yo-yo

Like so many traditional toys, the yo-yo has been popular across cultures for the last 2500 years. It’s had a great history, with a tremendous burgeoning in popularity in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and still it persists. Like jacks and jump-rope, the yo-yo is not as easy as it looks. My own skills are quite sorry in this regard. Fortunately my smallest child has agreed to show us how it’s done.

So, I think the idea is that the moment it touches down, you lift a little bit to encourage it to wind back up. I’ll keep practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the sleeper, or walk the dog.

traditional wooden yo-yo

flower press

A flower press arrived in the post, sent to us by a sweet old friend of the family. A flower press! How lovely! Such a delight, particularly as the little girls and I have been dreaming of one.

flower press © elisa rathje 2012

Simply a couple of boards with layers of cardboard and paper, sandwiched and screwed tight with wing nuts. Smart. This is a particularly cute one.

flower press © elisa rathje 2012

For our first try we plucked a few petals from the tulips we’d picked on the farm last week. May flowers from the garden are next. Thank you my friend!

penny whistle

Penny whistles are fine little folk instruments, a variation on the old world wooden whistle. The tin whistle was first made in Victorian times and has a splendid story to go with it. My penny whistle was constructed very much as these whistles always were, not far from our little cottage, and it arrived complete with a sheet of Victorian singing games.

tin whistle © elisa rathje 2012

It’s a pretty little pipe, I’m quite fond of it, especially for joining in on a jig with my tall violinist.

The penny whistle is also one of the traditional instruments I like for playing the little appleturnover song I made up a long time ago. For requesting apple turnovers, naturally. If you like you can listen to it. The children helped me with the very important bit of singing.

marbles

Like so many good old fashioned pastimes, playing marbles has fallen out of fashion in the last few decades, despite centuries of popularity all over the world. People in the Indus valley in the Bronze age played marbles, the Romans played marbles, the ancient Egyptians played marbles. I didn’t grow up playing marbles, but like so many good old fashioned games and skills, I’m learning along with my children.

marbles © elisa rathje 2011

There are so many ways to play marbles, with variations as rich as there are regional accents.

The way that we like to play is with an archboard, shooting marbles through in order. I think my father likes to call this ‘mousehole’ and he taught it to my children. My childhood fondness for the things was almost purely aesthetic. I could still spend long moments absorbed in the depths and beauty of a glass marble.

In our old cottage the phrase ‘losing your marbles’ does come up a lot, as there is an unfortunate slant to the floor that angles toward a gap under the stairs, just the size to take your best marble. The other day I encountered a mouse bowling a horse-chestnut towards that very spot. Mousehole! I can just imagine the games those mice are playing with our marbles, below stairs. It explains a lot, really.

jacks

Now, jacks is an old-time game that we adore. It’s not an easy one! Like skipping rope or skipping stones, it takes devoted practice, and it’s a thrill when you get it.

jacks © elisa rathje 2011

From our beloved set of pewter jacks, made by good old Cooperman Fife & Drum:

Jacks was played in early America as it had been played for over two thousand years, with small sheep astragali (knucklebones). The game was known as “knucklebones,” “dibs” or “jackstones.” Small pebbles or marbles were sometimes substituted for the bones. Metal jacks, which mimic the shape of the sheep bones were probably not in wide use until the mid-nineteenth century, although a pewter jack found at Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia is thought to be of eighteenth century origin. The rules of play are very much the same today as in early America. Before the introduction of the rubber ball, the pick up combinations had to be completed before a bone or pebble tossed up in the air came back down, making for a much harder game. A wooden ball is included in this set so you can try your hand at this older version of the game. Traditionally the game was played with five bones or pebbles. A modern game can be played with any number of jacks and a ball.

Scatter the jacks on the floor. Toss the ball up. For onesies, pick up one jack without disturbing any other jack and catch the ball in the same hand. If you’re using the wood ball you must complete the trick before the ball comes down; with the rubber ball you must complete the trick before the ball bounces twice. Transfer the jack to your free hand and continue to pick up one jack at a time until all the jacks have been taken. If you complete the trick go on to Twosies; if not, play passes to your opponent. For Twosies, two jacks must be picked up at a time and so forth for Threesies, until at the last round all of the jacks must be picked up at the same time. Accomplished players increase the difficulty of the rounds by adding motions which must be performed while picking up the jacks; for example, you might have to pick up the jacks and clap your hands before the ball is caught.

There are tremendous variations all over the world. I love the tinkling sound of the jacks, and seeing a joyful group of friends gathered round them for a good game.