The Teacher is Talking: The Longest Day

By Leslie Lindsay

The Summer Solstice

If you have been awaiting the first day of summer as my children have, then you’re in luck: the longest day of the year is tomorrow, Wednesday June 20th at 7:09pm EST.  The idea of “when summer begins” has been a question at my house for awhile now.  And the answer isn’t as clear as you’d think.

One daughter thought it was summer back in March when the temperatures in suburban Chicago reached an all-time high of near 85 degrees.  No doubt it felt like summer, but it wasn’t.  Oh, no…just early spring. 

Another daughter–precocious that she is–told me that Memorial Day is the “kick-off” to summer.  And she would be pretty darn close to right.  Does summer begin when we flip the calendar to June?  Well, yes and no…at least we can don our white clothing.

Still yet, I was holding out to call it “summer” when school was officially out for the year–early June, neverminding the fact that preschool ended a full two weeks before elementary school. 

See the confusion? 

And then there is the discussion about when summer really begins.  Alas, that is tomorrow as we in the northern hemisphere celebrate the summer solstice–or the longest day of the year, sunlight-wise.

What will you do to celebrate the summer?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Let the kids stay up later than usual and catch fireflies and seek out honeysuckle bushes
  • Have a firepit moment, complete with s’mores and camp songs/stories Product Details (image retrieved from 6.19.12)Product Details 
  • Get those cool photo-sensitive papers that allow one to collect natural objects like leaves, rocks, insect wings, and flowers to create designs by leaving impressions made by the sun. 
  • Paint a picture of a sunflower.  Use a real sunflower you get from your local farmer’s market as a model.  It’s fun to see what interpretations/spin/creative license your child puts on it.  Talk about how sunflowers slowly turn to face the sun all day long…
  • Have a family backyard camp out–if you’re brave and can stand sleeping in close quarters with your (potentially) rambunctious kiddos. 

For more information on teaching your children about the summer solstice or arts/crafts activties related to the summer solstice, see these sites:

From the Farmer’s Almanac, on-line edition,

From Family Fun magazine,

Care2Make a Difference gives some tips for summer crafts for kids,

For information on how Scandinavians celebrate the Summer Solstice, see this link from the Washington Times

From LiveScience

The Teacher is Talking: The Longest Day

By Leslie Lindsay Product Details(image retrieved 6.5.12 from

I came across this book, The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Linda Bleck.  I presented it to my daughters about two years ago as the longest day of the year rolled around.  At the time, they were probably a bit too young to really understand and appreciate the book, but today–at 5 and 7 years old–they curled up next to me as I read from the colorful pages.

And now that most kids are out of school for the summer, it may just be a good time to introduce the reason why we have summer in the first place.  And that is just what the “teacher” will be talking about here on Practical Parenting…with a Twist for the next couple of weeks.

  • The official first day of summer this year is Wednesday, June 20th.  That is, the northern half of the earth tilts toward the sun and so it gets more sunshine than the southern half (that’s why it’s summer in the U.S. and most all of Europe, Africa, and S. America but winter in Austraila)
  • Summer is important:  warm sunshine and extra daylight makes a perfect time to grow the food we all eat all year long.
  • 5,000 years ago, in England “mystery builders” constructed Stonehenge out of huge bluestones and sandstones–bigger than a school bus and heavier than 8 elephants–to create a sort of sundial.  In some cases, the rocks were hauled over a hundred miles to the location where Stonehenge was built using ramps, ropes, and rollers.  But why?!  No one really knows…but they do suspect is all had to do with celebrating the sun.
  • Here’s a tidbit new to me:  America has it’s own version of Stonehenge.  It’s called “Mystery Hill” and is nestled in the woods of New Hamshire.  While Stonehenge is neatly arranged with precision, Mystery Hill is a jumble of stones, many of which are etched with ancient inscriptions.  Perhaps it was built by an ancient civilization?  On the summer solstice, visitors flock to Mystery Hill to watch the sun rise over Sunrise Stone, commemerating the year’s longest day.
  • Yet, in Wyoming, thousands of folks hike up “Medicine Mountain” to see the Bighorn Medicine Wheel.  Scientists and archaeologists believe the Plains Indians cinbstructed this 80-foot wide circle out of rocks between 200-800 years ago.  Twenty-eight spokes radiate out of a central hub.  One spoke points to the summer solstice sunrise, and the other to the summer solstice sunset.  
    Next week, on The Teacher is Talking, we’ll share some more myths and celebrations of the summer solstice around the world.  For now, go out and enjoy some sunshine!

Terrificial Trees: Tree Sitting Woman

By Leslie Lindsay

This is the last day of “Terrifical Trees,” a series devoted to Earth Day/Arbor Day and the magnificent tree.  (We’ll be moving into the Mother’s Day series next Friday and continue through the month of May).

Flipping through a semi-recent issue of The Sun, I came across a story I just had to share:  it was about a woman who felt so strongly about the redwood forests that she volunteerily climbed into a tree and lived there for two years!!  Seems the lumber industry wanted to chop the tree down.  If someone was living in the tree–and refusing to come out–it was nearly impossible to cut the thing down.  A little bold, huh?

Well, according to Julia ‘Butterfly’ Hill the 30-something vegan who sat in the tree–affectionately referred to as ‘Luna’–for 738 days (yes, I remembered that number because it was a childhood street address), it was all out of love.  She didn’t intend to sit in the tree for that long, however.  She recalls that it was intended to be a two-week tree sit.  Well…two days, two weeks, two years…whatever the case, they all seem too long.  She shares that she had just a sleeping bag, a few blanets and tarps to keep safe from the elements…interestingly, she climbed up into that tree in December.  I am a midwestern girl and this all took place in California, but sure seems like an awfully cold time to make a committment to live in a tree.  She braved storms, hail, everything in that tree.  As for food…well, I can’t really remember.  If memory serves me, she was given food from time to time by onlookers.

This all took place in the late 1990’s.  Now, Julia is an environmental advocate, bestselling author of “The Legacy of Luna,” and heads up a couple of non-profits, one of which is entitled, “What’s your Tree?” which is a way to bring awareness to discovering one’s passion.  She speaks widely, sometimes as much as 250 times a year!  However, things are dwindling down for the Arkansas-raised woman who wants to keep a lower profile and live in South America for awhile.

For more information:

Product Details (Images retrived from 5.04.12)  Redwoods


Terrifical Trees: Celebritrees–Historic & Famous Trees of the World

By Leslie Lindsay

Call us tree huggers, but my family loves trees.  We love to sit in their shade and read a book (me), climb them (my 7-year old), talk about raising them–as in a tree farm (hubby), and collect things from them such as leaves and pine cones (my 5-year old).

Last year–about this time–I purchased this book Celebritrees:  Historic & Famous Trees of the World (Marji Preus and Rebecca Gibbon, Henry Holt & Company, 2010) as  little family gift to celebrate Arbor Day.  I pasted some photos of us surveying tree farms as well as my daughters’ drawings of pine trees and sunshine.  It serves as a sweet momento of our love of trees.

But the book also has some really great tid-bits about trees; things I never knew.  We’ve been reading a blurb or two to our daughters over the course of the year and I thought I’d share some with you and your family–seeing how Earth Day is Sunday, April 22nd and Arbor Day (at least here in Illinois) is April 27th.

Product Details (image retrieved from Amazon 4.20.12)

Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus and Rebecca Gibbon (Hardcover – Mar 1, 2011)

Here goes: 

  • Trees are the oldest, biggest, and tallest living organisms on the earth. 
  • Throughout history, trees were believed to  be homes to fairies, demons, dragons. dwarfs, spirits, and ancestors. 
  • A tree known as “Methuselah,” a Bristlecone Pine (Inyo National Forest, California) is the oldest known single living organism on earth.  It is named for a character in the Bible who was said to have lived 900 years.  The tree’s estimated age is 4,800 years old!  To put that into perspective, when the Egyptians began building the great pyramids, the tree was already 200 years old.   The tree’s 4,200 Birthday had already come and gone when Columbus set foot in the New World.
  • Another tree, called “General Sherman,” (a giant Sequoia) located in Sequoia National Park, California may not be the oldest, but it is the biggest–at least in terms of volume.  It is almost 3 million pounds (that’s like 14 Argentinosaureuses, the biggest dinosaur that walked the earth or 10 blue whales or three 747 jets)
  • Finally (at least for today), the tallest known tree is “Hyperion” (a Coast Redwood) located in the Redwood National Park in California (what’s with California and all of these celebritrees, anyway?!).  It’s age is unknown, but it’s is so very tall–a whopping 779 feet–taller than the Statue of Liberty.  While the “tallest trees” don’t hold that name for long (due to becoming struck by lightening or splintered by wind, or other acts of nature).  This one and the other two very tallest trees in the world are protected deep in a remote and rugged area of the Redwood National Forest to avoid one such “predator,” the well-wishers and tree-lovers.

How about those terrifical trees??!  What will you do to celebrate Earth Day?

Terrifical Trees: Arbor Day History & Celebration

By Leslie Lindsay

April.  The month of rain; the month of newness and growth.  So, why not celebrate the almighty tree?  We do just that with the annual tradition of Arbor Day and Earth Day.  Interestingly, though Arbor Day is celebrated at different times of the year for each state.  For example, here in Illinois we celebrate Arbor Day the last Friday of the month, but Missouri celebrates it the first Friday of April.  Floridians are honoring trees the third Friday of January and some states not until May, depending on the climate and best times of year to plant trees.

Originating in Nebraska City, Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton on April 10, 1872 where an estimated 1 million trees were planted on that particular day.  Since then, Americans have marked the day a way to plant and care for trees.

But just who was this J. Stirling Morton guy?! Seems he was was a college-educated Nebraska newpaper editor (by way of Michiagn) who served as President Grover Cleaveland’s secretary of Agriculture.   In 1897, he started a weekly conservative newsmagazine called The Conservative. 

Yet, the idea of Arbor Day took root (yes, pun intended), when J. Stirling Morton declared that the economic and environmental landscape of Nebraska would be “better off” if there were more trees in the area.  And so, he urged the planting of all types of trees–fruit-bearing trees, shade trees, and windbreaks.  Soon, all 50 states began to adopt the tradition…and a new seed was planted.

Why not read a book to your children about Arbor Day and then plant a seedling? Pack up and head to your local arboretum (our fave is the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL)  It’s the perfect way to tie learning with experience.   Here are some of our favorite tree-related books: