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:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Stairway gates

Do you recognize these stairs?  Note the white gate at the top of each side.  

These stairs figured in a recurring nightmare that tormented me in my childhood.  I was trapped in a staircase that had white gates across the exits. I didn't believe such a stairway really existed. But over 40 years later, in 1992, I encountered them again and took these photos.  

Looking in the display case, I recognized my grandfather's name and picture. He was a supporter of this institution. That gave me the clue of why I'd probably experienced these stairs at a very young age.   

For the full story, read my September column about a Recurring Dream: "Trapped in a gated stairway."   This column was published in print September 18, and posted online 10/7/14.

Here is the full text:

Trapped in a gated stairway
By Sandy Nichols Ward

“Help! Help!  Let me out!” 

I want to scream, but my voice isn’t making a sound. No one is around to hear, anyway. I‘m alone on a staircase, going up and down, seeking a way to escape. I’m in a hurry, rushing with an anxious urgency, but my body feels slow, sluggish. Climbing to the top of the stairs is hard work, and when I get there, a gate blocks my way. I can’t open it.  I can’t crawl through it. I try to climb over it, but that is too hard. I turn and go back down the stairs, only to encounter another set of stairs that goes up, and another gate at the end.  This is frustrating, maddening. I panic and scramble up and down, frantically seeking a way out of this maze of stairs and gates. There is no way out.

During my childhood in Danvers this dream recurred frequently – always the same stairs, wooden stairs with white spindles (balusters) along the side supporting the railing, white wooden gates blocking the ends. I could see out into a big room or space beyond, but not get there. My rational mind, when awake, rejected this image. Staircases aren’t build that way; they never have locked gates at the top or bottom, I told myself. My mother said that on a tour of the House of Seven Gables, when I was three or younger, I had panicked inside a dark narrow stairway hidden behind a fireplace. I have no memory of that, nor is it relevant to this white, spacious stairway of my recurring nightmare. Eventually, as I grew older, this bad dream ceased. I don’t know when it stopped or why, but eventually I forgot about it. 

Forty years, or more, passed. Unexpectedly, suddenly, in October 1992, I again came under the spell of that awful nightmare.  Anxiety and dread swept over me. I experienced a visceral feeling of foreboding. My body froze in place, unable to take a step forward. I wasn’t dreaming. I was fully awake, walking from one room to another on the second floor of an old building in Salem. I had driven that morning from my job in western Massachusetts to attend a workshop taught by an Essex Institute librarian; during a break in the workshop, we wandered upstairs to view historic displays and exhibits. I’d often heard my family speak of the Essex Institute, so I was curious to see the place. I had recently moved back to New England after 21 years in California. I was enjoying this workshop and happy to have time to look around.  In that relaxed state of mind, I turned a corner to enter a large exhibit hall. 

Fear gripped me. An invisible force field held me back. I could not walk into that room. I stood stunned, tears in my eyes, staring at the far end of the room. THAT staircase! Gates at the top, white spindles along the sides, a double staircase going up to mezzanines left and right – EXACTLY as in my childhood nightmare. How could that be possible? Trembling, I backed out and returned the way I had come.  I took my place again in the workshop downstairs and tried to resume taking notes, but I was shaking all over. My mind was reeling. What had just happened?  

As the workshop proceeded, I calmed down. I resolved to confront that staircase. After the workshop, I walked with determination and confidence towards that grand exhibit hall. This time I had no problem entering the space. I crossed the hall and examined the staircase. I was able to climb up and down the double staircase without any fear. 

At the bottom of those stairs was a display case with a photo of William Stanley Nichols, my grandfather, an active supporter of the Essex Institute. Of course I must have come to this building with him, probably when I was very little, so young that I lack conscious memories of it.  Perhaps he let me play on the staircase or explore the mezzanines while he talked with people below. Perhaps he almost forgot me there once, or maybe I was so preoccupied in play that I ignored his request to leave. Perhaps, to get my attention, he feigned leaving without me?  Granddaddy was a kind gentleman, a retired minister, so I doubt that he actually threatened to leave me there. But I can imagine that if the place were about to close, lights were being flicked off and he happened to be out of my sight, I might have panicked about abandonment, thus providing fodder for my childhood nightmares. I was delighted to discover, at age 49, the source of that old nightmare and to put it to rest.