Beauty in Decay

When the calendar turned to April, two weeks into the shelter-in-place order that had become the new normal, I decided to take a break from work and leave the house for something other than a walk around my neighborhood or the weekly trip to the market. I would visit one neighborhood over, and I would drive.

Simply starting the car and backing it out of the garage were revelatory activities, behaviors from another life. There was my winter coat, in the back seat, where I’d left it. There were my notebooks and reusable grocery bags. I briefly rolled down the car window to breathe the fresh spring air–and then wondered if I should put it back up in case I ran into a neighbor from whom I was unable to stay six feet apart. I felt skittish driving, anxious about any encounters.

I drove to a stand of tulips I knew from over the years to be in front of a neighbor’s house. To my disappointment, they were largely gone. True, great splashes of color remained, among the thicket of bare stems. But they were frail and bent, far past peak, sun shining through their delicate crevices.

I was disappointed, of course. I’d stayed inside my house, in my neighborhood, for two-plus weeks and missed the whole show. Now I had the proverbial setback of having to “wait until next year”. I parked and walked over to the flowers anyway.

From close up, I could see the erratic, faded petals, frozen in mid-curl, the pistils and bits of pollen. The midday sun exaggerated the tulips’ veins where petals met stems.

The flowers were beautiful and dying and somehow fitting for this time. They fit the grief I had felt in the car, the grief and awe from merely being in a different neighborhood, a neighborhood right next to my own, where I used to go all the time and which now seemed newly fraught with danger in each set of approaching footsteps, as people walked around me with dogs or on phones, and kids skateboarded in the empty streets. Even as the April sun blazed and the world appeared especially peaceful.

I became absorbed taking pictures, something I used to do avidly at least weekly, often more, which I hadn’t done in almost a month. It felt good to be out in the world, even if still in my small corner of it. Even if the whole world had changed.

As I continued to shoot, new layers of decrepitude revealed themselves, my lens ever closer, as if I might be saved, at least momentarily, by focusing on increasingly small things that were within my control. A particular rotting husk, a translucent colorful thread, the way a curve of a petal could recall a woman’s scarf. In noticing those tiny things, for a devoted period of time, the world slipped away just a bit.

If we’re lucky, we live most of our days without thinking much about life’s fragility, about our own mortality, yet lately those things had become foremost in the news and in our minds. In the flowers, those ideas were made visible, yet also hopeful–even in their decay, the tulips were majestic, and even they would ultimately be reborn.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Take the F: An Appreciation

In his New Yorker essay Take the F, Ian Frazier describes life in his Brooklyn neighborhood and building, before relaying the story of a neighbor who had taken ill. While she was in the hospital, the whole building was “expectant, spooky, quiet”.
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The neighbor finally returned, pale but on the mend. In celebration, Frazier “walked to the garden, seeing glory everywhere.” He “took a big Betsy McCall rose to (his) face and breathed into it as if it were an oxygen mask.”
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read this essay 25 years ago, and I still think about its life-affirming qualities often. I look forward to once again surrounding myself with roses, like these in the Sonoma (CA) Plaza, captured during the fullness of May.
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What do you look forward to?
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The Nightly Howl

Italians, under siege from coronavirus, began taking to their balconies and windows, at an appointed hour each night, to serenade one another with their national anthem. It was a show of solidarity, something to provide uplift in these brutal times. Residents in Chicago followed suit, singing a city-wide version of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. In Dallas, people sang Bill Withers’ Lean on Me in unison. In Brussels, Seattle, New York, Medellín–in places all over the globe–people started standing on balconies and doorsteps and clapping to applaud health-care workers, often at 8 p.m., local time. The phenomenon even spawned a hashtag: #solidarityat8.

In Mill Valley, CA, we have the Mill Valley Howl. Started a week after shelter-in-place orders, the Howl has grown to a citywide cry at 8 p.m. each evening, when cooped-up residents open their windows or go out onto their front yards, decks and streets, and howl at one another into the night. It’s an amazing show of solidarity, of a kind of momentary community joy, while at the same time evincing something more primal. I hear anguish in the Howl. I hear prayer (or perhaps I feel it, looking up at the bright star of Venus, while we’re all baying into the twilight.)

From my house, the Howl seems to start low in the valley and swell and run through the neighborhoods and canyons and up into the hills. It takes on different shapes in its few short minutes, before dying back down. Dogs and perhaps actual coyotes join in. I howl back at the noise and my neighbors’ lit houses. I howl to thank the first responders on the front lines. I howl to mark the days of this strange time. In a town in which people are temporarily sequestered in houses that are largely tucked away from view, howling lets others know, distinctly, “I am here. And I see (or at least hear) you.”

The Howl suits this place, at the edge of the wilderness, the same way operatic versions of the national anthem suit Italy. A howl is a call of social pack animals. We’re bonding with each other as we mark our territory–this territory, this moment–we’re here in our houses, we’re here on the planet, we’re with one another, alone and yet together.

Photos: Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, Suz Lipman; Public Domain

Tips for Families During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Coronavirus is changing the lives of everyone on the planet. In addition to impacting day-to-day lifestyles and habits, cancelling large events and closing schools, the health crises is making many aware or newly aware of our interconnectedness and dependency on one another for health and safety.

This time may be particularly challenging for parents: School, job and other routines are disrupted, and it can be difficult to strike a balance between managing our own needs and anxieties with those of our kids. We’re also, by necessity, having to slow down and get creative with the way we’re spending our time.

Try these tips to help you get through.

How to talk to kids about Coronavirus

How to Talk to Kids and Teens about the Coronavirus

Tips on How to Help Kids Feel Safe and Manage Stress

Tips for Teaching Kids Media Smarts during Breaking News

Explaining the News to Our Kids

Tips for staying healthy

How to Protect your Family From Coronavirus

Hand Washing: A Powerful Antidote to Illness

How to Make your own Hand Sanitizer

8 Best Ways to Keep Your Family Healthy (anytime)

Fun stuff to do at home 

12 Ways to Celebrate Screen-Free Week

10 Ways to Learn in Your own Backyard

18 Ways to Unplug as a Family

8 St. Patrick’s Day (or anytime) Science Experiments for Kids

9 Ways to Enjoy Nature in Winter

Take Part in Citizen Science

Slow Nature: Have a Cloud Race

It’s in the Cards: Card Games and Card Reading

12 Famous Museums that Offer Virtual Tours

Extensive List of Online Resources for Anyone who is Bored at Home

At-home Learning

Covid-19 and At-Home Learning

Schools are Closing for Coronavirus. Now What?

How to Get More Talking, Reading and Singing into your Child’s Life

Free Educational Apps, Games and Web Sites  from Common Sense Media

PBS Fun and Educational Family Activities  (games, apps, crafts)

Dealing with stress in general

CDC: Managing Anxiety and Stress (for self and parents)

5 Ways to Overcome the Stress of Coronavirus

How School Closures can Strengthen Your Family

We Will Emerge from these Times as Heroes (and the importance of letting kids play)

Meditation for Beginners

Meditation Apps for Kids from Common Sense Media

I wish you good health, stamina and calm.

Photos: Public Domain, Susan Sachs Lipman (last photo)

Enjoy Family Road Trips with Classic Travel Games

Half the fun of family travel is “getting there”, right? Whether you’re embarking on a Great American Road or Train Trip, or merely hoping to get from Point A to Point B with your humor intact, a few tips and classic travel games will surely make the going more pleasant.

route_66_artwork_roadmap

Family Travel Tips

  • Involve kids in the planning or have them follow the trip’s progress on a map. If you’re an AAA member, maps are free. Some kids may want to keep a trip journal and add photos when they get home.
  • Have food and drinks on hand, if possible, and take frequent breaks to eat, use restrooms, or just stretch your bodies.
  • Remind kids who are on screens to take breaks, to play a game or look around at the passing, and sometimes awe-inspiring world
  • Pack along a few portable items for outdoor breaks and quiet times, so you can play card games, jump rope games, Mad Libs or jacks.
  • Play some of the tried-and-true road trip games, below, that don’t require any equipment. They help make family memories when you’re driving, flying, or waiting in line.

Tried-and-True Road Trip Games

What I See From A to Z

Players try to find letters in license plates, billboards, road signs, or objects and must call out “I see an A,” or “I see something that starts with B,” when they spot a letter.

The first person to complete the alphabet wins. A variation for younger children is to pick one letter and have everyone look for that.

Semi Search

If you’re traveling on the interstate, you will probably have a lot of trucks for company, and this fun game makes use of that.

Each player chooses a different color. That color will be the color of truck trailer that the player is then searching for. Players announce when they see a semi on the road in their color, and they get one point for each.

A scorekeeper can be appointed to keep count, or everyone can keep their own score. The game is played until one person reaches 25 points, or another agreed-upon number.

Travel Scavenger Hunt (also known as Travel Olympics)

You’ll need: Pencil and paper for each player

Players all contribute to one list of 10-20 things they can see from or do in the car. For example, a list might include passing a cow pasture, seeing a gas station that has the color red in its logo, holding one’s breath through a tunnel, spotting two yellow license plates, or passing an RV.

The first person to accomplish everything on the list wins.

License Plate Scramble

The first player calls out all the letters, in order, that appear on a passing license plate.

All players try to create a word using those letters, in the same order. The first person to do so gets a point. For example, a player might call out ARN, and he, she, or any other player might come up with “arachnid” or “yarn”.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 25. The first player to reach that total wins.

O.S.L.P.

Players search passing cars for “out of state” license plates (out of the state they are currently traveling in.)

When such a plate is spotted, the player yells, “O.S.L.P.!” If they are the first to see a particular plate, they score a point.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 10. The first player to reach that total wins.

I Spy

One player decides on an object that all players could conceivably see and says, for instance, “I spy with my little eye .. something that begins with the letter A” or “I spy with my little eye .. something that is blue.”

Other players take turns trying to guess what the object is.

When players run out of guesses, the first player gives another clue and other players guess again.

The person who guesses the object gets to be the next spy.

What Animal Am I?

One player thinks of an animal. Other players ask “yes” or “no” questions to determine what animal the first player is. Players might ask, “Do you live in the ocean?” or “Do you have four legs?”

There is no limit to the number of questions. Players can simply give up when stumped and choose who gets to be the animal next. Otherwise, the player who guessed the animal gets to be the next up.

Rock, Rock

This is a good group game for rest stops or outdoor settings.

You’ll need: A rock or coin

Players sit or stand in a circle, palms out to their sides, facing up. Right palms should be directly over right neighbor’s left palm, continuing around the circle. One player is in the center of the circle. That player momentarily closes his or her eyes while the rock is given to someone in the circle. Each player lifts his or her right hand and moves it across the body to the left neighbor’s right hand. The person with the rock in hand does this as well. After a couple of such motions, the person in the middle opens their eyes. The rock moves around the circle but, because everyone is making a passing motion, the person in the middle can’t see where it is. As the rock moves around the circle, players chant, in rhythm with their hand motions:

Rock, rock where do you wander?

In one hand and out the other.

Is it fair? Is it fair?

To keep poor _____ (name of player in the middle) sitting/standing there?

At the end of the chant, the person in the middle guesses where the rock is. If he or she guesses, correctly or doesn’t guess after three tries, the person with the rock goes into the middle. (If that person has already gone in the middle, you can  have the person next to them, clock-wise, go in.)

Have fun on the road, and wherever your adventure takes you!

Road trip activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains more travel games in addition to 300+ fun family activities.

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Enjoy Roadside Attractions Along California’s Redwood Highway
12 Fun Family Activities for Screen-Free Week
8 Fun Things to do While it’s Still Summer
Recess: Playground and Jump Rope Games
Slow Nature: Have a Cloud Race

Graphic: Wood for the Trees

 

Happy Pi Day! Celebrate with Games and .. Pie!

I first learned about Pi Day when my daughter was in Middle School. I wondered where this day had been my whole life! Now a global tradition almost 30 years old, Pi Day is best celebrated at 1:59 p.m. on March 14 to match the first few digits of the number Pi (and the extent of most people’s memorization, 3.14159), with a pie, of course – savory or dessert version.

Math moment: What is Pi anyway? Ahem – Pi is the number expressing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s used in engineering, science and statistics and begins with 3.14 and goes on into infinity. It’s also captured a lot of people’s imaginations. The record for Longest Pi Recitation belongs to Japan’s Akira Hawaguchi, who recited from memory an astounding 100,000 digits over 16+ hours. How is that even possible?? (Here are some tips for memorizing pi.) A teen holds the North American record.

It seems Pi Day as we know it didn’t catch on until about 30 years ago, when it was begun at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Now it is celebrated around the world. Try some of these Pi Day games and activities from the Exploratorium, where Pi Day began!

I’ve gathered a few pies to help you celebrate. It seems like a more fun way to mark the day than memorizing digits. But, to each his or her own!

Pictured, at top, Pillsbury’s Triple Berry Pi Day Pie.

From the Gourmand Mom comes everything from Pumpkin Coconut Pie to Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie.

This is my own recipe for Classic Apple Pie. You could add a Pi symbol in crust (or cut out a Pi symbol)  to the top of this, or any, pie.

Seeking something savory? This Shitake, Leek and Chicken Sausage Pie comes from Pie Maven. And, of course, pizza pie is always a possibility!

When I think of Pie Mavens, I think of my friend Leah Brooks and her stunning and sometimes unexpected fruit pies, like apple with thyme or double lemon blueberry, or her chocolate cream, pumpkin, lattice-topped cherry, or perfect pecan pies!

This one from Serious Eats may take the, uh, cake. It is made in the shape of the pi sign!

Happy Pi Day!

Photos: Pillsbury, Orlando News Center, Serious Eats

Image: allisonweiss.tumblr.com

Fall Back! Daylight Saving Time Ends

When Benjamin Franklin wrote An Economical Project, his 1794 discourse in which he proposed the idea that would become our current Daylight Saving Time, it probably didn’t occur to him that the world would be using his system of adjusting human activities to maximize natural daylight more than 200 years later.

It also probably didn’t occur to him that others would take so long to embrace it. Attempts to legislate Daylight Saving were still widely ridiculed at the beginning of the 20th century. (It took the energy needs of WWI for many to finally enact them.) Standard times, brought about in the U.S. and Canada by the needs of the railways, which straddled various locales, also took a few decades to eventually pass into law.

While there was some reasoning behind the idea of idea of Daylight Saving Time and of course a need for time zones, the system is home to tremendous quirkiness and variations. (One year, 23  different pairs of DST start and end dates were used in Iowa alone.) Indiana only adopted Daylight Saving Time in 2005. Arizona opts out of Daylight Savings, although the Navajo nations within it opt in. Hawaii also does not observe Daylight Saving Time, as its proximity to the Equator makes for relatively consistent sunrises and sunsets year-round, regardless of season. (Why mess with success?) While some states are trying to do away with Daylight Saving Time, there was a movement (which did not pass) in Arizona to join the rest of the continental U.S.

In addition some Amish communities, particularly in Ohio, remain on Standard Time, which they (wonderfully) call – wait for it – Slow Time.

Cities and countries around the world begin, end and practice Daylight Savings at a variety of times and in a variety of ways.

Most of the U.S. begins Daylight Saving Time at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on the second Sunday in March and reverts to standard time at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.

How does Daylight Saving Time impact safety, particularly on the roads? Apparently the first dark evenings in Fall, when the time changes back, see an increase in pedestrian and auto accidents, as some people readjust to driving in darkness. In 2007, Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. was moved to the first weekend in November, in the hopes of getting more Halloween Trick-or-Treaters out during daylight and presumed safety, which may be good for the youngest Trick-or-Treaters.

Daylight Saving Time negatively affects our sleep, much the way jet lag might. Even cows get flummoxed by the time change, dairy farmers say.

Research on the value of Daylight Saving Time is decidedly mixed. Here are some ideas for helping your kids cope with Daylight Saving Time.

Here’s hoping you enjoy Slow Time, seasonal change, and the wonder of time in general, whether you practice Daylight Saving or not.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman; Railroad photo: ctempemplymentlawblog.

May is the New December: How to Get to Summer with your Sanity Intact

Does your family have spring fever? You know the symptoms–lax lunches, half-hearted homework checks, award-ceremony overdose and field-trip fatigue.

Fear not: Summer is on its way.

Here are 6 tips to help your family reach the end of the school year with greater ease.

Cut yourself some slack

The end of the school year can feel like both a marathon and a sprint. This is exhausting to even the most superhuman among us. The world won’t end if the softball uniform isn’t squeaky clean or pizza seems to be the main attraction at more dinners than usual.

Give yourself permission to skip some events

Try to honor everyone’s limits, including your own. Check in with your family to see if they might prefer some downtime to one more event on the calendar. There will be more end-of-the-year ice cream socials in other years. Try these tips for recharging in any season.

Discuss your child’s feelings

Despite the celebratory nature of many of the events, some children may feel confusion or sadness about the end of the school year and the passage of time. Others may be overwhelmed by any celebration or attention. Check in with your child about their feelings and needs at this transitional time.

Spend some unstructured time outdoors

Nature is a great antidote to a hectic schedule. The outdoors helps us get some perspective and experience awe. It can also provide some space in which to run around and let off steam or, conversely, to calm ourselves and recharge. Try these tips for enjoying nature as a family.

Leave some volunteer tasks for others

It’s nice to do your part, and volunteering can be very rewarding. It can also allow you to make the most of each activity and not feel as if the events are flying by. However, do listen to your gut if it tells you you’re taking on too much, and scale back accordingly.

Try to get enough sleep

Busy schedules, excess homework and long, sunny days make it even harder than usual for everyone to get the sleep they need. Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Try these tips to help your kids get a good night’s sleep.

 

 

 

 

Read more about how to help your family transition to summer.

 

 

This post originally appeared on Parents Place.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Stepping Away from Routine to Find Increased Awe

Many faiths and cultures observe the Sabbath, or Shabbat, a day of rest that is separated from the other days by intention and consciousness. Sabbath/ Shabbat can result in a heightened sense of awe and connectedness, which is aided by the act of stepping away from the norm. Far from a period of deprivation, Shabbat is meant to be joyous, relaxing and pleasurable. It can be a wonderful time to connect with family or self; nature, food, art or beauty.

This week we experienced a super blue blood moon lunar eclipse (pictured). Special cosmic events are certainly occasions that induce true awe. Sabbaths, or any conscious break, allow us to slow enough to let wonder in, even during weeks without a lunar eclipse. In reading about the holiday, I found this quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a prominent Jewish philosopher and professor of Jewish mysticism.

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder almost necessarily declines … Mankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. – Rabbi Abraham Heschel

This is another beautiful quote from Rabbi Heschel, which comes by way of Rabbi Michael Lerner, Jewish activist and spiritual leader:

(Shabbat) is, Heschel once said to me, greeting the world not with the tools we have made but with the soul with which we are born; not like a hunter who seeks prey but like a lover to reciprocate love.

This quote speaks to me about the heightened sense of respectful communion with all beings and phenomena that can come from stilling our minds and bodies. It’s about co-existence, rather than dominance, which in turn prods the ability to appreciate beauty and wonder all around us.

But, why should we care about awe? In addition to providing pleasure, awe produces a host of spiritual, cultural and personal benefits, say the folks who study awe at the Greater Good Science Center. These range from personal discovery to increased altruism and improved health. And, even though religious traditions offer a pathway to awe, wonder and discovery can happen anytime, if we borrow from those traditions and create sabbaths, or time-outs (even mini ones), for ourselves.

Photo: Public Domain

Geminid Meteor Shower: How to Watch One of the Year’s Best Sky Shows

Now playing overhead: The dramatic Geminid Meteor Shower, which astronomers agree is one of the best of the year. And this year, there will be very little moonlight to obscure it, as happened when a full moon shone an unwelcome spotlight on August’s Perseid Meteor Shower earlier this year.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is forecast to peak Dec. 13-14, between midnight and 4 a.m., your local time, streaks visible in the sky (given good weather conditions), from about 7 p.m. local time until dawn. The best show will take place over North America, but Southern Hemisphere folks should be able to see some meteors as well.

“The Geminid meteor shower is the most intense meteor shower of the year,” says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office. “It is rich in fireballs and can be seen from almost any point on Earth.”

Read more about the Geminids on the NASA site, including where to stream the show, if your local weather isn’t cooperating.

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.) Scientists believe that the Geminids actually come from an asteroid, called 3200 Phaethon, which is really the skeleton of an extinct comet. The Earth passes through this particular debris stream each December, and is said to originate near the constellation Gemini.

How to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and perhaps in 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 last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can. This time of year, clouds can obscure the Geminids on the peak day.

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

This shower has been getting stronger every year it’s been recorded, going back the the 1860s. It could be “an amazing annual display”, according Cooke of

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

This movie of the 2008 Geminids comes from a space camera at the Marshall Space Flight Center:

Watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

 

Photos: Public Domain, American Meteor Society

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