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6 Great Activities to Celebrate Kids to Parks Day May 21 + Giveaway

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What if you could do something simple and enjoyable that improved every aspect of your and your family’s health and well-being and didn’t cost a dime? You can! That something is visiting a local, state or national park, forest, seashore or other public land.

That’s why National Park Trust has designated Saturday, May 21, as the 6th annual Kids to Parks Day. By setting aside one Saturday in mid-spring, NPT hopes to raise awareness of the ease and benefits of visiting a park and foster a connection with our public lands that will lead to lifelong enjoyment and stewardship.

Take the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 21. Everyone who registers will be entered to win a cool prize, such as a Baby Bjorn Carrier One Oudoors Baby Carrier, to take your little one on your next park adventure, a national park prize pack from Eastern National, a framed photo from fantastic outdoor photographer Frank Lee Ruggles, National Geographic kids books, and many more.

What do you do when you get to the park? That part is easy! You can join one of the 500 Kids to Parks Day events all over the U.S. You can create your own park adventure using NPT’s Boredom Busters. Or you can enjoy one of these 6 Great Activities for the 6th Kids to Parks Day.

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Play Pick-Up Sticks with Real Twigs

It’s called Spillikans in Canada, Plockepinn in Sweden, Mikado throughout Europe, and Kau Cim in China, where the sticks were used as a fortune-telling device. Although you could buy a canister of pick-up sticks at a toy or variety store, why not collect your own, at the park, for free? As a bonus, you’ll have fun hunting for good sticks, as well as playing with them. Here are directions for Pick-Up Sticks.

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Whistle with a Blade of Grass

Parks are the perfect place to let time move a little more slowly than usual. Try your hand at some outdoor activities from a slower time that need only the equipment on hand and a little practice. Even, and perhaps especially, a modern child will enjoy the chance to whistle with a blade of grass, make a daisy chain, or skip a stone in a body of water.

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Have a Scavenger Hunt or Make a Nature Bracelet

Whether you’re looking for wildflowers with five petals, red birds, or heart-shaped rocks, scavenger hunts get people of all ages exploring and observing in nature.

Nature bracelets also prove that simple is often best outdoors. Making them is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items. Like scavenger hunts, the hunt for nature bracelet items turns an outing into an adventure.

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Make a Paper or Cork Boat and Sail it in a Creek

My family first got the idea to make a paper boat from our beloved book, H.A. Rey’s Curious George Rides a Bike, in which sweet and loveable George secures a paper route, which leads him to make and sail a whole flotilla of folded-newspaper boats. Wondering if a newspaper boat could really float, we got out some old newspaper, folded it into boats using the directions in Curious George, and took our boats down to a local creek, where they indeed sailed along once released, on a gently flowing spring stream. You can make your own boat, using any kind of paper. Sail it or race it with others!

Got corks on hand? Make and enjoy a cork raft or cork sailboat.

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Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. Yes, they provide endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, but bubbles–each a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas–sneakily illustrate a little science, too. Read about bubble science here. Perhaps best of all, bubbles can be made using ingredients you probably have around the house. Take a bucket of mix to a park or lawn and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.

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Play Classic Outdoor Games

When’s the last time you got a group together in a park for some old-fashioned playground or lawn games? Kids to Parks Day is a great time to revive your favorites or learn something new. Games such as Red Light, Green Light, Duck Duck Goose, Mother/Father May I, Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, and the ever-popular Tag, in all its variations have been entertaining people around the world for decades. Here are the rules to these and other classic outdoor games. Try one in a park!

Register for Kids to Parks Day & Enter the National Geographic Books Giveaway.

In addition to taking the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 21, you can enter my giveaway to receive a National Geographic Kids Books Prize Pack consisting of 2 books, Secrets of the National Parks, Centennial Edition and Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure, starring NPT’s own loveable mascot.

To enter, take the the Kids to Parks Day pledge and then leave a comment on this post, letting me know you took the pledge and sharing your favorite park activity by Saturday, May 21, Midnight, PDT. The giveaway winner will be chosen by random name generator and notified by email. The giveaway winner must respond within 48 hours of receiving the email to receive the prize.

 Still looking for more park activities? Download National Park Trust’s Park Activity Guide. Have fun this spring in a park!

These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain (grass), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet), Virginia State Parks (classic games)

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

National Day of Service at our National Park
Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS
Camping Trip: California’s El Dorado National Forest
A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to Muir Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Update: Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow today, which predicts an early spring.

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday – It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather – and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 128 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. No shadow means an early end to winter. And if the groundhog does see his shadow? Six more long weeks of the season. Over the past years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 102 times and not seen it only 17. (Records don’t exist for every year.) In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as I suspect they would do this year, as well, should Phil call for even more chilly weather.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

History and science of Groundhog Day

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

These are some really weather activities to help kids understand about temperature, air pressure, wind and much more.

Do groundhogs really emerge from their burrows to see their shadows? Yes, and no. Male groundhogs actually emerge in search of females, who have emerged just prior. Once the female is sighted, the male groundhog actually goes back into his underground man-cave to wait out the cold weather, confident that a female is near.

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

— Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

— English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies – Staten Island Chuck, anyone? – none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Groundhog activities and crafts

It’s fun to play with shadows, in honor of Punxsutawney Phil and his. Try making hand shadow puppets, something people have been doing since 2,000 years ago in China, where it was performed by oil-lamp light. Have someone project a flashlight onto a wall or other surface. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes to create shadow puppets. Here are some classic ones to try:

Rabbit—Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk—Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider—With palms facing up, cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or dog—Place your palms together, fingers facing outward. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinkie drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel—Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinkie and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

There are also a lot of very appealing shadow and groundhog crafts for Groundhog Day, like the one below from Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten and a great round-up of others from Motherhood on a Dime.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Images: Aaron Silvers, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten, Creative Commons

Shadow puppets adapted from FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Happy Chinese New Year: Celebrate the Year of the Monkey with Crafts, Recipes and Fun

Chinese New Year is celebrated on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar calendar, with the new year beginning on the darkest day of the month. New years celebrations often go as many as two weeks, until the next full moon. And a celebratory holiday it is, with red decorations, good-luck gifts of oranges and money, parades with dragon dances and firecrackers, and special foods.

Learn about Chinese Lunar New Year parades in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, as well as Chinese New Year activities around the world.

This year is the Year of the Monkey. See a Chinese zodiac calendar.  Try one of these fun Chinese New Year activities:

Fingerprint Monkey Card from Crafty Morning

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Year of the Monkey Papercut Printable from Craft Kids

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Chinese Good Luck Ornament from Sand in My Toes

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Paper dragon from Teach Kids Art

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Paper Plate drums from Crafts and Art for Children

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Kid-friendly Honey Prawns from Kidspot

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Homemade fortune cookies from The Spiffy Cookie

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Felt fortune cookies from Martha Stewart

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Fruit roll-up fortune cookies from Recipe by Photo

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Noisemakers from Slow Family Online

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Make these easy paper lanterns

This is probably the classic Chinese New Year craft. It’s easy and satisfying. I made these as a kid and, of course, with my daughter.

You’ll need:

  1. Construction paper
  2. Scissors
  3. Tape
  4. Glitter or other decorations, as desired.

Fold a piece of paper in half length-wise.

Beginning at the fold, cut out approx. 4 very skinny triangles that go halfway up the folded section of paper.

Unfold the paper and curl together so that the two shortest ends of the paper meet and the cuts run vertically. (The cuts should now each result in a “diamond” shape.)

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The paper lantern activity is adapted from  Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

 

Lantern photo: Planetforward.ca

Celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and other Midwinter Holidays with Kids

Around the world, people who live in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In countries that use lunar calendars to determine festival days (many of which are in Asia and the Middle East), this signals the beginning of the new year and the first stirrings of spring.

There are lots of ways to honor and celebrate various midwinter traditions that are delightful, educational and bring families together.

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The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese Lunar New Year traditionally begins at the first new moon after January 21st. Each year is said to be represented by one of 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. This coming year is the Year of the Monkey.

San Francisco is host to the largest Chinese New Year Parade outside Asia and one of the few illuminated nighttime parades in the world. The parade, Feb. 20th this year, dates back to 1860 and features more than 100 groups, including extravagant lion dancers and a 200-foot-long Golden Dragon. San Francisco’s Chinatown offers numerous other free events and activities throughout the two-week New Years celebration, such as lion dance exhibits, and craft activities like making lucky red envelopes, at city libraries.

In New York City, the New York City Chinese New Year Parade and Festival takes place Feb. 14th this year, and winds through the streets of Little Italy and Chinatown. There’s also a Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival on Feb. 10th, with drumming, dancing, and more than 600,000 firecrackers, the noise of which is said to ring out the evil spirits of the old year and ease what many viewed as a vulnerable transition between years. Read more about the tradition of greeting the new year with noise and how to make your own noisemakers.

In Chicago? Attend the Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade in their vibrant Chinatown and experience marching bands, floats, lion dancers and a dragon dance, on Feb. 14th.

Here are some great photos of Chinese New Year celebrations around the world.

There are many crafts you can make at home to celebrate the Chinese  New Year. Try making a paper dragon, Chinese noisemakers, or Monkey paper cutouts, or baking your own fortune cookies. (If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, to see how the pros bake and fold the famous cookies.)

Here are more Chinese New Year crafts and recipes.

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The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, this year) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating tree fruits and nuts. For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the nature around us.

Looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat? Consider planting a tree or seeds, or choosing a natural area to steward by weeding or picking up trash. Take a nature walk and observe what you see, or make a homemade bird feeder, so you can help the birds at a point in winter when much of their food supply has diminished.

Here are lots more traditions, blessings and activities to celebrate the New Year of the Trees.

Groundhog

In the U.S., Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a well-known midwinter holiday, in which it is said that a groundhog rises from his underground burrow to predict a long or short winter, based on whether or not he produces a shadow. The holiday has its roots in Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. (The Celtic-Gaelic St. Brigid’s Day, a time of festivals, feasting and parades, which is still celebrated widely in Ireland, is another precursor to Groundhog Day. As is Imbolc, which means “in the belly”, and is associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would give birth in the spring.)

Pennsylvania’s German settlers believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day (causing the groundhog to see his shadow), then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold, producing “six more weeks of winter.” This site explains the science of Groundhog Day and the fact that cloudy weather is actually milder than clear, cold weather. Groundhog Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1886 and featured a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil”, the same name of the groundhog that makes predictions today.

To celebrate Groundhog Day, try making hand shadow puppets, having a friend trace your shadow, or enjoying one of these shadow-themed activities or weather experiments.

Here is a lot more science, lore, activities and fun for Groundhog Day.

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Japanese people celebrate Setsubun (Feb. 3rd this year), traditionally the beginning of spring, with a bean-throwing ceremony called Mame-maki. Beans are thrown indoors and then outside, as people shout, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Out with the devil! In with fortune!”), to drive away the evil spirits, a tradition that is a carry-over from mame-maki’s origins as a New Year’s ritual. Sometimes fathers dress up as the oni (devil). It’s considered good luck to eat the number of beans as your age.

You may want to do some Setsubun crafts.

Enjoy your celebration of midwinter. Hopefully it won’t feel like too long a wait until spring.

Photos: Wikimedia (Chinese New Year Parade in Melbourne, Setsubun celebration in Kobe), Susan Sachs Lipman, Creative Commons (Groundhog)

Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2

The San Francisco Bay Area is a special place throughout the year, and no time more so than at holiday time. But, let’s face it­–when the holidays get crazy, stress levels tend to get high.

Fortunately, there are many ways to take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

There’s a holiday activity for every budget. From live reindeer to lighted trains, something magical is probably happening somewhere in December around the Bay.

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Public Destinations and Events

My family loves San Francisco’s Union Square at holiday time. Enjoy the lighted tree in the square, outdoor ice skating at the Union Square Ice Rink, decorated store windows at Macy’s, photos with Santa at the Westfield Shopping Center, the 12-foot-high Enchanted Sugar Castle at the St. Francis Hotel, a cable car ride, and assorted other only-in-San Francisco attractions.

Did you know that reindeer antlers are among the fastest growing bones? Take in the science behind the season at California Academy of Sciences’ exhibit, Tis the Season for Science. Meet live reindeer and learn how they adapt to harsh Arctic winters, see how snowflakes form inside the interactive Snowflake Theater, and enjoy exploring holiday-themed and other exhibits.

Hometown Holidays in Redwood City offers an extravaganza featuring a parade, Santa, ice sculptures, entertainment, a special effects light show, and a visit from the CalTrain Holiday Train, December 5.

Benicia’s charming Main Street hosts Santa and others at the Benicia Christmas Parade and Holiday Market, December 12.

Holiday on the Farm at Forest Home Farms in San Ramon features old-fashioned holiday activities and entertainment and a visit from Victorian Santa and his reindeer, December 12. (Enjoy other programs, such as Candy Cane History and crafts and a Nature’s Decorations scavenger hunt, December 5 and 19.)

Ring in the New Year at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum by taking a turn at striking the 2,100-pound, 16th-century Japanese temple bell. The reverend-led event includes a ceremony and the bell-ringing, to leave behind last year’s regrets and bad luck, December 31.

Little ones will enjoy Noon Year’s Eve at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Dance outdoors, make a crown, and watch the ball drop on Festival Plaza, December 31.

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San Francisco’s railway cars hail from all over the world.

Holiday Performances

Cities and hamlets all around the Bay Area offer plenty of options for holiday entertainment.

Traditionalists will want to head to San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker, which made its debut on Christmas Eve, 1944. The Velveteen Rabbit,  ODC/Dance Company’s colorful and long-running holiday adaptation of Margery Williams’ classic children’s book about a beloved nursery rabbit that becomes real, plays at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. San Francisco Symphony offers multiple musical holiday shows, including Peter and the Wolf and A Charlie Brown Christmas–Live.

There are more than two dozen performances of The Nutcracker all around the Bay Area. The above link shares those, in addition to multiple holiday performances, Santa visits and other fun holiday happenings around the Bay.

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Gingerbread House Displays

Gingerbread houses are another wonderful holiday tradition, dating back more than 1,000 years of gingerbread history to a time when gingerbread was used to make religious creations. We’ve made some fun DIY gingerbread houses over the years (orange peel satellite dish, anyone?) and for inspiration, there’s nothing like the beautiful and astounding displays created by the pastry chefs at some of San Francisco’s finest hotels.

The Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House must be seen to be believed. The two-story (!) house is than 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and features thousands of gingerbread bricks. The Fairmont Hotel is also beautifully decorated, with lit trees and a model railroad. While there, enjoy the Fairmont’s Gingerbread Holiday Tea.

Gingerbread enthusiasts won’t want to miss the St. Francis Enchanted Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Each item on the 12-foot-high replica of a medieval French castle and village is intricately handcrafted through sugar art techniques. Begun in 2005, the castle gets larger and more detailed each year.

The Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco showcases a large and imaginative gingerbread holiday village. Have fun exploring all around it before or after tea (above), or simply by popping into the lobby.

Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel Gingerbread House is an extensive replica of the Gold Rush-era hotel.

Join the Gingerbread House Competition and Tour in Sausalito. Pick up a map, hunt for decorated houses, at local businesses, and vote for your favorites in this delightful town tradition.

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Holiday Teas

One of my family’s favorite traditions is holiday high tea. We love dressing up and going to a city hotel that’s beautifully decorated to enjoy exquisite sandwiches and desserts. San Francisco’s Sheraton Palace Hotel offers a holiday tea in its beautiful Victorian Garden Court that features delightful children’s sandwiches, as well as crowns and scepters for small visitors and Santa Visits on Mondays. While you’re there, visit the hotel’s beautiful decorated trees and the large and delightful gingerbread village in the lobby. Here are lots of other terrific San Francisco holiday teas.

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Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1: Holiday Light Displays, Parades and Ice Skating.

Between all the holiday entertaining and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee.

Plus it bonuses you 20% extra Membership Rewards points after making 20 or more purchases in a billing period. That’s music to my ears at holiday time!

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Fairmont Hotel

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

 

 

 

Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1

I never fail to find the holiday season completely magical, and revel in the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area offers so many opportunities for families and others to experience that magic. Many of my family’s warmest memories are holiday memories–and many of those are low-cost or free, offering experiences as an antidote or addition to gifts and holiday shopping.

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The best things in life are often free–like family time decorating for the holidays, setting the dinner table, making cookies for holiday guests, or enjoying the Bay Area’s special light and other displays. We cherish these holiday #EveryDayMoments that add up to profound memories and traditions.

Holiday Light Displays

Winter holidays call for glorious lights brightening the long nights, just as candles and bonfires did for centuries before the invention of Christmas lights. Here are some of the best Bay Area light displays.

Residential Neighborhoods

The San Francisco Peninsula is a hotbed of holiday light activity. Whole neighborhoods get into the spirit, with holiday characters, musically synchronized lights and more on Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos, Fulton Avenue in Palo Alto, and Dewey Street in Redwood City, among other individual spectacular houses.

Marin County is home to some fabulous light displays, including the Rombeiro House, a 25-year tradition, which features stunning holiday decorations, outside the home as well as in multiple rooms inside! The Rombeiros graciously and cheerily greet all visitors throughout the season. See my walk-through of the Rombeiro House and learn about other great Marin County light displays. A horse-drawn Holiday Light carriage ride through Novato features the Rombeiro and other decorated homes.

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In the East Bay, Widmer World in Pleasanton has been going, and growing, since 1980. Widmer World, a home Santa visits, will be featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight in December. While you’re in the area, check out the other “must see” houses in Pleasanton and Livermore, according to California Christmas Lights, or take in the glow of Thompson Street in Alameda.

A traditional holiday highlight in San Francisco is the Tom and Jerry Christmas Tree in Noe Valley, which features a 65-foot decorated tree and Santa visits. The Chestnut Christmas Lit Houses in South San Francisco are another fan favorite.

California Christmas Lights is a fantastic resource for holiday light displays all around California. Search by county and city, or narrow your search to “must see” houses or houses that have been verified for 2015, and then create a driving map to view your picks.

Not in the San Francisco Bay Area? This is a terrific resource for the best Christmas lights around the U.S.

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Public Destinations

San Francisco Zoo Lights offers reindeer visits, nightly shows, and rides on the Little Puffer steam train. Don’t forget to bundle up–rumor has it there are snow flurries, too.

Oakland ZooLights features a Candy Cane Lane with themed rides, a light show, and rides on the Outback Express train, which will be lit up with thousands of lights.

At Gilroy Gardens, the sweet nature-themed park dons thousands of holiday lights to become a winter wonderland, featuring multiple holiday shows and attractions, including a Candy Cane Lane and a laser light show over Coyote Lake.

Want to enjoy lights on an urbane shopping street? San Francisco’s Union Street hosts a Festival of Lights Celebration December 5th, in addition to a week-long elf hunt, and lighted decorations all season.

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Enjoy these other lighted trees and menorahs around the Bay Area, including festive Union and Ghirardelli Squares.

Take a ride on one of these other Bay Area lighted holiday trains.

This is a great list of tree lightings and holiday light events in San Francisco and Marin County.

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Lighted Parades

Whether on land or sea, by vehicle or foot, holiday light parades are especially delightful–and usually free! Bundle up, grab a mug of hot cocoa, and enjoy one of the Bay Area’s upcoming light parades.

Lighted yachts will sail in the 39th annual Alameda Lighted Yacht Parade, December 5.

The Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting in Morgan Hill features an indoor show and a visit from Santa’s magic ship, December 5.

At San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, you can see the sights, including the lighted trees at Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square, and then enjoy the San Francisco Lighted Boat Parade, the largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay, with more than 75 boats, December 11.

Sausalito’s waterfront is home to the Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade, featuring fireworks and more than 40 decorated boats, December 12.

The Parol Lantern Festival and Parade, hosted by San Francisco’s Filipino-American Development Foundation, starts at Yerba Buena Gardens and features lighted parol lanterns, the Filipino symbol of hope, blessings, luck, peace, and light, December 12.

The San Rafael Lighted Boat Parade lights up the San Rafael Canal with cheery decorated boats from four local yacht clubs, December 19.

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Holiday Ice Skating

Ice skating is particularly delightful at holiday time, when some of the Bay Area’s public parks and workaday spaces transform for the season. Perfect your double salchows and triple toe loops at these frosty spots. Check the web sites for schedules, fees and details.

A 25+ year tradition, Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center in San Francisco provides a large outdoor rink conveniently located near the Ferry Building. After skating, hop on a cable car and head to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf. Or let San Francisco’s Union Square Ice Rink be the center of a fun holiday outing. See various Union Square activities, above.

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In the East Bay, The Little Ice Rink is a sweet rink at Alameda’s South Shore Center. Popular Walnut Creek on Ice is back for a festive run in a smaller, festively decorated rink. New kid on the block, Downtown Holiday Ice in Martinez, offers lessons on Saturdays.

San José’s Downtown Ice boasts the South Bay’s largest outdoor rink, which is ringed by lighted palm trees. Head to San Mateo’s Central Park for the large San Mateo on Ice rink. Families will especially enjoy Winter Lodge in Palo Alto, a small three-season rink (September – April) that is perfect for beginners.

In the North Bay, Marin on Ice in San Rafael features a large outdoor rink next to the Northgate Mall.

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The Bay Area is home to some beautiful year-round indoor rinks, too. Redwood Empire Ice Arena, or Snoopy’s Home Ice, in Santa Rosa, is a gorgeous Swiss-chalet style rink that was built by cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1969. While you’re there, visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy’s Gift Shop. Oakland Ice Center and Sharks Ice at San José offer large, well-equipped rinks. Still more skating can be found at Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (conveniently located by the Children’s Creativity Museum).

Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read: Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2: Holiday Events, Performances, Gingerbread Houses and Teas.

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Between holiday experiences and entertaining, and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee. That will really help when enjoying our #EverydayMoments now and next year.

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homestead Valley Fourth of July

4julycoatWhen we first moved to our Mill Valley neighborhood of Homestead Valley, we were delighted to discover that there was a neighborhood Fourth of July parade each year. Kids gathered, then and now, for a parade of strollers, scooters, bikes, pedestrians, and perhaps a bunting-bedecked goat or two that winds through the neighborhood and down to a redwood grove for a barbecue picnic and kids’ entertainment. Every child is called to the stage to receive a ribbon, and our first year, Anna won a ribbon for “Best Red Coat”. (Yes, a coat on July 4th in Homestead Valley.) This was one of the many things that charmed us about our new neighborhood, and I’m thrilled that this simple tradition continues with a new generation of neighbors.

Below are photos from this year’s celebration. It is events like these that create family memories and neighborhood bonding. I urge you to seek out similar events in your own neighborhood and, if they’re not available to start one. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Fourth of July!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees

The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, 2016) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, as the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating the fruits and nuts of trees.

For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the land and the planet.

Here are some easy, fun and meaningful ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat.

Plant a Tree

Planting a tree is a simple and powerful act of faith and stewardship. Even a small yard or balcony can often accommodate a dwarf or potted tree. Alternately, there may be a neighborhood or public space available for the planting. This is a great project for a school, scout or youth group, as well as a family. Some people plant trees in the same place each year and watch them grow over the years.

See Blessings and Poems for Trees below.

Plant Vegetable or Flower Seeds

No space for a tree? No problem! Plant seeds outdoors or indoors that will come up in spring. You may want to plant parsley for Passover or Easter, peas for Earth Day, cosmos for May Day, or pansies for Mother’s Day. Of course, anything that grows will be celebrated anytime.

Try these easy-to-plant seeds, which can be planted in cool weather, are large enough for little fingers to handle, and sprout and grow relatively quickly: beans, gourds, morning glory, nasturtiums and peas.

Take a Photography or Poetry Walk

Sometimes the act of recording your observations with a camera or journal causes you to look around in a different way and notice things and make connections that you might not have made otherwise. Photography and poetry can help us quiet ourselves and focus our time in nature.

Be Kind to Nature

Choose an area near your home to care for for a few hours, in the form of weeding or picking up trash. These simple activities can really deepen our connections to the nature, as well as the people, around us. This can be especially true if we plant and revisit the same tree, or repeatedly care for the same piece of “nearby nature” over the years.

Make an Orange Bird Feeder

Did you know that orange halves make great bird feeders? They’re simple to make, visually appealing and even biodegradable. Best, your orange bird feeder will help you help the birds, at precisely the time when much of their food supply has diminished.

Have a Tu B’Shevat Seder

For those familiar with a Passover seder, a Tu B’Shevat seder is simpler. There are few rules. Hosts and participants decide on the customs that suit the event. Some plant seeds and tell stories that involve trees and tree planting. Others eat plenty of fruit and perhaps only fruit. You may want to choose from or eat all of these seven species which are abundant in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Make a Fun Fruit Recipe

Why not try a new recipe? The following look very inviting:

Make a Root Viewer

For many, the roots of a plant can be just as fascinating as the parts we see above ground. This simple root viewer lets budding botanists view the magical processes that happen below the surface of growing things.

You’ll need:

  • Clear plastic cups, bottles or jars
  • Seeds and dirt

Fill the containers most of the way with dirt.
Plant the seeds close to one side, one or two per cup.
Put them in the sun and water gently.
Watch as roots form and plants sprout.

Blessings and Poems for Trees

At tree-planting time, you may want to recite a blessing or poem to encourage a long life for the tree. If you’d like, pass a chalice of water and have each person who receives it share a wish, thought or memory. Once the chalice has gone around, the water can be used to nourish the tree.

Simple Blessing for the Planting of a Tree

We plant this tree to honor ______ (name of person or occasion). May this tree’s roots go deep, its trunk grow strong, its branches spread wide, and its leaves and fruit provide nourishment, beauty and shade. May it always remind us of this special moment.

Growth of a Tree

I’m a little maple, oh so small,
In years ahead, I’ll grow so tall!
With a lot of water, sun, and air,
I will soon be way up there!

Deep inside the soil my roots are found,
Drinking the water underground.
Water from the roots my trunk receives,
Then my trunk starts making leaves.

As I start to climb in altitude,
Leaves on my branches will make food.
Soon my trunk and branches will grow wide,
And I’ll grow more bark outside!

I will be a maple very tall,
Losing my leaves when it is fall.
But when it is spring, new leaves will show.
How do trees grow? Now you know!

— Meish Goldish

Slow Snippet: In old Jewish homes, a cedar tree was planted for each baby boy, and a cypress tree for each girl. When two people married, branches from their trees were used to create their “chuppah”, or wedding canopy.

Hope you have joyous Tu B’Shevat!
Many of these activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

May is Bike to Work and School Month

May is an especially great month to be a biker. In the U.S., the weather generally cooperates. Now is a great time to dust off or tune up your bike and enjoy spring and summer riding.

Want to experience safety in numbers? National Safe Routes to Schools Bike to School Day is May 7. National Bike to Work Day is May 16. San Francisco cyclists enjoy Bike to Work Day May 8. Washington, D.C. and others have declared May 17 to be Bike to Work Day. Best yet, the League of American Bicyclists has declared the entire month of May Bike to Work Month. Their site lists tons of bike-related events and resources from Anchorage, Alaska, to Tallahassee, Florida, that should make it easy for almost anyone to ride alone or with a group, take a class, and enjoy other fun activities.

Here are just a few of the fun ways you can get involved:

National Safe Routes to Schools Bike to School Day is May 7. If you missed it, don’t worry! Safe Routes to Schools is offering a bicycle and helmet giveaway until May 31. They also offer suggestions for biking year-round.

Enjoy CycloFemme on Mother’s Day, May 11. CycloFemme is a global women’s cycling event to empower women riders and share the joy of biking, with 276 rides scheduled worldwide.

This is just a smattering of the many events offered in various cities nationwide. Find a bike event or class near you.

Pueblo, CO: Crusin’ Pueblo Ride, May 8.

Cedar Rapids, IA: Bicycle Scavenger Hunt, May 10.

Tampa Bay, FL: Bike with the Mayor, May 16.

Chico, CA: GRUB Garden Bike Tour, May 17.

Trenton, NJ: Trenton Bike Tour, May 17.

Honolulu, HI: Free admission for bikers to the Honolulu Zoo, May 18.

Radford, VA: Family Wilderness Road Ride, May 24.

Seattle, WA: Summer Streets Party, May 29.

Of course, anyone getting out biking wants to be safe. The League of American Bicyclists offers these tips for bike safety.

Another great resource for information about bike and pedestrian safety and school biking and walking programs is Safe Routes to Schools.

Enjoy biking to work and school and just for fun!

Photos: Top, my family in Acadia National Park, Maine. Above, three of the most inspirational bikers I know – my daughter Anna, a college freshman who has been a devoted bike commuter since the age of 10; my husband Lippy, who rides almost every day for exercise; and my good friend Victoria, who loves to ride more than anyone I know and organizes long, fun rides for herself and her friends.

Five Ways to Nourish and Renew Your Spirit + a Giveaway

I’m thrilled to offer you this guest post from Renée Peterson Trudeau. This article originally appeared in her book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. In the spirit of retreat and renewal, Renée is also offering an exciting Year of Self-Care Mother’s Day Giveaway. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see how you can enjoy nourishment, relaxation, empowering coaching and inspiration for an entire year (a $2,700+ value)!

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It’s 1976, and my mom and dad are sitting quietly with their eyes closed, hands resting upward — thumb and index finger touching — while my younger siblings crawl on their backs and shoulders. My older two brothers and I sit nearby, holding our own meditation poses, bored, rolling our eyes and counting the minutes until this ritual will end.

At least once a week or whenever things got stressful, my parents would pull all five of their children — ranging in age from ten to one — into our library for a family meditation. As much as I complained, a part of me yearned for this spiritual practice.

Spiritual renewal is essential to our emotional well-being. It helps us nurture our essence, feel centered, build inner strength, live in integrity, and trust life. It allows us to experience a connection to a higher power, feel a sense of purpose, and experience meaning in our lives.

There are many different ways we explore and nurture our spiritual lives. For some this includes spending time in nature, yoga, prayer and meditation, or musical or artistic expression. Some of the daily practices that provide me spiritual nourishment include:

Creating Ritual

We all crave sacredness and ritual in our everyday lives — not just around birthdays and weddings. Rituals can be both carefully planned events and casual but regular remembrances such as voicing gratitude before a meal or creating dedicated space in your day for contemplation.

When we mark important transitions or milestones in our lives — whether it’s your daughter’s first period or your son starting kindergarten —  we connect to the sacredness of everyday life. We remember that life is mysterious and we’re more than our to-do lists!

Cultivating Stillness

Stillness, whether experienced through prayer, meditation, or reflection, is our time to be alone and connect to our inner wisdom or our higher power — what I call our internal GPS system. It’s essential for all of us to carve out time for quiet reflection each and every day.

One of the biggest gifts I’ve received from a daily meditation practice is theability to live more comfortably with what is–whether that’s my husband’s recent layoff or a car accident. Life is like the weather in Texas — constantly changing. Meditation has helped anchor me, so that despite this impermanence and turmoil, I’ve learned how to be still and find my center in the face of it all.

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Practicing Service to Others

Mother Teresa says, “The fruit of love is service.”

We are all interconnected. The more we reach out and are present to one another’s pain and suffering, the stronger we become and the easier it is to embrace the esoteric idea that we’re all one. I believe huge shifts in consciousness can occur when we reach out and help one another navigate this sometimes scary, often isolating and perplexing, but beautiful world. Sometime that might look like serving soup at your local homeless shelter and other times, it’s helping out your neighbor who just lost her husband.

Living in the Present

Many great spiritual teachers believe the answer to everything is to just “be here now,” and that our suffering and emotional distress would end if we simply stopped resisting the present moment.

One weekend as I sat on the couch with a full-body cold: a splitting headache, body chills and a nonstop runny nose, I thought about this principle. And, as I watched the things I was missing fly out the window — my friend’s birthday party, my son’s piano recital — I connected to my breath and felt myself arrive in the present moment. I sensed my resistance begin to dissipate and a feeling of peace slowly settled over me. I temporarily suspended my desire for things to be different and I embraced that on the couch, with a cold, was exactly where I was supposed to be.

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Choosing Happiness

Three of my immediate family members died unexpectedly between my twenty-sixth and thirty-fourth birthdays. For years I let those losses dictate how much and how often, I could experience joy. Anytime I started to feel light, free, or happy, the old feeling of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” would creep in.

Can you only be happy if things are going your way and all the stars are aligned in your favor?

I believe we’re born with the innate capacity to experience emotional well-being and joy; it’s our birthright to feel good. Happiness comes from within; we’re wired for it. We just have to remember to choose this moment to moment.

It’s easy to forget who we really are. To lose sight of what really matters. To fall asleep and not remember how interconnected we all are and that we’re fully human and, at the same time, divine.

A regular spiritual practice — whether that’s daily prayer or meditation, being in a spiritual community, or singing— serves to anchor us. It grounds us and helps us navigate the challenges we face from just being human. It helps us stay awake.

So ultimately, we can begin to let go, trust the rhythm and flow of life and relax into the beauty of our true nature.

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The preceding was based on the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family ©2013 Renée Peterson Trudeau.

Life balance coach/speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau is the author of the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family.  Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Visit her online at www.ReneeTrudeau.com

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Enter Renée Trudeau’s Year of Self-Care Mother’s Day Giveaway and enjoy nourishment, relaxation, empowering coaching and inspiration for an entire year! This is a $2,700+ value that includes an all-expenses paid trip to Renée Trudeau and Deborah Kern’s Putting Yourself First: The Ultimate Self-Care Retreat for Women at Omega Institute , a RTA-Certified Facilitator Deluxe Starter Package to lead self-renewal groups/retreats, a personalized, high-level coaching session and much more.

Learn how to enter the giveaway. Entries close May 11.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Graphics: Renée Peterson Trudeau

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