Category Archives: Things To Do List

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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Trail Names

Meet Cornelius Schwartz. Around here we call him Daddy, Andrew, or Sweetie, but he has also been known to answer to Droodles or Drew. Cornelius Schwartz was the trail name he chose while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail just after college.

Trail names are an Appalachian Trail tradition. On the trail, you leave your old identity behind and reinvent yourself as whoever you want to be. Thru-hikers sometimes pick their own names or default to names chosen by their companions. Sometimes a name will just chose itself, as seems to have been the case with Possum Poop Patty.

Parents often say that they have a hard time getting their kids to go hiking without complaints. A trail name can be a great solution to making a hike seem more like an adventure and adding some fun. Giving them real life examples helps: Turtle, Superfeet, Mountain Laurel, Lightening Bolt, Digger, Mud Puppy, Water Strider, Longshanks. We’ve tried trail names with the kids but nothing has quite stuck yet: Pokey Puppy suits Mr. Big. I tried Avant Garde with Miss M since she always goes out ahead of us, but she didn’t seem to take to it.

Buck Young aka Mat (seen here with section-hiker Sven) was Cornelius’ trail companion, and they were joined for a time by Dan (below) .

Not sure whether Dan had a trail name, but these days he puts up with us calling him as Farmer Dan because you can now find him on the trails between rows of vegetables at his CSA Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. If you’re in the area, stop by, buy some produce, and tease him about his Loverboy do from the 80s.

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All The World’s A Stage

A performance at the Kitsap Forest Theater in Washington State, photo by tomsimages, flickr

There’s something about watching a play or movie outdoors. It’s like a layer of distance between the players and the audience has been removed. And there’s a sense of being part of an ancient tradition: I’ll never forget watching a movie in the Roman Ampitheater in Fiesole, sitting on the same worn stone seats where audiences had watched Euripides 1000 years before. Or taking a punt on a summer evening to watch The Tempest performed by Oxford students on an island the middle of the Thames. But I digress: that was before kids.

In a way, outdoor theater is a perfect solution for kids. If they’re bored or noisy, getting up and leaving isn’t too disruptve, and you may be able to them run around while still being able to see or at least hear the performance. And in many cases, admission is free, which means if you do have to remove a screaming, overtired kid from the premises, at least you haven’t lost out on your investment.

Every summer we try to see at least one performance of the Montford Park Players, who do Shakespeare on weekends for free from early summer to early fall. It’s kind of the opposite of the high-end gourmet atmosphere I was used to going to see concerts at Chastain Park in Atlanta. We usually bring a pizza, still in the box.

While researching 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12! I discovered a lot of great little outdoor theaters. I’ve always wanted to get to the Wolftrap Children’s Theater outside of DC and the Forest Theater in Carmel-By-The Sea. But the there are so many more great little places: the Kitsap Forest Theater on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington (wow, the whole area just looks breathtaking!), Shakespeare by the Sea in various locations in Orange County, CA, and the Muny in St. Louis. These are a little bigger and probably harder to get away from if things go south with the kids, but the novelty of seeing something outdoors might last until intermission. I’m not sure if my kids would stand for it, but one day, I must get to the Pageant of the Masters, held every summer in Laguna Beach.

If plays won’t do, most big cities (and some small towns) offer some sort of open-air cinema in the summer. The screenings aren’t always kid-friendly, but sometimes there will be one per season that is. A quick check around found outdoor film series in: New York, Chicago, Nashville, Little Rock, San Diego, and Minneapolis. Like Silents Under The Stars (held in LA for decades), we used to have open air silent films with musical accompaniment in our downtown park until funding dried up.

And if all else fails, I found a great set of directions for a DIY backyard movie screen.

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Vive la France!

The Bastille Day Waiter's Race in Washington, DC

Over in la belle France, it’s already Bastille Day, the day when the French celebrate le Republique. Being in Paris for Bastille Day has always been on my life list and I got within a few days of it once. Celebrating in any small way can be a good opportunity for kids to learn about French culture, language or history.

Bastille Day Waiter’s Races have become widespread even outside of France, so much so that there’s even an international web site called One of the biggest ones in the US is held in Washington, DC tomorrow, with champagne-carrying waiters storming Pennyslvania Ave. New Orleans is holding its First Annual French Market Waiter’s Race this coming weekend, plus a Bastille Day parade tomorrow.

Alors, the only Bastille Day event we have going on here in Asheville is one we won’t be able to attend, We’ll just have to make croque madams at home!

On the subject of the French Revolution, The Golden Hour is a great kids’ book that introduces kids to some of the real life participants in a very fictional and time travel kind of way. I’m also looking forward to Jennifer Donnelly’s new YA novel Revolution, which won’t be out till October.


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Being Irish and a writer, I can’t help but acknowledge today as one of my favorite literary holidays (are there any others, actually?). On June 16, 1904 Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus wandered the streets of Dublin in the pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the first modern novel. I can’t claim to have ever finished the book (maybe when the kids grow up and my attention span expands again?), but love the tradition that’s grown up around it. Dubliners and Joyceans everywhere dress up in Edwardian clothes and read passages of the book, eat gorgonzola sandwiches and drink burgundy, and celebrate the written word.

We had the opportunity to be in Dublin a few years ago for Bloomsday and it was memorable. Kid-friendly? Not especially, but I think any kid can appreciate grown-ups standing in the street in costumes and making a scene. If you are in one of these areas where events are taking place, it is sure to be worth checking out.

I recently found out that Joyce did write a children’s book The Cat and The Devil. It looks hard-to-find, but maybe in a library. In the meantime, raise a glass for Joyce and the fact that books are still worth celebrating!

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Mermaids on Parade

photo by heartonastick

Having lived in New Orleans and having experienced Mardi Gras for the full season has kind of ruined me for other parades–how can anything else really compare? But I’m not anywhere near ready to take my kids to Mardi Gras. While researching 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12! I discovered some epic parades that seemed equally ‘out there,’ but possibly more kid-friendly. Tops among them is the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which will be held this year on Saturday, June 19.

photo by See Ming Lee

I’m not sure everyone would consider this a kid-friendly happening. The event is billed as an art parade, and reflects all the attendant outrageousness that comes with a lot of creative people really letting loose. That takes the form of a lot of body paint (and sometimes little else) and other bacchanalian attire and behavior. However, lots of kids do come to the parade, many dressed up as well: it’s up to parents to decide what they’re comfortable with. This year, über-cool couple Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are the Queen Mermaid and King Neptune. Man, I would love to see that.

photo by heartonastick

Meanwhile, on a smaller scale, yet no less creative, there’s a mermaid parade that takes place this Friday night, June 11 in Marshall, North Carolina. Marshall is one of those tiny artists’ enclaves that’s still “undiscovered” enough to retain its quirky feed-stores-next-to-artist-studios edge. The 3rd Annual Mermaids in Marshall parade includes rides in an art-car type mermaid carriage, bluegrass music, and a parade to Blannahasset Island (an island in the middle of the French Broad River that’s home to a high-school-turned art-studio-complex).

The only other mermaid parade I could find in the US has taken place in North Webster, Indiana for 65 years. Looks like it’s a complete 360 from the one in Coney Island, with a real small mid-western town feel.

Next month, we’re planning to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine: going to see the Mermaid Show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida. I love its 1950s Old Florida roots and I’m glad it hasn’t been Disney-fied yet. Any other mermaid places to know about?

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