Category Archives: Odes

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All Aboard: Celebrate National Train Day

Hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at train stations and other locations. Find a train event near you.

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. I highly recommend this, and other long-distance routes, for family travel.

My 7-year-old daughter and I boarded the train about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. We both stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

ctempemploymentlawblog

In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

mtshasta

cascadestream2

Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

DiningCar

Anna and her new train companions enjoying a meal.

I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, a few summers ago, I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

SunsetTrain

Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (We since booked a family sleeping car, for a second trip on the Coast Starlight. It is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. (Note: I have just returned from a Los Angeles-Chicago train trip in a vintage Pullman car. More on that journey in a future blog.)

While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

pullmanx-large

Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at train stations and other locations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history.

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train horn sounds.

amtrakstop

IACMusic.com

Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Other Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. He predicted an six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.

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 126 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 years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 100 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.)

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.

Host a Kid-Friendly Kentucky Derby Party

I have long had a deep and unexplained connection to the Kentucky Derby, culminating in actually getting to attend “Derby” in 1983. Horse racing is a grand and beautiful tradition which caps each year with the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May and the succeeding two races in horse racing’s Triple Crown. What do I love about the Kentucky Derby? The pomp and ceremony, the hats!, the sing-along of My Old Kentucky Home, the traditional juleps and foods, the perceived smell of Kentucky bluegrass, the beauty of horse country, the dedication of trainers, jockeys and owners, the history of “The Sport of Kings”, the spring in which it occurs, the trumpets that herald the start of the race, the breathless announcers (“and they’re off ..”), the names of horses and the fact that in some places you can bet on them, and of course the race itself: 1 1/4 miles, just over 2 minutes, of blistering thoroughbred beauty.

While I don’t watch a lot of TV, I love event TV and of course, involving my family in the event in kid-friendly ways, which we enjoyed for our Super Bowl party and our Oscar party and during the Summer Olympics. There are many ways to involve kids in a Derby party as well.

Have everyone wear a fun Derby hat, the more outrageous the better. Have a few hats for those who come without one.

Dress up in spring dresses, suits with bow ties, and gloves.

Write the names of all the Derby horses on slips of paper. Put slips of paper in a hat and have everyone draw one or more to root for. If you like, add a friendly wager of $1 or so to the pot for each horse and distribute the pot based on Win, Place and Show percentages (such as 10% for Win, 6% for Place and 4% for Show.)

Teach older kids some math by displaying a board with the names of the horses and the morning odds. Discuss how those odds impact the winnings.

Make and decorate with tissue-paper flowers in spring colors or Derby-rose-red.

Everyone loves dainty, fun and kid-friendly finger sandwiches.

Make and serve yummy blueberry corn muffins.

Bake and serve soft pretzels so people can feel like they are at Churchill Downs.

Derby parties call for a classic pecan pie.

Mint juleps have been a mainstay of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. Make kids’ versions with lemonade and mint.

You might like these other Slow Family posts:

The Roses of Sonoma

Photo Friday: Gather ye Rosebuds

Celebrate May Day with Floral Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets

 Photos: The Polo House, Now You Know, New Braunfels Feed, Boston.com MyRecipes.com, Jeffrey Snyder

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. He predicted an early spring on Groundhog Day.

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 125 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 years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 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”.

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.)

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 this one and 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 Monopoly Token Should Be Replaced?

Which Monopoly token would you replace? That’s the question that Hasbro, maker of the popular 80-year-old game, is putting before its fans, many of whom, while having a favorite, can’t imagine the game without all eight of the current tokens:  race car, top hat, Scottie dog, shoe, wheelbarrow, iron, battleship and thimble. Of those, the wheelbarrow and the Scottie dog are relative newcomers, having joined the game in 1952. The others have been in play since shortly after the game was first marketed (originally using dyed wooden pawn pieces) in 1935.

Some tokens have come and gone over the years. A lantern, purse and rocking horse made it through the early period only to be replaced by the wheelbarrow, Scottie and a bucking bronco. A cannon entered the canon. (Many of us probably remember the cannon and the bronco.) An airplane briefly took flight. A bag of money appeared more recently. More than 20 Monopoly tokens have been made over the years.

Eric Nyman, senior vice president for Hasbro, maker of the board game that is played in 111 countries and has more custom editions than we can count, says that, while he acknowledged that “the tokens are one of the most iconic parts of the Monopoly game and we know that people are emotionally tied to their favorite one,” the new token will be “more representative of today’s Monopoly players.” The new pieces under consideration are a diamond ring, guitar, robot, cat or helicopter.

You can vote for your favorite tokens, new and old, on the Monopoly Facebook page until February 5. The winning token will be produced later this year.

Those who don’t like this change take heart: This 75th anniversary circular Monopoly board, which replaced the game’s traditional paper money with debit cards, didn’t seem to gain any traction.

Early Monopoly History

In my opening paragraph, I wrote that the Monopoly was first marketed in 1935. Its invention, however, goes back to 1904, to The Landlord’s Game, which was invented and patented by Lizzie Magie, as a way to teach economics, taxation and “land grabbing”. The game was played quietly for years, around Pennsylvania in particular. The first person to write up the current Monopoly rules, and give the properties their names based on street names in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was Charles Darrow, who patented his own version of the game and sold it to Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers eventually bought off Lizzie Magie for $500. Read more on two fascinating Landlord’s Game and Monopoly history sites.

Games that Help Kids Learn About Money

Although financial acumen is most likely a bi-product of Monopoly, rather than a goal, there is certainly much kids can learn by playing. Math, counting, reading, planning, budgeting, decision making, and negotiating all come into play, along with a little luck. There can even be an important role-play dimension, if players take the original “landlord” intent of the game seriously.

These are five lessons Monopoly teaches about finance.

Here are more games that help kids learn about money and business. Games and toys that help with role-play, such as toy money, order pads, paper to create menus and signs, cash registers, and sale items (such as art supplies or plastic food) are also terrific, because they help kids learn many interpersonal skills, in addition to financial ones. Many kids gravitate toward playing “store” or “restaurant”.

 What Does Your Monopoly Token Reveal About You?

All this talk of tokens made me wonder if a player’s choice of Monopoly token holds a clue to his or her personality. According to Philip Orbanes, author of the forthcoming book, Monopoly, Money, and You, it does. Find out what your Monopoly token reveals about you.

I must admit, as a (mostly) “hat” player, I was accurately captured.

Photos: Hasbro, UnderConsideration.com (Landlord’s Game)

 

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Sees His Shadow

Update:In the Feb. 2 early morning on Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow for the 99th time to predict 6 more weeks of winter.

Jan. 30 – 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 126 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. If he sees it – an early end to winter. If not – 6 more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”.

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

How did the groundhog tradition get started?

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.)

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.

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.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

Activity: See if you see your shadow on Groundhog Day!

Read: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.

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


Honoring Birthdays

My family, like many, has always placed a great importance on birthdays. After all, that’s the day to celebrate a person’s actual birth, their very existence on the planet. By celebrating a person, we revel in the richness they contribute to our family and community life. We also mark the milestone by celebrating the birthday person’s life, their achievements and aspirations, perhaps even their birth story. Birthdays, even if shared within a family or circle, are still fairly unique. Each one gets his or her chance to shine on their individual day.

We always mark the precise day and time on our daughter Anna’s birth, and that moment has special power for us. Because Anna was born at 11:19 on a Saturday morning, we even often stop what we’re doing at 11:19 on Saturdays throughout the year. (This is a blessing of having a birth time when that is widely possible, as opposed to Thursday at 3 a.m.) We just make a simple note of that time – nothing more. We have all come to know that that is an expression of gratitude for Anna and even a little prayer for all the babies coming into the world at that moment. Now, in Anna’s teen years, this small gesture has survived as a shorthand.

Children at school or elsewhere on their birthdays can look at the clock and mark the exact time of their year turning, if possible. Of course, with numerous children, adopted children, busy lives and more or odder or less precise birth times, one may not be able to do this each week or even each year, and neither do we. It’s a nice gesture to remember and note the birthday moment or a token of it when possible. After all, what better birthday gift can there be than the knowledge that those around you are grateful for your existence?

Celebrations of both everyday and special occasions add rhythm and texture to family and community life. They allow people to gather for happy occasions and honor and celebrate a range of life passages, even some that may be challenging. They also allow individuals and families to punctuate time and mark passages for themselves, both publicly and in a way that carries over into ones internal life. Celebrations can lend power and blessings to events, and even moments, that help separate them from the everyday. Though modern life often ignores rites of passage that have been celebrated for millennia, birthday celebrations largely endure.

Once Anna went to school and I wasn’t always with her to mark her precise birth time, I began to try to pause on my own to reflect, and urged her to do so as well.  This year on her birthday, I had the joy of going for a neighborhood walk, on a break between rainstorms. I paused at 11:19 to enjoy shafts of autumn sunlight shining through these beautiful golden leaves and celebrate my radiant daughter.

Happy Birthday to celebrants all year and wherever you are.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

23 Things to be Happy About in October

I tend to be happy most months and seasons, and completely enjoy the continuity and mystery of the turning year. That said, there is just something a little extra-special about October, which starts tomorrow here and which some of you are already enjoying. What are some items on your Happy October list? Here’s mine:

Crisp air
Pumpkins in fields, farms and stands
Long nights
Scarecrows
Curling up with books and tea

Bountiful harvests
The slant of sunlight
Apples and cider
Riotously colored leaves
Fall movies
Meals with friends

Sweaters and socks
Gloves, mittens and hats
Leaves crunching underfoot
Birds in flight, migrating
Fireplace fires
Stock, johnny jump-ups and even mums

High school football
The smell of bays, oaks and wood duff
The prospect of Halloween
Children in costumes
Picking up sewing projects
Being at rest

 

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Goodbye Oprah, and Thank You Talk Show Pioneer Phil Donahue

Of course, today and much of the past week (in the broadcast TV world anyway) have been all about Oprah Winfrey‘s extended farewell. As well they should have been. Whether or not you liked her style or resonated with her messages, Oprah has no doubt deeply influenced and touched countless people in numerous ways.

This is a nice tribute, Why Did Oprah Matter?, from Ken Tucker at ew.com. Another nice piece, Five Reasons Oprah’s Last Show Should Matter to You, appears in the Dallas Morning News from Michael Landauer.

But enough about Oprah.

In all the hoopla, I can’t help but think back to Phil Donahue, whose very thoughtful talk show I watched often. It is Donahue who pioneered the act of entering the studio audience and was often seen running up and down the stairs of his set, microphone in hand and white hair flopping, to record the impressions of a guest.

The Phil Donahue Show (later – in a nod to the times? – simply Donahue) ran an incredible 26 years nationally, from 1970-1996 (one year longer than Oprah), and three years locally in Dayton, OH, before that. He took on most of the political, cultural and philosophical issues of the times – civil rights, gay rights, consumer rights, religion, abortion, war, even holocaust denial  – and didn’t shy from (indeed perhaps stoked) controversy and passionate conversation. He also did lighter, but no less educational, shows such as one in which he introduced many viewers to break dancing and rap.

My friend, Bay Area writer and cultural observer Barbara Tannenbaum, shared this:

I think Phil Donahue was one of several major factors helping the country with gay visibility/ cultural change. When Bill Maher said it was television, not politicians, who were behind this paradigm shift, I instantly thought of Donahue….and Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas (less so, but must tip my hat to my Mom!)

Donahue was on the air during the worst part of the AIDS epidemic in the mid to late 80s. Again, a forum for our Moms to meet gay men fighting AIDS, making that conversation much easier for parents. My mom comforted a lady in the dressing room of Nordstrom’s about discussing her gay son’s diagnosis with her husband. Her inspiration was not me, but Phil Donahue!!

Even Oprah Winfrey acknowledges, “”If it weren’t for Phil Donahue, there would never have been an Oprah Show.”

Here’s Phil Donahue interviewing writer Ayn Rand, about whom he said, in his introduction, “You mention this woman’s name and you’re in for a very vigorous conversation.” That short phrase sums up much of Phil Donahue’s talent and appeal, in addition to an element we could use much more of on television and in the greater culture and discourse.

Farewell Oprah and thank you Phil!

Photos: AP/Paul Beaty, Doug Ross

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