Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1

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For most families like ours, summer is the season when time seems to expand. School’s out, days are long and family members visit from around the country to create fond memories and #EveryDayMoments at our treasured local sites.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the Golden National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the entire U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks, ranging from Point Reyes National Seashore in the north to the Pfleger Estate in the south. It spans three counties and includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day, and such iconic areas as Muir Woods National Monument and Stinson Beach (above), Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco Presidio, home of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

It would take many trips to discover all that GGNRA has to offer. For this trip we decided to focus on exploring San Francisco’s maritime past.

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Anna and her cousin Jake started their nautical exploration at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Because the park is conveniently located in Fisherman’s Wharf, we combined our visit with a ride on our favorite cable car and enjoyed fresh crab, sourdough bread and other local treats.

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We boarded the historic Balclutha cargo ship, where Anna and Jake imagined they were 19th century sailors. This was easy to do – the guide for the daily tour shared fascinating information about the sailors’ tight quarters and grim conditions as they sailed around Cape Horn and up to Alaska to transport salmon, lumber and other goods. Furnished kitchens and sleeping quarters; equipment and rigging; maps, diaries, photos and displays, including the impressive Cargo is King exhibit, which took up the whole cargo hold of the ship, brought the captain and crew to life.

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We went aboard other ships as well, including The Cottage, which had been a Marin County summer home. We practiced knot tying and saw on-site ship repair.

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We thought we’d quickly stop into the National Park Visitor Center across the street. We had no idea that inside an old cannery building was housed a very thorough exhibit that allowed us to walk through centuries of history of the San Francisco waterfront. Displays and sounds brought to life the Yelamu Natives, the discovery of gold, the raucous Barbary Coast, the Italian and other merchants, and the influx of pre-fab houses which were built south of Market Street, and which we learned came from China by ship.  There was even a display of items that had been recovered from Gold Rush -era ships as new waves of construction unearthed them.

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We continued our amazing maritime odyssey down the street at the Maritime Museum, where we saw more items from centuries of seafaring and enjoyed the building’s beautifully restored WPA murals. One of the most amazing things about the day was that, as a national park, Maritime Park is completely free, save the $5 adult price to board the historic ships. The park also offers lots of special programs, including sailing adventures and sea chantey singalongs.

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We had such a great time on our maritime adventure. We can’t wait to explore more of GGNRA and our bounty of national parks. In addition to the GGNRA site, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy offers information about activities in the various parks. We’re eager to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service, which begins August 25th.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay is kicking off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: Lincoln Memorial Park (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st: FindYourEveryDayPark; terms apply.

This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.

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Our adventures continue in Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Homestead Valley Fourth of July

4julycoatWhen we first moved to our Mill Valley neighborhood of Homestead Valley, we were delighted to discover that there was a neighborhood Fourth of July parade each year. Kids gathered, then and now, for a parade of strollers, scooters, bikes, pedestrians, and perhaps a bunting-bedecked goat or two that winds through the neighborhood and down to a redwood grove for a barbecue picnic and kids’ entertainment. Every child is called to the stage to receive a ribbon, and our first year, Anna won a ribbon for “Best Red Coat”. (Yes, a coat on July 4th in Homestead Valley.) This was one of the many things that charmed us about our new neighborhood, and I’m thrilled that this simple tradition continues with a new generation of neighbors.

Below are photos from this year’s celebration. It is events like these that create family memories and neighborhood bonding. I urge you to seek out similar events in your own neighborhood and, if they’re not available to start one. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Fourth of July!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow Prom: Say “No” to Prom Frenzy

As if we needed another sign that things are out of hand–on the heels of preschool graduations, first grade college prep, and elaborate, multi-event wedding extravaganzas, comes prom dress registries and the “promposal”, over-the-top rituals that are expensive, unnecessary and indicative of the ubiquitous influence of celebrity and social media culture.

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Shopping for a prom dress? Formal stores across the U.S. now keep registries of the prom dresses other young women have chosen, to avoid the apparent horror of duplicating someone else’s dress. The Wall Street Journal reports girls and moms leaving stores in tears, unable to find a dress that hasn’t been spoken for yet.

And yet, many people seem to abide by the culture: “Nobody wants to go to prom and play ‘Who wore it better?’,” said Madison Chalfant, 17, from Horseheads, N.Y., in the Journal article, echoing the fashion coverage that often follows the celebrity award show circuit.

“They want to lock up their dress before everybody else,” says Julie Paget, co-owner of All About the Dress, in Armonk, N.Y., noting that the shopping, and the hype, begins earlier each year.

The average prom-going teen will spend $919 on the dance this year, according to a survey from Visa, which offers suggestions for curtailing some of the costs associated with the modern high school prom.

And then there is the promposal, an elaborate and often showy way of asking a date to the prom, which itself has an average cost of $324. While creative and original prom invitations can be charming, there is something about the trend of high school students spending a lot of money to create social-media-ready promposal experiences that seems somewhat hollow and more about outdoing others and creating a version of instant celebrity than it is about asking someone to the prom. Perhaps this is a natural outcome–a trickle down from the increasingly dramatic (and YouTube-ready) marriage proposals, pregnancy announcements and baby reveals of the high school students’ elders.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s great to inject fun and flair into coming-of-age and other rituals. I just wonder if elaborate and showy behavior represents some kind of new norm and if celebrity and media culture is somehow overshadowing childhood and our expectations, and kids’ experiences, of it.

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Photos: New York Dress, Perfect Prom Resources

12 Great Activities for Kids to Parks Day + Giveaway

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What if you could do something simple that involved beauty and fun, didn’t cost a thing, and  improved every aspect of your and your family’s health and well-being? That something is as simple as visiting your neighborhood or other park, woods, seashore or other favorite outdoor spot.

That’s why National Park Trust has designated Saturday, May 16, Kids to Parks Day. By setting aside one Saturday in mid-spring, NPT hopes to raise awareness of the ease and benefits of visiting a park and foster a connection with our public lands that will lead to lifelong enjoyment and stewardship.

Take the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 16. Everyone who registers will be entered to win a Nikon COOLPIX L830 camera!

What do you do when you get to the park? That part is easy! Here are 12 Great Activities for Kids to Parks Day.

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Make a Paper or Cork Boat and Sail it in a Creek

My family first got the idea to make a paper boat from our beloved book, H.A. Rey’s Curious George Rides a Bike, in which sweet and loveable George secures a paper route, which leads him to make and sail a whole flotilla of folded-newspaper boats. Wondering if a newspaper boat could really float, we got out some old newspaper, folded it into boats using the directions in Curious George, and took our boats down to a local creek, where they indeed sailed along once released, on a gently flowing spring stream. You can make your own boat, using any kind of paper. Sail it or race it with others!

Got corks on hand? Make and enjoy a cork raft or cork sailboat.

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Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. Yes, they provide endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, but bubbles–each a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas–sneakily illustrate a little science, too.  Read about bubble science here. Perhaps best of all, bubbles can be made using ingredients you probably have around the house. Take a bucket of mix to a park or lawn and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.

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Play Pick-Up Sticks with Real Twigs

It’s called Spillikans in Canada, Plockepinn in Sweden, Mikado throughout Europe, and Kau Cim in China, where the sticks were used as a fortune-telling device. Although you could buy a canister of pick-up sticks at a toy or variety store, why not collect your own, at the park, for free? As a bonus, you’ll have fun hunting for good sticks, as well as playing with them. Here are directions for Pick-Up Sticks.

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Cook with the Sun

Box ovens employ one of the oldest energy sources of all, solar power. French-Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure was the first to harness the sun for cooking. He used glass to trap heat and create convection while his 1700s peers were still burning mirrors. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a box oven. We like to make cupcakes, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, and other items that don’t require long cooking times. Try one of our favorites, Box Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Learn more about how to make a box oven and cook with the sun.

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Whistle with a Blade of Grass

Parks are the perfect place to let time move a little more slowly than usual. Try your hand at some outdoor activities from a slower time that need only the equipment on hand and a little practice. Even, and perhaps especially, a modern child will enjoy the chance to whistle with a blade of grass, make a daisy chain, or skip a stone in a body of water.

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Have a Scavenger Hunt or Make a Nature Bracelet

Whether you’re looking for wildflowers with five petals, red birds, or heart-shaped rocks, scavenger hunts get people of all ages exploring and observing in nature.

Nature bracelets also prove that simple is often best outdoors. Making them is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items. Like scavenger hunts, the hunt for nature bracelet items turns an outing into an adventure.

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Gaze at the Stars

Outdoor fun needn’t only happen during the daytime. The nighttime offers lots of opportunities to explore constellations of stars and exciting events like meteor showers, which happen often throughout the year. Many parks offer nighttime interpretive programs, and some U.S. national parks have been designated dark-sky parks, because of their excellent star-gazing conditions and educational opportunities.

You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, awe, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos, as countless people, back to the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and others have done before us.

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Play Web of Life

This powerful group game teaches older children about the interconnectedness of living things. We encountered it on a school field trip to a vibrant marsh and have never forgotten it. Learn the rules to Web of Life.

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Create Flower Fashions

The earliest May Day celebrations commemorated Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and spring. Celebrate the spirit of Flora on May Day, Summer Solstice, Kids to Parks Day, or any time, by making lovely floral wreaths, crowns and baskets with materials found in a park or woods.

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Finger Weave

Bring your art to the park! Finger weaving is especially portable. Every year, at our annual Girl Scout Camporee weekend, this simple, tactile craft occupied girls of all ages, who wove, chatted, and relaxed in nature.

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Make S’Mores

If there’s a barbeque handy, consider firing it up and making everyone’s favorite camping treat, s’mores. The gooey creation has been pleasing people in parks since the first recipe was published in the 1927 Girl Scout handbook, Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.

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Play Classic Outdoor Games

When’s the last time you got a group together in a park for some old-fashioned playground or lawn games? Kids to Parks Day, or any day, is a great time to revive your favorites or learn something new. Games such as Red Light, Green Light, Duck Duck Goose, Mother/Father May I, Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, and the ever-popular Tag, in all its variations have been entertaining people around the world for decades. Here are the rules to these and other classic outdoor games. Try one in a park!

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Register for Kids to Parks Day & Enter the Buddy Bison Prize Pack Giveaway.

In addition to taking the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 16, you can enter my giveaway to receive a Buddy Bison Prize Pack.

The prize package consists of a “Buddy Bison” mascot stuffed animal, 2 National Geographic Books (National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks and National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.), a CamelBak BPA- and BPS-free reusable bottle, a T-shirt, and a NPT Park Activity Guide ($75 value.)

To enter, take the the Kids to Parks Day pledge and then leave a comment on this post, letting me know you took the pledge and sharing your favorite park activity by Friday, May 15, Midnight, PDT. The giveaway winner will be chosen by random name generator and notified by email. The giveaway winner must respond within 48 hours of receiving the email to receive the prize.

Update: Laura has won the giveaway and claimed her prize. Thank you all for participating. Hope you enjoy your outdoor time.

Still looking for more park activities? Download National Park Trust’s Park Activity Guide. Have fun this spring in a park!

 

 

These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain (grass, night sky, web of life), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet), Virginia State Parks (classic games)

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

National Day of Service at our National Park
Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS
Camping Trip: California’s El Dorado National Forest
A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to Muir Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Host a Kid-Friendly Oscar Party

Planning to watch the 87th annual Academy Awards? Turn your evening into a fun family event, or even an Oscar party, by serving easy finger foods, such as mini hot dogs; golden food, like easy yellow cupcakes, star-shaped sugar cookies with gold sprinkles, or chocolate coins; and sparkly drinks like champagne, sparkling wine (these are good budget sparkling wines ) or sparkling apple cider. You will want to make some of this wonderful old-fashioned popcorn from Simply Recipes.

If you’re feeling ambitious, Food52 offers some wonderful Oscar-themed menus based on this year’s movie nominations. Make food and drinks extra special by digging out any gold or silver platters and champagne flutes (plastic versions of these are available at party stores), or serving food on doilies.

Make copies of this printable Oscar ballot and have everyone vote for their favorites. The winner can receive a big box of movie candy, a certificate for a local movie theater, or a homemade voucher for a movie excursion.

Before the show starts, have kids dress up and walk the red carpet (roll out a piece of red fabric or a vinyl or fabric tablecloth, or denote a section of floor with tape) and take pictures. Make a gold star out of yellow construction paper (or cardboard, spray painted gold) and tape it to a door or wall to create an instant star’s dressing room.

Everyone likes to make acceptance speeches. Make an Oscar statuette by spray painting an old Barbie or Ken-sized doll gold. The ones below come from Ellie and Blair, who set theirs on stands. In a pinch, spray paint a paper-towel roll to denote the Oscar, or have children hold a bouquet of flowers.

Be sure they thank all the little people who helped make their success possible!

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Enjoy the show!

Photos: USA Today, Ellie & Blair, Us Magazine

 

 

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

Looking for a great winter or family nature activity? Join the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s Great Backyard Bird Count Friday-Monday, February 13-16, anywhere in the world. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year 142,000 bird watchers from 135 countries documented nearly 4,300 species–or about 43% of all the bird species in the world! This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Valentines Day for Kids, Nature Lovers, Vintage Collectors and More

Since Roman times, people have celebrated a mid-February festival — once called Lupercalia and celebrating fertility, the holiday was changed by Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. into a Christian feast day in honor of the Roman martyr Saint Valentine (who refused to forsake Christianity while in prison and sent love letters signed “from your Valentine” to the jailer’s daughter.)  As for the Romans, they were said to sacrifice goats and frolick in goatskin loincloths, the men striking the young women with goatskin thongs. (Some things are better off staying in Ancient Rome.)

Early famous senders of valentines include Charles, Duke of Orleans (like St. Valentine, also in prison) and King Henry V. Geoffrey Chaucer and the poets of the Medieval era linked valentine symbolism to birds, and specifically lovebirds, whom they observed beginning their mating rituals in early spring. Today, 25% of all cards sent in the U.S. per year are valentines.

I love this holiday of love and offer a collection of the Slow Family Valentines posts over the last few years. There’s something here for every celebrant, from parents and teachers seeking easy Valentine crafts to historians and collectors of vintage and rare valentines, to those interested in nature and animals and the ways in which they mate, feed and otherwise display their wonders during mid-winter and throughout the year.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

How to Make Fun and Easy Homemade Valentines

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Vintage Valentines, Part 1: Wordplay, Western, Food and Kitchen

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Vintage Valentines, Part 2: Space Age, Transportation, Winter, Music and More

Spaceman_ValentineThe Best and Worst Candy Heart Sayings of All Time

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Host a Valentine Tea Party

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Make a Quick and Easy Valentine Feeder for the Birds

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Love in Nature and History

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Hearts in Nature: A Valentine’s Scavenger Hunt

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Enjoy this annual celebration of love!

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees

The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, February 3, this year) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, as the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating the fruits and nuts of trees.

For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the land and the planet.

Here are some easy, fun and meaningful ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat.

Plant a Tree

Planting a tree is a simple and powerful act of faith and stewardship. Even a small yard or balcony can often accommodate a dwarf or potted tree. Alternately, there may be a neighborhood or public space available for the planting. This is a great project for a school, scout or youth group, as well as a family. Some people plant trees in the same place each year and watch them grow over the years.

See Blessings and Poems for Trees below.

Plant Vegetable or Flower Seeds

No space for a tree? No problem! Plant seeds outdoors or indoors that will come up in spring. You may want to plant parsley for Passover or Easter, peas for Earth Day, cosmos for May Day, or pansies for Mother’s Day. Of course, anything that grows will be celebrated anytime.

Try these easy-to-plant seeds, which can be planted in cool weather, are large enough for little fingers to handle, and sprout and grow relatively quickly: beans, gourds, morning glory, nasturtiums and peas.

Take a Photography or Poetry Walk

Sometimes the act of recording your observations with a camera or journal causes you to look around in a different way and notice things and make connections that you might not have made otherwise. Photography and poetry can help us quiet ourselves and focus our time in nature.

Be Kind to Nature

Choose an area near your home to care for for a few hours, in the form of weeding or picking up trash. These simple activities can really deepen our connections to the nature, as well as the people, around us. This can be especially true if we plant and revisit the same tree, or repeatedly care for the same piece of “nearby nature” over the years.

Make an Orange Bird Feeder

Did you know that orange halves make great bird feeders? They’re simple to make, visually appealing and even biodegradable. Best, your orange bird feeder will help you help the birds, at precisely the time when much of their food supply has diminished.

Have a Tu B’Shevat Seder

For those familiar with a Passover seder, a Tu B’Shevat seder is simpler. There are few rules. Hosts and participants decide on the customs that suit the event. Some plant seeds and tell stories that involve trees and tree planting. Others eat plenty of fruit and perhaps only fruit. You may want to choose from or eat all of these seven species which are abundant in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Make a Fun Fruit Recipe

Why not try a new recipe? The following look very inviting:

Make a Root Viewer

For many, the roots of a plant can be just as fascinating as the parts we see above ground. This simple root viewer lets budding botanists view the magical processes that happen below the surface of growing things.

You’ll need:

  • Clear plastic cups, bottles or jars
  • Seeds and dirt

Fill the containers most of the way with dirt.
Plant the seeds close to one side, one or two per cup.
Put them in the sun and water gently.
Watch as roots form and plants sprout.

Blessings and Poems for Trees

At tree-planting time, you may want to recite a blessing or poem to encourage a long life for the tree. If you’d like, pass a chalice of water and have each person who receives it share a wish, thought or memory. Once the chalice has gone around, the water can be used to nourish the tree.

Simple Blessing for the Planting of a Tree

We plant this tree to honor ______ (name of person or occasion). May this tree’s roots go deep, its trunk grow strong, its branches spread wide, and its leaves and fruit provide nourishment, beauty and shade. May it always remind us of this special moment.

Growth of a Tree

I’m a little maple, oh so small,
In years ahead, I’ll grow so tall!
With a lot of water, sun, and air,
I will soon be way up there!

Deep inside the soil my roots are found,
Drinking the water underground.
Water from the roots my trunk receives,
Then my trunk starts making leaves.

As I start to climb in altitude,
Leaves on my branches will make food.
Soon my trunk and branches will grow wide,
And I’ll grow more bark outside!

I will be a maple very tall,
Losing my leaves when it is fall.
But when it is spring, new leaves will show.
How do trees grow? Now you know!

— Meish Goldish

Slow Snippet: In old Jewish homes, a cedar tree was planted for each baby boy, and a cypress tree for each girl. When two people married, branches from their trees were used to create their “chuppah”, or wedding canopy.

Hope you have joyous Tu B’Shevat!
Many of these activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. He predicted an six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 127 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. No shadow means an early end to winter. And if the groundhog does see his shadow? Six more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 101 times and not seen it only 17. (Records don’t exist for every year.) In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as I suspect they would do this year, as well, should Phil call for even more chilly weather.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

History and science of Groundhog Day

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

— Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

— English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies — Staten Island Chuck, anyone? — none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Groundhog activities and crafts

It’s fun to play with shadows, in honor of Punxsutawney Phil and his. Try making hand shadow puppets, something people have been doing since 2,000 years ago in China, where it was performed by oil-lamp light. Have someone project a flashlight onto a wall or other surface. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes to create shadow puppets. Here are some classic ones to try:

Rabbit—Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk—Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider—With palms facing up, cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or dog—Place your palms together, fingers facing outward. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinkie drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel—Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinkie and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

There are also a lot of very appealing shadow and groundhog crafts for Groundhog Day, like the one below from Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten and a great round-up of others from Motherhood on a Dime.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Images: Aaron Silvers, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten, Creative Commons

Shadow puppets adapted from FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

First Meteor Shower of 2015: The Quadrantids

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The year’s first meteor shower is upon us. The Quadrantid Meteor Shower is set to peak on January 4th,  between Midnight and 2 a.m. Universal time (7-9 p.m. EST). Although the North American peak will occur at approximately 9 p.m. EST, the radiant will be very low on the horizon. For best viewing , look up between Midnight and 2 a.m., January 4th, your local time. If that won’t work, any time in the six-hour window around Midnight and 2 a.m. should yield some meteors, if other conditions are right. Be warned: Meteor watching is usually best on a clear, moonless night, and January 4th’s waxing gibbous moon may compete with the star show. Asia and Europe are predicted to have the best shows.

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower has been known to rival the popular Perseids and Geminids, in terms of number of meteors per hour, which can near 80. However, unlike those showers, during which meteors are sometimes visible for days, the window of time in which to view meteors is fairly brief.

What is a meteor shower?

Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) The Quadrantids are a relatively recent discovery (1830). Their name comes from a constellation that no longer exists on modern star charts. Their namesake, “The Mural Quadrant” has gone the way of other obscure and somewhat whimsical star patterns at one time known as “The Printing Office” and the “Northern Fly”.

How to watch the Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and other parts of the world. Sky watchers in cold climates should bundle up, grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and perhaps a blanket, head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.

Because meteor showers can last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can.

A thermos of hot chocolate is a great accompaniment for the Quadrantids.

This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Quadrantids and where and when to see them in your local night sky.

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

Graphics:  Astronomy Now, Photos by Kev

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