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Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Roundup of Halloween and Fall Fun

Everyone seems to be inspired by Fall and by Halloween, which comes at the exact height of the season. There is no shortage of wonderful blog posts and ideas about play, creativity, and celebration of this pivotal and lovely time of the year. I’ve gathered a few:

Fall’s bounty and beauty are explored by Mom in Madison

A roundup of Fall outdoor activities comes from Your Wild Child

Backyard Mama brings us ten ways to enjoy Fall

Make shrunken apple heads with Active Kids Club

Create a Sugar Sprite tradition for Halloween candy with Stephinie on Rhythm of the Home

A wonderful compendium of Halloween herb and food history and lore comes from The Herb Companion

From The Squirrelbasket: Halloween traditions, superstitions, and pumpkin carving

DIYLife weighs in on composting Fall leaves

Shivaya Mama describes experiencing peace and joy through watching children’s delight at jumping in Fall leaves

Have a glorious Halloween and Fall!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Felt a Bar of Soap

The act of “felting” anything, particularly a bar of soap, is completely satisfying to the senses. The combination of soft wool and gentle lather is very pleasing, as is the process of shaping the felt over the soap.  If you’re using a scented soap, your sense of smell will be rewarded as well.

Why felt a bar of soap? Besides providing a fun, easy family activity, your felt bar acts as a washcloth and soap in one — the felt tightens as the soap shrinks with use. Felted soaps also make lovely gifts.

You will need:

A bar of soap (Most solid soaps will felt well. Goat’s milk soap, in a scent like lavender, is especially nice. Ivory soap will work as well. Soaps with rounded corners are preferred.)

Wool roving, available at craft, knitting and specialty stores. (The main color should be about 1 1/3 times the area of the bar of soap, with other small amounts of roving for accent colors.)

Two towels

A dish of warm water or a sink

A raised screen, or other drying surface, if you have one

Wrap your main piece of roving loosely around the bar of soap, lengthwise and widthwise, so that the entire surface of the soap is  covered in a loose-fitting package. Be sure to leave extra wool at the corners of the soap.

Wrap accent threads around the package in any design you’d like. (The design will change somewhat, as threads will shift in the process.)

Drizzle with warm water, either from a bowl or at the sink, enough to barely wet most of the bar.

Begin to mold the package with your hands. The soap will start to lather.

Keep forming and molding the felt to the soap bar, making sure to work the various surfaces evenly. The felt may appear wrinkly and loose. You may need to scrape away excess lather with your hands.

Occasionally squeeze with a towel to release excess moisture. You may even want to let the bar sit on a towel for a few minutes.

Continue to rub in your hands, turning the soap over and evenly smoothing the various surfaces. Be careful to keep the corners covered. The felt should begin to adhere more tightly to the soap.

When you are satisfied that the felt has tightened over the soap, wipe the excess lather off. Briefly run cold water over the soap to further tighten the fibers.

Let the soap dry for approximately 24 hours on a towel or on a screen, if you have one.

Enjoy your unique felted soap.

Here is a felt soap that Anna created:

Photos by Anna and Suz Lipman

Huffington Post: Rise, Fall & Rise of New York City’s School Gardens

Every now and again, you stumble upon what is simply a great story. Daniel Bowman Simon’s Rise and Fall of School Gardens in New York’s Past Can Guide Us Into the Future traces New York City’s early community gardens, such as the 1902 Children’s School Farm in DeWitt Clinton Park on 54th St. and 12th Ave. in Manhattan, which was planted as much for the civic virtues and love of nature it would instill in its young gardeners as it was for its vegetables and flowers.

A couple of years after its inception, there would be a whole School Farm movement, with an astonishing 80 plots in New York. In 1931, there were 302 school gardens, which accounted for 65 acres.

Over time, the gardens vanished. In most cases, their land was redeveloped. Simon notes that we need to take heed and not let that happen again. He cites some wonderful trends regarding the current uptick in school gardens – namely First Lady Michelle Obama‘s White House Garden and other programs that I’ve written about here, the new school garden at P.S. 29 in Brooklyn that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and celebrity chef Rachael Ray helped promote, and the work of the Children & Nature Movement.

Do yourself a favor and read the article. The graphics are wonderful. And the story turns out to be the writer’s testimony in the recent public hearing held by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, which very recently completed a set of community garden rules designed to strengthen protection for gardens.

White House Photo: Samantha Appleton

Snapshot: Found Objects

At the risk of outing myself as a complete slob, I recently unearthed my daughter’s decade-old “Little Mermaid” backpack while cleaning a closet. Serendipity struck in the form of a backpack collection drive that my friend Karen Benke was having to send backpacks to children in Colima, Mexico, and off the Little Mermaid pack went.

The body of the backpack had long ago been emptied, but the small front pocket held a surprise collection. Dumping it on the kitchen counter transported me back more than a decade — to a time of baby barrettes, film cameras, and our delightfully worn membership card to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. I was reminded that every purse and backpack from that period contained crayons and crayon markings. I remembered Anna being entranced by a magician’s tricks and adding her writing to his card. I remembered exploring San Francisco Bay on a slow afternoon that probably included pretending to be a captain atop the Discovery Museum’s dry-land boat.

Modern-day Anna was amused that the Mermaid backpack would have within it a guide to the seashore.

What treasures have you unearthed lately?

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Bike and Walk to School Day, Month, Life

October 6 (Update: October 3 in 2012) is International Walk to School Day, and the whole month of October has been designated Walk to School Month. Schoolchildren are encouraged to walk, bike, skateboard, scooter, bus, or carpool to school — anything that is different from the one child-one car system. And they’re encouraged to keep doing so, when and if they can. The beauty of the program, which was started in 1997 and expanded from a day to a month in 2006, is that a month is long enough for something like walking to become a routine and a habit, and a special day can energize people who might not have considered walking or biking before.

As of yesterday, more than 3,200 schools had registered for Walk to School Day on the U.S. Walk to Schools web site, a figure that’s expected to both increase throughout the month and be bigger in actuality (as not every school registers its efforts.)

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is also involved in the effort.

Of course, many of us remember when walking and biking to school was the norm and didn’t require any special days or rewards. The Safe Routes to Schools website notes that 42% of all students (and 87% of students within a mile) walked or biked to school in 1969, compared with 16% (and 63% within a mile – frankly, I would have thought that number was lower) in 2001. Busy schedules, parental fears, suburban sprawl, lack of school-bus funding, and other lifestyle shifts have all contributed to a culture of driving to school drop-off zones, even in towns where walking and biking is pretty do-able. I’d love to see figures for today, because I think the norm has shifted once again.

The U.S. Walk to Schools site has a lot of wonderful information about the benefits of walking. The site’s Frequently Asked Questions page has a great checklist to help parents determine the walking and biking safety of their own neighborhoods, as well as suggestions for customizing a walk if the school is too far away for walking or biking. There are also lists of U.S. and international cities and countries that are participating in International Walk to School Day.

My community has been participating in International Walk to School Day, through our local Safe Routes to Schools program, for years. I have witnessed first-hand the increase in regular walkers and bikers to school since the program started. More people, of all ages, out on the streets make them safer for the next group of schoolchildren who comes along. Communities also benefit from getting to know one another better, as they get into the healthy walking habit together. And families, if mine is any indication, experience less stress (the school drop-off zone always seems unnatural and harried. Is it me?) — and more joyful time together when parents can walk with younger children.

The number of participating schools goes up each year — perhaps yours has already planned some events, assemblies or rewards. Let us know!

Enjoy International Walk to School Month!

Here are more great resources:

Marin Safe Routes to Schools
U.S. Safe Routes to Schools
U.S. Walk to Schools
International Walk to Schools
Why Walk and Bike?
Safe Routes Guide for Parents and Teachers (very comprehensive)
Field Notes From the Future: Safe Routes to Schools Publishes New Resource Guides
Car Free Days: Wednesday is Intl Walk to School Day (but you can walk/ride all month)
Car Free Days: Biking to School … Without Parents
Free Range Kids: Non-Sanctimonious Blog About Today: WALK TO SCHOOL DAY!
Slow Family Online: Why Can’t She Walk to School in Today’s New York Times?

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: Car-Free and Carefree

Two stories recently came out about car-free living. One is from the delightful blog, New Urban Habitat, Abby Quillen’s always wonderful, inspiring and useful collection of stories about living more simply, sustainably, healthfully, and happily. Her piece, Lessons in Car-Free Living, contains a wealth of benefits and tips for getting your own family out of the car for short, simple runs.

This is definitely something we’ve been trying to do more increasingly in my household, and have been having good success. We combine bike riding for short distances with public transportation for longer commutes.

Another fan of public transit turns out to be one of the stars of my favorite TV show, the highly evocative, endlessly dissectible Mad MenVincent Kartheiser, who plays ad executive (and new father) Pete Campbell on the show. He recently revealed to the New York Times his utter joy of taking public transportation in Los Angeles, and using it as an opportunity to relax, study his lines, and commune with his fellow passengers — all enthusiasms I share (usually) when taking my local ferries, buses and trains. Said Kartheiser:

I like that my life slows down when I go places. I have all these interactions with the human race and I can watch people living their life and not just in their car.

He also mentioned a recent consumer study from Learning Resources Network that noted that motorists ages 21-30 generally don’t grant car ownership and driving with the same status that older people do. According to the study, this group favors mass transit for commuting and car sharing services, like Zipcar, for longer trips. It turns out that companies like Hertz are listening — They are expanding car sharing choices, especially in big cities and around college campuses.

At 80 million strong, the article notes that this 20-30 age group represents a very large cohort. According to William Draves, president of Learning Resources Network, “This group views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train.”

That’s how I feel! Productivity and joy far outweigh the convenience of driving my individual car, especially as I happen to enjoy walking (to/from the public transit), too  — and sometimes find driving a bit stressful. (Of course, the area in question has to offer good public transit and city planning for this to equate.)

The article also notes that, in survey after survey, 20-30 year olds say that they believe cars are damaging to the environment. Even hybrid electric vehicles don’t seem to be changing young consumers’ attitudes much.

Yay for the green young people and others who are adapting habits that are good for their own physical and psychological health and that of the planet. This young group, and the one coming up after it, offers plenty of cause for hope.

I’ll also add that, as with many personal choices, there is usually not one that is all good or one that is all bad. I believe everyone needs to make his or her own choices based on what feels right for them. Sometimes, for me, taking the car is the right thing to do. I remain cheered by the general attitudes and consciousness of the people quoted in this article, including the corporations that are following suit by offering alternative rental cars where young people are.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman: Car-Free Sundays, a Summer 2010 New York City program

You might also like: Bike to Work and School Day

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