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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Make an Altar to Honor Ancestors for Day of the Dead

The Latin American, and especially Mexican, tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a time to remember and celebrate loved ones who are no longer with us. Far from morbid, the day or days (which can encompass the widely celebrated Catholic All Saints Day  November 1st, and All Souls Day November 2nd) have a celebratory quality. In Mexico and other places, people play music, enjoy family, and make and enjoy special breads, pottery, puppets, paper cut-outs, dancing skeletons, and candy skulls. Brightly colored marigolds adorn displays, as the flowers’ scent is said to attract souls and bring them back.

While the holiday’s timing and spirit may seem to match Halloween, it’s actually different and predates it by about 1,500 years, to 3,000 years ago, when it was an approximately 40-day celebration based on two months of the ancient Aztec calendar and centering on the corn harvest in what is now August. Ancient corn festivals offered opportunities to share the harvest with the deceased.

Our modern culture is one of the few that doesn’t often recognize the role of ancestors or spirits. 2,000 years before the Aztecs, Babylonian festivals were devoted to the return of the dead. Much later, the Medieval Irish burned bonfires at Samhain (October 31 – November 1), the beginning of their winter, to entice dead spirits to visit. Dia de los Muertos offers a contemporary, colorful and meaningful way to honor those who have come before us and recognize that, while we can’t bring them back, their spirits and essences may live on with us.

Anna made an altar, or ofrenda, with her lovely 2nd grade teacher, Susan Falkenrath, to help her be more connected to a grandfather she didn’t know and remember a grandmother who had recently died. We still have the very light-hearted ofrenda in a prominent place in our house. (Traditional ones have a lot more temporary offerings on them, such as real food and flowers.) It does serve as a nice way to keep the departed close to us.

Her teacher had a cut-out form for the ofrenda‘s shape, but it’s easy enough to create your own with boxes and paper. Because ofrendas honor the lives of the deceased, Anna’s included her grandparents’ favorite foods, in clay form, their photo, and items about their work and play.

To make your own, you’ll need:

A shoebox or oblong tissue box and one or two more increasingly smaller boxes (large enough to work with your photo and frame – see below. Traditional ofrendas often have three tiers.)
Cardboard or a large flat box lid
Construction paper, wrapping paper or fabric
A photo of the deceased
Colorful tissue paper
Modeling or polymer clay
Branches or wire
Scissors or craft knife
Other items or mementoes, as desired
Paint and brushes, optional

Think about the ancestors you are honoring: What were there hobbies and interests? What was their favorite food?

Cover and wrap your boxes in construction paper, wrapping paper or fabric, so that there are no openings.

Glue the boxes, one above the other, smallest one on top.

Use the box lid or cut a rectangle of cardboard, 1-2” or more larger than the photo all around.

Glue the photo to the cardboard or lid. If desired, paint or paper the cardboard first and/or decorate the frame of the photo with drawn pictures depicting the ancestor’s hobbies, or with construction paper cut-outs of skulls.

Place the cardboard or lid behind the largest box, if large enough, and glue to secure it, so that it shows above the boxes. If the cardboard is smaller, follow these directions:

Cut 4 pieces of cardboard, 2” x 1”. Fold each in half. Glue two to the front and two to the back of the photo cardboard, to make L- shaped feet. Glue the bottom of the “L”s to the top box, so the photo stands up.

If desired, construct an arch out of paper or branches and place it around or in front of the photo, poking the ends into the top box to secure it.

Because it’s traditional to offer the deceased their favorite food, in addition to bread, fruit or candy. have fun making miniature clay food and placing it on the tiers of the altar. Some altars also include soap, so the loved ones can “freshen up” after their journeys.

Make other clay or paper decorations, as desired, perhaps representing more of the loved one’s interests, to place on any of the tiers. You may want to add real or paper flowers anywhere on the altar, or make a string of paper cut-outs (papel picado) and string them across the top of the arch or the picture.

Here are some nice examples of papel picado:


Enjoy wonderful pictures and stories of Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca from Slow Clothes.

Enjoy more ofrenda photos.

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Photos: Public Domain (first two), Chuchomotas, Susan Sachs Lipman,



Digging for Potatoes at Peter Pumpkin Patch

According to the Farmer’s Almanac the word, “hoedown” comes from the dance based on the movements done when hoeing corn and potatoes. (Think about it.) First used in the early 1800s, the term came to encompass the party that celebrated the yearly harvest.

Our family had its own hoedown after the delightful experience of digging for potatoes at Peter Pumpkin Patch in Petaluma, CA. We had initially visited Peter, along with some of our other favorite Bay Area pumpkin farms on a glorious fall day. We’d gone in search of cheerful orange pumpkins, and perhaps a gourd or two, along with the delights of visiting farms in fall, with their corn mazes and haunted barns. But when the surprise opportunity presented itself to dig for potatoes, we dug.

If you haven’t dug for potatoes, it’s a lot of fun and highly rewarding. Potatoes grow quite close to the earth’s surface, and you have to be careful not to stab one as you dig into the dirt. They grow very profusely on each vine, making it easy for people of any age to unearth a whole bounty in one motion, each one staring up like a treasure.

It was only after I took this picture that I realized that my family had inadvertently re-enacted Jean-François Millet‘s 1850s painting, The Gleaners.

Peter Pumpkin Patch offers five varieties of potatoes: Yukon Golds, Russets, Blues, Reds, and German Butterballs, along with stunning pumpkins in an extremely picturesque spot amid gently rolling land. The day we visited, there were other families digging for potatoes, searching for pumpkins, and posing their small children in the fields.

At the weigh-in, we each guessed how many pounds of potatoes we had. Anna was closest — we had harvested 13 pounds.

At home, they were washed, salted and roasted in olive oil. Though they didn’t last long, they were appreciated profoundly, as we knew the earth they had come from and had dug for them ourselves. We hope to visit there and dig for potatoes again soon.


You might also enjoy:

Heed the Call of the Pumpkin at these Great Bay Area Pumpkin Farms
Unearthing Gifts of the Earth: Farmer’s Almanac visits a Maine potato harvest
23 Things to be Happy About in October

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman


The Blessings of an Early Morning (with Biscuit Recipe)

I’m an early riser by nature, but lately I’ve been getting up especially early. I’m not sure why this is, though changing rhythms of self and season certainly play a part. It really feels like Fall now when the sun doesn’t rise until close to 7 am, and the mornings are fog-bathed, chilly and cozy. Though I relish bustling family time (and I sometimes wish I didn’t begin to yawn extravagantly by 10 pm or even earlier), there is something about being awake and alone in the quiet early morning hours that is extremely special, calm and naturally slow. The knowledge that the whole day is ahead, and one can be present for its entirety, lends a feeling of gratitude and fullness to the early-morning moments, a feeling that can too easily slip away as the day contracts and fills with busy-ness and chores.

I recently used an early morning to luxuriously pick up a sewing project – mending a pair of overalls for Anna – and bake biscuits, both of which I knew would surprise the family when they awoke. Like much handwork, running thread through a garment can be an especially calm and purposeful task. Filling the house with the smells of fresh coffee and biscuits tends to make early risers of others, too.

When Anna woke up and saw the biscuits, and especially her overalls, I got the biggest hug.

The biscuit recipe is adapted from Marcia Adams’ wonderful cookbook, Heartland, The Best of the Old and the New From Midwest Kitchens:

You’ll need:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400. In a food processor (or with a pastry cutter) combine flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Drop in the butter and process until coarse crumbs form. Pour in the cream and process until just combined – do not overmix.

Transfer bowl to floured board and knead 6 turns. Pat or roll dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Using a standard or other cutter, cut out biscuits. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet and back for 10-12 minutes or until golden.

Yield: Approximately 16 biscuits.

Enjoy your morning!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Heed the Call of the Pumpkin at these Great Bay Area Pumpkin Farms


Few people can resist the delights offered by a pumpkin farm. They’re wonderful places for urban and suburban families to slow down just enough to feel the turning of the year and maybe try some harvest or other activities from times past. And, of course, there are the pumpkins themselves — jolly orbs that lay in profusion among pastures until you, the visitor, pick the most perfect among them to take home.

With Halloween almost upon us, most pumpkin farms have gone into high gear, with lots of activities over longer hours, and a host of pumpkins still available for the picking. Included in this listing are working farms and special pumpkin patches in the North, East and South Bays.

Note: The 41st Annual Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival takes place October 15-16 this year. Enjoy a parade, entertainment, contests, crafts, food, and displays of the world’s largest pumpkins, before or after visiting a charming South Bay pumpkin farm.


South Bay

Half Moon Bay bills itself as the “Pumpkin Capitol of the World” for good reason. Many people know about the yearly Art and Pumpkin Festival. Less well-known is the bounty of area farms, many of which have been in families for generations, along Highways 1 and 92.

Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

This delightful pumpkin patch offers an extremely large variety of pumpkins, all grown on-site. This working farm also features a hay pyramid, scarecrows, play areas, a Native American tipi, cornrows, U-pick sunflowers, and an antique John Deere tractor. The farm is wheelchair-accessible.

See Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm for directions and more information.

Arata’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Open since 1932, Arata’s is one of the oldest working pumpkin farms in the Bay Area. In addition to pumpkins, enjoy pony rides, animals, a hay ride, and a huge hay maze — clearly a labor of love — constructed out of 10,000 bales of hay.

See Arata’s Pumpkin Farm for directions and more information.

Little Creek Ranch Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Just up the road from Arata’s, Little Creek is a delightful family farm and pumpkin patch suitable for very young children. Pumpkins lay far apart on flat ground, so there are no vines to trip over. The entire pumpkin area is surrounded by low hay bales. There is a play structure and pony rides, along with other animals.

Call Little Creek Ranch at  (650) 726-2765 for directions and more information.

Pastorino Farms, Half Moon Bay

Pastorino Farms dates from the 30s and is known today for its huge assortment of pumpkins, along with its big orange-and-black decorated barn. Pastorino offers train rides around a small track, a jump house, pony rides, and a petting zoo. Hand-made signs that identify the many different types of pumpkins, some of them quite unusual. Also nice is the farm’s large selection of Halloween decorations and kitchen wares.

See Pastorino Farms for directions and more information.

Lemos Farm, Half Moon Bay

A working farm since 1942, this popular, charming spot offers lots of activities for all ages, especially young children. In addition to a good selection of pumpkins, Lemos Farm features pony rides, hay rides, a hay maze, a train for small children, a toddler-oriented play zone, haunted houses for older and younger children, and animals you can feed and pet. Lemos Farm retains a great deal of charm from the South Bay’s rural past.

See Lemos Farm for directions and more information.


East Bay

Smith Family Farm, Brentwood

Smith Family Farm has been in the same family for three generations and offers lots of great old-time activities on its large farm. There’s a leisurely tractor-pulled hay ride out to the pumpkin field, a corn maze, a hay maze, displays of antique farm equipment, live entertainment in a barn, a host of animals, and lots of fresh U-pick produce. The farm offers lots of places to picnic and play in a large, varied ranch setting.

See Smith Valley Farm for directions and more information.

Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm, Clayton

Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm, at the base of Mount Diablo, features a large variety of pumpkins and squash in all shapes and even colors. This working farm offers lots of fun activities for all ages, including a trackless train, a playland featuring old-fashioned games, and plenty of farm animals. The farm represents a part of the area’s rural past that is largely disappearing.

See Clayton Valley Farm for directions and more information.

Joan’s Farm, Livermore

This large, pretty working farm offers a taste of the Old West: There’s an Old West town, gold panning, antique farm equipment, a museum, and more. There’s also a large corn maze, hay rides, farm animals, and a farmstand with fresh produce for sale.

See Joan’s Farm for directions and more information.


North Bay

Peterson’s Farm, Petaluma

This working farm opens to the public for Halloween. Families may visit on weekends or after 2 on weekdays. In addition to two large, natural pumpkin fields, Peterson’s has lots of animals to feed and pet, including chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, cows, ponies, rabbits, pigs, calves, and a very big but gentle bull known as Wooly Monster. There are also fresh vegetables, flowers, free-range eggs, and an observational bee hive, all in a very intimate farm setting.

See Peterson’s Farm for directions and more information.

Peter Pumpkin Patch, Petaluma

This large, beautifully situated pumpkin farm in the Chileno Valley is also the home of Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. Visitors can milk a cow or dig for potatoes in a potato field, in addition to buying some of the best homemade ice cream around (pumpkin and vanilla) and specialty farmstead cheeses.

See Peter Pumpkin Patch for directions and more information.

Adobe Pumpkin and Flower Farm

This 30-acre farm has thousands of pumpkins and gourds for the picking, along with U-cut zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, and more. Adobe also has a great corn maze, a hay ride, a haunted barn, a jump house, animals, crafts, and food and live entertainment on weekends.

See Adobe Farms for directions and more information.

Nicasio Valley Farms, Nicasio

Along with a large, picturesque organic pumpkin patch, Nicasio Valley Farms offers U-pick strawberries, lots of gourds, and a farmstand featuring a complete array of fresh organic vegetables, as well as eggs, breads and cheeses. There is a hay maze, a jump house, musical entertainment and food for sale.

Call Nicasio Valley Farms at (415) 662-9100 for directions and more information.

Still want more? See Pumpkin Patches, Corn Mazes, Hayrides and More in the San Francisco-Sacramento Area.

Have fun this pumpkin season!





Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Vote Slow Family Online Most Awesome Parent Blogger

Slow Family Online has been nominated for a Most Awesome Parent Blogger Award from Red Tricycle and giggle!

Please help us win by voting for Slow Family by October 31.


Vote for Me

All voters in all categories — from coffee shops to baby strollers —  are entered for a chance to win a $500 Gift Certificate to giggle, a Flip Video Camera (value $300) and a large organic plush Winnie-the-Pooh (value $110).

Vote for Slow Family, let me know about it by commenting on our Facebook page or on the blog, and you’ll also be entered for a chance to win a cute, 100% cotton baby “Red Tricycle” T-shirt! The winner will be chosen by random drawing.

Red Tricycle is a wonderful site featuring fun family ideas in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco Los Angeles and San Diego.

Slow News: Slow Family Movement Featured in USA Today

Slow Parenting is in the news again, as more and more parents are discovering that dialing back the amount of organized and scheduled activities for kids can lead to more family time and the sense of fun and calm that accompany it.

USA Today just featured the slow family movement, in an article that originally appeared in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, and features my compatriots at Slow Family Living, Bernadette Noll and Carrie Contey, whose workshops, workbooks and wisdom have been helping families slow down.

The article shares the ways in which some families have chosen to slow down and their creative solutions for making family time fun, meaningful and a source of memories and bonding.

Much current research backs up the need for the kinds of free play and family togetherness that doesn’t happen when children are constantly engaged in organized activities. Some of this thinking comes from Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens, who assures us, “There are no more valuable means of promoting success and happiness in children than the tried, trusted, and traditional methods of play and family togetherness.”

Perhaps that’s something to think about as we enter the busy holiday season.

You might also be interested in:

Back to School: How to Tame Fall Frenzy
Coming Next Spring: Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World
Slow News: Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

A great source of research is:

The Children & Nature Network

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Book Provides Inspiration for Halloween Fun

As an unabashed enthusiast for all things Halloween, I loved Maggie da Silva‘s very charming and thorough ebook, Real Family Halloween Fun. Maggie is also the author of The Real Family Camping Cookbook, and her flair for providing complete information in a fun and accessible way is again evidenced here.

Maggie provides everything you need for a memorable and fun Halloween. There are ideas for lots of different costumes, including last-minute ones, from unicorn to superhero. Thorough guidelines take the reader through every step of throwing a Halloween party, including themed decorations and music, invitation text, traditional and obscure games ranging from fortune telling to Halloween hunts, and fun and unique treats like Witches’ Fingers and Mummy Mealoaf. As a pumpkin lover, I’m “dying” to try the pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Maggie’s holiday spirit is completely infectious. I especially enjoyed her forays into Halloween history and her section on old-fashioned and forgotten Halloween fare, such as Barnbrack and Colcannon from Ireland, and Boxty and Soul Cakes from the U.K. Real Family Halloween Fun is rounded out with crafts, lore and even poetry, which succeeds in putting the reader in the Halloween mood while taking much of the guesswork out of bewitching celebrations of any scale.

For more information on downloading, see Real Family Time.

New Childrens Book Reminds us to Play

Ernestine Buckmeister, the heroine of a delightful new children’s book, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Suzanne Beaky, doesn’t have time for childhood. This is so “…because her busy, well-meaning parents had packed her after-school schedule.” Mondays are for clay sculpting, Tuesdays for water ballet, Wednesdays for knitting and Thursdays for tuba playing. The week is rounded out with yodeling, karate and yoga.

Sound familiar? Though slightly exaggerated, Ernestine’s schedule gently acts as a mirror of over-scheduled children whose anxious parents are afraid that childhood is limited and convinced that children are in need of efficient delivery of experiences and skills.

But something happens to Ernestine. She discovers the joy of unstructured play and friends to play with, and influences her parents (and nanny, in a nice touch) to seek a little balance in the process.

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is completely charming. Its message is delivered in a gentle, funny way, with cute plays on words and illustrations that are cheerful, colorful and winning. The repetition and order of words and of Ernestine’s routine would appeal to young children. It’s quite easy to imagine this book becoming a favorite of children and parents as well as a wonderful, sly reminder of the importance of slowing down for childhood and for play.

You might also like:

Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Enjoy the Ancient Art of Cloud Watching
Babies Learn by Playing
How to Tame Fall Frenzy
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy

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