May 11 - Happy Birthday, Irving Berlin

Posted on May 11, 2021 

This is an update of my post published on May 11, 2010:

Born in Eastern Russia on this day in 1888 (with the name Israel Baline), Berlin moved with his family to New York City when he was just five years old.

He went to school in his new country but had to quit just two ye
ars later when his father died. He became a newspaper boy as a contribution to the family's budget. One of his biographers reports that, on his first day on the job, he was accidentally knocked into the river by a swinging crane. He struggled to come up for air three times before he was rescued by onlookers—but when he was finally up on land again, he still had the five pennies he had earned that day clenched in his hand!

Berlin soon realized that he earned more money selling newspapers if he also sang songs. He noticed the sorts of songs that earned him the most—well-known tunes with simple words.

Eventually he began to sing more instead of selling newspapers, taking singing jobs at saloons and restaurants. He taught himself to play piano by picking out tunes after closing (although he never learned to play in more than one key).

As a singer, Berlin began to change songs to make their rhythms more likable or to make a parody of a hit song. He also began to write his own songs. By age 20, Berlin had been noticed by a few important people and began to be an important songwriter.

With his simple, uncomplicated music and lyrics, Irving Berlin became world famous. He wrote about 1,500 songs, including scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films. His songs were nominated eight times for Academy Awards. Some of his most famous songs include “White Christmas,” “There's No Business Like Show Business,” and “God Bless America.”

The great George Gershwin called Berlin the “greatest songwriter that has ever lived.”

All of that with no musical schooling—and only two years of schooling at all!

More about parodies...

I said bef
ore that Irving Berlin used to create parodies of hit songs. A parody is a song that imitates another (usually well-known) song, making changes for a humorous effect. A parody can be called a “spoof,” gently teasing either the original song or some aspect of popular culture or politics or...well, anything at all, I suppose! 

You can enjoy some parodies by listening to the music of “Weird Al” Yankovic. His humorous songs and parodies are so popular, Yankovic has sold more albums than any other comedy act in history.

Weird Al has his own You Tube channel. I like the song “Craig's List,” which spoofs one my teenage-self's favorite bands, The Doors. Another favorite is “The Saga Begins” – a Star Wars spoof.

Listen to some Irving Berlin songs.

This tribute by the Carol Burnett Show includes a lot of Berlin's songs. It's loooong and old fashioned and cheesy, but I found it fun to check out. It was created for Berlin's 85th birthday, and the participants may have assumed that he was nearing the end of his life—but they would have been wrong. Berlin lived another 16 years!

Write a song—or, better yet, write a song parody!

Birthday of artist Salvador Dalí

Birthday of voice actor Kaitlyn Dias

Plan ahead:

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

May 10 - Supreme Court Rules: Tomato is Not a Fruit!

 Posted on May 10, 2021

This is an update of my post published on May 10, 2010:

On this day in 1893, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Nix v. Hedden that a tomato is a vegetable, not a fruit.

What? The
 Supreme Court made a ruling about tomatoes???

The Tariff Act of 1883 required that a tariff (tax) had to be paid on imported vegetables, but there was no tariff on imported fruits. Some people claimed that they shouldn't have been charged taxes on their imported tomatoes, pointing out that tomatoes are fruits and therefore should have been tax-free.

However, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Tariff Act used the ordinary meaning of the words fruit and vegetable, and under this ordinary meaning, a tomato is classified as a vegetable.

During the case, both sides brought out dictionaries and read aloud definitions. Apparently everyone agreed then (and still agrees now) that, scientifically speaking, a tomato is definitely a fruit. Fruits develop from the ovaries of flowers and contain the seeds of the plant—and tomatoes fit this description perfectly.

A vegetable is often some other part of a plant, not the fruit or seed. Examples include lettuce (which are leaves), carrots (roots), potatoes (tubers), cauliflower (flowers) and celery (stems or stalks).

But some foods that are botanically classified as fruits—like tomatoes—are still thought of as vegetables. This seems to be primarily based on their use: vegetables are thought of in connection to meals and savory foods rather than desserts and sweet foods.

Spot the V
egetables that are really Fruits:
Here are a b
unch of foods commonly called vegetables. Which ones are botanically classified as fruits?


Answers: cucumbers, peas, beans, squash, green peppers, pumpkins, and eggplants are all fruits. By the way, rhubarb is the stalk of the plant, and is commonly (correctly) called a vegetable but sometimes called a fruit because it is used in sweet, fruity foods.

Grow some tomatoes.

Eat some

Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, roma tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes—yummy tomatoes of all sizes, colors, and kinds.

You can eat them plain or sliced in sandwiches or on top of pizza, wedged in salads, or chopped in salsa or omelets! Try tomatoes in mac'n'cheese!

Learn some b

Here is a simple activity about the parts of a plant. When you're done, go on to “NEXT” at the bottom for more plant fun. Or start at the beginning of “The Great Plant Escape.”

Dissect some fruits and flowers.

Get some flowers and/or fruits from the garden or grocery store. Carefully cut them apart
 to see the structures and seeds (always make sure an adult supervises or approves).

You might want to try cutting familiar fruits in unfamiliar ways. For example, can you cut an apple in such a way that you see a star? Be sure to eat the fruit!

To help your flower dissections, here is a demo 
on YouTube, and here are detailed instructions on Home Training Tools.

May 9 - Rock-fall Ends the Opus Build - But Not the Opus Love!

 Posted on May 9, 2021

Sculptor Harvey Fite died on this date in 1976.

And that put an end to his decades-long project he named Opus 40. He included the number "40" in the name because he thought it would take him 40 years to complete. Tragically, at the 37-year-mark, while working on the site, Fite fell and died.

So...Opus 40 is not completely 100% complete - but this result on one man's artistry over 37 years is 100% amazing!

Fite was inspired by his work reconstructing
Mayan sculptures. He particularly admired
their dry-stone construction.

He learned to do dry-stone work and
made his walls with that technique.

Opus 40 is built in a disused bluestone quarry Fite purchased.

Harvey Fite started off adulthood
as an actor in a traveling troupe.
He learned that he adored woodworking,
and he became a sculptor of wood and
stone. He was a professor at Bard
College for 40 years.

And now regular folks like you and me get to visit Opus 40! What you need to know is that it's located in New York, near Woodstock, and it is run as a non-profit sculpture park.