Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Night of the Comet

Magnet # 205: Mauna Kea Observatories

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Dad

Today marks the anniversary of the first confirmed spotting of Halley's Comet. No, it wasn't in Hawaii, as this magnet might suggest. It happened all the way back in 240 BC China, where astronomers described seeing a "broom shaped star" in the sky. Some believe that the comet was observed as far back as 467 BC, but there is no way of proving that. Other ancient civilizations such as Babylon, Persia, and Mesopotamia also recorded their sightings of the comet. So just how did British scientist Edmond Halley manage to get his name on a comet that all sorts of civilizations had been observing for centuries? Well, until he came along, people thought that comets were just random shooting stars - nobody had realized that that they actually followed orbits of their own until Halley was able to prove it. He was able to calculate that a comet he had observed in 1682 was the same that had appeared to other astronomers in 1531 and 1607. And he also predicted that it had a 76 year orbit and that it would return in 1758. And it was seen on Christmas Day of that very year. Although Halley had passed away by then, the comet came to be known by his name, a fitting memorial.

Halley's Comet has the distinction of being the only short-period comet that is visible to the naked eye from Earth. Over the years, it has played an interesting role in the course of human history. Perhaps the most interesting appearance of the comet was in 1066, when the Battle of Hastings would later occur. Comets was thought to be omens back in those days, and for Harold II of England, it proved to be a bad one as he died during the fight. But for William the Conqueror, whose reign would change the course of the Middle Ages, and who later won the battle and the throne, it was a welcome sign. There is a rumor that holds that, upon seeing the comet, he remarked that an object of its grandeur would only appear "when a kingdom wants a king." It is even represented as a shooting star on the Bayeaux Tapestry, the historic embroidered cloth that illustrates the Norman's conquering of England. Another battle may have been brought on by the comet's appearance in 1222. Legend has it that inspired Genghis Khan to head towards Europe in his conquests. And Mark Twain was born two weeks after Haley's Comet's perihelion, the time in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun, in 1835. In his autobiography, he claimed that he wanted to come in and go out with the comet, even though it was coming the following year. He said that he thought it was God's intention that "these two unaccountable freaks" come in and go out together. Twain got his wish when he passed away on April 21 of 1910, the day after the comet's perihelion. There does seem to be an unusual quality about this particular celestial body.

Even thought I was pretty young when Halley's Comet made its last appearance in 1986, I do remember all of the buzz surrounding it. I don't think I saw it then, but I still may have another shot. Halley's Comet is expected to return in 2061, but there is now a little doubt if it will. In 1987, a nun claimed that it would be destroyed in 1991. And in February of that year, two Belgian astronomers observed an unusual outburst from the comet. The cloud surrounding it was much larger than it ought to be and it was far brighter than usual. They concluded that it collided with another object, and it may have become multiple, smaller comets, or have entirely torn apart. I certainly hope that's not the case. But other scientists observed it in 2003 and although it was the farthest comet ever seen, it appears to still be intact. I guess we'll just have to wait and find out if it's still fine when it gets closer. But don't count it out yet - Halley's Comet has appeared in some of the most interesting moments of our history on the planet - some say it was even the star that shone on the night of Christ's birth - and it may still be with us for many more.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Well, It's Not Constantinople

Magnet # 204:  Istanbul Floral Tile

Material:  Ceramic

Purchased by:  Mom & Dad

It was on this day in 1930 that Constantinople officially became Istanbul, paving the way for one of the most kitschy songs ever. Really, can you even say Istanbul without launching into this song?

The first known name for this city was Byzantium, given to it by the Greek settlers who lived there.  For a brief time, it was known as Augusta Antonina and, later, New Rome.  But it wasn't until Emperor Constantine I took control of the city, naming it Constantinople after himself, that it began to become truly great.  He made it the center of his empire rather than Rome and spent six years building it up.  After he was gone, the importance of the city only grew greater and when the Western Roman Empire fell, Constantinople was left as the largest city of the Roman empire, more or less, and the largest in the world.  Emperor Justinian I only added to its grandeur, building the Hagia Sophia and other great churches after a fire caused by a riot destroyed part of the city.  Constantinople was so great, in fact, that it attracted armies such as the Persians and Arabs.  For over 300 years, one army after another tried to capture the city.  And, finally, in 1453, the Turks conquered it, making it the capitol of their Ottoman Empire.  It was then that it began to be called Istanbul, although many still referred to it as Constantinople.  While the Ottomans turned the city into a major power in politics, culture, and commercial enterprises, the name discrepancy never seemed to bother them much.  It wasn't until it fell and Turkey was created in 1923 that the matter was resolved.  In less than seven years, the Turkish Postal Service Law of March 28, 1930 made it clear that Istanbul was the one and only accepted name of the city - letters sent to Constantinople were no longer delivered, and foreigners were asked by officials to call the city Istanbul.  The name game had finally come to an end and Ankara had replaced Istanbul as the capitol of the nation, but Istanbul was hardly down for the count.  Nowadays, it's Turkey's largest city and the only major city in the world that straddles two continents - Asia and Europe.  It is a megacity that features stunning historical architecture as well as modern skyscrapers, and it brings in a great deal of commerce and tourism every year.

As for the aforementioned "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," it wasn't recorded until 1953. It was a big hit for the Canadian band the Four Lads, making it all the way to number ten on the Billboard magazine charts and giving them their first gold record. Its silly lyrics and swing style tune has appealed to quite a few artists, and twenty more have covered the song, including Bing Crosby and Bette Midler. They Might Be Giants, an alternative rock band, recorded one of the best known versions of the song in 1990. They gave it a nice modern twist, upping the tempo and adding a violin and an accordion at certain parts in the song. It's funny how something as mundane as changing the name of the cities of Constantinople to Istanbul and New Amsterdam to New York could provide for the lyrics of a song that's persisted for decades.  Sooner or later, there will be more versions of this classic song and I'll be interested to hear what modifications will be made on it.  Just remember, folks, if you're planning a visit to this historic city, book for Istanbul, not Constantinople - that's been a long time gone.  And it's nobody's business but the Turks!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stopping By Pedro's

Magnet # 203: South of the Border Pedro Sign

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Me

Now that Spring has begun and Summer is on its way, lots of people will be taking to the road once again, traveling all over the nation. And, in their travels, they'll have the opportunity to check out some of the roadside attractions that are scattered along the roadways. I-95 is one of the most important interstates in the country, connecting the East Coast all the way from the tip of Florida to the top of Maine. And one of its most visible roadside attractions is the South of the Border rest stop just south of the North Carolina border near Dillon, South Carolina.

As the story goes, it all started back in 1950 when Alan Schafer opened a beer stand on the side of the I-95. When he began receiving deliveries addressed to "South of the Border," inspiration hit and he began building one of the more unusual tourist traps out there. South of the Border now features a 165 foot tall Sombrero Tower, shops galore, a mini amusement park, a mini golf course, a hotel, and restaurants. The complex stretches out over one square mile. It's all very campy and is a faux-Mexican style with bright colors and neon signs, most notably the giant neon sign of the mascot Pedro, which is recreated on this magnet.
Pedro is a silly Mexican stereotype, complete with a moustache and a giant sombrero. He's featured on many of the billboards that line I-95 advertising for the site - there are over 120 in all and they stretch on for over 200 miles, giving motorists (and their kids) and update of just how close they are. They have all sorts of goofy sayings, like "Keep America Green! Bring Money!," "Keep Yelling, Kids (They'll Stop)," and "You Never Sausage a Place," complete with a pink hot dog. All of this has helped South of the Border to become a legend of sorts. It was even featured in the Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck film Forces of Nature (along with my own home, Savannah).

I had heard conflicting tales of this unusual locale for years and I had always been curious to visit it sometime. Kids were always very enthusiastic about it, getting very excited and saying how awesome it was. Adults, on the other hand, were not usually so generous in their recommendations. So, last year, when I headed up to the Mid-Atlantic states, I got my chance to have a look for myself. It was interesting - they really do have a ridiculous amount of souvenirs. And, yes, they have a huge amount of magnets at very low prices. Unfortunately, most of them are magnets about South of the Border, and I really don't need too many of those. They had a couple from the Carolinas, but one billboard claimed that tourists could buy Myrtle Beach souvenirs at their Myrtle Beach store, saving a trip out there, but the only Myrtle Beach magnet they had also had South of the Border and the giant sombrero on it. I guess it was fun to see what all the fuss is about, but it's more for kids than adults. If you're planning to travel on I-95 and are going by there anyway, I recommend just checking it out, unless time is an issue. And if you have kids, they really ought to enjoy it. Really, this is a one-of-a-kind spot and it's fun to check out all of the kitsch they have there. I'm not sure if paying to ride to the top of the giant sombrero is the best idea, though - from what I understand, all you can really see are trees, the complex, and the Interstate. But if want to give this unusual tourist trap a look, by all means, stop and check out what they have to offer, and perhaps even get an inexpensive memento of your visit. As Pedro would say, it's "Sommtheeng Deeferent!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

To Sculpt a Legend

Magnet # 202: South Dakota's Mount Rushmore Photo

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Greg

The American artist and sculptor Gutzon Borglum was born on this day in 1867. His name may not be famous, but his work certainly is. Borglum went on to create sculptures such as Stone Mountain in Georgia and the iconic Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. He was born in Idaho to a pair of Danish immigrants. His father was an experienced woodcarver who was no doubt very influential to his son's artistic development. Borglum traveled to Paris to train in sculpting and met Auguste Rodin there, who would become a great influence to him. When he returned to the United States, he began receiving prestigious commissions and awards and was even the first living American to have a sculpture purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon, he began to focus on two characteristics in his work that would direct the course of his career: Borglum became very interested in carving patriotic figures, and working on a very large scale. He even sculpted the head of Abraham Lincoln from a six-ton block of marble that Teddy Roosevelt displayed at the White House and is now featured in the Capitol Rotunda.

Borglum was approached in 1915 by the United Daughters of the Confederate to carve his first great work at Stone Mountain. There, a giant quartz monzonite rock stretched up over 800 feet and the women wanted to have a twenty foot high bust of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee carved onto it. However, Borglum realized the size of the image would be dwarfed by the huge rock, so he convinced them that it would be akin to "a postage stamp on a barn door." Eventually, he came up with the idea of creating a high-relief frieze featuring Lee on horseback, accompanied by Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. He wanted them to be followed by troops, but that feature never came to fruition. When the work began, it proved to be quite a challenge. Borglum was forced to develop his own machine to project the image onto the mountainside. He got as far as carving Lee's head into the rock, but tensions between Borglum and the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association had grown so tense that he destroyed all of his models and left the state. His work on Lee was eventually cleared off to make way for another sculptor. It would seem his toils at Stone Mountain had gotten him nowhere, but Borglum had developed a new set of skills that would be critical for his next project, the greatest of his life - Mount Rushmore.

Discussions had been underway for years to create a tourist attraction in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Original plans were for heroes of the West to be carved there, but those were given up in favor of figures that would draw in more crowds. Borglum traveled to the area to advise on the project and recommended that they not use the granite pillars they had been planning on, as they would not be able to support the carvings. He thought Mount Rushmore would be a far more appropriate place to work on, as it was very grand and faced the South, allowing the most exposure to the Sun possible. It was finally decided that four Presidents would be carved on the mountain - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. For a brief time, Susan B. Anthony was also considered. Borglum went to work planning models of what would be placed on the mountain. One was even several times taller than Borglum himself and extended all the way to the Presidents' waists. However, they never had enough funds to carve this much out of the mountain. The work on the mountain began in 1927 and lasted until 1941. Unfortunately, Borglum wasn't able to see his work made complete. He died only months before it was finished.

Borglum not only left behind an impressive collection of work, he also had a very talented son, Lincoln Borglum, who became a sculptor and worked on Mount Rushmore. After his father's death, he stepped up and put the finishing touches on what he had nearly completed, but was careful to to alter too much the state of completion his father had attained. Nowadays, about two million people visit Mount Rushmore each year. Through his hard work, Borglum created an icon of the American spirit and its grandeur and perseverance are a testament to his genius.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Greece Is the Word

Magnet # 201:  Greek Flag

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

This one's for the Greeks, who are celebrating their Independence Day tomorrow. Historically, March 25 is believed to be the day that the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would bear the Son of God. It's an extremely important date in the Greek Orthodox calendar and, because of this, it was also the day that, in 1821, Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag and called his countrymen to arms, launching the Greek fight for independence against the Ottoman Empire.

The Greeks were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for around 400 years, who did their best to assimilate them, but failed.  They had been involved in other uprisings against the Ottomans, but this would be their final one. It lasted for over eight years, during which the Greek rebellion gained the sympathy and support of much of Europe and America because of its classical heritage. Many from around the Continent and the United States contributed financially to the cause and some even took up arms. Lord Byron, the British Romantic poet, came to fight on the Greeks' side, eventually dying of a fever. He is a national hero in Greece for his efforts, and some believe he would have been made King of Greece had he lived. Eventually, countries also came to the aid of the Greeks when the British, Russian, and French navy wiped out the Ottoman and Egyptian fleet at the Battle of Navarino in 1827. By 1829, with the assistance of the French military, and thanks to the Russians declaring war on the Turks. the Greeks had driven the Ottomans out of their land.  But it wouldn't be until 1832 at the Convention of London that Greece was established as an independent nation. Ever since, Greece has done all in its power to maintain its sovereignty and expand its size, never backing down or giving up, not even when the Nazis took over during World War II.

The Greek flag, which is featured on this magnet, has not changed since its official adoption by the first Greek National Assembly in 1822 during the Revolution. The cross is very prominent on the flag and it represents how important the Greek Orthodox Church is in the life of its citizens. The churning waves of the Aegean Sea are said to be represented in the alternating blue and white stripes, but some claim it is the sea and sky. And the nine stripes are said to either stand for the nine letters in the Greek word for freedom or the nine Muses of classical Greek mythology. This flag is a very important symbol of Greek Independence Day. Crowds of people wave it high as they go to festivals in the streets of nearly every village and city in the country. Marching bands in traditional costumes and colorful dancers perform in these processions, and dignitaries often participate. The largest parade of all is in Athens, the nation's capitol. And, of course, a great deal of traditional Greek cuisine is enjoyed on this day, such as spanikopita, barbecued meat, and baklava. Many families serve it at gatherings at their homes and the churches are filled throughout the day. The festivities have even spread to the United States, with cities such as Boston, Detroit, and New York City having Independence Day parades of their own on March 25.

So, if you're Greek, I hope you enjoy this special holiday that your ancestors fought so hard for. And even if you're not, that's no excuse not to have a little Hellenistic-themed fun today. Stop by a Greek restaurant or a Gyro shop and get a taste of its traditional cuisine for yourself. You shouldn't be disappointed - their food is definitely a favorite of mine. Or you could always watch a Greek-themed movie like My Big, Fat Greek Wedding or the old Clash of the Titans. Just remember, the Greeks know how to have a good time so follow their lead and have a fun day yourself!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Bicentennial of Sorts

Magnet # 200:  Helen Teddy Bear and Dachshund

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Lindsay

Looks like I've reached another milestone with this blog. Yep, I'm now up to 200 magnets. Once again, the last hundred posts seem to have gone by pretty quickly. I also thought that, as with my 100th post, I'd feature another personal favorite today. When I saw this one during our trip up to Helen, I thought it was completely adorable, really one of the cutest I'd ever seen. I mean, how do you top a teddy bear and wiener dog dressed up in Lederhosen for a Volksmarch! I'm not sure if that's possible. I saw this magnet in one of the first stores we visited in Helen, but that one was a little flawed, so I waited to get it until I found this one, which is absolutely perfect, in another one. Lindsay was sweet and bought it as part of my Christmas present - really, I couldn't have asked for anything better.

As much as I enjoy getting magnets as gifts and trading with other collectors for them - after all, they expand my collection in ways I could never manage myself - there is something great about going on the hunt for my own magnets. In the best of circumstances, I can find places like I did in Annapolis, Gatlinburg, and Hilton Head Island, where there are all sorts of souvenir shops clustered together, often one right next to another. There, I can go from store to store, checking out prices and deciding which ones are my favorite. Finally, I start buying them up, working from the cheapest shops to the most expensive to try and save a little. Sure, it might sound like work to some, but for me, it's some of the most fun I can have. Also, when I travel and find the magnets on my own, it makes writing these posts much easier. Instead of researching places and events on the Internet or in books or asking people who are more familiar with them than I to tell me their experiences, I can just type up what I've learned. And sometimes, I can gather some unusual experiences and stories in my travels that are worth mentioning up here. I've traveled a little this year, but any big trips I'm taking are still ahead of me, so I have them to look forward to. And, of course, I'll be trying to go to places I have very few or no magnets from so I can add plenty more to my collection. Maybe I'll even find some spots that have lots of souvenir shops in the same area. That would be great! I'm definitely looking forward to getting some more magnets to put up here in the coming months. Whether friends and family pick them up for me, I trade for them with other collectors, or I find them myself, I'm always happy to get another magnet. Not only do I get that collector's rush, it also means I have one more I can post up here. And, yes, I still have plenty more left - getting to 300 won't be tough. It seems no matter how many I can get up here, even more still manage to find their way into my kitchen. In fact, just the other day, I got a package of Washington D.C. magnets from some of my parents' friends, who'd kept me in mind while they were on a vacation. That was great! I don't know if there's anything better than finding magnets in the mail (for me, at least). Well, here's to the next round of hundred magnets and to even more magnetic fun!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Man Behind the Mask

Magnet # 199: The Phantom of the Opera Poster

Material: Ceramic

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

World-renowned British musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was born on this day in 1948. He was raised in a family that consisted of very talented musicians - his father was a composer, his mother a pianist and violinist and his younger brother would go on to become a cellist. In this creative environment, young Lloyd Webber thrived. He was composing his own music by the age of six and at nine years of age, he published a suite of six pieces. When he was older, he studied history briefly at Oxford, but soon he decided to study music at the Royal College of Music and pursue a career in musical theatre. Before long, he was getting his first tastes of success, along with lyricist Tim Rice, with shows like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita. But it wasn't until the 80's that Lloyd Webber truly achieved stardom. That's when his musicals Cats and The Phantom of the Opera both hit Broadway and shattered records for sales, won numerous awards, and enjoyed two of the longest runs for any musicals on record. They made Lloyd Webber a household name. It was around this time that he made this date important for another reason. It was on this day in 1984 that he married singer Sarah Brightman, the original female lead of his The Phantom of the Opera, although they no longer celebrate the anniversary of it as they divorced in 1990. But both have gained a great deal of success because of the musical. Since then, he has composed other musicals such as Sunset Boulevard and The Woman in White and produced still more. And just recently, he released a sequel to The Phanton of the Opera, Love Never Dies, which is set in Coney Island in 1907. While it's played in London, it has yet to be released on Broadway. It has received mixed reviews ranging from praise to scorn, but I would like to get a chance to see it for myself - or at least listen to the score. Late last year, the news broke that Lloyd Webber had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but his prostate gland has been removed since and he is reported to be cancer-free. I'm glad to hear it and I wish him the best of health in the future.

I have to admit, I am not usually a very big fan of musicals, but I do like those of Lloyd Webber's. I mostly listen to the music from them, but I have seen The Phantom of the Opera twice, once in Toronto and once on Broadway, but it was a long time after Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford had left the show. I really love the story, music, costumes, and sets and, as I mentioned, I am a little curious to see the sequel. But as much as I like the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, I honestly love his art collection even more. Webber is a devoted fan of the Victorian artists, as I am, and he has amassed quite a collection from some of its greatest painters. He owns works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne Jones, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, William Waterhouse, and my personal favorite artist, Lord Frederick Leighton. In fact, his collection is so impressive that both an exhibition and a coffee table book have been inspired by them. The title of both is Pre-Raphaelite and Other Masters - The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection. I haven't gotten the book yet, but I intend to. And Lloyd Webber has expressed his wishes that his family let the public continue to appreciate these masterpieces after he is gone. If you've ever experienced regret over not buying an item you wanted, trust me he's had far worse. Back in the early 1960s, he had the opportunity to buy Lord Leighton's Flaming June for a mere fifty pounds. But his grandmother wouldn't loan him the money and it slipped through his fingers. It's now the most beloved painting in Puerto Rico's Ponce Museum of Art and one of the most popular of all Victorian images. Clearly, however, Lloyd Webber didn't let its loss prevent him from buying more incredible images. And when his impressive collection is combined with his wonderful musicals, it is clear he has made the world a more enjoyable place over the course of his life, and that's definitely worth celebrating on this of all days.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Finally In the Right

Magnet # 198:  Johannesburg Cityscape

Material:  Leather

Purchased By:  John

The people of South Africa are celebrating Human Rights Day today. And few countries have a dark past that makes them more in need of a day set apart to recognize basic rights than this one.  This observance dates back to the day in 1960 when 69 people in a group of black protesters that had gathered to fight against the pass laws were gunned down and killed by the police.  More than 180 were injured.  The pass laws they were there to protest were some of the worst in the Apartheid system that legally separate whites from blacks and they made it very difficult for blacks to move freely through the country.  They also stated that no black employee of a business could hold a position higher than a white person.  About 6,000 people had gathered in a crowd without their pass books to force the issue and most likely be arrested.  There has never been any evidence that any of them were carrying weapons, but the police claim the crowd began throwing rocks at them.  Uneasy because of the recent deaths of nine police officers at the hand of a mob, the police opened fire instead of using the tear gas at their disposal.  And they kept on shooting, even after the crowd tried to run away.  In fact, many people were shot in the back, and women and children were among the dead.  This incident shocked the world and prompted fierce backlash in South Africa.  But within days, its government had banned all black political organizations.  They, in turn, continued covertly and no longer held passive demonstrations.  Soon, they began fighting back with weapons of their own.  But the fight they had ahead of them was a long one and it would be over thirty years before the victims in that crowd received justice and apartheid came to an end.  

Ever since the British came to South Africa, the natives there have had an incredibly difficult struggle for their rights.  By the time they were colonizing the area in the 19th century, they were prohibiting the movement of the blacks with pass laws, banning them from certain streets after dark.  They also lost any rights to vote.  When Apartheid finally was introduced in 1948, it resembled of the system of slavery in the United Stated much more than segregation.  Sure, the blacks were not physically owned by the white colonists, but their rights were severely diminished.  They were no longer citizens of the country, but citizens of tribes.  They received education, medical care, and other services that were vastly inferior to that of white South Africans.  It was extremely difficult for them to own businesses in white areas and they could never buy land there.  They were even taxed more money than whites.  Black women had it worst of all - they had no rights to own property, almost no legal rights, and no access to education.  If they could find work, they would receive very little pay.  And white South African groups tried to control and restrict their rights to marry and have children.  For these terrible laws, South Africa took criticism from nearly every other country in the world, including the United States, and some went so far as to restrict trade with it.  The United Nations denounced the practice and international organizations like the Olympics excluded the country.  Even white South Africans began to turn against apartheid.  Clearly, a change was needed.  And, finally, it came in the form of a series of negotiations that slowly did away with the practice of Apartheid.  In 1994, following the first universal vote ever held in the country, former activist Nelson Mandela became the new President.  And now, although economic conditions have not changed for all blacks in South Africa, many have ascended to the upper or middle classes.  Finally, all South Africans are free to move and go where they please and have the opportunity to own property and amass a fortune.

Clearly, the people of South Africa have plenty to be happy for today.  Apartheid is once of the more abominable practices administered in the modern world, and it's shocking that it lasted almost half a century.  It's great that they are now able to celebrate their freedom, black and white, side by side.  And for those of you who, like me, have never been denied your rights as many were in South Africa, and some still are around the world, this is an excellent opportunity to appreciate that fact.  Sure, many in the United States, on this day in particular, are not happy with the path of this nation, but at least we have the right to move to greener pastures, so to speak.  And we all have the right to vote, so at least we have some say in what goes on in our government, whether we're here or in South Africa.  That nation has come a long way in a short time and I hope the citizens who suffered in its past can enjoy their freedom this day, and on many more to come.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Return of the Spring

Magnet # 197:  Meredith Dillman's The Sweet Music of Spring

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

I don't think I have ever been in this eager anticipation of a season change. Let's face it, all over the United States, this has been a particularly bitter winter. Given it's my least favorite season, I have gotten pretty tired of all of these terribly cold temperatures. And, as of today, it's all gone (I hope)!  Yep, this is the first day of Spring and I am thrilled!

Well, I have had an interesting day today.  It started out mundane enough - I got together with a friend for lunch and afterwards, we went by the Savannah Botanical Gardens, a nice little locale on the city's Southside.  It's away from the major tourist destinations, so whenever I go, I often have the place to myself, which is nice.  Although it's small compared to many other botanical gardens, a lot of people have put a good deal of work into it and it shows.  Best of all, there is no admission fee, but they do take donations.  Some of the flowers there were already in bloom and they were very colorful.  There's a lot more left to come in both Spring and Summer, but it was nice to spend the first day of this season in a garden.  I'm looking forward to seeing many more flowers over the coming months.

After we finished up at the garden, we stopped by my place and my friend saw the sweet little cat that has been hanging around here for about half a year.  I've fed it off and on and I think my neighbors have too.  It's a very friendly cat, and I'm certain someone abandoned it.  I've wanted to take it in, but that would be impossible because of my allergies.  Typical of Spring and all of the births that are to come, my friend realized that the cat is pregnant and she's about to give birth at any moment.  To try to save her and the babies, as this cat is not in the best of health, we managed to get her in a carrier and drove her over to the Humane Society.  There, they told us that we had to take the cat to the animal clinic next door.  A worker there warned us that if they took the cat, they'd most likely put her and her babies to sleep.  We just couldn't do it - the cat is too nice, but we did get a number for a local rescue shelter here in town that is supposed to be very responsible and will try to save them.  A nice doctor loaned us a bigger crate to let the cat have her babies in it, if need be.  She's now at my friend's house, as she's better able to look after it than I am.  I hope this rescue organization comes to get them soon, and I hope they don't put the cat down - really, she is so sweet and good natured.  It makes me furious because I know that not only did someone own this cat and abandon it, but they didn't even bother to have her fixed before doing so.  If there's any Karma or justice, they'll get what's coming for being so heartless and irresponsible to this poor little cat.

So there you have it - a little drama for me on this first day of Spring.  If you haven't gotten out and enjoyed it yet, you should definitely try to tomorrow.  And let this be a reminder - if you have a pet that you've been meaning to get spayed or neutered, this might be a good opportunity to do so.  Let's face it, you probably don't want to have unexpected Spring (or Summer) babies of your own!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Luck Be a Lady

Magnet # 196:  Las Vegas Welcome Sign

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By: Mom

On this day in 1931, the state of Nevada legalized gambling, paving the way for it to become a major source of revenue for the state and draw in millions of gamblers and tourists every year. Unchecked gambling had been going on in the areas surrounding the state's mines for years until a nationwide campaign against the activity prompted the state to outlaw it in 1909. But when their mining and agricultural industries began to decline, the state realized that gambling might be the temporary solution to their problems. Even the most ardent proponents of legalization never expected it to be a permanent change. However, once the casinos began to rise and gambling filled more of Nevada's coffers than any other industry, no serious attempt was ever made to re-outlaw the activity. Sure, there's casinos and whatnot in cities like Reno and Laughlin, but pretty much everyone associates gambling in Nevada with Las Vegas. But the legalization of gambling in the state transformed what was primarily a railroad town that had been getting more residents thanks to the nearby Hoover Dam being built into a thriving urban hotspot eventually dubbed "Sin City." By the 1940's major construction of casinos was underway, mostly because of the mob. They controlled the city until the late 1960s when Howard Hughes and other legitimate businessmen began buying up the hotels and casinos. And when the feds came after the mob, they finally lost control of the city they helped create, but some still claim the mob controls part of Las Vegas nowadays. Thanks to the economic downturn we have been experiencing, Sin City has taken a hit, but if and when the economy recovers, it's sure to as well.

I've never been to Las Vegas, but I would like to go someday. I don't really gamble, but I know there are plenty of places I would still have fun checking out. There are all sorts of all you can eat buffets in the city, but the Bellagio Hotel & Casino is supposed to have the best. They serve all sorts of gourmet dishes made fresh all throughout the day, like beef Wellington, 8 different kinds of pizza, crab legs, and even Kobe beef. Sounds pretty amazing, but I have to wonder how expensive it would be. But it would be a treat, right? I'd also be interested in seeing the Neon Museum, where classic signs from Las Vegas' past go to die - or not. Here, tourists can check out 3 acres of over 150 signs, including iconic ones like Caesar's Palace, the Golden Nugget, the Silver Slipper, and the Stardust, which was the largest sign in the world for a decade. They're currently restoring the La Concha Motel lobby to use it as the visitor's center to the site. And if you'd like to see fully restored signs that light up, check out Fremont Street, where 10 are on display. It's nice to see that part of Las Vegas' unique history is being preserved for everyone to enjoy though these efforts. And, of course, Las Vegas is a perfect spot to shop for souvenirs, like magnets. It's home to Bonanza, which is dubbed the World's Largest Gift Shop, that has all sorts of magnets. Some may dispute it's claim, but at over 40,000 square feet, it's easily the largest souvenir shop in Las Vegas and many consider it to be the best. I'd like to have a chance to decide that for myself. Sin City also has quite a few stores around town that sell only magnets, like the Magnetron. Of course, with that many magnets, it would almost be tough to choose which ones to buy. After all, I only want so many Las Vegas magnets in my collection. But Louise Greenfarb, who I've mentioned on here before, holds the world record for most magnets and lives just outside the city and she says it's a fantastic place to buy lots of magnets. So yes, it would be fun to try that out sometime. Until then, I have this great one my Mom picked up for me while she was out there for business. It actually had a hanger attached to it, but I was able to peel back the magnet and take it off. I'm not certain just what you could really hang from this, but it's now a perfect example of the iconic Las Vegas sign. Maybe someday I'll make it out there and see this sign for myself and take in some of what this wild city had to offer. Sure, gambling has made it all possible, but there is so much more to be had in this Entertainment Capitol of the World.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mega Fun at MegaCon

Magnet # 195:  Hard Rock Cafe Orlando Live Guitar

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Me

Well, I got out of town this past weekend and headed down to Orlando, Florida for MegaCon, a comic book and fantasy art convention they hold down there every year. I stayed with my friends Lindsay and Danny and we had a great time.  Lindsay had a table in Artist's Alley, so we both helped her look after it.  I learned plenty and had a fun time just hanging out with them.  It was also fun to see other artists I've gotten to know over the years, like Larry Elmore, Tammy Pryce, Elvin Hernandez, and Jasmine Becket-Griffith.  On Friday night, we went to a party at painter Paul Vincenti's house.  He is as nice a host as he is a talented artist, and we had a pretty good time there.

We walked over to Universal's City Walk from our hotel on Saturday night and checked out all of the bright lights and throngs of fellow tourists.  If you've never heard of it before, it's a collection of restaurants, shops, and clubs that is free to go to.  Basically, it's Universal's version of Downtown Disney, which I've mentioned on here before.  We ended up having dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, which was a great choice.  So many times, theme restaurants don't have good food, but theirs is great.  I had a Cobb salad which was very tasty.  And, of course, the music was every bit as good as the food.  I was constantly saying how much I liked the song they were playing.  This particular location of the Hard Rock Cafe is actually the largest of all of them and it's designed to look like the Coliseum in Rome.  There's a nearby Hard Rock Live venue that can accommodate 3,000 people.  The restaurant has multiple levels and more items of rock n' roll memorabilia than any other location.  Its bar features a painted dome and a pink cadillac that revolves above the patrons - very cool.  I guess I would have wandered around a bit more if I'd known what a special Hard Rock Cafe this one is.  They have everyone leave through the gift store - pretty smart marketing move.  Obviously, it worked with me.  If you're ever able to check this place out, definitely give it a try.  We also had fun in the other parts of City Walk, and I even found a magnet kiosk.  But the magnets were very expensive so I only let myself buy one.  I must say, the prices for magnets at Downtown Disney were much more reasonable.  But I'm still glad we checked out all that City Walk had to offer, even if my foot hurt for a couple of days from all of the walking.

All in all, it was a great time - except for the car trouble - but that's a story I don't really want to get into here. I am definitely looking forward to heading back to MegaCon again next year. I think Lindsay and I will be sharing a booth and hawking our wares, so I'd better start producing more artwork. It's been tough balancing that with this blog, but I'm going to try to keep going with each one the best I can.  Well, I've got less than a year to produce some new pieces for MegaCon - wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Get Your Green On

Magnet # 194:  An Irish Dolmen

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

It's St. Patrick's Day all around the world, but there are few places where it has more significance than here in Savannah, Georgia. The area has a large amount of Irish immigrants and the second largest parade in the country is held here each year, with around 400,000 people attending.  Considering our population is usually around 132,000, that's a pretty big celebration.  We throw a parade in the morning that travels all through historic Savannah and its famous squares.  It's a family event and generations of locals participate.  They also dye fountains downtown green.  Later, the party shifts to River Street, a historic locale along the Savannah River with plenty of taverns and bars.  And, yes, there is quite a bit of drinking and revelries that are for adults only.  It used to be more like the raunchiness they have in New Orleans, but city leaders have tried to clean it up over the past few years.  I have to confess, in all my years here in Savannah, I have never attended this event.  As I've mentioned on here before, I really don't like big crowds.  I would like to go, but I just don't want to be out with the masses, and from what I've heard, questionable portable toilets are pretty much the only option unless you have a relationship with a downtown resident or merchant, which I don't.  Years ago, when my friend Catherine was here, we planned to camp out at her apartment, located on the third story of an apartment that overlooked one of the squares, and sit out on the balcony, overlooking the event.  I really would have enjoyed that, and it was even on a Saturday, so I would not have had to take off from work.  But she got terribly ill before the day of the parade, so much so that she had to move home.  I really miss her and I wish we could have gotten together to watch the parade that day. Perhaps someday, I'll brave the crowd and travel down to see the celebration in person, but today is definitely not that day.

It's a little funny, but St. Patrick's Day parades didn't begin in Ireland - they started in Boston back in 1737.  It wouldn't be until 1931 that the first parade was held in Ireland.  Even so, St. Patrick's Day is a quintessential Irish event. It centers around Saint Patrick, who was born in 387 A.D. to a wealthy and devout Romano-British family.  When he was a teenager, his life took a turn for the worse when he was kidnapped and taken to be a save in Ireland.  However, he was able to escape and return home, where he began to study to be a priest.  Later, he had a vision that prompted him to return to Ireland.  There, as a bishop, he spent the rest of his life, around 30 years, converting both the rich and poor of the land, becoming one of its most beloved religious figures.  Around the 1600s, the Irish turned his day into one of feasting and celebrating.  Initially, blue was the color tied to the holiday, but green soon overtook it.  Perhaps this happened because of the green shamrock, which St. Patrick was said to have used to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to his followers.  Because this celebration occurred during Lent and gave its followers a day of break during their fasting, it became very popular.  By 1903, it had become a national Irish celebration and spread all over the world.  Nowadays, it's become a way to celebrate Irish culture and heritage and is popular with millions of revelers.

I have been to Ireland once, although I didn't buy this magnet then.  I stumbled upon it in a Gatlinburg magnet store and happily grabbed it up.  I was around 10 years old at the time of our visit to the Emerald Isle.  It was a beautiful country and we had a really good time.  The food was a little tough to get used to, though.  One day, the bed and breakfast we were staying at served my Dad black blood pudding and none of use were able to eat it.  And I kept trying to find ketchup that wasn't sweet to go with my fries.  I finally came upon a bottle of Heinz, but that was sweet, too.  So if you want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with some authentic food, I recommend something less adventurous like corn beef and cabbage or green beer.  Even if you can't make it to a parade (or don't want to) you can still have some fun the Irish way.  Just don't forget to wear you green and don't get pinched!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Long Gray Line

Magnet # 193: West Point Cadet

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

On this day in 1802, Congress approved legislation which founded the United States Military Academy at West Point. While the area had been an important army post since the Revolutionary War, from that day on, it would take on a new significance in American history,
training and shaping generations of military leaders that would help maintain the sovereignty of our nation.

It would be another 15 years before West Point realized its true potential. That's when alumnus Colonel Sylvanus Thayer was made the school's superintendent by President James Monroe. For the next 16 years, Thayer would shape the academy into one of the greatest military institutions in the world. He would establish the country's first college of engineering there and set the standard high for the cadets, demanding honorable conduct from them and imposing strict disciplinary measures on any who didn't adhere to his rules. The curriculum he created was so forward thinking that it is still used at the academy. Although a disagreement with President Andrew Jackson forced Thayer's resignation, he is still known as the "Father of the Military Academy" and statue at the academy pays tribute to him. The legacy he left at West Point is substantial. Nearly 65,000 have graduated from the academy and they are known as the "Long Gray Line," which is inspired by a phrase from their official hymn.  The Medal of Honor has been awarded to 74 of them and some of the greatest military leaders our country has ever known are among them. Both Presidents Grant and Eisenhower graduated from West Point, along with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Grant's Confederate counterpart Robert E. Lee is another West Point alumnus, along with famous Civil War generals Stonewall Jackson and William T. Sherman. The last place graduate of the class of 1861, George Armstrong Custer, went on to achieve his own sort of fame at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. While he was at the academy, the pranks he pulled on his fellow cadets nearly got him thrown out on more than one occasion. One might argue that, in hindsight, it would have been in West Point's best interest to have expelled him after all. The institution also provided World War II with some of its greatest military generals, including Douglas MacArthur, who graduated first in his class, George S. Patton, Omar Bradley, and the aforementioned Dwight D. Eisenhower. And even in our present day military conflicts, West Point alumni are still leading the troops. Both Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., who oversaw the Gulf War in the 90's and Stanley A. McChrystal, who is now in charge of the US forces in Afghanistan are examples. Governors and members of Congress have also graduated from the institution, as well as astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  One of the more surprising West Point graduates is actor Mark Valley, who graduated in 1987 and fought in the Gulf War before going on to star in television shows like Boston Legal and Human Target. Even Edgar Allen Poe was a cadet there, but he was discharged. Although he was a master of writing horror, it's hard to imagine him leading any troops into battle. Sure, there have been some duds in this institution's 208 year history, but few academies can claim so many noteworthy and influential graduates.

West Point is situated at a location that's both strategic and idyllic.  It is on a hill that overlooks the Hudson River about 50 miles north of New York City.  Its vantage point provides the area with spectacular views of the river and other lands that surround it.  It also cuts out into the river and is an excellent place to halt enemy advancement up the Hudson in the event of an attack.  This is the site Benedict Arnold tried to surrender to the British during the Revolutionary War because it was such a significant fort.  I visited the academy once, years ago, with my family on a trip up north.  We didn't do much there, we mainly drove around the grounds.  But we did see the statue of Sylvanus Thayer and get out to take in one of the amazing views the institution has to offer.  I still remember just how breathtaking that sight was.  If you're interested in visiting West Point someday, there is actually the oldest military museum in the country there and tours are given through there and other parts of the grounds.  With its stunning architecture, incredible location, and historical significance, West Point is a great place to visit.  It's been critical in providing the best military leaders to our country, and hopefully will continue to maintain its standard of excellence for many years to come.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Time Kills

Magnet # 192: National Aquarium Frog

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Me

Okay, time might not actually kill anyone, as I've implied in my gripping title, but it could be hazardous to your health. As we all know, this is the day we spring forward and return to Daylight saving time. So we're all losing an hour of sleep, and that is really going to mess with some of us. And then, on Monday, we'll all go back to work with sleep deprived drivers on the road. Some studies claim that automobile accidents spike a few days after the time change. Oddly enough, others hold that accidents actually decrease. I just don't know how that can be the case. It doesn't make sense. Another study showed that accidents in the workplace go up on the Monday following Daylight saving time, and holds that, on average, people are sleep deficient by 40 minutes after the clocks spring forward. While that might not be such a big deal on occasion, when every driver on the road is affected by the change, the possibilities for accidents are much greater. Some law firms even advertise specifically for Daylight saving time-related injuries. And a serious train wreck occurred in France that killed two and injured many more that was said to be caused by not paying attention to Daylight saving time change. Overall, though some claim this event actually reduces accidents, I think all of these studies and occurrences prove that is unlikely. Daylight saving time probably won't get any of use into accidents, but it's best to be a bit more cautious over the next few days.

I thought this magnet is pretty appropriate for this post, as the little frog is actually attached to the leaves on a spring, so it can spring forward a bit. I must admit, I am glad that Spring is coming and I'm looking forward to lost more sunshine. I guess Daylight saving time isn't so bad after our bodies have made the transition. It's just getting thorough these next few days that I'm not looking forward to. But I'd much rather loose an hour and gain Spring than loose an hour before Fall. If had had to deal with sleep deprivation and the coming of Winter, I don't think I could take it. But yay - Spring is on its way, and I'm ready to put this particularly cold winter behind me. So rest up today, folks - take a nap, go to bed early, whatever works for you. I'm giving you a free pass to take it easy and make sure losing an hour of sleep doesn't impair your driving ability. Stay safe, and have a good week.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Let's Hear It For the Girls

Magnet # 191: Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Me

This is Girl Scout Day, the anniversary of the day in 1912 when Juliette Low gathered a group of 18 girls to form the first group of what was then known as American Girl Guides. Low was an active woman who came from a wealthy family and had been looking for a personal project for awhile.  Earlier in her life, she and her mother had helped establish a convalescent hospital for soldiers wounded in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, so she had experience with volunteering. And when, in her travels, she became friends with Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, Low found her calling. She soon began organizing a female counterpart to his organization, the Girl Guides, in Scotland and England. And when she returned home in 1912, she was eager to give the girls of America their own scouting group. Before long, that one group had grown into an entire movement that would be Low's greatest achievement in life.

While I realize that many women could have founded the Girl Scouts, I'm glad Juliette Low was the one who did. First of all, she showed a female independence that not many women did in her day. When she discovered that her husband had been cheating on her and drinking, rather than just accept it, she began divorce proceedings. However, he died before their divorce was finalized, leaving all of his money to his mistress - sounds like a really nice guy. Juliette never married again. Also, thanks to two unfortunate events over the course of her life, she was almost entirely deaf. Early on, she had received poor treatment for an ear infection and it greatly diminished her ability to hear in one ear. During her wedding, one grain of the rice that was thrown lodged in her good ear and when it was removed, it destroyed all of her ability to hear from it. But I think her handicap made her an even better candidate to start the Girl Scouts. Because she had learned sign language, she was able to teach it to her girls and give them exposure to a person with disabilities. The Girl Scouts have always been very accepting of girls with disabilities, and I think Low's disability helped to establish that. Finally, Low was said to be a loving, unusual person who once stood on her head at a meeting to show her girls her new shoes. While she never had children of her own, she has had a considerable impact on generations of girls, myself included.

The Girl Scouts of the USA have now been around 98 years, and they have helped raise countless girls. My Mom was a Girl Scout and I followed in her footsteps, and was a Girl Scout for 11 years total. My favorite part was earning patches - oddly enough, I had a compulsion to try and collect them all (what, me compulsive?). We did some camping when I was younger, but as I got into junior high and high school, my troop's idea of roughing it was going without cable in our hotel rooms. In 1953, the organization purchased and restored Low's birthplace here in Savannah. It has gone on to become a major destination for Girl Scouts all over the world. When I was growing up, I toured it three times, twice on a visit with other Girl Scouts. I had a lot of fun, traveled to all sorts of places, and made friendships that I still have today. The organization has changed since my time, but I'd still recommend it to any girls who are curious. No matter what your interest is - art, math, history, science, sports, and so on - the Girl Scouts can accommodate it. I have heard in recent years that it's harder for the organization to get members, which is saddening to me. I hope that's just a temporary problem. The Girl Scouts were there for me when I was growing up and I hope they're there for many generations of girls to come - long live the girls!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beyond Belief

Magnet # 190: Ripley's Believe It or Not, St. Augustine

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Well, I guess now that I'm getting close to posting 200 magnets, some folks might think I have a pretty big collection. But I know better. For awhile now, I've been meaning to do a post about Louise Greenfarb, who goes by the title of the Magnet Lady. The Guinness Book of World Records put her magnet collection at a whopping 19,300 magnets back in 1997, but as of early 2009, she said she now has over 40,000 - that's a lot of magnets! She lives near Las Vegas, Nevada in a home that has magnets everywhere. And that's still not enough room. On her website, http://mgntldy.com/, Ms. Greenfarb recalls how the Las Vegas Guinness Book of World Records Museum once displayed around 7,000 of her magnets before it closed its doors. She even offers up to 10,000 magnets in her collection to display at businesses such as restaurants, casinos, and office buildings. Boy, that would really set them apart from their competitors. There is also a photo of her standing next to a car that is covered with magnets - and yes, she really drives it. Ms. Greenfarb says her collection began with her not really thinking much about it - her children would get magnets as prizes and she would put them up on her refrigerator to keep them from swallowing them. Slowly, yet surely, her fridge was covered and when guests at a party she hosted commented on her collection, she realized how important it was to her and that she wanted to pursue magnet collecting as a hobby. Over the years, she made contacts in the magnet industry and has been a consultant to some production companies and can also get magnets from wholesale distributors - boy, that must be nice.

I realize that Ms. Greenfarb is more tied to the Guinness Book of World Records than Book of World Records Museum, but I decided to post this magnet, anyway. I was down in St. Augustine, walking through this tourist destination when it hit me - this was Ripley's, not Guinness, as I'd previously thought when I bought a ticket, intent on getting a Guinness magnet for this post. But I bought a magnet anyway, just in case. Later, in Gatlinburg, I stopped by the Guinness Book of World Records Museum and found out at the ticket counter that they didn't have their own gift shop, only the nearby Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum did. That's when I finally decided to use this magnet for this post. Sure, there might be a Guinness World Record magnet out there, but I'm probably not going to get it anytime soon. As for the Ripley's Museum featured on this magnet, it's the first that opened in the United States. It's located in the historic Castle Warden, and its impressive architecture only adds to the surreal experience of seeing so many odd items on display. Sure, there are more historic and impressive sites in St. Augustine, but if you're there for awhile, it's a fun spot to visit. And believe it or not, one woman has amassed over 40,000 magnets. Ms. Greenfarb, I commend you on your collection and assure you I never intend to give you a run for the money on sheer volume of magnets - personally, I'm satisfied with just being the Magnet Junkie.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Let the Slaying Begin

Magnet # 189:  Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Four Cast Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

This was the day back in 1997 when the first television episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired. I remember hearing about it at the time and wondering why a movie that bad could ever be made into a television show. It would take me a few years and a good amount of buzz to start watching Buffy, but when I did, I was pretty much blown away. At its best, this show made for one hilarious, action-packed, riveting hour of television. There are few shows that can match one of the best episodes of this one. If you've never given this great show a try, but have been curious to do so, I definitely recommend it.

Joss Whedon created the whole Buffy concept and, as I mentioned before, turned it into a movie back in 1992. Kristy Swanson played the title character with supporting actors such as Luke Perry, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer and Paul Rubens (yes, Pee Wee Herman). Apparently, the script Whedon had written was a great one, and Hollywood insiders were pretty impressed. Unfortunately, it fell into the wrong hands and what should have been a dark, yet funny, story about an empowered young woman fighting vampires ended up becoming a campy, uninspired mess. It did okay at the box office, but many - myself included - never expected to hear more about the film or Buffy again. But at least one insider, a Fox executive, remembered the incredible original script and approached Whedon a few years later to see if he was interested in turning it into a television show. He agreed, and the Buffy redo was on. They tied in a little from the original film, having Buffy, now played by Sarah Michelle Geller, move from L.A., where she'd lived in the movie, to Sunnydale, where all of her new adventures would unfold.

By taking on more responsibilities himself, Whedon was able to turn the entire Buffy concept around. With his knack for hiring exceptionally talented actors and creating completely three-dimensional, memorable characters for them to portray, he was able to bring together a cast that was instantly appealing to viewers. And when Whedon was closely directing the path of Buffy, it was one of the best shows on television. The concept of the show centered around the high school student Buffy Summers, the Chosen One who had the powers to kill vampires and other monsters. According to the legend, one girl each generation became the slayer. Surrounded by loyal friends who joined her on the battlefield, Buffy went on to fight every supernatural foe in Sunnydale.  The first season was a decent start, but the second season was when the show really took off.  That's when Buffy's vampire boyfriend Angel turned evil and she had to take him down.  Season three, when Buffy faced a rogue slayer (yep, there were two by then) and the town's gleefully wicked mayor, only raised the bar.  And by season four, some of the best Buffy episodes ever were coming out that featured her trying to deal with college and slaying.  But eventually, Whedon left the show to work on other projects and it suffered.  A lot of fans say they lost interest in the show in season six, when Buffy's best friend Willow turned evil.  Personally, I agree with a minority that claims the show was never as good after it introduced Buffy's little sister from out of nowhere at the beginning of season five.  Most fans agree that the final, seventh season really wasn't that good.  But I watched Buffy all the way through to the end - they still had some plotlines and characters that held my interest.  However, when all of the seasons were released on DVD, I only bought two, three, and four - I knew I had no interest in rewatching any shows past those.  But the final seasons aside, Buffy was truly a great show that changed the rules of what could be a hit on television.  It proved that fantasy and science fiction shows could be taken seriously and appeal to a mass audience.  Who knows how many great shows that are on nowadays might not have ever been made without Buffy's influence?  Thirteen years later, this fantastic show still holds up and its influence can be seen in shows ranging from Doctor Who to Smallville to Lost.  I'm so grateful that one failed movie didn't cost pop culture one of its best heroines - and supporting casts - ever.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What's In a Name

Magnet # 188:  Elizabeth in Chinese Calligraphy

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Dad

I thought I'd get a head start on Learn What Your Name Means Day, which is actually tomorrow. This is an excellent opportunity to gain a better understanding of your name and perhaps appreciate it even more.

Well, Elizabeth is a pretty old name that dates back all the way to Hebrew times. In fact, it is a Biblical name that was used by John the Baptist's mother. It means "God's abundance" or "my God is my oath." Elizabeth truly came into the spotlight when Elizabeth I reigned in England, and it's been a consistent favorite for many years. Jane Austen dubbed her most beloved heroine in Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth, and in Little Women, Elizabeth is the name of the March sister who sadly dies. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most beloved poets of the Victorian Era. And, of course, a second Elizabeth now sits on the throne of England. Yep, there are a lot of Elizabeths out there. Some people even have it for a last name, although I've never run across anyone who does. My parents weren't naming me after anyone in particular when they gave me the name. They just liked it and they figured it has so many nicknames I could pretty much choose whichever name I liked for myself, which was pretty considerate of them. They call me Beth, but there are plenty of other nicknames to choose from like Betsey, Libby, Liza, Elle, Betty, and Eliza (I like that one). All in all, there are over 150 variations of the name. I guess I just ended up going with Elizabeth because it's my full name and, when I was grown, I stopped telling people to call me Beth when they used Elizabeth. I like the name - it's pretty and a little formal, even if it can be on the long side. And I like that there is a "Z" in it. Don't ask me why, but I like unusual letters like "Z" "X" and "V" in names - I guess it kind of sets them apart. All in all, I'm happy with my name - it's definitely a keeper.

Of course, this magnet gives a whole new meaning to my name, one that comes from the East, where, apparently, the symbols depicted on this magnet combine to form Elizabeth. The symbol at the top stands for nobility.  On the second row, the symbol at the left means beautiful while the one at the right means sand.  Finally, the bottom symbol stands for white.  So, I'm white (or maybe pure), noble, beautiful, and... full of sand?  Okay, that might be a bit odd, but it's still fun to see my name translated into not just another language, but an entirely different system of characters.  I'm glad my Dad was able to pick it up for me on a business trip to Singapore, and I'm proud of myself for having hung onto the piece of paper that has the translation on it for the symbols this long.  I keep it between the magnet and my fridge.

So what does your name mean? You might want to check it out tomorrow, or go ahead and look today. You could start by searching at http://www.behindthename.com/ .  And, as always, you're welcome to post the results here - now start learning more about your name - maybe you'll find out new information about it you would have never imagined!