March 26 – Spinach Day

Posted on March 26, 2015

Do kids these days still know about Popeye the Sailor Man? He was probably the greatest spokesman for a disgusting food ever in the history of the world, since he solved every problem by popping open and downing a can of spinach, which instantly and magically made him mega-strong!

Wait!!! Did I just dare to call spinach disgusting? And on Spinach Day, too???

No, no I did not. I said that canned spinach is disgusting. I love spinach, generally—but I do not like it canned!

Celebrate one of the world's healthiest foods—a vegetable that is low in fat and carbohydrates but high in vitamins and minerals. Spinach has been shown to protect against certain kinds of cancer, against some cardiovascular and bone problems, and against digestive-tract inflammation. It is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients. It's basically a super food!

Here are some ways I do like spinach. Try eating spinach three different ways today, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


Also on this date:

Biologist Richard Dawkins's birthday 

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March 25 – Old New Year's Day

Posted on March 25, 2015

Have you ever wondered why the year starts in January? And why does January start on one particular day rather than any other?

I'm sure you realize that different cultures have created completely different calendars, with completely different months and different New Year's Days.

Of course we know that the idea behind a day – one full rotation of the Earth – and a year – one full revolution of the Earth around the  Sun – are based on astronomy...BUT when to separate one day from the next (sun up? in the middle of the night?) is arbitrary - which means that we could divide one day from the other in many different equally-valid ways, and of course different cultures have chosen different division spots, with ancient Jews counting sunset as the mark of a new day, and ancient Egyptians counted sunrise as the mark of a new day. Today, we use midnight as the starting point of the new day - which is usually around the middle of the night in most locales.

When to separate one year from the next is arbitrary, too.

Back in the old days, before our world was so connected and became so “small,” every culture's calendar was quite different, and of course they all began on different days. When civilization-straddling empires were created, there was a push for the calendars to become more standardized, but it wasn't until recently (the 1900s) that all countries used the same standardized calendar (the Gregorian calendar) for at least official purposes.

You know about Chinese New Year, celebrated in late January or in February—and celebrated in many countries in addition to China. Ethiopian New Year is celebrated on September 11, Nowruz (Persian New Year) is celebrated on the vernal equinox (March 20 to 22), and Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is celebrated in September or October. Many other local New Year's Days are celebrated in various places in the world.

For almost 600 years, March 25 was celebrated as the first day of the year in England. It was the day of the Catholic Feast of the Annunciation, and it was sometimes called “Lady Day” (the lady being Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Christian religion). It was a fairly convenient day to start the new year, since it was close to the equinox (the start of spring) and farmers had little to do in their fields.

In 1752, England and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, which named January 1 as the first day of the year. Also, when the calendar change was made, 11 “lost days” had to be removed in order to get the calendar back in tune with astronomical reality. For a while dates were given according to the old calendar AND according to the new, so “Old Lady Day” was April 6, and “New Lady Day” was March 25.

Some remnants of the old system remain, with the United Kingdom's tax year starting on April 6.

The time of calendar change was very difficult for many. There were many irregular months because of the removed days—for example, months that were only 18 days long in the year of the switch-over, or even months that were longer than usual in that year. Some nations had weird one-time-only dates like February 30. To add the confusion, different countries adopted the Gregorian calendar in different years (and even different centuries!), so they had to remove fewer or more days than other nations, ranging from removing ten days (as France and Italy did in 1582) to removing 13 days (as Turkey, the last nation to adopt the modern calendar, did in 1927). People were uncertain about whether to change over their birthdates to the new style or stick with the old. I have written about the bumps and problems experienced during calendar change several times before: here and here and here.

Also on this date:

Independence Day in Greece

Maryland Day

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March 24 – Happy Birthday, Dorothy Height

Posted on March 24, 2015

If you had to list the biggest names in the Civil Rights movement, who would you name?

You'd probably name Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks. You might list James Farmer and John Lewis. You probably wouldn't mention today's famous birthday...

But according to James Farmer, you should!

Farmer claims that Dorothy Height was one of the six top movers-and-shakers in the Civil Rights movement. She was left off of most people's “Big Six” lists, he said, because she was a woman.

Born on this date in 1912, in Virginia, Height received a scholarship to attend college and was formally admitted to Barnard College. But when she arrived at college, ready to register for classes, she was turned away. Apparently there was an unwritten rule that the college only admitted two black students per year, and those token spots were already filled!

Height still managed to get a college education elsewhere and began to work as a caseworker for the New York City Welfare Department.

Height was a joiner, a fighter, an activist. She was an active member of a sorority, and she used the organization to create leadership training programs for women (especially focusing on African American women).

She joined the national staff of the YWCA, and she joined the National Council of Negro Women; she helped create the organization called the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership and the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.

Height also organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi” – a program with which well-connected, educated white and black women who live in the north would leave for Mississippi on Tuesday and return to the north on Thursday. All day Wednesday, they would meet with southern white and black women—there would be discussions and workshops and projects.

Wednesdays in Mississippi was an attempt to build bridges between races, between classes, between different regional and societal groups. Apparently, it worked very well to increase connection and understanding and to help motivate people for social and racial justice!

In addition to being an administrator and
writer, Dorothy Height was an educator.
Dorothy Height was known for
her hats!!
Even though Dorothy Height is left out of many discussions about the Civil Rights movement, she did meet with and influence leaders such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson. She wrote a newspaper column, she served on committees and commissions, and she won honors such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Her memoirs were turned into a musical stage play called If This Hat Could Talk. Height was even awarded a “Google Doodle” last year!

Also on this date:

Meat Free Week

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March 23 – Happy Birthday, Juan Gris

Posted on March 23, 2015

Juan Gris was a painter and sculptor, just like Pablo Picasso

He was from Spain, just like Picasso.

He was one of the people who helped to invent Cubism. Just like Picasso.

But Picasso is much more famous!

Actually, the name Juan Gris isn't the name that today's birthday boy was born with on this date in 1887 - instead, he was born José Victoriano González-Pérez. It's interesting that this artist chose the name “Gris,” which means “gray” in English, since he used a lot of vibrant colors in his paintings!
These two pictures feature a guitar...

Gris was born and raised in Madrid, Spain's capital, and he studied mechanical drawing in Madrid as well. In 1906 Gris moved to Paris and became friends with some other artists, including Henri Matisse. He lived in the same building (described as a “gloomy heap”) as Picasso; Gris apparently thought of Picasso as something of a teacher, I guess maybe in the inspirational sense, but Picasso is said to have been irritated with Gris.

It was Gris's “Homage to Picasso” that established Gris as a great artist. His paintings have been sold for tens of millions of dollars. (One sold for about $57 million - but one of Picasso's paintings, sold for more than $150 million!)

Gris sadly died from kidney or renal problems when he was just 40 years old.

These two paintings
feature a violin...

Also on this date:

World Meteorological Day

Anniversary of the coining of the word “okay” (America's “Greatest Word”)

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March 22 – Happy Birthday, Agnes Martin

Posted on March 22, 2015

Her art is often called minimalist:

Minimalist art is often abstract—it isn't a picture of something just as we see it; it isn't representational.

It is often geometrical—featuring perfect (or almost perfect) lines and geometric shapes rather than organic forms.

It seems to say that less is more.

Agnes Martin, born on this date in 1912, rejected the label “minimalist.” Instead, she called herself an abstract expressionist, which is the art movement that preceded and to some extent led to minimalism. Another abstract expressionist said about art:
“The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is.”
Martin herself said this:

Martin was born in the little town of Macklin, in Saskatchewan, Canada, but she lived and studied and worked in some big, exciting cities, including Vancouver (also Canada), Albuquerque (New Mexico), and New York City. When she was in NYC, she lived in a loft in the same building with other struggling artists, and she installed her own plumbing as well as made other needed repairs. (She probably learned about practical home-repair and renovation stuff from her mom, because her mother made the family's living by buying old homes, fixing them up, and selling them again.)

At age 55, Martin built—all by herself!—an adobe house in New Mexico, and lived alone there the rest of her life. Apparently other artists sought her out, and Martin built three more buildings on her land—not sure if they were guest houses, or studios, or stores from which people could buy her art works, or what!

I read in several places that, in those later years, Martin lived a simple, quiet life. She didn't have a radio or TV, and she didn't read a newspaper for 50 years.

While “in exile” from the world, living in New Mexico, Martin wrote as well as painted, completing several articles and books. Her paintings became even better known and more often shown, winning many awards and honors. Her art works traveled around the world, being exhibited in many important museums in many large cities. From what I could discover, Martin did not travel with her art, although she was delighted by the special Agnes Martin Gallery in the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, and she often visited “her” gallery (pictured below).

Eventually, Martin moved into a retirement residence in Taos. She died when she was 92 years old.

Also on this date:

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