“If you live to be a hundred,
I want to live to be a hundred minus one day
so I never have to live without you.”
I am so very happy to (finally!) announce that Perigee Books/Penguin will be publishing….
a BOOK written and illustrated by ME
in APRIL of 2014!
My upcoming book is filled with projects that inspire you to touch, collect, document, sketch, decode, analyze, experiment, unravel, interpret, compare and reflect on the universe. It is a funky hands-on guidebook for today’s pioneer—that person looking to explore the natural world and decipher nature’s perplexing puzzles. The amateur explorer and the seasoned naturalist will be equally impelled to experiment and explore, and to consciously reengage in issues that matter. The book kindles excitement in nature as a journey and an adventure. It instills an old-fashioned sense of enthusiasm and independence. Rooted deeply in everyday family life, it merges applied science, natural science, math, the arts and sustainable living in an interactive format. How does a compass work? Do frogs freeze in winter? Why is rain not salty? How is a cork made? Or silk? Or chalk? Or pages in a book? Often it’s the things we see every day that get overlooked. You will find the answers in this book. In my book. And it will be awesome.
It will be a great collaboration. It will be a great story. And the story is this: to build lasting connections with our environment, we must determine the nature—the intrinsic value and realness—of everyday things—everything thought, felt, touched and eaten. We must understand where things come from—how they are made, how they are used, how they impact the surrounding environment throughout a life cycle—and it starts with this book.
And this book will be here April of 2014.
And it will be awesome.
Stay tuned. There are a few things I cannot tell you—the book’s title will remain a secret for now. But, if you have thoughts about what should be included in the book, please let me know. I will put in the finishing touches these next few months. I would love your input. I would love for you to join me on this adventure.
Thank you for being patient with me lately. I know I have not been around as much. I promise to keep you in the loop from now on.
I am so super excited.
It’s a curious thing, winter. All year long we plan our snowman, paper snowflake and snow fort designs, then weather-strip the windows, stack the wood, wax the toboggan, varnish the snowshoes, prime the hot tub, knit a jazzy collection of sleeping caps, and await the slightest sign of it. The first season’s snow is welcomed with heartfelt cheers (unless it occurs during October like the past few years here in the Northeast. Rrrggh!) and nimble steps. The entire family springs into action—equipped within seconds to fight the freeze.
But winter wears out its welcome superfast. The second time the snow falls, happiness at getting snowy may not be quite as enormous as that very first episode. The third time it snows, hurrahs are tempered and the steps are deliberately slower—a prized mitten has been lost, the hot cocoa tin is empty. And by the tenth time, the happiness may be significantly less enormous, until snow begins to offer very little happiness at all, and instead evokes prickling memories of funky wet socks and a bone-penetrating chill.
It’s at this point that alternatives to getting snowy are considered. Energy turns to indoor stuff—the obstacle course, the scavenger hunt, the indoor tent, the box fort—that keep small people busy. Creativity is at its prime—marble mazes, body scrubs, oobleck, felted soap, salt dough, finger puppets, swittens, flipbooks, homemade snow cones—if there’s anything as magnificent as a picnic in a sofa tent in winter, well, I don’t believe you. Unless your posse is not getting along. Then, there is nothing as terrible.
I know this much is true. In the winter, there are days that require getting as far away from the house as possible. If you live within the Hudson Valley like me and you’ve found yourself in a pickle, there are neat places to go—local places that are kid-friendly during those tricky wintery-mix days. Here are just a few:
Spanning 250 acres of Bronx Park, NYBG is home to an amazing collection of cozy indoor greenhouses. Don’t miss the Holiday Train Show (ending January 13th) or the upcoming Tropical Paradise exhibit (January 19th through February 24th) at the Haupt Conservatory.
The largest museum in Westchester County, the HRM complex includes six art galleries, a planetarium and weekend family science programs. Don’t miss the evening planetarium shows or the current exhibition of award-winning children’s book illustrator Jerry Pinkney (ending January 13th).
A visit the busiest train station in the country can perk up the entire family. Grand Central celebrates its 100th birthday in 2013—honor it with a visit, a slice from Two Boots and an over-the-top chocolate babka from Zaro’s bakery. Now, that’s a party!
Show off your inner Michelle Kwan during one of Bear Mountain’s public skating sessions. Rent skates or bring your own for hours of walley jumps and one-foot axels— dramatic crimson red sparkly dress bedazzled with feathered flames is optional. If weather permits, follow up with a post-skate cool down at the nearby trailside museum.
Winter is prime-time viewing season for cold-weather animals. Siberian tigers, sea lions, snow leopards and polar bears consider winter weather ideal. Warm up afterward with hot cocoa at the Dancing Crane Café.
This magical gem situated in the midst of an evergreen forest has 10 to 12 beautifully curated exhibitions each year. Its children’s activity center allows space for budding young artists to explore and create their own work. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the Katonah train station—the perfect day trip. Don’t miss the current exhibit on 3D animation featuring original drawings, storyboards, props and movie clips from Blue Sky Studios (ending January 20th).
There is nothing sudden.
Everything is slow.
We stretch like taffy.
And then you’re gone.
So silent I hear just your footsteps.
Dragging around my heart.
Letting handlebars go.
Flying off stonewalls.
Meeting people I may never know.
I am the red balloon.
I made this.
I made this moment.
I am the queen of small wild girls.
Held by just a string.
If you are a livestock farmer, much of your day is spent fixing barns and pens and flat tires, unloading feed trucks, and moving livestock from one pasture to another. If you are a high-rise maintenance worker, your workday starts as you rappel down 20 stories to wash away window goop in bone-numbing cold and unpredictable wind. If you are a high altitude alpine guide, a typical day includes repairing a broken climbing harness, carrying 40 pounds of gear up a ravine, cooking Mexican refried beans over a small pellet stove, and restringing your ukulele. If you are a kid, your job is to play.
Childhood is a short season. There is just this small pocket of time when a person alone in a room can be easily lured into designing an escape tunnel for some kind of top secret mission to protect innocent from evil—to criss-cross the globe and actively battle, risking it all, for the betterment of humankind (or doll-kind, or stuffed animal-kind). Given a collection of plastic crates, large empty cardboard boxes, an old telephone, a map, buttons, phone books, fabric scraps, fake train tickets and postcards, my small girls can easily overcome impossible odds to obtain godlike Supergirl powers and defeat massive magical beasts. In just an hour.
But, adventures can get messy. And oftentimes during this frantic hour or so the entire fabric bin is overturned, fuzzy scraps are transported into the bathroom sink, the bottle of buttons rolls under the dining table and its contents mingle with last night’s fossilized cornbread bits and a discarded grime-encrusted strawberry, giant cardboard boxes are dismantled and transformed into slides with detachable cat-sized dirigibles, awkward costumes wind up on innocent furry passersby, and permanent cap-less Sharpies magically appear and threaten to deface the sofa.
I cannot pretend that this does not sometimes bother me.
Sometimes, just sometimes, when I am without much time or patience (which lately seems to be fairly often), things are better when they are completely flat—not things like baby bellies, tires, or lakes without wind—but things that are held in small busy hands.
My two girls make small flat things they call Paper Pets. They never got fully into the doll thing, but these paper critters are really just like paper dolls and, in fact, they have very similar accessories, but without the bling. These flat friends have beds, brushes, bows, collars and treats—and they are perfect for that quiet rainy afternoon when we have just an hour to pop them out and then tuck them away nicely. For a long time, we kept them secured in an old manila folder, but just the other day we upgraded their home and then moved them in.
To complete this simple project, you will need the following:
An old hardcover book (8 x 10 in or larger, 300+ pp)
Mod Podge or watery glue (1 part glue to 2 parts water)
This requires an old hardcover book. Choose it wisely. Do not choose a book that your great aunt gave you for high school graduation. Do not choose a handwritten copy of J.K. Rowling’s “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or an 1827 copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America.” Do not choose a book that looks even slightly interesting, or one that you plan to someday reread. You will not ever get to read this book again.
Open the book to the first page (or flyleaf). Draw a line one inch from each edge of the first page (including the spine)—this will determine the interior dimensions of the box. With the ruler as a guide, carefully cut along each line with a utility knife. Apply enough pressure to cut several pages at a time. After you cut through a large section of pages, you may need to turn these back to get farther along in the book. Leave at least a few of the book’s last pages as a box “bottom.” Again, open the book to the first page and inspect the cut edges. Clean up all bits and pieces and rough edges with the utility knife.
With Mod Podge and brush, generously paint all book pages that follow the box “bottom” so they will stick together. Make a cup of tea. Close the book and sit on it for a few minutes to flatten. Drink your tea. Clip out a photo or magazine print to use as a decorative box bottom—use Mod Podge to seal. Paint the book’s inside edges with Mod Podge, leaving the book’s exterior unpainted. Allow it to soak in and then apply a second coat. Paint all surfaces inside the box.
Place a generous layer of plastic wrap inside the box. Fill the box with a small book. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the small book. Close the book. Allow it to dry overnight underneath something heavy.
Remove the plastic wrap. Check to be sure the book is dry. Fill it with flat friends or small special somethings like a collection of heart-shaped rocks or worm-like twigs, or secret plans for potential scientific inventions. Lucky us, we found our Vol 1 and Vol 2 within a slipcase. We transformed both volumes into paper pet book boxes and then painted the entire slipcase—first with a layer of gesso to provide some texture, then with a few fancy layers of acrylic paint. Alternatively, decorate the actual book cover. Or leave it unadorned and mysterious.
A magical box can be your new best friend—it allows time for smallish people to become quietly immersed in little things. It promotes stillness. And it is this stillness that helps provide focus during times of clutter and chaos. Which, at our house, is most of the time.
The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big. I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez! Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.
Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto. It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.
Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato. I feel it. Now it is here. The time of change. The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns. Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.
Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness. This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday. If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing. And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors. Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.
Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:
I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting. So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.
Hatching artful diversions
While we watch dazed
The bullet catch
The cabinet escape
The elastic lady
Seamless 5-ball cascade juggling
We stare mouths open
My firecracker friend Jenny is magical like this.
And now for the next trick!
I am so blown away.
She has written it all down.
Voila! It’s HERE!
To determine native species in your area, ask a smart friend, or visit the Native Plant Database. My family and I live in the Northeastern U.S., and our seed bombs include (among other seeds) eastern red columbine, red milkweed, butterfly weed, New England aster, joe pye weed, lanceleaf coreopsis, blazing star, wild bergamot, sweet coneflower and rigid goldenrod. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. As mentioned previously, choose seeds wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive species that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native critters like butterflies and birds.
If you have dreams of a yard-ful of annuals, perennials and veggies, yet have the horrible misfortune of heavy clay soil (I can relate), today you are in luck. There is little need for clay amendment in your seed bomb recipe. Just head to your backyard and collect some clay soil. If your soil is sandy or loamy, however, you must add natural clay (often found in natural stream banks), terracotta clay powder or air-dry clay (found in art supply or health food stores).
Like making a mudpie, making a seed bomb is not an exact science. Use the below recipe as a guide, but your measurements needn’t be exact.
3 parts clay (see note above)
3 parts dry organic compost or worm castings
1 part small native perennial seed
1 to 2 parts water (added by the Tbs)
The mixture should be moist, but not wet. Knead it with your hands, being sure to incorporate all seeds. Roll it into 1 to 2 inch balls. Set them on newspaper to dry for 2 days before using, or store on a sunny windowsill before throwing over a fence. Your seed bombs are ready to wreak havoc on green wastelands. Just throw and they will grow. Rich in nutrients, the clay and compost aid in germination and help strengthen plant root systems.
Now, Joanie or Johnny Appleseed, plant something already!
It’s time for unlawful mischief. It is time to plan swift small-scale attacks and organize aggressive mini mobile units to exhaust opposing forces. It’s time to take back orphaned land all but forgotten. To arm yourself with trowel, seeds, bulbs, saplings, and a vision of verdant green. It’s time to plant everywhere. Anywhere.
Fare-the-well sterile orphaned lots with rubble and rubbish—vacant unloved spots thrust between broken buildings and wildness! It’s time to whisper plans to each other—to break ground and work silently, stealthily—to race home and dance with heart exposed and arms in the sky. We will win! We will win!
Guerilla Gardening. Unbeknownst to you perhaps, this (slightly) unlawful silent underground movement—the unauthorized cultivation of plants on otherwise neglected public or private land in response to dwindling green space—is cropping up all around us. The idea is to reclaim green space, regardless of who actually owns it. Technically, guerilla gardening is illegal. You must accept the fact that some might view seedbombing as vandalism, just performed with plants instead of spray paint, rocks, matches or eggs. One part beautification, one part eco-activism, guerilla gardening is a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts—free-range planters on a mission.
But, it’s more than just planting. It’s putting green where it’s not expected—putting something common in an unusual place or something uncommon in a usual place—surprising people and making them re-evaluate their position in the natural world.
Never underestimate the power of a plant.
Before grabbing your spade (Holy moly! I can’t wait!), ask yourself the following:
Where Do I Plant?
If not working alone, you should meet with your trusty gardening team (mine has small, steady hands) and do some research. Look around you and consider a few unloved orphan spots close to home—empty pots or concrete planters, abandoned public gardens, vacant car parks—even a gap in pavement can serve as a modest blank canvas. Now, let’s be clear. I don’t advocate tossing seeds or planting plants in your neighbor’s weedy flowerbed, and you don’t need to plant a farm or a community garden. Just one plant will do for now. You do need a sunny spot and good soil. You may consider planting at first in a portable pot. Placed near a street sign or next to the barber’s door, this may be the ideal start to a career of gardening with intention. Of course, you should sneak by to water it every so often, or leave with it a kind sign: I’m yours. Water Me Please.
What Should I Plant?
If possible, find a generous gardening friend with a good plant or seed selection. Otherwise, purchase species from a local plant or seed supplier. Often, native wildflower seed mixes are available. Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care. Choose perennial species wisely. You certainly do not want to select invasive perennials that will threaten biodiversity. Consider species that create habitats for other native species like butterflies and birds. For a list of recommended native species in your area, visit the Native Plant Database.
The following are your planting options:
Native Bulbs: Usually planted in the fall, these miraculous little storehouses are simple to plant and bring a spring surprise.
Native Plants, Shrubs and Trees: Just pop in a plant. Choose hardy, preferably perennial native plants that are easy to maintain.
Annual Plants with Big “Wow” Factor: Choose plants that will catch someone’s eye—plants with a powerful punch.
Classic Clay Seed Bombs: These little fistfuls of compacted clay, compost and native perennial wildflower seed break down over time and eventually plants sprout in place of dirt, weeds and invasive species. Seed bombs are used to surreptitiously improve areas that a guerillero is unable to reach. Locked vacant lots or roadside embankments—all are promising native plant nurseries. Keep in mind that seed germination is highly dependent on water. Keep track of the weather. Scatter the seed bombs on the ground—over a fence onto an empty lot—right before an early spring rainy spell to ensure germination.
Please send me your before and after photos–I’d love to see.
Now, go forth and garden!
When I am an old woman, thin white crazy hair like whispers, I will wear electric green. Today I walk in the woods—your smallish calloused hand in mine. You say someday you’ll live here. In a cave. I will visit you and bring berries.
Long before you were here, we ran wild deep into the trees, and cut willow whips and made critter traps with pocketknives and hatchets. We skateboarded home, poison ivy all up our arms, tadpoles in hand, helmet-less. We piled into old 8-track tape rust wagons, small brown limbs and inner tubes everywhere, no seatbelts, no sunscreen. Heads out of windows like pups licking air.
You are amazed.
But we did not crash. We did not die.
Don’t use your teeth, you will crack them, I say. Wash your hands. Don’t fall. Don’t throw rocks. Zip up. Watch your thumb. Check for ticks. Don’t poke your eye out.
Today we laugh, you say, mouths open wide. Today we climb the highest tree, higher than any squirrel, and lean our bare backs against the bark. And listen for waxwings. Way up there. Today and tomorrow we do not care.
You say great ideas come from great walks.
And just like that you have changed me.