May 31 – Armed Forces Day in Brunei

Posted on May 31, 2016

On this date in 1961, the Brunei Armed Forces were formed—actually, a better translation of the name in the Malay language is the Brunei Malay Regiment.

On this date in 1965, the name changed to the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

(In other words, the Royal Brunei Malay Regiment).

There are three branches: the Land Forces is the largest branch, and there is also a small Navy and Air Force.

The weapons and equipment used by the forces have been purchased from Europe and the U.S., and the military has no real combat experience. However, the forces have been used in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions.

You might not be too surprised to realize that Brunei doesn't manufacture its own weapons, nor that its military hasn't fought in any wars, when you realize that Brunei is a tiny nation, smaller than the U.S. state of Delaware, and it has only been independent of the United Kingdom for a few decades. To learn more about Brunei, check out this and this other earlier posts. 

Brunei is interesting, because it is completely surrounded (and divided!) by the country of Malaysia, it is located on the same island as a part of Indonesia, it is near to China, and it was colonized by Britain.

Because of all these complexities, the population is largely Malaysian in heritage, with a sizable minority of Chinese heritage and other assorted minorities.

Malay is the official language of the nation, but most people speak Brunei Malay, and there are also a lot of people who speak Chinese and / or English. Of course, there are pockets of speakers of other languages as well.

Brunei has an official religion – Islam – and most Bruneian Malays and Bruneian Chinese people consider themselves Muslim. However, 13% of the population practices Buddhism, 10% practices Christianity, and 7% is atheist.

In other words, there is quite a bit of variety!

Take a look at some photos of Brunei:

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May 30 – Canary Islands Day

Posted on May 30, 2016

Did you know that one of the “autonomous communities” of Spain is a group of islands quite close to Morocco, in Africa?

The Canary Islands is a group of eight inhabited islands. These volcanic islands form an archipelago. Back in the days of exploration and colonization, Spanish galleons on the way to the “New World” would stop at the Canaries for fresh food and water—and mostly so that they could catch the prevailing trade winds. Being such an important stopover spot brought great wealth to some of the Spaniards living on the islands.

Of course, being in a good spot for European ships was not so good for the original inhabitants of the islands. The various peoples living on the islands were either fought against and killed or converted and assimilated. The native peoples of two islands surrendered to the Spaniards quite quickly, but the other islanders resisted for decades – in some cases, for almost a century!

A few elements of the original cultures still survive today. One interesting element is Silbo, a whistled language that was spoken on four of the islands before the Spaniards arrived. Silbo was adapted to Spanish and is still used today in some cases.

Apparently the whistling could be used to communicate across deep ravines and narrow valleys of the islands – up to five kilometers (three miles)! So it is often used to announce events and to advise or warn the public. Check it out! 

These days, the beaches and sunny weather attract a lot of tourists. I guess you can see that there are some beautiful things to see in the Canaries:

Famara Beach, on Lanzarote, above
Garajonay National Park, in La Gomera, below

Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria, above
Mount Teide, on Tenerife, below 
Rocky shore on Lanzarote, above
Sand dunes on Gran Canaria, below

There are such clear skies that there are three international observatories on the islands.
Below, Lanzarote has an underwater sculpture museum.

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Water a Flower Day  

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May 29 – Learn About Composting Day

Posted on May 29, 2016

It's inexpensive!

It's healthy for the Earth!

And it's good for your yard and garden!

Composting is basically making a heap of wet kitchen scraps, leaves, and yard waste; the heap of “green waste” and “brown waste” breaks down into nutrient-rich soil, or humus.

Compost or humus is a wonderful soil / fertilizer to use in your garden and lawn.

Good compost requires water, air, and carbon- and nitrogen-rich stuff. The latter two things are of course the kitchen scraps and yard waste. It's best if you shred the plant matter, add water, and turn the heap (which creates new pockets of air) periodically.

Adding earthworms helps, as well. The worms ingest partly composted material, and poop it out again in a more broken-down state; also, as they move through the compost, they create new pockets of air.

Composting also requires TIME. It takes weeks or months to turn leaves and waste into soil.

Did you know...?

Composting depends on many sorts of micro-organisms that break down the green waste. Bacteria, fungi, molds, yeast, protozoa, and rotifers all live in compost – and that's a good thing!

On farms, composting includes animal manure and some sort of “bedding” (straw, sawdust, newspaper, chopped cardboard).

Composting is supposed to be really easy...but I'm totally confused!

  • Here is a video about composting for young kids.

  • Here is a video that is a practical how-to on composting.

  • And here is a TEDx Talk about composting.

The thing is, these three videos disagree with one another!

Today is a great day to learn more about composting – and maybe sort out why the stuff said in those three videos is so different!

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Anniversary of the first successful climb of Mount Everest

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May 28 – Julia Pierpont Day

Posted on May 28, 2016

In an earlier post, I wrote about a group of formerly-enslaved people who cared enough to honor Union soldiers' ultimate sacrifice that they took it upon themselves to endure a horrible of the many post-Civil War events that led to the modern-day Memorial Day in the United States. 

Here is another Memorial Day precursor:

Julia Pierpont was the wife of the Governor of Restored Virginia (which became West Virginia) – and Francis Pierpont became the Provisional Governor of all of Virginia right after the Civil War. The Pierponts had supported Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army throughout the war, and now they lived in what had been “enemy territory” – in Richmond, Virginia.

And that had to be uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that some ex-Confederates burned the Pierpont's library!

Governor Pierpont followed a policy of forgiveness to all who had served in the Confederate government or military – none of that “enemy” stuff for him! And that made many Unionists upset. With people on both "sides" against them, things must have felt really awkward in that place and time!

Every year re-enactors portray
Pierpont's Decoration Day.
In the middle of all that awkwardness, in May of 1866, Julia Pierpont noticed that the graves of Union soldiers looked run down and neglected. One of Pierpont's friends was a teacher from New York who was working in Richmond teaching at a new school for African American children. Pierpont talked this teacher, Miss Woolsey, into helping her decorate the Union soldiers' graves. They gathered together the Pierpont children, Miss Woolsey's students, and as many friends as would come, and they tidied the graves and then decorated them with flowers.

This good deed was met with both applause and criticism. I think it was really brave for Pierpont to do this!

Julia Pierpont's “Decoration Day” is said to have inspired another, larger Decoration Day, held a few weeks later; this one was focused on decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers. As news of the Decoration Days spread, more and more similar events followed.

These days, of course, we call Decoration Day “Memorial Day,” and it is about honoring those who served and died in any of the U.S. armed forces, at any time (not just during the Civli War). We always celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday of May, and Julia Pierpont Day is celebrated the Saturday before Memorial Day, by getting veterans' graves ready for Memorial Day.

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