Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gingko trees

These bright yellow ginkgo leaves caught my attention yesterday near my home in western Massachusetts.

I recently enjoyed an illustrated talk about the history of the ginkgo tree by renowned botanist Peter Crane, Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, and former director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. He has written a book,  Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot.  I attended his talk because I was curious to learn whether a story I'd heard in my childhood contained truth or not.

A large ginkgo tree grew near our home in Danvers. I liked its fan-shaped leaves, which were unlike those of any other tree.  Its name was also unusual: "gink-go."  I never had trouble remembering the distinctive name of this tree with such distinctive leaves.

My mother said we were lucky to have only one ginkgo tree. With multiple trees we might have to contend with stinky fruit. She said it was important not to have male and female ginkgo trees in the same neighborhood. Then there would be fruit. Huh?  I couldn't quite believe her. That idea was just too strange. As far as I knew, trees were not male or female. (But I kept my thoughts to myself.)

Dr. Crane confirmed that there are male trees and female trees, and the ginkgo fruit has an unpleasant smell. My mother was right. Ginkgos are unique trees, unrelated to any other trees living today. They have a very long history, and many examples have been found in fossil records around the world.

Personally, ginkgo leaves are special to me for another reason. Beautiful yellow ginkgo leaves have been selected by my daughter in northern California as a backdrop for many photographs of her children, starting with this one of her first child at age one week:

I'll fly to California this week to join him for his 9th birthday.  Perhaps we'll play together in the ginkgo leaves.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cardboard creations

My daughter posted this old photo on her Facebook page this weekend in honor of the Global Cardboard Challenge. (See my previous blog entry).

Note the large cardboard house that she and her friends played with that summer of her 9th birthday.

She also posted some photos of her children and others creating with cardboard this weekend at the Children's Museum of Sonoma County (California) as part of the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Three generations (at least) of making cardboard play structures...

and having fun playing with the creations.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Making things

This week I've written a column, Creating memories with cardboard, recalling various creative projects including spaceships my sister and I used to build from cardboard boxes. We had fun adding knobs and levers and then taking imaginary trips from our base in that Danvers kitchen.

Making things from scratch – from freely available raw materials (found items, discards, recyclables) – is satisfying, especially if the resulting creation is useful, beautiful, or fun to play with. Sometimes the greatest joy is the making process, regardless of outcome. Creative concentration and hands-on crafting eclipses any other thoughts or worries we might have had on our minds.

You may have heard about "Makerspaces" or the "Maker revolution."  Some years ago my husband Ken subscribed to a little magazine called MAKE, devoted to do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. I enjoyed browsing through the issues and learning about fun and crazy projects that people could do at home, or in a garage, or in community "makerspaces" equipped with fancier tools. I learned about tool-lending libraries and other ways that experienced makers help beginners.

On September 21 Ken and I attended the “World Maker Faire” hosted at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY.  Called the "Greatest Show and Tell on Earth," this annual family-friendly festival invites the public to come make and play. I saw hundreds of examples of handmade toys and tools, mostly made from recycled materials. Young children and whole families were actively engaged in making things. Wooden blocks became cars that raced down a ramp. Cardboard tubes were decorated and taped at the top end to make paper rockets that were then propelled high in the sky by a blast of compressed air. Pots and pans hanging from trees became gongs and drums. Adults – including myself and my husband – became childlike again as we explored and played. Smiles and laughter filled the day.

Meanwhile my daughter in California is training to be a coach in Odyssey of the Mind, a movement which teaches creative problem solving to students. She also informed me that this Saturday October 11 is designated as a "Global Day of Play," culminating a month-long Cardboard Challenge, inviting teams of children to create games and structures from cardboard. The public is invited to come play on October 11.  For more information, see

For inspiration, watch this short video of an impressive arcade all built from cardboard by a 9-yr-old: