May 13 - The Table Knife is Born!

 Posted on May 13, 2021

This is an update of my post published on May 13, 2010:

As you probably know, people use several different items when eating food—fingers being the most popular and universal. Chopsticks, spoons, knives, and forks are also widespread and ancient.

In medieval Europe, no cutlery was provided even at posh dinners. So it was a situation of BYOK - bring your own knife. Personal daggers that the diners wore on their belts - and in sheaths, when not in use!) was used as both fork and knife - food was cut and stabbed and brought up to ones mouth on knife point!

Even in the centuries after that, when forks were in common use, the knives used at dinner tables in the West were sharp-pointed hunting daggers (or special dining knives that were shaped just like sharp-pointed hunting daggers).

Apparently France's Cardinal Richelieu didn't like the fact that his dinner guests picked their teeth with the points of their knives. On this day in 1637, he ordered that the points of his dining knives be ground down into rounded ends.

His new table knives caught on. Everyone in Louis XIV's court wanted a set! Louis XIV himself ordered his dinner knives have rounded tips—and went further to decree that all his subjects follow suit. Eventually, the new table knife spread throughout the European continent, to England, and to the British colonies in the New World.

More than just table knives...

When it comes to dinner manners, we got more from the French than just table knives and not picking our teeth with our knives. We got the word etiquette, a fancy word that means “manners.” Basically, etiquette is a code of behavior for social occasions.

A formal set of manners is at least as ancient as the Fifth Dynasty of the ancient Egyptians. Some of the “good manners” of the past would be unacceptable now. For example, at certain places and times, it was considered good manners to throw one's chicken bones and beef rib bones onto the floor, and to wipe one's fingers on the tablecloth. An early etiquette guide from the Dutch philosopher Erasmus, in 1526, states such gems as:
“You should wipe your spoon before passing it to a neighbor." 

"Do not blow your nose with the same hand that you use to hold the meat.”

Etiquette isn't just a set of arbitrary rules. Its purpose is to help people in groups to feel more comfortable. We all benefit from the fact that people know not to spit at the table, for example. We prefer to eat with people who ask for food to be passed rather than reach over us to grab food, and we prefer to eat with people who don't gobble food and slurp soup.

Picture by Chris Robert Santieau

Modern guides to man

Where do modern families look for guides to etiquette? The internet, of course.

Family Education has a comprehensive guide that includes table manners.

Squidoo has a shorter guide, with just 10 rules.

Many of us don't deal with formal
table settings very often, and therefore
don't have quite so much cutlery
to deal with!

More help with manners.

Hoops and Yoyo do some short manners animations.

Here are some books about manners:
The Berenstain Bears Forget their Manners
Manners, by Aliki
It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel, by Carolyn Buehner
Say Please, by Virginia Austin
Perfect Pigs: An Intro to Manners, by Marc Brown and Stephen Krensky
What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear?, by Sesyle Joslin
Monster Manners, by Bethany Roberts


(This list is from the Child Fun website. That website has some games to help kids learn manners, too.)

May 12 - St. Andrea's Day in Georgia

 Posted on May 12, 2021

This is an update of my post published on May 12, 2010:

St. Andrea's Day is a holiday in the Georgian Orthodox Church. 

I hope everyone reading this realizes that I mean Georgia-the-country, not Georgia-the-state-of-the-U.S.! Georgia is a country that is situated where Western Asia meets Eastern Europe, next to the Black Sea.

Abkhazia (the paler area within the red boundary line of
Georgia, above) is recognized by most nations as being
a part of Georgia, but some consider it an autonomous republic.

Below, Georgia is colored orange.

This is the Black Sea, 
looking very non-black.
(Remember, unlike most of the continents, it's not so easy to figure out where the separation between Europe and Asia is. The land mass is more properly called Eurasia, because (at least for the last 350 million years or so) the only division between Europe and Asia has been cultural and arbitrary.)

Georgia was part of several ancient kingdoms and had a “heydey” of sorts during the 11th and 12th Centuries. In the 19th Century, it was taken over by the Russian Empire; it briefly became independent when the Russian czar was ov
erthrown, in 1917, but then it was taken over again, this time by the communist Soviet Union. It finally became independent in 1991 when the U.S.S.R. broke up.

Sing a song, sing along...

Georgian vocal music includes “polyphonic music,” which is two or more songs sung at the same time, with beautiful, harmonious results. This kind of singing is different from a “round,” in which the same song is sung by two or more voices, each voice starting at a different time. In polyphonic music, each song is different in melody and words.

Does it seem like that would sound awful? Check out Simon and Garfunkel's version of “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (Scarborough Fair/The Canticle).”

Another world for polyphonic music is “counterpoint.”

This type of music was popular during the Renaissance (15th Century) and Baroque period (17th - 18th Century); Bach used a lot of counterpoint in his music. Georgian polyphonic music came earlier than that – about 1,000 years before!

Mountains, mountains, everywhere

The Caucasus Mountains divide Georgia into different regions. Some areas are covered with many valleys and go
rges separated by mountains. The Voronya Cave is the deepest cave system known in the world—but some of the nearby mountains reach 17,000 feet!

Because Georgia is “carved up” by mountains, the folk music, languages, and traditions of various tow
ns can be quite different, there is a huge variety of climates and plant life, and the landscapes are often spectacular! Take a look:

Learn why mountains are important 
at The Mountain Institute's website.  

This super-short animation and this longer video explains how mountains are formed.

Did you know...?

The word Caucasian (often used as a synonym for white, as in race) comes from the name Caucasus Mountains. This video goes into an amazing description of the many languages of this mountain area.


The Soviet Union's infamous dictator Josef Stalin came from Georgia. The word infamous means famous for evil deeds and “accomplishments” rather than good ones. 

An athlete named Nodar Kumaritashvili tragically died at the 2010 Olympic Games during a training run on the luge, just before the games officially opened. He was from Georgia.


Also on this date:



May 11 - Happy Birthday, Irving Berlin

Posted on May 11, 2021 

This is an update of my post published on May 11, 2010:

Born in Eastern Russia on this day in 1888 (with the name Israel Baline), Berlin moved with his family to New York City when he was just five years old.

He went to school in his new country but had to quit just two ye
ars later when his father died. He became a newspaper boy as a contribution to the family's budget. One of his biographers reports that, on his first day on the job, he was accidentally knocked into the river by a swinging crane. He struggled to come up for air three times before he was rescued by onlookers—but when he was finally up on land again, he still had the five pennies he had earned that day clenched in his hand!

Berlin soon realized that he earned more money selling newspapers if he also sang songs. He noticed the sorts of songs that earned him the most—well-known tunes with simple words.

Eventually he began to sing more instead of selling newspapers, taking singing jobs at saloons and restaurants. He taught himself to play piano by picking out tunes after closing (although he never learned to play in more than one key).

As a singer, Berlin began to change songs to make their rhythms more likable or to make a parody of a hit song. He also began to write his own songs. By age 20, Berlin had been noticed by a few important people and began to be an important songwriter.

With his simple, uncomplicated music and lyrics, Irving Berlin became world famous. He wrote about 1,500 songs, including scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films. His songs were nominated eight times for Academy Awards. Some of his most famous songs include “White Christmas,” “There's No Business Like Show Business,” and “God Bless America.”

The great George Gershwin called Berlin the “greatest songwriter that has ever lived.”

All of that with no musical schooling—and only two years of schooling at all!

More about parodies...

I said bef
ore that Irving Berlin used to create parodies of hit songs. A parody is a song that imitates another (usually well-known) song, making changes for a humorous effect. A parody can be called a “spoof,” gently teasing either the original song or some aspect of popular culture or politics or...well, anything at all, I suppose! 

You can enjoy some parodies by listening to the music of “Weird Al” Yankovic. His humorous songs and parodies are so popular, Yankovic has sold more albums than any other comedy act in history.

Weird Al has his own You Tube channel. I like the song “Craig's List,” which spoofs one my teenage-self's favorite bands, The Doors. Another favorite is “The Saga Begins” – a Star Wars spoof.

Listen to some Irving Berlin songs.

This tribute by the Carol Burnett Show includes a lot of Berlin's songs. It's loooong and old fashioned and cheesy, but I found it fun to check out. It was created for Berlin's 85th birthday, and the participants may have assumed that he was nearing the end of his life—but they would have been wrong. Berlin lived another 16 years!

Write a song—or, better yet, write a song parody!

Birthday of artist Salvador Dalí

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