March 31 – Transfer Day on U.S. Virgin Islands

Posted on March 31, 2014

It's getting close to a century since the U.S. Virgin Islands were transferred from Denmark to the United States on this date in 1917.

Of course, before the Virgin Islands were sold to the U.S., they weren't called “the U.S. Virgin Islands”!

I don't know what the original peoples (the Arawaks and Caribs) called their island homes, but when Christopher Columbus discovered this group of medium-to-small islands, he named them Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes, or “Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins.” That's definitely too long a name – I think we can all agree about that! – and so the name was quickly shortened to just “the Virgins.” When various European nations colonized the New World, the islands were settled by three groups: Britain colonized the easternmost islands; Spain colonized the westernmost islands, the ones closest to its larger island colony, Puerto Rico; and Denmark colonized the middle group.

Today, the British Virgin Islands are still overseas territories of Great Britain, and the Spanish Virgin Islands are still part of Puerto Rico – although, after 400 years of Spanish rule, Puerto Rico is now an unincorporated territory of the United States. The Danish islands, often referred to as the Danish West Indies, were sold to the United States for $25 million in gold.

Here are some of the larger U.S. Virgin Islands:

Saint Croix

Saint Thomas

Saint John

Water Island

Did you know...?

  • The U.S. dollar is the official currency on the British Virgin Islands as well as on the U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands.
  • In Britain, cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road, and steering wheels are on the right-hand side. In the U.S., cars are driven on the right-hand side of the road, and steering wheels are on the left-hand side. This means that drivers in both countries are closest to oncoming traffic – which I think is a very good thing!

    But on both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road, but steering wheels are on the left-hand side. I wonder why on earth this is a good idea? So drivers from everywhere else will be confused?

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:
And here are my Pinterest boards for:

March 30 – Happy Birthday, Ingvar Kamprad

Posted on March 30, 2014

A lot of entrepreneurs start pretty young.

That was the case with Ingvar Kamprad, who was born in Sweden on this date in 1926. When he was still a young boy, he discovered that he could make a good profit by buying matches in bulk in Stockholm, and then selling the matches in small quantities or even individually. He went from neighbor to neighbor on his bicycle, peddling his matches. 

As a child, Kamprad looked ordinary.
But he had a definite gift for sales and
Then he started to sell other things as well. Fish, Christmas tree decorations, seeds, pens and pencils.

At this point, he was still just a kid!

When Kamprad was 17 years old, he started a business whose name is an acronym for his own name plus the name of the farm and town where he grew up: Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd.

You may have figured out that the company he started as a teenager was IKEA.

IKEA specializes in ready-to-assemble furniture plus appliances and home decorations / accessories. There are 349 IKEA stores in 43 countries (which actually seems like an incredibly low number, given the fact that there are four IKEAs within an hour's drive of my house!). IKEA sells billions of dollars worth of goods each year, and its website contains about twelve thousand different products!

Kamprad has become one of the wealthiest people in the world.

Did you know that IKEA is owned by non-profit foundations Kamprad has set up? His INGKA Foundation is dedicated to promoting “innovations in architecture and interior design,” but it has partnered with UNICEF and other organizations to provide things as varied as tsunami and earthquake relief, schools in Liberia, and environmental projects. It is unofficially the world's largest charitable organization, according to Wikipedia

IKEA has also entered the affordable-housing market. In other words, its not just what is IN the house that IKEA is providing, it's the house itself. Check out IKEA's BoKlok here

Did you know...?
  • While researching this post, I discovered that an IKEAs near me has a supervised play area for kids with a ball pit and a movie theater! I guess parents can drop their kids off there for free, for up to an hour! There are also children's play areas throughout the store (but parents have to supervise in these) and in the IKEA restaurant.
(Honestly, I didn't even know that there was an IKEA restaurant!)

  • And, get this, this IKEA host a tiny BUT FREE birthday party for the birthday kid (ages 10 or younger) and two friends, with entertainment, soda, cake, and a birthday gift from IKEA. That's pretty crazy, huh?
I am not sure if all IKEAs have this arrangement, but I've discovered that two here in California do. So, if there is an IKEA near you, check it out!

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:
And here are my Pinterest boards for:

March 29 – Anniversary of “the British Invasion” of Russia

Posted on March 29, 2014

[Sung to the tune of Hey, Jude.]

Hey, guys, don't listen to
The Beatles' music –
It's just so wrong.
Remember our communist principles
Then we can keep our nation-state strong...

Flash forward 26 years...

[Sung to the tune of Back in the USSR.]

Now you can buy our records in a music store,
Buy 'em totally legit.
You can listen to our songs most anywhere,
The KGB will not throw a fit.
We made it to the USSR;
You know how lucky you are, boy,
Back in the USSR!

On this date in 1986, more than a decade after the Beatles had ceased to exist as a band, the Soviet people could finally legally buy their records.

But that doesn't mean that Russians weren't listening to Beatles music before then. The government took a hard line against the Beatles, calling their music “capitalist pollution” and “ideologically alien,” and calling the Beatles themselves “the bugs.” Still, Beatles records were available on the black market.

And when kids heard the music, according to British Cold War spy Leslie Woodhead, they often thought, “The Kremlin told us this is evil music, but it's not true. It's lovely music! Maybe they've been lying to us about other things as well...”

Illegal Beatles records cost a lot of rubles. Some Russians were willing to pay as much as two weeks' salary for a Beatles album.

The bootleggers discovered that music could be etched onto x-rays. The enterprising lawbreakers bought old x-rays from Soviet hospitals, and the music was pressed onto them using a specially-rigged record player...and these disks sold for less than an actual vinyl record.

Can you imagine listening to a floppy, see-through record that has a picture of some stranger's ribcage or femur on it?

Of course, if someone was caught with a bootlegged disk, and turned in to the KGB—that person could be punished. Still, the people's desire to listen to the Beatles' music was greater than their fear of punishment, and bootlegging and smuggling flourished. Apparently even some Soviet diplomats, Communist Party workers, and even KGB members bought and listened to the banned music!

To find out more about Beatles music in Soviet Russia, check out this BBC article or this Daily News article. Or watch “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin” on video. 

When Paul McCartney wrote Back in the USSR, he had never traveled there, and the Beatles obviously never performed there. Still, Paul said that he'd heard on the down-low that the Beatles had secret fans there. 

Some Russian have said that the Beatles helped overthrow communism! This point isn't ridiculous—the Beatles promoted a cultural revolution that played a part in the ending of the USSR.

Also on this date:

Ecologist Charles Elton's birthday 

Anniversary of the day the Niagara Falls stopped falling

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:
And here are my Pinterest boards for:

March 28 – Barnum & Bailey Day

Posted on March 28, 2014

On this date in 1881, the “Greatest Show on Earth” was created.

Circus owner P.T. Barnum merged his show with James A. Bailey's circus – and together their circus really was greater. 

On March 29, 1919, the seven Ringling Brothers merged their circus with Barnum & Bailey's – I guess creating the Even Greatest Show on Earth?

(Actually, it's still just called “Greatest Show on Earth.” By the way, I find it strange that “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus” is still the name of this most famous of U.S. circuses—which is strange, because people can't even be bothered to say “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,” so you would definitely think that this circus's name would have been streamlined by now. Maybe Ringling BBB? But I guess long names are part of the culture of circuses. Barnum's first circus was called “P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome”!)

Just what is a circus, anyway?

A circus in a company of performers who do stunt-oriented performances, sometimes with animals. Some of the performers commonly seen in circuses include clowns, acrobats, stunt riders, stilt walkers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists, and animal trainers. Aerial acts using one or more trapezes, ropes, rings, or hoops are an exciting part of most circuses.

I generally think of "circus animals"
being elephants and lion and tigers...
But this early Barnum & Bailey poster
lures viewers to come watch the
"geese roosters"!!!
Modern circuses began in the mid-1700s in England, and they were almost entirely about horse riding skills and tricks. Within the next 50 years many other sorts of acts were presented, including huge, theatrical battle reenactments! By the late 1800s, the ringmaster presenting acts choreographed to music became the favored style of circuses—and this style lasted a century!

Nowadays, most people think Cirque du Soleil rather than Ringling Bros. The nouveau cirque (which is French for “new circus”) features fewer (or no) animal acts and a more theatrical, artistic show, shown in a theater, complete with sets, lighting, avant-garde costumes, and original music.

But you can still get your Barnum & Bailey fix, often in a “big top” tent, with elephants and lions, dancing dogs and speeding steeds, clowns crammed into a tiny car and lovely ladies flying through the air with the greatest of ease.


If you can't run away to the circus today, perhaps a little virtual viewing would help celebrate:
Or go the distance, think big, and have a circus mini-party! There are tons of ideas for crafts, snacks, games, and all manner of circus fun here

Also on this date:

Weed Appreciation Day 

Ragnar Lodbrok Day in Scandinavia

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:
And here are my Pinterest boards for:

March 27 – Happy Birthday, Shoelaces!

Posted on March 27, 2014

Buckle up your shoes!

Slip on your slippers!

Button up your boots!

There have been all sorts of ways to keep shoes on our feet, all through history—including ancient and medieval shoelacesbut on this date in 1790 an Englishman named Harvey Kennedy introduced something that caught on big and has been big ever since:
Modern shoelaces.

The kind of shoelaces that go through pairs of holes; the laces can be loosened to allow the foot to enter the shoe, and then tightened to hold the shoe securely on the foot.

Back in the day, traditional shoelaces were made of natural materials: jute, leather, hemp, cotton. Now shoelaces tend to be made of synthetic (human made) fibers. The downside of synthetic fibers is that they are more slippery, so laces can come undone more easily—but the synthetic laces are stronger and last longer.

(Boy, have I had problem with “cool” leather laces – they break so easily!)

Apparently one feature of modern shoelaces, the aglet, was also used by ancients to some extent. Aglets are the hard tips on the ends of shoelaces, which prevent the laces from fraying and which make it a lot easier to thread laces through the lace holes or eyelets.

There is some evidence that aglets were used in Roman Empire times to help thread ribbons and other clothing closures. They were made from metal, glass, stone, brass, or even silver. These days, our shoelace aglets tend to be made of metal or plastic.

I read that Harvey Kennedy's 1790 shoelaces frustrated people because they had no aglets, and so they quickly became difficult to string up. The very next year, Kennedy's updated invention included aglets made of tin or stone.

I also read that Kennedy made a lot of money—millions!—with his shoelaces.

Did you know...?
  • Shoelaces are also called shoestrings or bootlaces.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention, don't you know, and many different people have reinvented ways to make aglets when a shoelace breaks and they can't immediately get another. I know that I have used small pieces of adhesive tape in an effort to make a shoelace I can thread through holes. During the Great Depression, people made aglets out of paper and glue.
  • There are almost two trillion ways to lace a shoe with six pairs of eyelets!

To celebrate the day…

Fancy up your favorite pair of tennis shoes with colorful shoelaces.

Here's a cool idea: Use multiple shoelaces to lace up your left shoe with a different lacing pattern than the one you use on your right shoe!

Learn more about shoelaces at Ian's Shoelace Site

Also on this date:

Skyscraper Day

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:
And here are my Pinterest boards for: