July 31, 2012 - Uncommon Instruments Awareness Day

Do you know what a cymbalom is? Do you know what a stalacpipe organ sounds like?

Well, then, you're in luck, because today is going to be a great chance to learn about some unusual musical instruments!

First, let me tell you about the Earth Harp...

Even though I live in Southern California, going to Hollywood to glimpse movie stars and going to TV show tapings are SO not "my thing." But a friend really wanted me to go to a taping, earlier this year, so I found myself in a theater watching “America's Got Talent."

And I feel really lucky to have been there, because a fellow name William Close blew us all away by turning the entire theater into a musical instrument. As you listen to this YouTube video of his performance, let me assure you that the sounds inside that theater were far more powerful and haunting that what you are hearing from your computer speakers!

It was really, really cool—wish you had been therethe entire audience leapt to our collective feet when it was done in a huge standing ovation!

...And the laser harp, the rain stick, and water glasses

This is a sonic palette.
This is called a "pibe cyrn," the
Welsh version of the bagpipe.
Last but not least, check out some more common instruments that you may or may not be familiar with:

The “official” website of Uncommon Instruments Awareness Day isn't all that official, but it shows that the creator of this day cares a lot about musical instruments! And it offers links to many more uncommon musical instruments!!

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July 30, 2012 - Paperback Book Day

Here's the good news: we have this great technology to give you all sorts of knowledge, stories, and entertainment—text and pictures—in a really convenient and low-cost format. It's cheap enough you don't have to worry about using it in the bathtub or jacuzzi, yet you can easily find stuff you've previously read, or tag specific info to re-read later. It's light enough to carry on a trip, and it won't interfere with an airplane's electronics.

You've probably already guessed that I'm not talking about the latest advances in e-readers, but the old technology of the paperback book! I'm thinking that there will always be a place for the paperback, because it is the easiest thing to read in some situations.

(Some people disagree. Best-selling author G. P. Taylor said that e-books will bring about the death of paperbacks, but not of hardbacks. Maybe he's right!) 
Happy birthday to paperback books!

How old is the paperback book? The first Penguin paperback books were published on this date in 1935, in England, starting what some call a paperback revolution. (These were not the first “softcover” books published, but they are considered the first paperback books “of substance” published. Before Penguin's paperbacks, softcover books were poorly printed on cheap, yellowing paper with flimsy bindings,” and the printed content was second-rate at best.) 

There were many who thought the paperback would kill the publishing industry—how could anyone make money when each book sold so cheap? These first books were sold for just sixpence each! But the new, inexpensive books were a sensation, and Penguin sold three million paperbacks in its first year, in a country of just 38 million people!

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July 29, 2012 - National Lasagna Day

Mmm...layers of lovely Italian yumminess!

Today is National Lasagna Day, and I'd love to say let's all eat lasagna, but I think it's a crazy time of year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere to be baking lasagna—the time of year here in Southern California that can run maybe 105 degrees (but will probably be more like 85 or 90)—and lasagna needs to bake for a looooong time in the oven.

So, am I right? Crazy!

Here's my Lasagna Day plan:

  • If I can, I will eat lasagna at a restaurant. Or I will heat up a nice frozen lasagna in the microwave, which (unlike the regular oven) doesn't accidentally ALSO heat up the house.
  • Unless it's one of those freakishly cool July days, in which I might just make a pan of our family favorite lasagna. Simmer a pot of marinara sauce flavored with basil, oregano, onions, salt, pepper, celery, and mushrooms. Then layer cooked lasagna noodles, sauce, grated mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, and grated parmesan cheese. The top layer is just noodles, sauce, and the two grated cheeses (no ricotta). Bake for about an hour at 350 degrees.

    (If you prefer a meaty lasagna, try this recipe.) 
  • If it's REALLY hot, I'm going to forget the lasagna entirely and eat another layered Italian food: spumoni ice cream!

All-Recipes-dot-com has a lot of lasagna recipes to try. There are recipes featuring sausage, zucchini, chicken, spinach, seafood, meatballs, moose, and artichokes! The spicy chipotle lasagna sounds like a Southwest version, and some recipes feature heart health or low-carb to the genre.

Hold the presses!

While researching lasagna recipes, I discovered this delicious sounding no-bake version! Oh, man, this really does look good for a light summer supper! 

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(another post here)

July 28, 2012 - Buffalo Soldiers Day

This is an actual, official holiday in the U.S., declared so by Congress in 1992. And I bet you didn't even know that buffalo could serve as soldiers, right?

Actually, the Buffalo Soldiers were the U.S. Army regiments of African American soldiers, first formed on this date in 1866. The first of these regiments fought bravely for the Union during the Civil War.

Notice that:
(1) The regiments were racially segregated. White and black soldiers didn't live and fight together in the same regiment until the armed forces were integrated in the 1940s and 1950s.

(2) The segregated African-American regiments often had white officers, although there were some black officers even during the Civil War (Henry O. Flipper is one example). (Also note that in 1989 Army General Colin Powell was appointed as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which meant that an African American general was the highest ranking officer in the entire U.S. military.)
(3) The term “Buffalo Soldiers” was a name given to the black soldiers by some Native Americans that they fought during the Indian Wars. The name could have been praise for the toughness of the soldiers, or mere comment on the soldiers' curly black hair, but some historians think it was a disparaging racial term, meant to insult the soldiers.

Today various groups will hold reenactments, dedications, and special programs in order to pay tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers. There may be screenings of the Oscar-winning movie “Glory” (rated R), and the TV movie “Buffalo Soldiers” (rated TV-14).

Find out more...

  • Here are some interesting illustrated pages about the Buffalo Soldiers, courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. 

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July 27, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Jeanne Baret!

She is the first woman to have circled the globe (at least, that we know of)...but she had to pretend to be a man to do it!

Jeanne Baret (born on this date in 1740) was a close companion to a man named Philibert Commerson, who had been hired as the naturalist for an expedition of discovery. Commerson needed Baret to act as both an assistant in studying previously unknown plants (Baret was reported to be an expert botanist) and as a nurse, since he was often unwell. However, the expedition had a firm no-women-allowed rule. Baret  disguised herself as a man called Jean (the French equivalent to the name “John”), and just before the two expedition ships set sail, in 1766, she got a position as Commerson's assistant. The two pretended not to know each other before the journey!

Once the Louis Antoine de Bougainville expedition reached Montevideo, in what is now the nation of Uruguay in South America, Baret had to do much of the hard work in collecting plants, since Commerson's leg had an unhealed ulcer. She probably carried most of the supplies and specimens, for example. The next port, Rio de Janeiro, found Commerson supposedly confined to the ship until his leg healed. However, he and Baret still managed to collect some specimens, including a gorgeous flowering plant that Commerson named Bougainvilla after the expedition leader. When they explored rugged Patagonia, Baret gained a reputation with the entire expedition for courage and strength, and the injured Commerson ruefully called her his “beast of burden.” Baret not only helped collect plants, stones, and shells, she also helped organize and catalog the specimens and notes. Baret and Commerson had plenty of time to do so while sailing across the Pacific Ocean from South America to Tahiti.

Bougainvilla bush
Once in Tahiti, apparently, Baret was found out as a woman. Different journals tell very different stories about how this discovery was made (and even when and where, to some extent), but some time later, when the ships landed in the French colony of Mauritius (an island in the Indian Ocean), Baret and Commerson left the expedition to visit a friend and fellow botanist.

The two continued to collect botanical specimens on Mauritius, but Commerson was running out of money and continuing to have health problems. Suddenly, he died, and Baret had no way to get back to France!

Baret got a job running a tavern on Mauritius, and about a year later she married an officer in the French army who was on his way home. When she finally did get back to France with her new husband, probably nine years after she started out with Bougainville's expedition, she was able to get the money left to her by Commerson's will. She and her husband settled down in a peaceful little village.

Here's a surprise: Baret was given a pension of 200 livres a year by the Ministry of Marine, with these complimentary words:

Jeanne Barré, by means of a disguise, circumnavigated the globe on one of the vessels commanded by Mr de Bougainville. She devoted herself in particular to assisting Mr de Commerson, doctor and botanist, and shared with great courage the labours and dangers of this savant. Her behaviour was exemplary and Mr de Bougainville refers to it with all due credit.... His Lordship has been gracious enough to grant to this extraordinary woman a pension of two hundred livres a year to be drawn from the fund for invalid servicemen and this pension shall be payable from 1 January 1785.”

I love that she was given this respect and reward while she was still living! So many women were hated during their lives but later praised.

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July 26, 2012 - One Voice

Today at 1 p.m. CDT, people from all over the world will be reading the Universal Peace Covenant aloud. Although the peace covenant will be read in English and Spanish and many other languages, read by men and by women, by young people and by the elderly—we are asked to consider all the voices reading aloud the covenant at the same time to be just one voice, united in hope of peace.

Check out the official website, which has the Universal Peace Covenant, in case you want to participate in the global read-aloud. 

Create a Peace Camp!

In some places, people are holding “peace camps” for kids, where children can learn about good ideas that encourage peace. Maybe you could do your own personal “camp” by learning about people like Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ruby Bridges, and Nelson Mandela. Try to implement these “100 Ideas for Creating a More Peaceful World.” Make a poster for peace. (Here are some inspirations!) Sing songs about peace! 

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July 25, 2012 - National Merry-Go-Round Day

Ride a nearby carousel to celebrate the ancient activity of whirling round-and-round! The earliest known depiction of a carousel dates back to a carving made around the year 500, within the Byzantine civilization. In that bas-relief, riders were pictured in baskets suspended from a central pole.

During the Middle Ages, cavalry (soldiers who fight on horseback) did some training on wooden horses suspended from arms that branch from a central pole. The training devise was called a carousel, which comes from the Spanish word for “little battle.”

This is what a flying carousel looks like today.
Notice: no horses!
In the early 1600s, a traveller described in writing a carousel pleasure ride he saw in the Ottoman Empire (in what is now Bulgaria), and by the early 1700s, these kinds of carousels were being built at fairs and gatherings in many places in central Europe and England.These early carousels had no platforms—the animals would hang on poles or chains and would fly out from the centrifugal force as the carousel turned. Also, early carousels were powered by people or animals pulling ropes and walking in circles, or by people turning a crank. Later, of course, steam engines and eventually electricity powered the rides.

More carousel fun...

  • Here, here, here, and here are some cool carousel creatures to print out and color. And here is an entire carousel to color.
  • Here is an online jigsaw of some carousel horses. (Notice that you can change how difficult the puzzle is by clicking “Change Cut” on the left side of the screen.) 

  • I love this “Stained-Glass” coloring book, drawn by Christy Shaffer.
  • Design your own carousel. What kinds of animals would you use? Would they go up and down? What colors would you use for the platform, poles, and canopy? Would there decorations and lights? Draw and label a picture of your design.

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July 24, 2012 - Cousins Day

Your cousins are (generally speaking) your aunts' and uncles' kids.

They may help you from going crazy during long Thanksgiving feasts, or they may drive you crazy at family birthday parties! They may be almost exactly your age, or they may seem to be an entire generation older or younger than you. You may see your cousins every single week, or you may have never met them before in your life. 

Whatever the case, consider visiting or calling your cousins today to catch up or to make new memories!

Did you know...?

Different societies keep track of (and name) different relatives...well, differently! For example, in traditional Iroquois culture, your father's brothers are called the Iroquois word for “father,” just as your actual father is! However, your father's sisters are called “aunt.” In the same way, your mother's sisters are called the Iroquois word for “mother,” but your mother's brothers are called “uncle.” Your father's brother's kids are not called “cousins,” as they would be in the modern U.S. society—instead, they are your brothers and sisters. But your father's mother's kids are considered your cousins. These are just some of the differences between Iroquois and my own kinship systems.

People of South Sudan, in Africa, have different names for your father's brother and for your mother's brother. (Let's say, “funcle” for your uncle on your father's side, and “muncle” for the one on your mother's side.) The Sudanese have a different name yet for your mother's sister's husband, and another name for your father's sister's husband. So there are four different sorts of names for the various people I would call “uncles.” The same is true for all the varying sorts of aunts, and there are eight different kin names for all the different sorts of cousins!

Even in my own society, there are a lot of kin terms that I don't really know or use. For example, who is my second cousin once removed? Well, my second cousin is my grandpa's sister's grandchild, whoever he or she may be (let's says it's a she, and her name is Sally)—well, in that case my second cousin once removed would be Sally's child! See, I really don't know who those people are; if I met them on the street and asked what our relationship was, I would say “stranger”! And this is my own kinship system I'm talking about!

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July 23, 2012 - A Boundary Treaty Is Signed


Argentina and Chile both pulled away from their colonial overlord, Spain, declaring their independence in 1816 and 1818, respectively. You'd think that people in these two nations would want to get along—new nations often struggle with creating the constitutions and governmental organizations that will enable them to succeed—but in this case, the relationship between these two South American countries went sour right away.

And, of course, it was all about whose-owns-this-bit-of-land?

Chile was content, at first, to establish its eastern boundary at the Andes, but then someone started arguing that Chile deserves to own all of Patagonia, which is the entire region at the southern end of South America. (The island Tierra del Fuego is usually included in this region.)

Well, sure, you could make a case that Pedro de Valdivia got the rights to all of Patagonia from the Spanish crown, back in the 16th Century, but you could also point out that Argentina had supported Welsh immigrants in parts of Patagonia. You could argue that Chile just cared about the Straits of Magellan (a bit of sea between mainland South America and the island Tierra del Fuego, through which ships can travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans) and that the Chilean government had seen Patagonia as a useless wasteland. But you could also say, “Hey, Argentina, you already have so much land, and poor little Chile is soooo skinny! Can't you give Chile some more land?”

At any rate, Argentina and Chile squabbled over the land and then signed this treaty, which split Tierra del Fuego and the rest of the disputed lands between the two nations, and which stated that the Straits of Magellan shall be “neutralized for ever, and free navigation assured to the flags of all nations.” In other words, NOBODY is allowed to build military bases there!
A treaty is generally a good thing, a sort of win-win. In this case, however, there still have been disputes over Patagonia. In 2010, for example, the two countries argued over the Southern Icefields, which contain the second largest reserve of potable water in the world!

For more info about Patagonia, check out this earlier post.

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