Category Archives: Seasons

Enjoy June’s Full Supermoon

Look up in the sky! It’s Supermoon! On Saturday, June 22 and Sunday, June 23, the moon will appear especially large and bright, due to its closer-than-usual relation to Earth. This supermoon, or perigee moon, will be the largest-appearing moon of 2013.

The supermoon will rise from the east around sunset, and then will appear huge and low on the horizon before rising into the sky for the night. Because the moon will be at its fullest Sunday at 7:30 am EDT, both Saturday and Sunday should offer ideal viewing opportunities for those with clear skies.

Read more science behind the supermoon.

Read tips for photographing the supermoon.

The Full Moon

Of course a supermoon is by definition full. 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. This site lists 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.

Whether planting or watching, enjoy June’s full supermoon!

Graphics and Photos: Optics Central, Public Domain, NASA, Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Summer! Easy Summer Solstice Cupcakes

Updated for 2014Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of the summer season, is upon us June 21 this year, at 05:04 10:51 Universal Time, or 1:04 3:51 am on the U.S.’ east coast, 10:04 pm, June 20, 6:51 am 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.

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.

An easy way to celebrate Summer Solstice, whether your gathering is a large one or a cozy one, is to make Summer Solstice Cupcakes. This 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 to all!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Have a Summer Nature Camp at Home

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.

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!
The eCurriculum will be available May 20, but you can pre-order a copy now.

I can’t wait for summer!

At-Home Summer Nature Camp eCurriculum

Taxes: An Ancient Practice

Tax Day is once again upon us in the U.S. Because income taxes are due on April 15, chances are that you’ve already addressed them in some way. Chances are also fairly high that you’ve not given much thought as to why our taxes are due in the middle of April each year. Neither had I, until my daughter asked me about this and I developed a theory.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board. (01/1942 – 11/03/1945)

 

Although the U.S. government didn’t impose our current income tax system until 1913 (and citizens had been taxed for a brief period to fund the Civil War), most governments throughout the world have taxed their citizens. The ancient Egyptians taxed cooking oil and went as far as visiting people’s homes to ensure that they weren’t using an alternative oil in order to avoid the tax. The ancient Greeks used rain gauges to measure rain and thus determine the tax bills for farmers — the more rain, the more produce, the higher the tax.

But when in the year did this happen? Was it in April, like it is today, or at the start of the new year, January 1? It turns out that, to complicate things, the new year has been celebrated on many different dates throughout history (and continues to be celebrated at different times by some cultures.) Ancient Egyptians celebrated the new year in August, when the Nile River flooded to provide water for their crops. The Mayan new year was in May, at the year’s agricultural high point. The Jewish New Year continues to coincide with the fall harvest. The Incans linked, and the Chinese continue to link, their new year to the winter solstice.

And the ancient Romans and Babylonians marked their new year at the spring equinox, itself a moving target in ancient times, before precise measurements existed. (The English new year continued to be March 25, a full two centuries after France’s Charles IX changed it to January 1 for most of the world in 1564.) Our practice of New Year’s resolutions goes back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians, who made sure to settle up accounts by returning borrowed farm equipment before their new year. It was these ancient people whom I surmised may have influenced our current tax schedule.

Ancient Egyptian Calendar

 

It turns out that the first U.S. income tax payments in 1914 were due on March 1 for somewhat banal, rather than agrarian or seasonal, reasons. March 1 was chosen because that date fell about one year after the 16th (tax) amendment was enacted. Tax Day didn’t move to April 15 until 1955. (And, if April 15 falls on a weekend, Tax Day is moved to the next business day.)

So, while it made a fine story, my theory that we follow many of the ancients by paying taxes at the rough equivalent of the spring equinox did not hold (rain) water. It did, however, inspire us to learn a little bit about tax history and ancient ways, and recognize the fact that, even as the calendar and customs have changed, taxes have remained a fairly constant fact of life.

1500s Aztec Calendar

 

 Artwork based on ancient Egyptian calendar

 

 

Images: Tax History, Dark Roasted Blend, PBase

You might also be interested in:

Tax day tips: Eight things to check before April 17 tax deadline
Tax day: 8 top tax breaks for parents on tax deadline

 

 

Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book Makes You Want to Go Out and Play

“Nature is a destination,” write Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, the authors of The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up. “But you don’t have to travel anywhere to find it. Just open the door and step outside.” That idea of fun and adventure in “nearby nature” infuses their entire delightful new book. This is an especially important concept at a time when kids are spending much more time with electronics than they are in the natural world. The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book offers a perfect counter-balance to indoor time, with activities that are easy for even the busiest families to enjoy.

The book is wonderfully, and helpfully, arranged by seasons (each of which is declared “the best season”.) Each season features an array of fun outdoor activities, so that a reader might be inspired to tap a maple tree or find a turtle in spring, catch a firefly or find fossils in summer, go owling or conquer a corn maze in fall, or go ice fishing or whittle a branch in winter. In addition to all the activities, which are presented in a fun check-list fashion and have guidelines as to the “adventure scale” of each one, there are plenty of larger-scale projects, outdoor games, destinations, and foods to make, so that families and others can be kept very busy doing the book’s activities over many years.

The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book  is very rich. It features a range of activities, from those that are simple to do, but might have escaped notice, such as “Roll down a hill like a log” (something my daughter loved to do) to more exotic ideas like “Go spelunking” in a cave. Rachel Riordan’s extremely cute illustrations complement the breadth of ideas in this  jam-packed, fun-filled book. Tornio and Keffer, who are judges in the 3rd annual ClifKID Backyard Game of the Year Contest, have captured the joy of being alive and the rhythm of the seasons and the natural world. Readers of this book will surely be inspired to open the door to their own outdoor adventures.

Want to get your own autographed copy of the Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book? Enter to win the CLIFKid ZBar and book giveaway.

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Join Project Feeder Watch and Other Fun Citizen Science Activities
8 Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer
Have a Cloud Race
Keep a Moon Diary
American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids

Welcome Spring!

(Updated for 2016: Spring will occur Monday, March 20, at 10:28 UTC, or 6:28 am, Eastern Daylight Time.)

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Wednesday, March 20, at 11:02 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 7:02 am, Eastern Daylight Time, and 4:02 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox, the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

Spring conjures growth and new life, play, beauty, flowers, and the return of the sun and longer days. There are many simple ways to honor spring, from dancing a maypole dance to dyeing eggs.

Celebrations of spring happen all season, of course, as buds bloom on trees and the tulips, daffodils and other bulbs planted in the dead of winter show their cheery, colorful heads.

In my neck of the woods, wildflowers and spring bulbs have recently popped their heads up to welcome this expansive and lovely season. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As I often do, at times of seasonal change, I turned to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Spring Ahead: Daylight Saving Time Begins Tonight for Many

When Benjamin Franklin wrote An Economical Project, his 1794 discourse in which he proposed the idea that would become our current Daylight Saving Time, it probably didn’t occur to him that the world would be using his system of adjusting human activities to maximize natural daylight more than 200 years later.

It also probably didn’t occur to him that others would take so long to embrace it. Attempts to legislate Daylight Saving were still widely ridiculed at the beginning of the 20th century. (It took the energy needs of WWI for many to finally enact them.) Standard times, brought about in the U.S. and Canada by the needs of the railways, which straddled various locales, also took a few decades to eventually pass into law.

This is a wonderful article on the history of Daylight Saving Time and time zones, which includes all kinds of quirkiness and variations. (One year, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates were used in Iowa alone.) Indeed, cities and countries around the world begin, end and practice Daylight Savings at a variety of times and in a variety of ways.

Most of the U.S. begins Daylight Saving Time at 2:00 a.m. (local time) on the second Sunday in March and reverts to standard time at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.

How does Daylight Savings Time impact safety, particularly on the roads? Apparently the first dark evenings in Fall, when the time changes back, see an increase in pedestrian and auto accidents, as some people readjust to driving in darkness. In 2007, Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. was moved to the first weekend in November, in the hopes of getting more Halloween Trick-or-Treaters out during daylight and presumed safety, which may be good for the youngest Trick-or-Treaters.

Sleep deprivation is an issue that can affect people just after Daylight Saving Time kicks in in Spring. Cows, too, can be a little flummoxed, say Indiana and other dairy farmers — to the degree that their milk production suffers. Interestingly, Indiana only adopted Daylight Saving Time in 2005. Arizona is the only state that currently opts out of Daylight Savings, although the Navajo nations within it opt in — are you confused yet? In addition some Amish communities, particularly in Ohio, remain on Standard Time, which they (wonderfully) call Slow Time.

Here’s hoping you enjoy your Slow Time, your sunlight, and the wonder of time in general, whether you practice Daylight Savings or not.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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

Slow Nature: Keep a Moon Diary

The changing moon is a source of fascination for people of all ages.

Scientists, from ancient Babylonia to modern countries around the world, have attempted to explore it. Ancient people used the full moons to determine their calendars, and Native Americans named the full moons according to the activities that took place under them, such as harvesting and the first shoots of corn. The moon’s pull is tied to our tides and even our bodies. Many migratory animals are guided by the moon.

Why not make your own moon explorations and observations by keeping a moon diary?

Taking note of the moon’s phases and rhythms, as it moves through its cycle, is a great way to feel the rhythms of our lives and of nature. It can help younger children understand how long a month is. Of course, everyone has fun searching for the “Man in the Moon”. Look outside during the next full moon to try to find him.

You’ll need:

A blank calendar or pencil and paper
A view of the moon

Look at the moon each night after it has risen and record its phase, in writing or drawing, as it makes its monthly rotation around the earth. The amount of moon we see is really the amount of sunlight that is reflected on it during each phase. New moons are between the earth and the sun, so that the sun almost entirely shines on the part of the moon we don’t see. Full moons are on the side of the earth opposite the sun, so that sunlight shines on them in full. The moon always follow this pattern:

  • New
  • Waxing crescent
  • First quarter
  • Waxing gibbous
  • Full
  • Waning gibbous
  • Third quarter
  • Waning crescent
  • New

Here are some more fun activities to try:

Photo: NASA

Make Noisemakers to Welcome the New Year

Noise and revelry have survived from ancient times as an attempt to ring out the evil spirits of the old year and ease what many viewed as a vulnerable transition between years. Ancient Chinese people used loud firecrackers to drive away evil spirits, while medieval Germans hissed in the streets. Eighteenth-century Scots were draped in cowhides and chased by villagers who yelled, “Raise the noise louder” and beat them with sticks. I have my own childhood memories of staying up until midnight and clanging pots and pans on our porch, something I now do with my family.

You can easily make and use your own noisemakers, a project most kids enjoy, in addition to staying up late and marking the turn of the year. (If midnight is too late for little ones, celebrate the new year’s arrival in a region or country with an earlier time zone!)

Tube Kazoos

I have childhood memories of making this timeless noisemaker, along with a harmonica out of a wax-paper-covered comb, proving that things made with the simplest materials are often very enduring.

You’ll need:

  • Empty toilet paper or paper-towel rolls
  • Small squares of wax paper, approximately 4″ × 4″
  • Rubber band
  • Pencil
  • Crayons, markers, paint, fabric, tissue paper, glue, glitter, sequins, or other decorative items of your choice

Decorate the tube, as desired.

Cover one end with the wax paper square and secure with a rubber band.

Punch holes in the wax paper with a pencil.

Paper-Plate Maracas

We have fun making these at New Year’s and throughout the year. They’re great to use for  family music nights.

You’ll need:

  • 2 paper plates
  • Crayons, markers, paint, fabric, tissue or construction paper, ribbons, glue, glitter, sequins, foil, or other decorative items of your choice
  • 1/8 cup large dried beans
  • Stapler
  • Craft or popsicle stick
  • Tape

Decorate the underside of the paper plates, as desired.

Tape a craft stick to the inside rim of one plate’s undecorated side, for a handle.

If desired, glue ribbons or strips of paper or fabric to the plate’s underside, to create decorative ribbons.

Place the two plates together, decorated sides out.

Staple around the edges of the plates to secure them together, leaving an opening to drop the dried beans in.

Continue stapling to shut.

Photos: Piter Kruger; Kazoos,  Austin Kids; Maracas, Paper Craft PictureGiggleberry Creations. Both have lots of other cute ideas for paper plate crafts, paper plate fish, and more.

Looking for more New Years Noisemaker Crafts? See:

Artists Helping Kids   (various)

Make and Takes    (poppers)

Pots, pans, wooden spoons, and other kitchen items also make excellent noisemakers!

Happy New Year!

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

New Year’s Traditions Around the World and at Home

New Years Resolutions and Gratitude Lists

Honor Your Family with Fun Gratitude Crafts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...