audible.com), an audio book repository with loads of literary choices.—Leilani Clark
'SCUSE ME WHILE I KISS THE SKY
Humankind may be kings of the land, but can we conquer the skies and seas as well?
These gifts include freefalling through the skies higher than any bird is brave enough to fly and diving deeper in the ocean than the toughest shark himself. Starting at altitudes of 10,000 feet in the wild blue yonder and flying at up to 120 miles per hour, NorCal Skydiving offers tandem skydiving gift cards ($169–$199) for the more adventurous among one's friends. After the parachute opens, the peace and serenity of canopy flight ensues, with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, steam from the geysers, the glaciers of Mount Shasta, Tomales Bay, the Russian River and the lush valleys of Napa and Sonoma. . . . For a little less speed, but with breathtaking views, California Hang Gliding offers tandem hang gliding ($275) that includes an in-action video of your experience to take home. Soaring off the cliffs of Mt. Tamalpais, your only job is to relax and enjoy the ride full of beautiful birds-eye-views unmatched by those seen from the ground. . . . Perhaps an adrenaline rush isn't what you are looking for but you still seek unbelievable views. Seaplane Adventures ($179–$589) offers a helicopter ride with a Golden Gate tour, sunset Champagne tour, greater Bay Area tour, NorCal coastal tour and winetasting tour. The tours take off from Sausalito and are good to keep in mind for visiting relatives. . . . For an even more hands-on helicopter experience, Sonoma Helicopter ($300-$600) offers gift certificates for not only tours but flight training, during which you'll ride in an R22 helicopter with an instructor, learning and actually flying the aircraft with your own hands. . . . Soaring over the beautiful countryside, hot air balloons are a prime way to float up into the skies. In a wicker gondola high in the air, the serene ride is almost always capped with a glass of Champagne. The North Bay has an abundance of hot-air balloon rides from any of these locally owned companies: Napa Valley Balloons ($215), Napa Valley Drifters ($205), Balloons Above the Valley ($159–$209), Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Rides ($150–$245) and Calistoga Balloons ($219–$349). . . . For an adventure not quite so high in the skies, zip-lining combines adrenaline and speed while gliding through the forest and, in the case of Sonoma Canopy Tours ($59–$99), taking in the beauty of NorCal's coastal redwoods. . . . Maybe you've got someone on your list who wants to "fly through the air with the greatest of ease"? In the shade of an oak grove next to a babbling brook, Trapeze Pro ($40) offers flying trapeze classes, a circus art in a picturesque environment. . . . We have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our own ocean floor. Under the surface of the sea are entirely new worlds, waiting for us to explore what it has to offer—a kind of mysterious and untouched beauty not found on land. Getting scuba certified is the first step to ocean exploration, and training and open water classes for certification are available at Marin Diving Center ($149), Harbor Dive Center ($315) and Sonoma Coast Divers ($189). — Tara Kaveh
OTHER BOXLESS WONDERS
It might sound like the voiceover in a cheesy commercial, but seriously, why not give the gift of an experience to your loved ones over the holidays, rather than a big, plastic thingamabob packaged in a thousand layers of bubble wrap? For the grandparents, especially the ones that live nearby, a spot in a music class with their favorite grandchild is something they'll never forget. This year, I sprung for a Mini Music class for my mother- in-law and my daughter (www.minimusictime.com). For just $160, they'll get 10 weeks of music, movement, fun and bonding; classes take place in both Sonoma and Marin counties. Grandma's gonna love that much more than another pair of slippers. . . . Another option is a membership to the Bay Area Discovery Museum (www.baykidsmuseum.org). Family memberships are $150 and include year-round admission. Likewise, the Schulz Museum offers memberships starting at $40. . . . Outdoor enthusiasts will love an annual parks pass to either the state or regional parks system. A membership to Sonoma County Regional Parks (parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov) runs $69 and provides year-round opportunity to enjoy the multitude of parks in the area with extra perks. The Marin County Parks (www.marincounty.org) pass is $85 and provides access to miles of gorgeous nature. . . . OK, so you've got a sister who isn't into camping and hates taking classes, but loves getting her hair and nails done. A gift certificate to a happening nail salon, one that offers fabulous nail art manicures, might be just the ticket. Try Nail Art Spa (707.526.3808) in Santa Rosa or Queen Nails (707.255.1826) in Napa. . . . Art aficionados will be happy to receive a membership to the Sonoma County Museum ($40; www.sonomacountymuseum.org), the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art ($30–$35; www.svma.org) or the di Rosa Preserve (Starting at $50; www.dirosaart.org). . . . You also can't go wrong with gift certificates for the movies, a cooking class, a concert or a massage, especially for those who rarely take time out for themselves. The gift of self-care and a night out can be the best gift of all.—Leilani Clark