Friday, December 31, 2010

Another Year Over

Magnet # 430:  Millennium, New Zealand

Material:  Plastic, Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Happy New Year, everyone!  Is it just me, or did this year fly by faster than usual?  It seems I was just commenting about the end of 2009 on here, but I guess that was much further back than it feels like.

Sure, this magnet is now eleven years past its optimum posting date, but it still has a fact worth mentioning - that every year, New Zealand is the first major country to welcome the New Year.  It's pretty much zero hour as far as the time zones go.  From there, the shift sweeps across the globe, from Australia to Asia to Africa and Europe.  And yes, those of us in North and South America are some of the last in the world to greet the New Year.  I have yet to make it to New Zealand, or even that part of the world, but I'd really like to see it for myself someday, perhaps with nearby Australia.  Even more incredibly, my parents have never made it to either nation, but I know it's on their list of places to see.  Who knows, maybe we'll all make it there together in the future, but I'm sure it won't be in 2011.  And if I ever make it there, this time of year would be great, as they're experiencing Summer and I'm no fan of Winter, so I'd love getting away from the cold weather for awhile.  So who knows, I might be able to be among the first to welcome the New Year in New Zealand if I'm lucky.

As one year ends, it's always seems to be a good time to evaluate our actions throughout it and consider what plans we have for the next one.  I have to admit, I'm certainly proud of the efforts I've made on here in 2010.  With this post, I'll have managed 300 total for the year, a number I never really thought I could achieve.  This has been the first full year I've put into this magnet blog, and I'm proud that I've followed through on it.  I've also had a very active year as a traveler - I managed to make my way to eighteen states in all, which may be a personal record.  I also toured ten state capitols, which is definitely the most I've seen in a year - in fact, that total may be hard to ever beat.  And, goodness, have I amassed the magnets in 2010 - between my own findings and those others have given me, I've easily passed the 700 mark with my collection, and I think that's probably a conservative estimate.  As this year passed, I had my doubts as to whether I'd even have enough magnets to keep it up into 2011, or if I'd be able to find any new events to discuss, as I don't really want to revisit many of those I've already mentioned.  I now realize that shouldn't be a problem.  In fact, the calendar in which I keep track of my future posts is almost packed for the first half of the year.  But I also have to be honest with myself and admit that I neglected my artwork to make time for this blog.  At the beginning of the year, I made a goal to do 250 hours of work on my art, and I've fallen pretty short of that.  So I think I may try to post a little less on here in 2011 to make more time for producing art.  Overall, I don't think it will be very noticeable.  This year, I've averaged 25 posts a month and I think that might drop to 20 for the next one.  And yet, as I take a look at some of the coming months, I've already planned 23 or 24 posts, so who knows what will happen.  But I may even go a couple of days without a post once or twice a month, so just be warned.  While I really enjoy this blog and have no intention of giving it up in 2011, I may have to give it a little less attention.  And to those of you who have supported me on here, thanks, and I wish you the best in this coming year, whatever your goals, plans, or resolutions may be.  Here's another chance for us to work hard to get where we want to be in life, and I hope we all make the best of it!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Martyr of Manila

Magnet # 429: Philippine Islands Piso

Material:  Wood, Metal, Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

The Philippines honor one of their most beloved figures on this day, known there as Rizal Day.  It was the day in 1896 when Jose Rizal, an advocate for greater rights for the Filipino people, who were then under Spanish control, was executed.  But in all likelihood, he had done nothing worthy of such a severe punishment, and Rizal therefore went on to become a martyr for the Philippine Revolution and a national hero when the country won its independence.

Jose Rizal was born to a family of wealthy farmers of Chinese descent  in the town of Calamba in 1861.  Even though he was the seventh of eleven children, he received plenty of attention and soon began showing signs of being a genius - by age three, he had learned the alphabet and he could read and write by the time he was five.  When formally educated, he received honors, but he later dropped out of the Univeristy of Santo Tomas when he realized its Spanish Dominican friars were discriminating against the native students.  But, as his mother was going blind, becoming an ophthalmologist was of great importance to him, so he traveled to Spain to complete his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid.  He left without his parent's knowledge or approval, so they must have been pretty upset. Regardless, I'm sure they must have been pleased when he later operated on his mother to help save her sight.  During his time away, Rizal completed his first novel, Noli Me Tangere, a nationalistic work partially inspired by Uncle Tom's Cabin.  In it, he revealed the injustices the Catholic Church and the Spanish colonial government had committed in his homeland.  The work resulted in his arrest when he returned for a visit, but he managed to talk his way out of trouble and continued on, even creating a sequel for the work.  But writing and medicine were hardly the extent of his talents - he was also an accomplished artist, sculptor, fencer, marksman, mapmaker, and had still more interests.  He also spoke more than ten languages, and charmed many acquaintances over the years, leaving behind many admirers as he traveled across Europe.  But when he returned to the Philippines in 1892, he faced quite a few enemies in the government.  It should be noted that Rizal never advocated independence for the Philippines.  Instead, he used peaceful means to call for representation of his home within the Spanish legislature, freedom of speech, and equal rights for all in the Philippines.  Nonetheless, the leaders there wanted him dead and by accusing him of participating in the brewing rebellion.  After spending four years in exile, he was arrested on the way to Cuba and tried in Manila on charges of conspiracy, sedition, and rebellion.  He was found guilty and executed by firing squad after quoting Christ's last words - "it is finished."  He was only thirty-five.  The authorities might have been relieved to have him dead, but it was temporary - his demise proved to be the catalyst that the Filipino people needed to call them to arms.  They rose up and within two years, had freed themselves of Spanish rule.

This year's celebration falls on the 114th anniversary of Rizal's death and features events such as flag-raisings and wreath-layings across the nation, particularly at Rizal Park in Manila.A movement has actually been formed that aims to move the observance to June 19, the day of his birth, rather than the one on which he perished.  I'm not quite sure if Rizal Day is a really big deal in the Philippines, however.  When I was home for the holidays, one of my Dad's Filipino colleagues called him and I told my Dad to wish him an early Happy Rizal Day.  It may have just been a bad connection, but he didn't seem to know what my Dad was talking about, so that made me wonder just how prevalent the observance is in its native land.  Regardless, this man's brief but brilliant life and unjust execution is still worthy of remembering all these years later.  And it's clear his nation still loves him - that's Rizal's image portrayed on coin that's inside the magnet pictured here, which I converted from a keychain.  It's such a shame that we'll never know which further accomplishments he could have made, but without his sacrifice it might have taken the Philippines far longer to ever achieve its independence.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Isn't It Peachy

Magnet # 428:  Symbols of Atlanta

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

It was on this day in 1847 that a rather small town in Georgia that had previously been known as Thrasherville, Terminus, and Marthasville was incorporated under the name of Atlanta.  Over the past decade, it had built up to become the railroad hub for the state, after it had pretty much been picked off a map.  When the first freight and passenger trains finally began rolling in, they allowed the community to grow and thrive.  And when additional lines were added that ran from Atlanta to places like Macon, Savannah, and Chattanooga, the town boomed even more.  Of course, all of the businesses and progress proved to be a detriment when the Civil War broke out and Atlanta became a critical supply hub for the Confederacy.  Sherman and his troops were sent to the area, and they burned nearly every building in their path to the ground.  But the people of Atlanta were not broken by this assault, and they rebuilt an even greater Atlanta, one that developed into the South's commercial and industrial center.  In 1868, it became the state capital and continued to grow into the twentieth century.  And during then, major companies like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines began to spring up and their headquarters in the city helped it to become even greater.  Atlanta has had its share of troubles, likes its 1906 Race Riot and KKK activity at nearby Stone Mountain, but it's weathered the scandals.  Even a 2008 tornado couldn't slow this city down.  And the symbol of the city has become the phoenix, after Atlanta's miraculous ability to rise from the ashes.

I'm pretty sure I've spent more time in Atlanta that any other major metropolitan area in the United States, certainly in recent years.  It's a great place to meet up with my family in Montgomery, as they just have to head three hours east and I drive four hours northwest.  It's certainly quicker than either of us making the full six hour drive to either Montgomery or Savannah.  I also have a few friends in and around the metropolitan area that I sometimes head up to visit.  I guess I make it to Atlanta about five times a year, so there are some parts of town I'm pretty familiar with.  I've checked out quite a few of the city's tourist attractions, like the Georgia Aquarium, the High Museum of Art, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the World of Coca-Cola, and the Fox Theatre.  And, yes, I've toured the Georgia Capitol there and had a look at its infamous two-headed cow.  I've also found a few restaurants there that I really like, including Silk, an upscale Midtown Asian fusion restaurant with excellent sushi, Brio Tuscan Grille a casual Italian eatery, the Buckhead Diner, which is a pretty elegant place in a traditional diner setting, and the Oriental Pearl in Chamblee, which features traditional Chinese dim sum.  But the most memorable Atlanta eatery I've tried may be Dante's Down the Hatch, which serves fondue in an environment decked out to resemble a ship and nearby buildings.  There's even a moat underneath the diners, complete with alligators and turtles.  Dante himself is often on hand to meet with his customers, and he has all sorts of interesting stories to share with them.  In fact, a friend of a friend was dressed as a pirate when he ate there and Dante challenged him to a duel and even brought out swords.  If you're ever in the city, this is one place worth stopping by.  And while I enjoy my trips there, I'm not sure if I'd ever want to move to Atlanta.  The traffic there is just a disaster, typical of a big city.  And they make matters worse by naming about half the downtown streets Peachtree - it's pretty confusing.  There's Peachtree Street, Peachtree Road, Peachtree Boulevard, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Parkway, and so on.  It's enough to make a driver nuts!  Regardless, it's fun to know it's just a short drive away and I'm sure it won't be long before I'm on the road to Atlanta once again.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Day at the Zoo

Magnet # 427:  Montgomery Zoo

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Need an excuse to head out of the house today, or do you have a kid that's out of school on vacation and no idea what to do?  Well, you're in luck, because this is Visit the Zoo Day!  It's a great opportunity to stop by and see some of your favorite animals, and maybe even check out a few you've never encountered before.

The Montgomery Zoo, which is featured on this magnet, is probably the zoo I've visited the most during my lifetime, as it's in my hometown.  It was founded in 1920 as Oak Park Zoo and is the oldest zoo in the state.  Over time, it became so popular that it outgrew its first location and was moved to its current home in the northern part of the city in 1974, where it opened under its new name.  Since then, it's become even more impressive, particularly after a major 1989 renovation that expanded the size of the zoo to over 48 acres.  I remember traveling there both with school groups and my family during my childhood.  And seeing it both before and after the expansion was really something - it's almost been a completely new venue since then.  My favorite memory of the place is probably when I was in grade school and I connected with one of their adorable wallabies.  It was just so friendly and kept coming over to the fence when I was standing there and I felt so connected to it.  I'm not the kind of person who would ever touch an animal at the zoo, but I actually put my fingers through the fence and it let me pet it.    Leaving the zoo was tough that day, and I've never forgotten that cute little wallaby.  I had been planning on visiting it again during my trip home for the Christmas holiday, partly in preparation for this post.  I had really wanted to see the Christmas Light Festival that takes place there during the Holiday season, as I couldn't take them in at any other time of the year.  But the day we could have gone was pretty cold and I was under the weather (yep, I was sick for both Thanksgiving and Christmas of this year - we'll see how New Year's goes) so we decided it was best not to spend a few hours outside there.  But we did at least stop by so that I could pick up this souvenir and I did get a quick glimpse of the entrance to the facilities.  The train that spans the area was coming in at that moment, so that was fun to see and it was as impressive as I'd remembered.  I'll have to stop by on another visit home to see all of it again, even if I can't make it during December.

This particular year might not be the best time to venture out to the local zoo, as we're experiencing record low temperatures and terrible conditions across the nation.  And, yes, we even had snow flurries in Montgomery, so that was pretty remarkable.  On my drive home, I saw some snow on the ground, although none of it was really piled up.  This being the case, it might be better to watch a movie about the zoo.  One of my favorites is Fierce Creatures, which features Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, John Cleese, and is pretty darn funny.  Or you could read a book about the zoo, or perhaps donate to one via the Internet.  But only the hardiest - or nuttiest - will probably head out to the zoos themselves in some parts of the country.  Still, if you're lucky enough to be in warmer areas, you might have a great time stopping by to see the animals today.  I'm not sure why Visit the Zoo Day is held at such a potentially frigid time of the year, but perhaps the 2011 event will be a better time to actually visit in person around the nation.  Until then, curl up and keep the animals in mind as the temperatures continue to plummet outside.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Fall Of the Iron Curtain

Magnet # 426:  The Kremlin Waterfront, Moscow

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

This day in 1991 saw the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics when the Supreme Soviet, its highest governing body, met and agreed to dissolve itself.  The Communist nation, which had once been a fearsome superpower, had been driven into bankruptcy and civil unrest as many of its territories declared their independence, and was on the verge of collapse.  Sensing the inevitable, its Head of State, Mikhail Gorbachev, had resigned one day earlier and declare his office extinct.  What decades earlier had seemed impossible was now a reality, much to the delight of many Russian citizens.

If Tsarist Russia hadn't been in so much trouble for so long, the Soviet Union might never have been founded on December 28th of 1922, almost 69 years to the date before the nation came to an end.  The people of the nation ended up trading in the limited freedom they had experienced for almost none at all. Life may have been at its worst during Joseph Stalin's leadership, when about a thousand people were executed every day for a year during the Great Purge of the 1930's.  And after his death in 1953, the country grew less repressive over the decades.  When Gorbachev came to power in the 1980's, the people gained even more rights including greater access to information.  But his measures were still not enough - the Soviet Union had to come to an end.  In its place, the Russian Federation, a federal semi-presidential republic, was created.  And now that communism is over, many Russians are now part of a rising middle class with disposable income.  They're able to spend money on hobbies, gourmet food, and even luxury items.  So what is one collectible that many Russians are now eagerly buying up?  Believe it or not, magnets!  Yep, I've encountered quite a few enthusiastic collectors from the nation across the web.  They actually have a pretty great community website at Live Journal where they post their gems.  I tend to spend a fair amount of time there checking them out.  The only problem is that all of their accompanying text is pretty much in Russian, so I have no idea what they're talking about.  But at least I can still enjoy the pictures.  It almost makes me with that I spoke Russian, or there was an English counterpart that I could join.  Oh, well - have a look at if you'd like to check it out for yourself.  But commercialism like this is certainly a good sign that Russia is moving away from its ties to communism - I doubt that anyone who lived through that era could have imagined they'd ever come this far.

The Soviet Union provided the rest of the world with a pretty clear example of why communism doesn't work.  Sure, the idea that everyone is equal and receives the same compensation is pretty nice, but doesn't seem to play out so well.  There are those who inevitably rise to authority positions, while others have no motivation to do their part very well, as there is no real reward for it.  The arts and creativity can take a severe blow, which in turn can lessen the entire nation's morale.  It's also been proven that when workers have some sort of extra compensation to strive for, they tend to apply themselves even more.  And that's hardly the extent of the movement's flaws, which at their worst have resulted in mass killings.  Of course, capitalism is far from perfect, yet it seems to have done a much better job for its respective nations than communism ever did for Russia.  Hopefully, both Russia and the entire world will learn from the mistakes of the Soviet Union and never again head down that same destructive path, managing instead to achieve a brighter future.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Warm Wishes To All

Magnet # 425:  The Nativity Photo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Once again, it's Christmas and I hope you're all having a wonderful day!  I've had a very nice day with my family and there's even a chance of snow in the forecast.  I have to admit, I think it's unlikely, but it could happen.  Still, given that I'm not a big fan of cold weather, I'm okay with a snow-free Christmas.  If I really wanted a white Christmas, I could always visit someplace like Montana, Michigan, or Maine this time of year, but as I tend to say, nobody moves to the Deep South because they like really cold weather.  And while this unexpected December 25th snowfall has no doubt enchanted many a child, it has made holiday travel difficult and even dangerous around the region, as cities like Atlanta, Louisville, and Nashville, that can go for years without any snow at all, have all gotten some.  I certainly hope those that find themselves having to deal with it safe passage.  Christmas is a particularly bad time to have an accident or mishap.  As for me, I'm staying in with my family throughout the day.  There's great food to be had, good company, and the chance to have a look at all of the goodies I found under the Christmas tree, so I'll stay put.  However, I'm pretty sure I'll want to venture out tomorrow, as I look forward to shopping on December 26th all year long.  I hope by then the cold weather will have passed on.

This magnet might look a little odd or out of focus, but it's not.  It's actually one of a set of five 3-D magnets I got last year from my parents.  While it's pretty cool to see in person, I'm not quite sure if this photo does it justice, but at least you get the idea of what it should look like.  They picked this up during a trip to New York City, where the figures featured on the magnet have been a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art Christmas exhibition for over half a century.  It features a twenty foot blue spruce Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche figures that were made of finely carved wood, painted with terracotta, and draped in exquisite fabrics by talented sculptors in eighteenth-century Naples, Italy.  These figures must be pretty sizable, as they really fill out the rather large tree, at least from the images I've seen.  This spectacle was made possible through the work of Lorretta Hines Howard, an artist who began collecting the figures as far back as 1925.  She soon conceived the notion of combining elaborate Roman Catholic Nativity scenes with the more Protestant tradition of decorated Christmas trees.  For decades, she traveled, collecting the sculptures as she went until she was able to present over 200 creche figures to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art.  They were first displayed to the public in 1957.  And for the rest of her life, Howard supervised as the installation went up.  The tradition is now carried on by her daughter and granddaughter, and has been visited by millions of thrilled onlookers from all over the world.  And while I've been to the Museum once, it was not during the Holiday season - in fact, it was in early January, after the display had no doubt just come down.  But, who knows, maybe I'll glimpse it in all of its glory one of these days.  New York City is said to be one of the best places to spend Christmas, as the city is packed with all sorts of truly unique Holiday offerings, and this exhibition has got to be one of the best, even by the Big Apple's standards.  So, obviously, I'd like to visit during the Holiday season, even just one time.  Of course, they also probably tend to have show there at this time of year.  So, for now, I'll be content with staying in a frost-free part of the South, surrounded by my family.  And I hope you're lucky enough to say the same on this special day, or to have some snow on your ground, if that makes you happy.  Stay warm, stay safe, and have a fantastic Christmas with those you love!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Star Of the South

Magnet # 424:  Nashville Letters

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Mom

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day in 1779 when a pair of settlers who had ventured forth from northwestern North Carolina completed their two month journey at the banks of the Cumberland River.  There, they cleared the area and built a home of logs that they named Fort Nashborough after American Revolutionary War General Francis Nash.  In less than a year, 60 families had arrived at the fort, which was still part of North Carolina.  It continued to grow and was eventually renamed Nashville when it was incorporated as a town in 1784.  Eventually, North Carolina gave control of its lands west of the Allegheny Mountains to the federal government and they went on to form the state of Tennessee.  With its strategic location both on the river and at the end of the Natchez Trace, Nashville became an important center of business and shipping in the middle of what was mostly expansive, undeveloped wilderness.  Its reputation grew greater still when its native son Andrew Jackson went on to become a war hero and President of the United States.  In 1843, it became the state capitol and Nashville also came to be known as the Athens of the South for its public school system, the first in the region, and its numerous higher learning institutions.  Its citizens were some of the South's wealthiest, best educated, and most refined.  But the Civil War proved to be difficult for the growing city, as it was the first Confederate state capitol to fall to Union forces and remained in its grasp despite efforts to take it back years later.  While the city was pretty damaged by all of the warfare, it nonetheless rebuilt and more than tripled its population by 1900.  It became one of the leading trade centers of the region.  Later on, it also became known as an important site of the early days Civil Rights movement, but its reputation as "Music City USA" is perhaps what most defines modern day Nashville.  In 1925, the Grand Ole Opry was first aired and it has become a Nashville institution.  Nashville is also a publishing center for music, perhaps most notably the country and Christian genres.  Far from its humble beginnings, this city has gone on to become one of the most prosperous and unique the Upper South has to offer.

Given Nashville's founding on Christmas Day, the city ought to be a pretty merry place to visit during the Holiday season nowadays.  And at least one particular spot in the area has gained national attention for its Holiday spectacular - the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.  I've recently mentioned another of this chain's resort hotels in the Dallas area on here, and this one is no less impressive.  It throws an event known as A Country Christmas, which features around two million Christmas lights, hundreds of poinsettias, and all sorts of incredible Holiday decorations.  Thousands come from all over the world to take part in the festivities, which is now in its 27th year.  And this year, both the Radio City Rockettes and Louise Mandrel will perform for delighted audiences.  There's also an intricate, interactive ice sculpture world to amaze them, an elaborate outdoor Nativity, and an area filled with real snow, live reindeer, a snow maze, and much more.  Guests can even kick off the day with a special Kris Kringle breakfast in the Solario restaurant on the premises and end it with a visit from a staff elf who will tuck them in and read them the classic "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."  The festivities opened on November 19th and will continue through January 2nd, so you haven't missed all of the fun yet.  While I've never gotten a chance to see the Gaylord Opryland myself, my Mom has been there, both for A Country Christmas, which she assures me was beautiful, and other times of the year.  I hope I'll get the chance to return to Nashville around the anniversary of its founding one year and see this special place, as well as other Christmas attractions that Music City, USA no doubt has to offer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Polar Wonders

Magnet # 423:  Juneau Winter Landscape

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Now that the Winter Solstice has come and gone, life will be getting a little dark up in parts of Alaska.  In fact, some places didn't even have any sunlight on the day of December 21st.  The worst place for all of this may very well be Barrow, where the Sun has been gone since mid-November and won't return until January.  But there is a bright side to all of this (no pun intended) - during Winter, Fall, and Summer, it's a much better time to take in the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.  This phenomena, which is basically just the collision of charged particles, or plasma, and Earth's magnetic field, certainly produces a radiant light show, particularly in polar regions.  It's said to be much more impressive in person than you could imagine, even though images of Aurora Borealis are still stunning.  I'd certainly like to get a chance to see them for myself, perhaps in Alaska.  But that's certainly not everything that the Last Frontier has to offer.

Based on the snowman and wreath featured on this magnet, Juneau is probably full of the Christmas spirit, but if you're in Alaska and really want to overindulge in the season, head just about 700 miles northwest.  There, you'll find the North Pole.  No really - there is a small city just outside of Fairbanks with more than two thousand residents called North Pole.  It was given that name back in 1952 by a local entrepreneur in the hopes that it would gain the area all sorts of attention and maybe even bring a toy manufacturer to the area.  They thought one might appreciate having all of their offerings made at the North Pole.  While I don't think any toy companies ever opened up shop there, the city has still become somewhat famous for its unique name.  It's also given the citizens a special sense of the Holiday spirit and they've dubbed the streets there with appropriate names like Santa Claus Lane, Kris Kringle Drive, Snowman Lane, and St. Nicholas Drive.  Also, the city's street lights are decked out in candy cane stripes, police vehicles are green and white, while firetrucks and ambulances are red.  And an old trading post has taken on a new life as the Santa Claus House, the area's biggest tourist attraction.  It's owned by a man who used to dress up as Santa Claus himself and decided to rename his business when a local boy recognized him and asked if he was building a new house.  With time, the goods sold there shifted from wilderness necessities to Christmas-themed decorations and souvenirs.  And his wife, a Marriage Commissioner, has married thousands of couples at the store.  It's also home to the world's largest fiberglass Santa statue, a 42 foot tall behemoth weighing in at 900 pounds.  The local U.S. Post Office is also a important spot for the city, as it features the North Pole postmark.  Thousands of people all over the country send their Holiday cards there so they can be sent off to friends and relatives with the very special postmark.  They also receive all sorts of letters from children to Santa Claus and volunteers who serve as "Santa's Helpers" make every effort to answer as many as possible.  Best of all, much of the entire city is decorated for Christmas yearlong.  I'd love to live somewhere that provided me with a good excuse to keep my trees, ornaments and other Christmas trinkets up all 365 days of the year.  Unfortunately, most of those places tend to have snow, and considering I'm not a big fan of that, I'll just have to continue taking my decorations down.  But I do tend to put that off as long as I can - and not just out of laziness.  Still, it's nice to know there are special places like North Pole, Alaska that keep the Christmas spirit alive no matter what the season, and a brush with the Holidays is just a plane ride or long drive away.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Walk To Remember

Magnet # 422:  San Antonio Riverwalk

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Well, we're getting pretty close to Christmas Day, so I figured I'd better include a few more Christmas-themed posts while I can.  So we're off to San Antonio, where one of the top tourist attractions is the River Walk.  This network of walkways surrounding the San Antonio River as it cuts through the downtown area was actually built out of necessity.  Back in 1921, the area flooded and fifty people lost their lives.  A change was obviously needed that would provide flood control, and the options ranged from damming the area, to paving it over and creating a storm sewer.  It wasn't until 1929 when local architect Robert Hugman proposed the construction of the River Walk.  While his plan did not receive initial support - some even said he'd be drowned if the area flooded - the public eventually warmed to the idea and Hugman oversaw the development.  It was completed in the 1940's and Hugman relocated his office along the River Walk, right next door to where the Casa Rio, River Walk's first restaurant, opened in 1946.  After the city hosted the 1968 HermisFair, River Walk's reputation grew and more businesses began setting up along its banks.  It's now crowded with hotels, restaurants, shops and throngs are drawn in daily to see all that this unique attraction has to offer.

Even though none of my family is in San Antonio, the River Walk has still played an important role in a couple of our Christmas celebrations.  My Mom's mom wanted a change in our festivities one year, so in the late 1990's, we traveled down to San Antonio for a brief visit before Christmas Day.  The drive down was a bit perilous, as there was ice on the roadway and the weather was kind of lousy - in fact, I still remember being a bit nervous as I sat in the back seat that day.  But once we got to Alamo City, the trip improved vastly.  My Grandmother paid for our rooms in a hotel that was on the River Walk.  It was so neat just walking out of the back door and immediately being on the river.  We were able to walk around, have a look at the shops, and eat at the restaurants pretty much everyday.  And, yes, it was all done up in decorations for the Holiday season.  It's too bad I wasn't collecting magnets back then, because I'll bet they have plenty of souvenir shops there.  And now that I'm older and have booked more trips, I realize that it must have been pretty expensive to stay at a hotel just off the River Walk.  Historic and touristy areas are always pricey.  It's an indulgence I wouldn't probably give myself, so it's nice to have the memories of that special trip.  And a few years later, our family - again my Mom's side - went to the Gaylord Texan for our Christmas Eve meal.  This time, the drive went much faster, as it's in Grapevine just outside of downtown Dallas.  And it was all decked out for the season, so we had a nice time just checking out all of the decor.  But this is no simple hotel - it actually has a replica of the River Walk running right through it!  There's even a bridge that spans it.  It was really impressive to see something like that in a hotel.  We ate at one of the four restaurants the Gaylord Texan has to offer at a buffet with seemingly endless choices.  It was the first time I tried turducken, a dish we've had at Holiday celebrations ever since.  And when my cousins and I were done, I walked around with them to get another look at the hotel.  We even did an art project together.  All in all, I'm not sure where I had more fun - at the actual River Walk or its tribute at the Gaylord Texan.  And while I'm not sure if either will ever figure into our future Christmas celebrations, I'm glad I got to experience both during the Holiday season - they've given me some special Holiday memories I'll always keep.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Garden Variety

Magnet # 421:  Map of New Jersey

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Dad

Okay, I'm starting to think that December is the month for states to join the Union - or at least it feels that way.  Of course, it was back in December of 1787 that the first three states joined the United States.  And each year including and between 1816 and 1819 saw one state added to the country - all in the last month of the year.  In 1845 and 1846, three more were added, two of which joined in December.  But that was the last time an addition was made in December.  By now, I've discussed the days Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Texas, and Iowa gained their statehood, all in December.  And today, I'm going to discuss the one December state I have left, New Jersey, which joined on this day in 1787, making it the third state added to the Union.  Overall, that means nine statehoods have been achieved in December, almost one-fifth of all the states in the country.  I just don't think any other month can beat that.

The first European to reach what would become the Jersey shore is believed to be Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian who sailed for the French and would have reached it in 1524.  Later, Henry Hudson also passed through the area, but it was the Dutch who established the first settlements there as part of the fur trade.  The Swedes also came to settle it, but were driven out after they antagonized the Dutch.  Of course, the British later took the land from the Dutch and King Charles II to his brother, the Duke of York.  He, in turn, gave control of what would become New Jersey to a pair of friends who had helped him during the English Civil War.  They managed to draw in quite a few settlers by selling the land at low prices and allowing political and religious freedom.  Still, one of the men sold his shares of the colony to Quakers and East Jersey and West Jersey were formed.  When the colonists in both areas began to riot over paying rent for the land, argue over just who owned particular sites, and dispute just where East Jersey ended and West Jersey began, the owners got fed up and gave up both colonies.  The British rejoined them in 1702.  For a time, New Jersey was ruled over by the governor of New York, but the people were so angered by this that they were eventually given their own governor.  Just two days before the Declaration of Independence was signed, New Jersey drafted its own Constitution and the area saw a great deal of battle during the American Revolution.  But they were still quick to join the Union, with only Delaware and Pennsylvania coming in before then.  Early on, it became one of the first great industrial states and that has been a driving force of its economy ever since.

New Jersey is another state that I've only been to one time, and it was a pretty short stay.  I passed through it with my family on the way up North and we stopped by the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, where I considered enrolling, but never did.  Still, I went by their Art Store and picked up a few supplies.  The school is located in Dover, which is in the northern part of the state.  We also drove through a town where part of my family lived long before I was born.  I do remember having an aerial view of northern New Jersey when I was descending toward JFK Airport on a plane.  It was pretty developed, and not terribly attractive, so I recall being a bit put off, and wondering why anyone would have called this place the Garden State.  Apparently, some of the best parts of New Jersey are further south, and there are definitely a few places there I'd like to see there.  First off, there's Cape May, the nation's oldest seaside resort that's filled with charming Victorian homes.  It's also home to lovely gardens and plenty of museums and I'd like to have a look at it.  I'd also like to see the Pine Barrens, a 1.1 million acre national reserve that features dense forests, bogs, and marshes.  It's a somewhat mysterious place and legend has it the Jersey Devil, a creature with the head of a horse, wings, and fierce claws, stalks it.  Tours are even offered to look for the monster - sounds like fun.  It's also home to the much busier Atlantic City home to casinos, a four-mile long Boardwalk.  Lucy the Elephant, an iconic elephant-shaped building built in 1881 is in Margate City, just two miles south of Atlantic City.  I'd definitely like to check that out.  Having seen some of the more industrialized parts of the state, I think I'd like to experience other, perhaps more inviting areas of it in the future.  Hopefully then, I'll get a better understanding of what makes New Jersey the Garden State.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pour On Some Sugar

Magnet # 420:  Morse Farm Photo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

How's this as far as tasty celebrations go - today is National Maple Syrup Day.  So bring out your pancakes, waffles, French toast, crumpets, and oatmeal and pour on the good stuff in the spirit of the day.  Maple syrup was actually first developed in the northeastern part of North America by Native America, and when European settlers sampled it, they began producing it themselves.  And while the process we now use hasn't changed terribly much since colonial times, it's now more streamlined and more machines are utilized in it.  Even though Canada turns out eighty percent of the world's maple syrup, the United States is still responsible for the creation of hundreds of thousands of gallons of the sweetener every year.  And Vermont puts out more maple syrup than any other state.  When I visited it earlier this year, I was able to stop by Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks just outside of downtown Montpelier, and I had a nice time there.  This maple syrup production company has been around for 200 years and has remained in the Morse Family.  I have to wonder if they business decision to bring in tourists to their sort of welcome center hasn't helped them to stick around, as it is a very well done site.  It has a sort of rustic charm and there are several log cabins open to visitors.  In the Woodshed Theatre, whose walls are made of sugar wood, they can view a film about the maple sugar production process that features Harry Morse, Sr. a colorful character who's proud of his Yankee heritage.  The building next door offers them a look at the actual machines used to produce their maple syrup.  And they also feature chainsaw art produced by Burr Morse.  Best of all, visitors can sample all four US Syrup grades - Vermont Fancy, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B - for free.  Not only do these taste great, they also feature very attractive colors, from a golden tint to one that's almost ruby.  I have to admit, though, of all that I tasted at Morse Farms, I liked their Pure Maple Cream best - it's smooth and so decadent it's almost sinful.  And they don't just offer their own produce at their shop - it's a great place to buy all sorts of Vermont souvenirs, like this magnet.  Have a look at if you'd like to find out more.  I stopped by in the early morning, and it was pretty quiet - given that it's free to tour, it supposedly gets pretty crowded later in the day, so you might want to get there sooner rather than later if you want to avoid the throngs of people.

Real maple syrup can be pretty pricey, and was even moreso decades ago when my parents first married and had almost no money.  But they loved it and decided to splurge and buy a bottle when they had friends over for breakfast.  As they tell it, the couple drowned their pancakes in the indulgent syrup, leaving plenty on their plates when they were done, but almost none in the container.  That was the last time they served the real stuff to those two, yet as prices have gone down and their income has increased, it's become a regular part of their Sunday morning pancakes.  I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but I don't use natural maple syrup myself.  I guess partially to save on calories and cost, I stick with the light varieties that are manufactured.  And I tended to think they're all the same, until I came upon an old container of Log Cabin Country Kitchen Lite in my cabinet.  Then I realized that this one blew away any other varieties I had tried.  And, for a time, it was actually tough to find it - I even checked out the Log Cabin website and when I didn't see it listed there, I thought it had been discontinued.  And, boy, was I thrilled when I came upon it in a grocery store!  I now have plenty of backup.  It's funny, even when I'm home with my parents and we have their natural maple syrup, I realize I like mine better.  I think I prefer the stronger favor and the fact that it's thicker.  And I know it's important to buy the natural version to keep places like Morse Farms around.  So here's my suggestion this National Maple Syrup Day - if you've never sampled the real thing, give it a try.  It's worth finding out what you're missing out on.  And if you find you still prefer your usual syrup, that's fine.  But this is one uniquely American tradition that everyone should experience at least once!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Trouble Brewing

Magnet # 419:  Classic Boston Ship

Material:  Wood, Fabric, Metal

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

The people of Boston were mad as - well, you know - on this day in 1773, and they weren't going to take it anymore.  Along with the rest of the colonies, they had grown increasingly fed up with Britain's levying taxes on them, in part to pay for their victory in the French and Indian War.  Britain also wanted to reinforce the fact that they were in control of the colonies, as they had been growing more independent, but the move severely backfired.  By passing measures such as the Stamp Act and Townsend Act, the colonists rebelled, resulting in the Boston Massacre and some other revolts that drove home just how serious they were.  Finally, Parliament backed down, taking away nearly all of the taxes.  But they kept one in place, a duty on tea.  As it was almost a necessity in those times, far more so than it is now, the British thought the colonists wouldn't be able to deprive themselves of the pleasure of tea.  They also wanted to help save the East India Company, which was suffering from competition with Dutch merchants, by giving them a monopoly on any tea shipped to the colonies.  And by lowering the price of taxes implemented on tea, those in the Americas would actually pay less for it.  To the British, it seemed like a win-win situation.  Still, the colonists weren't fooled.  They realized that the arrangement might put local merchants out of business.  And if they continued to allow the British to tax them in this matter, they might soon decide to impose more taxes.  All across the Eastern seaboard, as the East India Company's ships arrived carrying tea, the colonists were ready for them.  In New York and Philadelphia, the ships were turned away from port and forced back across the Atlantic.  Charleston's leaders dealt with the matter by stowing the tea in a warehouse for years, only to eventually sell it to raise funds for the American Revolution.  Meanwhile, in Boston, the governor was resisting the colonists' efforts to send back the tea and it was unable to be unloaded or returned.  The situation came to a boiling point on the final day the first ship to arrive, Dartmouth, was allowed to dock without having its contents confiscated.  Thousands of angry citizens convened at the Old South Meeting House and when they learned that the governor had once again prevented the ships from leaving, many of them stormed nearby Griffin's Wharf, some disguised as Indians.  They boarded the three ships with cargoes of tea docked there, destroying it with hatchets and tossing it into the water.  One participant estimated it was over in three hours.  Although they were surrounded by armed British ships, none attempted to stop them.   And the next morning, any tea left floating in the harbor was destroyed by citizens in rowboats.  Britain's response to the outburst, the Intolerable Acts, help incite the American Revolution.

Although no one is sure any longer just where Griffin's Wharf once stood, Boston is now home to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.  It's currently closed for extensive renovations and will reopen next summer.  One of the highlights of its collection is the Robinson Tea Chest, which is one of only two which are known to have remained since the incident.  Considering 342 chests were dumped in the harbor, it's hard to believe nearly all of the them were lost.  Nowadays, any of those sort of items would go for top dollar on Ebay.  This one was kept as a souvenir by John Robinson, who recovered it the morning after the Boston Tea Party and passed it on to relatives.  It certainly would be interesting to have a look at it, and I imagine the museum has some other engaging artifacts.  Maybe I'll get a chance to venture there in the future.  And I think this exceptionally cool magnet may actually be intended to portray the USS Constitution, which had nothing to do with the Boston Tea Party and was later of critical importance when when fought the British in the War of 1812, but I thought it still kind of fit today's post.  Unlike many past events, the Boston Tea Party continues to inspire here in the United States and abroad, whenever injustices are implemented.  The day when all of that cargo was tossed overboard may be over 200 years behind our nation, but its impact will likely be felt as long as the United States stands.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Weakest Link

Magnet # 418:  Point Pleasant River Museum

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

West Virginia, Ohio, and the rest of the nation were shocked on this day in 1967 when the Silver Bridge collapsed, a disaster that claimed 46 lives.  It had stood since 1928 and had been named after the color of the aluminum paint which covered it - in fact, it was the first bridge in the nation to receive such a paint job.  It connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia with Kanauga, Ohio and, over time, had taken on much more traffic and heavier vehicles than it was ever intended for.  On that chilly evening, the traffic lights were malfunctioning and rush hour and holiday traffic had been effectively trapped on the bridge.  One survivor remembered feeling a quivering as he waited there and his wife wondered what they would do if it collapsed just before their car plunged into the frigid waters.  He escaped, but lost both her and their infant child.  Of the 37 vehicles that were on the bridge, only six did not go down with it.  And some of those who fell into the Ohio River managed to come out alive, a few with the help of heroic witnesses on the shore who ventured in to help them.  It's believed the entire structure took about a minute to collapse.  The tragedy remains the worst bridge disaster in United States history.

After the disaster, people began looking for an explanation as to how it could have occurred, and many suggestions surfaced.  Some thought a flaw in the Silver Bridge had caused its fall, while others maintained that they had heard a "Sonic Boom" at the time of the fall and believed that it destabilized the structure. There were also less conventional explanations given for the accident.  Some thought it might have been brought on by the supposed Curse of Cornstalk, an Indian chief who had gone to American troops in peace, only to be killed.  And others held that a strange creature called Mothman that had been seen in Point Pleasant might have either been responsible, or come to warn of the tragedy.  In fact, The Mothman Prophecies film holds that a cause was never found for the Silver Bridge collapse.  But that simply isn't true.  It was determined that one relatively small eyebar had broken down due to internal corrosion, and it was likely defective ever since it was manufactured and a tiny crack formed in it.  When it broke, no other part of the bridge was able to bear its load, as it was a suspension bridge and all of its parts were intended to be in equilibrium with one another.  It was truly a case of a chain only being as strong as its weakest link.  In the aftermath, a similar bridge upstream in West Virginia was demolished and the government increased its diligence in inspecting and maintaining bridges.  But if we learned anything from the 2007 I-35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis, when 13 died, it's that the country has a long way to go toward definitively ensuring bridge safety.

Parts of the Silver Bridge are now on display at the Point Pleasant River Museum, including a bell which hangs from metal that was shaped into an arch after the collapse.  And on the second floor, there's a scale model of the structure complete with quite a few vehicles that's easily over six feet long.  It's really involved, and very informative.  Plus, the museum has an archive of literature concerning the structure available to its visitors.  But that's hardly the extent of the collection at this small, but very nice attraction.  There's also a working model of a pilot house that could be found on a ship, model ships, maritime memorabilia, and a 2400 gallon aquarium filled with fishes that can be found in the nearby rivers.  I was very impressed when I visited there a couple of months ago, particularly by the staff, which was perhaps the friendliest I encountered during my travels this year.  If you're in the area, stop by and have a look around - their admission is quite reasonable.  It's been open since 2003, and I hope it continues on for a long time.  Not only is it a link to the past tragedies that have played out on the Ohio River and in Point Pleasant, it's also a reminder that better times are likely ahead for this resilient community.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Going Bananas

Magnet # 417:  Miniature Monkey

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Gina

It's time to celebrate some of the cutest primates around, because this is Monkey Day!  This is another relatively new observance and was begun back in 2000 when comic book creators Casey Sorrow and Eric Millikin introduced it to the masses.  Apparently, for a practical joke, Sorrow scribbled "Monkey Day" on one of his friend's calendars and they ended up celebrating for the heck of it.  Some hold that they chose to hold it during the Holiday season to provide an evolution-based antidote to all of the religious offerings.  But I don't see why that should stop followers of certain religions from joining in on the fun today.  The first celebration was held mostly around Michigan, where the pair hail from.  That year, participants included Lansing residents and students from Michigan State University who came together and partied wearing simian-themed costumes, jumped around, and made all sorts of noises that might be appropriate for a jungle.  They've continued to hold Monkey Day every year since, and are hoping that it will one day match the success of other unusual observations such as International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Sounds like a pretty lofty goal to me, but they might be able to pull it off.  They've also upped the ante in subsequent years, introducing activities like a Monkey Day Web Comic Marathon, auctions of monkey-themed art to benefit simian charities, and speed knitting sock monkey doll competitions.  And in 2005, Peter Jackson's King Kong remake was released on Monkey Day.  I swear, I think I even remember a television commercial for the film that mentioned the connection.  Detroit's Biddle Gallery joined in the fun in 2008, holding a Monkey Day art sale that included a free banana with every purchase.  And who knows what fun new activities will be added in this year!

Just because this celebration is called Monkey Day, that doesn't mean that apes, prosimians, and other primates will be left out in the cold.  If it's simian, it's in.  That means there are over 300 species that can be included in the festivities.  And if I had to pick a favorite, I'd be tempted to go with the Pygmy Marmoset, the smallest true monkey and one of the world's tiniest primates.  These little cuties don't get much bigger than six inches, and can actually wrap around your finger - how adorable!  And there's also the Mouse Lemur, which is officially the world's smallest primate.  They run between just over two inches to just under five.  Heck, they're not much bigger than this magnet.  I don't think I've ever seen either of these adorable simians in person, but I'd like to.  And it would be really neat to have one curl around my finger.  If you haven't figured out which monkey is your favorite, this is a perfect occasion to choose one.  You might also donate to a monkey charity, give a monkey-themed gift to a friend or send them an e-card with one on it, or even throw your own simian bash.  You could also watch a film that centers around primates - Bedtime for Bonzo, Congo, Dunstan Checks In, Every Which Way But Loose, and the animated Curious George all come to mind.  And if you want more information on this celebration, swing on over to  Whatever you do, this is a great opportunity to just have fun monkeying around, so don't let this chance to go ape pass you by!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Trials Of Mrs. Lincoln

Magnet # 416:  Mary Todd Lincoln Photo, Signature

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

In Paris, Kentucky on this day in 1818, Mary Todd was born to wealthy banker Robert Smith Todd.  Her mother would die when she was six and her father would go onto marry a woman with whom young Mary would clash, as their family grew to include sixteen children.  She felt neglected in the brood, but still managed to grow up to become an accomplished dancer and musician, able to speak French fluently and charm young men with her personality and wit.  Her father was also involved in politics and a friend of Henry Clay, a frequent guest at the family home, and Mary came to eagerly share his interest.  Later, she joined her older sister Elizabeth, who had recently married the son of a former governor, in Springfield, Illinois.  Mary Todd went on to enchant the upper class gentry there, including Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.  It's said the future President approached her at a ball and said he wanted to dance with her "in the worst way."  The two became engaged, but due to his misgivings, it was broken off twice before the pair married in 1842.  They'd spend about ten years together, happy for the most part, before he was sworn in as President and Mrs. Lincoln's troubles truly began.

Even before Mary Lincoln got to the White House, the former First Lady, Harriet Lane, niece to James Buchanan who was beloved by the country, and much of the Washington elite had written her off as a hillbilly from the West, and she was determined to prove them wrong and uphold the prestige of her husband's office.  To this end, she spent lavishly on furnishings and dinnerware, exceeding the budget Congress had set aside for her and many came to view her as a spendthrift.  And coming to the White House from a Southern state that permitted slavery during the Civil War proved to be particularly difficult for her.  Even though Kentucky didn't secede from the Union, many of her relatives joined the Confederate side, some of whom considered her to be a traitor.  There were also plenty of Union supporters who accused her of keeping secret Confederate sympathies, much to her dismay.  Her personal life only grew worse as she lost siblings to the fighting and when her son Willie died at the age of 11, it was a blow from which she never recovered.  She began having seances at the White House in hopes of contacting him.  She also suffered a head injury during a carriage accident that further contributed to her increasing instability.  Mary Lincoln often had unpleasant outbursts which proved to be rather embarrassing for her husband.  And when he was assassinated before her eyes in 1865, she was so distraught that she didn't leave the White House until a month after his death.  The death of her son Tad in 1871, when he was 18 only added to her misery.  She also became increasingly unstable, terrified that she would end up penniless, yet irrationally buying lavish items that she never used.  She also heard voices and was unable to be alone.  In less than four years, she had become so unglued that her only son left alive, Robert, felt he had to institutionalize her for her own safety.  At a trial, she was found to be insane and confined to a mental asylum.  But Mary refused to go quietly, sending letters to her supporters and the editor of the Chicago Times.  Myra Bradwell, one of the nation's first female lawyers, filed an appeal on her behalf and the director of her asylum backed down and recommended Mary be released, concerned about the negative publicity his institution might receive.  She was declared sane and took off for France, not wanting to stay in the United States after the awful treatment she had received there.  Four years later, she returned to Illinois, where she spent the final years of her life at her sister Elizabeth's home.  On the anniversary of Tad's death in 1882, she suffered a stroke and passed away herself the next day.  Her body was interred with that of her husband's at the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield Illinois' Oak Ridge Cemetery.  Finally, Mary Todd Lincoln was at peace.

Never in the history of the Presidency has a First Couple been so mismatched in their popularity with the masses.  So much of the Union adored President Lincoln and in the time since his death, he has become one of the most beloved Presidents ever.  But his wife was vilified and her irrational behavior caused her to be labeled a loose cannon.  There is even current speculation that she suffered from a bipolar disorder.  It would be interesting to know just what misgivings Lincoln had with Mary Todd that almost drove him away from her before they were ever married.  At least a closer look at her life shows that Mary Todd Lincoln dealt with great difficulties all of her life that drove her sporadic behavior, from a stepmother who allegedly called her the "Devil's spawn" to a family that was driven apart by warfare to losing three of her four children and her husband and being estranged from the only son that outlived her.  It's said that Mary Todd often spoke of her ambition to become the wife of a President and although she got her wish, she never could have imagined how much it would cost her.  To this day, such a long time after her birth in 1818 she remains the most tragic First Lady in our nation's history and it's impossible not to sympathize with her after learning of the many troubles she faced.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Man's Other Best Friend

Magnet # 415:  Kentucky Horses, Stables

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

Saddle up, everyone - tomorrow is the National Day of the Horse!  This particular observance isn't terribly old and dates back to 2004, when Congress passed a resolution that designated that December 13th as the first National Day of the Horse.  And this was one issue every political party could agree on - it passed the Senate in an unanimous vote.  I can't imagine why anyone would vote against such a celebration.  Even celebrities like Bo Derek and Jewel came out in support of the measure.  This overwhelming support simply illustrates how beloved these creatures are, both in the United States and worldwide.  Horses have been around since Prehistoric times and were first hunted for their meat, but when humans domesticated them over 5,000 years ago, they took on an all-new importance.  They proved to be more useful than just about any other animal, assisting in travel, agriculture, hunting, and war.  But, for some reason, there had been no horses in the Western Hemisphere since before the Ice Age until Christopher Columbus brought them back during his second voyage to the New World.  And they proved to be of vital importance to the settlers who came to America, helping them to spread across the entire continent.  Some new breeds were actually developed in the United States, like the American Quarter Horse, the Morgan horse, and the Tennessee Walking Horse.  Of course, this was also where the first automobile, which would replace horses to an extent, was also created.  Nonetheless, vehicles will never replace the love humans have for horses and even though they're now used more for recreation and sport than work, they will likely remain faithful companions and friends to humans for the rest of our existence.

While I've always liked horses, I have to admit I'm not quite as into them as some of my friends, two of which have horses themselves.  I met one of my friend's horses, Val, a white Arabian, once and spent a nice afternoon taking lots of pictures of him.  I've drawn some horses in my art before, and may use those photos as reference if I ever do so again.  Of course, I haven't portrayed nearly as many horses in my work as my friend Lindsay has.  She adores horses and saved up for years as a child so she could afford to buy her own, Destiny, who's since passed away.  But she still loves horses as much as ever, and I know she'll get another if she's ever able to.  When we traveled down I-75 through Florida at the beginning of this year, she was pretty depressed by all of the foreclosed horse farms we passed - Ocala and its surrounding areas must have had quite a few horses about a decade ago.  But I guess the current economic situation has made life pretty hard on horse owners.  So if you're a horse lover and are up for it, you might want to consider celebrating them, even if it's not tomorrow, by stopping by a local stable and paying to ride for a few hours.  It could really help out in these tough times.  I used to ride horses at summer camp, but it's probably been about two decades since I've been in a saddle.  And I've talked with Lindsay about going horseback riding sometime, as I know she does, so I hope it happens.  I'd also like to take a trip to one of the islands here on the East Coast that features wild horses roaming about.  Maryland and Virginia have Assateague Island, which is home to miniature horses about the size of ponies in addition to some rather small horses in North Carolina's Outer Banks, most notably the Banker ponies of Ocracoke Island. There's also Cumberland Island National Seashore, which is just a bit south down the coast here in Georgia.  There, herds of wild horses run free and they're believed to be descended from horses left behind by the Spanish in the 16th century.  It would really be great to visit one of these scenic locales and catch a glimpse of some of these wild horses.  But no matter where I see them, I'm always happy to come upon one of these magnificent animals.  And I'm glad that we've set aside a day here in the United States to recognize all of the contributions they've made in shaping our nation and its character.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Where Independence Reigns

Magnet # 414:  Map of Pennsylvania

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Dad

We're heading up North for another statehood anniversary that actually occurs tomorrow - that of Pennsylvania.  It was the second state to join the Union in 1787, with Delaware beating it out by just five days.  It's also one of the states with the most storied histories.

While the British claimed the area that would become Pennsylvania as part of the Virginia territory, Dutch explorer Henry Hudson was actually the first European to arrive there in 1609 before sailing upward on the river that would be named in his honor.  His visit brought more Dutch to the region, but it was the Swedes who established the first settlement there on Tinicum Island.  The Dutch mostly ignored their intrusion there, building their own nearby settlement that was later taken by the Swedes.  At this provocation, the Dutch rose up and forced all of the Swedes out of the area.  They'd control it for almost a decade before losing their territory to the British.  The Duke of York managed the area until 1681 when King Charles II transferred it to William Penn to pay off a debt he had owed Penn's father.  Penn's first choice for a name was New Wales, but that was struck down by a Welsh member of the Privy Council.  So he chose Sylvania instead, which is another name for woods, and the King added Penn to honor the family.  William Penn was a Quaker and wanted to ensure the religious rights of those of his faith and others in Pennsylvania.  He traveled over to act as governor himself and did all in his power to give his people rights over their lives and their property, and he even paid the Native Americans for their land.  But Penn had a hard time keeping control over the area when King Charles was overthrown and William and Mary took his place.  He managed to assure them of his loyalty and his position as governor was reinstated.  Following his death in 1718, management of Pennsylvania passed to his family.  By the middle of the century, as the colonies became increasingly discontent with British rule, Philadelphia rose to prominence, becoming host of two Continental Congresses and the birthplace of liberty when the delegates voted to declare their independence from Britain.  During the American Revolution, a good deal of the action was played out in Pennsylvania, but that didn't deter their resolve from joining the Union.  And for a decade, Philadelphia served as the capitol of the United States.  It's almost tough to believe, but this highly patriotic state has only provided its nation with one President - James Buchanan.  The Keystone State was later the site of some of the most important battles of the Civil War.  Since then, it's become one of the most prosperous states in the nation.  William Penn might even be proud of the legacy he's left in Pennsylvania, from its eagerness to uphold individual rights, to its anti-slavery stance and its industrious work ethics.

I've only been to Pennsylvania once in my life, during a trip with my family, and we ended up spending more time there than we had originally planned.  On the road, we had some car trouble.  It wasn't too hard to take care of the tire that blew out in Virginia, but when our fuel pump went out in Dutch Country, we were stuck for a couple of days.  Still, we made the most of it, renting a car and driving around.  We went to Intercourse, saw some Amish driving around in horse-drawn buggies, and checked out the shops.  We also stopped by Hershey's Chocolate World, not to be confused with Hersheypark, the nearby theme park.  There, we sampled some chocolate and learned about the history of the Hershey Company and learned how they create their wonderful treats.  We ended up having a really nice time during that unexpected detour.  Of course, there's still plenty in Pennsylvania that I have left to see.  Philadelphia is one of the few major metropolitan cities east of the Mississippi River that I haven't been to, and I'd like to get a chance to check it out.  Not only does it have a great deal of noteworthy sites, like Independence National Historical Park, home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and Congress Hall, it also has some very creepy spots.  Two of the best are Eastern State Penitentiary, a revolutionary prison that featured private cells with skylights, and Fort Mifflin, which protected the city during the Revolutionary War.  Both are now said to be haunted.  And speaking of haunted, I'd also really like to tour Gettysburg, where perhaps the most famous Civil War was fought.  It's now home to a number of historic sites and is said to be one of the most haunted sites on the planet.  Of course, I'd also like to see the State Capitol in Harrisburg.  It features a marble staircase that's based on the Paris Grand Opera House, a dome inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, stained glass windows, mural paintings, and is apparently quite majestic.  Theodore Roosevelt even called it the most beautiful of all the state capitols.  There are also some other, more industrial cities that might be fun to visit, like Pittsburgh, Erie, and Scranton.  And I might enjoy seeing Pennsylvania's Dutch Country again.  The Keystone State certainly has plenty of exciting attractions to offer, and I'd like to have a look at some more of them for myself.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Not To Be Missed

Magnet # 413:  Mississippi Magnolias

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

On this day in 1817, Mississippi became the 20th state.  The first European to reach what would become Mississippi was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who came looking for gold in 1540.  When he found none, he moved on, not interested in building any settlements there.  It was the French who would take true interest in the area.  Their explorer Robert Cavelier sailed down the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes region, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the Mississippi River Valley for his nation and naming it Louisiana after Louis XIV.  And Pierre le Moyne  first developed the area in 1699, building Fort Maurepas on the coast at what would become Ocean Springs.  Within twenty years, Fort Rosalie had been constructed at the future site of Natchez and it became the center for trade in the area.  Thanks in part to its success, the British developed an interest in the area and were able to gain it with the Treaty of Paris at the end of the French and Indian War.  Of course, the newly formed United States was able to gain most of the territory at the end of the Revolutionary War.  And in 1810, when President James Madison asserted that the nearby West Florida region was part of the Louisiana Purchase and annexed it, the nation finished acquiring all of the land that would make up Mississippi.  Part of that land went to the Mississippi Territory, which had been founded in in 1798, and in less than a decade, it had achieved statehood.  Thanks to its lucrative cotton industry and slave labor, industry in the new state thrived.  In fact, Mississippi was the fifth-richest state in the nation before the Civil War.  But it struggled financially for many years after the conflict before the gambling industry and casinos help revitalize its economy.  Now, life seems to be looking a bit more positive for the state and its citizens.

Considering that it's located right next to my homestate of Alabama, I have spent a fair amount of time in the Magnolia State over the years.  But I have to admit, most of it's been passing through the state on the way to see family in Texas.  We didn't spend a whole lot of time vacationing in Mississippi when I was growing up, with the exception of when we met up with my Mom's side of the family there.  Natchez is about halfway between Montgomery and Dallas, so it was nice to have it as a gathering point.  We toured some of the lovely Antebellum homes for which it's known and stayed at a hotel overlooking the Natchez Bluff Park.  My Dad also spent some time in the state capitol, Jackson, when he was growing up and sometimes we stopped there on the way to Texas to eat at a favorite restaurant of his, the Old Tyme Deli, but it's no longer in business.  Once, we even drove by the home he once lived in there.  We've also frequented fast food restaurants in Meridian just across the Alabama border as a rest stop during our travels.  And when we were heading up to Memphis over the years, we'd pass through the northern part of the state, past places like Tupelo, where Elvis was born.  Still, I've been lacking on Mississippi magnets over the years, which was particularly odd given it's pretty close to home.  Luckily, I was able to obtain some earlier this year, when I made a brief stop at Biloxi on my way back from New Orleans and Baton Rogue.  I saw Jefferson Davis' final home there, Beauvior, and hit a few souvenir shops before continuing on my way.  And I was really pleased to find this magnet.  Not only does it have the magnolia blooms for which the state is famous, it also has the intertwined S's I've seen almost all of my life on Mississippi road maps, signs, license plates, and all other sorts of publications.  It certainly brings me back, and it's about time I post a Mississippi magnet here.  And I'm definitely not done traveling to the Magnolia State.  I have yet to tour the state capital in Jackson, and I'd like to visit Natchez again as an adult.  Really, there's plenty to be seen in this state and it's a shame I haven't spent more time there, but that should be pretty easy to fix.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Keeping Us Covered

Magnet # 412:  New Hampshire Covered Bridges

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

I know I've shared my dislike and outright fear of bridges on here before, but I'm not sure if that really extends to covered bridges.  Somehow these structures strike me as less threatening than the larger varieties that can span for miles, rise up higher than skyscrapers, and are open to seemingly endless vistas.  In my mind, at least, these shorter bridges that are enclosed and go for shorter distances are less likely to be the sites of accidents and tragedies.  I don't tend to get so tense on the rare occasions that I drive over them.  Plus, they're just lovely to look at and add to nearly any scenic view.  So when I found this really interesting magnet during my trip to New England earlier this year, I had to add it to my collection.

While New Hampshire is home to over 54 covered bridges, there are only five featured on this magnet.  I suppose they might have tried to choose some of the neatest ones the state has to offer.  At the top, the Cornish-Windsor Bridge is the longest covered bridge in the state, at around 450 feet long, and the second longest in the nation as of 2008, when Ohio's Smolen-Gulf Bridge took the title.  It spans over the Connecticut River, joining Cornish, New Hampshire with Windsor, Vermont and was constructed by hand back in 1866.  It's certainly the longest historic bridge in the United States and it has undergone extensive renovations through the years.  During its most thorough restoration, it was closed to traffic for over two years and the state spent over four million dollars to save the structure.  The bridge reopened to traffic on this day in 1989.  And these actions have ensured that this unique structure should be around for many years to come.  Moving down and to the left, there's the Jackson Bridge in the town of Jackson, New Hampshire which is apparently also known as the Honeymoon Bridge.  It dates back to 1876 and was built by a father and son who owned a dairy farm on the east side of the Saco River, but this bridge actually crosses the Ellis River.  A sidewalk has since been added to it and the trusses have been better covered.  And to its right is the Bath Covered Bridge, which is, appropriately enough, in the town of Bath.  It stands over the Ammonoosuc River and was built in 1832.  It's the fifth structure to have been built on the site - its predecessors were all wiped out by either flood or fire.  But it certainly seems as though this one has held up nicely over the years.  Again heading down and left, we find the town of Albany's Albany Bridge.  This one was constructed back in 1858 after its predecessor was demolished during a windstorm.  The cost of the original bridge was taken out of the builders' payment for the second and the Forest Service has maintained it by replacing its wooden floor timbers with steel in the 1980's.  And finally, at the bottom, there's the Flume Covered Bridge in the town of Lincoln.  It's believed to have been built in 1871, but no one is quite certain if it's an original or whether it was previously used elsewhere.  It's mainly used by maintenance vehicles and buses bringing tourists to the Flume, an 800 foot gorge that's a very popular attraction that's part of Franconia Notch State Park.  Another noteworthy New Hampshire covered bridge not featured here is the Haverhill-Bath Covered Bridge.  Built in 1829, it's one of the oldest still standing in the country and the oldest in the state, despite the fact that an arsonist tried to burn it down on September 11 of 1983.  It has been extensively restored and is no longer open to traffic.  Even though this particularly interesting one has been omitted, I still think this magnet has a pretty good sample of the covered bridges that can be found in the Granite State.

Of all the states, Pennsylvania actually has the most covered bridges and has had them the longest amount of time.  In 1804, Timothy Palmer was constructing a bridge over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia when a local judge suggested he turn it into a covered bridge to help it last longer.  Reluctant, Palmer nonetheless relented and the first covered bridge in the United States was created at High Street, which has since become Market Street.  At one point, the Keystone State had as many as 1,500 covered bridges, but with time that's dwindled down to over 200, which is still the most of any state.  But New Hampshire and Vermont still have the distinction of having more covered bridges per square mile than anywhere else in the world.  Even when combined, they're less than half the size of Pennsylvania, but they have 160 of the structures between them.  I don't remember coming across any covered bridges when I was in New Hampshire, but perhaps I'll get another chance sometime.  It's always nice to come upon one of these lovely structures and have a look around, even if you're hesitant to cross, as I am.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Kona Christmas

Magnet # 411:  Mele Kalikimaka

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

As you may have realized, today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.  I've already written about this particular event which commemorates those who fought and perished in the Japanese surprise attack, so I've decided to feature Hawaii in a different light this year.  I thought I'd tie it in with the Christmas themed posts I've been putting up for part of this month, particularly because this magnet is such a perfect match.  Hawaii also celebrates Christmas in a manner that's different from all of the other states, so it's worth having a closer look at their take on this beloved celebration.

The concept of Christmas was first introduced to the Hawaiian islands in the 1820s by American Protestant missionaries from New England.  They had also been helping the natives establish a written alphabet for their spoken language.  Whenever the concept of words won't translate to Hawaiian, the missionaries substituted a phonetically similar creation.  So the English greeting of "Merry Christmas" became "Mele Kalikimaka" on the islands, a phrase that was much easier for the locals to pronounce, as they had neither R nor S in their language.  They had an easier time with "Happy New Year," as the Hawaiians already had a celebration called Makahiki that fell during that time of the year.  It was a time of feasting and rest during which no wars were waged, and was also the name for year, so "Hau'oli Makahiki Hou" became the words exchanged at the beginning of each year.  And with time, more Christmas legends and traditions began to make their way into Hawaiian culture, albeit with an island twist.  Santa and his elves appear there in aloha shirts with barefeet and arrive in a red boat or canoe pulled by dolphins instead of reindeer.  And in addition to serving turkey on December 25, families might also gather outside for a kalua pig roast as part of a community luau, and offer sweet potato cheesecake with coconut frosting for dessert.  And the leis they wear are Christmas-themed and might be accompanied by a Santa hat.  While Hawaiians might sing traditional Holiday songs at their gatherings, they've been translated into the Hawaiian language and are accompanied by ukeleles, guitars, and Hula dancers.  Considering that evergreen trees aren't usually found on the islands, they're imported before the season arrives.  Some islanders opt to grow their own varieties in their backyards rather than buy them from the shop.  And there are also those who simply trim the Palm trees on their property or decorate their vehicles with thousands of lights and drive them around in parades to show them off to excited crowds gathered on the sidewalks.  Clearly, there are all sorts of ways in which Hawaiians have made the Holidays their own.

So are you getting tired of celebrating Christmas the same old way?  Then hop a flight to Hawaii this year and experience the one-of-a-kind festivities there firsthand.  Okay, maybe not.  But you could still try incorporating some of the island's Christmas traditions at your own gathering.  They even have a "Mele Kalikimaka" song for this time of the year.  It was written in 1949 by R. Alex Anderson and has been recorded by artists as varied as Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby, Bette Midler, Chris Isaak, and Jimmy Buffett.  It was even featured in the contemporary classic National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  And don't forget to incorporate the Hawaiian spirit into your Holiday revelries - on the islands, they tend to be laid back and very generous, including everyone in their gatherings.  Those are qualities we'd all do well to practice, no matter where we celebrate.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Here Comes Sinterklaas

Magnet # 410:  Holland Wooden Shoes

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Me

Tonight, in places like the Netherlands, Belgium, Aruba, and Suriname families will be gathering for the biggest celebration of the year - Sinterklaas.  It's believed to be the birthday of the mythical figure Sinterklaas, who's developed into Santa Claus into other cultures.  And on this night, after presents have been exchanged and everyone has gone to bed, he fills shoes that have been left out with candy and presents.  Sure, it sounds like Christmas, but in some locales like Holland, it's even more popular than that mega holiday.

The Sinterklass figure stems from St. Nicholas, patron saint of children and sailors who's also the patron saint of Amsterdam. He was born back in the third century to a wealthy family of devout Christians in the Greek village of Patara, and was their only son.  His parents died when he was young and Nicolas sold his inheritance as he believed Jesus would have wanted him to, giving all of his earnings to the poor.  He joined the Church, eventually becoming a Bishop, and was famous for his acts of charity, but was also imprisoned for his faith.  He was released and finally passed away on December 6th, which has since become his feastday.  Since his passing, various miracles began to be attributed to him, including one which tells of a poor man with three daughters who had no dowry and therefore could not be married.  They were going to be sold into slavery, but on different occasions bags filled with gold or golden balls flew in through the window and landed in their shoes, saving them.  St. Nicholas was believed to be responsible for the acts of charity.  Another legend tells of a young boy who was kidnapped on St. Nichloas' feastday and forced to become the cupbearer for a king in a faraway land.  His parents were distraught but decided to still hold a small celebration on feastday of the following year, during which they prayed for their son's well being.  St. Nicholas is said to have appeared to the boy and miraculously delivered him back to his parent's table, with the king's golden cup still in his hand.  Thanks to these and other tales, with time St. Nicholas slowly evolved into Sinterklaas, who visits good children on the eve of his feastday, delivering candies and small gifts, which he places in their socks and shoes.  He's also been known to leave behind switches for ill-behaved children, or simply take them back with him in a sack when he leaves.  And he's probably more popular in the Netherlands than anywhere else.  There, he's believed to set out from Spain in a steamboat and nearly every town in the Netherlands holds a parade during which Sinterklaas arrives on a white horse, although some may have him use a helicopter, carriage, boat, or even a moped.  Sinterklaas also brings his helper, Zwarte Piet, along for the ride.  This character started off as a devil that Sinterklaas had defeated and held captive in chains.  But, over time, Zwarte Piet has become more controversial, particularly because his face is blacked out and he resembles a Moor.  Some have contended that he is a racial insult, and have tried to replace his blackface with a rainbow paint scheme, but with little success.  To the people of the Netherlands, Zwarte Piet is a beloved character and this year, the Sinkerklaas festivities will likely continue, unaltered.

I'm not sure if Sinterklaas has ever placed his gifts in wooden shoes like the ones depicted on this magnet or if he sticks with the more traditional variety.  Years back, footwear like this was so popular in Dutch culture that its people were nicknamed "cloggies."  They aren't used everyday anymore, but some Dutch do use them for activities like gardening or farming and believe that they're good for feet.  But they're still a symbol of the Netherlands, particularly Holland, and are featured on all sorts of souvenirs.  Regardless of what kind of shoes children in the Netherlands place by their windows, doors, or fireplaces tonight, I'm sure the good girls and boys can look forward to discovering all sorts of goodies in the morning that Sinterklaas has left for them.