Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Steel Never Ages

Magnet # 280:  Superman Flying Though Space

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Happy Birthday to Superman, who turns 72 today. Yep, this is the official day that DC has dubbed his birthday and it was in June of 1938 when Action Comics # 1, which featured Superman's debut, first hit newsstands. Not only was it a big deal for the Man of Steel himself, it was also the day that introduced the comic book superhero to the world. And every superhero that has followed since, from Batman to Spider-Man to Wolverine to Hellboy and even Vampirella owes a debt to Superman for blazing the trail.

Superman became very popular very quickly - within two years, he was featured in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, a fitting appearance as he would become almost as much of an American icon as Thanksgiving itself.  DC kept adding more comic titles featuring the Man of Steel and they all sold amazingly well and they were even given by the Navy to its sailors during war.  Superman had his own radio show in 1940 and by 1952, the Adventures of Superman was airing on television, with George Reeves starring as Superman.  It enjoyed a certain deal of success but nothing like when the Man of Steel finally came to the big screen courtesy of Christopher Reeve in 1978.  It became one of the six highest grossing films at that time and one of the top ten reviewed films of the year.  Its success helped make other superhero films possible and generated three sequels.  And although those films seemed to grow less impressive with each sequel and the 2006 revamp of the series, Superman Returns, was not terribly impressive, Superman has still done well with television.  In the 1990s, Lois & Clark:  The New Adventures of Superman, featuring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher in the title roles, proved to be pretty popular.  And Smallville, in which Tom Welling stars as Clark Kent, not Superman, has run a whopping nine seasons - the tenth will be its final.  Few television shows manage to achieve such a successful run.  It seems to be just a matter of time before more Superman projects are brought to the big and small screens.  The world just can't seem to get enough of the original superhero.  Personally, I'm hoping to see Tom Welling wear the tights and cape in a Superman film one day - he's been one of the best actors to tackle the character to date.

So where is the best place to celebrate this special day? That would be Metropolis, Illinois, the official home of Superman. The town was originally founded as Metropolis City back in 1839, just about a century before the Man of Steel first appeared in print. But by the 1970's, Superman was becoming an international icon and the town wanted to be known as the superhero's official home base. They approached his publisher, DC, and asked if they could use the character's trademark and the company obliged. Since then, Metropolis has undergone a transformation, naming its streets after characters from the comic and erecting a giant statue of Superman right in front of their County Courthouse.  And a new one featuring actress Noel Neill as Lois Lane has recently been unveiled.  It's also home to the Super Museum, which is owned by Jim Hambick, one of Superman's most avid fans.  Since 1959, he has collected every bit of souvenirs and collectibles of the Man of Steel he could get his hands on and 20,000 of them are on display here.  He even has a Superman costume worn by George Reeves and the crystal that allowed Christopher Reeve's Superman to create the Fortress of Solitude.  Unfortunately, the best time to visit Metropolis has just passed earlier this month - the Superman Celebration, where about 25,000 pack into this town of 6,000.  This year was the 32nd Annual Celebration and it featured celebrities from Superman shows.  It's too bad they didn't have it coincide with Superman's birthday.  But even though it's over, you can still check out Metropolis anytime over the next year or wait until the next Superman Celebration.

I admit, Superman is not one of my favorite superheroes, although I do like him.  What can I say, he's a little too perfect and too good to be as interesting as other superheroes - to me, anyway.  But I'm happy to celebrate the anniversary of the Man of Steel's birth on this day - it's thanks to him that there's an incredible world of superheroes around today that so many of us love to follow.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Whom the Wind Blows

Magnet # 279: Margaret Mitchell at Her Typewriter Photo


Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell


Purchased By: Me


Despite author Margaret Mitchell's best efforts to the contrary, Gone With the Wind was first published tomorrow, June 30, in 1936. It would go on to win her a Pulitzer Prize and break publishing records, becoming one of the best-selling fictional books of all time. And when it was adapted for the screen, it went on to win more Oscars than any other film, a record it kept for over two decades. It's almost hard to believe that Mitchell never really set out to even present her work to others, much less have it appear in nations all over the world.

Margaret Mitchell was born to an Atlanta family with deep Southern roots on November 8, 1900. Much of her childhood was spent hearing of the Civil War from family members who had fought in it. Her mother was a suffragist and Mitchell was a strong-minded individual who wrote her own stories from a very young age. Later, when she was in Smith College, she performed the scandalous yet popular Apache Dance as a debutante, a move which kept her blackballed from the Junior League. After her mother died, Mitchell returned home to run the household. She took a job as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, which made her one of the first women columnists at the South's largest newspaper. Soon, she married Berrien "Red" Upshaw, who came from a prominent North Carolina family. But the marriage was a disaster due to the fact that Upshaw was a bootlegger, an alcoholic, and he abused Mitchell. It ended in divorce and not long after she married the best man - literally - from her first wedding, John Marsh. He is believed to have courted Mitchell at the same time that Upshaw did, but failed to propose as quickly as his rival. The pair set up house at a one bedroom apartment they joking called "The Dump." After injuring her ankle, Mitchell was forced to stay at home, so she began to read books that her husband brought home for her. But when she complained that she had read all the books at the library, he said she should write her own. And so she did. Mitchell wrote the final chapter of Gone With the Wind first and spent the next three years working on the rest of the book as it came to her. After awhile, she had produced so many pages that she began to cram her chapters in manilla envelopes and stash them all over her apartment - it's said some were even used to prop up a sagging sofa. Though Mitchell tried to hide her project from her friends, word soon got out about her book. And when Harold Latham, an editor for the Macmillan Publishing company, came to Atlanta to begin a tour of the South in search of manuscripts, he crossed paths with Mitchell and heard the rumors about her novel. He pressed her to let him read the work, but she claimed that there was no novel. But after overhearing someone laughing at the idea of her writing a novel, Mitchell, enraged, gathered up her manilla envelopes, stuffed them into an old suitcase, and dragged it to Latham's room at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. When the surprise editor opened the door, she shoved it at him, uttering "Here, take this before I change my mind!" Latham later said it was in the worst condition of any manuscript he ever received. But he took it with him when he left the city the next day. Fortunately, he read it on the train, for by the time he reached his destination, there was a telegram from Mitchell awaiting him - she had changed her mind, and wanted her book back. But by then, Latham realized he had a blockbuster on his hands. He convinced Mitchell to complete the work, and had his company send her a check in advance. Mitchell got to work, filling in the holes in her work, taking out other parts, and finally writing the first chapter. Her concerns over her writing talent proved to be completely unnecessary - when Gone With the Wind was released, it was such a huge success that Macmillan Publishing gave all of its workers an 18% bonus that year.

Although Mitchell never published again in her lifetime, she kept busy after the success of Gone With the Wind, trying to protect her copyrights on the book overseas and answering every letter that was sent to her from fans of her book. When World War II came, she volunteered with the American Red Cross, working hard to help the troops. And when the war was over, she befriended a French Air Force pilot who was stationed in Georgia. Through him, she learned of how the tiny French village of Vimoutiers had been destroyed during the conflict, and how desperately it needed to be rebuilt. Mitchell sent both her own money and helped raise more to restore the town. They were so overcome by her efforts that she was made an honorary citizen of the town. Unfortunately, she was never able to see the restoration of Vimoutiers. In 1949, Mitchell walked out in front of a car on Peachtree Street while going to the theatre with her husband. She was hit and died five days later. Even though she had lived a brief life, Mitchell had made her mark on the world in more ways than one. The book she left behind is still read all over the world. And now, it is almost 75 years old and shows no signs of falling out of the public consciousness. Margaret Mitchell would have never guessed that her work could have attained such success, but I guess that's part of what makes her so wonderful.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Miracle In Alabama

Magnet # 278:  Symbols of Alabama

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Me

If you look closely at the image at the top of this magnet, you might be able to make out a recreation of the Helen Keller portrait that is featured on the Alabama state quarter.  Yeah, I know, it's a little fuzzy on this magnet, even in person.  Regardless, it was on this day in 1880 that a baby girl was born to the wealthy Keller family of Tuscumbia, Alabama.  Just 19 months later, Helen Keller would suffer a terrible, but short-lived, illness that would leave her deaf and blind.  All throughout history, such handicaps would have effectively been the end of a person's life, but this little girl was soon going to forever change the way the deaf and blind interacted with society.

There is no doubt that Keller was a highly intelligent child and was capable of advancements that others with her impairments could not have made.  But she was also very fortunate to be surrounded by people who loved her and could afford to give her the best treatment possible.  Even at a young age, she was able to slightly communicate with Martha Washington, a six-year-old who was the child of the Keller family cook.  And, to some degree, she was able to make her needs known to her family.  Of course, Keller later shared that she was almost like a wild animal in those days, giggling and laughing to convey her happiness while kicking, scratching, and screaming when she was upset.  Her mother searched, desperate to improve her daughter's life, and learned of a deaf-blind girl named Laura Bridgman who had received an education.  Inspired, she sent Helen with her father to Baltimore, where they met with Dr. J. Julian Chisholm, who specialized in the ear, nose, and throat.  He, in turn, referred them to Alexander Graham Bell, who was then working with deaf children.  And Bell put them in touch with the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, which had educated Laura Bridgman.  It was there that the school's director brought in the woman who was to change Helen Keller's life - Anne Sullivan, a twenty-year-old who had once been blind, but through surgery had regained part of her sight.  In 1887, Sullivan arrived at the Keller family house, Ivy Green, and began to work with Keller.  For weeks, she tried to teach her student words by signing in her hands.  A month later, she broke through by signing water into one of Keller's hands as she held the other under under a stream of water.  Keller finally understood, and by the end of that day, had learned 30 more words.  By 10, she had learned to speak by feeling Sullivan's mouth while she spoke.  And she became the first deaf-blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, attending Radcliffe College with Anne Sullivan at her side.  Keller's book The Story of My Life helped inspire others with handicaps to succeed despite of them.  And she became an internationally acclaimed speaker and author, traveling all over the world.  She worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the blind.  Keller even met with every President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson.   And she helped introduce the Akita dog to the United States when she visited Japan and learned of the breed, going so far as to say she would like one herself.  She was given one that later passed away from canine distemper.  The Japanese government then presented her with a second Akita.  Keller loved these animals and called them angels in fur.  She remained a companion of Anne Sullivan until she passed away in 1936 and when Keller died in 1968, her remains were place next to those of her mentor's.  It was a fitting end for the pair who had changed the way the world looked at the handicapped.

It's still possible to visit Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama the Keller family home where Helen was born and first studied with Anne Sullivan.  It's in the northern part of the state and is part of the Helen Keller Birthplace and Shrine.  The house is somewhat simple and was built in 1820, but still contains much of the furniture that belonged to the family.  Even her braille typewriter and braille books are still there.  I went to Ivy Green with my family when I was in junior high and I still remember seeing the well pump where Keller first understood what Sullivan was teaching her.  The grounds are extensive and include an International Gardens which is filled with gifts that nations from all over the world presented to Keller, along with a bronze bust of the lady herself.  The city has had quite a bit of attention for the past week, as it has held its annual Helen Keller Festival, which wraps up today.  The events include a parade, concerts, an art show, performances of The Miracle Worker, the play about Helen Keller's childhood, and many other fun activities.  It may be too late to join in this year, but you might want to keep this festival in mind for the future.  Keller may be gone, but her influence lives on and her hometown is likely to continue celebrating its most famous resident for many years to come.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tower Over Toronto

Magnet # 277:  Downtown Toronto

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

The Canadian city of Toronto officially received its skyline's tallest and most distinctive structure on this day in 1976 when the CN Tower first opened to the public.  And although the official opening wouldn't be until October 1, this whopping tower would very quickly become a great source of pride for locals, who would have the tallest free-standing structure in their city for the next 31 years. 

The idea for CN Tower was brought about in 1968 by the Canadian National railroad company, who wanted create a structure that would provide television and radio communication for the Toronto area and emphasize the power of their company and the entire Canadian business industry.  By 1972, plans were underway to create a tower that would be higher than the many skyscrapers that were being built in the rapidly expanding downtown area, and thus able to send signals above these tall buildings.  Originally, a much smaller design consisting of three pillars was developed, but it was soon abandoned in favor of the design we all know.  By early 1973, construction had begun.  The most exciting part of this process was perhaps when a  helicopter flew parts of the antenna to the top of the tower, an event that brought in crowds of onlookers.  And by the time the CN Tower was completed, it had received quite a bit of attention, but it would soon become even more famous as tourists from all over Canada and the world came to see the gigantic structure.  Over three decades later, the Burj Khalifa - or Duabi - surpassed it in height, but the CN Tower remains beloved by the citizens of its town.  In fact, when it changed ownership, local support helped it to keep its name, although the CN is now said to stand for Canada's National rather than Canadian National.  Would that the Sears Tower had been so fortunate.

When I was younger, I ventured up to Toronto with my family and made it up to the Sky Pod over a thousand feet up from the ground.  The line to get to the elevator wasn't long and the view was incredible.  I still have copies of the photos I took from there and I remember being a little unnerved as I took one of them.  Part of the floor had been cut out and replaced with glass so it was possible to see the ground directly beneath.  Looking through it was not quite as relaxing as the views from the other windows because it was a reminder of just how high up I was.  But I had a fun time at the CN Tower, and in Toronto as well.  We stopped by Rogers Centre next door - although it probably would have been called the Astro Turf then - which is a huge stadium where the Toronto Blue Jays play, and had a look around at it.  We also saw another of Toronto's biggest attractions, Casa Loma, a lavish mansion built in the Gothic Revival style, which is almost a little like Asheville's Biltmore.  It's appeared in plenty of television shows and movies, like The X-Men, but unfortunately I don't remember much of our visit.  However, I definitely remember seeing the musical The Phantom of the Opera for the first time in Toronto and loving it.  Toronto truly is a unique place.  In fact, the city is actually one of the most diverse cities on the continent of North America, with residents from over 100 counties speaking over 100 languages.  And because of that, it has some wonderful ethnic locales, like Greektown, Little Italy, and Chinatown, where we had a fantastic Asian meal.  We really enjoyed ourselves there and my parents have even returned on another vacation since, which is great since they were able to get this magnet for me then.  I may give this great location another try myself someday, and if you haven't checked it out yourself, you might want to do so - let's face it, there are few places on Earth where you can get as high as you're able to get at Toronto's CN Tower.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Birthplace of America

Magnet # 276:  Virginia Cardinal and Dogwood

Material:  Pewter

Purchased By:  Mom

Today marks the anniversary of the day in 1788 when Virginia gained its statehood.  Although it became the 10th state, it is truly one of the most important in the history and development of the United States.  Spanish Jesuits were the first Europeans to settle in the area, but it soon became an important tobacco producing colony for England.  It was Queen Elizabeth I who granted Sir Walter Raleigh permission to establish a colony in the New World to the north of Spain's holdings in Florida, and he founded Virginia.  Many believed he named it in her honor, as she was known as the "Virgin Queen," but it may also tie into a phrase the natives used - "Wingina."  And when King James I came to the throne, the first permanent English settlement in America, Jamestown, was created and named after the monarch.  It was Captain John Smith who led this colony.  The settlers who braved the Atlantic Ocean to live there met with difficult conditions and many died from starvation and fighting with the natives.  In fact, almost half the population was wiped out, and yet, more kept traveling over from England to join those who were left.  It was John Rolfe who first began growing tobacco there, paving the way for it to become the colony's most important export.  And when he married Pocahontas, daughter of one of the area's most powerful Indian chiefs, it helped bring temporary peace between their people.  Soon, free colonists were being given land of their own, women were coming from England to marry them and start families, and slaves were being imported from Africa.  Clearly, life was improving for the colonists in Virginia.  Inevitably, of course, they came to resent England and all of the taxation they imposed after Virginia was made into a royal colony.  It was when Sir William Berkeley was made governor for a second time that the people began to become truly discontent, as they felt he was incompetent to protect them from Indian attacks.  Eventually one of Berkeley's own family members, Nathaniel Bacon, led a revolution against him and even though it failed, Berkeley soon fell from power and had to return to England.  But the colonists of Virginia were still not satisfied and they finally joined with the other colonies to rise up for their freedom after becoming exhausted with having no true representation in government.  Virginia was able to provide the American Revolution with some of its greatest leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, who oversaw the creation of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington, who led his American troops to victory over almost impossible odds.  And after Virginia became a state, it provided its country with more great leaders - eight Presidents in all, as well as the somewhat controversial figure Robert E. Lee.  For its considerable contributions to its nation, the state is sometimes called the "Mother of States," but its nickname is the Old Dominion State.

While I know I visited Virginia more than once when I was growing up, I really don't have any memories of those early visits. Fortunately, just last year I traveled to the Old Dominion state again and my recollection of those experiences is very clear. At the beginning of my trip to the Mid-Atlantic states, I spent a night in Charlottesville and was very impressed by that somewhat small, but exciting city. There are quite a few tourist attractions there but considering I didn't see all of them, I would enjoy going back sometime in the future. And I finished up my trip in the capitol city of Richmond, where I was also unable to see all of the interesting historic sites. So I could see myself staying there again someday. But there are also other places in Virginia that I didn't stop by on that trip and would like to visit. For starters, there's the Shenandoah National Park just to the west of Charlottesville that sounds like a really interesting place to check out. Its most prominent feature is Skyline Drive, which is 105 miles long and spans the length of the entire long and narrow park and is most popular during the fall, when the leaves are changing color . Sounds like a fun ride, particularly in a convertible with the top down. And on the opposite end of the state, there's Colonial Williamsburg, a combination of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown, its first capital.  All of these areas have great historical value, but by the 20th century, they had fallen into decay.  It was John D. Rockefeller who managed to save what would become Colonial Williamsburg, slowly buying and restoring the area.  His efforts helped turn the area into the greatest simulation of 17th century life we have in the United States, with costumed actors playing out the lives of the colonists.  And the Governor's Palace is the area's most stunning building - I'd definitely like to tour it.  One other building I'd like to see is Mount Vernon, Washington's home, much of which he designed and even built.  The attractions in this lovely state seem to have no end.  Clearly, one brief trip to it is not enough, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it in the years to come.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Taking Flight

Magnet # 275:  Savannah Fairy

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

Grab your wings and polish your magic wands, folks - tomorrow is International Fairy Day! I wasn't able to find much out about the origins of this particular celebration, but it seems to be relatively new and was created by fantasy artist Jessica Galbreth, who has produced many a fairy over the years. It's a day when people can try to recapture the sense of magic through which they saw the world when they were children, and perhaps believe in fairies once again. If you're lucky enough to be in London tomorrow, they're celebrating with an Urban Fairy Ball in Kensington, so you could dress up in your best fairy finery and join fellow revelers.  And in Twisp, Washington, the 10th Annual Fairy & Human Relations Congress is being held to encourage better communication with the fairy realms.  About 250 participants will join in dancing, singing, camping, and eating organic foods at the Skalitude Retreat - sounds like an interesting time.  Finally, there's also a I Do Believe in Fairies, I Do, I Do, I Do event being held in Monterey, California where folk can learn how to see the fairies, pick their fairy name, and receive a fairy oracle reading and are encouraged to dress in wings and glitter.  If you can't make it to these locales, there are plenty of ways to participate in International Fairy Day at home, but the most important is to venture outside, as fairies are said to love nature. Having a picnic with friends, smelling fresh flowers as they grow, or walking through undeveloped countryside, if you have any nearby are a few ways to appreciate nature on this occasion. But, if you want to stay inside, you can read fairy tales, find all sorts of wonderful fairy artists on the web, or even send a magical e-card to a friend. Check out http://www.fairyday.com/ for more suggestions.

I don't usually buy two of my favorite magnets, Clay Critters, from the same city, but in this case, I made an exception. I bought this fairy magnet from Savannah, Georgia because it was here that I slowly began to discover and grow to love fairy art. I'm sure I had been aware of it when I lived in Alabama, but my focus was really on comic book art back then. But after I moved here, a friend of mine introduced me to the art of Nene Thomas, and I really liked her take on fairies and other fantasy creatures. And from her website, I learned about other very talented fantasy and fairy artists, like Meredith Dillman, Nati Pierandrei, and Lindsay Archer. And the more fantasy artists I encountered, the more I wanted to try producing fantasy images myself. So I finally gave in and started drawing and coloring fairies of my own, all here in Savannah, Georgia. While I've been remiss in posting them all on the web, I'm sure I will do so one day. Regardless, during my years in Savannah, I've become much more involved in fairies than ever before and I thought that was worth recognizing in a magnet. I guess I'm pretty caught up in the fairy renaissance of sorts that has been sweeping pop culture for quite a few years now. The interest in all matters fae seems to be here for good, and I'm glad we have these adorable creatures around to make our lives a little more magical.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Longest Day of the Year

Magnet # 274: Olga Ulanova's Summer Solstice

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Once again, we've reached the Solstice, only this time those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are enjoying the Summer Solstice. And that, of course, also means that this is the first day of Summer. Yay - I love Summer! But this is looking to be a particularly hot one, which I guess goes along with the bitterly cold Winter we just had. I was hoping to have a break, but I guess that isn't going to happen. I think I've mentioned on here that I'm cold natured and hot temperatures that drive others nuts often don't affect me. In fact, just last week I attended a meeting in a room where most everyone but I was complaining about the heat. However, I took a trip earlier this month and spent alot of time outside, and it was miserably hot, even by my standards. So I'm just not sure what to make of the coming season, but I am very happy for all of the extra light that we'll be exposed to. Not only does it mean the days will seem to last longer, I also prefer to travel when there's plenty of light to help me on my journey. I limit my trips during Winter months when the light is scarce because it really does help to find a travel destination and I would hate to be broken down along the road at night. But when Summer comes around, the roads can be lit until around eight at night, and it's great to take advantage of that fact. Of course, many other drivers hit the road around this time of year, so there's more traffic, but it also means more museums and attractions are open longer. So if you've been meaning to get out and take a trip but haven't gotten around to it yet, this might be a great opportunity.

I've mentioned on here before of how important the Solstice was to ancient cultures and how they built structures that aligned with it, most notably Stonehenge. I don't want to reiterate much of that post, but I thought it might be fun to add a few more very old sites that are connected with the Solstice. First off, there was a cult of Sun worshippers who lived on the coast of what would become Peru that built an observatory at Chankillo. This was made up of 13 towers that aligned with the rising and setting of the Sun between Summer and Winter Solstice. Also, ancient Native Americans built a structure that is referred to as Woodhenge with large timbers marking the Solstices in present-day Illinois. Finally, the Egyptians created the Sphinx in a position that made it possible to watch the Sun set precisely due West between the Khufu and Khafre pyramids during the Solstice when standing at the monument. Again, these just continue to emphasize how important the Solstice was to ancient cultures. By comparison, we often celebrate it nowadays, but it isn't truly critical to our survival. But examples of the event can still be found in current times, like on the image featured on this magnet. I had never heard of the California artist, Olga Ulanova's, work before, but when I saw this on Ellen Million's website, I knew it was a great idea to get it, not only because it's such an attractive piece, but also because it would be easy to figure out when to post it on here. According to what the artist says at her website, http://www.east-27.com/index.htm, the figure in this image is the Midsummer Queen celebrating the start of a prosperous season. And you might want to give this picture a look there, as it has much clearer detail on her dress than I can show here, as well as other lovely images from the artist, like her companion piece to this one, Winter Solstice.

So those of you who, like myself, are lucky enough to be in the Northern Hemisphere today, consider taking advantage of all the sunshine we'll have to enjoy today. Take a late walk outside, drop by the beach, have dinner outside, or perhaps even attend an event to celebrate the Solstice. From here on out, it's less light for us and I guess it's best to soak it up while we've got plenty of it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

This One's For Dad

Magnet # 273: Retro Big Island, Hawaii

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Dad

Well, once again it's Father's Day. I'm wishing the best to all the good Dads out there and I hope all of their grateful offspring are prepared to celebrate their Man of the House on his special day. I may not be able to be with my Dad on this year's occasion, but that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about him or how fortunate I am to have him looking out for me.

Father's Day originated in the early twentieth century as an obvious complement to Mother's Day. Sonora Smart Dodd is credited with thinking up the celebration and said the idea first came to her when she was listening to a 1909 Mother's Day church sermon in Spokane, Washington. The observance was a new creation and Dodd, who had been raised by her father, William Jackson Smart, after his wife died giving birth to their sixth child, thought there should be a celebration for fathers as well. Dodd was 16 then and she was able to recognize the sacrifices her father had made for his family. So she thought that a day set aside to honor his efforts and those of men like him was a logical counterpart to Mother's Day and she took her idea to her pastor and the Spokane YMCA. She wanted her father's birthday, June 5, to be the first Father's Day, but more time was needed to prepare for the event, so it ended up being held on June 19, 1910. Participants wore a red rose in recognition of a living father and a white one if theirs had passed away, and Dodd delivered gifts to fathers of the city who were shut-ins. But it took much longer for this celebration to gain widespread recognition than its forerunner. So why was there such difficulty in getting Father's Day going? Well, people just didn't take to the concept as readily as they took to Mother's Day, seeing it as a joke and making fun of it. Some thought that it was just another step in filling the calendar with useless holidays. By 1913, Congress had been presented with a bill to make the holiday official and President Woodrow Wilson even spoke at a 1916 Father's Day celebration in Spokane, hoping to legitimize the observance, but Congress continued to refuse to recognize it. Later, Calvin Coolidge, whose father had administered the Oath of Office to him, suggested that the day be observed throughout the nation, but did not issue a national proclamation to support it. By 1957. Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith was accusing Congress of hypocrisy by honoring one parent and ignoring the other. The first presidential proclamation setting Father's Day as the third Sunday in June finally came from Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. It was Richard Nixon who made this a permanent holiday by singing it into law into 1972. Finally, fathers around the country had been given the recognition they had earned - just 58 years after Mother's Day had won official recognition.

What can I say about my Dad? Well, he has got to be one of the best ones out there and I owe a large amount of my magnets to his travel habits and generosity. Thanks in part to his job, he has journeyed all around the world, and has been to every continent expect Australia and Antarctica - and I know he plans on going to the Land Down Under sometime. He has been to some pretty remote places - Nigeria, South Africa, Uzbekistan, and Uruguay and he has always done his best to make certain he gets at least one magnet for me. If I make a list, he'll go further, pretty much acquiring anything on it. On several occasions, he's even gotten his colleagues to obtain some on my behalf. Yep, he spoils me. I can't even count all of the ones he's gotten for me during his frequent trips to Hawaii, but I decided to post this one because it features bygone days that he would have been around for, plus it's just a stunning magnet. Dad knows what I like, and has picked some of the best in my collection. And he has been pretty generous. I once mentioned all of the Arizona magnets I've got to my folks and Mom replied that it was Dad's doing, that he just wouldn't stop buying them for me, which is just fine with me. But I must admit, since I've started this blog, Mom has buying more magnets for my collection and I'm grateful. But I think part of the reason I'm doing this blog is that I want to be more like my Dad. He's just about the smartest person I've ever met and whenever my family plays Trivial Pursuit, everyone wants him on their team. I'll bring up all sorts of matters regarding history, government, travel, and so on and he pretty much always has something to add just going from his memory banks. The man knows a ton. By researching and typing up these posts, I have greatly increased my own knowledge, getting a little closer to my Dad's level. I may never be there, but at least I'm doing my best. So thanks for being there for me, Dad, doing your best to make me happy, and inspiring me to try to do the best I can. I know you're one of the best, and I'm lucky to have you.

This year, the Father's Day Centennial Celebration is being held in Spokane to celebrate how the city has now honored its fathers for 100 years. I guess the rest of the country will be able to mark that date in another 62 years. To celebrate this occasion, the city is offering tours of Dodd's former residence, a father-daughter dance, a "Sketches of Dad" exhibit and other activities as part of week-long series of events. It's nice that they realized the value of this occasion and at least the all of the country has now caught up with them and dads are being properly recognized all over the United States. So if you're fortunate enough to have one of the great Dads out there and he's still with you, be sure to give him a call today, take him out to dinner, or take part in whatever would make him happy - just give him control of the remote, for example - an let him know just how much you appreciate him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Off To Hogwarts

Magnet # 272: Universal Studios Florida


Material: Metal


Purchased By: Me


Crowds of excited children and parents are flocking from all around the world to Universal Studios in Florida for today's grand opening of the World of Harry Potter theme park. In fact, Harry Potter portrayer Daniel Radcliffe has been in Orlando for this event, along with other cast members. But there has been some controversy tied to the opening, mostly because some visitors have been having fun in the park since May 28. You see, Universal Studios has been selling vacation packages as far back as February that included visits to the World of Harry Potter starting at the end of May and they honored them, thrilling some, while leaving others out in the cold, so to speak. And they had also said that the park would open in Spring of 2010, and when that failed to happen, it disappointed many a household and derailed vacation plans. Some are still miffed by these discrepancies, but fortunately for Universal Studios, there are many more who are thrilled at the prospect of experiencing the World of Harry Potter firsthand.

The concept of a Harry Potter-themed attraction dates back all the way to the late 1990s, when Universal Studios first considered a stage show featuring Harry and his friends defeating Voldemort. However, they were told that the rights had been acquired by another entity, which was assumed to be Disney. Yet that park never came to be, and it's believed that Disney was not willing to accommodate writer and creator J.K. Rowling's vision for the park. Soon, Universal Studios was able to gain the rights and in 2007 began creation of a 20-acre park. The park consists of many of the magical places featured in the books, like Hagrid's Hut, Ollivander's Wand Shop, and part of Hogwarts Castle. There are three rides in all, one of which used to be another attraction called Dueling Dragons, but has been converted with a Harry Potter theme. And visitors can even try two of the drinks mentioned in the books, butterbeer and pumpkin juice. Sounds like a fun trip, and there's even a gift shop - Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods.

Will I go to the World of Harry Potter myself? I imagine I will someday, and perhaps finally see Universal Studio's Marvel's Super Hero Island while I'm at it. But I think I will wait for the crowds to die down somewhat, as I'm not fond of the mobs of people that are no doubt in the park today. And it might be nice to go in the off-season as well. But I can't help but think of an old college friend of mine today, and how excited he would have been over this development. At an early age, he rose high in the Presbyterian church, but he loved comics and theme parks and ended up leaving his career to pursue those interests. When I met him, he had dreams of creating a Muppet theme park for Disney, and he also loved Harry Potter, even using the books as inspiration for his art projects sometimes. But he sadly passed away a few years back at the fairly young age of 40. I think he would have been thrilled at the opportunity to see Hogwarts for himself, and he would have loved to be involved with the park's creation. Unfortunately, that couldn't happen. But if I do venture down to the World of Harry Potter theme park, I'll be sure to ride one for Kirk. I think that will make him proud.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

True Love Never Dies

Magnet # 271: The Taj Mahal

Material: Resin

Purchased By: The Spinks Family

Mumtaz Mahal passed away on this day in 1631, leaving her husband, Emperor Shah Jahan I distraught over her loss. Although her name may not be familiar to many today, the monument he would create in her memory certainly is - the Taj Mahal.

The girl who was to become Mumtaz Mahal was born Arjumand Bano Begum in Agra, India in 1593 to a family of Persian nobles that were related to Emperess Nur Jahan. By age 14, Begum had been betrothed to Prince Khurram, the Emperor's third son, but the two were not able to marry until she was 21, for the royal astronomers predicted the best day for them to wed in order to have a happy marriage was a long way off. Although he had taken wives before her, Begum quickly became her husband's favorite. After his father died and he had taken the throne by force, he assumed the title of Shah Jahan and gave her the new name of Mumtaz Mahal, or the Jewel of the Palace. She was devoted to her husband and would not leave his side, regardless of whether he was in the palace or in a tent at a war camp. And he loved her so much that he pretty much ignored his other wives, although he had children with them, as was expected. But Mumtaz Mahal was his closest confidant and most trusted companion. She died at age 39 during childbirth when she was traveling with her husband to the battlefield. All in all, she bore him 14 children, only seven of which survived past childhood. Shah Jahan buried her body temporarily but within a year, he had begun construction on the only mausoleum he considered to be fit to hold her remains. The Taj Mahal would become the pinnacle of Muhgal architecture, combining influences from Persian, Islamic, and Indian design styles. Shah Jahan had already created great architectural works, but this would be his greatest and he would bring in thousands of the greatest artisans from around the continent to create this grand structure with intricate detail. Jewels were embedded into its walls and passages from the Qu'ran were used to decorate in many areas. And in the very center of the structure, an inner chamber was created with tombs for Shah Jahan and his beloved wife. Per Muslim law, this area is not as intricately decorated as the rest of the Taj Mahal, but it is striking nonetheless. Over twenty years went into the creation of the monument and Mumtaz Mahal was laid to rest in the most striking mausoleum ever created. Soon after, her husband fell ill and he was deposed by one of their sons. He spent the last years of his life in house arrest at the Agra Fort within view of his grand accomplishment. Their eldest daughter, Jahanara Begum Sahib, attended to him during his final years, continuing to help him as she had ever since her mother had died and he fell into a deep depression. When he finally passed away, he was laid to rest beside Mumtaz Mahal. It's almost hard to believe that such a majestic structure only serves as a home to their two graves.

Ever since its creation, the Taj Mahal has captured audiences with its splendor. After the Mughal dynasty ended, it fell into disrepair and when the British came to the area, many dug the gems out of its walls. But a British viceroy, Lord Curzon, realized its importance and oversaw a great restoration project that allowed the Taj Mahal to go on. And there are still threats to it, including acid rain that has given it a yellow tint. Nowadays, as many as 4 million tourists visit it each year, making it India's most important destinations. And to protect the building, everyone must either wear shoe covers or go barefoot. There has even been concern about the future of this stunning place, as it is located in such a polluted place. I certainly hope it will stay around for many years to come - this testament of the bond between Shah Jahan and Muntaz Mahal should last forever, as their love for one another will.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The New Colossus

Magnet # 270: Beth, New York

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

After nearly a decade of hard work by a dedicated team of talented workers, the Statue of Liberty finally arrived in New York Harbor tomorrow, June 17th, in 1885. It originated as a gift from the French to commemorate the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, but it grew into so much more than anyone could have anticipated.

It was French politician and historian Edouard-Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye who first conceived the idea of joining with the United States to create a monument celebrating republican virtues. He was an admirer of the United States and shared his thoughts with others at a dinner party. At that time, France was experiencing political unrest. The French Third Republic was controlling the nation, but many thought it would not last and wanted either a return to the monarchy or a return to a constitutional authoritarianism. By promoting this cause, Laboulaye and his followers hoped to further their cause of a more liberated France. Laboulaye's friend and noted French sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, was chosen to design the sculpture. Bartholdi soon decided that he wanted his work to be as grand as those of ancient times, such as the Colossus of Rhodes, that had not been created since. He saw his creation as being a sort of lighthouse, a variation of the Roman goddess Libertas in a loose gown like those of Egyptian peasants holding a torch in a hand held to the sky and wearing a crown of seven spikes, representing the seven seas and seven continents on which her liberty would shine. And the face of his creation would be modeled after his own mother. Interestingly enough, Bartholdi first presented the idea to the creators of the Suez Canal, but they lacked the funds for its creation. Thus, it went on to be used by the French and Americans. It was agreed that the French would create the statue and assemble it in the United States and the Americans would provide its base. For this project, the noted architect Richard Morris Hunt was brought on and he created a striking pedestal that was the world's largest concrete structure upon its completion. It has since become home to the American Museum of Immigration. As for the statue, it was decided that an inner framework would be necessary to support the gigantic structure and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, would would go onto create the Eiffel Tower, was brought in to design it. The iron support system he created would be strong yet flexible and allow the statue to shift with the winds and alterations in the weather without damaging it. This framework was soon covered with copper sheets that would give the statue its green color. Although the statue was not ready by its original due date, July 4, 1876, the right hand and torch were and they were sent over the United States and displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and visitors there paid 50 cents to climb up to its balcony, money that went toward funding the pedestal. When that proved not to be enough, Joseph Pulitzer began calling for funds on the front page of his newspaper, The World. Finally, the statue was completed in France in 1884 and it was broken down into 350 pieces and packed into 214 crates for its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Later that year, construction began on the pedestal and on October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland unveiled the completed statue to a crowd of thousands. Ironically, when he served as Governor of New York, Cleveland had vetoed a bill providing funds for the creation of the pedestal. At last, Liberty Enlightening the World was at home and she wasn't going anywhere.

For years, immigrants coming to the United States were welcomed by the statue and it became a symbol of liberty for them and the rest of the world. It was used as a lighthouse until 1902, but it confused many birds, causing many of their deaths. Mount Rushmore's sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, altered the torch in 1916, and this led to rain and melted snow leaking into the statue, corroding it. By 1984, Lady Liberty was in dire need of repair and was closed to public. Scaffolding was erected from the base to the top and for two years, the statue was cleaned and renovated so it might last for many years to come. And even though it was closed for a brief time after the September 11 attacks, the Statue of Liberty welcomes massive crowds every year. I've seen it on a trip to New York City, but haven't toured it myself - perhaps one day. With all of the work of such noteworthy figures that went into the creation of this statue, it's nice to see how important it has become to our nation and the rest of the world and I'm pleased that it should be with us for many years to come.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Natural Matters

Magnet # 269:  Arkansas - The Natural State

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  The Kline Family

It was on this day in 1836 that Arkansas became the 25th state added to the Union.  The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach the area when Hernando de Soto led his men there in 1541.  But it would be the French who would settle the area, combining it with their holdings in Louisiana.  And when the Louisiana Purchase was made, the Arkansas territory was soon formed in 1819.  I would be another 17 years before the area achieved statehood.  The new state was an important ally for Texas in its struggle for independence, sending both supplies and troops to help free it from Mexico.  But when the Civil War broke out, the state was far more indecisive, voting at first to remain in the Union.  However, when President Lincoln called for the states to send troops, Arkansas refused and seceded less than a month later.  A few smaller battles were fought there.  In the time since the war, Arkansas has been a mainly agricultural state, but it does have some industry of note and was the place where Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart.

I've been to Arkansas on a couple of instances, but have never really spent much time there.  When I was growing up, we drove across the Mississippi River during a trip to Memphis just so I could say that I had been to the Natural State.  And years later, when we were headed back to Montgomery from our trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, we passed through Arkansas.  I must admit, I don't really remember either visit very well.  But there are plenty of beautiful, natural places to be seen there.  Perhaps the most noteworthy is the Hot Springs National Park, one of the first National Parks ever and home to eight historic bathhouses that people have been visiting for over 200 years.  Guests there nowadays can take a soak in the springs themselves or take a walk on one of the many hiking trails that stretch around the area.  Another great place to hike in the state is Blanchard Springs Caverns, which some have referred to as the jewel of the Ozarks.  Of course, here the hike is underground.  The caverns have nearly every kind of cave formation as well as the Giant Column, a 70-foot high stalagmite.  And those two are just the tip of the iceburg - there are so many more stunning natural wonders to visit in Arkansas, like Buffalo National River, Petit Jean State Park, or the Ouachita Mountains.  In fact, any meaningful trip to the Natural State pretty much requires a trip outdoors, so be sure to bring a good pair of shoes when you visit - I certainly intend to.

Monday, June 14, 2010

An Uneasy Truce

Magnet # 268:  Falkland Islands Seal Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  The Schulz Family

The Falklands War came to an end on this day in 1982 with a victory for the United Kingdom. It began just over two months earlier when Argentina invaded and took control of the islands.  Considering that the British had controlled the area for nearly a 150 years, they didn't take the attack lightly.  But England still allowed the United States to intervene and try to mediate a resolution between the two nations before striking back when Argentina proved to be unreceptive to diplomatic solutions.  The war would only last 74 days but it would be a difficult and fierce fight.  It took place on land, air, and sea and the British were soon able to sink the Argentine ship the ARA General Belgrano, a move which caused nearly all the rest of the Argentine fleet to retreat to port for the war's duration.  But they were still able to sink a British ship, the HMS Sheffield, with an air attack days later.  Nonetheless, British forces were soon landing at strategic points over the islands, and the Argentine's own bombs often failed to go off, further assisting their opponents.  By June 11th, the British were able to set out on their final action in the conflict - taking back Stanley.  After two phases of attacks there, the Argentines were finally forced to declare a cease fire and later surrender.  The war had ended with 649 Argentine deaths and 258 British.

Oddly enough, when the Europeans first encountered what would become the Falkland Islands, there were no inhabitants there, but it appears as though people had once lived there.  The area consisted of two major islands that would be named East and West Falkland and around 200 smaller islands.  It's not certain which nation first reached the islands, but it was France who established the first settlement there at Port St. Louis.  Just a year later, the British would claim another island there, creating Port Egmont and never realizing that the French had a prior claim there. Spain soon took control of the French holdings and attacked Port Egmont, but a treaty between the two powers was later established, giving both claims there.  When the American Revolution broke out, Britain was forced to withdraw from the area, but they left a plaque there to stake their claim, a move that the Spanish later did themselves.  It was then that what would become Argentina turned its attention to the islands, founding their own settlement and a penal colony, which the United States would wipe out after Argentina seized their hunting ships.  In 1833, the British returned to assert their control over the area, building bases there, but the Argentines never accepted their loss of the islands.  When the United Nations was formed, they joined with the hopes of taking back the Falkland Islands, but were told its citizens would have to vote to remove the British.  Considering nearly all of the residents were descended from the British, this was unlikely to happen.  Finally, Argentina abandoned more peaceful ways to take back the Falkland Islands and invaded when the United Kingdom began reducing its military presence in the area.  And although they lost, even now the Argentines still pursue the islands, even adding its claim to it on their constitution.  Politicians in the nation have run on the promise of taking them back.  But just over a year ago, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made it clear that neither his government nor that of the Falkland Islands have any intention of surrendering the area to Argentina.  Clearly, emotions run deep on both sides over this area whose economy is mainly centered around farming, fishing, and tourism.  The war may be over, but the strong feelings regarding these islands by both the British and the Argentines means this matter is far from being settled. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

For Those About To Rock

Magnet # 267: Hard Rock Cafe Atlanta Guitar

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Me

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day back in 1971 when the first Hard Rock Cafe opened its doors in London, England in what was once a Rolls Royce dealership. It was founded by American restaurateurs Peter Morton, the son of a distinguished restaurant owner, and Isaac Tigrett, who would later go on to create the House of Blues. The restaurant originally had an eclectic Americana decor, but one of its loyal patrons, rocker Eric Clapton, would soon change that. He jokingly asked Morton and Tigrett if they would save his favorite table for him, perhaps with a brass plaque. And they suggested he give them one of his guitars to mark it instead. Clapton handed over a Fender Lead II, it was mounted on the wall, and everyone had a laugh. But in just a week, another guitar arrived, this time a Gibson Les Paul, with a note - "Mine's as good as his. Love, Pete." Yep, Pete Townshend of The Who had turned an inside joke into much, much more. Soon, more guitars were rolling in, along with other instruments, articles of clothing, original lyrics, vehicles, and all sorts of other memorabilia. And they would cover the walls of Hard Rock Cafes around the world when the chain went global in 1982. Nowadays, the chain has amassed over 70,000 items of Rock and Roll memorabilia, the largest collection in the world. Some of its most noteworthy items are Louis Armstrong's trumpet, a guitar that Bo Diddly made for himself, the front doors from Abbey Studios, where the Beatles and other legends recorded, and pairs of glasses that belonged to John Lennon and Buddy Holly.

The Hard Rock Cafe actually offers its own line of magnets equipped with bottle openers, and they are very popular among collectors. They've evolved over the years, and started off as a simple design like the one featured on this magnet. They then featured more elaborate graphic designs on the guitars, like peaches on their Atlanta location, a lighthouse incorporated into their Biloxi guitar, tires on the Detroit one, a Walk of Stars design on the Hollywood magnet, and so on. Personally, I like these ones best of all. But I guess the powers that be at Hard Rock Cafe decided they wanted new designs to bring in more money, so the guitar design was nearly abandoned and new shapes, like pilsner glasses, guitar picks, and surf boards were introduced. And the designs on the guitar magnets that are still sold are a bit more modern and wild than they used to be. A friendly sales associate at the Baltimore location told me that many collectors have been pretty upset over the switch, some so much as to yell at her, but I guess it's here to stay. The Hard Rock Cafe magnets can be a little expensive - ten bucks and up - but if you've got a AAA membership as I do, you can get 10% off of them and anything else you buy there, except alcohol. If I'm able to get one of these in person, I try to do so, but it's not usually a magnet I try to have others get for me. I know that a fair amount of trouble goes into obtaining them.

Although Morton and Tigrett sold the Hard Rock Cafe in 1995 for hundreds of millions of dollars, it seems the chain has kept its standards up.  I think the food there is really great and they make certain it's as good as that of a regular restaurant, even though some theme restaurants don't make that effort.  My favorite is their Cobb salad, which is pretty tasty.  And I love the music they play - it's great to hear one rock song after another while eating there.  There are 149 locations in all in 53 countries - pretty impressive.  If you've never given any of these restaurants a try, you might want to consider it.  Sure, they're a little cheesy, but they're also fun, especially if you like rock and roll.  And if the past 39 years are any indication, there are plenty of people out there who really enjoy the combination of their great food, unusual setting, and awesome music.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

United Colours of Britain

Magnet # 266: Sights of London Photo Montage

Material: Acrylic

Purchased By: Debbie

Trooping the Colours is being held today in London. It's an annual celebration that is held on the second Saturday in June and dates back to before the 17th century, when ensigns marched with their regimental flags, or colours, held high on the battlefield to help the troops stay connected with their leaders. Because of all of the smoke that was produced during war, colorful flags were needed to inspire and direct soldiers. They, in turn, became so devoted to the colours that they might even sacrifice their lives to keep them from falling into enemy hands. But it has since grown into an occasion to mark the birthday of the ruler of Britain, even if the current Queen, Elizabeth II, has her birthday in April - in fact, it was her father, King George VI, who established the current date for the celebration. He thought June to be an optimum month for an outdoor pageant of this nature. The entire Royal Family participates in the event, which also features many troops and about 400 musicians. And it's aired live on BBC so that anyone who's not in the throngs in attendance can still join in. But I once asked my friend, a native Londoner, about her take on this occasion. She told me that Trooping the Colour is mainly celebrated by tourists and that the locals tend to avoid it. However, she has watched it on television (or the telly) from time to time. So I guess it's not quite that big a deal to the British, but as they value tradition, it continues from year to year.

Although Elizabeth II now sits in a carriage during the Trooping the Colours, this was not always the case. When she was younger, Queen Elizabeth was a very competent rider and she was given a seven-year-old mare in 1969 by the Canadian Mounties. This black beauty, named Burmese, soon became a favorite of the monarch's. The two had a very visible connection, which would prove to be important for Queen Elizabeth. During 1981's Trooping the Colours, an insane 17-year-old named Marcus Serjeant shot at the Queen with a replica pistol, hoping to become famous for killing her. But the weapon was the only one he could find and the six cartridges he shot were all blanks. Still, Burmese was frightened and reared up. It was thanks to their bond that Queen Elizabeth was able to talk to her beloved horse and calm her down so that the pair could calmly continue with the ceremony. If she had been riding on the back of any other horse that day, it could have had dire consequences. Serjeant went onto be jailed for over three years. Burmese and the Queen later rode beside President Regan and Centennial, a gelding he was loaned, when he visited Britain the next year. And Burmese was a beloved part of the festivities until 1986, when she was retired. After that, the Queen no longer rode a horse for Trooping the Colour, as none could ever take the place of Burmese. She often visited Burmese at the Windsor Great Park until the horse passed away in 1990. Although Burmese is gone - the Queen and the public have certainly not forgotten her, in fact, in 2005, a bronze statue of the pair was placed outside of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Canada. It's a sign that Burmese will remain beloved by many for years to come.

Well, I certainly hope this year's Trooping the Colour will be less exciting than that of 1981. Britain has changed somewhat since that year - in fact, Prince Charles and Princess Diana wed later that same month. But this is one tradition that has kept it tied to its past, and even if the people of Britain might not get too involved in the event, I imagine most of them would be pretty upset to see it cease to exist.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Poetic Justice

Magnet # 265:  Portuguese Flag

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Congratulations to the Portuguese, who are currently celebrating one of the biggest events in their calendar - Portugal Day.  This event does not honor the country's creation or independence, but rather the death of one of its greatest heroes - poet Luis de Camoes, who passed away on June 10 in 1580.  They would have probably held it on his birthday, but that date is unknown.  Camoes wrote Os Lusiadas, an epic poem that honored his country's history and accomplishments, and it's been embraced by his countrymen (and women) ever since.  Portugal Day may only be an official holiday in its country of origin, but it has spread across the world and is now held in nations such as Brazil, England, Canada, and the United States.

Oddly enough, one of the biggest Portugal Day celebrations isn't held anywhere near the nation - it's across the Atlantic Ocean, in Newark, New Jersey.  Ever since 1979, they have thrown a Portugal Day Festival on Ferry Street, one of the most important streets in the city's Ironbound section.  It's popular with both Portuguese-Americans and those of other descent.  The celebrations are usually spread out over an entire week, culminating in the street festival, which is held on the Saturday or Sunday closest to June 10.  Unfortunately, it looks as though the festival won't take place this year because of fighting between the organizers and City Hall.  And some residents claim the weeklong festival has become disruptive to their lives and has very little to do with Portuguese culture.  It's too bad they can't just cut back a bit and try to get back to the roots of the event - it seems like they're throwing out the baby with the bath water by doing away with the event entirely.  Regardless, Portugal Day events will still continue in other parts of the world.

Luis de Camoes was a pretty colorful character.  He was born to Simao Vaz de Camoes, who soon left his family to try to get rich in India, and ended up dying in Goa.  But his mother remarried and Camoes continued his education with the help of an uncle, studying at the University of Coimbra and having access to classical works that were usually denied other students.  But he fell in love and managed to insult the king of  Portugal and was exiled from Lisbon as a consequence.  Before long, Camoes began to crave adventure and journeyed with the militia to Ceuta in southern Spain.  There, he lost his right eye in a battle with the Moors.  When he finally returned home to Portugal, he was thrown in prison after he wounded a member of the Royal Stables.  Thanks to his mother's intervention, he was released, but he would have to join the militia once again.  This time, Camoes traveled to Goa, where his father had passed away.  He fought in battles both in India and other nations and was once again imprisoned - this time for debt.  But he continued to write, eventually beginning the work that was to make him a legend in Portugal - Os Lusiadas.  He was later in a shipwreck and legend has it that he swam with one hand while holding the manuscript above the water to save it, although he lost a lover in the accident.  He was able to return home and publish the epic work that would cement his reputation long after his death.  Camoes passed away in Lisbon in 1578 as the Spanish advanced on his beloved homeland, claiming that he was dying with his nation.  But when Portugal gained its independence in 1640, Camoes became one of its greatest heroes and the day he passed was immortalized.  I have to wonder, are there any other poets that are so beloved and important in their country as to have a national holiday established to celebrate their lives?  I certainly can't think of any.  Heck, even Shakespeare doesn't get a holiday in England and he's considered to the the greatest poet and playwright of all time.  One fact is certain - Camoes' has become a figure that is larger than life in his beloved Portugal, and his life will be celebrated there for many years to come.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Last Wave

Magnet # 264:  Tennessee Aquarium Sea Otters, Complex

Material:  Laminated Cardboard

Purchased By:  Me

The final aquarium I visited last year was the Tennessee Aquarium in Downtown Chattanooga.  I toured it on the way back from the Great Smoky Mountains with my folks on November 13, and we were all very impressed.  This particular aquarium is divided into two separate buildings at a scenic spot overlooking the Tennessee River.  Its first building, River Journey, opened in 1992 and is the largest freshwater aquarium worldwide.  And in 2005, they added a second building - Ocean Journey.  This is one aquarium that is constantly upgrading and giving its visitors exciting new additions, like a penguin exhibit that opened in 2007.  So it's worth seeing more than once to appreciate all of the hard work and improvements that have gone into it.

The Tennessee Aquarium might not be as large or as highly regarded as the other two aquariums I had visited previously, but it ended up becoming my favorite of the three.  I was very impressed by the wide selection of creatures to be found there, and how many varieties of animals they have.  They have displays of all sorts of different turtles, seahorses, and frogs that seem to go on and on, and their collection of jellyfish is as impressive as that of the National Aquarium, but while the one in Baltimore is temporary, Chattanooga's is permanent.  And like the National Aquarium, both buildings at the Tennessee Aquarium take their visitors high up on multiple stories - just not as many - and one ends in a recreation of a tropical rainforest.  It also has a butterfly habitat, the only one of any of the three aquariums.  In fact, one butterfly landed on the bottom of my leg and I didn't even notice it until a guide pointed it out to me on my way out - how neat!  I also really appreciated the amount of design that went into this particular aquarium.  Many aquariums just provide one view of their animals, but in Chattanooga, visitors can often wrap around the animals, appreciating them from a different vantage point entirely.  For example, the sea otters were first viewable to us at a location below where we stood, so that we could look down at them as they played.  But later, we saw them through a glass that looked into their tank, and were pretty much on eye level with them as they swam around.  It was very impressive.  All in all, I had a great time at the Tennessee Aquarium and could easily see myself going back sometime in the future when more exhibits have been introduced.

And what was the one part of the Tennessee Aquarium that I didn't like as much as the two aquariums I had just visited?  Funny enough, it was the gift shop.  They just didn't have as neat a collection of magnets as the Georgia Aquarium or the National Aquarium.  Those two both had my very favorites, Clay Critters, as well as some very interesting ones from other magnet companies.  The ones at the Tennessee Aquarium just weren't as neat or three-dimensional.  But I really like the design on this one, plus it is nice to see an image of the aquarium itself.  So my suggestion to the Tennessee Aquarium?  Keep up the great work with their exhibits and variety of animals, just add a few more exciting selections in their gift shop, like magnets of the animals themselves.  But this is a great place to visit and if you're in the area, it's worth seeing in person.

Well, that wraps it up for my three-part aquarium review.  So far, these are the only aquariums I've seen, but I'm up for checking out more in the future.  It's kind of funny that the only times I've been to these sites have been in two months in 2009, one right after the other.  I hope my findings at each one are helpful in deciding whether to see them yourself, particularly for National Zoo and Aquarium Month.  If you have an aquarium nearby, even if it's not one of these, you should consider stopping by.  Given that the weather is getting warm once again, being in an air-conditioned, covered aquarium might be a great break from the heat.  And if you've never been to an aquarium, you are definitely missing out.  These are great places to take in sea life you might never be able to see elsewhere.  So get your feet wet, and find out what all the fuss is about!