October 31, 2010


(AKA All Hallows' Eve)

The “Hallows” part of the name means “Saints.” The origin of the holiday is a commemoration of the end of summer and the beginning of the darker half of the year. 

Ancient Celts believed that the wall between life and afterlife became thin at this time, and so spirits both good and evil could cross over to the normal world. The idea of wearing costumes and masks is to ward off the harmful spirits, and people also carved faces into hollowed-out turnips, which were lit from inside with candles and placed in windows—again to keep harmful spirits away. (A turnip jack-o-langtern is pictured here, below right.) Bonfires were often used during the festivities.

As is always the case, the holiday changed and evolved. In North America, pumpkins were easier to find than were turnips—and pumpkins are of course much larger and easier to carve as well!

Trick or treating started with the custom of poor people going from door to door, getting gifts of food, on November 1. Although some of these ritual “begging” customs date all the back to the middle ages, American children in costumes going from shop to shop or door to door only started in the early 1900s.

Many of the symbols of Halloween come from the Day-of-the-Dead (All Saints' Day) imagery of skeletons. Others come from popular monster lore such as Frankenstein and Dracula, and of course many decorations and themes are related to harvest time (scarecrows, apple bobbing, pumpkins).

Modern Halloween practices in the U.S. often include “haunted” attractions such as haunted houses, theme parks remade into scary mazes, corn mazes and hayrides, and more. In some cases high levels of special effects are used, and scaring people has become big business. Where I live, in Southern California, people have SO many choices, including the famous Knott's Scary Farm, but also Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Shipwreck at the Queen Mary, Castle Dark (at Riverside's Castle Park), Fearplex Haunt (at Pomona's Fairplex)—and many, many more. (Hmmm...I like the names Coffin Creek and the Scream Zone—haven't heard of those ones before...)

The Spread of Halloween

This holiday started with ancient Celtic peoples in the British Isles, and is still celebrated by many in England, Scotland, and Ireland, but it boomed in a big way in the United States and Canada, while the Day of the Dead blossomed in Mexico. Nowadays much of the North American celebrations seems to be spreading to other parts of the world, including South America, Europe, Australia, and Japan.

Probably much of the spread of Halloween is because of depictions in Hollywood movies and on television. Nowadays Halloween as a celebration for children is becoming quite popular.

October 30, 2010

War of the Worlds  – 1938

On this date in 1938, Martians invaded the Earth, frightening thousands of people...

—— Wait! Martians didn't attack us! As a matter of fact, there are no Martians!

What actually happened on October 30, 1938, was the broadcast of an Orson Welles radio show based on H. G. Wells's book The War of the Worlds. The fictional show was done in a non-fiction style—in the style of news bulletins that seemed to break into another show. There were only three announcements during the 60-minute program that this was just fiction—once each at the beginning and end, and once at the 40-minute mark. This kind of story-presented-as-news had never been done before, and people were used to trusting news flashes and bulletins, so there was understandably some fear and confusion among people who tuned into the show while it was already underway.

In other words, some of the listeners who missed the announcement that this was fiction were unsure—was this really happening?

Remember, back in 1938, there was no Twitter or Facebook. As a matter of fact, there was no internet, only a very few people had television, and many people still did not even have telephones! Some people literally went door to door asking their neighbors what was going on. Some even drove to the spot that the aliens were supposed to have landed—Van Nest Park, Grover's Mill, New Jersey!

(Pictured here is that very spot, today marked by a historic plaque.)  

There was some panic, but the amount of panic was exaggerated by the newspapers of the time. More people got mad than scared, actually—mad at Welles, and mad at CBS, who broadcast the show. Still, War of the Worlds made Orson Welles famous.

Several film versions of H. G. Wells's book have been made, including a somewhat recent version filmed in 2005.

October 29, 2010

Creole Day – Dominica

This is the day to wear, speak, and celebrate Creole culture!

On this day the Caribbean island nation of Dominica takes joy in traditional dancing, folklore, food and music.

Dominica is not to be confused with the much larger Caribbean island nation of the Dominican Republic. It is nicknamed “the Nature Isle” of the Caribbean, because its natural beauty is quite unspoiled by development. It is actually the youngest island in its island group (the Lesser Antilles), and geothermal activity is still shaping the land. You can tell it's still “active” because there is a huge boiling lake—the second largest in the world! (Pictured here.)

Most of the island is covered with lush jungle and tons of wildlife, and 365 rivers rush to the sea. Speaking of “sea,” apparently the volcanic formations make a great habitat for all sorts of marine life, so the snorkeling is great there!

So...what's Creole?

A creole language is a stable language that forms when groups of children learn pidgin (simplified) language (or languages) from their parents. In the case of Dominica, the creole language is based on French. The official language of Dominica is English, by the way.

Check it out!

Click here for a look at some traditional clothing and dancing (scroll down to the embedded video), and here to sample Dominica Cadence Lypso music.

And here is a YouTube video that promises “the whole of Dominica in just over a minute.” 

October 28, 2010

Gateway Arch completed—1965

This famous structure in St. Louis, Missouri, is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It represents the “gateway to the west,” since St. Louis was a common launching spot for westward-going covered wagons.

It is hard to imagine how anyone can build ANY arch, let alone a smoothly-curving 630-foot tall arch that is hollow inside so people can ride a tram to the top!

But this short video loop shows the top of the arch being put into place on this day 45 years ago.

This is the tallest monument in the United States. Made of stainless steel skin covering a sandwich of two carbon steel walls with reinforced concrete in the middle, on the bottom half, and carbon steel and rebar, on the top half, this monument is exactly as wide as it is tall. The tram is an egg-shaped “elevator” with five seats per compartment and a flat floor. Because there are two bases (one on the north end, and one on the south end), and each base has a train of eight linked compartments, the tram can transport 80 passengers at a time. In each leg of the arch is a stairway for emergency use. I wouldn't like to be in the top when an emergency occurs—and have to walk down 1,076 steps!

Read more about arches. Try to build one, maybe!

This modern arch is truly and architectural wonder, but people have been making blocky arches since ancient times.

Here is a short webpage about creating arches. The key to making an arch out of boxes or out of pieces of wood or clay is to lay the arch out on a board laid flat on the floor. Then raise up the arch, take away the board, and see if your construction holds! (The website also suggests some books about arches and architecture.) 

This website carefully details how to build a Roman arch with sugar cubes. 

October 27, 2010

Good Bear Day 

and Teddy Roosevelt's Birthday

Good Bear Day was created especially on the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president, because teddy bears are named for him! Apparently a toy manufacturer heard about an incident in which Roosevelt treated a bear humanely (kindly, with consideration of suffering), and the manufacturer asked permission to name its new stuffed bear after the president.

Since that time in the early 1900s, teddy bear has been synonymous with toy bear or stuffed bear.

So, Good Bear Day was on Teddy R's birthday—but what was Good Bear Day?

It was a holiday created by a group who collected teddy bears and other stuffed animals to be distributed to sick, needy, or traumatized children and others in need of bear hugs to make life a little more bearable.”

The organization accepted donations of new teddies or of previously loved bears, which were restored before being distributed to kids in need.

Celebrate teddies!

  • Refurbish and donate stuffed animals that are mouldering in the corners of your house!

  • Or spiff up your teddy bears and proudly display them as a collection. Another way to decorate with teddy bears is to dress them according to season. Right now your teddies need some quickie Halloween costumes!

  • Draw or color some cuddly teddy bears. Instead of using real bear colors such as black or brown, try coloring a bear in colorful plaids or prints. You can make a bear drawing look like a teddy bear by showing some stitching or drawing buttons for eyes, too. Cute!

Here are some simple coloring pages. 
Here is a much more complicated picture to color in. It's by Jan Brett, so you know it's great! 
Here is a step-by-step lesson on drawing a bear. 
And here is a more complicated step-by-step on drawing teddy bears. 

October 26, 2010

The Erie Canal Opens – 1825

On this day in 1825, transportation in the Northeastern U.S. (New England) changed forever.

For the first time, the Atlantic Ocean was connected to the Mid-West (the Great Lakes) by a waterway that didn't require portage. This means that there was no waterfall area that was impassable by boat and therefore required people to get out, unload, carry the boat and cargo over land, and then get back in the river. (You can see why river routes that require portage cannot be traversed by large boats with large cargos, right?)

Starting on this date, transport costs from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic fell by 95%!

And what made all of that possible? The completion of the Erie Canal.

A canal is like an artificial river, a waterway constructed for boat travel. Canals usually connect existing lakes, rivers, or oceans. One famous canal is the Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Erie Canal is nearly as famous and was very important to the development of cities like Chicago and New York City.

Many canals feature locks, which are boat-sized chambers in which water level can be raised or lowered. (A lock is pictured here, right.) Locks are used in places where canals have to change altitude, because each lock acts almost like a stair step.

In the case of the Erie Canal, the land rises 600 feet (180 m) along the route of the canal, from the Hudson River at Albany, NY, to Lake Erie at Buffalo, NY. Apparently there are 36 “stair-steps” or locks along the length of the 363-mile (584 km) canal.

To celebrate the opening of the canal on this date in 1825, a flotilla of boats set off with a 90-minute cannonade. The boats carried passengers, including New York Governor Dewitt Clinton, from Buffalo to New York City in just ten days. In New York Harbor there was a ceremonial “wedding of the waters” as the governor poured some Lake Erie water into the harbor. On the return trip, a keg of Atlantic Ocean water was carried to Lake Erie to complete the ceremony.

October 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Pablo Picasso!

Born on this day in 1881, this famous Spanish artist was christened Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. I cannot figure out why we don't use his whole name when referring to him!

Considered a revolutionary artist, Picasso co-founded the Cubist movement but painted and drew in many styles over the course of his life.

Picasso grew up and studied art in Spain, but he moved to Paris, which was then the art capital of the world, in 1900. While there Picasso lived in so much poverty, he had to burn much of his art just to stay warm! By 1901 Picasso moved back to Madrid, Spain, and luckily he found patrons who believed in him and bought his art: American writer Gertrude Stein and her husband and brother.

  • Look at this very short YouTube video of Picasso painting. Notice how free his brush strokes are as he sketches the figures he will paint....For another taste of Picasso, check out this short time-lapse video. Notice how the artist keeps adding details and shading, long after you and I might think the painting was “done.” 
  • Try your hand at adding more and more details to a drawing or painting, just as Picasso did. Check out this time-lapse “doodle” for inspiration. 

Learn more!

Squidoo has a fun webpage about Picasso. Lots to click and see and read! 

Here is a coloring program with a Picasso-esque portrait. Enjoy! 

For more Picasso links, check out this earlier post

October 24, 2010

United Nations Day

The United Nations had its beginnings in World War II. The Allied Nations were sometimes called the United Nations. The “Big Three” Allies were Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR (Russia). Other Allies included France (before it fell), China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippine Commonwealth, Poland, the Union of South Africa, and Yugoslavia.

Representatives of the Allied countries began to plan an international organization                   during the war, and in April of 1945, a conference was held to create the organization. The U.N. was formally established on this day in 1945.

The U.N. has a lot of success in the areas of human rights, economic development, health, and education. Its mission to prevent war hasn't been as successful, unfortunately. It is in an excellent position to lead in worldwide problems such as climate change—as long as member states such as the United States actually follow that lead and cooperate with one another!

Check out the United Nation's Cyber Schoolbus website. 

Another cool link to try is UNICEF's MAGIC (Media Activities and Good Ideas by, with, and for Children). 

For the past 60 Halloweens, some kids trick or treat for money for UNICEF (the U.N.'s children fund) rather than for candy. 

October 23, 2010

National Mole Day – U.S.
(Avogadro's Number)

This is NOT a holiday to honor the digging mammal called a mole!

Instead, it is a day commemorating Avogadro's Number, which is a basic measuring unit in chemistry.

Actually, just PART of the day is Mole Day. From 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m., on 10-23, we celebrate this chemistry commemoration. That's because Avogadro's Number is 6.02 x 10^23.

For any molecule, one mole is a mass in grams whose number is equal to the atomic mass of the molecule. For example, a water molecule (H2O) has an atomic mass of 18. So one mole of water weighs 18 grams.

In general, one mole of any substance contains Avogadro's Number of molecules or atoms of that substance. Another way of saying that is that 18 grams of water has 6.02 x 10^23 molecules of water.

Learn about Mole Day, Avogadro's Number / moles, and chemistry!

  • Mole is just a word that stands for a number. (Granted, it's a pretty ginormous number!) It's a one-syllable word for a number that is used a lot by chemists, and the word is there so that chemists can easily refer to the number.

In other words, instead of saying “six point zero two times ten to the twenty-third power,” chemists just say “mole.” If you want to see a more complete explanation, go here
  • Here is another good explanation of Avogadro's Number, which is sometimes called “the chemist's dozen.” 
  • Check out Meg A. Mole's interviews with chemists here

One of the interviews is with Anshul Samar, who created a chemistry game called Elementeo. 

October 22, 2010

First Recorded Solar Eclipse – China – 2137 B.C. (?)

According to Shu Chin ("The Book"), Chinese observers recorded a solar eclipse on this date almost four thousand years ago!

Did you notice my question mark in the heading above? I was surprised that we would know the particular day as well as year of something that happened so long ago. Obviously, Ancient Chinese didn't use the same calendar system we used today—so, I figured, someone must have translated an ancient date into a modern one. I wondered if there was any controversy.

Sure enough, I found a reference to the fact that a scholar named Chen came up with the October 22, 2137 BC, date. Another scholar named Liu dated the same item as October 23, 2110 BC. Wikipedia states that the entire claim of the recording of this eclipse is controversial. Maybe that's why many sources state that the first recorded solar eclipse was in Babylonia, miles away and years later.

Perhaps part of the problem is that ancient observers didn't know exactly what was happening. When we see references to sudden darkness or a dragon eating the sun, is this a record of an eclipse?

What is an eclipse, anyway?

You probably know that a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon gets between the Sun and the Earth, blocking the Sun's light from those observers who are in the Moon's shadow. On rare occasions, a total eclipse occurs, and every bit of the Sun is hidden behind the Moon. During a total eclipse, the Sun's disc is entirely covered by the black circle that is the Moon, and suddenly the Sun's much fainter corona shows up all around the black disc. (Normally, we can't see the corona because the Sun's bright light washes it out.)

IMPORTANT: It is not safe to watch a solar eclipse directly, just as it isn't safe to look directly at the Sun at any time. Here is a guide of safe ways to watch an eclipse. 

Note that the moon doesn't cast a very large shadow on the earth, so people living in a swath of land about 155 miles wide (750 km) would be able to see a total eclipse, which lasts about seven minutes.


  • Here is a website that shows when and where the next eclipse will happen. Be sure to scroll down to the Earth animation to see the “path of totality” (the tiny black dot inside the large gray shadow, which is the area where people will see the eclipse). Also, just below the Earth animation is the “teach section,” which has an animation that shows the positions of the Moon, Sun and Earth during an eclipse. There is also a gallery of photos and much more.
  • A simple experiment can show how a smaller object like the Moon can completely hide a much larger object like the Sun. 

For more on eclipses, see this earlier post

October 21, 2010

Antilles Day (?)

It's interesting to find out about holidays I didn't even know existed in places I'd hardly heard of—but, in this day of tons and tons of info at my fingertips, courtesy of the Internet, what I find interesting about this particular holiday and place is that I cannot find out what I want to know!

The Netherlands Antilles was the name of a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It was located in the Caribbean Sea and was made up of five major islands. On October 21 each year, stores and offices and schools closed up for a national holiday called Antilles Day.

But the Netherlands Antilles dissolved earlier this month (October 10), so my question is, will this holiday even happen this year?

The five islands have different fates. Three of them—Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius—became special municipalities of the Netherlands, but the other two—Curacao and Sint Maarten—became constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

My guess is that the islanders will celebrate Antilles Day just as before—it's always nice to have an excuse for a vacation day, right?—but I couldn't seem to spot any information about planned school closures, say, or festivities.


...some photos of the Antilles. 
--be sure to click each photo on this page—it leads to a gallery of other fantastic photos!
--notice the TONS of variety—creatures and sea life, beaches and historic sites—great stuff!

...a virtual tour, from the website Green Antilles. 

...jigsaw puzzles of the Antilles. 

October 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sir Christopher Wren

Born on this day in 1632, Wren is one the most famous architects in history. He is responsible for designing more than 50 churches in London, after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral.

Wren was a polymath (learned in many subjects), noted for his knowledge or contributions to astronomy, geometry, and mathematics as well as architecture. Intellectual superstars such as Sir Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal spoke highly of his scientific work.

St. Paul's took 36 years to built and boasts one of the largest domes in the world. It was the tallest building in London from the time it was finished in 1710 until 1962! It was targeted during the German bombing of London during World War II (the Blitz), and although buildings all around it were destroyed, remarkably, it survived. (The cathedral was struck by two bombs that did not destroy it, and a third time-delayed bomb would have utterly destroyed it if it had not been defused and removed by the bomb disposal unit of the Royal Engineers!)

This cathedral is well worth a visit! One thing I remember about my visit was the Whispering Gallery. This is reached after climbing many stairs up to the dome. If one person whispers against the wall at any point in the dome, the whisper can be heard by a listener with an ear held to the wall at any other point around the gallery! Actually, this is true of any dome—if you find yourself in one, try it!

Of course, Wren designed many other important buildings, including hospitals, libraries, and palace buildings. (At the Wikipedia link, scroll down to the gallery of Wren's buildings.)

Learn more about architecture.
ArchKIDecture is a great site to explore! 

Fact Monster is fun, too!

October 19, 2010

Mariner 5 Flies by Venus – 1967

During the 1960s, there was a Space Race, with Cold War enemies Soviet Union and United States trying to outdo each other in exploring the solar system.

At first, the USSR pulled ahead by being the first to successfully launch a rocket into Earth orbit (Sputnik 1 – 1957) and then by being the first to put a man in space (Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1 – 1961). A few months after each of these Soviet successes, the US was able to match the feats with Explorer 1 (1958) and Alan Shepherd in a Mercury spaceship (1961).

Many Americans would say, however, that the US won the Space Race because of the daring manned moon landings and explorations. To this date, this feat has not been matched by astronauts from any other country.

But, you ask, what does all of this have to do with Venus?

The Soviet Union and America's space program, NASA, chose a wide variety of projects, including exploring nearby planets, during the time of the Space Race. These planetary flights were all unmanned, and many of them did not succeed for one reason or another. Launch failures and loss of contact (in the latter case, the fate of the spacecraft is often unknown) happened with some regularity. However, when a mission worked, the data gathered by the spacecraft is beamed home and enriches the scientific knowledge for the entire world.

Here are some of the flights deemed failures:
1961 USSR Sputnik 7
USSR Venera 1
1962 US Mariner 1
USSR Sputnik 19
USSR Sputnik 20
USSR Sputnik 21
1963 USSR Cosmos 21
1964 USSR Venera 1964A
USSR Venera 1964B
USSR Cosmos 27
USSR Zond 1
1965 USSR Venera 2
USSR Venera 3
USSR Cosmos 96
USSR Venera 1965A

And to offset all that failure during that four-year period:
1962 US Mariner 2

Finally, in 1967, both nations met with success in exploring Earth's nearest planet. On October 18, 1967, the Soviet Venera 4 became the first probe to analyze another planet from its surface. And the very next day, October 19, 1967, the United States' Mariner 5 did a successful fly-by. Both spacecraft were able to send back important data that tells us a lot more about our “sister planet.”

Sister planet??? Umm...

Not only is Venus the closest planet to the Earth, it is the closest planet to ours in size. That is why it is called Earth's sister planet.

But it's not very much like Earth in some pretty crucial ways.
Here and here are pictures of what it might look like on Venus. It's really, really hot. 


Like 900 degrees Fahrenheit! (500 degrees Celsius)

October 18, 2010

Persons Day – Canada

Women are persons!

That was the big revelation in the court case decided on this day in 1929, and it enabled Canadian women to be treated equally, including being considered qualified for appointment to the Senate.

Canada has been considered a nation rather than a colony of Great Britain since the British North American Act of 1867, which served as the country's first Constitution. (From 1867 to 1975, there have been many BNA Acts, and in 1982 many acts were amended or repealed, and the rest were renamed Constitution Acts.)

For years women were not able to be appointed to the Senate because “qualified persons” in the Constitution were defined as men. Even Canada's Supreme Court unanimously stated that the 1867 law, which was passed when women could neither vote nor run for any office, couldn't possibly have been written with the possibility of women being considered a qualified person. It took an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain to overturn the ruling and state that women were persons!

Emily Murphy, pictured here, spearheaded the movement to include women as qualified persons in Canada.

Want more?

There is a lot of information about women's rights movements (especially historical) in the U.S., but it isn't as easy to find out stuff about women's rights movements all over the world. Here's a website with some interesting looking articles. 

And here is a website with a timeline of women's rights in Canada. 

October 17, 2010

Black Poetry Day – U.S.

This is a great excuse to delve into the poetry of such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Phillis Wheatley, and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Why October 17? It is the birthday of Jupiter Hammon (pictured above), the first published African American poet, who was born into slavery on this day in 1711.

Hammon lived his whole life as a slave and was the son of two slaves. He lived during the time that slavery was legal in the North as well as the south, and he was owned by a family living in Queens, New York.

Here are some poems and some links, to get your day off to a great start:

Children's Rhymes
by Langston Hughes

By what sends
the white kids
I ain't sent:
I know I can't
be President.
What don't bug
them white kids
sure bugs me:
We know everybody
ain't free.

Lies written down
for white folks
ain't for us a-tall:
Liberty And Justice--
Huh!--For All?

More from Langston Hughes here.

We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks

We real cool. We
Left School. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

More from Gwendolyn Brooks here.

An Easy Goin' Feller
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

THER' ain't no use in all this strife,

An' hurryin', pell-mell, right thro' life.

I don't believe in goin' too fast

To see what kind o' road you've passed.

It ain't no mortal kind o' good,

'N' I would n't hurry ef I could.

I like to jest go joggin' 'long,

To limber up my soul with song;

To stop awhile 'n' chat the men,

'N' drink some cider now an' then.

Do' want no boss a-standin' by

To see me work; I allus try

To do my dooty right straight up,

An' earn what fills my plate an' cup.
An' ez fur boss, I'll be my own,

I like to jest be let alone,

To plough my strip an' tend my bees,

An' do jest like I doggoned please.

My head's all right, an' my heart's meller,

But I'm a easy-goin' feller.

The Poet
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

He sang of life, serenely sweet,
With, now and then, a deeper note.
From some high peak, nigh yet remote,

He voiced the world's absorbing beat.

He sang of love when earth was young,

And Love, itself, was in his lays.

But, ah, the world, it turned to praise

A jingle in a broken tongue.

More from Paul Dunbar here.

My First Memory (of Librarians)
by Nikki Giovanni

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
too short
For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big.

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall.

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.

More from Nikki Giovanni here