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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Dance Around a Maypole for May Day

May Day, or Beltane, comes at the exact mid-point of Spring and, as such, calls for celebration. The first maypoles were pine trees, which were carried in processions to Ancient Roman temples to honor the goddess Flora. In Pagan Medieval Europe — especially Germany, England, the Slavic countries and parts of Scandinavia — 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.

I’ve had the good fortune to take part in a few Maypole dances, with family and community groups. The tradition remains a special and delightful one that honors the season in a way that takes participants back to a more gentle and pastoral time.

You’ll need:

A tall tree branch or pole and something to anchor it. (Volleyball, tetherball, flag, umbrella and wooden poles work. 8-10 ft. is the optimal height.)

An even number of ribbons, at least one per dancer, in various colors, each 1½ times the length of the pole

Hammer and nails

Shovel, optional

Nail one end of each ribbon streamer to the top of the pole.

Anchor the pole into a pre-made umbrella or other stand, or dig a deep hole in the ground and make sure your pole is anchored properly in it.

Your maypole is ready for the dance.

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 bawdy affairs.

The holiday, which actually marked the first of summer for many years – with our current summer solstice being Midsummer) has always featured feasting and dancing, and often the crowning of a May Queen and King. In parts of England, and then in Puritanical America, leaders tried to do away with the Pagan holiday, but the charming, sweet aspects of the celebration have remained.

The maypole dance is beautiful and joyous, as the dancers weave ribbons weave in and out of each other’s steps systematically, until the ribbon-covered pole is left with a specific pattern. You may want to instruct dancers and have them practice in advance of the actual Maypole Dance.

You’ll need:

A decorated maypole

Dancers

Live or recorded music

Have participants each hold a ribbon around the pole.

Every other person should face clockwise, with the others facing counter-clockwise. (Have young children count off 1-2, 1-2 to determine which way to face.)

Dancers will alternate — first going in towards the pole, and under the ribbon of person coming towards them, then going out away from the pole, raising their ribbon over the person coming towards them. (To start, tell the 1s that they will go in and under and the 2s that they will go out and over.)

There is even a chant people may want to do:

In and out, in and out,
Weave the ribbons tight;
‘Round the Maypole we will dance
To the left and to the right.

The dance is over when the pole is completely wrapped with ribbons.

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

 

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

Happy May Day!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Vanishing Breed: World’s Last Typewriter Factory Closes its Doors

Hold on to your ribbons and keys: The world’s last typewriter factory, located in Mumbai, India, is closing its doors. As late as 2009, the factory, Godrej and Boyce, was still rolling out 10-12, 000 machines a year (down from 50,000 a year in the 90s). But the ubiquitous computer just proved too much for it.

The concept of impressing ink-coated letters onto paper may date to a 1714 English patent held by Henry Mill. The first working typewriter was said to have been built in 1808 by Italian Pellegrino Turri. Our current typewriters (and computer keyboards) owe the most debt to the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, produced in New York, beginning in 1873, from gunmakers E. Remington & Sons. Some of you may still have Remington manual typewriters.

Sholes, a newspaperman from Wisconsin, created the QWERTY keyboard that we still use today. The first one made only capital letters. There is more early typewriter history on this excellent site. This is another great site featuring lots of pictures and information about different models of early typewriters, from American Visible to World.

U.S. typewriter production was dominated by just four brands — Underwood, Royal, Remington and Smith-Corona — from the 1920s until they stopped production. Remington, then Remington-Rand, moved production to Europe in 1961. The last Smith-Corona and Royal typewriters came out in the 1970s. Underwood merged with Olivetti in 1963 and began diversifying. The last Olivetti portable typewriter was produced in Spain in the 1980s.

Though I typed a “novel” on a manual typewriter in 6th grade ( a tome in which terrible fates befell the fictional denizens of an elementary school, truth be told), and learned manual typing from typing teacher Stella Staley to prepare for high school, for most of high school I typed papers on a series of lovely IBM Selectrics. These were probably the slightly outdated castoffs from my parents’ ad agency office, but still — they were quite sleek, in lovely colors (robins egg blue or gunmetal gray), and they had fascinating metal balls that spun around to find the designated letter. Best? You could change the font by changing out the ball. (I also remember the change-over from white-out to type-out correction paper.) It turns out IBMs had been somewhat stylish (and electric) since the 1930s.

Now, of course, there is a collectors’ market for typewriter ribbons and other accessories, not to mention the typewriters themselves. And while news of this last typewriter rolling off the factory belt may hit some of us with an odd sense of surprise and nostalgia, I note that the same keyboard from almost 150 years ago is still with us, and that some people (even in high schools today) continue to say “typing” rather than the duller-sounding “keyboarding” or, God forbid, “word processing”.

This wistful change brings both and “end of an era” feeling and the notion that I personally can’t imagine how long-form writers ever typed complete novels without the luxury of inserting, deleting, copying and pasting at will — even if I once tried it myself.

Be sure to see: The typewriter dance number.

This just in: Some typewriters are apparently still being made, in the U.S., for the prison market. So, perhaps more accurately, the world’s second to last typewriter factory closed its doors.

Photos: IBM typewriter ads, top to bottom, Model Year 1954, 1930, 1948, 1948, 1959, 1967. These and many more on etypewriters.com. Early writing ball typewriter, 1903 Remington ad and popular 1920s Underwood 5 manual typewriter on this typewriter history site. Later Underwood 5 typewriter on Wikimedia Commons.

Happy Earth Day! Beginners Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing

It’s Earth Day, a few weeks into Spring in the Northern hemisphere, and no time like the present to get your garden going — even if (and perhaps especially if) you’re a total gardening novice.

Fear not. Even if you’ve never grown so much as a pansy, the following steps will get you and your garden up and running.

Select your site. Ideally your plot will get 6-8 hours of full sun per day. If such a site is not available, be sure to buy crops specifically intended to grow in the shade. If you don’t have adequate flat space, explore other outdoor space like patios, pass-throughs, or decks. You can still get a lot of usable space by planting in large boxes and having plants climb up trellises, which many love to do. Your space needn’t be too large. A 10×10 foot plot can support a few rows of different crops. Often gardeners get overly ambitious and plant more than they can reasonably maintain. If your site is traveled by munching animals, such as deer, you will want to construct some kind of fence around it.

Prepare the soil. Use a pitchfork to loosen the ground, preferably down to about 8 inches. Clear the surface with a heavy-duty rake. Break up dirt clods and pull weeds. These can be added to a compost, if you’ve chosen to compost. If you wish, you can buy packaged soil for a nice even top layer that will have some nutrients in it, especially if you suspect your soil is poor. (You can always take a sample into your local garden-supply store for an opinion.) Either way, some sort of packaged fertilizer should be added as well. A general mix for new plantings is usually good, but the folks at the garden center may have more specific advice based on your soil and what you’d like to grow, as well as how much organic matter you want to add. Always water thoroughly before adding fertilizer. (And have kids wash hands after handling.)

If possible, plan some paths in your garden. They will make it easy to water, weed, and harvest without stepping on plants. Some people cover the paths with tanbark or other material (available at garden-supply stores) to mark them and to discourage plants from taking root there. Make sure you have a good path for your hose and a water source.

Plant the seeds or seedlings. For most people, this part is especially fun. Follow the packet instructions for seed spacing and conditions. You may want to lay a line of string as a guide, or create a furrow. Some stores carry seed tapes, which you just lay down in a straight row. Tapes are great for tiny hard-to-handle seeds like carrots, which can be difficult, even for adults. Large, easy-to-plant and -grow seeds include nasturtium and pea. If you’re planting bedding plants, be sure to give each lots of room to spread out and grow. Try to anticipate the heights of your plants to get the tallest ones into the back. And don’t forget to grow something that you’d like to see or eat!

Fertilize. If you didn’t add fertilizer to the bed while preparing the soil, you’ll want to add a little bit while planting. There are fertilizers on the market that are designed specifically for new growth. Your local garden center is the best bet to point you toward a good fertilizer for your garden and conditions. Many people fertilize plants again at about six weeks into the growing process.

If you are gardening in containers, get the biggest containers you have space and money for. Check for adequate drainage holes. If you don’t have good drainage, you can add netting or pieces of broken pottery to the bottom of the pot. You may also want to add perlite, which will aerate the soil while helping it retain moisture. Fertilize as you would in a garden plot.

Water your plants or seeds. New transplants and freshly planted seeds like lots of water. The best kind of watering is done gently and deeply, so that the water soaks through to the growing roots of the plants. Once your plants are established, you will probably need to water every other day or so when the weather is sunny. (Plants in containers usually need water more often than plants in the ground.) If a plant droops during the day, or the soil feels dry more than a couple of inches down, it needs water. It’s best not to water in bright sunshine because the sun can evaporate the water or even cause burned spots on the plants.

Keep up the good work. Continue watering and caring for plants as needed. This can include pulling out obvious weeds and cutting back any growth that has died or become unattractive.

Be sure to harvest what you’ve grown. Sometimes I’ve been so proud of my work and/or not sure when to harvest that I’ve let plants go past the point when they’re edible or useful and all the way to seed. Take a chance and cut and enjoy what you’ve done. More will usually grow back!

Get comfortable. There are lots of items available to make gardening more comfortable. I suggest knee pads, if you’re going to be doing a lot of kneeling, a sun hat to protect your skin, and old shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or gardening clogs made specifically to get wet and dirty. (A pair of gardening clogs lasts for years. They’re also very comfortable and you can leave them outside.) Most people like gardening gloves and there are a range of them on the market. I find them irresistible to buy at gardening and hardware stores, with their cute patterns, but I almost always end up taking them off and getting my hands really dirty — the better to feel the plants, the dirt, and what I’m doing.

Have fun entering one of the oldest and most rewarding hobbies around!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Photo Friday: World’s Favorite Tulip

As many readers know, I am an inveterate, unabashed, unapologetic lover of tulips! The most recent burst of rain and wind pretty much took the last petals of our tulips, but they were glorious again this year. A full report is coming. For now, there are these, Darwin Hybrids that really are called World’s Favorite.  Bright, large, dramatically colored — they did not disappoint. Neither did the great blue sky I found them under one recent day.

I hope you’re enjoying Spring in its full flower!

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Signs of Spring
Photo Friday: Gather ye Rosebuds
First of Spring: Larkspur, CA

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