Go Fly a Kite!

Spring is coming and a traditional pass-time of Spring — one that can be done even through the Summer or on any day with a nice breeze — is flying a kite. There are many fine kites you can buy at a hobby shop or toy store. For that matter at the right time in dollar stores, drug stores, department stores, or other shops. They aren’t quite as common perhaps as they once were — but the heritage of kite flying goes back hundreds of years.

The shiny pre-made kites are quite attractive and simple to buy and start out with. There are also kits that you can buy that take a bit more work and bring a bit more satisfaction. It is also possible to build a kite from scratch! You can use materials from ultra-modern to extremely traditional.

A few years ago I decided to make some kites. I had been studying making toys from the 19th century through to the 1960’s and toys that could be made simply were something I kept an eye open for. I was volunteering at the museum so I also was keeping an eye out for things that could be done without expensive tools or materials. Kites seemed to fit the bill.

I realized that I might make many of the kites without buying much. In fact, if I were to make small kites, I could make them from bamboo cooking skewers and tissue paper using thread and simple white glue. I’m not actually sure the skewers are bamboo, they could be some softwood or rattan or some other woody material — however they are about 25 cm – 10 inches long and very inexpensive to buy from many places. I got a pack when I went for groceries. The tissue I got from the dollar store and I already had the thread and glue. I had some very heavy thread to use for some short kite string.

I’m not going to go into all the different sorts of kites there are just here — perhaps I can add some drawings and pictures later as well as some plans. I was able to make a half dozen different types of kites in an afternoon and experiment with flying them in a very light breeze. That is an advantage of kites built that small and light. With the 25 cm skewers the longest dimension was about 25cm as well. Of course there were also longer skewers that were about 30 cm that made some kites a bit easier to build. The only one I really couldn’t build with these materials was the traditional English kite. That one has an arching rod that runs the entire curved front of the kite all the way down each side. I’d need to find something to use for that — perhaps a strip of rattan?

A person cold easily make a dozen different sorts of kites and hang them from a rod in their room when they are only 25-30 cm across. You could also afford to make them or lose them, though of course you might feel bad because of the time you put into them. BTW you have to be careful because the glue goes right through the tissue and onto any surface the kite is on while the kite is wet. Actually I used that as part of my kite construction technique. I’ll write more about that sometime.

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Past and Future Connected

This was inspired by a discussion on extra-solar planets, though the subject of my reply is something I have thought of for a long while.

“This one ( This survey – ed) was looking at confirmed finds rather than possible or potential ones. Some counts include possibilities that others don’t consider confirmed. The one (potential earth-like, habitable planet – ed) at 35 ly seems nice.”

“but we still can’t travel even to Mars (manned that is) so how do we get 35 ly?”

That is true. But 200 years ago we were playing with kites and balloons. When I was 3 I knew people who were 100. So they were born 150 years ago. I bet they knew people who were at least 75 when they were 25… so that means they knew people around 200 years ago… that is not so many jumps backwards… I figure people born when I reach 75 (in 22 years) will be adults before I die, or at least be old enough to know me and before they die… perhaps another 100 years will have passed… So their kids could see 200 years from now… without too much medical magic.

What am I getting at… in reality the past and future are a lot closer than most people realize. I have known people who knew people from the time of wind and muscle, a time before steam power. Likely I will know people who will live in a time beyond infernal combustion engines — perhaps a time of force fields and squeezing of matter to singularities and the warping of space-time… or even things I can’t imagine. 35 ly? And their children? The first step is knowing that there is something outside of the water. Then we know there is a reason for lungs and legs an wings to escape the puddle and grasping jaws.

Heritage is a link between the past and the future. That is why “We are heritage”.

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Roots

What is Heritage?

Recently I was visited by an Uncle and Aunt and that spurred a train of thought. I realized that on my Mother’s side of the family two of my uncles are strongly involved in our Norwegian heritage with one as editor for a broadly distributed newsletter for folks of Northern Norwegian origins and the other representing the Sons of Norway organization for either a city or part of the province they live in.

One of my Cousins works for a newspaper and another has a column in that newsletter my Uncle produces. I have edited a newsletter for a medieval recreation society in the past as well as my current position on the board of directors for a heritage society that runs a local museum. I have an article recently published in a weekly newspaper with provincial distribution.

My Mother and her Sister both collect keepsakes from the past — especially items of family significance. Some items trace one side of the family others the other side. Some items come from Norway and other items reflect their life in Long Island in Southern Alberta.

Now where am I going with this… My Grandfather always was talking about the heritage of Alberta and there was always an interest in family history and our relatives still in Norway and our Norwegian heritage. Grandpa also told us of his life and work experience. I believe it instilled an interest in heritage that really took in his children. Grandma also instilled a respect for heritage, perhaps in a quieter way. She was one to collect keepsakes and had her own stories, though I truly wish I knew more.

I think that Mom’s Parents really instilled an interest in heritage in the family. Perhaps not with trips to museums, but by the sharing of our past and sharing their interest.

On my Father’s side of the family I also gained much in my interest in heritage. It was a different direction from Mom’s side. At get-togethers there would always be time around the table, in the parlour, in the milk shed, the dairy barn, in the fields, in the car… to share and talk about what happened recently and through their lives.

There was always another story to tell. I know some I heard quite a few times, but some were new. They weren’t epic tales, just events from lives that were memorable for one reason or another. More often than not they would bring a smile. Perhaps just a smile of recollection, but sometimes of cheer and humour.

I didn’t realize it until recently, but this was story telling. I grew up among a family of story tellers. It was just that it was normal and a natural thing to do. I can remember at a very young age listening to Dad and how he would say “John said this” and “I said that” and “Jane asked that” and how that fit into what Dad was saying to tell what had happened. Dialogue added to the story and was a part of what was being related.

Both sides of the family were quite different in many ways, but both helped develop an interest in heritage in me and a desire to share that.

I know I am lucky to have come from a fairly healthy family situation and had two sets of grandparents with a number of aunts, uncles and cousins. Many people come from quite different backgrounds and many were not nearly as happy. But despite problems, what positive things might you have gained from your roots? Your roots might just be the cities and towns you grew up in, of course.

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Kick the Can

September has come and with September, can Autumn be far away?

Dewy wet mornings
Golden dewy sunlight
School bells tolling
Get up sleepy head.

With September comes a harvesting. Not just the big harvesting of amber fields of grain, but the picking of carrots and corn from gardens in the backyards — at least the backyard gardens of my 1960’s youth and I am sure throughout the 20’th century and…

Anyway, days of September are still fairly warm and there are still some grand days left to play outside even in northerly places. There are many games to be played in the shortening late afternoons, and early evenings.

The Summer games of tag and similar; and of summer running and water sports give way to slightly different variants perhaps in children’s lives. Some kids lucky enough to stay out when the “lights come on” or in other words when the street lights come on would gather around for a game of “Kick the Can”.

“Kick the Can” is basically a version of “Hide and Seek” where there is a home base that is a tin can, sometimes filled with pebbles. The person who is “It” stands at the “Can” or “Home” and counts to 100 with their eyes closed or covered while everyone else hides throughout the neighbourhood. Then “It” calls out “Ready or not you must be caught” and proceeds to try find or catch everyone. Not only must they find them, but they must tag them before they can “Kick the Can!”

There were always different rules on choosing who would be “It”. Some people wanted to be “It” and some definitely didn’t. Sometimes whoever kicked the can first would be the next “It” and sometimes anyone who did would be safe from becoming “It”. Kicking the Can made a loud noise that could be heard by all the players, but the person who kicked it traditionally also yelled “Ally ally oxen free!” to let everyone know that they could come in to home.

It did get dark quickly, but that meant we could play outside in the dark a bit and it was easier to hide in the dark.

It was a simpler time perhaps when parents felt a bit more confident letting kids between 7 and 12 play unattended after dark outside. Granted, we were in a quiet suburb in a quiet Canadian city in the 60’s — but still it was in a fairly large city. Shortening days did make a big difference and at the time we did not have “Daylight Savings Time”.

I think that kids of the 50’s and even earlier had similar experiences if they lived in similar areas. I know kids in the country had plenty of room to play, but they likely had different sorts of places to hide and perhaps were a bit busier with harvest time.

We all have memories of when we were young and perhaps they might seem very “normal” and nothing to write home about, but people younger than us might be interested in how the little things have changed as well as the big things. For that matter, sometimes people older might be interested in how their children and grandchildren really see the world.

It is through our recording of everyday activities that we share a bit of our life with those who follow.

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All the Marbles

Spring’s not here
But perhaps it’s near
Games of Childhood
Played in the Neighbourhood

I remember the days when Spring was near, or at least the snow had thawed enough that the school fields were too soggy to really be played on. The fields had been frozen through the Winter or covered with snow and in the Autumn hadn’t been wet and soggy.

Those days when the Sun shone bright it felt so warm, but there wasn’t so much room to play at recess or in the school yard before classes at lunch so we brought out other entertainment besides the soccer we traditionally played.

First I should tell you that I grew up in Calgary Alberta, Canada and not on the British Columbia Coastal Cities around Metro Vancouver. That might explain the frozen ground and bright Sun in the Spring — perhaps also that we had fields that could get wet and soggy. I have noticed that out here in the Vancouver area often the school fields are some sort of fine gravel that drains well rather than grass. Gravel doesn’t turn into swamps in heavy thawing snow so easily, but grass is so much nicer to play soccer or softball on.

We also played soccer in Elementary school — in Calgary those were grades 1 – 6. I know other places might play other sports.

In any case in this time before Spring had really hit, boys would bring out toys like Yo-yos, Tops, and Marbles in addition to the usual rubber balls.

Yo-yos might seem a bit boring — two disks of wood with a string wound between them going up and down, and up and down. However there were tricks to be done with them, all the standards like “the sleeper” and “walk the dog” and more and more complicated ones. But they always seemed to be about the same, especially in school. Watching “The Simpsons” episode where they had a Yo-yo demonstration team come to their school, the tricks are still the same after 45 years. (probably more?) There was even envy between kids when some would have brand new more expensive ones.

Sometimes it seems to me that Yo-yos alternated with Tops for popularity from one year to the next at our school. A top was either wood or plastic and sort of cone shaped with a replaceable plastic tip. You wrapped a string around it in a special way and threw it down to the ground — almost as if skipping a stone. The top would gyroscopically right itself and spin. Again sort of boring, but you could do tricks with these little gyroscopically spinning tops. Again there was envy about who had the best top. Again and again we’d spin them until the sharp point on the tip would be worn round on the pavement or concrete and we would have to replace them.

I know there are modern games using small tops in a plastic arena where kids see who can knock each other’s top out of the arena. I don’t ever recall there being “Battle” games with tops being spun into a ring of string, but figure some kids might have. I think the tops were too dear in price to us to ever think of risking losing them.

There were many games played with bouncing balls, there were air filled bouncing balls for playing games like dodge ball, four-square, and two-square. The later two are games played by bouncing balls from person to person staying within a grid of either 4 or 2 squares. Small sponge rubber balls either orange or blue and red with a white stripe around the middle would be bounced, tossed, put in stockings and spun in circles around ankles in a skipping sort of game, and used for bowling with plastic pins. I won’t get into other ball games like the formal ones with soccer, basketball, football, and baseball, because I’m talking about the games normally played before the fields were decent and we played on the paved and gravel school yard.

Being a guy I did forget to mention the skipping games. Please forgive me, but when I grew up at school most often boys and girls didn’t play much together and skipping was a game that the girls played. Four-square and two-square were nearly the only games we played co-ed. Girls used ropes and actual skipping ropes. They also as I mentioned put balls into the  toes of stockings and knotted the other end around an ankle. Then they would spin the ball around that foot and jump the spinning ball as it came around and around and around. Girls tended to be the ones more often with the orange rubber balls where as boys more often had the blue, white, and red ones. Girls would also take strings of rubber-bands to use for some odd games with either single or double string games with the bands around their ankles.

Marbles were the spring playground toy that reminded me of this all though. It was always simple to put a handful of marbles in your pocket and they were cheaper than tops or Yo-yos or even rubber balls. Marbles were something you could collect as well as play with. You could buy them and trade them, but you could also gamble them.

That was where a slippery slope entered in that was a slippery as the slick, wet, grassy, muddy one at the end of the school ground by the playground. There was a very fine line between playing games with marbles and gambling. I think perhaps the Principal and teachers were a bit unsure of the line… or perhaps they weren’t?

I think, to my own now adult mind, the line is fairly simple and has to do with whether you lose your marbles or not. I mean nearly all the students think at least some of the teachers lost their marbles some of the time, but, I mean if the students went home with all their marbles after a game it wasn’t gambling, but a game. Of course this precludes swapping marbles to get one you really wanted for a collection. There also always were the issues of kids giving away something of value too — not that this often came into play with regards to marbles… at least the marbles I recollected we played with. I don’t think many kids had their hands on semiprecious stone marbles or antique marbles.

On the other hand, teachers really had to keep their eyes open. I know in the spring kids would get their ideas to take a shoe box and cut hole in them of different sizes and write numbers over the holes. If you could shoot a marble through that hole you would get that many marbles, if you missed you forfeited your marble.

Now some would say: “Game of Chance” others would say “Gambling” while still others would say “Childish Fun”. I can recall the whole side of the school with a line of different “Games of Chance” set up. It seemed marvellous to me, like a miniature fairground. Of course I was a horrible aim and too attached to my marbles to risk any of them. But it was neat to see.

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