November 30 - National Mason Jar Day

Posted on November 30, 2018

People have always tried to keep food fresh and edible. Packing fish in ice or snow, keeping potatoes in cool underground cellars, smoking meats, drying fruit - all of this and more are attempts to preserve food so it can be eaten at a later date.

And then there's canning.

Canning can look like this, in a factory:

And it can look like this, in a home:

"Canning," in a home, tends to look more like "jarring." And that's because of John Landis Mason's invention:

The Mason jar is made of glass. It has a metal screw-top with a matching lid with a rubber seal. 

This seemingly simple idea made it much safer for ordinary folks to preserve fruits and vegetables in jars. Before Mason's invention, people used flat lids made of tin that they sealed with wax.

But the wax seal was messy. And, worse, it was pretty unreliable. If the wax wasn't applied perfectly, deadly bacteria could enter the preserved food. And sometimes the wax would chip off - again allowing bacteria inside.

Mason's invention ensured that he became a household name - but he didn't get rich from his invention. He only held the patent for his idea for 20 years, and then everyone and her mother started producing "Mason jars." John Landis Mason ended up dying in poverty.

Here is a simple how-to for using Mason jars to can food.

There are a bajillion ways to use Mason jars other than preserving produce. Here are some resources:
50 + Best Ways to Use Mason Jars - with photos and links

November 29 - Happy Birthday, Madeleine L'Engle

Posted on November 29, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time was one of my very favorite books, when I was a kid. I was thrilled when a major motion picture was made of the book - and I quite liked the movie! It stuck pretty closely to the feel of the book, if you know what I mean...

The author of this science fiction award-winning book is Madeleine L'Engle, who was born in New York City on this date in 1918.

L'Engle wrote her first story at age 5 and began to write journal entries about her own life at age 8. That's really early on the writing front, especially since many kids aren't even reading at 5, let alone writing. You'd think such an early start as a writer would guarantee her good grades, right?

Not so. She was apparently shy, and some teachers thought her quiet shyness was actually stupidity. She ended up going from school to school and even had governesses instead of attending school. All this skipping about, schoolwise, happened partly because of her lack of success at school and partly because her family traveled a lot and lived in several different places as well. Her father suffered from lung damage from chemical warfare during World War I, and some of the relocations occurred in an effort to help him. 

So...being the new kid in school, when you're shy...
Having lots of interruptions in schooling, and different curricula and teachers and classmates and and and...
Being thought of as stupid, or ignorant, or a bad student...

You can see why L'Engle wanted to escape all of that by reading and writing fiction, right?

As a college graduate and a married woman, L'Engle continued to write and to submit her novels even as she helped run a family-owned general store, became a teacher, and raised her family. Her books kept getting rejected. As a matter of fact, A Wrinkle in Time was rejected more than 30 times before it was finally published. 

Eventually, though, that "more than 30" statistic became the number of books L'Engle succeeded in publishing!

Here are a few of the honors L'Engle has earned for her writing:

Newbery Medal
Regina Medal
ALAN Award
Sophia Award
Kerlan Award
Margaret A. Edwards Award
National Humanities Medal
Lifetime Achievement from the World Fantasy Awards
New York Writers Hall of Fame

several honorary degrees, medals, and medallions from universities

being chosen writer-in-residence for several programs
being elected president of the Authors Guild

and...a crater on Mercury is named for her!

November 28 – Independence Day in Albania

Posted on November 28, 2018

I have already written a bit about today's world holiday here. But let's take a deeper dive into Albania and its national holiday!

Whether November 28 is celebrated by Albanian Americans living in the U.S. as a day of pride in their ancestry, or by folks living in Albania as a public holiday, it serves as National Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day. Albanians declared themselves independent of the Ottoman Empire on this date in 1912. 

Albania was invaded by Italy in 1939, became a Nazi German protectorate in 1943, and became a Communist state after World War II. It finally was restored to being an independent republic in 1991.

Here are a few things that make Albania special:

You know how the name for Germany in the German language (Deutschland) looks nothing like "Germany" and the name for Japan in the Japanese language (Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku) looks nothing like "Japan"? 

Well, in Albanian, the name for the nation that English speakers call "Albania" is
Shqipëria or Shqiptar. I have no idea how to pronounce those names!!!

Because of Albania's history - being conquered by outside forces, enduring a communist dictator and then having economic crises after the collapse of the communist regime - hundreds of thousands of Albanians emigrated to other lands, including nearby spots like Greece and Turkey as well as far-away nations such as the United States. The result is that there are more Albanians living outside of the nation than there are in the nation!

It's interesting to note that, during its communist years, Albania became one of the most isolated nations on Earth. Not only did the dictator, Enver Hoxha, have severe travel restrictions that made it hard to get in and out of the country, he also cut ties with other communist nations. He was super negative toward Albania's communist neighbor, Yugoslavia, and he also withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and broke ties with both the USSR and the People's Republic of China.

Because of that isolationism, Hoxha thought of other nations as enemies. He ended up dumping a lot of Albanian resources into the building of bunkers. Lots and lots of bunkers. Like more than 750,000! Which is practically one bunker for every four Albanians!

Most of the bunkers were never used. A lot of them have been abandoned and are being grown over, but a lot are being used nowadays as homes, cafes, even museums. 

Most countries have the occasional hamburger stand
and tattoo parlor, but Albania has the occasional
hamburger bunker and tattoo bunker!!!

Sazan Island, once a secret military base, is being transformed into a tourist destination, complete with its bunker designed to withstand a nuclear bomb...

...And Hoxha's own personal 5-level bunker - which includes more than 100 rooms! - is now being used as an art gallery and history museum.

Here is a bunker that was converted to a bed-and-bunker unit

In addition to bunkers, Albania is known for mountains...

...the seaside...

...pretty towns...

...and even Roman ruins!