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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

May is Bike to Work and School Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trenton, NJ: Trenton Bike Tour, May 17.

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

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

Seattle, WA: Summer Streets Party, May 29.

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

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

Enjoy biking to work and school and just for fun!

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

Five Ways to Nourish and Renew Your Spirit + a Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Ritual

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

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

Cultivating Stillness

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

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

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Practicing Service to Others

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

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

Living in the Present

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

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

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Choosing Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Graphics: Renée Peterson Trudeau

12 Fun Family Activities for Screen-Free Week

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. 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 children’s lives.

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It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed May 5-11 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

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

It’s Time for Summer Backyard Family Fun

Summer is near, and with it usually comes longer days, less scheduled time and more time outdoors. Whether you have a backyard, front lawn, porch, driveway or deck, summer can offer the kind of simple outdoor family fun that you probably remember from your own childhood. Here are a few ways to welcome wildlife, play classic games, and enjoy the kinds of outdoor activities that get people together and create summer memories.

Note: This post is part of the Second Annual Backyard Barbecue Blog Hop.  I am so excited to be joining with my blogger friends to create a collection of fabulous ideas for family fun this summer. Be sure to visit all of our co-hosts (links below) to see their amazing posts and be sure to share yours at the end!

Feed the Butterflies and Birds

It’s so much fun to attract birds and butterflies to our yards and homes, while actually helping out local wildlife by feeding them. Plant butterfly-friendly plants this summer, or make this easy bird feeder, which will have you backyard bird-watching in no time. Experiment with different kinds of seeds to see which birds each attracts. Or ask for advice at a plant nursery or pet store.

You’ll need:

Cardboard
Heart or other template, optional
2-3 ‘ ribbon or string
½ cup vegetable shortening, peanut or other nut butter, suet or lard (plus, cornmeal or oatmeal, optional)
2 ½ cup mixture of birdseed (chopped nuts, dried fruit, optional)
Small mixing bowl
Plate, shallow dish or pie tin
Scissors
Spoon or butter knife

Cut a heart or other shape out of cardboard, using a template or free-hand.

Poke a hole toward the top and run the string through it. (If using a ribbon, you might want to string it after the mixture has dried a little, using a hole to poke through the hole, as needed.

In mixing bowl, combine peanut butter or other spread with meal, if using.

Spread that mixture over the both sides of the heart with the knife or spoon.

Pour the birdseed and feed ingredients onto the plate.

Place the heart into the seeds.

Hang your feeder from a tree branch or window eave that offers some shelter from wind and weather if possible, as well as a view of visiting birds.

Slow Tip: You can also use a toilet-paper tube, and either string it up or place it right onto a branch.

Play Pick-Up Sticks with Real Twigs

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You’ll need: Approximately 41 twigs.

Hold the twigs in a bundle, then release them so that they land in a pile. Players 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 player takes a turn. Some players use a designated stick to remove other sticks. When all the sticks have been removed from the pile, players total their numbers of sticks to determine the winner.

Make a Beaded Spider Web

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This is an enchanting project that mirrors the intricate work of busy spiders, and provides a whimsical and colorful garden object when finished.

You’ll need:

3 bamboo skewers per web
Scissors or wire cutters
Ruler
Thin wire
Beads of your choosing. Make sure the beads and wire are a compatible size.

Clip the pointed tips from the skewers.

Put the skewers in a bundle.

Cut a 12” piece of wire and wrap half of it tightly around the center of the bundle.

Spread the skewers out until they all point outward like an asterisk, crossing in the middle.

Continue to wrap the wire to secure the new shape.

Cut a piece of wire approx. 18”.

Wrap one end of the wire around one of the skewers twice, about an inch form the center.

String beads along the length of the wire, and then wrap the wire twice around the next skewer. Continue until you are back to the first skewer. Wrap the wire to secure it.

Cut the next pieces of wire 24”, 30” and 36”, and string and bead them around the skewers, as above.

Place or hang your spider web in your garden.

Slow Tip: Beads can be strung tightly along the lengths of wire, or room can be left for the wire to show through.

Slow Tip: Try beading flowers, leaves, butterflies, ladybugs, or other garden features.

Gather a Group for Classic Lawn Games

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These fun, easy games require little or no equipment and have been creating memories for generations.

Duck, Duck, Goose

South Asians know it as Kho Kho, Ghanaians as Antoakyire. German children play a version called Plumpsack, which involves dropping a handkerchief at one player’s spot. Young children play this timeless game around the world.

Players sit in a circle, facing each other. Choose a player to be It. It walks around the outside of the circle, tapping each person on the head and saying, for each tap, “duck”, “duck”, “duck”. Finally, It taps a person on the head and says, “goose” and begins to run around the outside of the circle. The person who is tapped as a goose gets up and chases It around the circle. If the goose is able to tap It before he or she sits down in the goose’s spot, then that person is It again. If the goose does not tag It, then the goose becomes the new “it”.

Red Light, Green Light

Another game played around the world, Red Light, Green Light has many charming variations. In the Czech Republic, it’s called, Cukr, káva, limonáda, čaj, rum, bum! (“Sugar, coffee, lemonade, tea, rum, boom!”)

One player is chosen to be the stoplight. That person turns his or her back to the group, which forms a line approximately 30–90′ away (depending on the ages of players). The stoplight calls out, “Green light!” and the players advance toward the player who is the stoplight as quickly as they can. When the stoplight wishes, he or she calls out, “Red light!” while turning around to see the runners. The runners must stop immediately. Any player caught moving after a call of “red light” has to go back to the starting line. “Green lights” and “red lights” are repeated until the first player reaches and tags the stoplight and is declared the winner. If all the players are out before they reach the stoplight, then the stoplight wins that round. The winner becomes the new stoplight.

Blob Tag

There are so many fun tag games, you needn’t limit yourself to basic tag. Try this fun variation:

Once a player is tagged by the person who is It, the two join arms and become a blob, which chases players together to try to tag them. Other players who are tagged also join arms and become part of the blob. Some play a version in which, when the blob reaches four people, two split off to become a new blob. The last person standing alone becomes the new “it.”

Blow Giant Bubbles

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Whimsical bubbles are a great addition to a summer backyard. They provide hours of entertainment at very little expense. In fact, there’s no need to spend money on commercial bubble mixes at all. A large batch can be left in a bucket or tub for days, or even a week or two, without losing its ability to form bubbles. Bubble mixes are best made at least ½ hour before you need them, so they can settle.

You’ll need:

6 cups (or parts) water
2 cups (or parts) Dawn dishwashing detergent
3/4 cup Karo or other light corn syrup
Measuring container
Large tub, bucket or pan (large enough for the wands to fit inside)

Use Dawn brand dishwashing detergent, if you can find it, for large, firm bubbles. Joy is second-best.

If you’re using the same container to measure both the water and the detergent, measure the water first to prevent detergent foaming in the container.

If your water is very hard, you may want to use distilled water.

Stir the solution gently. It should be smooth, not sudsy or foamy.

Here are some fun ideas for bubble play and experimentation.

Camp in Your Backyard

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Camping out in sleeping bags is fun any time of year— in a backyard, on a porch or balcony, even on the living-room floor. Wherever you roll out the sleeping bags, enjoy some traditional camp activities:

Sing traditional or silly campfire songs like Go Bananas, She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, Boom Chicka Boom, and Rose Rose.

Make shadow puppets by shining a flashlight onto a tent or house wall. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes like these:

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.

Make s’mores, banana boats, hobo popcorn and other classic camp treats.

 

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, VA State Parks

 

Be sure to visit all of our Backyard Barbecue Blog Hop co-hosts to see their amazing posts and be sure to share yours at the end!

Co-hosts

All Done Monkey
The Squishable Baby
Creative World of Varya
Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes
Twin Falls Mommy
In The Playroom
Slow Family
Adventures of Adam
Adventure in a Box
Planet Smarty Pants

Now it’s your turn!


Backyard Barbecue Blog Hop 2014

Get Ready for Summer with At-Home and Innovative Camps

For many summers, my family divided the season into summer camps, vacation travel, and down-time at home, during what we called Camp MommyAnna. It seemed important to enjoy some of summer’s long days with adventures in our local nature and area and no set schedule. So I’m very excited to participate in The At-Home Summer Nature Camp eCurriculum, which offers tons of ideas to help you create your own at-home summer camp experience.

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The At-Home Summer Nature Camp eCurriculum, from A Natural Nester, contains creative and easy-to-follow ways to keep kids engaged throughout the summer and to make the most of family time together.

The Curriculum includes 8 weeks of kid-friendly lessons, outdoor activities, indoor projects, crafts, recipes, field trip ideas, children’s book suggestions, and more in a full-color PDF you can read on your computer screen or tablet, or print out. The program is designed to be flexible and fit with your family’s schedule and surroundings, so you can incorporate the ideas any time it works for you.

Fun weekly themes to help kids discover and enjoy the natural world include:

An Edible Garden ~ The Night Sky ~ At the Beach 
 A Spot in the Shade ~ Ponds & Frogs
Rain, Rain ~ Wildflowers & Bees ~ Sun Fun

While designed primarily for children ages 5-11, the ideas are fun and adaptable for all ages.

These are the talented and inspirational camp counselors:

Sarah of Imagine Childhood ~ Kara of Simple Kids
Valarie of Jump Into a Book ~ Heather of Shivaya Naturals
Cerys of Nature and Play ~ Linda of Natural Suburbia
Leah of Skill It ~ Amy of Mama Scout
Erin of Exhale. Return to Center and More!

I can’t wait for summer!

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At-Home Summer Nature Camp eCurriculum

Looking for a great San Francisco Bay Area camp?

Of course, summer camps offer terrific experiences for kids that they don’t get elsewhere, and they provide important summer coverage for working parents. Bay Area parents will want to check out Camp Galileo, which combines art, science and outdoor activities around weekly themes. They have programs for kids ages pre-K to 8th grade, in more than 40 locations. The camp philosophy encourages fun and learning through experimentation, discovery and innovation. Each camp is a week long, which allows for flexibility. Extended care is offered, too. Campers through 5th grade are grouped by age and participate in one of four themed camps: Adventures Down Under, Art & Engineering along Route 66, The Incredible Human Body, or Leonardo’s Apprentice: Inventions & Art of the Renaissance. Older kids choose “Summer Quests” that specialize in high technology, building, culinary arts or digital and fine arts. Camp Galileo is partnered with the de Young Museum, the Tech Museum of Innovation, Chabot Space and Science Camp and Klutz. Camp parents speak extremely highly of their children’s experiences. Visit the Camp Galileo site to learn more.

Use the code 2014INNOVATION to receive $30 off (limit one per camper, Camp Galileo and Galileo Summer Quest) Expires: May 31, 2014. Enter the code at sign up by clicking on the purple “sign up” button on the right-hand side of the page.

Sign up for the Galileo newsletter and be entered to win a free week of camp. You can sign up by scrolling to the bottom of the page and entering your email information and zip code.

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Other Slow Family posts you may like: How to Choose a Great Summer Camp

This post is sponsored by Camp Galileo and A Natural Nester. The views expressed are my own.

A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to the Muir Woods, Thanks to New Book

We didn’t initially intend to hike five miles from our house to Muir Woods National Monument and back, but the first day of spring arrived quite beautifully and, inspired by the new book, We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors, by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (illustrated by Denise Holmes), my daughter and I set off on a pretty and hilly local trail. We loved the idea of welcoming the season with a hike, as well as the notion of leaving right from our house and walking to the trail head. We thought we’d walk one way, and had arranged for a pick-up at the end of the walk.

Keffer and Tornio are the authors of  The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, reviewed here last year, and their new book, which delightfully arrived in time for spring, expands nicely on their theme of providing easy ideas that families and others can use to create their own nature adventures. The book serves as a journal, as well, with questions that prompt readers to think, write and draw about their nature time.

Our first-choice activity from the book? “Hike on a trail near your home and write about what you discover.” We added some photos as well.

Anna and me, setting off on our adventure.

Pride of Madeira plants were sighted while climbing our first hill out of our neighborhood.

A kind and creative homeowner shows the way to the Dipsea Trail, a trail that winds seven miles from a canyon in our town of Mill Valley, CA, to the sea at Stinson Beach. We will take the Dipsea partway.

We entered Mt. Tamalpais State Park.

Anna is at the precipice, eyeing the trail below.

We descended into canyons of ferns, redwoods and bay trees.

We spotted a spectacular Douglas Iris.

And a Beach Morning Glory.

We made it to the Muir Woods, about 2.5 miles from the start, feeling pretty accomplished.

Muir Woods has lovely creeks running through it that are home to spawning salmon.

Muir Woods is also home to thousands of old-growth coast redwoods, the tallest living things in the world. This redwood feel on Winter Solstice, 2012. A sign nearby told us that it was an elder that had had a good life and deserved respect.

Tired, but also reenergized from being in the beautiful woods, we traced our steps back toward home.

The hikers, five hours and a great adventure later.

Prompted by the book, and this hike, we immediately planned our next one! A few days later, we took the Dipsea Trail in the opposite direction than we had the first time and went into our town for a shorter (but stair-filled) loop walk. Later, we plan to keep going on the Dipsea Trail, past the Muir Woods to the ocean (and take someone up on that ride home).

Some other adventures we are eager to try from We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors this spring and summer include:

Design your yard and garden to be butterfly friendly.

Experiment with starting seeds.

Reuse an object as a garden container.

Find inspiration from nature, and then create a piece of art.

Swim with your family or friends at a local lake, river or pond.

Discover the night sky through stargazing.

Can’t wait!

Would you like to win your own copy of We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors and a pair of KEEN shoes? Enter the Destination Nature giveaway today.

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Join Project Feeder Watch and Other Fun Citizen Science Activities
How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds
Have a Cloud Race
Keep a Moon Diary
Nature Activities to Celebrate Spring

Win $5,000 for your School Garden from Dole and Captain Planet Foundation

School gardens provide such a unique learning environment for kids. I’ve seen gardens used to teach science, math, history, social studies, art, language, and other subjects, in addition to teaching kids the mastery and joy of caring for living things, and the methods to grow and harvest their own food and other items. Often school gardens are the only places in which kids will gather these crucial experiences and even get outside during their school and home days.

So I was thrilled to learn that DOLE Fruit Bowls® and Captain Planet Foundation are teaming up to host the “DOLE Fruit Bowls & Captain Planet Foundation’s Learning Garden Challenge.” The contest will recognize K-8 schools that have established school gardens that provide occasions for learning and environmental stewardship, and an understanding of the role that fresh fruits and vegetables play in a healthy lifestyle.

If your school has a learning garden, you could win $5000 plus a bunch of other prizes from Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation — It’s easy! Enter here. The deadline to enter is March 12, 2014 at 11:59PM ET.

 

This post is sponsored by Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation. The opinions expressed are my own.

Images: Dole, Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

It’s National Pollinator Week: Have fun attracting and helping bees, butterflies and birds
Make a Quick and Easy Valentine Bird Feeder
Happy Earth Day: Beginner’s guide to getting your garden growing
Earth Day and Every Day: 11 ways to make gardening extra fun for kids
The Rise and Fall of New York City’s School Gardens

 

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 14-17, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by 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.

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