May 24 – “Mary Had a Little Lamb” Published

Posted May 24, 2015

There really was a Mary who took a lamb to school!

The girl's name was Mary Sawyer (no record of the pet lamb's name), and she took her pet to school at the suggestion of her brother. Apparently, the lamb did cause commotion in the classroom!

This happened some time in the early 1800s, in the town of Sterling, Massachusetts.

A young man named John Roulstone was studying with his uncle and saw the lamb-at-school incident. Some people say that he was so pleased by it that he wrote these lines and gave them to Mary the day after her lamb's visit:

Mary had a little lamb,
His fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

Hale was a writer and editor.
Later a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale added three more verses to the simple ditty and published the poem on this date in 1830. (Some people say that Hale wrote the entire poem, and Roulstone – though he had been there for the lamb's visit – had nothing to do with the poem.) Here is the rest of the poem:

He followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule,
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appear.

"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
The eager children cry.
"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know."
The teacher did reply.

A musician later set the nursery rhyme to a tune and created a song. After that, two different blues musicians popularized the song. Famed inventor Thomas Edison recorded the poem on his newly invented phonograph – actually, it was the very first recorded verse anywhere in the world! At some point since the poem was published, the town of Sterling put up a statue representing Mary's Little Lamb in the town center.

Does it seem surprising to you that such a simple little poem and song can become and stay so famous? I think I am surprised by the facts that (1) it's American, not British (I think I thought it was a lot older than it is), and (2) it's based on a real incident.

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Day of Slavic Script, Education, and Culture

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May 23 – Lucky Penny Day

Posted May 23, 2015
“See a penny, pick it up...
All the day, you'll have good luck!”

That familiar almost-rhyme is either much easier to follow, these days, or much tougher to follow. I'm not sure which! Watch out for pennies, and get back to me!

You see, pennies used to be worth something. You could buy so many kinds of candy for a penny a piece, stores used to call their bulk candy aisles “Penny Candy.” (Also, there was a 1954 song by that name!) 

Now, a single piece of candy - or even a gumball - is usually worth a nickel, a dime, or even more.

So, since you can't buy anything at all with a single penny, and since machines that accept coin payment for food don't accept pennies, I would think that hardly anyone would bother to pick up any pennies that happen to fall...And that would (it seems to me) make it a lot easier to find pennies.

But, on the other hand, since pennies are so worthless these days, most of us don't even want to bother with them in our pockets or coin purses, so we leave them in donation jugs or those little “take a penny, leave a penny” trays. And that would mean that there would be a lot fewer pennies falling in the first place, which would make it a lot harder to find pennies!

Are pennies really lucky?

Of course, picking up a penny cannot change your “luck.” The belief that it could is a superstition – a bit of folklore that tells us that people wished that they could control their lives, including all the uncontrollable things like weather and other people's and animals' behavior. In actual fact, good and bad things happen to everybody.

  • Educate yourself on how obsolete pennies are here.

Right now it takes more than two cents to make a
single penny. That means our government goes a
little bit more in debt with every penny it makes.

And it makes billions of pennies a year!
  • Educate yourself on what your old (and I mean really old) pennies are here

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May 22 – Happy Birthday, Margaret Mee

Posted May 22, 2015

The Amazon always had the allure of the exotic – and I am talking here about the world's largest river and largest tropical rainforest.

(I'm not talking about the popular online marketplace for books, streaming video, and almost everything else, from a giant pack of toilet paper to a dog mullet headband with hair extensions!)

In case you are thinking, "I thought that the Nile
was the largest rive in the world," I wanted to point
out that the Nile is the LONGEST river in the world.
The Amazon is largest by volume of water.
Today's famous birthday was a British botanical artist (an artist who specialized in drawing plants) and environmentalist. Margaret Mee, born on this date in 1909, was one of the first people to draw the public's attention to the damage being done to the Amazon rainforest by large-scale mining and deforestation.

Born in England, she earned her degrees and began to teach in England, but then decided to travel to other nations. She was actually in Berlin in 1933, and she witnessed some of the early shenanigans by the Nazis, including a boycott of goods made and sold by Jewish people. She went back to England during the War, serving as a draughtswoman at an aircraft factory. That means that she made detailed technical plans and drawings so that workers would be able to build the planes.

In 1952, Mee moved to Brazil to teach art, but soon she joined expeditions exploring the Amazon Basin, and she became a botanical artist for various organizations. She published a book and helped put on protests to draw worldwide attention to the problems occurring in the Amazon.

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May 21 – Happy Birthday, Mary Anning

Posted May 21, 2015

Mary Anning has been described as “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew.”

And yet I've never heard of her! And maybe the same could be said for you?

The reason for this odd circumstance, of course, is that Mary Anning was a woman, and in the early 1800s, women's contributions were often ignored or anonymous or otherwise dismissed.

Anning was born on this date in 1799 in Great Britain. She was lucky enough to live in a place with cliffs that had many fossils from the seas during the Jurassic period. Her father was a cabinetmaker, but he liked to collect fossils as well. When Anning was just 11 years old, her dad died, leaving the family in debt.

Anning's mom continued to lead her children to collect fossils, for later resale, to try to eke out a living; eventually, Mary Anning took over the fossil collecting part while her mother kept to the business end.

Mary Anning helped to discover one of the first ichthyosaur fossils when she was still a pre-teen. She discovered the first plesiosaur, a find that helped to make the Anning family respected in the eyes of the scientific community. Soon the fossils they discovered and prepared were sought after by museums, scientists, and nobles who kept “cabinets of curiosities.”

Anning also found the first pterosaur skeleton outside of Germany and many, many other fossils.

Unfortunately, some people were skeptical about how an “uneducated” and “deprived” woman could make important discoveries and prepare fossils so well. Also, many museums and collectors neglected to give Anning the proper credit on their exhibits, and she and her family ended up being forgotten by most.

Of course, I would argue that she wasn't uneducated, just relatively unschooled. All the fossil hunting and collecting and preparation had taught her a ton about her field!

They aren't dinosaurs!

I'm sure you know that the reptiles of the sea – like the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs that Anning discovered – and of the air – like the pterosaurs she helped discover – were not dinosaurs, although they lived at the same time as many of the dinosaurs.

Ichthyosaur, above
Plesiosaur, below

There were many sorts of pterosaurs.

Dinosaur doesn't mean anything ancient and reptilian, but instead is a term for a specific group of animals that had shared characteristics. Here is an article about 10 dinosaur myths. 

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Strawberries and Cream Day

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May 20 – Happy Birthday, Bergur Sigurbjörnsson

Posted May 20, 2015

Today's birthday isn't incredibly famous. Born on this date in 1917, Berger Sigurbjörnsson was became an Icelandic magazine editor and, eventually, politician. He cared deeply about Iceland's independence and self-determination. 

And – I read – he opposed America's occupation of his nation.

I sat there, surprised, and re-read the sentence: Sigurbjörnsson opposed America's occupation of Iceland.

I asked myself, “Wait – America occupied Iceland?”

Of course, I turned to Google, and I found mention of American occupation of Iceland at the end of a Wikipedia article about the British invasion of Iceland.
I was twice as surprised. Wait! – Britain INVADED Iceland??

It turns out that, because Iceland has a strategic position between Europe and North America, in the Northern Atlantic, British strategists were worried that Nazi Germany would take over the island – so they ordered British troops to do so before Germany did!

It turned out that there was no Germany invasion planned. But the idea wasn't crazy. Iceland had been ruled by Denmark for a long period of time and had only become independent in 1918. It had declared itself a neutral country without a defense force – in other words, it had no army or navy!

A couple of decades later, Hitler began to swallow up European nations, one by one. In April of 1940, he invaded both Norway and Denmark, and his Nazi army was able to defeat and occupy Denmark in just one day.

That same day, Britain had sent a message to Iceland, a nation that still had close ties with the now-defeated Denmark, offering to help protect Iceland from the Nazis but requesting facilities in Iceland to do so. Iceland said “no thanks.”

So it makes sense for British leaders to worry that Germany would want to snatch up the defenseless, strategic island nation – and it made sense for British leaders to think that such a takeover would be a huge threat to the U.K.

Early in the morning on May 10, 1940, British troops disembarked in the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavík. They met with no resistance, and they moved quickly to disable communication networks, and to establish a presence in every strategic location on the island. They also arrested German citizens who lived in Iceland.
The government of Iceland issued a protest and demanded that compensation be made for all damage done by the British troops. The U.K. promised to pay for damage, and also promised not to interfere with Icelandic authorities AND to withdraw at the end of the war.

And, as far as I can tell, the U.K. followed through with all of those promises...
Except, Britain needed those troops elsewhere, so in July of 1941, the U.S. took responsibility for keeping Iceland out of German hands. Get this, by 1942, there were about 40,000 U.S. military personnel stationed on Iceland – and that outnumbered the adult Icelandic men at the time!

Apparently, the U.S. didn't take off at the end of the war; I read that the U.S. Navy remained in Iceland until 2006!

In honor of Berger Sigurbjörnsson...

I bring you some gorgeous photos of Iceland:

What could be more amazing than seeing the Northern Lights over Iceland?

Seeing the Northern Lights over a volcano on Iceland!!!

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