Category Archives: Nature

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The Nightly Howl

Italians, under siege from coronavirus, began taking to their balconies and windows, at an appointed hour each night, to serenade one another with their national anthem. It was a show of solidarity, something to provide uplift in these brutal times. Residents in Chicago followed suit, singing a city-wide version of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. In Dallas, people sang Bill Withers’ Lean on Me in unison. In Brussels, Seattle, New York, Medellín–in places all over the globe–people started standing on balconies and doorsteps and clapping to applaud health-care workers, often at 8 p.m., local time. The phenomenon even spawned a hashtag: #solidarityat8.

In Mill Valley, CA, we have the Mill Valley Howl. Started a week after shelter-in-place orders, the Howl has grown to a citywide cry at 8 p.m. each evening, when cooped-up residents open their windows or go out onto their front yards, decks and streets, and howl at one another into the night. It’s an amazing show of solidarity, of a kind of momentary community joy, while at the same time evincing something more primal. I hear anguish in the Howl. I hear prayer (or perhaps I feel it, looking up at the bright star of Venus, while we’re all baying into the twilight.)

From my house, the Howl seems to start low in the valley and swell and run through the neighborhoods and canyons and up into the hills. It takes on different shapes in its few short minutes, before dying back down. Dogs and perhaps actual coyotes join in. I howl back at the noise and my neighbors’ lit houses. I howl to thank the first responders on the front lines. I howl to mark the days of this strange time. In a town in which people are temporarily sequestered in houses that are largely tucked away from view, howling lets others know, distinctly, “I am here. And I see (or at least hear) you.”

The Howl suits this place, at the edge of the wilderness, the same way operatic versions of the national anthem suit Italy. A howl is a call of social pack animals. We’re bonding with each other as we mark our territory–this territory, this moment–we’re here in our houses, we’re here on the planet, we’re with one another, alone and yet together.

Photos: Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, Suz Lipman; Public Domain

Tips for Families During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Coronavirus is changing the lives of everyone on the planet. In addition to impacting day-to-day lifestyles and habits, cancelling large events and closing schools, the health crises is making many aware or newly aware of our interconnectedness and dependency on one another for health and safety.

This time may be particularly challenging for parents: School, job and other routines are disrupted, and it can be difficult to strike a balance between managing our own needs and anxieties with those of our kids. We’re also, by necessity, having to slow down and get creative with the way we’re spending our time.

Try these tips to help you get through.

How to talk to kids about Coronavirus

How to Talk to Kids and Teens about the Coronavirus

Tips on How to Help Kids Feel Safe and Manage Stress

Tips for Teaching Kids Media Smarts during Breaking News

Explaining the News to Our Kids

Tips for staying healthy

How to Protect your Family From Coronavirus

Hand Washing: A Powerful Antidote to Illness

How to Make your own Hand Sanitizer

8 Best Ways to Keep Your Family Healthy (anytime)

Fun stuff to do at home 

12 Ways to Celebrate Screen-Free Week

10 Ways to Learn in Your own Backyard

18 Ways to Unplug as a Family

8 St. Patrick’s Day (or anytime) Science Experiments for Kids

9 Ways to Enjoy Nature in Winter

Take Part in Citizen Science

Slow Nature: Have a Cloud Race

It’s in the Cards: Card Games and Card Reading

12 Famous Museums that Offer Virtual Tours

Extensive List of Online Resources for Anyone who is Bored at Home

At-home Learning

Covid-19 and At-Home Learning

Schools are Closing for Coronavirus. Now What?

How to Get More Talking, Reading and Singing into your Child’s Life

Free Educational Apps, Games and Web Sites  from Common Sense Media

PBS Fun and Educational Family Activities  (games, apps, crafts)

Dealing with stress in general

CDC: Managing Anxiety and Stress (for self and parents)

5 Ways to Overcome the Stress of Coronavirus

How School Closures can Strengthen Your Family

We Will Emerge from these Times as Heroes (and the importance of letting kids play)

Meditation for Beginners

Meditation Apps for Kids from Common Sense Media

I wish you good health, stamina and calm.

Photos: Public Domain, Susan Sachs Lipman (last photo)

Stepping Away from Routine to Find Increased Awe

Many faiths and cultures observe the Sabbath, or Shabbat, a day of rest that is separated from the other days by intention and consciousness. Sabbath/ Shabbat can result in a heightened sense of awe and connectedness, which is aided by the act of stepping away from the norm. Far from a period of deprivation, Shabbat is meant to be joyous, relaxing and pleasurable. It can be a wonderful time to connect with family or self; nature, food, art or beauty.

This week we experienced a super blue blood moon lunar eclipse (pictured). Special cosmic events are certainly occasions that induce true awe. Sabbaths, or any conscious break, allow us to slow enough to let wonder in, even during weeks without a lunar eclipse. In reading about the holiday, I found this quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a prominent Jewish philosopher and professor of Jewish mysticism.

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder almost necessarily declines … Mankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. – Rabbi Abraham Heschel

This is another beautiful quote from Rabbi Heschel, which comes by way of Rabbi Michael Lerner, Jewish activist and spiritual leader:

(Shabbat) is, Heschel once said to me, greeting the world not with the tools we have made but with the soul with which we are born; not like a hunter who seeks prey but like a lover to reciprocate love.

This quote speaks to me about the heightened sense of respectful communion with all beings and phenomena that can come from stilling our minds and bodies. It’s about co-existence, rather than dominance, which in turn prods the ability to appreciate beauty and wonder all around us.

But, why should we care about awe? In addition to providing pleasure, awe produces a host of spiritual, cultural and personal benefits, say the folks who study awe at the Greater Good Science Center. These range from personal discovery to increased altruism and improved health. And, even though religious traditions offer a pathway to awe, wonder and discovery can happen anytime, if we borrow from those traditions and create sabbaths, or time-outs (even mini ones), for ourselves.

Photo: Public Domain

Geminid Meteor Shower: How to Watch One of the Year’s Best Sky Shows

Now playing overhead: The dramatic Geminid Meteor Shower, which astronomers agree is one of the best of the year. And this year, there will be very little moonlight to obscure it, as happened when a full moon shone an unwelcome spotlight on August’s Perseid Meteor Shower earlier this year.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is forecast to peak Dec. 13-14, between midnight and 4 a.m., your local time, streaks visible in the sky (given good weather conditions), from about 7 p.m. local time until dawn. The best show will take place over North America, but Southern Hemisphere folks should be able to see some meteors as well.

“The Geminid meteor shower is the most intense meteor shower of the year,” says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office. “It is rich in fireballs and can be seen from almost any point on Earth.”

Read more about the Geminids on the NASA site, including where to stream the show, if your local weather isn’t cooperating.

What is a meteor shower?

Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) Scientists believe that the Geminids actually come from an asteroid, called 3200 Phaethon, which is really the skeleton of an extinct comet. The Earth passes through this particular debris stream each December, and is said to originate near the constellation Gemini.

How to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and perhaps in other parts of the world. Sky watchers in cold climates should bundle up, grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and perhaps a blanket, head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.

Because meteor showers last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can. This time of year, clouds can obscure the Geminids on the peak day.

A thermos of hot chocolate is a great accompaniment for the Geminids.

This shower has been getting stronger every year it’s been recorded, going back the the 1860s. It could be “an amazing annual display”, according Cooke of

This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Geminids and where and when to see them in your local night sky.

This movie of the 2008 Geminids comes from a space camera at the Marshall Space Flight Center:

Watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

 

Photos: Public Domain, American Meteor Society

Solar Eclipse Viewing and Fun for Families

Since ancient times, solar eclipses, like the one due over North America on August 21, have inspired fear and wonder. Ancient people in what is now Asia and the Middle East thought that an eclipse indicated the attack of a sky or sun god, and made loud noises or created offerings to scare and appease whatever was threatening their god.

Today, that fear has been replaced by awe, the feeling of being in the presence of something larger than ones self. We often experience awe in the natural world, and during the unexplainable or communal. Perhaps the 2017 solar eclipse will involve all of the above! (Awe and its many benefits to the human spirit have been explored by The Greater Good Science Center.)

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the earth and the sun and temporarily blocks the view of the sun. The 2017 solar eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental U.S. in 38 years. Read more about how eclipses work.

If you’re ready to create some awe and memories of your own when the solar eclipse occurs on August 21, check out these links:

How to view the eclipse safely and what to expect, from Space.com

An animation that shows exactly what the solar eclipse will look like from your zip code, from TIME.com.

NASA’s Total Eclipse Site, which shares how to view the eclipse safely, lots of great educational and geographical information, eclipse activities, and citizen science opportunities that allow you to be a scientist for a day or longer, and help NASA study the eclipse.

How to make an old-school pinhole eclipse viewer, from Washington Post.

9 facts about the solar eclipse, from TimeandDate.com.

Jacquie at KC Edventures shares eclipse snacks, reading and citizen science activities that you can engage in, even after the eclipse.

Mrs. Plemons Kindergarten offers terrific space-themed projects for kids, so you can keep excited and learning about science.

Easy eclipse foods to make or buy, from Today.com

For adults, this list of eclipse-themed drinks (moonjito, anyone?) from Food Network will surely inspire your celestial cocktails.

However you celebrate the 2017 eclipse, remember to view the eclipse safely. I hope you’ll also make some memories, get in touch with your awe, and stay connected to science.

Photos: Time and Date, NASA, Mrs. Plemons Kindergarten

 

7 Ways to Play in the Mud on Kids to Parks Day

When my daughter was in pre-school, we used to rejoice when she came home with dirty feet. Sand between the toes? Yes! Caked-on mud? Bring it on!

Why? While we weren’t necessarily enamored with long scrubbing sessions in the bathtub (though those were fun, too), we knew that muddy feet–and fingernails and knees–meant that profound play was happening. We since learned that dirt can even be good for your health!

The 7th annual Kids to Parks Day, Saturday, May 20, is a national day of play. You can register for one of more than 1,200 events around the U.S. and join the fun, get out with your family and friends, and win prizes at the height of spring.

You can also enjoy Kids to Parks Day, or any kids-to-parks day on your own, in your local playground or park. Here are a few suggestions for creating some memorable, and maybe a little muddy, experiences.

… Before you head out, don’t forget to grab some good sports shoes that are rugged enough for play; affordable enough that you won’t be afraid to let your kids wear them outdoors; and ventilated, washable and drainable for those times when a little mud happens, or is even sought out. These are from Kids to Parks Day sponsor, Northside USA. (Keep reading for a giveaway featuring Northside USA Shoes!)

Make a Mud Pie or Garden Soup

The perfect kitchen may be outside! Find dirt or sand and a water source and pour batter-like mud into used measuring cups, pans, cupcake and pie tins, and pails. Decorate with leaves, petals and rocks. Or pour water into cups and bowls and add flower petals, food coloring or glitter inside to make potions and soups. Make a bench or a tree stump your cooktop, and “bake” away without any of the typical kitchen clean-up.

Read more from Jackie at Happy Hooligans (where these fantastic photos come from):

Garden Soup
Mud Kitchen Activity

Adopt a Flower and Watch it Grow

Do you often return to the same park or garden? “Adopt” a flower for the season and watch it grow over time. Bring a ruler or yardstick or measure it against your own body. Have space at home to plant a flower? Get some large seeds that little hands can tuck into the dirt, and plant easy growers like nasturtium, pea, beans, sunflowers or gourds. Growing edibles? You might want to sing this song:

Dirt Made My Lunch

Dirt made my lunch,
Dirt made my lunch.
Thank you Dirt, thanks a bunch,
For my salad, my sandwich
My milk and my munch ’cause
Dirt, you made my lunch.

Read more:

Beginner’s Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing
11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids

Make and Sail a Paper Boat

This is a timeless idea that we got from our friend, Curious George, who made boats from the newspapers he should have been tossing on his paper route. Make your own paper boat and sail or race it in a creek or other body of water. Some of these boats have strings attached, so they can be launched without actually sailing away.

Play Pick Up Sticks or Pooh Sticks

The original pick-up sticks were ancient fortune-telling devices, but you can play this game anywhere, indoors or out, without even attempting to see the future. Hold your sticks in a bundle, then release them so that they land in a pile. Take turns trying to remove one stick at a time, without disturbing any other sticks. When a stick from the pile is disturbed, the next person takes a turn. When all the sticks have been removed from the pile, players total either their number of sticks – each one is worth one point. Near a creek or stream? Try your hand at Pooh Sticks, a stick-racing game inspired by Winnie the Pooh.

Build a Sandcastle or Make Sand Art

It isn’t officially spring until you get some sand between your toes at a beach park or sandbox. Pack the wettest sand you can find into mounds to make castles or carve them into other designs.

Decorate your creations with flags, or twigs, shells or other found objects.

Raise your own tadpoles

What better way to explore the cycle of life than to raise tadpoles and then release the frogs back into ponds and streams? Kids won’t soon forget this fun project. Looking for more pond activities? Try making a collecting cattails, making a water scope, or one of these other activities for a day at the pond from KCEdventures.

Photos: Rainy Day Mum, KCEdventures

Explore a Tidepool 

When the ocean recedes, the mysterious undersea world is revealed, and creatures like barnacles, crabs, periwinkles and sea stars can be seen if you walk among them gingerly. Read how and where to explore tidepools and how to preserve tidepool habitats for the enjoyment of others.

See more photos from our trip to the tidepools.

How will you play outside on Kids to Parks Day?

Register to be counted on Kids to Parks Day and you may win one of many cool prizes, including a special camping package from The North Face (4 sleeping bags, tent, and duffel bag), or one of the additional prizes from CamelBak (family hydration pack), Eastern National (Jr. Ranger package including a park pass for a whole year), and National Geographic (a set of kids’ books about nature and parks). How great is that?

Plus, every person who signs up will receive a special promo code from Northside Shoes. Keep checking the list of Kids to Parks Day events as we get closer to May 20th. There are new park events added each week!

… And, remember how I mentioned the importance of having shoes you can feel good about wearing for mud and other outdoor play? I’m giving away a pair of Northside Shoes! To enter, take the pledge to play outside on Kids to Parks Day Saturday, May 20, and then leave a comment here, telling me that you pledged and how you plan to play outside. If you have a favorite mud-play activity, I’d love to hear about that, too. The giveaway will end Friday, May 19, 11:59 p.m. PST. A random winner will be chosen. The winner must reside in the U.S.

Good luck!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain, Happy Hooligans, Rainy Day Mum, KCEdventures

12 Ways to Celebrate Screen Free Week

Screens! They dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

 

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed May 1-7 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day and spring.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

You might enjoy these related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Here are some more ideas for screen-free from Parents Place:

18 Ways to Unplug as a Family

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Give Tech a Rest: It’s National Day of Unplugging

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Those shiny screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our and our kids’ lives.

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Cell phone resting in its sleeping bag

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that Mar 3-4 (sundown-sundown) is  National Day of Unplugging. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in National Day of Unplugging. Who knows? This might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 things to do while the power is out:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day and spring.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

Here are some more ways to unplug as a family from Parents Place:

18 Ways to Unplug as a Family

You might enjoy these related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Parents Place, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

DIY: Lavender Distillation and Home-Cleaning Products

This post is generously sponsored by Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Bay Area. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Bay Area specializes in all residential plumbing work,  from installations to maintenance and repairs. They have been serving the San Francisco Bay Area for over 25 years.

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Lovely-smelling lavender has been prized around the globe for centuries, for the soothing quality of its distinct scent. The ancient Egyptians used it in cosmetics. The ancient Greeks and Romans employed it for perfume and for healing practically everything, from stomach and kidney ailments to dropsy, jaundice, migraines and insect bites. In late medieval times, doctors carried walking sticks with lavender and other herbs tucked into their tops. Queen Victoria is credited with bringing lavender into the home for scenting and cleaning, where it remains popular today. Learn more about the history of lavender.

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Luckily it’s easy to create your own gentle yet effective lavender cleaner for bathroom and kitchen counters, and other areas throughout the house. Pour distilled white vinegar into a spray bottle and add 10-40 drops of lavender essential oil (available at many markets and online sources), depending on the size of the bottle and your taste for the scent. This simple formula offers a natural way to clean and sanitize bathroom and kitchen counter tops, bathtubs and toilets.

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Why is lavender so effective for cleaning? The herb is an antifungal and an antimicrobial. While it works hard, it smells lovely. Learn about other DIY cleansers to make with lavender and other herbal cleansers you can make yourself.

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I’d long wanted to take part in a lavender distillation, the process by which lavender is separated into essential oil and hydrosol, which is the byproduct of oil creation. I was thrilled to take part in a lavender distillation led by Cheryl Fromholzer of Gathering Thyme, a woman-owned herb store and education center in San Rafael, CA.

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We began by separating lavender buds from stalks and packing them pretty tightly into the column of the traditional copper still, or alembic.

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The column was placed onto water-filled urn and sealed so no steam would escape during the distillation.

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Cheryl attached the pipes, which led to a small condenser.

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Then tubing was added from the condenser, and the columned pot was brought to a boil. When the water heated and boiled, the steam from that process caused the lavender to release its oils, which collected at the top of the alembic. The oils then traveled to the condenser, where they cooled, and out through tubing to be collected in jars.

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The lavender essential oil floats to the top and can be separated by skimming it off or by using an essencier. The remaining liquid is lavender hydrosol, which can be used much the same way as essential oil, though it is much less potent. (It takes 30 pounds of lavender to make a 15 Ml bottle of  essential oil!)

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You don’t need an alembic still to create oils and hydosols at home. Hydrosols make wonderful and calming sprays for rooms, face and body, in addition to other uses.

Best yet, lavender is easy to grow, even in a small or container garden, with decent sun, moderate water, and an alkaline soil with good drainage.

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Our distillation process took a few hours, so we enjoyed the San Geronimo Community Garden and explored the medicinal properties of the plants there, many of which would also make terrific hydrosols and oils.

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More herbal classes and resources, including a Lavender Distillation workshop on July 10, can be found at Gathering Thyme.

More lavender and herbal crafts and activities can be found in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Thank you again to sponsor Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. The views expressed are my own.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman  (Top photo courtesy of Cheryl Fromholzer)

 

 

Welcome Summer Solstice 2016 with a Full Moon

Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer, occurs on June 20,  2016, at 22:42 Universal Time (6:42 p.m. on the U.S. east coast, 3:42 p.m. on the west.) Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it can be marked by Midsummer festivals, especially in Scandinavia, where people celebrate with maypoles that honor nature’s bounty and bonfires that recall the heat and warmth of the sun. Still other cultures have solstice rituals that honor the sun, the feminine and the masculine.

This is also the first Summer Solstice to coincide with a full moon since June, 1967, the Summer of Love. The next full Summer Solstice moon won’t happen until 2062. (Read more about the full moon below.)

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family often attends a summer solstice celebration at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. We enjoy a bonfire, nature storytelling and campfire songs, and a ritual walk around the fire, holding stalks of sweet flowers and herbs, and then throwing them into the fire, to greet the new season and also let go of anything that no longer serves us.

View more photos of summer solstice at Muir Beach.

Full Strawberry Moon

This is the first full moon on a summer solstice since June, 1967.

People in many cultures throughout history have named the year’s full moons based on the activities that happened during them. The Farmers Almanac calls the June full moon the Strawberry Moon because, for the Algonquin Native Americans, June was synonymous with strawberries. The Cherokee called the June full moon the Green Corn Moon. The Choctaw referred to it as the Windy Moon. Celtic people referred to the June full moon as the Moon of Horses. Throughout much of more modern Europe, the June full moon was known as the Rose Moon, for that flower’s peak.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. Learn the full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Full Moon Gardening

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Summer Solstice Cupcakes

These fun cupcakes offer a visual and yummy way to celebrate Summer Solstice. The recipe comes from the terrific book, Circle Round:

Just as Winter Solstice gives birth to the light, Summer Solstice, with its day that never seems to end, holds the seeds of darkness. We discover darkness in the bits of chocolate concealed inside this sunny cupcake.

1/2 C butter (one stick) softened in the summer sun
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C flour, sifted first and then measured
pinch of salt
2 t. baking powder
1 C milk
1 C chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir in. Follow with 1/2 cup milk, then the other half of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Use paper liners, or grease and flour cupcake tins. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 375′ oven.

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.

Because of the sweetness of the cake and chips, these don’t need frosting, but you can certainly add it, in a solid color or a cheery sun or flower design.

This is a great explanation of how Summer Solstice works. Happy Winter Solstice to those in the Southern Hemisphere, who are marking the lengthening days. Perhaps chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips are in order?

Happy Solstice and Strawberry Full Moon to all!

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

Other Slow Family Posts you may enjoy:

Slow Nature: Keep a Moon Diary

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

 

 

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