How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange

Even bakers who turn out beautiful cookies year-round seem to particularly relish baking them at holiday time. At a cookie exchange, each guest brings a large batch of his/her favorite holiday cookie, and each guest returns with a few of each type. Cookie exchanges define win-win: They’re fun and festive events that provide warm tradition in both the baking and the gathering–and then there are all the yummy cookies you take home! I’ve been a happy guest at my local Girl Scout Leader Cookie Exchange for many years.

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Hosting? Here’s how:

Send Your Invites

Invite enough people to ensure a variety of cookies, but still work within your space. Although there are usually close to 30 people at the cookie exchange I attend, cookie swaps can work with 10-12 guests as well. Instruct each attendee to bring 4 dozen homemade cookies and a large container in which to take their cookies home. Ask people to bring copies of their recipes, or start a group email message after the party to share them. Cookie exchanges can work at various times of day. Mine occurs at 7 pm, so that guests arrive after dinner. If the party is earlier in the day, consider having some filling or savory treats on hand.

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Prepare Your Space

While one long table is best for a cookie exchange, a counter or several small tables will work. Remove chairs and arrange the table/s so that people can walk all around them as they gather their cookies. Have some pretty platters on hand, for guests to place their cookies on, or ask people to arrive with serving dishes. Provide wax paper sheets, so people can line their containers and separate the layers of cookies. Have pens and index or tented paper cards handy, so guests can write the names of their cookies, and perhaps their names, so others can know which recipes they’ll want to collect.

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Line Up Your Guests

When you’re ready, have guests form a single line and prepare to travel around the table, picking up one cookie from each plate as they pass. If you have a lot of guests, have them join the back of the line between each trip around the table.

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Consider Other Foods, Decor and Activities

Cookie exchanges are pretty festive on their own, but that doesn’t stop my host extraordinaire, Mimi, from going all-out with holiday decorations; drinks such as coffee, hot cider and punch; and an ornament exchange game to boot. Here are some other fun holiday games and Christmas games.

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Choose a Great Recipe of Your Own

Should you want to contribute a cookie to the mix, try one of these:

Easy Christmas Cookies  from Martha Stewart

Three Great Christmas Cookies (including the Spritz cookies I grew up making) and My Favorite Orange with Sweet Orange Glaze from Slow Family

Greek Melomakarona Cookies (another favorite of mine) from Food.com

Shopping for kitchen accessories to make the perfect cookies? You’ll find what you need for reasonable prices at Target.com. Through Dec. 24, use promo code KITCHEN and get an additional 25% off Target kitchen items!

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Happy Holidays!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

This post contains affiliate links.

Belli Offers Terrific Skincare Products for Women of all Ages

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If you have any skin issues (and who doesn’t?), you’ll be happy to learn about Belli Skincare. Belli’s extensive product line is safe and effective for women during various life stages, from adolescence and pre-pregnancy through busy motherhood and beyond. With lovely scents and textures, the products manage to combine affordability, luxury, gentleness and effectiveness. Belli even offers routines to help you create your own at-home spa.

Belli’s founders created their products after being discouraged by the lack of safe and effective skincare during their own pregnancies. As a result, each product is allergy tested, and free of paraben preservatives, phthalates, and artificial dyes or fragrances. They’re also made in the USA. Learn more about Belli Skincare’s ingredient safety and testing.

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My family was fortunate to receive Belli Skincare’s Healthy Glow Facial Hydrator (1.5 oz., $39), Eye Brightening Cream (.5 oz., $39) and Anti-Blemish Facial Wash (6.5 oz., $22) to try out. We love them! I’m especially enthusiastic about the Healthy Glow Facial Hydrator. It goes on very smoothly and moisturizes throughout the day without being remotely greasy, which is a concern I have with many moisturizers. I love the sunny citrus scent, which owes largely to mandarin orange peel oil, flower extracts and other therapeutic ingredients. Since I’ve been using the Healthy Glow Facial Hydrator, my skin looks and feels especially fresh.

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The Eye Brightening Cream is very helpful and gentle for the tender skin around the eyes. It seems to minimize fine lines and help with undereye circles. I appreciate the Eye Brightening Cream’s ingredient list, which boasts Vitamins K and B3, olive oil, arnica flower extract, ginseng root extract and green tea leaf extract, among other items. Both the moisturizer and the eye brightening cream work very well under makeup, and help foundation apply easily and last a long time.

belli-anti-blemish-facial-wash-tube-792734300265Belli’s Anti-Blemish Facial Wash has earned raves from our local young person. It’s sufficiently gentle to use daily, yet is also effective at cleaning and clearing skin. She also liked the cucumber and green tea scent. Because of Belli’s care and testing, this wash is especially safe to use during pregnancy, something that’s noted in the testimony on Belli’s site.

As mentioned, these are really nice products in generous packages for the price, something I appreciate as a beauty product enthusiast. I also appreciate Belli’s obvious care in its product formulations, which include numerous tested and therapeutic ingredients. Clearly, my daughter appreciates these things as well. Both the Anti-Blemish Facial Wash and the Healthy Glow Facial Hydrator went back with her to college. :)

Would you like to sample Belli Skincare? Use code BELLI749884646 and receive 20% off the entire Belli line through November 30, 2016. In addition to the products mentioned, I’m eager to try Belli’s Pure Radiance Facial Sunscreen and Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub. The Stretchmark Minimizing Cream appears to be a post-pregnancy must, as well.

My family received Belli Skincare products in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed are my own.

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Photos: Public Domain, Belli Skincare

DIY: Lavender Distillation and Home-Cleaning Products

This post is generously sponsored by Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Bay Area. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Bay Area specializes in all residential plumbing work,  from installations to maintenance and repairs. They have been serving the San Francisco Bay Area for over 25 years.

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Lovely-smelling lavender has been prized around the globe for centuries, for the soothing quality of its distinct scent. The ancient Egyptians used it in cosmetics. The ancient Greeks and Romans employed it for perfume and for healing practically everything, from stomach and kidney ailments to dropsy, jaundice, migraines and insect bites. In late medieval times, doctors carried walking sticks with lavender and other herbs tucked into their tops. Queen Victoria is credited with bringing lavender into the home for scenting and cleaning, where it remains popular today. Learn more about the history of lavender.

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Luckily it’s easy to create your own gentle yet effective lavender cleaner for bathroom and kitchen counters, and other areas throughout the house. Pour distilled white vinegar into a spray bottle and add 10-40 drops of lavender essential oil (available at many markets and online sources), depending on the size of the bottle and your taste for the scent. This simple formula offers a natural way to clean and sanitize bathroom and kitchen counter tops, bathtubs and toilets.

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Why is lavender so effective for cleaning? The herb is an antifungal and an antimicrobial. While it works hard, it smells lovely. Learn about other DIY cleansers to make with lavender and other herbal cleansers you can make yourself.

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I’d long wanted to take part in a lavender distillation, the process by which lavender is separated into essential oil and hydrosol, which is the byproduct of oil creation. I was thrilled to take part in a lavender distillation led by Cheryl Fromholzer of Gathering Thyme, a woman-owned herb store and education center in San Rafael, CA.

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We began by separating lavender buds from stalks and packing them pretty tightly into the column of the traditional copper still, or alembic.

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The column was placed onto water-filled urn and sealed so no steam would escape during the distillation.

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Cheryl attached the pipes, which led to a small condenser.

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Then tubing was added from the condenser, and the columned pot was brought to a boil. When the water heated and boiled, the steam from that process caused the lavender to release its oils, which collected at the top of the alembic. The oils then traveled to the condenser, where they cooled, and out through tubing to be collected in jars.

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The lavender essential oil floats to the top and can be separated by skimming it off or by using an essencier. The remaining liquid is lavender hydrosol, which can be used much the same way as essential oil, though it is much less potent. (It takes 30 pounds of lavender to make a 15 Ml bottle of  essential oil!)

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You don’t need an alembic still to create oils and hydosols at home. Hydrosols make wonderful and calming sprays for rooms, face and body, in addition to other uses.

Best yet, lavender is easy to grow, even in a small or container garden, with decent sun, moderate water, and an alkaline soil with good drainage.

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Our distillation process took a few hours, so we enjoyed the San Geronimo Community Garden and explored the medicinal properties of the plants there, many of which would also make terrific hydrosols and oils.

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More herbal classes and resources, including a Lavender Distillation workshop on July 10, can be found at Gathering Thyme.

More lavender and herbal crafts and activities can be found in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Thank you again to sponsor Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. The views expressed are my own.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman  (Top photo courtesy of Cheryl Fromholzer)

 

 

7 Ways to Celebrate the 2016 Olympics with Your Family

If you’re like my family and many around the world, you’ll be glued to the TV at all hours, watching the 2016 Olympics from Rio de Janeiro, which start Friday, August 5, and run for 17 sports-filled days. The Olympic Games have been fascinating us since 776 B.C. in Ancient Greece, where they were a one-day event featuring running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, equestrian sports, and a martial art called pankration. Five city-states (think Athens and Sparta) competed for the prize, a crown made of olive leaves.

In addition to watching them, there are many ways to celebrate and enjoy the Olympics right from your own home.

Learn Something about Another Country

With 206 countries competing in the 2016 Olympics, from Afghanistan to Zimbabawe, there are plenty of countries and cultures to become acquainted with. (Kosovo and South Sudan will be participating for the first time.) Try finding some of the more obscure ones on a map or globe. Or try one of these Olympic Map Activities from Creative Family Fun.

I’ve long been fascinated with the flags of other countries, and I bet many others are, too. Make a fun flag handprint wreath, using these wonderful flag printables from Activity Village.

There is also no shortage of interesting food you can make from every corner of the globe. This list of food from around the world will certainly get you started. Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese food always sound good to me and my family, but we can be convinced to branch out even further, especially during the Olympics. For additional inspiration, see what school lunch looks like in 20 other countries. (Below, Ghana and Japan.)

Explore Rio de Janeiro and Brazil

Did you know that Brazil was home to inhabitants 32,000 years ago? Learn about Brazil‘s geography, nature, economy and more from National Geographic Kids. Learn about Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, a yearly celebration that features more than 200 samba schools and dates from 1723.

The Olympics offers a terrific excuse to try some Brazilian recipes, such as Pão de Queijo, a yummy cheese bread from The Kitchn  or other  recipes from Brazil, such as this Molten Brigadeiro Cake from Latin Kitchen.

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Get Inspired to Achieve Your Dreams and to Be a Good Sport

Most people can’t help but be inspired by watching Olympic athletes — indeed, that’s a large part of the fascination of the games. Just about every Olympic athlete sacrificed something to get to the top of his or her sport. While all great athletes show tremendous dedication, discipline and ability, some have overcome more setbacks than others. These 10 inspiring Olympic athletes have endured such hardships as debilitating injuries, abuse, and growing up during wartime.

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U.S. Boxer Queen Underwood

The Olympics can inspire you to be active and healthy, and also to achieve your dreams. While urging you to do your best in any endeavor, they can also teach good sportsmanship – as they invariably demonstrate that achievement often comes with disappointment. Sometimes, no matter what your training and background, it’s not your day to win. The best athletes know how to lose with grace, too. These are a few great Olympic sportsmanship moments. “The most important thing is .. not to win but to take part” reads part of the Olympic Creed.

Get Active with a Backyard Olympics

So you don’t have a balance beam or a javelin handy? You can still create your own version of the Games with a Backyard Olympics. Ucreate offers lots of ideas for Olympic-inspired games and activities that are fun and easy to pull off. Don’t forget your homemade Olympic torch from Hoosier Homemade. (See more craft ideas for your Backyard Olympics, below.)

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Explore an Olympic Sport

You may find yourself so inspired by one of the 34 Olympic sports, from archery to wrestling, that you want to get involved in a local club. Learn more about each Olympic sport from NBC’s Gold Map.

Make Olympic Crafts

These ribbon wands from Sunhats and Wellie Boots will make anyone feel like a rhythmic gymnast or, at the very least, an enthusiastic celebrant.

You can also make these cute and clever DIY Olympic gold medals using clay, courtesy of Cindy Hopper from Alphamom.


 

No Time for Flashcards offers more easy Olympic crafts for kids. Because I love alphabet-bead projects (and have some in my book), I’m partial to these fun Go Team Go beaded bracelets.

And, for those who want to get in touch with their inner Ancient Greek, this is a fun laurel crown and toga project from Creekside Learning.

Make Olympic-Themed Food

Yes, we’ve circled back to food. The Olympics offer lots of great opportunities for fun themed food to go with your celebration or viewing.

From Sweetology 101 comes these super-cute Olympic Torch cupcakes.

Or you might want to let the Olympic rings inspire these colorful Olympic ring cookies from The Decorated Cookie.

Cheers to a wonderful, fun-filled 2016 Olympic Games!

Photos: About.com, Activity Village, whatsforschoollunch.blogspot.com, oprah.com/food/School-Lunches-Around-the-World-Gallery-Steven-Stern/6, Latin Kitchen/Kate Sears, Bleacher Report, Fiskars, Sunhats and Wellie Boots, AlphaMom, No Time for Flashcards, Creekside Learning, The Decorated Cookie

Welcome Summer Solstice 2016 with a Full Moon

Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer, occurs on June 20,  2016, at 22:42 Universal Time (6:42 p.m. on the U.S. east coast, 3:42 p.m. on the west.) Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it can be marked by Midsummer festivals, especially in Scandinavia, where people celebrate with maypoles that honor nature’s bounty and bonfires that recall the heat and warmth of the sun. Still other cultures have solstice rituals that honor the sun, the feminine and the masculine.

This is also the first Summer Solstice to coincide with a full moon since June, 1967, the Summer of Love. The next full Summer Solstice moon won’t happen until 2062. (Read more about the full moon below.)

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family often attends a summer solstice celebration at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. We enjoy a bonfire, nature storytelling and campfire songs, and a ritual walk around the fire, holding stalks of sweet flowers and herbs, and then throwing them into the fire, to greet the new season and also let go of anything that no longer serves us.

View more photos of summer solstice at Muir Beach.

Full Strawberry Moon

This is the first full moon on a summer solstice since June, 1967.

People in many cultures throughout history have named the year’s full moons based on the activities that happened during them. The Farmers Almanac calls the June full moon the Strawberry Moon because, for the Algonquin Native Americans, June was synonymous with strawberries. The Cherokee called the June full moon the Green Corn Moon. The Choctaw referred to it as the Windy Moon. Celtic people referred to the June full moon as the Moon of Horses. Throughout much of more modern Europe, the June full moon was known as the Rose Moon, for that flower’s peak.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. Learn the full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Full Moon Gardening

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Summer Solstice Cupcakes

These fun cupcakes offer a visual and yummy way to celebrate Summer Solstice. The recipe comes from the terrific book, Circle Round:

Just as Winter Solstice gives birth to the light, Summer Solstice, with its day that never seems to end, holds the seeds of darkness. We discover darkness in the bits of chocolate concealed inside this sunny cupcake.

1/2 C butter (one stick) softened in the summer sun
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C flour, sifted first and then measured
pinch of salt
2 t. baking powder
1 C milk
1 C chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir in. Follow with 1/2 cup milk, then the other half of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Use paper liners, or grease and flour cupcake tins. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 375′ oven.

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.

Because of the sweetness of the cake and chips, these don’t need frosting, but you can certainly add it, in a solid color or a cheery sun or flower design.

This is a great explanation of how Summer Solstice works. Happy Winter Solstice to those in the Southern Hemisphere, who are marking the lengthening days. Perhaps chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips are in order?

Happy Solstice and Strawberry Full Moon to all!

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

Other Slow Family Posts you may enjoy:

Slow Nature: Keep a Moon Diary

Slow Down for Summer: Fun and Simple Outdoor and Seasonal Activities

 

 

6 Great Activities to Celebrate Kids to Parks Day May 21 + Giveaway

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What if you could do something simple and enjoyable that improved every aspect of your and your family’s health and well-being and didn’t cost a dime? You can! That something is visiting a local, state or national park, forest, seashore or other public land.

That’s why National Park Trust has designated Saturday, May 21, as the 6th annual 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 21. Everyone who registers will be entered to win a cool prize, such as a Baby Bjorn Carrier One Oudoors Baby Carrier, to take your little one on your next park adventure, a national park prize pack from Eastern National, a framed photo from fantastic outdoor photographer Frank Lee Ruggles, National Geographic kids books, and many more.

What do you do when you get to the park? That part is easy! You can join one of the 500 Kids to Parks Day events all over the U.S. You can create your own park adventure using NPT’s Boredom Busters. Or you can enjoy one of these 6 Great Activities for the 6th Kids to Parks Day.

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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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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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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 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 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!

Register for Kids to Parks Day & Enter the National Geographic Books Giveaway.

In addition to taking the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 21, you can enter my giveaway to receive a National Geographic Kids Books Prize Pack consisting of 2 books, Secrets of the National Parks, Centennial Edition and Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure, starring NPT’s own loveable mascot.

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 Saturday, May 21, 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.

 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), 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Celebrate Arbor Day Every Day

Spring! These flowering trees were in complete and colorful bloom during my recent visit to Olympia, Washington. I was very taken with their bright and cheerful colors and the way the trees set off the mid-century ranch homes and the colorful board-and-batten homes in suburban southwest Olympia, where my daughter lives while attending The Evergreen State College.

The visit coincided with Earth Day (and Olympia’s Procession of the Species parade, to honor our planet and its inhabitants), as well as the 44th annual Arbor Day, which celebrates and promotes caring for our vital trees.

Want to learn about trees all year round? Check out this Tree Toolkit from the National Environmental Education Foundation, for terrific lessons and resources.

How many trees can you identify, just from their flowers? Take this fun tree quiz from Mother Nature Network.

Want to spend more time with your local trees? Get out to a park today or during National Park Trust‘s Kids to Parks Day May 21. You’ll find lots of resources on their site for fun park and tree activities, as well as events you can join on Kids to Parks Day.

Happy Arbor Day and Spring!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might enjoy:
Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees
Happy Earth Day: Beginner’s Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing
Welcome Spring: Photos and Haiku
Celebration of Fall: Photos

 

 

 

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 12-15, 2016, 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 147,265 bird watchers from more than 100 countries documented 5,090 species–or nearly half the possible 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

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Update: Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow today, which predicts an early spring.

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 128 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 past years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 102 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.)

These are some really weather activities to help kids understand about temperature, air pressure, wind and much more.

Do groundhogs really emerge from their burrows to see their shadows? Yes, and no. Male groundhogs actually emerge in search of females, who have emerged just prior. Once the female is sighted, the male groundhog actually goes back into his underground man-cave to wait out the cold weather, confident that a female is near.

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.

Happy Chinese New Year: Celebrate the Year of the Monkey with Crafts, Recipes and Fun

Chinese New Year is celebrated on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar calendar, with the new year beginning on the darkest day of the month. New years celebrations often go as many as two weeks, until the next full moon. And a celebratory holiday it is, with red decorations, good-luck gifts of oranges and money, parades with dragon dances and firecrackers, and special foods.

Learn about Chinese Lunar New Year parades in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, as well as Chinese New Year activities around the world.

This year is the Year of the Monkey. See a Chinese zodiac calendar.  Try one of these fun Chinese New Year activities:

Fingerprint Monkey Card from Crafty Morning

fingerprint-monkey-craft-for-kids

Year of the Monkey Papercut Printable from Craft Kids

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Chinese Good Luck Ornament from Sand in My Toes

chinese4

Paper dragon from Teach Kids Art

chinese new year dragon

Paper Plate drums from Crafts and Art for Children

chinese new year craft

Kid-friendly Honey Prawns from Kidspot

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Homemade fortune cookies from The Spiffy Cookie

fortune cookie recipe

Felt fortune cookies from Martha Stewart

fortune cookie craft

Fruit roll-up fortune cookies from Recipe by Photo

fortune cookie project

Noisemakers from Slow Family Online

new years noisemaker

Make these easy paper lanterns

This is probably the classic Chinese New Year craft. It’s easy and satisfying. I made these as a kid and, of course, with my daughter.

You’ll need:

  1. Construction paper
  2. Scissors
  3. Tape
  4. Glitter or other decorations, as desired.

Fold a piece of paper in half length-wise.

Beginning at the fold, cut out approx. 4 very skinny triangles that go halfway up the folded section of paper.

Unfold the paper and curl together so that the two shortest ends of the paper meet and the cuts run vertically. (The cuts should now each result in a “diamond” shape.)

chinese lantern craft

The paper lantern activity is adapted from  Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

 

Lantern photo: Planetforward.ca

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