July 31 – Happy Birthday, J. K. Rowling!

Posted on July 31, 2013

When little “Jo” was born in England, on this date in 1965, I bet her mom didn't tell her, “You're the sweetest little baby, and you're going to grow up to be really, really rich and famous!”

If her mom had had any idea, when her baby was born, that her daughter was going to write the best-selling book series in history, which would become the highest-grossing film series in history—well, her mom probably would've given her a middle name!

It would've been handy to have a middle name, since Rowling's publisher for the Harry Potter books didn't want a female name on the cover (Joanne Rowling). Instead, they decided to put her first and middle name as initials, along with Rowling.

Only problem: Rowling had no middle name. She had to make up a second initial. So the “J” stands for Joanne (nickname Jo), but the “K” doesn't stand for anything at all!

The British (top) and American (bottom) versions
of the Harry Potter books do not
always have the same cover art

or even the same titles!

How did she do it?

Rowling had written stuff ever since she was six, so she was used to getting good ideas and writing stories. However, when she was on a delayed train trip, one day, and she got the idea of Harry Potter, a boy who didn't know he was a wizard, she was really excited. It seemed like a really good idea to her—maybe the best she'd ever had!

Unfortunately, Rowling didn't have a pen that worked to write down her great idea! She reports that she was really frustrated with the no-pen scenario—but she was too shy to borrow one from a stranger.

Fortunately, Rowling didn't have a pen that worked to write down her great idea! Rowling now wonders, if she had slowed down her thoughts long enough to write them down, would she have lost some of the ideas and stifled others?

Rowling did start writing the book that night—and so also wrote her own rags-to-riches story!

Enter Harry Potter's world, all over again, with the books or movies.

Check out the Harry Potter activities at Activity Village or at iVillageThere are a whole lot of Harry Potter games and puzzles at Surf NetKidsand this Pinterest page has everything from wizard recipes to Harry Potter crafts to Hogwarts printables.

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July 30 – Independence Day in Vanuatu

Posted on July 30, 2013

Independence from France AND Britain?

This South Pacific island nation had a unique government during most of the twentieth century: it was ruled by both France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. One reason this sort of arrangement was so unusual was because France and the U.K., historically, have been enemies more often than friends!

But many of the settlers who came to the islands from the 1600s to the 1800s were British, and even more of the settlers were French—and each group of European settlers wanted their home countries to provide a government to protect their interests against the Melanesian peoples who had lived on the islands for thousands of years.

During the colonization and the joint rule by France and Britain, Vanuatu was called the New Hebrides (in French, Nouvelles-Hebrides) after the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. It sounds as if the joint rule was a bit inefficient. If I've understood what I read correctly, there were two of everything, so if the bureaucratic mess of (say) the British immigration office got you down, you could turn around and try the French one. There were two court systems and two prison systems, too, and people could choose which courts to use and which prison systems to submit to. I read that the British prisons were more strict but also more humane, but the food in the French prisons was better.

(Well, of course!)

The British helped Vanuatu gain its independence on this date in 1980—after the brief “Coconut War”—although France dragged its feet all the way through the independence process.
Melanesian kids

A Cargo Cult...

Have you ever heard about the Melanesian religions known as “cargo cults”? Vanuatu has a famous cargo cult revolving around John Frum. It is possible that this religion (and, now, also a John Frum political party) was inspired by an American G.I. named John Frum—or any John at all (“John Frum” could have evolved from the phrase “John from America”). It's of course possible that Frum is an entirely fictional character, someone who never existed but who was created in bits and pieces from reports of people's visions and dreams. No matter what, Frum was supposed to be a god who appeared to the Melanesians and promised that all the white people would leave the islands and the Melanesians would enjoy a new age of prosperity....but only if the Melanesians first cut themselves off from every aspect of European society and took up traditional ways.

Because of Frum's supposed message, his followers gave away all their money and Western-style possessions, and they left their schools and churches and plantations. They moved to the island interior and began to participate in traditional feasts, dances, and rituals.

The cult got its start shortly before the start of World War II, and during the war its popularity increased. After all, the American G.I.s who came by plane during the war brought with them a lot of cargo, both supplies and equipment.

This grass airplane was built to show
what the symbolic landing strip was...
When WWII was over, the airfields abandoned, and the equipment removed, many believers in John Frum began to build symbolic landing strips in an apparent effort to lure American airplanes back, and more cargo.

A leader of the John Frum religion, named Nakomaha, created what he called the “Tanna Army,” a non-violent ritualized army that participated in parades. Every year on February 15—the date that John Frum is supposed to come back, some unspecified year—the Army holds a parade, and they march with chests painted with "USA" (or shirts that read "Tanna Army USA").

I found the accounts of this religion—which is now, somehow, a political party in Vanuatu—sort of confusing. Do Frum followers pretty much worship Western goods (cargo), and yearn for more? Or do they avoid or give away all Western goods?

To learn more about Vanuatu, check out this earlier post

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July 29 – Rain Day Festival in Waynesburg, PA

Posted on July 29, 2013

Here is another one of those “holidays” about the weather.

Have you ever noticed how the world works as if it is deliberately trying to ruin your fun? Like, it's sunny every day of the week until the day you planned a picnic—and then it pours?

Well, of course that's not the way the universe works. Nobody is planning the rain, and nobody is paying enough attention to your plans to try to jinx them! But we particularly notice, comment on, and remember the times that the weather seems to be conspiring against us (or, sometimes, when it freakishly turns in our favor).

Still, there was this one Pennsylvania farmer who lived near Waynesburg in the 1800s. He would predict rain a day or a week or even a month away—but the rainy day he predicted was always July 29.

And this farmer was right! It usually did rain in Waynesburg, PA, on July 29.

Why that particular prediction? The farmer had noticed that it had rained on his birthday for years.... So he began to “predict” rain on his birthday...and, as I mentioned, the farmer was right, most of the time.

A drugstore owner heard about the farmer's prediction and began to do a wager—he bet a new hat that it would rain on July 29, which the people of Waynesburg began to call rain day. The drugstore owner's son; John Daly, kept up the practice of betting others a new hat that it would rain.

Well, it turned into a “thing”! John Daly has won hats from famous people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Johnny Carson, Muhammed Ali, and Arnold Palmer (and many others). He bet local TV personalities and a racetrack owner. He kept a large box of all the hats he had won, over the years, and he eventually donated his hat collection to a fund-raising auction.

There is a competition to be crowned
"Miss Rain Day."

Nowadays it is the Special Events Commission that wins hats on years that it rains on July 29, and that gives out hats on years that it doesn't. Pageants, races, contests, a street fair, and other events have all sprung up to help people celebrate Rain Day.

There are quite a few years when it doesn't rain on Rain Day—apparently the stats are 111 years of rain, out of 135—but the festivities continue, rain or shine!

Also on this date:

(another post here)

Anniversary of the founding of the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies

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July 28 – Anniversary of Watkins Glen's Summer Jam

Posted on July 28, 2013

Watkins Glen, New York, is famous for its Grand Prix auto racing.

At least, according to my husband.

It is not all that famous for its huge rock concert on this date in 1973—even though the concert was way bigger than the very-famous Woodstock!

About 150,000 people bought concert tickets and went to the raceway venue to see The Band, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Grateful Dead. But people without tickets came, too.

A lot of them.

All told, about 600,000 people poured into the raceway venue to see what was, for most of them, a free concert! For the Guinness Book of World Records, it was a record-breaking audience (the world's record has since been broken). For the concert-goers, it was a huge traffic jam that caused many to abandon their vehicles and walk 5 to 8 miles on a hot summer day.

As you can imagine, many of the audience couldn't see the stage, they were so far away. But there were 12 huge sound amplifiers spaced about, so they could hear the music. Which is, after all, the important thing.

There was a violent thunderstorm and drenching rain during the concert, so many concert-goers became covered in mud. Just like people at Woodstock.

There were no reports of violence. This was a peaceful gathering—just like Woodstock.

The thing that really got to me were these statistics:

Wow! One out of three! That's what we call a good turnout!

Now, onto my ulterior motive...

The real reason I chose to talk about this huge concert is because I love-love-love-love Watkins Glen State Park! My husband and I took a long full-of-awe, wonder-some walk along the gorge, both sides, looking at the pools and waterfalls and delighting in every water-worn rock and all the translucent colors of water. Go there!

My husband.
One of a million photos we took of Watkins Glen.

Also on this date:

Author / illustrator Beatrix Potter's birthday

July 27 – National Dance Day and Walk on Stilts Day

Posted on July 27, 2013

I like to watch the dance show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the people running that show are always talking about National Dance Day. There are all sorts of events and contests on this day—well, “all sorts” but all about dance, of course!

Some of the events are associated with an organization called Dizzy Feet Foundation; check to see if there is an event near you!

Bollywood dancing is often colorful and fun!

  • There are many videos that can help you learn to dance!

  • Watching dance is almost as fun as dancing... Here are a few of my favorite dance videos:

This is my daughter, who is
a professional dancer...
Hip hop 
Thriller”in a prison yard (with more than 1,500 dancing inmates!)

Today is also Walk on Stilts Day!

Some people have needed to walk in stilts for their daily life, because they lived in low-lying, wet terrain. This was true in the 1800s in part of France. These days, acrobats and clowns and other performers use stilts in parades, circuses, and other shows.

I tried a quick search of where you can learn to walk on stilts, and I gotta tell you, I think dancing is a little easier to try out!

Also on this date:

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July 26 – Maldives Independence Day

Posted on July 26, 2013

I read that today is the anniversary of the day when the Maldives islands “got freedom from the clutches of the Britishers.” That description seemed kind of funny, because the same source said that Great Britain had stayed out of the islands' internal affairs, had protected them from other colonizing powers, and had given them their independence without a fight, in 1965. So where did that “clutches” crack come from?

Well, let's face it, the Brits did grab lots of land all over the world, and the fact that Great Britain offered “protection” from other countries (we could say “bullies”) didn't mean that it wasn't a bully itself! The Maldivians had to pay a yearly tribute to Britain—and many Maldivians probably felt that they could and should be an independent nation long before 1965!

The Republic of the Maldives is made up of a double chain of 26 atolls (ring-shaped coral reefs) that lie to the west of India in the Indian Ocean. The Maldivians are closely related in language and culture to the people of India and Sri Lanka. Most people living on the islands in ancient times practiced either Hinduism or Jainism, but Buddhism became the dominant religion a few centuries before the time of Jesus, and Islam took over during the Middle Ages. Islam is now the state religion, and the entire population is Muslim!

Learn about atolls and how they form from National Geographic Education

Check out this list of 10 Interesting Facts about Maldives. I find it interesting that the nation is the lowest, flattest nation in the world, and already 99% of the country is water! My immediate thought was – “Gulp! Global warning! Pretty soon the entire nation will be underwater!” Sure enough, the Maldivians are worried about that, and in 2009 government officials held a cabinet meeting underwater in order to draw attention to the problem. 

Also on this date:

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July 25 – National Chili Dog Day

Posted on July 25, 2013

You see, way back in the middle ages, Germans started making pork sausages in Frankfurt. These frankfurters were special foods given to people to celebrate imperial coronations!

Oscar Meyer Wieners were advertised
 by adorable children singing the classic
song that spelled out the product name...
and by wienermobiles!
In nearby Vienna, Austria, which is called “Wien” in German, people copied the frankfurter with a mix of ground beef and pork. These wiener became quite popular.

Flash forward a bunch of centuries: a German immigrant to America began to sell these sorts of sausages in rolls. Voila! People could eat their sausages without plates and knives and forks—perfect for Coney Island, NYC, where the inventor of the treat sold his innovative sandwiches alongside amusement park rides.

Others invented the sausage sandwiches as well, around the same time: at the World's Fair, in the street stalls of St. Louis, and so on. Most of these stories involve German immigrants in America—so I would have to say that the common thread for all of this hot dog history is German.

But how did the sausage sandwiches get to be called hot dogs? That is a bit of a mystery, although all theories lead to the U.S. It may have been some journalist, cartoonist, vendor, or advertiser who shortened the oft-used “dachshund” (which means “little dog”) sausages to “dog.” As you can imagine, “Get your hot dogs!” is easier to call out than, “Get your hot dachshunds!”

At any rate, the typical hot dog is garnished with mustard and catsup, chopped onions and pickle relish. But not today! Today the topping of choice is chili! And maybe, just maybe, some cheese and onions on top of the chili! Yummers!

Here is a genuine recipe for Coney Dog chili sauce, from a drive-in diner back in the 1950s. 

Don't eat a lot of hot dogs!

According to Health-dot-com, even the healthiest hot dogs aren't all that healthy; they tend to be high in fat and sodium. So keep hot dogs in the “Special Treat” category, to be eaten only on special occasions. And shop carefully; apparently Applegate Farms and Trader Joe's make some relatively healthy hot dogs from beef, chicken, and turkey.

Also on this date:

Constitution Day in Puerto Rico

Yalong Cultural Festival in Tibet

Plan ahead:

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And here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.