September 30, 2012 - Sukkot Begins

This Jewish holiday is sometimes called “Feast of the Booths.” The booths in question are temporary walled structures covered with a roof made of plant materials such as leafy branches, wood slats, or palm leaves. A Jewish family builds a sukkah in commemoration of the fragile and temporary structures that the ancient Israelites lived in, according to the Torah, during forty years of travel in the desert. Many families follow the custom of eating their meals in their sukkot, and some sleep there, too.

It is customary to decorate the inside of a sukkah with hanging fruits and grains, because this holiday is a harvest festival, a thanksgiving, an agricultural ceremony.

The holiday, which starts today at sundown, lasts until sundown on October 7.

Check out this modern (and rather silly) Sukkot song during a time-lapse video of building a sukkah

Not all sukkot look alike! Two years ago my son-in-law was part of a competition and exhibition of “reimagined” sukkot in New York City. He was hired to build the sukkah called Time/Timeless. Check out this photo gallery of Sukkah City. 

One of my favorite picture books deals with Sukkot: Tikvah Means Hope, by Patricia Polacco.



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September 29, 2012 - Museum Day Live

The Smithsonian Institute includes 17 museums in Washington, D.C., (plus the National Zoo and one museum in New York City) that have free admission at all times. In this spirit, Smithsonian magazine is offering free, downloadable Museum Day tickets, which will get two people into any participating museum, today only.


Check out which museums are participating, and get your free tickets, here.


We Love Museums!

Museums are places to see...

...fossils of animals that no longer exist.
...great artworks of the past and present.
...exhibits about the natural environment, including volcanoes and ecosystems and animals and weather.
...historical artifacts of all sorts.
...battlefields and estates and castles and missions and other historic places.
...cultural artifacts such as traditional costumes, eating implements, crafts, and musical instruments.
...collections of all kinds: snuff boxes and model trains, dolls and automobiles.
...exhibits about an important person, such as a former president.

But there are more unusual museums, too. Here are just a few of the weirder museums near me:

  • The Bunny Museum in Pasadena
  • The Museum of Death in Hollywood
  • Museum of Neon Art in Glendale
  • This is a museum of chocolate. Yum!
    Live Steamers Railroad Museum (you get to ride a mini-train!) in Los Angeles
  • LAPD Historical Society (old cop stuff!) in Los Angeles
  • Bhagavad-gita Museum in Culver City
  • Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles
  • Walt Disney's Barn in Griffith Park (only open two hours a month)
  • Holyland Exhibition in Los Angeles



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September 28, 2012 - Save the Koala Day

Apparently, all month long it's been Save the Koala Month, and I didn't even know it! But luckily there is a special Save the Koala Day near the end of the month, so I don't feel as if I TOTALLY missed it!

Koalas aren't bears. They are marsupials, which means that, like kangaroos and opossums, they have pouches in which very young babies are protected as they drink milk and grow. They live mostly up in trees (which makes them “arboreal,” or tree-dwellers), and they eat leaves, leaves, and more leaves from the eucalyptus tree (which makes them herbivores).

Unfortunately, koalas were considered threatened by shrinking habitat—eucalyptus forests being cut down as people build more and more houses and cities—and last month the news got even worse: now koalas are considered an endangered species. It's hard to imagine that this adorable, beloved creature, important symbol of Australia (and Qantas Airline), might go extinct—but people will have to do more to protect koalas from habitat loss, dogs, disease, and even climate change, if we are to still live in a world with koalas!
Stuffed koalas have been
popular toys for years.
  • Wildlife Fun 4 Kids looks like a great resource, and it provides some great links to help you have fun on Save the Koala Day! 





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September 27, 2012 - Ancestor Appreciation Day



I hope your grandparents are still alive and part of your life. Grandparents can be such an interesting source of family information and wisdom!


Did you get to meet your great-grandparents? Or any other members of your family that are three generations earlier?

Do you have family photo albums to pore over? Has anyone in your family done genealogy research? If so, did they gather their info in a book or on a website?

Today is a great day to start asking these questions and getting some answers. Looking at old census forms, newspapers (obituaries and birth and wedding announcements), and other public records is a way to extend beyond whatever you and your relatives have in your family memorabilia cabinets and bookshelves and trunks.

Find some genealogy resources here and here


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Google's birthday 

September 26, 2012 - Happy Birthday, George Gershwin


He was born Jacob Gershvin when he was born in Brooklyn, New York. (His dad had already changed the family name, from Gershowitz or Gershovich, to Gershvin, when he first immigrated from the Ukraine via Russia.) But we know him by his professional name, George Gershwin.

He was one of the most popular and influential American composers. He wrote for orchestras and operas, but he also wrote popular songs and worked as a song-plugger in Tin Pan Alley.

Listen to some of Gershwin's best: Rhapsody in Blue 


















By the way—Did you notice that Gershwin's name has four consonants in a row? That's a bit unusual.

Try to think of at least five ordinary words that have four consonants in a row. I put my list at the bottom of this post. (It's only fair to count the letter “Y” as a vowel when it is found in the spot where a vowel would be, such as “myth.”) 

Can you think of any words that have MORE than four consonants in a row?


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JohnnyAppleseed's birthday 






Four Consonants in a Row:
  1. strength
  2. warmth
  3. angst
  4. eggplant
  5. ballplayer
More Than Four Consonants in a Row:
  1. catchphrase
  2. spendthrift
  3. backsplash
  4. nightclothes
  5. thousandths

September 25, 2012 - National Voter Registration Day

It's important for people in representative democracies to actually vote!

And an awful lot of citizens who can vote just don't bother to. A lot of these non-voters are young. A lot of them say, “What does it matter? It's just one vote!” Some of them seem to think that voting is bowing down to the people in power. Not voting, they think, is thumbing your nose at the system. A rebellious gesture.

But it's not a gesture at all. The people in power love it when people don't bother to hold them accountable! As a recent poster said, “Not voting isn't revolution—it's surrender.”

In other words, if more and more people don't vote, they surrender their power to make choices to the fewer people who do vote.

In the U.S., people have to register to vote before they are allowed to vote on election day. Most states have regulations that voters must register 15 or 30 days (or so) before the election, but eight states have a way to register on election day, and then vote, and two states have a way to register ahead of time but then also vote on that day. Nowadays many people vote through “absentee” ballots, rather than by going to the polls, so many, many people vote before election day.

Take advantage of today's “holiday” to encourage everyone you know who can vote (everyone old enough, who is a citizen) to register and to vote. Here are some websites to help people do so:




Did you know...
In 32 nations, citizens are required to vote. (Apparently, not ALL of these nations enforce this compulsory voting law.) Australians and Belgians, for example, get fined if they don't vote. What do you think? Good or bad idea?



Do you think the voting age should be lower? Check out this earlier post


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September 24, 2012 - Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving


They've been celebrating this memorial day for more than 260 years—the longest continually-celebrated Thanksgiving in the country—and yet many of us have never heard of it.

I guess that's because the “they,” in this case, is not very many people. It is estimated that Schwenkfelder churches have a combined membership of fewer than 3,000 people. My high school was larger.

But it started a whole lot smaller. When the Schwenkfelder Society first came to North America and settled in the Pennsylvania-Dutch region, there were fewer than 200 people.

How is Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving celebrated? With a huge feast? Roast turkey? Pies and cakes?

No, it is celebrated with a simple meal of water, bread, butter, and apple butter. This celebration first happened on this date in 1734,  just two days after the people had arrived in North America, so they didn't have crops to harvest. The people were giving thanks that they had escaped the religious persecution they'd faced in Europe: being driven from their homes, imprisoned in dungeons, even sold into slavery.

Did you know...?

The Pennsylvania Dutch aren't Dutch, but instead come from German ancestry. In the past, Pennsylvania Dutch people commonly spoke German, but nowadays most speak English; yet many German customs still flourish today!






One thing my kids loved about Pennsylvania Dutch country were all the colorful hex signs on barns and other structures. You can get tips for making a personal hex sign at Kinder Art















Another thing we all loved was the delicious food available in Pennsylvania Dutch country. (What's not to love?) Teri's Kitchen has a ton of recipes so you can enjoy Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, too! 

If you like paper dolls, Heritage Paper Dolls website has a Pennsylvania Dutch dress to be printed and colored. (Notice the PDF file to download and print.) 



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National Punctuation Day 

September 23, 2012 - Lewis and Clark Return!


 – 1806





Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their “Corps of Discovery” made the first recorded overland journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast and back, returning to St. Louis, Missouri, on this date in 1806. The trip took more than two years, yet everyone returned except one man, Sergeant Charles Floyd, who died of infection from a ruptured appendix, (Floyd would surely have died even if he'd stayed home in civilization, as there was at that time no known cure for appendicitis.)

The group included:
   2   captains
   3   sergeants
  23  privates
   5   civilians

The civilians famously included Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian explorer and trader; his wife Sacagawea, a Shoshone woman who acted as an interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition; and their infant son Jean-Baptiste, nicknamed Little Pomp or Pompy.

By the way, did you know that Pompey's Pillar in Montana is named for Jean-Baptiste? Also, he is the only child to ever be depicted on a U.S. coin, since his image appears with his mother's on the Sacagawea dollar.

National Geographic has a “Go West Across America with Lewis and Clark” game. The website offers many other resources as well. 

Wart Games offers many links about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Explore away! 


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September 22, 2012 - Hobbit Day


Today is the birthday of the hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Of course they were born in different years: Bilbo was born in 2890, and Frodo in 2968, in the Third Age.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I can only assume that you have never read J.R.R. Tolkien's popular set of books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, nor seen the movies based on these books. I might also wonder if you live in a hole. It's fine to live in a hole, of course—some of my favorite hobbits do!




Hobbit-holes (underground homes) are called “smails.”

You can't go see the newest Peter Jackson movie version of The Hobbit today, because the first part won't be released until December of this year, but you can read Tolkien or watch some of The Lord of the Rings movies!

Here is some more hobbit fun:
  • Check out the games and quizzes at Abiator's The Hobbit website. Unfortunately, some of the links didn't work for me...
  • Find out what your hobbit name is here.

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 Car-FreeDay