January 31, 2013 - Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

Today we celebrate art and recognize that it affects our “heart” (emotions).

Remember, the word “art” comprises more than just drawings, paintings, and sculpture. It includes music and literature, installation art and multi-media presentations, glassblowing and quilt making and jewelry making and other “crafts,” dance and drama and other performing arts. And much, much more!

Today, try to find time to go to a gallery, watch a performance, or make some art.

Browse some art online:

Nicole Dextras creates words out of ice and allows them to melt. Check out her 6-foot-tall “View,” and other works on the menu at left. 

The kids at Imago Dei Middle School worked on a peace art project. There are tons of other “peace” pieces available on the menu at the left. 

Christo has wrapped bridges and public buildings and even islands! Checkout his latest project. 

Some artists create large pieces called Land Art or Earth Works
Check out Spiral Jetty

Also on this date:

Chess composer Sam Lloyd's birthday

January 30, 2013 - First Lifeboat

– 1790

One day in 1789, a British ship was stranded on a sandbank. The conditions were so stormy that the crew could not be rescued—and that's no good! A committee formed to design and build a special boat that could deal with such a situation, in the future. It would be called a lifeboat.

A man named Henry Greathead designed a lifeboat but was apparently employed to build a lifeboat designed by the committee with some of his suggestions. The lifeboat had a curved keel that rose higher than most boats—the better to deal with the high waves of a storm. It could be rowed in either direction and could be steered by oar rather than by rudder. The sides were cased with four-inch-thick cork, covered with copper; the cork helped the boat be extremely buoyant and able to recover quickly from being upset.

The lifeboat, called the Original, was able to carry twelve people. On this day in 1790, she went on her first trial. It was quite successful and remained in service for 40 years.

Notice that the Original was not carried about on a ship but was instead kept in a harbor. She went to sea whenever a ship signaled distress.

Nowadays many large ships carry their own lifeboats onboard, and many lifeboats are inflatable. There are still many harbor-based lifeboats that are designed to be very speedy, to hold extra fuel reserves, and to stay afloat in bad weather. Of course up-to-date lifeboats use modern communication and data technologies to find ships and other watercraft in distress and to locate and rescue survivors.

Also on this date:

Birthday of Thomas Rolfe, son of Pocahontas

Anniversary of the discovery of the world's tallest geyser

January 29, 2013 - Thomas Paine Day

If you live in the U.S., perhaps you remember Thomas Paine's Common Sense from U.S. History classes. In this pamphlet Paine urged people in the thirteen American colonies to separate from Britain and its king and to form a democratic republic. In fact, Paine urged colonists to break from history and orient themselves toward a future ideal unheard of before.

Common Sense was first published in January of 1776, and it became an instant success. In just three months, 100,000 copies were sold in the thirteen colonies—and experts think that a total of 500,000 total were sold, because there were pirated editions (even though of course electronic copiers had not yet been invented!).

The pamphlet was so popular, so talked-about, so galvanizing, that Paine is often called the Father of the American Revolution.

Why was this pamphlet so important?

There are several reasons that scholars put forward to explain Paine's success in capturing people's attention and swaying their opinions. One reason, of course, was good timing—events were building to make many people dissatisfied with long-distance British rule and fearful of tyranny. Another reason is that Paine didn't use the formal and flowery language used by learned people at the time. Instead, he used clear, concise language. He was able to make complex ideas easy to understand.

(I think that, even today, many scholars use as many long words and convoluted sentences as possible, as if making the written word difficult to understand makes them feel smart. But I personally adore clear, accessible writing. Really clever writing is usually simple to understand.)

Today is Thomas Paine's birthday! He was born on this date in 1737. Common Sense wasn't his only important work; he wrote Rights of Man and The Age of Reason in the 1790s. He was among the first to call for the end of slavery and the establishment of human rights for all—not just for people like him. Americans may celebrate him for his role in inspiring our nation, but everyone in the world can celebrate Paine as a brave freethinker whose words and works inspired democracy and Enlightenment thinking everywhere.

Also on this date:

Flight pioneer Lawrence Hargrave's birthday

January 28, 2013 - Democracy Day in Rwanda

When I think of the tiny African nation of Rwanda, I don't think of democracy—I think of genocide.
That's because in the early 1990s Rwanda had a grisly civil war between two different ethnic groups, and in 1994 there was a horrific massacre. The word genocide means the deliberate killing of a particular group of people—and when Hutu extremists killed about a million Tutsi (and moderate Hutu)—well, that qualifies as genocide.

But Rwanda is trying to put that horrific past behind it and tell the world about the good things about the nation. Here are some of the “best of” Rwanda:

  • It is one of only two countries in which mountain gorillas can be seen, and gorilla tracking has helped tourism grow. Chimps, golden monkeys, and other primates live safely in Nyngwe Forest, another popular attraction.
  • Traditional arts include imigongo, which is cow dung art. (You read that right—it's made with cow poop!)

  • Rwanda was the first country to be ruled by a parliament in which women outnumber the men (after the 2008 elections).

  • Rwanda is attempting to become the Switzerland or Singapore of Africa. Like Switzerland and Singapore, it is a small nation that is positioning itself as very business-friendly. (And like Switzerland, Rwanda is landlocked and very mountainous. It is sometimes called the Land of 1000 Hills, and the entire nation lies at high latitudes.) Rwandan President Kagame is trying hard to make sure the cities and towns are clean and orderly, he has personally started a trade relationship in which CostCo and Starbucks buy Rwandan coffee, and he has succeeded in luring some tech companies, such as Google, to invest in his nation.

Check out photos of Rwanda here and also over here.

Also on this date:

January 27, 2013 - Thomas Crapper Day

He pushed the idea of every home having a flush toilet. Yeah for Crapper, I say! I'm glad he's been given a special day!

(By the way, we usually celebrate a person and his accomplishments on his birthday. But since nobody knows when he was born—probably some day in September, 1836—Crapper's day is on the anniversary of his death in 1910.)

The 3-D painting
on this toilet makes
it look scary!
Thomas Crapper was a plumber who lived in London, England. Some people assume that he invented the flush toilet, but he didn't. A man named John Harrington did that in 1596. Instead, Crapper made several inventions that helped improve the flush toilet, and he was an important popularizer of this then new-fangled sanitation device. One way he spread the idea of having a toilet in the house was by creating the first bathroom fittings showroom.

Also on this date:

January 26, 2013 - Tu B'Shevat

(Tu B'Shevat began at sundown yesterday and lasts until sundown today.)

Today is “Jewish Arbor Day”—also called the New Year for Trees.

Just as we have a calendar New Year (for most of us, January 1), a school new year (perhaps a date in September), and a fiscal new year (often July 1), Jewish people have Rosh Hashanah (“Jewish New Year”) but also a separate new year for trees. Rather than counting a tree's age from the date it sprouted, with every tree adding another year to its age on the anniversary of that sprouting, the Jewish people move all trees up in age by one year each Tu B'Shevat.

Some Jews who observe this holiday eat fruit grown on trees, or perhaps eat pilaf made with the Seven Species listed in the Bible as being abundant in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Some people plant a tree to celebrate Tu B'Shevat.

Here are some Arbor Day resources: puzzles, mazes, coloring pages, and worksheets. 

Trees are amazing things.
Some people work with them
as they grow to make them take
on certain shapes.

Bonsai is one example.
The bonsai artist tries to
grow a miniature replica
of a large tree.

What do you think of this "tree person"?

This "crooked forest" was
probably the beginnings of
someone's project that
has been abandoned.

Also on this date:

January 25, 2013 - A Room of One's Own Day

If you have your own room, you know that it can be a place to get peace and quiet, or where you can turn up your favorite music...

it can be a place where you can get privacy, or where you can hang out with your friends...

it can be a place you decorate your way, but also the place that is your responsibility to keep neat and clean.

Today is set aside for everyone who has his or her own room to take the time to appreciate it! Maybe you will want to reorganize or clean your room. Maybe you will want to treat yourself to a cute new wall switch plate or wastebasket. Maybe you can make a floor plan by drawing your room to scale (hint: use graph paper) and cutting out rectangles and circles that are scale representations of your furniture. Be sure to mark doors, closets, and windows on your scale drawing—and then play around with new and different arrangements of your furniture.

Or you can try using an online tool such as the Better Homes and Garden website to make and manipulate a floor plan. 

But, wait!

I know that a lot of you are thinking—but, wait!—I don't have a room of my own!

You can carve a private corner from your shared bedroom or somewhere else. One of my daughters used to work on a cruise ship, where she had to share a really tiny room with another woman. She found a little window seat where she could curtain herself off from the rest of the ship, and she could read and daydream and watch the ocean roll by in her own little spot. Here are a few ideas for creating a private hide-out or retreat:

  • These window seats may inspire you to look around and see if you can change a window into a pillowed, cosy nook. Is there a window between a bookcase and a corner? Tuck a chair, a giant beanbag, or a pile of pillows into that spot.

Also on this date:

Russian Students' Day