Monthly Archives: August 2010

Wishing Trees

The Wishing Tree of Argyll, Scotland

Mr. Big and I were talking about wishes today and he was feeling a little disappointed (hearing a three-year-old say “wishes don’t come true” is about the saddest thing you’ve ever heard). It’s hard when you are wishing for full-sized pet sharks or real dinosaurs and you don’t get them–I guess it can really shake your faith.

All that talk about wishes reminded me of a story I read last year about “wishing trees” in Hong Kong where write their wishes on paper tags and hang them on the tree’s limbs. There’s a similar tradition in several Asian countries and in the British Isles and Ireland, people drive coins into wishing trees to leave their wishes.

Close up, surface of English wishing tree

Yoko Ono's Wish Tree Project

As part of her “Imagine Peace” project, Yoko Ono also has a traveling “wish tree” which can now be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and will continue to travel around the country.

Because of the ephemeral nature of paper (and wishes), there don’t seem to be that many permanent wising trees to visit in North America, but I did find this one in Ontario. Much easier to find are shoe trees–more on that subject later!

A temporary wishing tree at the Glastonbury Festival in England


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The Perseids are Coming!

Photo: by Johnny Westlake for NASA

There are very few things in life that are worth waking sleeping children for. A really cheap plane ticket is one. The perseids meteor showers are another. We’re just days away from peak perseid viewing, which experts say happens after midnight and before dawn this Thursday, August 12. If the skies are clear where you are, astronomers are predicting a great show this year since Thursday will be a moonless night. Expect 60 to 100 shooting stars per hour!

So where can you see perseids? You might try a dark sky preserve–a place that’s intentionally protected from light pollution in order to help astronomers (amateurs and pros alike) better view the night sky. A couple of notable dark sky preserves include the Lake Hudson area in Michigan, the Elk Island National Park in Alberta, and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Wildcat Mountain State Park in Wisconsin.

But don’t fear. If you don’t live near one of these places, just drive a good ways out of your town/city (if you can) and look toward the northeast. During the peak, you should be able to see a shooting star every couple of minutes. And if you live in the city and can’t get away, just get to the darkest spot you can!

Elqui Domos, an "astro lodge" in Chile

On my trip-of-a-lifetime wanderlist, I’d love to go to this ‘astro lodge‘  in Chile. Its web site says that its only one of seven “astronomical hotels” in the world. Each of the seven “rooms” are actually furnished geodesic domes and the hotel offers nighttime hoseback riding and astronomical tours all focused on taking in the area’s “sky wealth.” I’m not sure if that’s just Spanish translation issue or just a poetic turn of phrase, but it sounds beautiful!

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Remembering Sadako

Sadako Peace Park in Seattle

August 6 marks the 65th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. On that day, two-year-old Sadako Sasaki and her family survived, but 10 years later she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia due to exposure to radiation. In her final months, Sadako folded origami paper cranes with the goal of reaching 1,000 (there was a Japanese legend that if you reached 1,000, your wish would be granted). Sadako’s wish: world peace.

Sadako never reached that goal: she died at age 12 in 1955. But after her death, her school friends carried on with her quest, and eventually were able to raise support to build a peace memorial in her honor in Hiroshima.

Senzaburu: chains of paper cranes

Today, children from around the world send folded paper cranes to the memorial and to members of the 1000 Crane Club at Hiroshima International School. The club members place them at the memorial. There’s also a Sadako Peace Park in Seattle. Communities all over have created parks and “gardens for peace” (click here and here for a map and list). I was excited to see that a group in Atlanta [my hometown] a group put together a downloadable map of all the peace gardens and monuments in town: you can download the Atlanta Peace Trails map here).

A member of the 1000 Crane Club placing chains of cranes at the Hirocshima Children's Peace Memorial

I don’t know if we’ll ever get to visit one of Sadako’s parks, but last year we decided to make a peace garden of our own in the backyard. A peace garden could include anything, but I always liked the symbolism of the peace pole, so we made one. You can find instructions on making your own peace pole here, as well as templates with “may peace prevail” written in a dozen languages.

Sadako and the Paper Cranes is an great book to introduce kids to Sadako’s story. It’s really inspiring for them to know that kids can have an impact. The World Peace Prayer Society also has a web site with stories from around the world about people, instructions about doing a peace pole project, and a link to the Peace Pals project for kids.

So, today we’ll make some paper cranes (instructions here) and remember Sadako and her do what we can to make her wish come true.

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One World, Two Books, Two Charlottes

I love discovering what others are doing to encourage in kids a sense of wonder at and responsibility toward our planet. Two friends (both named Charlotte!) have recently come out with two very different books which do just that in unique and wonderful ways.

Charlotte Blessing’s New Old Shoes (Pleasant Street, 2009) is a sweet, but powerful picture book (ages 3 to 9) told from the point of view of a pair of bright red Keds. Think modern-day, global Velveteen Rabbit: the shoes go from brand new and loved to discarded and heaped with literally tons of other cast-off shoes from the US that are shipped to Africa. The shoes find new children there to share adventures with until they reach the end of their utility and an unexpected happy ending.

Blessing got the inspiration for the story while browsing the mitumba markets (secondhand clothing markets) in Kenya to shop for clothes for her growing kids (she lived there and in Tanzania for over a decade running a study abroad program). The family now lives in Colorado.

New Old Shoes opens kids’ eyes, getting them to think about reusing, recycling, and the conditions of kids in other countries in a really positive and beautiful way. There’s also information in the back about how to donate shoes to a great group called Soles4Souls.

For older kids (ages 7 to 11), Charlotte Purein’s Avatars of Gaia promotes environmental awareness through a rollicking adventure story that takes an intrepid team of kids on a quest to save the planet from the evil King Littermoore. Avatars of Gaia manages to recreate in a book those video game conventions that kids love: there’s a sense of urgency and purpose, an imminent threat from toxic gooz emanating from the king’s Hazard Hollow and the mutant Deformo Frogs that live there. The characters are well drawn and great funny names like Free Bird and Kinkajou, and the manga-style drawings help bring to life the amazing creatures that inhabit the avatars’ world: the Munchimonster, Sneezer Wheaters, Princess L’Muriel (a human who morphed into a butterfly) and the Babushka Tree, among others.

Purein, aka Professor Heart (anagram for Earth) used to work in the film industry, and the book has all the action, adventure, and fun of an episode of Bakugan, but with a much more important message.

Two books, two Charlottes, two ways to open kids minds and eyes.

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The 101st Place Giveaway!

In honor of reaching by 1000th page view, I’m having my first contest! In 101 Place You Gotta See Before You’re 12!, the 101st entry is “a really cool place you discover all on your own.”

Send us your family’s really cool place that you discovered all on your own and our team of judges (Ms. M and friends) will pick the one they think is the coolest.

The winner gets the whole 101 series, signed, sealed, and delivered!

To enter, just send a comment with a description of or a link to the cool place you discovered! We’ll announce the winner on Saturday!

UPDATE: Thanks to all the entries in our first contest! We’ll do another one next month. We’re big fans of sea turtles around here, so Shauna’s entry won us over. Please check back for more book giveaways!


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Wanderous Strange

Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, photo by sashafatcat, flickr

I have a thing for eccentrics, outsiders, oddballs, etc. There’s something very brave about taking your own peculiar vision of the world and putting it out there for all to see. I included folk art environments in 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! because I think it’s great for kids to see people who follow their creative bliss, whatever that may be, and because so often, folk art environments are created from stuff that others consider to be junk (a great lesson in reusing, and recycling!).

Sculpture at the late Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in Georgia

While writing for my undergrad college newspaper, I took a trip up to see renowned folk artist/preacher Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in teeny, tiny Summerville/Pennville, Georgia and was lucky enough to interview Finster himself. That sort of started my ongoing interest, and while researching the book, I found out about places like the Watts Towers (see Bonnie Boatwright’s post on her visit there), Orange Show in Houston and the Land of Evermor in Baraboo, Wisconsin (Travels with Children has a great post of a family visit there, with great pics). On a sidenote, Wisconsin–hands down–appears to the have the highest concentration of creative eccentrics in the US: does anyone have an explanation for that?

Recently, I came across Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, the creation of Isaiah Zager, who started the project as a way to revitalize his South Philadelphia neighborhood. It’s now operated as a nonprofit with frequent workshops and events, including mosaic-making classes for kids. There’s also Tyree Guyton’s recent and growing Heidelberg Project in Detroit, which is transforming a run-down street into an art project (named after the street). (On another sidenote: Detroit seems to be the place for a lot of cutting-edge stuff going on these days).

House, part of the Heidelberg Project, Detroit

One of my favorite writers for children E.L Koningsburg has a book that explores the idea of outsider artists: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. It’s about a girl who comes to the defense of her eccentric uncles who have built a series of junk art clock towers in their backyard, much to the chagrin of the neighbors.

If you’re interested in folk art or outsider art places, there are a few great sites you have to see, starting with Detour Art, UCM Museum, Insiders Out, Interesting Ideas, and Narrow Larry, who has a map of folk art environments in the US.

And speaking of maps, I just found the most incredible site for odd or unusual places: Atlas Obscura. I could spend days there. I already knew about a lot of the places, but there are some that I’m sure will factor into future travels. Also by part of the same team is Curious Expeditions. One of the most recent posts is about insect art. What kids doesn’t love that?

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