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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Happy May Day! Dance Around a Maypole

The first maypoles were humble pine trees, which were carried in processions to Ancient Roman temples to honor the goddess Flora and celebrate spring. In Pagan Medieval Europe — especially Germany and England, but also parts of Scandinavia and the Slavic countries — a tree would be cut down and brought from the woods into the village by a procession at sunrise, while horns and flutes played. The tree, a maypole, would be festooned with ribbons, garlands, flowers, wreaths, and other decorations to celebrate Beltane.

The Roman Floralia festivals lasted up to a week and featured games, theatrical presentations, and floral-wreath adornments. During the early Floralias animals were set free and beans were scattered to encourage fertility. At different times in history, Floralias and May Day celebrations were fairly bawdy affairs.

The holiday has always featured feasting and dancing, and often the crowning of a May Queen and King. In large cities like London, maypoles would stay up permanently. (For some time, May 1st was considered the first day of summer– and Midsummer was on our current summer solstice in June.)

In parts of England, and then in Puritanical America, leaders tried to do away with the Pagan holiday, but the charming, gentle celebration of spring had a way of staying appealing.

The maypole dance can be quite elaborate, as the dancers holding ribbons weave in and out of each other’s steps systematically, until the ribbon-covered pole is left with a specific pattern.

These celebrants in Glastonbury, England, look like they know what they’re doing and are having fun doing it.

This site tells you how to create a maypole and do a maypole dance.

See my earlier May Day post for instructions for making floral wreaths.

Happy May Day!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Celebrate May Day with Floral Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets

The earliest May Day celebrations commemorated Flora (above), the Roman goddess of flowers and spring. So it’s fitting that May 1st, which marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, be celebrated with flowers in baskets and in pretty wreaths around the head.

Wreaths can be made with real or synthetic flowers, and simple crowns can be made with construction paper. To make a floral wreath, make a circular form out of a coat hanger or other wire and make sure it fits the intended head. Wrap the ends of the wire tightly around the main circle to secure it. Tape each flower on by the stem with floral or a dark-colored masking tape wound around the base a couple of times.

Wind one or more colors of ribbon around the wreath. Ribbons can also be tied on to hang at intervals. To do this, cut and double a length of ribbon, so that each side is as long as you want it to hang. Make a loop at the top. Place the loop against the wire with a couple of inches to spare at the top and pull the two ends through the loop to secure the the ribbon. Knot the ends, if desired, to prevent from fraying.

May baskets are another tradition from a bygone time. They summon an era when children filled baskets or other containers (even simple paper cones) with freshly picked flowers and left them on neighbors’ doorknobs or doorsteps as a surprise. Since May Day often falls on a school day, we varied the tradition by bringing a basket of flowers to school and giving the basket or individual flowers to Anna’s teachers. Some people fill May baskets with candy.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day.

This delightful video comes from Kari at Active Kids Club and features children making a fresh crown of dandelions. This joyful activity is perfect for May Day or any day when the spring, the outside, and a mood of celebration beckons.

See also: Dance Around a Maypole for May Day.

Painting: Flora, by Louise Abbéma, 1913. In Public Domain. May Day Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman. Video: Kari Svenneby

Earth Day and Every Day: 11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids

With Earth Day upon us, not to mention the warmer and longer spring days, many of us have been heading into our gardens. Around much of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the peak time to sow some seeds into the ground, as well as plant a lifelong gardening habit into the children in our lives.

Gardening helps families spend time together outdoors, take pride in growing our own food, and connect to others who have lived on the land before us. Although gardening offers a bounty of simple wonder, beauty and fun for even the smallest children, it doesn’t hurt to employ a few methods for getting and keeping them especially engaged.

Here are some simple ways to maximize your child’s interest in the garden.

Let children select some plants they want to grow. Something magical happens when one has ownership of a project from its initial stages. When choosing plants, check that you have the right growing conditions for them to help ensure a successful experience. Planting information is available on seed packets and through garden-supply store folks, who are generally very helpful. You can choose seeds, young seedlings, or a combination of the two. Seeds are more cost-effective and can be especially rewarding and wondrous. Bedding plants of course give your garden instant color.

(As an aside, my daughter always picked marigolds, as did I when I was a kid. They’re so colorful and cheery and happen to be easy to grow from seedlings or seeds. Perhaps most children are drawn to bright marigolds.)

Chop chores into small blocks. Kids can lose interest if the project seems daunting. Try to break up the tasks into doable chunks and over more than one session if necessary.

Make a sign that identifies the garden, area, or container as the child’s. The sign can be as simple as a painted rock or as ambitious as a mosaic-tile kit from an art-supply store. If other people are sharing the garden, you can still identify different children’s plantings by putting each name on a wooden stick (available in bags at garden-supply stores) in permanent ink.

Create a fun space in the garden. This can be a hiding place that you create with trellises or plantings; a tree stump that can serve as a table for tea parties; or an area that is decorated with whimsical objects you make or find. For instance, pipe cleaners and beads can be used to make simple butterflies, mushrooms and flowers — they can be placed among the plants and can get wet and still last a long time.

Attract animals to your garden. Certain plants and flowers are known to attract various butterflies and birds. This can add another level of delight for children. The National Wildlife Federation has information about how to turn any garden into a habitat for wildlife. Even if you don’t get your garden “wildlife” certified, there are a lot of fun, helpful tips for bringing creatures into your yard.

Let your child plant. This goes back to ownership, plus it’s just so much fun to put seeds into the ground and then watch them come up. Large seeds like nasturtium, peas, beans, sunflowers, and gourds can be especially easy for children to handle and poke into holes. Smaller seeds can be mixed with coffee grounds for scattering. You can usually tell the relative size of a seed by shaking the seed packet. You may also want to look for seeds that will sprout and mature relatively quickly.

Let your child water. Most children love to water. Teach them to check the soil by poking a finger down a couple of inches. If they feel moistness, there’s no need to water. If it’s dry, the plant is thirsty. It’s also best to water early or late in the day, so that the water doesn’t dry out in the sun before getting to the roots of the plants. Water fairly deeply and try to get the water into the dirt instead of right on the plants, where it can damage leaves and stems.

Let your child harvest. Children also love to harvest what they’ve grown. Be sure to have them experience picking their own vegetables or flowers (with you helping to cut stems, as necessary.) Cooking or baking with the food you’ve grown is, of course, a delight. Strawberries are really fun to grow and eat right in the garden — I’ve had the best luck with young plants rather than seeds. Catnip is fun to grow if you have an appreciative cat. And flowers are fun to give others on Earth Day, May Day or anytime.

Avoid the use of pesticides in any garden that you’ll be eating from, or even spending time in. If your garden does develop an unwanted species, take an affected piece of the plant to your local garden-supply store and ask for advice on how to treat it organically.

Let the diggers dig. Some children prove especially interested in what’s under the ground. For them, an area in which to dig and look at worms and other creatures may be ideal.

(Relatedly, when my daughter’s wonderful pre-school learned they were going to have new-home construction occur next door, they cut a hole in the fence and covered it with plexiglass. A whole group of kids regularly watched the bulldozers and other tools of construction with fascination. In other words, it’s good to remember that kids aren’t necessarily interested in the same things we are.)

Allow for mistakes and experimentation. Children can learn early that things don’t always grow as planned. Likewise, gardens can be wonderful places to explore, experiment, and observe.

Look for future articles here with more specifics about how to get your garden started and some fun ideas for kids’ garden projects.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Flashy but Trashy Fashion Show and other ways to help the planet on Earth Day

Residents of the small Canadian town of Fernie, B.C., will mark this Thursday’s 40th anniversary of Earth Day with their 4th annual Flashy but Trashy Fashion Show. The show highlights people of all ages from the community who demonstrate their flair for creative re-use by modeling outfits made of such materials as biodegradable packing peanuts, coffee filters, flour sacs, and bubble wrap.

See a video from last year’s Flashy but Trashy show.

Displays of creative re-use are fun for both the participant and the viewer. Last year my daughter and her friends took part in a local Eco-Fashion show, at which they modeled their hand-made creations, all of which were made using re-purposed materials.

When Earth Day began in 1970, it heralded a new era of thinking about conservation of our land, air, water and other resources. At the U.S. government level, it sparked the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. On a personal level, many people began caring for the planet in a variety of ways they hadn’t before.

Take just one area: paper recycling. Between 1960 and 2006 paper and paperboard recycling rates have increased from 17% to more than 50%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which offers this information about how to reduce, re-use and recycle various materials.

Here are more recycling statistics from around the world.

Here is a map of Earth Day events around the world.

Last but not least, with a nod to the folks in Fernie, this is a picture of me in 1987, wearing a dress created from recycled play money and ready to hit the eco-town.

Video: Beyond Recycling, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Los Angeles Times Magazine

Slow News: New White House Programs Support Children’s Nutrition & Play

Exciting news for those who care about children’s health and nutrition and the movement to get kids outside to play — The Obama Administration has revealed two important new programs that address children’s health and well-being: President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” Initiative, which he signed Friday, April 16, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to eradicate childhood obesity.

I wrote about both of these on the Children & Nature Network blog. Here is President Obama signing the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative:

The White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, at which the signing took place, offered an exciting day of speeches and panel discussions. These revealed that the current administration cares deeply about the environment and the generation of children who are set to inherit American lands, as well as their stewardship. Said President Obama:

When we see America’s land, we understand what an incredible bounty that we have been given.  And it’s our obligation to make sure that the next generation enjoys that same bounty.

We’ll help families spend more time outdoors, building on what the First Lady has done through the “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage young people to hike and bike and get outside more often.

There was plenty of inspiration offered by many speakers, including this from Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Lisa Jackson:

Our open spaces have inspired our artists and encouraged our pioneers.

It was thrilling to me to listen along at home and hear our land and open spaces being revered by such a powerful group that was convened for the day at the White House, for the purpose of promoting nature for its beauty and value to people of all ages. My “play-by-play” coverage of the conference is here.

The other great recent White House development is Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and its April 9 Childhood Obesity Summit, which I was able to watch by live podcast. The Summit was an extremely encouraging event. The “Let’s Move” Campaign centers around the availability of healthy food, in schools and all neighborhoods, information and resources for parents, and physical activity.

Michelle Obama has noted that her work in the White House vegetable garden, in addition to her own family’s experiences trying to work good nutrition and health into a busy lifestyle, encouraged her to begin her campaign.

I was very cheered that outdoor play was revealed as an important part of the campaign and the efforts of high-level government officials.

Here’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, from his opening remarks:

If you want our students to be much more successful academically, they have to be active.

He called for “more well-rounded educations for children” and those, he noted, include P.E. and recess. This is a sea change away from the culture of academic pressure and achievement that has permeated the American school system over the recent past.

According to Interior Secretary Salazar:

We need to get our young people and our society as a whole more connected to the outdoors than they have been.

A whole “breakout” discussion then centered about physical activity and play, which is one of the platforms of the “Let’s Move” campaign. That session included discussions of such positive things as ways to deal with parental fear about outdoor play, increased access to natural spaces in suburban and urban settings, location of parks near schools and homes, safe routes to schools and parks, available transportation to green spaces, access to activities beyond organized sports, resources for parents, and a culture of increased walking instead of driving for short distances.

All of these issues concerning green spaces and communities, walking, play, and access to fresh, healthy food, are connected to the Slow Movement.

Again, this was at the White House.

My blog post about the Childhood Obesity Summit is here.

Complete video coverage of the Summit is available on the White House site. (From the front page of the Video section, search for “Obesity Summit”.)

Photos: The White House

Slow Parenting Gaining Steam: It’s About Time

As people, especially parents, become busier than ever — perhaps driven by increasing economic and social pressures — we’re hearing about the counter movement of “Slow” more than ever, too.

ABC News recently ran a piece on Slow Parenting, which featured, among others, the wonderful Slow Family Living folks, who I have featured on my blog.

Most children are over-scheduled — psychologists, teachers and parents in the piece agreed. And that’s resulting in a generation of stressed-out kids, and parents. Said Bernadette Noll, Slow Family Living co-founder:

I think there’s the feeling of being frazzled. Kind of high anxiety on both the parents’ part and the kids’ part.

Slow Family Living co-founder and parenting coach Carrie Contey, and others in the piece, advocate clearing the schedules, adding more free time and play time, and letting go of the notion that, as parents, we have to be perfect.

Perfectionism truly can be the enemy of freedom and play. Writer Anne Lamott addresses this in a wonderful, funny and wise piece that appears in Sunset magazine.

We all hunger for creative expression in some form, Anne Lamott writes:

Creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

The trick, though, she notes, is making the time to have this in our lives.

That’s really what’s been at the heart of the Slow Movement for me and many others — finding the time, making the time, to connect with family and friends and that part of ourselves that yearns for beauty, peace and community, in whatever form it takes for us personally. We only get 24 hours each day. Deciding what we really want and then what to let go of is a huge step off the treadmill and onto a different path for many of us.

The great news is that more individuals and even groups are embracing this philosophy. No-Homework policies are popping up in school districts. The documentary film Race to Nowhere, which stemmed from director Vicki Abeles’ own parenting experiences, may be behind some of this. The film, which has been playing to sold-out audiences of parents and others across America, attempts to illuminate “the unintended consequences of the achievement-obsessed way of life that permeates American education and culture.”

There is a Race to Nowhere Facebook page, where people are sharing ideas. Slow Parenting is gaining steam, and, in more ways than one, it’s about time.

I hope that this blog will continue to provide inspiration about slowing down with your family; appreciating beauty, nature, and seasons; and fun things to do with all that new-found free time. :) My Slow Family Resources page highlights lots of other great people, resources and ideas.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tulipmania 2010, Part 2

In my last post on tulips, I featured the Parade and Apeldoorn tulips and gave some background on the Tulipmania that gripped otherwise sensible people in 17th century Netherlands. This post will continue to highlight the beauties that graced my spring container garden.

I highly recommend planting tulips, as an easy individual or family project. It’s one that will bring you a lot of joy for relatively little effort.

Apricot Beauty

I love apricot-sherbet colored tulips, and the early-blooming Apricot Beauty did not disappoint. A single tulip with a nice classic shape on an 18″ stem, the Apricot Beauty looked great with its companion flowers, the Beau Monde and the Negrita, and, in particular, really helped welcome Spring.

Beau Monde

I find the delicate, bi-color Beau Monde to be very painterly. An early Triumph, with a pleasing shape on an 18″ stem, it featured wonderful blush-colored swipes on bright white petals.

Negrita


Accompanying the prior two in their early spring box was the Negrita, which, interestingly, lasted much longer than the other two. This is a beautiful Triumph tulip, with a great shape and distinct deep magenta color. It’s a good performer, and stands 22″ high, with a wonderful drama and color to it that allows it to mix well with lots of different flowers or stand on its own.

White Parrot

The lovely White Parrot tulips were the last of all the tulips to come up. This is a great, late-season creamy white tulip with varying brushes of grass green traveling from stem to flower. Fairly large flowers sit on 20-22″ stems. Though I found the typical parrot “frills” to be a bit more subtle than they are on other types, this is just a very pretty flower.

Until next year!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tulipmania 2010, Part 1

A few centuries ago — before the peak of the dot-coms and the housing market and, well, banks and investment companies — it was a flower that caused a giant investment craze and its subsequent crash.

Drawn by their intense color and beauty, wealthy 16th and 17th century Dutch and Germans paid increasingly extravagant prices for the Turkish exports. In 1634 a Dutch man paid roughly half his fortune for a single bulb, solely for the purpose of admiring it. The mania continued to increase. More and more people sold their houses and land to purchase tulips, until their money was fairly worthless, goods and services were priced beyond what people could afford, and people had to barter in the bulbs. Still, they threw themselves lavish parties, with beautiful tulips everywhere, until at last a tulip deal, for 10 Semper Augustus bulbs, went sour. On that first default, people started to panic. Prices dropped precipitously, and people found themselves in financial ruin.

This is the Semper Augustus bulb:

Luckily, today, in the U.S. in 2010, I can get beautiful tulip bulbs for under $1 apiece, refrigerate them (through our mild northern California winters), plant them, and have a deck full of lovely tulips in spring. All but the last of this year’s tulips are a memory. But, what a memory they were!

Parade


Pictured at the very top of this post and above, is the Parade tulip, which performed extremely well. The bulbs are huge, and the bright vermilion red flower sits atop a sturdy stem that rises to a great 22″-24″ height. They seemed to last a long time, too. I planted them to alternate with the Golden Apeldoorn tulips. Both are Darwin Hybrids that came up at the same time, in the middle of tulip season.

On sunny mid-afternoons, their petals would fly open in the sun.

Golden Apeldoorn


A beautiful companion to the Parade, the Golden Apeldoorn matched it in size, color and majesty. It has a wonderful rich yellow color, a beautiful shape and a sturdy 22″-24″ stem.

You can’t beat this bright, cheery color combination for welcoming spring.

My next post will feature my other spring tulips: Apricot Beauty, Beau Monde, Negrita and White Parrot.

Tulip history is from the excellent 1841 (reprinted in 1980) book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay.

More information about choosing, storing and planting tulips can be found in my earlier post here.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Drawing, Public Domain.

Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy

First came word from Lenore Skenazy, the wonderful keeper-of-the-calm-flame over at Free Range Kids, that the era of the passive toy was over. It seems she had done a sweep of the recent Toy Fair, where next Christmas’ gewgaws were revealed to the trade, and found, to her delight, that largely gone were loud, electronic, performing toys like Tickle Me Elmo, and in their place were toys that called on children’s imaginations to build with them and do things with them. Imagine that!

Then I ran across this story that should be required reading for anyone who is in any way feeling inferior or stressed out because their children do not have the latest wonderful toy that will help them get into a good college, or at least goose their fine-motor development:

When the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, found itself with empty exhibit space between shows, clever exhibit designer Ronnie Bogle tossed a few giant boxes, which had contained the museum’s new recycling bins, into the area. Almost immediately, children were crawling in and around them, drawing on them, role-playing in them, and creating skyscrapers, houses and forts. New boxes were added and the exhibit was christened Box City. It became one of the most popular exhibits in the museum.

You can read the complete story of Box City here.

Said Ronnie Bogle, “One of my fondest childhood memories is when we got a new refrigerator and my dad gave me the box. For two weeks that thing went from being a house to a rocket ship to a train to a car.”

This is another nice reminiscence about playing with refrigerator boxes, from the GagaSisterhood site, which is geared to grandparents.

Children’s Museum marketing manager Autumn Gutierrez echoed the idea that children can have fun without fancy toys.

“The kids really love our high-tech exhibits,” she said. “But then the window washer comes along, and they are just as excited by that.”

Worth remembering!

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

Related posts:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing

Time Magazine: Can These Parents be Saved?

Egg Dyeing Workshop

A few days ago, I posted about the tradition of dyeing, giving and celebrating with eggs for Easter and spring. Today I got to attend a lovely workshop, where we dyed eggs with plant dyes, in the Mill Valley store Maison Reve, under the guidance of Molly de Vries. It was a lot of fun and wonderful to gather with neighbors of all ages to enjoy a time-honored art. Egg dyeing is easy, inexpensive, creative and limitless. I enjoyed seeing everyone’s decorating ideas and techniques.

The plant dyes had been created in advance using onion skin, turmeric, cabbage, and beets.

Molly also provided tape, string, crayons, and beeswax, so people could create designs on their eggs, which would often show up white after the eggs absorbed the dye. (For complete dyeing instructions, see my earlier post.)

I used beeswax to make little dots, which I put all over the egg before soaking it in the onion skin dye for about 40 minutes.

I had help removing the wax, to reveal the white of the eggshell (and a little wax, which the group liked) underneath.

Happy Easter and Spring.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Read Part 1: Dye Eggs Like the Ancients with Plant Dyes

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