Category Archives: Lost Arts

Photo Friday: Occident Flour

My love for painted advertising signs on the sides of brick buildings is well documented here. It’s not unusual for me to yell “Stop the car!” or slow my family on a walk to capture one with a camera. More commonplace in earlier decades, they used blank brick canvasses to sell everything from mining equipment to toothpaste. I love coming upon them on country roadsides and in city alleyways. This bright one near St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was no doubt repainted and lovingly refurbished to its old-timey feel. I don’t think the site is a general store any longer.

I’ve since learned that Occident Flour was produced by the Russell-Miller Milling Company in the midwest from 1894-the early 1950s. It was sold to the Peavey Company in 1962 and acquired by ConAgra in 1982. That trajectory, along with newer advertising methods, partially explains the loss of painted signs for individual concerns.

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, Graphic from Occident Flour

You may also be interested in:

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign
Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront
Photo Friday: Tamalpais Motel at Dusk


Photo Friday: What’s in Your Mailbox?

I don’t know about you, but for me mailboxes and the mail they contain are a source of delight. Even, and perhaps especially, in the age of e-mail and junk mail, it’s a wonderful treat to receive a hand-written note or a postcard from an exotic place that someone took the time to write.

As a bonus, in the town where I live, these sweet mailboxes are somewhat typical. Because many houses are on hills, groups of mailboxes sit on the street above or below. Many are decorated personally and whimsically and it’s delightful to come upon a painted or glittery or otherwise personal one while on a walk or ride. (And, yes, ours depicts a 50s auto flame-job – not quite sweet but not menacing either.)

In an act reminiscent of  writing to pen pals around the globe as a child, my dear friend Elise from New Zealand (whom I met online) and I have been exchanging weekly postcards across the internet ethers. As it happens, we just exchanged photos of our actual mailboxes, or letterboxes.

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 enjoy:

Photo Friday: Mouth Watering Watermelon
Flea-Market Inspired Spring

Celebrating 100 Years of the Mill Valley Library

 

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in an old-fashioned party to celebrate my wonderful town’s library, which turned 100 years old. Originally built as a Carnegie Library, in what is now a stately brick house, the Mill Valley Public Library has grown from an institution with 750 donated books to one with 132,000 books, a digital collection, a team of librarians, and live offerings almost every day it’s open, from noted local authors to pre-school story times, to performances outdoors and in. No wonder our library thrives while others around the country are forced to close. Hundreds of visitors per day find it relevant and exciting, a true community hub.

It was terrific then, and very fitting, to honor the library’s Centennial with a gathering in the grove of redwoods that adjoins it. There was a free and continual program of old-time music, a birthday cake, announcements and proclamations, sodas and hot dogs, crafts, library trivia contests, and games, which I led with Research Librarian Cara Brancoli and which, in keeping with the historical spirit, included Tug-of-War, Three-Legged Races, Sack Races, and Egg-and-Spoon Races. We also had jacks and hula hoops out for free play. Wonderfully, many children, especially the smaller ones, rolled the hoops, just as children may have done 100 years ago.

It was truly lovely and warm (in spirit, if not temperature.) Liz Greer of Mill Valley Life took some wonderful photos that really captured the event, as did Hans Roenau in the Mill Valley Patch.

Photos: Top, Liz Greer. Bottom, Ken Friedman. Others: Susan Sachs Lipman

 

 

Slow Down for Summer: Fun and Simple Outdoor and Seasonal Activities

I had such a great time on the Slow Down for Summer webinar that I did with KaBOOM! and with the many participants. We shared tons of Slow Summer ideas that emphasized fun and ease over equipment and preparation. These include old-school playground games that are ripe for a comeback and can be played most anywhere, crafts to get you outside on a nice summer day, activities to help kids observe and enjoy their surroundings (be they nature or city), and garden and harvest projects to help kids appreciate the cycles of nature and of life. There was so much information and so many wonderful ideas, that we just skimmed the surface in the time allotted. I think it got everyone thinking about the possibilities for wonder and fun and how to create more of each in their everyday lives. I know I came away with some great ideas!

You can visit the webinar anytime to get an idea of some of the things we discussed. And, of course, many of them can be found on my blog, on in future blog posts, as well as in my upcoming book, Fed up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World.

Enjoy your Slow Summer!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Make this Easy Tie Dye Project
Loom and Finger Weaving
11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids
How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds
Blueberry Tuesday: Summer Triple Berry Crisp

Make Stuff Together: A Book to Inspire Family Crafting and a Giveaway

I was drawn to Bernadette Noll, co-author with Kathie Sever of Make Stuff Together, 24 Simple Projects to Create as a Family, the first time I saw her online. Now, it could be that she co-produces Slow Family Living, and here I am at Slow Family Online. Or that she was so friendly when we initially chatted about supporting each other’s efforts. It could also just be — and I suspect this is true for people who know her in person, too — that she exudes creativity and deep connection in everything she does, whether it’s sharing a tutorial on her Future Craft Collective blog, which she created with her Make Stuff Together co-author, the equally compelling Kathie Sever, or candidly revealing lessons learned along her and her family’s journey on her more personal blog, Just a Minute.

That same spirit I initially saw is evident on every page of Make Stuff Together. Bernadette and Kathie put much of themselves into this book, which is as much about creating a joyous and expressive family life as it is about creating objects — though of course the objects are delightful, too. It was on Future Craft Collective that I first read about “upcycling”, and many of the projects in Make Stuff Together feature clever re-use of such items as bird-seed bags, inner tubes, billboards, neoprene and fabric samples, as well as ideas about where to find such things. Fittingly, the authors note that their sense of community deepened during their search for materials — they met and befriended people they wouldn’t have otherwise, and their kids benefited from that experience.

Make Stuff Together also has wonderful information about working with kids on sewing and other crafting projects. I find these deeply helpful and comradely. Among the suggestions, which the authors expand upon:

Let go of expectations
Honor process over project
Decide what your boundaries are, in terms of space, chaos, and materials
It’s okay to help when necessary
Not everything is sacred — sometimes re-doing, un-doing, or starting over is just the right act
Slow down, connect, and enjoy!

Of course, the meat of the book is its projects, and each is delightful, with colorful, inspiring photography and easy-to-follow instructions and patterns. My family and I are especially drawn to the Family Flags and Appreciation Banners the Game Board and Caddy, and the Napkins and Napkin Rings, which are shown in vintage fabrics and buttons.

Many of the projects are as useful as they are lovely, such as the Water-Bottle Holster, Tool Roll and Nature Pouch, Armchair Caddy, and Birthday Crown. There are games to make, items to grace a table, and fun, quick projects that would make wonderful gifts or keepsakes.

Make Stuff Together makes me want to grab my daughter, dust off the sewing machine, dig out our scrap fabric and start creating together.

To celebrate Make Stuff Together I am giving away a copy to a lucky reader. To enter to win, simply leave a comment below by Midnight, U.S. Eastern, Friday, July 1 and tell me your favorite thing to craft or something you’d like to make this summer.

Photos courtesy of Bernadette Noll.

Postcards Between Poles: Virtual Pen Pals in the U.S. and N.Z.

Did you have a pen pal while you were growing up? Or do you have one now? I had several, and I loved writing to them and receiving their letters. I had long-time pen pals in Japan, Fiji, Switzerland, France, Lake Tahoe, CA, and Scranton, PA, among other places.

Now, this was before the internet, which lets us send instantaneous video-embedded messages around the globe. While some may still revel in the simple act of putting pen to paper and writing out thoughts in longhand, then licking and stamping an envelope (perhaps even embellishing with stickers, doodads, or sealing wax), there are others for whom this sounds as quaint and efficient as rolling a message into a bottle and letting it float out to sea.

Elise and I met online, as it happens. I was immediately drawn to her beautiful, and often whimsical, photography, and the playful way she portrayed her and her family’s life in New Zealand. She was drawn to my message of slowing down and observing life’s small moments. She proposed a blog in which we sent electronic photos and postcards across the globe (and across seasons) to one another once a week, following a simple theme that we alternated choosing, and adding a short message.

The result is Postcards Between Poles.

The photos for the diptychs are taken the week they’re sent. The postcards often are, as well, though we allow for a little stretching of time where they’re concerned.

As Elise writes on the blog:

A postcard is a glimpse into the life of someone we know or a stranger.   The image on the front and writing on the back cleverly capture a moment in history that tells a story.

I find that receiving delightful electronic missives does replicate some of the surprise and joy of receiving a letter from an exotic place. I hope you likewise enjoy coming with us on the continuing journey of Postcards Between Poles. Did you, or do you now, enjoy having a pen pal?

These are just a few of the postcards we’ve exchanged over the months.

Cape Palliser, Wairarapa, by Elise
Tibetan Prayer Flags, by Elise
Rainbow Laden, by Suz
Spring has Sprung, by Elise
Granary Burying Ground, by Suz
San Francisco Storefront, by Suz

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.

In GPS Era, Map Reading Skills a Lost Art

This article relates a tale that is no doubt being played out all over the developed world:

Two college students playing in an out-of-town hockey tournament went out to eat with their parents after a late game, but the restaurant they picked had just closed its kitchen.

“There’s another place just a few blocks away,” the hostess said helpfully. “Take a left out of the parking lot, go two blocks, turn right and go one block.”

The parents and the players retreated to their separate cars. When the players sat in the parking lot for a couple of minutes without moving, one of the parents walked over to see if there was a problem with the car.

“Not at all,” they said. “We’re just programming the directions into the GPS.’ ”

Is that where we’ve ended up, with a younger generation that can’t go three blocks without being told by a electronic voice where to turn?

Like the author, I found this story dismaying. I know GPS (Global Positioning System) and similar devices are helpful, but they can also be a crutch and, ultimately, a detriment.

According to the British Cartographic Society, high-tech maps get the user from Point A to Point B but leave off traditional features like geographic and built landmarks, and this could lead to a loss of cultural and geographic literacy.

I, too, find the GPS experience extremely limiting, especially when visual or voice commands tell me (sometimes incorrectly) where to turn just before the turn needs to be made. With a map, preferably one on paper, one can pull out to a bird’s eye view, get a complete picture, plot a route, and have true satisfaction and awareness about ones place within it.

Nothing wrong with having a GPS as a back-up, but I see far too many people who completely depend on them, to the degree that, like the boys in the restaurant parking lot, they’re afraid to travel anywhere, even a few blocks, without one.

One study, from the University of Tokyo, found that people on foot using a GPS device actually made more errors and more stops, and walked farther and more slowly than traditional map users. They also demonstrated a poorer knowledge of the terrain, topography and routes.

GPS, researchers say, encourages people to stare at a screen, rather than looking around at their environment. Also, most GPS screens makes it impossible for a user to take in both their location and their destination at the same time.

Ah, there’s that Big Picture again.

There are additional consequences to over-reliance on GPS devices. I wrote last year about Nature Disconnect in Britain. It seems that a lack of map skills is actually somewhat responsible for keeping a whole generation of children there, and surely elsewhere, homebound, fearful of exploring, playing, and being outside in the unknown. Children’s very sense of adventure is being terribly circumscribed.

Luckily, there are steps being taken to combat this. This list of ideas ranges from walking in ones neighborhood and making friends, to creating neighborhood green spaces and safe pedestrian and bike routes, to educating parents about unfounded fears. And, of course, one can and should learn basic map reading skills.

Interestingly, technology is helping with the latter, as geocaching (group scavenger hunts which use GPS devices) as well as old-school scavenger hunts continue to gain popularity. In addition, the Boy Scouts have responded to the crisis in map reading by upping their universal requirements for using a compass and map. (Girl Scouts also offer geocaching and orienteering badges and programs.)

Debi at Go Explore Nature offers some tips for getting out and geocaching.

Where is the paper map in all this? Some say it’s going the way of the phone booth and the milkman. I’m sure many of you remember family car trips, during which the map was unfolded, dutifully followed with index finger on highway line, and then folded up, yet never in quite the same neat way it had come. (We still honor this practice in our family and begin many adventures with a trip to the California Automobile Association, which stopped producing paper maps a few years ago.) Indeed, maps are on their way to becoming collectors items.

Here’s hoping that you get to enjoy the tactile pleasure of an old-school map, the inner satisfaction of locating your place, the fun of an outdoor scavenger hunt or other adventure, and the gift of knowing which way is up.

Images: Hands on Museum, Built St. Louis, Route 66 Guidebooks, Ferrell Digital

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign

While in New York (site of last week’s Photo Friday), I became completely entranced with “Ghost Signs”, faded advertising signs painted on the sides of brick buildings. Most of these are from decades ago. Some are faded beyond recognition. Many offer goods and services that have seen more popular times: millinery, lithography, shirtwaists, coatfronts, sewing machines, steam heat, furs and skins, paper and twine.

As I walked around Manhattan’s streets, gazing up and peering around corners for ghost signs, I felt like an urban archeologist. Each sign held a clue to past generations. Each felt like a surprise to discover, as well as a fleeting treat. I knew that the next time I might pass this way, the sign could very well be faded completely, lost to memory — or lost to new construction, as glass and steel might completely cover it up, much the way the tearing down of old buildings to make way for new ones may have led to some of these old ghost signs seeing the light of day once more.

I try to photograph ghost signs wherever I go. I have found New York City and Portland, Oregon, to be especially rich places for them, in addition to forgotten main streets and quiet roads where rural barns advertise tobaccos and colas. Look for an upcoming post that will feature more.

In the meantime, keep observing, wandering, and being open to a surprise or two. Last week reader Alice sent a link to this story on Slow Photography, which is more about the joyful process of taking pictures than it is about the finished result. (Thank you Alice. See Alice’s photos on flickr.)

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

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