Category Archives: The Great Outdoors

Photo Friday: Serene Spring

My family recently took a Sunday bike ride down a wonderful country road not too far from our home. We saw far fewer cars (and more cows) than bikes, as we wound around the two-lane, experiencing wonderful old ranches, trees beginning to flower, rolling green hills, and the most perfect endless blue sky. All agreed that the day and the outing were superb. Of course, I occasionally held the group up, whipping out the camera to preserve the memory. I’m glad I did. Just looking at this photo puts me at peace.

I hope you’re enjoying a serene season, wherever you are.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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Photo Friday: World’s Favorite Tulip
Photo Friday: Signs of Spring
First of Spring: Larkspur, CA

Happy Earth Day! Beginners Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing

It’s Earth Day, a few weeks into Spring in the Northern hemisphere, and no time like the present to get your garden going — even if (and perhaps especially if) you’re a total gardening novice.

Fear not. Even if you’ve never grown so much as a pansy, the following steps will get you and your garden up and running.

Select your site. Ideally your plot will get 6-8 hours of full sun per day. If such a site is not available, be sure to buy crops specifically intended to grow in the shade. If you don’t have adequate flat space, explore other outdoor space like patios, pass-throughs, or decks. You can still get a lot of usable space by planting in large boxes and having plants climb up trellises, which many love to do. Your space needn’t be too large. A 10×10 foot plot can support a few rows of different crops. Often gardeners get overly ambitious and plant more than they can reasonably maintain. If your site is traveled by munching animals, such as deer, you will want to construct some kind of fence around it.

Prepare the soil. Use a pitchfork to loosen the ground, preferably down to about 8 inches. Clear the surface with a heavy-duty rake. Break up dirt clods and pull weeds. These can be added to a compost, if you’ve chosen to compost. If you wish, you can buy packaged soil for a nice even top layer that will have some nutrients in it, especially if you suspect your soil is poor. (You can always take a sample into your local garden-supply store for an opinion.) Either way, some sort of packaged fertilizer should be added as well. A general mix for new plantings is usually good, but the folks at the garden center may have more specific advice based on your soil and what you’d like to grow, as well as how much organic matter you want to add. Always water thoroughly before adding fertilizer. (And have kids wash hands after handling.)

If possible, plan some paths in your garden. They will make it easy to water, weed, and harvest without stepping on plants. Some people cover the paths with tanbark or other material (available at garden-supply stores) to mark them and to discourage plants from taking root there. Make sure you have a good path for your hose and a water source.

Plant the seeds or seedlings. For most people, this part is especially fun. Follow the packet instructions for seed spacing and conditions. You may want to lay a line of string as a guide, or create a furrow. Some stores carry seed tapes, which you just lay down in a straight row. Tapes are great for tiny hard-to-handle seeds like carrots, which can be difficult, even for adults. Large, easy-to-plant and -grow seeds include nasturtium and pea. If you’re planting bedding plants, be sure to give each lots of room to spread out and grow. Try to anticipate the heights of your plants to get the tallest ones into the back. And don’t forget to grow something that you’d like to see or eat!

Fertilize. If you didn’t add fertilizer to the bed while preparing the soil, you’ll want to add a little bit while planting. There are fertilizers on the market that are designed specifically for new growth. Your local garden center is the best bet to point you toward a good fertilizer for your garden and conditions. Many people fertilize plants again at about six weeks into the growing process.

If you are gardening in containers, get the biggest containers you have space and money for. Check for adequate drainage holes. If you don’t have good drainage, you can add netting or pieces of broken pottery to the bottom of the pot. You may also want to add perlite, which will aerate the soil while helping it retain moisture. Fertilize as you would in a garden plot.

Water your plants or seeds. New transplants and freshly planted seeds like lots of water. The best kind of watering is done gently and deeply, so that the water soaks through to the growing roots of the plants. Once your plants are established, you will probably need to water every other day or so when the weather is sunny. (Plants in containers usually need water more often than plants in the ground.) If a plant droops during the day, or the soil feels dry more than a couple of inches down, it needs water. It’s best not to water in bright sunshine because the sun can evaporate the water or even cause burned spots on the plants.

Keep up the good work. Continue watering and caring for plants as needed. This can include pulling out obvious weeds and cutting back any growth that has died or become unattractive.

Be sure to harvest what you’ve grown. Sometimes I’ve been so proud of my work and/or not sure when to harvest that I’ve let plants go past the point when they’re edible or useful and all the way to seed. Take a chance and cut and enjoy what you’ve done. More will usually grow back!

Get comfortable. There are lots of items available to make gardening more comfortable. I suggest knee pads, if you’re going to be doing a lot of kneeling, a sun hat to protect your skin, and old shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or gardening clogs made specifically to get wet and dirty. (A pair of gardening clogs lasts for years. They’re also very comfortable and you can leave them outside.) Most people like gardening gloves and there are a range of them on the market. I find them irresistible to buy at gardening and hardware stores, with their cute patterns, but I almost always end up taking them off and getting my hands really dirty — the better to feel the plants, the dirt, and what I’m doing.

Have fun entering one of the oldest and most rewarding hobbies around!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Equinox and Supermoon!

Ready for a change of season? The March Equinox will occur on Sunday, March 20th this year, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere. The exact time is 23:21 (or 11:21 p.m.) at Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is 4:21 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, 7:21 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time).

Equinox” means “equal night” in Latin and, twice a year (in March and September), the sun shines directly on the equator, and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world.

In addition, the full moon that heralds the Equinox on the night of March 19th will appear especially large and bright, due to its closer-than-usual relation to Earth. This supermoon, or perigee moon, is due to rise in the east and be the biggest in almost 20 years. If you are blessed with clear skies tonight, you will probably want to have a look.

The Farmers Almanac calls the March full moon the Full Worm Moon and notes:  “As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins.”

Northern Native American tribes knew this moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter. They also used Full Crust Moon because the snow cover became crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night.

The Dakota Sioux named it the especially poetic Moon When Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is a Colonial American variation. More than one other culture calls it the Windy Moon. In Medieval England it was known as the Chaste Moon.

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.

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.

Enjoy the new season and the supermoon!

Photos: NASA (Moon), Susan Sachs Lipman

Photo Friday: Between Seasons

Last weekend, where I live, the temperature seemed to boost about 40 degrees. Sun and warm winds suddenly replaced the frigid air. Overnight, it seemed, fruit trees burst into blossom — nothing subtle or slow — and I could smell wild onions and grasses and the sorts of shoots that signal spring. One front yard on my street, however, is having trouble letting go of the last leaves of fall even as they’re being eclipsed by a splashy early spring show.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront

Look up! It’s the Geminid Meteor Shower and a Lunar Eclipse

Now playing overhead: The dramatic Geminid Meteor Shower, which many astronomers agree is the best meteor shower of the year. Following that,  stargazers could keep their necks craned for 2010’s only complete lunar eclipse, which coincides with Winter Solstice December 21.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is forecast to peak late Mon./early Tues. Dec. 13-14, between around midnight and sunrise, in North America. If you can’t stay up that late, not to worry — astronomers tell us that some meteors should be visible as soon as darkness hits. In addition, the shower lasts for days before and after the peak date, and there have already been reports from around the world of people spotting spectacular fireball-like celestial streaks.

What is a meteor shower?

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

How to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Geminids, night-sky gazers can look forward to a full lunar eclipse that will coincide with the winter solstice Dec. 21.

What is a Lunar Eclipse?

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through a point in its orbit when the Earth is directly between it and the sun, and the moon is in the shadow of the Earth.

In the Western Hemisphere, the eclipse will “officially” begin on Dec. 21 at 12:29 a.m. EST (9:29 p.m. PST on Dec. 20). As with the Geminids, the best way to see the eclipse is to hope for clear weather, go outside, and look up. It takes about 45 minutes to notice any changes in the moon’s appearance as the shadow moves slowly across it. The lunar eclipse should be visible in North and South America, the northern and western part of Europe, and a small part of northeast Asia. A complete lunar eclipse won’t happen again in North America until 2014.

Space.com has more great information about the lunar eclipse.


Giving Thanks: Express Gratitude with Crafts, Foods, Fun and Contemplation

Thanksgiving is upon us in the U.S. Even those who routinely feel and express gratitude have a sanctioned reason to pause and do so more profoundly than usual. Gratitude can transform one’s entire experience or outlook. It imbues relationships, observations and activities with awe and fullness and the realization that “this moment” — and our own unique collection of moments — is the best there is.

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The Thanksgiving holiday makes space for us to allow gratitude into our (often busy) lives in new ways and to pass that feeling on to our children. I’m very grateful for many things, including my wonderful and creative blogger friends who have taken the time to contribute their own ideas for gratitude and celebration.

While I love the smells of turkey cooking — in addition to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V. — I also enjoy getting out in nature on Thanksgiving Day.  Frugal Mama shares four make-ahead traditional Thanksgiving recipes that allow you to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, with all the trimmings, as well as some time away from the kitchen.

Pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving and Fall food and, while you can make it from scratch, this recipe using canned pumpkin, is extremely easy and makes a very tasty pie.

You can bake your own crust or use one of the pre-made ones, some of which are getting better and better tasting. Epicurious taste-tested pre-made pie crusts. Among their favorites is one of  mine, Whole Foods 365 Organic Pie Shells. Good Housekeeping also weighs in with their pre-made pie crust taste test.

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From Rhythm of the Home and Vintage Chica comes a beautiful Thankfulness Journal project.  Of course, this well-made felt-covered book would be a wonderful project to make, use and enjoy any time of year.

The same could be said of this equally inspiring and beautiful gratitude banner from Future Craft Collective. It’s fun and lovely in itself and wonderful in the way it allows family members to contemplate and formalize their gratitude.

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Easy and fun thankfulness ornaments come from Unplug Your Kids. Do you remember making salt-dough ornaments and objects? I sure do. This old-school project never goes out of style and the gratitude aspect adds a nice touch.

Shoveling snow? Why not turn it into a fun and magical outdoor activity for you and your kids? That’s what Mel at Your Wild Child did. Her photos are delightful and inspiring, as always.

Bethe, the Grass Stain Guru, shares her own wonderful list of 10 things to be thankful for in nature.

I just had the good fortune to learn about the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA, which explores the science behind happiness and the ways that we can nurture those brain pathways that promote it. According the the folks at Greater Good, happiness can be a learned and practiced trait.

Greater Good also offers a community gratitude journal that allows you to go in and add your own comments about the things that you’re grateful for.

Want more information about cultivating an attitude of gratitude? Arvind Devalia gives us some ideas about embracing what we already have. Thank you to Alison Kerr at Loving Nature’s Garden for her own post about gratitude and for letting me know about this blog.

My own gratitude list includes:
A family that laughs a lot
Good friends
The smell of clean laundry
The air after it rains
Strawberries
Tulips
Clouds
Vintage anything
Old cities
Trains
Tomatoes
Beaches
Hats and gloves
Hopeful new immigrants
Energy
Creativity
Good health
A warm house
Meaningful work
Books and book stores
Holidays
Amusement Parks
County Fairs
Swing music
Colors
Babies
Curlicues
Road trips
A smile from a stranger
Daffodils
Snow-capped mountains
Starry nights
Wonder

..to name a few things

What’s yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Photos: Farm Security Administration, Rick Audet, Bernadette Noll, Susan Sachs Lipman

A Roundup of Halloween and Fall Fun

Everyone seems to be inspired by Fall and by Halloween, which comes at the exact height of the season. There is no shortage of wonderful blog posts and ideas about play, creativity, and celebration of this pivotal and lovely time of the year. I’ve gathered a few:

Fall’s bounty and beauty are explored by Mom in Madison

A roundup of Fall outdoor activities comes from Your Wild Child

Backyard Mama brings us ten ways to enjoy Fall

Make shrunken apple heads with Active Kids Club

Create a Sugar Sprite tradition for Halloween candy with Stephinie on Rhythm of the Home

A wonderful compendium of Halloween herb and food history and lore comes from The Herb Companion

From The Squirrelbasket: Halloween traditions, superstitions, and pumpkin carving

DIYLife weighs in on composting Fall leaves

Shivaya Mama describes experiencing peace and joy through watching children’s delight at jumping in Fall leaves

Have a glorious Halloween and Fall!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman